I managed to trap myself yesterday, pretty bad. Not gonna bog you down with the personal details that you’re not really interested in, but last week was no damn good. This week not so much either. Let it all catch up to me, or I guess you could say I jumped into the cage myself. Whichever. Little of both because the truth of it is that it takes energy not to jump into the cage and pull the door shut behind you.
A lot of this, work-wise comes from the push and pull of trying to validate all this work by making it sell. Figuring out what’s going to work and second guessing yourself is bad enough. It can cripple as badly as being hit by a car. But when I (and maybe even you) start hamstringing myself with what’s got a chance of selling, much less working, and I dwell on that for any length of time? Yeah, that’s a disaster waiting to happen.
Truth of it is, knowing what will sell is a misnomer (at least on the onset — in theory one gets so well known that they can do pretty much anything and it’ll sell to an audience). Ain’t nobody knows, and anyone whose telling you different is lying, else we’d see nothing but best-sellers from every publisher, record company and movie studio forever and ever. That’s not how this works. Still, the work has to work.
And that’s where I’m killing myself. Thinking too many moves ahead. That’s just as useless as thinking about how the best work is all in the past, whether it be books, movies, music, cartoons, etc etc. Or that your best work is in the past because if it is, well then why are you bothering, right?
Of course, those aren’t the problems that I’ve been having. Mine has been more just connecting, which is a frustrating process when in the best of times, I’m only able to do about 30% time on work. Yes, I know. That’s not acceptable and if only you were devoted enough to do 100% work time you’d be successful. That’s also not a reasonable expectation in my situation.
So yeah, frustration boils over and you lose a day doing nothing, hating everything you do, feeling boxed in and that it’ll always be this way. That last one’s the killer, the real crippler.
I know. “Abloo! Abloo! Life’s so unfair!” Got it.
So, for real work update? Hah. It’s all pitch revision and in some cases, creation. Unfortunately, pitches and storylines are where all the work is front-loaded. It’s the hundred pages of stuff that nobody sees, and an editor might see five pages of. Think about that again. A hundred pages of work that nobody sees and the editor I’m pitching to sees a distillation of about 5 pages, maybe. That hundred pages still has to get written before a thing gets done. Character arcs, worldbuilding, aesthetics (this is comics after all), plot arcs (both initial plotting and have enough to continue from). At least the whole of a novel gets seen, right? Not development stuff. Which is done solo, in my case, I suppose others have a group to bounce things off of. I don’t. And I have a lot of other stuff to do, so building the mountain that has to get carved into Mt. Rushmore seems like a daunting task, particularly when the success rate of your earlier works is what mine is. But enough of that. Just know that a pitch isn’t something you dash off in an afternoon even when you have the smoking hot idea for it. The smoking hot idea, by the way, is the easiest part.
Working on further revision of RAGNAROK SUMMER, which is about 2/3 done. Probably one final pass on top of that. I realize it’s not going to reach perfection, but I’ve got no use for that. I do need to finish more.
STRANGEWAYS grinds along. I’m tempted to post a page from Luis’ Guragña’s story just to show you all how good he is now, but the one I want to show is a massive spoiler and that ain’t fair. Still have one story that needs an artist assigned (and it’s a challenge so, I don’t want to hand it out lightly) as well as a cover. Cover’s kinda important. Need it to be eye-catching, hint at the story, but keep in the tradition of a graphic style, so those make it a tall order to fill. I’m still optimistic for it to be finished this year and released next, but optimism is the opiate of the artist or something.
Still doing creative unwinding work over at Intrapanel. Taking macro photographs of comics beats alcohol as a way to ease down.
Also spent part of last weekend at the San Jose comics fest known as Big Wow! and I’ll have to write that up another time. Oh, and some thoughts on the Netflix DAREDEVIL series and the nature of serial entertainment structures with regards to television and movies and comics (mostly not movies, but a little bit.) Again, those will have to be separate entries. Gotta wrap this one up.
Well, I went this far without blowing a deadline.
I’ll get an update this week. Kinda grim all ’round, really. String of rejections, some more polite than others. Really the phrase “perhaps with some time and an editor you might be good enough to write for our-non-pro-level-pay anthology” sets me off in several ways.
One day I’ll start feeling like I’m not in a transitional state, right? Maybe that’s the deal. Always changing. Or always moving away from another burning wreck to another as the hull finally slips below the waterline, just in time for the engine room to catch fire. Rinse repeat.
Been thinking things over since the Emerald City show, as written up last week. For all the talk about the third STRANGEWAYS book in there, I’d basically walked away from comics, putting THE LAND WILL KNOW out for sheer cussedness more than anything else. It’s not a money-making proposition. It’s the third book in a series that precious few people have read, in black and white, an anthology and based in a genre that (while enjoying kind of a minor revival) is on the outs.
