Trying something new. Back when I blogged and it was considered cool (hahaha) in the early 2000s, I got tagged in a couple things (mostly comics stuff). I mean, this was back when I was on Blogspot which was basically forever ago. But I saw Andrea was looking for tagees, so I volunteered.
1. What are you currently working on?
The biggest current project is revisions to a novel called BLUE HIGHWAY. It’s also a horrible example for talking about process, because I’ve been working on it for some time, and it’s taken several different forms (screenplay, comic script, novel).
BLUE HIGHWAY is probably best categorized as near-future science fiction, but even that feels like it’s off the mark. But this is always the problem. It’s up to the writer to write the book and then they have to worry about marketing it afterwards.
2. How does your work differ from others in its genre?
Probably by emphasizing the human and cultural aspects above and beyond the technical. BLUE HIGHWAY isn’t hard SF. It’s not trying to bend over backwards to make accurate predictions about the world how ever many years from now.
One thing BLUE HIGHWAY isn’t trying to do is worry about the apocalypse, slow-motion or otherwise. If anything it’s a Nopocalypse book. The world doesn’t end, even after a series of events that could easily be portrayed as the borderline between civilization and regression.
If you’re curious, some research and snippets from the book can be seen here.
3. Why do you do what you do?
Because I haven’t been locked up yet? Because nobody else is doing it the same way? Because it’s the only way to keep the little voices from taking over? Because I like making stuff that I’d want to read?
I know. Lots of question marks. Ultimately I can’t even properly answer it for myself If I’m being honest, it’s three and four above. But even this only keeps the little voices away for a little while at a time.
4. How does your writing process work?
That’s assuming I have a consistent process, even for novels. Short stories, I get an idea and then I usually just run with it. It’s relatively easy for me to support up to about 10K words with just that in mind.
Novels are trickier. They’re like a series of marathons and sometimes the finish line changes and suddenly you’re running uphill and you don’t know why.
I’ll start with the basic idea (which is the easiest part) and then try to work out characters who can play in that space. The thing is to let them drive the story. You can do it plot-first, but that’s hard for me to make work effectively. This means the development is often slow. Right now I’m using Scrivener and a lot of cards with little pieces that I’d like to use and seeing where they fit and where they don’t. That gives the plot arc (which is a character arc if I’ve done it right). Then it’s a matter of fleshing out and executing.
Have to remind myself that I can’t get bogged down in research too much, because it’s a perfect excuse to not actually write. And it’s the writing, even notes or little sketches, where the work gets done.
Then it’s a matter of knowing where you screwed up in the structural phase and taking advantage of opportunities that your subconscious allows you. Which is why I write a *lot* in the development phase, because sometimes something slips out and that’s better than what you started with.
I’d tag other writers, but I think most of ‘em are too busy to deal with this kind of thing.
So I’ve been wracking my brain, trying to figure out why things are the way they are. Not everything, mind you. I don’t have the time to compose a supertheory of super-everything. But when I spend time in a place or situation, my brain gets to considering how it got there, the way it is and what brought it to where it is. Nothing happens in a vacuum, right? It’s all accretion and decay and rebuilding, particularly in matters of culture and the like. That stuff isn’t planned, no matter how many would-be-franchises get put out there. Particularly in fandoms.
And I’ve spent more than my fair share in a number of fandoms: science fiction, music, blogging, comics, academia (oh yeah, that’s a fandom, too). I end up never really belonging in any of them. It’s that outsider’s outsider thing working in my favor.
Slap a big question mark at the end of that last statement. Seriously. There’s nothing stranger than thinking “hey, these should be my kin,” looking around and figuring out that they’re not, that this place you’re ‘supposed’ to belong in simply doesn’t fit. There’s plenty of people I enjoy hanging out with, but once it moves past that circle, buckle your seatbelts for fandom.
So much of fandoms now is the whole basis of personal identity through consumption, which is something that often baffles me. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy comics, as an example. I’ve written ‘em, written about them on and off for more than ten years (two volumes worth of material if one was so inclined to look them up on Amazon), have been to more comic shows than I can count, starting in 1989 and read them since 1981. You’d think, true-blue comic fan dyed in the wool, cut me and I bleed four colors forever, right?
