Sunday, August 29, 2010

Go upstairs to check the basement

Another week, and another end, and not much accomplished. For about a week I've been staring at the last few chapters of the novel scribbled down in summarizing paragraphs. I don't know the term for it, or even if there's a word to describe it, but I've seen it done for a script. Whatever the case, I got the rest of this bad boy more or less wrapped up and it all fits, finally, on one sheet of paper. I might have mentioned doing a celebratory type outing in honor of the draft being complete. I might have also mentioned that so far I've only mentioned it to another writer in the group. But I'm happy enough with it that I could eat out alone and still feel pretty awesome.

I'm less proud of phase two of a fairly deep regression. I'm still watching the anime, to be sure, but I recently purchased a video game and have also begun to dump hours and hours of my life into that as well. Helpful little program by the name of Steam lets me know how many hours I've spent and and when the last time was that I played. And no I won't be disclosing either of those bits of information. I am enjoying myself thoroughly, but it makes me wonder about the sort of obsessive manner in which I and other people I know play. To quote a text message I got from a friend who also recently began playing the same game, "[It's] ruining my life." He was joking. Mostly.

Looking forward, I've been thinking about the next novel, which will be my grandest undertaking to date. As a longer prose work of science fiction, a lot is going to be required just for the setting, never mind the story. And I'm hoping that all the books I've written thus far, all the outlining, all the world building will make it easier for me. Still, when I think about it, it gives me a headache. Technology is a huge part of it, from sophistication to transparency, which ties to culture and society. Cultures and societies. It took me weeks, maybe even months (very lazy, slow months) for the fantasy series. Most simple was the series set in the modern world (I didn't have to build the world, contrary actually, a lot of work was done for me by saying Baltimore or Catholic). So I guess I've been building towards this the entire time and never knew it.

And the Atlanta Con is upcoming (I started but never finished a mock epic about a group of bums questing across Atlanta to get paid as zombie extras by over-eager cosplayers; for some reason I like to think of it as the Dragon's Con instead). Once again, I've made no plans to go, saved no money for tickets, and have had at least half a dozen people telling me I should've done otherwise. In addition to it being a neat opportunity to see people dressed in costume and see actors of popular media, I've heard it to also be a good place to network and present oneself and works to the world. I haven't exactly looked at the process or prices for having a dealer's table or some other related thing, but I figure one of these days I'm going to have to get that much more serious. Which might make continuing to play games more than a little difficult, kind of like walking upstairs and downstairs at the same time.

Friday, August 20, 2010

On old operating systems

Today's been good, following a rough first week back at work. I got the same questions from students, the most common of which being "Why you talk like that?" and "How come you look at me like I'm stupid?" (my honest answer, at least to the second question being : That's just how my face looks). What has been especially important to me is figuring out when I will most likely have space and peace to write. In the past, I've pushed myself to prove that I can do so under almost any circumstances, but absolutely the work does suffer. And forcing myself over longer periods of time is just taxing.

But I did manage to draft a chapter today, along with an article for another gig I landed, however no work yet done on "The Worst: Bad Guy Academy." However, speaking of forcing oneself to do things, during the chapter (number 24, thanks very much) I did have to rework several pages. And by rework I mean erase and go a different direction. The very same topic came up in a writer's group meeting when I asked another member how he wrote himself into and out of holes. My question was, metaphorically speaking, why not just back out of the hole and drive around it. His answer, before the whole thing turned into a situation where they laughed at my strangeness, was that erasing all those pages would be unpleasant. I agreed with him. It's something I try to avoid doing by carefully outlining (read: planning out what I'm going to write about before I write about it, and thinking about where that would take the story) but sometimes, like today and during both previous chapters, it happens.

And I've yet to really confirm if doing such unpleasant things will ultimately make one a stronger, better writer, though I do believe one should end up with a stronger, better story. Not that there's any real objective way to measure such a thing. I guess I'm just hoping. Maybe one day I'll be able to write down a bunch of made-up rules about how I did things and sell that instead (read: in addition).

Something else new and interesting this past week also happened: someone actually asked me for advice on writing. It didn't catch me by surprise because it was an email following a previous one with a different question. It didn't actually occur to me until it happened again that the person in question regarded me as a source of information, or at least someone further along in the process than he. I made sure to edit my correspondence thoroughly so as not to be misleading or look the idiot. So that was pretty cool.

Conversely, I have completely dropped the ball on working on the script. I have no idea what happened (isn't it usually a lie when someone says that?) but I was laying awake the other night and forgot which short stories I had sent out to what places, or what I was working on in addition to the novel in what order. I feel like maybe I should step up my project organization (I mean, in addition to the clipboard filled with scratch paper pinned to the wall). What's Windows' new slogan? Microsoft Office helps make it great?