However, it’s a story I wanted to do (a series of stories, really) and what’s more, I wanted to do it the way it’s being done (hand-picked artists for the stories, perhaps an overly-indulgent framing sequence, everyone paid on the delivery of their pages, no imaginary back end payments). It hasn’t been optimal, much of that on me being distracted by any number of other things that all have been more important than getting this book done. But it is happening.
And that’s pretty cool. Even if it’s exhausting, as is the reality of having to go through the promotional gantlet all over again (at least now it’s the age of people accepting PDF previews). And it was pretty cool being on the show floor, talking with artists who are working on the book and a bunch whose work I just know even if I’m not working with them this time around.
During all that, I began to come to a realization about a lot of my own work, the prose work that is. Namely that a lot of what I’ve been trying to work out as a novel isn’t working out because the ideas are just too visual or I couldn’t grapple with them properly in prose. So maybe they’re not supposed to be prose.
Which is not an inconsiderable conclusion to come to. Doing comics scripting is not nearly the same thing as writing novels. Duh. And it’s sure not the same thing when it comes to production. I can write one of them on my own. Comics? No way. Now that’s part of the fun of them, but it also becomes an expensive proposition. I’ve always paid artists on page delivery even when money isn’t coming down the pipeline until long after the fact (MURDER MOON went through a pretty long birthing process, as longtime readers will know.) This isn’t nobility, but common decency. If an artist wants to work for a limited page rate but paid on the back end, that’s great, but everyone’s got bills to pay.
Particularly rough when you’re self-publishing. Listen, it’s not all milk and cookies. Yes, you get to do the book the way you want to and hold all those rights. It’s also hard to get into the pipeline (by which I mean more than just showing up in the Diamond catalog). Specially when you’re self-publishing collections (though I’ll maintain that self-publishing single issues is a bigger roll of the dice since Diamond may elect to drop distribution if you aren’t making benchmarks, which are harder to reach when your book shows up in the back of the catalog).
Swimming uphill might be fulfilling, but it’s also tiring.
I know. Life is tiring, old man.
All of this is a meandering set up for talking about doing things differently. Some of this comes from the contract that I was on for the last five years (well-paid but otherwise a mixed bag) being up and realizing things aren’t moving while I’m swimming uphill. So I’ll take another turn.
Spent the first part of this year working on pitches for some fun things that I’m not holding my breath for. But they’re straight-out work-for-hire pitches, make no mistake. Yes, I’m still doing a bunch of creator-owned work, mostly on the prose side, but that also means prose turnaround times for short story market pay (ha!). And I’ll continue doing shorts for ideas that make sense (oddly, most of my short story ideas are specifically not good for comics but instead for prose) but long form fiction? Only maybe. BLUE HIGHWAY is still going through the submission process and I’m not yet ready to abandon it to the world of self-publishing. I still have revisions to do to RAGNAROK SUMMER, but time’s been scattered for that. Really need to shift it to the top of the pile.
Then it’s on to my first new comics project in a very long time. I figure it’ll be THE KING OF ALL THE DEAD, which is something that’s been kicking around for a long time (even announced work on the prose version at quiet times in the work schedule a couple years back, always ended being abandoned because it didn’t fit as a prose book). I won’t talk too much about it and instead actually work on it, though I’ve tagged some research postings at the Tumblr site so you can get an idea of what’s going on. There’s a whole bunch of background pulled together, a rough plot that needs some more shaping. Mostly I need to pick out a good 5-page sequence or bite the bullet and script the first issue and pull that together.
Of course, that brings us back to paying the artist (nope, not even picked out) long before anything like a cash flow is started. This time around, I’ve gotta figure out getting a colorist paid as well. Yes, black and white books get launched these days, but mostly they got launched years ago and have continued to the present day. I dunno, maybe I’ll stick to my guns and try to launch it black and white.
For awhile I was thinking of launching myself into a long-form series and then I came to my senses. Something with a limited run, beginning middle end, straight-up and self-contained narrative is a better exercise (probably a little easier to sell, too. Or at least to see through to the finish.) So yeah, not going to try to do a multi-year narrative first thing out of the gate. Ambition has its uses, but it’s also a heckuva a drug.
Feels like I’m doing too much, too many directions. But that comes from jumping from wreck to wreck, right? Thing is, it feels more right than trying to decide which microgenre my prose fits into and sweat submissions. That’s one of the great things about comics (I mean outside the Big Two) is that there is a wider diversity of potential genres able to make it into audiences’ hands (okay, romance still has a ways to go) than there certainly used to be. And, like I said before, going to comics shows, I get the feeling that the audience is thriving in a way that it simply isn’t in the prose-driven (SF) shows that I’ve been going to. One’s fighting a rear-guard action and the other is pushing forward.
Yes, comics could still hit a wider audience, but it feels like it’s *trying* to, and given the growth at even non-media/celebrity-driven shows, more people are looking into comics now. Vocal minorities aside, there’s more freedom in comics now and a more vibrant audience to get stories to. No, it’s not perfect. Ain’t no system is. This isn’t an excuse, but something more like acceptance.
This has gone on too long. Wrapping it up. But I’ll bring it back to Adrian Borland, who gave me the title for this entry. Just remember: “From the safest places come the bravest words.” Talk remains cheap.
EMERALD CITY COMIC-CON 2015
So yeah, this whole get in a plane and fly to a show is kind of a big deal. And I wouldn’t even be doing that if it weren’t for Twitter (now real-life-) friend Rich Amtower, who got me hooked up with a 3-day pass (yeah, those sold out a little while ago). So thanks, Rich. But it’s also kind of a scary threshold to cross for a show, when folks have to line up to get their entertainment fix. I know that there’s nothing to be done to change that. This isn’t a dig on the management of the show. They’re confined to the available space, and they’ve just filled it up. Demand outstrips supply. Happens. Just means I need to be more on the ball.
And honestly, there’s no changes to be made to it. Yes, the show is going to a four-day format next year, but that won’t change a darn thing. It’ll still be just as busy (barring devastating meteor impact or retrovirus or resurrected dinosaur rampage) next year. Unless I’m exhibiting (yeah, it could happen), I can’t see being there for all four days next time around, but I bet most of the regular con-goers will find a way to make that happen.
Pretty sure that the last time I was here, the show was only using part of the main floor, and it felt plenty big. This year, it’s all of the main floor, several side rooms and the entirety of the top floor was being used as autographs/celebrity holding pen and a second artist’s alley (which I sadly did not get as much chance to explore as I wanted to.) The whole building is being utilized. Which makes ECCC #2 or #3 in comic con attendance, probably #3 now that I think on it more, behind SDCC and NYCC. Nowehere else to go except to a secondary building, which doesn’t seem to be a possibility.
Huge. Well-managed growth. Almost unrecognizable from the old shows at Safeco from what must be nearly ten years ago now, maybe not quite that long. Hats off to the team, ’cause I’d have driven the works off the end of a pier long ago.
Spent the night before the trip up not sleeping because that’s how I work. It’s fun. You should try it. You get to wander around in a daze even before you’ve had the first drink of the night. Read Peter York’s STYLE WARS on the plane ride up (and back). Can’t recommend it enough (and in turn it was recommended to me by fellow traveller Andrew Weiss). Anyone who’s interested in culture/class/fashion/music/history will have something to chew on there. Since I’m interested in all four, I was in bliss.
Until my taxi hit the Seneca turn-off of I-5 and was stuck in traffic for what seemed like an hour. Soul-destroying traffic back-up there. Always. Checked in at the hotel which was nicer than I deserve, I’m sure, but on the far side from the convention center (though there was an upside to that, as once you got two blocks away from Pike or University, the crowds disappeared.) Walked over to the Barnes and Noble to kill some time. Read over the wall of offerings in the SF section and was kind of appalled. Sure, there’s some good stuff. But there’s a whole damn lot of samey stuff that seemed to be selected and promoted on the same basis as we choose politicians: lack of experience, relative un-taintedness from time in the industry, ready made franchises that promise four books of the same experience over and over. Hell, I just want one good one. Doesn’t even have to be long.
Oh, and reading the magazine section made me feel like I’d fallen back in time to maybe 2003. All of these fancy publications carefully curated and offering content that’s weeks or months old already. ADBUSTERS felt positively quaint compared to my tumblr feed, and I tend to cull anti-establishment types (who aren’t entertaining) pretty quickly. Besides, where would I put any of these magazines once I bought them? The content’s already at the magazine’s site. Why buy the paper?
More on that later, I suppose.
There’s a visual pun here, but I’ll let you figure it out.
Right. This week. Busy one. Getting ready for Emerald City Comic-Con coming up next week, and I’ve got a number of things to get done before that.
First off is a story called “Chunked” which just went out to an anthology, though I can’t say that I wrote the story just for it. This is an idea that’s been kicking around for a while. The first draft of it got finished several weeks ago, maybe a bit longer. Science fiction, of a sort, with its feet in a familiar set of mythologies, though I did a lot to distance the story from its roots and dare I say invert things. Yeah, that’s obvious, but in this case, it’s been a long time coming. Originally it came in at over 6600 words and felt about right. Too bad the anthology is looking for lengths of no more than 4000 words.
I don’t know about you folks, but 4000 words is on the low side for me. I usually roll about 6-10k more or less. I’ve gotten better at being shorter (my first short story assignments called for 10k and first drafts came in at 20k or so – just wish I could draft longform that quickly.) So, cut 2600 words out. Almost half, more than a third of the length. Some of the big cuts were easy, say the first thousand or so. That’s structural. The rest of it came from trimming little bits of structure and barely-mentioned plotlines that had to be abandoned altogether.
I’m pretty pleased with what was left, but then I’ve been pleased by all my short stories. However, any that I haven’t been specifically contracted to write haven’t been picked up, so I know what me liking them is worth. It’s still a trip through the slush. Which is honestly pretty frustrating. I’ve talked about content-less rejection letters, so I won’t any more.
