Friday, 11 April 2014

The Opposition Theory

Eleven days! Eleven. Days. Eleven days since I last posted. This, of course, proves my point about unemployment and the loss of perspective/sense of time/whatever else I was talking about last week. Or it just proves that I’m super lazy, make up excuses all of the time, and am not to be trusted.

I’ll leave it up to you to decide which one it is. Because I promised interactivity on this website, and, by god, I MEAN TO DELIVER.

But that’s not what I came here to talk about. I came here to talk about the other thing that I wrote on last week and why I’ve had such a hard time writing lately. Last week, I focused on the idea that I had made this too much like work and that I wasn’t having any fun with the novel anymore. I’ve been giving this some more thought though, and I think that there are some other factors as well.

I’ve been working on this book for a while now. The actual writing started last March, so it’s been just over a year. In the grand scheme of Unpublished People Writing Novels, that’s not a huge deal. It’s a short span. And if we’re talking about Published People With Agents And Publishers And Contracts, then it’s definitely on the long side. It’s just somewhere in the middle, and—with a little luck—will not go on much longer.

The thing that makes this frustrating is the lack of forward progress. I keep restarting. Going back. Changing things. Writing the same scenes over and over again in slightly different ways. It’s the kind of stuff you usually only do at the end, when you’re editing. It makes me a little crazy; just endlessly revisiting the early scenes in the morgue and Warren Cole’s apartment.

I realized the other day that this is where I stopped dead in the current build. I worked through the new opening with ease back in January, and then lost all interest as soon as my characters arrived at the locked apartment door in Northwest Habitation 4. I just know those scenes so well at this point. I know what needs to go into them and how to get them on the page, but the idea of writing them again just hurts. I hate that feeling.

So I skipped ahead.

I just blew right by it. I’ve got all of the details and pertinent character bits in the outline, so there’s little chance of missing something (though I still felt a little bad about doing it for just this reason). And it worked. I did three new chapters in the past week and three-thousand words, and I still feel like I’m picking up speed. I’ve also been focusing on just getting the material out, having fun with it, and saving the worrying/getting it right for the edit.

Which means, I guess, that both of these concepts have been working for me. Sure, I’m about to butt up against some stuff that I’ve already written again, but we’ll burn that bridge when we get to it. For now, I’ve got more writing to do.

 

-Sean

Monday, 31 March 2014

A Month

God. Wow. It’s been a month since I last posted. Where does the time go?

When you’re unemployed, time gets…I don’t know…Funny. You’re pulled in a lot of different directions at once by all of these should-be-dones. All of these things that you never had time for before. Personal obligations that were put off. Socializing, exercise, writing, trying to find that job that’s actually meaningful to you. It becomes chaotic and unfocused. You get less done than you did when you were working.

So you pull back. You compress. Simplify. Dedicate yourself to lists and structure and, in the process, overcompensate. Getting your appointed tasks done in a given day becomes so important. The stuff that you’re doing becomes work. It becomes your job. And everything else starts to slip. You’ve gone too far in the other direction.

Thankfully, I’ve never been one of those people who stops showering or getting up in the morning when I feel bad or don’t have anywhere to be. The furthest I get down that road is going a few days between shaves. Or maybe I don’t floss every once in a while.

That’s neither here nor there, though, because the point is that in the past month I’ve kind of let this novel go. I brush it off and fiddle with it every once in a while, but for the most part I focus on trying to land job interviews or coming up with short stories that I can shop around. I neglect the job that I have—the job that I have given myself—because I need something more immediate and paycheck-inclusive in my life right now, and because I get to a point in my day where I can choose between writing and decompressing and I always go with decompressing because everything else in my life is all about stress and uncertainty right now.

Which sucks. It’s a shitty thing to deal with because it comes down to doing more work or doing something that I like and makes me feel good for a little while. And I do like writing, and it does make me feel good, but it also feels like work right now and I just want to avoid an ulcer.

Maybe that’s on me, though. Maybe it’s because of the attitude that I’ve developed towards writing. When the semester ended last December I joked that I was becoming a full time writer again for a month, and that felt good. And when it became clear that the college wasn’t going to call me in for contract renewal back in January I told myself more or less the same thing. The joke was gone, though.

After that, I stopped writing and started working. When asked what I was going to do on a given day, I would say, “Oh, I’m going to work on the book.” When I cleaned up the lunch dishes, I would look at the dog and say, “Okay. Back to work.” Troubleshooting plot and character problems used to be “playing,” but now it’s “fixing” or “cleaning.” Everything about my attitude towards my craft has become more clinical and formal, and, ultimately, less rewarding.