Monday, August 16, 2010

My way of the ninja

It's been a while. I'm not sure how long, which I guess means that maybe it hasn't. Certainly, I haven't been writing as much as I should have. And I haven't been all that busy, either. If I were to take some artistic liberty, I'd say I've been investing energy into a specific facet in a moment in my past that made me really happy. And as a result, for a brief time, I was excited about something, and it was deep enough a reservoir that I could dive in with no fear of it running out. It was almost a little daunting. And if I were to be completely honest, I'd say I was watching anime. A lot of it, one particular series with hundreds and hundreds of episodes. In one of my more satirical moods, it actually spawned an idea in my brain whose concept name is "The Worst: Bad Guy Academy." But more on that later.

To say that I get a lot of emails would be erroneous. Or, not exactly true. I belong to a handful of email groups, and things are sent out often on them, but none of them are hardly ever addressed to me specifically. Sometimes there are things I can use, or want to put time into, and in the beginning I was really excited about the busy-ness of it all. Now, I tend to usually lump them all together, pretend that I read them, and stuff them into an ever-expanding folder in case I ever need to track any of them down. One such that I received some weeks ago helped me connect the dots on a few things. One of the publishers I have a contract with, the one whom with I first signed, has had some editors leave. I didn't realize at the time that this meant a retardation of the process by which accepted material is poured over, made crisp, and then published. Along with the rejections, things became murky again.

I started up a conversation with a friend I hadn't spoken to in some months, asking about what he was doing and how those things were going. He turned the tables on me quickly enough, and I was forced to look at my situation with eyes similar to the ones I once had. Ones that were less knowledgeable and more impatient. His ultimate point was that if no one ever sees my work, then I'll never sell any of it. And I didn't even describe to him the fuller details of why it was taking so long. It made me wonder how often those sorts of things happen, and if it's a sign of yet more waiting to come. Self-publishing came up in the conversation, too, and I had no proper deflection as to why I wasn't pursuing it.

I remember sitting in my mentor's office back in college, and talking about publishing. He handed me a book with a plain black cover with block font lettering done over with distracting, reflective plastic. He told me one of his students, another such with promise like me but before me, had given it to him. My mentor said the man had self published, and talked about what courage that took, to sell one's work out of their trunk. That was probably when I myself attached a stigma to it. But things have changed in the years gone by. So much so that I wonder at what the difference is. A publisher gives one editing services, and networking ability, and actual marketing, which, ideally, results in a better book more people will come into contact with. And it's free. But the confidence required to submit to a publisher rates the same (or at least similarly) to that required to sell them oneself.

So why don't I? That's a question I haven't been able to answer, among others. But a guy in my writer's group recently paid an artist to do some work for him, a dream I had for a novella that I wrote (to me, at least, it was more like a graphic novel). I don't have the money of course, but I do have the initiative. So maybe I will self publish, using reputable sites that make such a thing easier. And maybe I'll get laughed at. But maybe I won't. What I didn't tell that friend of mine, what was repeatedly spoken about in all the anime I've seen, is that sometimes you have to just do you, and let the chips fall where they may.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Reed Richards be damned

Typically, I'm not big on quoting people or touting the names of products, however much I like or dislike them (generally because I'm too lazy to look into the vagaries of libel). But I'm going to take a risk today: "the true measure of a man is not where he stands in times of comfort but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy" (or something like that). And I don't say that to mean that I'm in overly turbulent waters personally (though life has sort of kicked me in the pants, recently), I say that to pass along some advice that I've found useful.

I drafted chapter 20 today of the novel, and was feeling kind of down about how it turned out. Some of my poetry got rejected, and another short story as well (some romantic things went astray also) so those set backs (that's what Dr. Doom calls defeats) tinted my lenses. I could feel the thoughts before I thought them: What's the point, I keep getting rejected, over and over, doesn't that mean I'm doing something wrong; maybe I should take a break from it, or stop altogether. Of course I won't. I can't say why, really, and perhaps that sort of lunacy is the topic for another discussion. More accurately, and objectively, despite my rejections, I've still received more positive feedback from thoughtful, intelligent, honest people than I have negative feedback. It would be in error to judge someone's opinions as more valuable than another person's, I think.