I’ve got to get the next STRANGEWAYS short story (tentatively titled “Ballast Scorcher”) out the door, or at the very least drafted before next Friday. That one’s supposed to be 3-9k and I’m pretty sure it’ll be on the heavy end of that. The story isn’t due until the end of the month, but I know I’ll do better with a cooling off period between the draft and the final. Better being relative. I know I’m not the best editor of my own work, but I don’t have a reading group (nor do I likely have the time that really participating would require).
The other big current project is taking RAGNAROK SUMMER, an early novel of mine (originally drafted in 1994, whether you believe it or not) and breaking it into smaller, more episodic chunks for Kindle Unlimited, specifically to try something with a more serial approach. I’m not the first writer to do the math on this, where borrows from Kindle Unlimited end up paying a lot more than the thirty-cent share that I’d get for selling a .99 episode. Like I said, it’s an experiment. The novel will probably get broken into five or six sections, perhaps more. Trying to find the best breaks in the story that will feel satisfying but also immediately lead to the next section.
Honestly, it can’t sell worse than the book already has. Riding the long tail and all.
That said, the book has a lot going for it. Yeah, I’m fixing some of the language and earlier tics that I was suffering from, but I’m leaving the work itself alone, for the most part. Maybe it’ll flow a little better.
Here’s the back cover copy if you think you might be interested:
Of course now I’ll be accused of bandwagoneering on the success of Thor from THE AVENGERS and the like, but hey, twenty-plus year old manuscript so…
I figure the revisions won’t take much more than another couple of weeks, once I get rolling on them, just that it’ll probably have to wait until April. I’ll post some more of the manuscript here, just to give readers a taste (there’s already some on the site, but it’s the old text and there’s some stuff that I prefer to be fixed, so I won’t directly link it right now.)
Outside of writing, I started watching HANNIBAL, which I find more interesting than infuriating (and there’s plenty I don’t like about it, don’t get me wrong.) I kinda suffered Lechter over-exposure awhile back and while he can be an interesting character, he can very easily be tipped over to the ridiculous. Suspending disbelief in the show can be difficult at times, but the desire to see the story unfold is outweighing that so far.
Though it does point out what’s so much at the heart of that critical tool. We ignore the faults of things we like. If we don’t like them, we call them “unbelievable” and look for other hooks on which to hang our critique.
At any rate, I’m watching it as much as a study of the reveal of the story in a serial form as much as for pure entertainment. I’m well aware of my (many) limitations and will steal solutions or blinds for them from any place that will offer them. I’m not proud. This is all sleight of hand, and while my dexterity (particularly in manipulation of structure) isn’t as strong as some, I figure I have strengths that I can emphasize and use a distractions.
And yes, a new round of submissions ahead for BLUE HIGHWAY/BLACK TRACE, though I do begin to wonder why I bother with that. I mean, I know why, but the effort to return ratio is pretty thin. Factor in the response from agents (ranging from content-less to “I liked the grit but…” it seems like I’m the only one who has any investment in the book. Or wants any investment in it.
On top of all that, I’m working on researching THE GLASS DIAMOND. Yeah, I should be spending time on another project, but that hasn’t been happening. If you’re interested in what THE GLASS DIAMOND may be about, you can visit the research tumblr I’ve set up for it. Though really, this will only tell you about the time period. The actual story won’t be given away.
Okay, that’s enough for this week. Blogging isn’t exactly writing, neither is yammering on Twitter about whatever (but it’s a useful semblance of social interaction). If you’re at the show in Seattle next week, look for me. I’ll probably be the shell-shocked guy flipping through the cheap bins for more Bronze Age treasures. That or taking pictures of urban profiles or grubby textures.
THE GOLDEN GIZMO – Jim Thompson (just finished, actually)
THE CLAW OF THE CONCILIATOR – Gene Wolfe (super dense, super-rich but have to pursue with a clear head and energy, which I don’t always have.)
Being the update for March 11, 2015
I never know where to start these. Probably because I’m still struggling with doing these updates for people who may or may not be reading these. I mean, I already know what happened and where I’m wandering to next. Mostly.
For instance, I managed to wander into SFWA membership, based on my writing of “The Teacher” for Blizzard Entertainment a couple years back, but only qualified me for membership with a recent rules change. Perhaps I could have joined earlier, but I don’t think so. So I spent a little while getting re-acquainted with the organization and forums and such.
This was well-timed, as I was going to be heading over to FOG-Con in Walnut Creek, a relatively small local science fiction show. Wasn’t a panelist this year, as I was last, kinda too bad. Pay attention to deadlines, kids. Drove out through unnaturally warm breaks between the hills of northern California in the early March. Found my opinion of Walnut Creek hadn’t really changed (a lot like Irvine only minus any of my friends living very close to it, therefore on the dull side).
First day I attended a writing workshop, which is generally not my thing to do at all. Still found it useful to a degree, if not frustrating listening to how fast people were rattling off some of their timed exercises. You can read mine above. Of course, I was kind of an idiot and tried to turn each one into a story, so that probably hampered things on my end.
Caught a reading from Andrea Stewart and Chaz Brenchley, which turned me on to his work (I’ve known Andrea for a little while now—did my first reading with her at Bay-Con, I think, last year).
Attended a session on “Stories That Break the Rules” and while plenty of interesting stuff was discussed, but I’m at a point in my writing where I just want to know that I’m telling a story that runs from A to B to C and nobody gets too lost and things more or less make sense. I’m not into things to break rules just to break the rules. Which probably makes me a bad science fiction writer, right?
One thing that sticks out was the freebie table. I remember seeing a couple books there last year. Not many. Nor have I seen many at most freebie tables. But not this time. Books were stacked high on the table, multiple copies, multiple titles. I found it a little disturbing. Sure, I’ve seen it before at conventions, but only really big ones like SDCC or BEA. I’m not sure what to think of this move. But I’m probably too close to things to hope that just giving the book away to anyone will lead to more press and more sales down the road. Wonder if it actually works.
Went to dinner at a place recommended by a friend. Tasty but expensive. Back to the room and not to the bar, because I really don’t do well in situations where I don’t know anyone personally. Yeah, in that regard I’m still five. Though I did actually drag myself to a mixer function before dinner where I met a bunch of pretty cool folks and I managed to survive the experience, so maybe I’m getting better.
But still, back to the room and reading after dinner. Not even reading science fiction. This makes me a bad person. Or an interdisciplinarian, I guess. THE GOLDEN GIZMO by Jim Thompson, by the by.
Woke up early. Hotel sleep, mind you. I just don’t do it well. Off to the Black Bear Diner over in Walnut Creek which whips a mean corned beef hash (seriously, all corned beef, no potatoes or onions) to keep me powered through the day. Low blood sugar kills, y’know.
Checked out a couple more writing-oriented panels, again, some useful stuff to be offered there, but so much of what’s being covered is stuff that I’ve already babbled about or gotten into arguments online about (being old does tend to wear the shine off of some things.) Though one thing I did notice is that things were often brought up like they were a new and unusual thing when, if you read outside SF, you’d see that they’re addressed all the time, even in genres as mundane as *gasp* crime fiction. So, read outside your field.
Last panel of Saturday was “Wash Your Hands Before Attending” which was one of the highlights of the show. Put two science fiction/horror writers in with a scientist and a professional in the field and you’ve got a good time. It was a great mix of looking at the literature of disease and current events and some speculation, all by folks who know what the hell they’re talking about. More of this, please.
Drove down to Sunnyvale to load up on some cheap comics (Bronze Age only, please, no more than a dollar apiece if you want my business) and hang with a longtime friend over Mexican food. Then a nice, quiet drive back to Walnut Creek, taking perhaps the least direct route back, along the shores of the South Bay (more industrial, long stretches of semi-populated asphalt lots with cranes towering over the yellow gloom, the only color offered by an oddly-located carnival) to another night of no sleep.
Wake for the time-change. On a whim, I get ready fast seeing that the light was still there. Drove back to Orinda, where I’d discovered the Art Deco-styled Orinda Theatre last year. I’d taken pictures of it at night and in overcast light, but not on a bright and perfect morning. Missed the absolute best light (only caught any of it due to the time change) but did okay. Took breakfast and headed back.
Have to say the best panel of the show was “Science Fiction and Politics” and honestly, with a title like that, there were about equal chances for something good or something horrible. Luckily, it was something very good. I’m not going to go over the content in particular, other than to say that perhaps Utopianism isn’t dead. Whether or not that’s a good thing for you, I’ll let you decide. Even had a chance to meet and briefly chat with Kim Stanley Robinson, which was a surprise, but at least a pleasant one.
Left the show a little early to get down to Alameda (tunnels through the mountains and tunnels under the bay) to meet a friend at the Pacific Pinball Museum. Longtime readers may remember that last year I did much the same, only visiting the High Scores Arcade instead. Yeah, I’ve got a thing for old amusement devices, what can I say? Needless to say, the Museum didn’t disappoint. Great selection of old tables, all in about as good a condition as you could expect. Took a bunch of photos, hung out with a friend and had a good, rambling talk.
I’ll be honest. I don’t get out much. I live in the hinterlands. I’ve got two kids and serve as Mr. Mom. I’m almost perpetually on duty. So getting out and hanging with folks who I’m already comfortable with is not something that happens often. I appreciate it when it happens.
Drove home and wondered how I’d keep the momentum going.
Reminded the following day that anxiety is a fucking horrible roommate. It’s true. Takes up a lot of space, drops cigarette butts everywhere, bad body odor, hogs the remote, saps your will. Not sure why he chose then to show up. Probably because I see people making this work and having no idea how to do it myself. Sounds about right.
More day job stuff and thinking about different presentations for work, not as novels but as more episodic work. This last possibility is intriguing but also runs one hundred percent against my personal grain. I’ve always worked to deliver complete stories, complete experiences (with perhaps the exception of my comics work, by necessity.) But perhaps it’s a necessity now. Price low, but give enough story to make the pieces work on their own and hook into a larger whole. This is one of those the technology and market changes nudging presentations. Besides, I’m tired of hearing about people throwing up dinosaur erotica on Amazon and raking money out of it.
Not that I’m writing dinosaur erotica.
What else? Oh, turned over a weird western anthology, so I’ll be writing a STRANGEWAYS story for the first time in several years. It’s mostly plotted and lightly-researched at this point. Probably finished up by next week, just to get it out of the way. Short stories are nice like that.
Will probably take a look at RAGNAROK SUMMER and see about breaking it up as serials after some work. Depending on how this goes, perhaps I’ll use it as a model for other self-published work. Like I said, the trick is writing episodic, and not just putting out a chunk of story meant to be included in a larger whole.
To that end, I started watching HANNIBAL. I don’t watch a lot of TV. Sure, my kids like a bunch of sitcoms that I’ve absorbed whether or not I want (and they are not the best model for the kind of thing I’m doing.) So far, HANNIBAL is interesting, beautifully shot, but more importantly, episodes are successfully standing on their own which is not super-easy to pull off and still propel the larger narrative. Something I should look at learning.
Also something that comics used to do really well. I know. You’ve heard this from me if you’re an old-time FULL BLEED reader. Comics used to be giant narratives that happened to be made up of smaller sub-narratives with continuing threads that get turned and pulled enough to give a little more zing, but you could just jump in at any time. Granted, that’s dead mostly in the days of the trades. Sure, there are some writers who are balancing long narratives, but often it’s just chunks of a narrative with an arbitrary act ending twist at the 22nd page. And I’m as guilty as anyone else on that count.
Currently mainlining pop culture documentaries on the seventies and eighties, mostly music-related. It’s all research. It all goes into the hopper and something interesting can be shaken out. Sometimes.
Oh, occurs to me that I didn’t mention the bad rejection letter I got on Saturday morning. It was one of those get-angry-for-an-instant and then burst out laughing at it because of its total lack of meaningful content. So, yeah, no fucks given on that one.
At least until that obnoxious roommate comes calling again.
Next week, gentle readers.
So, went to a writing exercise session at the convention I attended last week. Here’s what came out of it.
Frankly, it’s a miracle there’s anything here. Friday was not a good day for a number of things that aren’t fodder for discussion here. But still I went and worked.
Each of these were delivered in about a ten-minute span with a small break between, prompted by a variety of calls from the instructor.
Writing exercises -inspired by Vylar Kaftan at FOG-CON 2015
Three words: Greek, gross, wallflower
“Never date Greek,” she told me. Her lips pulled back so hard in disgust that I could see the teeth behind them.
I gulped more of my drink, too much sugar, not enough lime. It was a margarita in name only. “Don’t worry,” I said as I dropped the glass. Ice tumbled out in a sticky scatter on the table. “Don’t worry about me.”
The clatter of the glass caught Marcie’s attention this time. She pulled her fingers back from the spill. “You okay, honey? You hit that hard.”
“It hit me hard,” I replied. Almost as hard as the gross and greasy lunch was now. Tasty yet toxic. I considered another drink but let the thought slip away.
“You drink fast for a wallflower,” Marcie said. There was judgment behind it, flat and toneless.
“I have my reasons. And I’m not a wallflower. Just that I don’t like people too much.”
“So that’s why you’re asking for advice.”
“No. I was asking for you to give me a reason to keep slogging through all the walking left-swipes walking around campus.”
“You’re still mad about Ciro.” She caught herself, blue eyes flashing wide for a second when she realized what she’d said. “I’m sorry Tul.” Her lip wound over itself as she reached for something else to say. “But you know I’m right.”
Lunch bricked in my stomach and the lime and sugar boiled at the back of my throat. Of course she was right about it but that wasn’t what I wanted to hear.
Woke in the dark, hungry, cold. No food in sight. Nothing in sight. Submarine green and falling to opaque mist with only the rocks and rubble breaking the short horizon line.
Old one rose behind me, not thinking of food or anything else other than his precious words, promises that he never saw fit to keep.
Go, move. The gods demand it. His speech came without sound, through gesture and bending sinew. Fingers dancing in front of the weak light he carried, a green-glowed she’ll nearly as big as his fist. He pointed finally, reaching upwards.
Today was the day. No more hunger, he promised.
I believed him though I knew that there was nothing to build that belief on.
We watched and waited. The shifting blue above us rippled and patterned like the bellies of faraway fish, but offered nothing. Then I saw it. It started as a distant point and then grew, resolving itself into a familiar shape.
It was a fish, a large one, big enough to feed me for a week. I leaped, thinking not of the others but myself, throwing my hands out at it, lunging forward and biting.
And then I felt the carcass bite back. The fish was long dead, tasting of decay already, but but the time I understood what was happening, I was being pulled up, up, up.
“Tim, stay behind,” Mr. Rone said. He’d waited until Tim was almost to the door.
Tim froze and his shoulders bowed.
“I really don’t have time, Mr. Rone.”
“This will only take a minute. Honest.”
“Honest?” The question hung sharply in the moment.
“When have I not been?”
Tim nodded and swallowed. “Is this about me being late today? It won’t happen again.”
Mr. Rone sat at the edge of his desk. “I’m worried that you’re not taking this class seriously enough.” He rifled though the stack of recently collected papers without looking up.
“I don’t know how you can say that. I mean, I turn in all my work, and I’m mostly on time.”
“Today was a mistake,” Tim said.
“How big a mistake?” Rone’s eyes flicked up now, searching the youth.
Tim’s fingers wrung the strap of the backpack hanging on his shoulder. He swayed at the doorway, maybe thinking of stepping through it. “Pretty big.”
“I don’t think so. But there are others who would see it differently.”
“It was the wrong thing to do. It won’t happen again.”
“Don’t be so tough on yourself.”
(This one got cut off worse than most due to time, sadly. Hey, do better and come up with the situation and characters and write it all in ten minutes. Go ahead.)
Reyna’s heart rattle-spun in her chest now.
Only fifty feet.
The smoke from a nearby fire drifted between her and the car, but not enough to hide it. She wished for more smoke to cover her movement. Praying hadn’t ever changed anything so she didn’t waste her breath.
Something shuffled behind her now, followed by the metallic thud of a can hitting the concrete bodega floor. Then there was a gurgling sound that was almost a question.
One behind and how many outside now? How many that she couldn’t see?
She didn’t care. The one behind would smell through the chemicals soon enough. It would find her here. Maybe the car would start and maybe it wouldn’t. She couldn’t see a reason for it to have stopped.
Footsteps now, on the roof and behind. One, she could hide from for a few moments more, but two or five? She counted the steps in her mind as she saw the shadows moving on the far side of the alley. The silver huyndai with the open door waited.
She flung herself out the alley door, hearing the crash of shelves behind her and something babbling underneath that. Two steps in and she heard the snuffle of recognition and she kept running until she crossed the open space.
Mani sat down in the corner of the white cube, almost shrugging as she did.
Kent slammed his open palm on the glasslike window that wasn’t glass at all. “You can’t keep me here! I’ll have you up on charges.”
Mani laughed silently but Kent sensed the ridicule and glared. “What’s so funny, bitch?”
“You. You’re thinking that anyone in power here cares.”
Kent knew that she wasn’t speaking English but he heard it anyways. Anger burned in his face and he pointed. “The presentation is in two hours and if I’m not there to direct, my hopeless fucking staff will do nothing but fuck it up. The account will be lost and everything will go down in flames!”
“That’s a shame. I was thinking that if I am not returned that my daughter will not eat.”
(This one only got six or seven minutes and might’ve gotten somewhere.)
Take me on an airplane ride…
Last week I did a quick trawl of Duotrope, which is a thing that I do now, and still seems odd to type, but if you’re at my level of professional writing, you know what it is, I’m sure. So I do a trawl, and find that there’s an anthology looking for the kind of thing that I can write. Of course, they want it on Sunday and I only saw the listing on Tuesday.
So let’s talk about process real fast. In this case, I was looking for a prompt. Something that the editors put into the anthology guidelines and gives you an idea of the kind of thing they’re looking for. Historical + cosmic horror. Okay. They also put in a statement that they were looking for an emphasis on melee weapons, not firearms.
My first impulse is to go in deep on this. So I look up “early sword making.” This gets me to tin and bronze blades, most notably from ancient Turkey. Neat, and possibly meaty, but not out there enough. I read a little bit and there’s a bit about flint blades, but also obsidian blades. And that’s something that I can go in on. One of my recent-but-not-immediate-past projects had a long line on Mayan artifacts, and I remembered that the Mayans did some work with obsidian blades (both black and green, also fanciful etched blades that must have been ceremonial and not practical at all.)
Then I got to thinking about sword/blade makers, the people behind them. There’s an anchor. Then it’s a matter of finding a potential location in both geography and time period. Dabbled with the possibility of tying it into the whole Spanish conquest of Mesoamerica (which is a grim and terrible period in human history, one that still has huge power) but decide not to wade in those pools. There’s some things that I don’t mind muddying up, but this one didn’t feel right.
From there, having a handle on the location and time (late-Terminal Mayan), it’s time to do some quick reading on technique, but also the mythology and folklore surrounding knife-making. But it’s not something that I want to linger on too much. Honestly, over-research will get in the way of the story, particularly when working at the sub-5k length I was looking at.