So. I don’t know. I guess I’ve got to make this less of a chore again. I’m not going to write about my commitment to getting this damn thing done again. I’ve spilled way to many words on that subject as it is. It’s getting done and that’s final. I’ve got to find a way to make it work, though.

I’ve got to fall in love with what I do again.

I don’t know.

I’ll get back to you.

 

-Sean

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Reading List: February, 2014

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Compiling now, for your reading pleasure, uh, well, my reading pleasure for the past month?

  • METAtropolis – edited by John Scalzi – This one is really interesting. A group of authors got together to create a short-fiction anthology centered on a shared original setting that was all about letting them explore new urban social systems. The individual pieces are all pretty great, but the depth and quality of the collaboration is what makes this one really worthwhile.
  • A Darkling Sea – James L. Cambias – Some really fascinating world-building in this one. It’s kind of an old-school first contact story that deals with the morality of making face-to-face contact with less advanced species versus policies of isolation and observation. All told, it’s the same basic territory that Star Trek covered with the Prime Directive, but way more interesting and in-depth.
  • The Martian – Andy Weir – I’ve still got about fifty pages of Andy Weir’s debut novel left, but it pretty well blew me away. The story of a NASA astronaut stranded on Mars when an accident forces his crew to evacuate the planet and leave him for dead. It’s got the intensity of Gravity, great pacing, and a great sense of humor. And the science, oh god, the science…Accurate, extensive, and cleanly expressed…It’s fantastic.
  • Doctor Sleep – Stephen King – Just finishing this one up this month. You can find my thoughts on it in last month’s Reading List.
  • Nowhere Men, Volume 1 – Eric Stephenson – A really fascinating opening to what could be a great weird-science series. The writing is tight, the art is top-notch, and there’s just enough experimentation in its story-telling and page layouts to keep it your mind on it completely.
  • The Unwritten, Volume 7: The Wound – Mike Carey – This book continues to be excellent, and my favorite ongoing series. You should all read it immediately.
  • The Unwritten, Volume 8: Orpheus in the Underworld – Mike Carey – Message Repeats: This book continues to be excellent, and my favorite ongoing series. You should all read it immediately.

 

-Sean

Friday, 28 February 2014

Aaron Allston, 1960 - 2014

I’ve never done any eulogizing here. Always seemed like there were other, better places for it. Words said by other, better people. The news that came down last night, though, announcing the death of sci-fi/fantasy author Aaron Allston hit me pretty hard.

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So, there’s a reason that I don’t write eulogies: I’ve never properly learned how. I tried to write one for Elmore Leonard for work last year and it came out horribly. Instead, I think I’ll just tell a story about the kind of person Aaron Allston was…

There were a couple of little cons that I used to frequent when I lived back in North Carolina. Sometimes I would go as a simple attendee, others as a volunteer. On a couple of occasions I was lucky enough to go as a speaker. Aaron was a fairly regular sight around those parts, and very well liked. He was an incredibly kind man--wickedly funny and quick, and always ready to offer a bit of advice or guidance to new writers and old hands.

My fondest memory of the man is one of my last. It was one of Aaron’s first convention appearances following his 2009 heart attack and the subsequent surgery, and I was manning a group table when he came up between panels (one of the great things about having Aaron at cons was that he would often just wander the floor and browse around like a regular attendee) and asked if he could sit in one of our free chairs. We’d run into one another often enough that he seemed to recognize me and, once he got settled, I introduced myself, told him how much I enjoyed his work and listening to him talk about writing in his panels, and then said how glad that I was that he was still with us. By way of thanks, he smiled and made the kind of groan-inducing pun that he was famous for.

We got to talking after that; going back and forth about craft and process and Star Wars (he remains one of my long-standing favorite contributors to the Star Wars Expanded Universe) and all of the other topics that you run through when you get a pair of big writing nerds together. Eventually, Aaron had another panel that he needed to be at. A volunteer came to bundle him off to the ballroom, and that was it. We ran into one another a couple of times after that, before I moved to this wretched land that has never heard of a fan convention, and we never had much of a chance to talk again but he always remembered my name and he always had a grin and a kind word for me. That’s just the kind of person that he was. One of the very best.

In a perfect world, I’d be able to have that conversation with him again following another round of surgeries. I wish that I could, and I’m sure that there are plenty of other folks who wish the same. My thoughts are with Aaron and his loved ones today.