So I got back on the horse. I didn't buy any confetti to celebrate chapter 20, but I did re-evaluate the short story that got rejected, and then I sent it right back out to a different place (the interesting thing is whether or not I actually pull all this off. Success, and it'll be a timely message for tenacity. Fail, and I'll be the next crazy person ranting, bitter). And that is not the last magazine that publishes poetry, so it won't be the last place I submit work to. Related to that, a friend of mine told me once about how some actors do something nice for themselves whenever they audition, because of how difficult and strenuous it is, and how after being rejected, how easy it is to just give up. Much respect to MLK, but if you take anything away from all this piggy backing, please take that wisdom.

And the screen play is moving along, too. I guess. I had the idea to story board it, to think up scenes, write them on a sheet of paper, and then organize those scene physically, rearranging where necessary. That idea hasn't really taken off. Pages of a screen play, properly formatted, round out to be about a page a minute. At this point, I have about seven minutes, and two scenes. And being completely honest, a big problem I'm having is not knowing, literally, what happens next. So I guess that means storyboarding doesn't work for me, because if it did, I'd have written down all the scenes I already had in mind. Guffaw.

And for my last bit of edible quoting, I would like to paraphrase Thomas Edison. When asked about how many times he failed to create the light bulb, a number with more than two digits, he said "I didn't fail that many times. I simply found out that many ways how not to make a light bulb." Thus, rejections or no, the writing commenceth. I go back to work next week, so maybe we'll see about amping up the productivity until then.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Just think if Obi Wan had only had a mustache

I seem to recall mentioning my making an attempt at being more self-aware. Being honest, that was less of the theme for today. I sent off another short story, and just recently completed a second draft of chapter 19 of the novel (been thinking I'd celebrate when I hit 20, like a kid growing out of their teens). I even fiddled with a little technology in regards to a wireless USB adapter and a little bit of computer maintenance (shut up, it's a pretty big thing for me). Today I feel pretty good.

Yesterday, I was lost. And I mean that literally and metaphorically. I hung out with a friend, and the main focus was satisfying a curiosity of mine that I've been holding onto for awhile. You see, marketing is pretty effective. Especially marketing for establishments that are just far enough away to make them annoying to drive to. Like Red Robin. People had told me about the place, and yesterday I finally went and tasted for myself. It wasn't what I expected. Nor was getting lost on the way back. The sun went down, and the roads weaved into mysterious shadows of themselves with names I'd never heard of. We drove and drove, and in the back of my paradigm I thought "there's no way I could go this far without running into something I recognized... is there?" Given that I'm writing this now, and the day I just described myself as having, you might imagine that I eventually got myself out of it. The literal lostness that is.

For the metaphorical, I actually had to sleep on it. The story I mentioned writing, which I selfishly sent to the inbox of the writer to be critiqued last week has been really throwing me. No, that's a lie. It's been throwing the people I've let read it. It's been frustrating me. I ended up at a bad place with it, where I had read it over so much, and stared at it so much, that it looked perfectly fine in my eyes. A tiny man with a nefarious mustache whispered to me from my shoulder "They're crazy... and stupid. Your story is good. No great. No perfect!" And I know that's not a good place to be. In fact, it might be one of the worst places to be (very similar in horridness, yet geographically different from "Everything I Write is Horrible" town). What got me lost was trying to figure out, by staring at the story itself and squinting and trying to figure out just how bad or good it was.

Sleeping cleared a lot of the cobwebs. And that clarity let me take a look at people's comments and piece through them in search of a benchmark that would satisfy me. There was a line in an email which pointed to a lack of "certainty" and "passion" evident in my other stories. That wasn't the only problem, to be sure (it's a confusing as hell read, however I was only shooting for mysterious), but I told myself (and the little man on my shoulder) that that would be my objective. I wanted it to be certain, and passionate. I wanted not only to feel that it was good, but I wanted to feel good about it. There's a certain lightness to the way I walk when I leave something "finished." I'm satisfied in where I've taken it. So I worked some with that as my objective. I just wanted to like the story as much as I liked the concept, enough to claim it, to put my name on it, and send it off.

And that's what I did this morning. Like usual, I had no idea what its chances were. I could speak on its merits, and know that it would be pointless (those things need to be evident on the page), but I was confident that it did had merit. That, and it being a cool story (which everyone that read it agreed on) was enough for me. A cool story told in my voice with as little confusion as possible in the communication. Similarly to driving, once I had found that place, things opened up for me. Like of course I had been going in the wrong direction. Left, not right. Right would take me to Alabama. And the thing is, thinking back in retrospect, I knew I was going the wrong way (again, in both cases). Or maybe felt is the more correct word? Like, I feel like I should be quoting Obi Wan right about now.

Instead, I'll just mention that the next thing I'll be working on (aside from the novel) is my screen play.