Then we get to the random and freeform stage where I write out a bunch of lines and impressions and try to get a handle on what the story is. See, sword-making or combat or cosmic horror or history *aren’t* what the story is about at all. Those are things in the story. The story itself works on a different level, and it’s not about that cloud of facts and impressions. It’s about people. Cosmic horror, for instance, is only effective when you can use it as a point of contrast with humanity. Otherwise you’re just cataloging a litany of bleakness and there’s no time for that.
I didn’t get a single word of non-note/planning/plotting (and I use that last one loosely) into the computer until Friday afternoon, after having dealt with what is for all intents and purposes a new job that ate up most of last week, including a wonderful little mini-crisis that wasn’t of my making but needed to be handled all the same. Friday I got maybe 1300 words in. Not bad.
This meant work all day Saturday to get the rest of the story done. And by “all day” I really mean most of the day. But still, it got out. Mostly intact from the notes.
Did another read-through on Sunday, with some minor fixes, but honestly there wasn’t time to do any major surgery, nor was I up for it, honestly. This one entitled “The Stars So Broken” came out mostly of a piece. I still feel like the action scenes are something I’m not good at, so they’re probably underplayed, but with enough zing that the reader can fill in the details. Again, I was working with a 5k word limit. In an action chapter, that length could pretty easily become an action sequence if it was written briskly enough. No such luxury in this case.
So yeah, a whole short story done in about three days of work when all was said and done. Would be nice to have more, and I certainly will for the next one.
Last week saw me get a useful rejection from THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, the first non-awful rejection I’d gotten in some time. And by “non-awful” I mean that there was actually some substance to it. Whether or not I agree one hundred percent with it, it’s advice for the next time around. Which is a valuable thing, at least if you want to sell into that market.
I also got a really lousy rejection which wasn’t so helpful, almost flippant. I suppose they thought they were being casual about it, but it didn’t read like that. So you can’t dwell on that one.
What else? Oh right, officially became a member of SFWA. Which is odd-feeling given that my mom was a member back in the seventies and very early eighties, though she hasn’t been for a long time. Anyways, odd to be a member of that organization, but life is sometimes and often odd.
Watched a couple of films (mostly while exercising as a way to keep me exercising) from my childhood. KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE at the top of the list, which is a lot like 1978-era SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE minus the Standards and Practices crew breathing down their necks. John Landis directed and the Zuckers writing, so it’s all quality period humor. Also watched the oddity KGOD, also known as PRAY-TV which features the eponymous Central Valley television station falling on hard times and reinventing itself as a 24-hour non-denominational programming source. Pretty broad satire on the big, fat target of televangelism which was only coming into its own during the period the film was made (1980). Features some fine performances from the likes of Dr. John and Devo.
Also rewatched the 1978 remake of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, which you really can put alongside films like THE THING and THE FLY (the 80s remakes, that is) in terms of updating the source story and making it current, making the fear resonate. Leonard Nimoy (RIP and probably a subject for another posting sometime) turns in a great performance as a pop psychologist playing counter to the rising paranoia of Donald Sutherland and Jeff Goldblum. I’ll also note that the screenplay was by W.D. Richter, who wrote BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA as well as directed one of my favorite science fiction films BUCKAROO BANZAI. And the script is just great, taking the earlier themes of conformity and turning them on their head, instead taking punches at the steadily-anxious seventies. The film is on Netflix and Amazon Prime currently and it’s really worth your time.
Oh, yeah. Almost forgot. The above picture was from the Sac-Con show that happened last weekend here. I can’t resist taking pictures of obsolete technologies, in this case a bunch of Atari 2600 cartridges. Bought a giant pile of old comics too, but nothing more than a buck apiece.
Taking time to use guitar to unwind. Teaching myself some old Roxy Music and Joe South songs.
That’s about it for now. Let’s see what hits me next week.
So, this week.
Anything that I thought I’d be doing hasn’t really gotten done. I’ve more or less started a new job so writing gets put back on a shelf it hasn’t been for some time, that being the back shelf. Stuff will still be happening, but reality makes demands.
And no, I won’t be talking about the day job. You don’t want to hear about that anyways.
Writing wise, it’s been a survey of shorts markets and there’s one that looks good. Pity about the deadline, which is the end of the day Saturday for up to 6000 words. Horror. Lovecraftian, even. Which, for as much as I grouch about people putting HPL in their fiction, is right up my alley. Even better that I get to plot out a story which would have Lovecraft spinning in his grave, what with non-WASP protagonists, a female lead and a stubborn refusal to treat “primitive” societies as ignorant brutes.
Just that I have to finish this off a skeletal plot in around three days. Should be fun.
Oh, right, another batch of rejections but that’s par for the course. They were non-informative and without anything resembling constructive critique, so no fucks given. Nothing personal, y’know, ’cause taking it personally is a pretty short path to despair. I’ve done enough of that. It’s pretty easy. But in the face of pretty regular and unwavering market indifference to my work, it’s no longer a luxury I can afford. You want to talk to me about why it doesn’t work for you? Great. I’ll listen. Form rejection? Duly noted.
In the meantime, it’s probably good that I’ve got other things to work on.