So I shot some stuff for Intrapanel, but I’m away from my regular office and don’t have my updated Tumblr password, so it won’t get posted until Tuesday, likely.
But here’s a taste. It’s not the usual thing.
So if anyone knows how to reset a Tumblr password without having the old one, let me know and I’ll post it early, otherwise, be patient.
I’d have posted this to my regular weblog, but WordPress is being stupid.
Spoilers for everything. No whining.
GODZILLA is a tough one. On paper, like say, superheroes, Godzilla is a no-brainer. The no-brainerest of them. He is a titan, a walking natural disaster, the reversal of human hubris and belief in a subjugated nature (particularly that in the harnessing of the atom and unleashing it against its fellow human in the form of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.) Godzilla is the shadow cast by the artificial daylight of the atom bomb. This is not hard.
Of course, this is the primal Godzilla, the first one, the black and white monstrosity that unleashed death in footsteps and atomic breath upon Japan in the dark horror of GOJIRA. Eventually, that force, like the atom, was tamed and trained and reshaped into a being that not only tolerated humanity, but became its protector in ever-more elaborate scenarios (MONSTER ZERO, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS and GODZILLA VERSUS THE SMOG MONSTER being personal favorites).
The pendulum swung in the opposite direction later, where Godzilla once again played the role of a terrestrial vengeance, the id of Gaia, punishing civilization for disrespect (and I’ll admit only partial familiarity with the turn-of-the-century Godzilla offerings, yes, I’ll turn in my membership card). But there’s room for interpretation, as with any iconic figure.
This afternoon saw me put to bed a project that’s been hounding me since August. It doesn’t matter that I still don’t think it’s complete or that it’s only good in patches. I’ve done what I can do to smooth them. Someone else’s hands will be on it now. But this one’s been a monster. I can talk about only some of why it’s been so. The other stuff isn’t important really, no matter how juicy you may think it is.
So last year, I started the draft in late August. Wrote four hundred pages between September and the week before Christmas. Add to that being a dad, husband, out sick for a week and undertaking an ill-conceived short story submission (“The Black Mass Variations” which may or may not see the light of day), throw in one major but nebulous health scare, spice with a hernia diagnosis and Making Christmas Happen, I hit the wall. I shambled through the holidays, utterly shellshocked. Was a zombie through New Year’s Day. Went into surgery for said hernia not long after.
And then I set in to rewrite. Not only to rewrite, but to tear the whole thing down. This after examination between me and my collaborators where a number of things weren’t working. Didn’t matter if they were all my fault or not, all the problems *felt* like they were my fault and that I wasn’t doing enough. After taking an outline and turning it into four hundred coherent (but not without problems, some of them major) pages in three months and change. Go ahead, try it sometime. No, I’m not a believer in NANOWRIMO. Write a short story instead.
So I went back to square one. Threw out two hundred pages and their attached outline. Re-cast the main character, the second lead and the villain. Wrote and cut wrote and cut wrote and cut. That’s been life since puking my guts out right after hernia surgery. Yeah, I took a whole week off, but really I didn’t, because I was hip deep in that book after two days, trying to unlearn the way I’ve been writing for the last let’s just say ten years because that’s a less depressing number than how long it’s really been.
And now it’s all done but the crying. Well, that and a final pass or two. And the ending. Endings are tough and this one is likely above my pay grade. It’s been a process that started as exhausting and then got dipped in a healthy coating of self-doubt and complete belief in my inability to do any of this right. Not sure I’m through that last part, honestly. The whole “write to please yourself” thing works great if you’re the guy cashing the checks.
Going back to the beginning, trying to undo years of being a feral writer, it’s not easy. And by “not easy” it’s like trying to cut down a sequoia tree with a chainsaw that you can’t even hold because you’re sure that the chainsaw is turned the wrong way and is going to cut your damn hands off the second you try to flip the ignition switch.
Self-doubt is a crippler. Make no mistake.
Which takes me to DISINTEGRATION by the Cure, which turned 25 last week.
I know. Time-machine-whiplash go!
So it’s 1990 (I got the album almost a year after it came out because I didn’t see the video for “Fascination Street” until early that year) and I’m about ready to graduate from college. I have two degrees and absolutely no concept as to how to grapple with the real world using either of them. Good thing I didn’t graduate in say 2008, right? I’d have really been up the chocolate creek without a popsicle stick.
I’m graduating and I have no path. Not the whole Joseph Campbell path of the hero thing, but no clue what I’m going to do next. Which is not a happy place to be. And The Cure managed to find a perfect soundtrack for that. If my copy had been a tape, I’d have wrapped it around the playback head, I played it so many times. If it had been vinyl, I’m sure the grooves would have been worn so badly that it would all sound like surface noise with the occasional drum hit.
See, I wasn’t a big Cure fan back then. Kinda liked some of the songs (and probably would have gotten into PORNOGRAPHY in a big way if any of my multiple groups had been back then). But I got DISINTEGRATION in a big way. It was familiar territory already, anxious and trying to shake it but not knowing how and just riding it out. Which is how I’d spent most of my days as graduation loomed (remind me to tell you about the missed final that almost kept me from walking sometime). Nervous, unsure, borderline panic.
There are times that this crap can be held back. There’s even days that it doesn’t show up at all. But it didn’t take much to let it in, just crack the door a little and like a hungry bear, it’ll just stroll in and push you around and you get to take it.
You don’t take it because it’s fun. You take it because you don’t have a bear gun in your hands to drop it in its tracks. Or rather, I do it like that.
But listening to DISINTEGRATION, I wasn’t reveling in that sort of clobbering helplessness. Matter of fact, that was usually the furthest thing from my mind as I’d listen to “Closedown” or “Lullaby” at high volume on my brick-heavy Sony “portable” soundsystem. It was something else I was feeling. Like someone else had been there and through it. Which is of course the secret to all this depressing music, and that goes all the way from the blues to outsider stoner doom beats. Someone else is out there and they’ve had an experience like yours. And they got through it so maybe you will too.
Maybe. Or at least you can hold it off for awhile.
Someone once told me that when you get older, you get more like you already are. Which in my case is probably not a good thing, and explains why self-doubt can wander in and make me its punk (and I mean that in the terms of the prison punk; suppose the more contemporary term would be bitch). It’s a tough thing to fight. But then you’re fighting yourself, and that’s not a winning match up.
Don’t fight yourself. We’re already standing in deep water most of the time. The world already has arrayed a number of horrors against us, pelting us with them on a regular basis. There’s wonders too. Don’t get me wrong. But they’re tough to see sometimes.
Your own abilities are tough to see sometimes. But so’s your resilience. That’s invisible, especially when you’ve been bleeding for awhile and it’s nothing but blood in the water.
Made it this far, though. Now it’s just grappling with the terrifying thought of what to work on next, since the world at large isn’t exactly demanding the next entry of my never-ending franchise entertainment series. It’s mighty good content.
What is THE TERRIBLE TOME, you ask?
It’s a book of monsters from a fantasy game that never existed, an exercise in imagination and worldbuilding from the inside-out. It started as a joke on Tumblr, inspired by Chris Cooper’s (you might know him better simply as Coop) art based on THE MONSTER MANUAL from DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS. In particular his Rust Monster, which you can see here. And that got me to thinking about how our entertainment was built to be franchised, infinitely repeatable ad nauseum. Yet there was a time that it wasn’t. DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS used to be a bunch of guys (mostly) getting together and riffing off of their favorite fantasy works, but also adding to it. That’s the important part. Adding to, not just replicating.
Creatures like the Rust Monster and the Bulette (which may or may not have been inspired by plastic dinosaurs, both) as well as the Xorn and Umber Hulk, the Stirge and Doppleganger, Demogorgon the Demon Prince and Jubilex the Faceless Lord. All of these were new things, invented for DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS, and not necessarily just being adapted from Tolkien or other authors (so far as I know), nor were they adapted from existing mythology (though plenty of DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS was). This is where the game really began to breathe. And sure, it was crazy and nonsensical half the time, with perhaps a sheen of natural science to suggest that yes, it’s perfectly logical for a creature to exist solely to eat the armor off of adventurers by turning it to rust and then metabolizing the ferric oxide goodness within. But it also makes no sense as anything beyond an exercise of the imagination.
DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on this sort of thing. Any good fantasy/SF game brings along a raft of worldbuilding with it. And like D&D, most games inevitably become more conservative, trying to shoehorn things in and make it all believable, less frantic, more professional, more coherent but often at the cost of vibrancy. Sure, it all comes together, but never feverishly, and often with a sad listlessness. The roaring fire cools. Maybe that’s life. But it doesn’t have to be.
Anyways, I’d envisioned THE TERRIBLE TOME as a unique artifact of a world that never existed, and probably doesn’t make a lot of sense when you try to put it all together, but is fantastic and vivid at the same time. Not a copy of DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS, because that’s pointless, but a work inspired by it. Given the best of all possible worlds, I’d line up a bunch of artists and writers to come up with a crazy collection of creatures (many have already expressed interest in it, like Tom Fowler above, who went above and beyond the call of duty to draw up something based on my half-joke about the project; which I went ahead and wrote up in the spirit of things.)
Ideally, it would be a hardcover book that suggests a larger world beyond its pages, but wouldn’t map it all out.
Sadly, I don’t see many folks actually picking something like this up. Which makes it tough to pay for all this work, y’know?
And please don’t suggest Kickstarter. I’ve backed projects there, but I’ve seen enough projects go bad or take ethically questionable paths after funding that it’s not something I’m interested in. Maybe I’m old-fashioned (that’s rhetorical). Besides, who do I sell this to? Comics fans? (It’s not a comic.) RPG fans? (it’s not an RPG.) Art fans? (the art comes out on the small side). Fantasy fans? (there’s no narrative.) It’s the ultimate neither fish nor fowl project, which is something I seem to specialize in (hint: people usually buy fish or fowl, but not something halfway in-between.)
I’d feel pretty uncomfortable asking for volunteer work on something like this as well. But it’s hard to pay folks for something that won’t pay for itself. (Go ahead, ask me how much money I made on STRANGEWAYS: hint – I haven’t paid for the printing costs, much less the art costs, much less going to conventions or heck, just for giggles a minimum wage payment for the guy who made it happen.)
So perhaps it’s better at pipe-dream status.
Ah, one of my infamous travelogues/con reports. It’s been a little while.
I’m still pretty new at science fiction/fantasy shows (as opposed to comic shows, which were old hat for me in 1990 and 2008 as an exhibitor). Still getting used to things. Still figuring out how to talk to other humans without all these electrons as a mediating force overcoming my own outsider-ness. It’s a work in progress.
FOG stands for Friends of Genre, but the focus was certainly on science fiction and fantasy, with a touch of horror here and there (and YA, which really isn’t a genre in and of itself, but more a target audience.) Of course, playing to that audience expectation becomes kind of a set of genre expectations over time, doesn’t it?
Right, I’ll stop being meta.
Spent last weekend at FOG-Con in Walnut Creek. Show went well. More details later, just getting this up now to remind me that I need to say something about it. Spent a lot of off-time taking pictures around Orinda, Alameda and in San Francisco. Got to drive though the Caldecott Tunnel a couple of times, which I wouldn’t want to do during rush hour.
I’ll be trying to post here more often, though I do wonder if that’s the best idea sometimes. Tumblr is seductively convenient.
Stuff like this (even if in super-vaporware stage) is why I’m not a nihilist. Though I’m not always an optimist.
My first collection of short fiction, entitled TUG ON THE RIBBON, is available for your Kindle device for free this weekend. This coincides with my appearance and reading at FOG-Con in Walnut Creek. Four short stories, science fiction and horror, for your enjoyment.
Hey, William Gibson liked the title story, so you may like it, too.
Check out the preview page here: http://highway-62.com/wp/?page_id=1635
Reverts to 3.99 price on Tuesday, so get to it.