 


This post was edited on the morning of 03/01/2014 for purposes of clarity and intent.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Reading List - January

Because being an active reader is an important part of being an active writer, I’m going to start profiling the stuff that I’ve been reading on a month-to-month basis. Here’s January:

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  • Easy Go – Michael Crichton – Part of Hard Case Crime’s posthumous reissue of the early pulp novels that Crichton released under the name John Lange. This is the first of them that I’ve read, and it’s kind of remarkable how clearly this is still Crichton’s work…Much less refined technically, but with a lot of the clear and easy historical/scientific exposition that defined much of the man’s writing.
  • Zoe’s Tale – John Scalzi – Rounding out my collection of Scalzi’s TOR releases. It’s the same story as The Last Colony but told from a different POV, and it manages to fill in some of that other novel’s gaps while still feeling fresh and entertaining. Pulling this sort of Rashomon move across multiple novels is something that I’ve considered doing in the past, so it’s also nice to see that it can work out well.
  • A Ballad of Wayward Specters, Day OneWilliam B. Hill – The first part of a serialized cyberpunk novel written and independently released by an old friend from college. I’m still waiting to see where this story goes, but, so far, it’s an interesting take on the future of identity theft.
  • Of Dice and Men – David M. Ewalt – A long profile of the history of Dungeons & Dragons that manages to be interesting and fun without becoming overly sentimental or compromising its facts. It also had the benefit of getting me fired up to play tabletop games again, and has me working on a custom system of rules on the side.
  • Doctor Sleep – Stephen King – This one carried over into February, so you’ll probably see it on March 1st as well. Like Black House before it, Doctor Sleep is an interesting take on building a sequel to an early, classic King work. And, also like Black House, it’s not so much a direct sequel as a story about a man who is no longer the boy that he was the last time he had a traumatizing adventure.
  • Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. – Warren Ellis – One of my favorite comics series. Twelve straight issues of relentless riffing on superhero team books.
  • Lazarus, Volume One – Greg Rucka – Rucka jumps out of the gate on his new dystopian sci-fi series, and it’s already plenty intriguing. I’m very much looking forward to seeing where this goes.
  • Local – Brian Wood – Sad, exhilarating, lyrical, and beautifully drawn. In a weird way, reading this probably had a lot to do with my wanting and trying to move last month. Its portrayal of wanderlust and life experience is both tragic and inspiring. Wood has written a lot of excellent series over the years, but this is probably his most affecting.
  • Wednesday, 19 February 2014

    Adventures in Not Writing

    Hi there. It's been a while.

    So, this has been kind of a rough year so far. I won't go into too much detail, but the bottom line is that I didn't get any called in for any classes this semester so I'm basically unemployed. Add that to a car wreck, some good friends leaving the state suddenly, and a recently aborted attempt to do that myself—and I've really not been in a place where I want to write or work on things.

    Basically, I spend a lot of time looking for work and thinking about how much I hate looking for work. The rest of my time is pretty much divided between reading and drifting between side projects.

    It's difficult, trying to work through this kind of constant, low-level distress. You try to power through it, but, eventually, the way that you feel starts to color everything that you do. Nothing looks or feels quite right, but you don't know how to fix it because the problem isn't in the work, it's in you. You can't just stop feeling anxious and sad about things, so you slowly start to drift away from them. You decide that you can wait it out. That you can come back to your life later.

    That's kind of what I've been doing. Or, at least, that's the closest that I can come to articulating it right now. It's one of those things that just gets worse and worse until it starts to get better somehow.

    The good news is that I seem to be coming out of the slump lately. I revisited the current draft and the outline a few days ago, and I've started making a series of tweaks to them that resolve a lot of the problems that I had with the third act of the Ver# 0.4.0 outline. I've also made the necessary changes to the current draft that will make it line up with those changes. I've also revisited the post-mortem that I promised for Dog Star Palace (Yes: I actually wrote it. And also yes: I ended up not posting it because I was sad and didn't want to be on the internet. That's just the kind of great month that January was.) and started making some changes to it that should make it a little more informative while also including some bits about how my mood influenced the work. I'm also starting to compile some guest articles.

    That's all coming along soon or soon-ish, so keep an eye out, okay? I'm ready to get some stuff done here, and I'd like for all of you to share in it with me.

     

    -Sean

    Thursday, 16 January 2014

    Short Fiction. Hot, Fresh…

    …And prepared with love for your immediate consumption. Again, this piece was written for entry in Chuck Wendig’s Short Fiction Challenge over at terribleminds. Do be so good as to read more below the cut: