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A Little Hero Worship

August 29, 2009 Leave a comment

Part of the original goal of this blog was to post some fiction. Oddly, the first short story I actually sat down to write turned into something more, and now I’m working on it as at least a novella, and possibly a full-length novel. I’ll tell you right now that it’s probably not very good (as most writers say about the work up until it starts paying good money) and it’s in a genre rife with people both trying to get published and eager to tear new works into tiny shreds: science fiction. It’s not what those in the industry call “hard science fiction.” I’m certainly not Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke. I’m not pushing the boundaries of scientific thought, I’m just using a sci-fi setting to create the scenario for my characters to live inside.

There are a few notable practitioners of this sort of thing, and three of them are easily some of my favorite writers ever: Kurt Vonnegut, Stephen King, and Warren Ellis.[*] Most of their work falls into the much larger realm of “speculative fiction,” and I suppose that’s what I’m doing with the story: speculating.

As this post is probably going to end up as more of a journalistic logging of progress, I’m going to go a step further with those three writers. I’m noting that not only is my writing in a similar vein as those writers above, there is a definite slant toward using the structure they tend to follow. King and Vonnegut, especially, write in quick, clipped vignettes or scenes within chapters. Stephen King even goes so far as to organize those chapters into books, and sometimes those books into volumes of a longer work, in this case, The Dark Tower. Ellis, in his one and only prose novel, Crooked Little Vein, uses a similar structure, only instead of organizing into larger chapters, each scene or vignette is simply given a numbered chapter all its own (some of them only consisting of single sentences… some only a few words long.) And his comics work is certainly structured that way. Some number of scenes form some number of issues which form some number of story arcs of some number of larger works.

What I’m not trying to imply is that my work is nearly as good as authors on the level of Vonnegut. Far from it. I doubt my first novel will set any hearts a-flutter, nor will the sci-fi community shit its collective pants in amazement. I’d like to think, though, that the visible influences of other writers of pedigree will help out a little bit in making what will seem to some readers as a very loose structure seem a little more pedestrian. Not that I’m hoping anyone critiques my work as “pedestrian,” of course. Or derivative, for that matter.

I don’t think that it was my reasoning, starting out, to make structure out of some sort of disjointed scenes, though. I think that my brain just works that way: scenes come out of the ether fully-formed, and when they end, they end. Maybe they come out that way and end abruptly because I’m not very good at transitions. Looking at, say, Slaughterhouse-Five, though, one discovers that almost all the bizarre, disjointed scenes end up meshing with the larger theme or plot point later in the book. King uses his sections to tell his stories from other points of view, not unlike Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. Ellis uses his breaks to control the tempo and rhythm of his stories.[**]

So I guess I’m sort of trying to do all those things, even if it ends up seeming like doing too much. Maybe when I complete my first draft (at the rate of about 3000 words a week–if I’m lucky–maybe that will be by the end of the year) I’ll go back and organize the breaks numerically. As it stands right now, I’m not even sure how many chapters I’ll end with, so maybe that’s just a pipe dream. Maybe when I’m done I’ll just leave it without arbitrary chapter breaks. We’ll see.

Finally, I get a lot of comfort out of words from Vonnegut, King, and Ellis. Vonnegut and King rarely sat down to write a specific story, and King even goes so far to say he doesn’t care about plot unless he’s stuck. Which kind of shows in his writing sometimes. Which he admits to. Ellis, on the other hand, has proclaimed loudly that he “hate[s] everything [he] writes about two weeks after [he] write[s] it.” And every writer that actually gives a damn about carrying on their craft, and talking about it, and helping others, seems to put across the point that they’re always insecure, even after many years of success. But there’s also a persistence, a stick-to-itiveness, the desire to just keep going and writing stories. King’s On Writing just drips with this feeling, and pretty much any time Ellis seems to get asked about the any subject on the process he’s willing to speak at length about it. Like this nugget (probably NSFW):

My point, I guess, is that I’m not trying to take things too seriously about this whole “writing” thing. That clip above makes me smile every time I watch it. Writing is something everybody struggles with. In Roger Angell’s introduction to Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, he talks about his stepfather E.B. White’s writing habits:

When the copy went off at last … he rarely seemed satisfied. “It isn’t good enough,” he said sometimes. “I wish it were better.”

Writing is hard, even for authors who do it all the time.

I read passages like that, and it makes me feel good knowing I’m not the only one. Countless freelance bloggers out there (and thousands of authors before them) say that writing is a solitary act. Somehow we all connect, though; we all know the trials and difficulties we face when a scene just won’t work, or when a line doesn’t flow properly, or even when we can’t remember the word that fits just perfectly for that emotion we’re trying to express. It makes me feel good to know that even the people that I admire and I’m trying to emulate have the same problems I have.

And it drives me forward a little bit. Being successful at writing, to me, is being able to finish what I’ve started. So far, by analyzing what I’ve done, and how it’s structured, and where that structure is coming from, and the attitudes that helped define that structure, I’ve been able to feel like I can finish this one. It will take me a long time, but one day I’ll be able to say that I competently wrote a full-length novel. Even if it’s not well-received, at least it will be done. And I can’t fault myself for finishing that goal.

Maybe once that first one is out of the way I can write something that someone else will want to read.

[*]One could argue that Ellis deals as much in hard sci-fi as not, but indulge me here.
[**]This probably comes from his background in comics. A single comics panel is a single slice in time. How you control those slices sets the pace for reader. You can check out more on the ridiculously complex world of writing for and structure in comics by reading Scott McCloud’s book Understanding Comics.

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Categories: novel progress, writing

A Rare Political Post

August 11, 2009 Leave a comment

I was going to spend pretty much all of today’s entry going off. I don’t normally get political in this blog, because a) I would really show off how out-of-touch I am, and b) I just don’t want all that much political content here, if any. However, there’s been a development recently, especially in regard to health care reform, that bothers me too much to keep to myself. Two developments, actually: misinformation, and “shouting”.

Misinformation

“Read the bill!” people chant at town hall meetings across the country. Here’s a neat little note: there isn’t one, at least not yet. Three different bills have been circulating in committees in the Senate. They haven’t even gotten one finalized to send to the full Senate for debate. The House, I believe, has gotten one organized, but I don’t know what’s in it any more than the people screaming “Read the bill!” do.

This is where the real crux of the misinformation issue comes out. All the people that decry the bills as “socialism” or what-have-you haven’t read the bill either. If they did, they’d find that at least 2/3 of what they’ve been lead to believe about it is either intentional distortion of the contents of the various bills, or outright lies. For example, we have this guy, who claims to report (second-hand, of course) that nearly every other page of the “Obamacare” bill has some sort of freedom-murdering move toward fascism. But someone went and debunked, line by line, the whole supposed “analysis”, providing actual quotations from the bill in question, as well as proper context, rather than distortions and fear-mongering.

And then there are people that are simply wrong. Like this guy. For those not interested in clicking, here’s the gist: if Stephen Hawking, the noted wheelchair-bound astrophysicist, were subject to the UK’s version of social medicine, he’d be dead already.

Anyone spot the error there? I’ll tell you, if you’re done trying to figure it out. Stephen Hawking was born, raised, lives, and works in the UK. And he’s 67.

As a final point on the misinformation front, we have the people that are convinced that socialism is evil and inherently broken. “Canada’s health care system is broken, and so is the United Kingdom’s! They’re both broken, they’re both wrong, they’re both socialism!” These people don’t seem to realize the inherent differences in the two systems, though. Nate Silver, of fivethirtyeight.com, made a fantastically hilarious post this morning explaining the differences between the two, likely in terms that even the most apathetic health care “aficionado” can understand.

Finally, we have former Alaskan governor and former vice presidential-candidate Sarah Palin (you know, the one who quit being Alaska’s governor to keep her family out of the spotlight) using her baby Trig as a misinformation weapon against national health care. Aside from the sheer hypocrisy displayed here, Mrs. Palin has no damn clue what she’s talking about. This goes hand-in-hand with the people “looking out” for Mr. Hawking.

“Shouting”

By this time, I assume you’ve heard of the massive, organized movement against health care (or socialism, or “the government”, or whatever) that consists solely of people standing up at town hall meetings, shouting some incomprehensible dreck, and then sitting down. If not, check this out. Or watch CNN or Fox News for an hour or two. You’re sure to see an example. If your brain doesn’t start trickling out your ear first.

Anyway, this whole operation bases itself on the idea that SHOUTING MAKES ME RIGHT. I don’t need facts if I just make a scene! And if the representative wants to properly address my concern with facts? Eff that! I’ll just stand up and shout some more!

Seriously, these people need to pull their fingers out of their ears and actually have some civil discourse. If, as Rep. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says, people have legitimate concerns, let them voice them without causing a scene, like civil human beings. Aren’t children supposedly taught that throwing a temper tantrum doesn’t get them what they want? That’s what I fear is next: some idiot is just going to fall down on the ground, kicking and screaming, until someone gives them some ice cream.

Is this America? Is this democracy in action? Have we reached the point that we have an organized temper tantrum network? Why is public discourse and respect for other human beings’ intelligence something that’s so reviled all of a sudden? It reminds me of the McCain/Obama debates, when McCain actually had the chutzpah to claim that Obama’s big, confusing words somehow made him a less worthy candidate and “out of touch” with the common Joe. I realize that our country has slowly been sliding to the point of pandering to the lowest common denominator, but any more of a slide and we’ll be back to cavorting druids, death by stoning, and dung for dinner.

Now, these two issues are pretty terrible. What could be worse? Combining the two.

Birthers

Despite a mountain of factual evidence, there are people in this country that deny that Barack Obama is a US citizen. They shout for a birth certificate, even though one has been produced and verified. They shout that there’s no outside verification besides the obviously fake birth certificate, ignoring the fact that two major Hawaiian newspapers reported the birth. The whole thing is insane. Especially when you consider that the “birther” movement is headed by Orly Taitz, who was born in Moldova (originally part of the USSR), moved to Isreal, and then immigrated to the US, where she is a lawyer, and a dentist, and a real estate agent. And claims to speak five languages, and be a black belt in tae kwon do. (Info from Wikipedia.) Seriously, watch this nutbag in action:

Scary. What’s more scary is that people think this woman is completely on the level.

Shouting, misinformation, and willful ignorance of facts. Is that where our country is going? When did respectful, civil public discourse die here?

I propose the following: people sit down, calm down, and talk to each other like rational, intelligent human beings. I’m not claiming that I know the best plan for health care, or the economy, or whatever other issues we may be facing as a people. But if we could at least agree upon proper debate and level-headed, fact-based argumentation, maybe our country would be well-informed contributors to the global community, instead of wallowing in our own petty (and downright stupid) selfishness. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but for pete’s sake, base it on some quantifiable, qualified facts, and be open to the idea that you might be wrong. Graciously apologizing for being in error is a hell of a lot more intelligent looking than screaming up and down about how the media is persecuting you, or how The Man is getting you down, or how the facts that debunk your claims aren’t actually credible facts.

All politics is spin, and that’s part of the reason I try to avoid it on this blog. Different people can interpret the same set of facts differently, and sometimes that’s a good thing. Sometimes that exposes flaws in arguments, or ensures a better law or some such. But when those interpretations are intentionally misleading or, worse, completely dismissive of the other side’s argument, then it’s no longer public discourse. Then it’s just people shouting.

Well, Sometimes

August 3, 2009 Leave a comment

Far Side image

That’s pretty much how we are around here right now.

It’s now August, so I think we’ll do a quick recap this week. We’re going to have a quick mundane minutiae discussion, and then I’ll let you get back to your business.

First off, I’ve been playing a lot of Xbox lately. I’m thinking this device is the single largest sucker of creative time ever invented. (Close behind: the internet, television, anything that runs on electricty and has been invented since 1925.) We have a 360, yet we’re continuously playing original Xbox games on it. Things we missed on the first run because we didn’t own an Xbox. Things like Knights of the Old Republic, which my wife has finished and I’m now getting around to working through. Things like Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, which is the LotR version of this webcomic, in which the hapless Gordon Frohman is forced to follow about five minutes behind the famed Gordon Freeman of Half-Life fame.

Anyway, lots of Xbox. Honestly, I’ve spent more time playing downloaded demos than I have playing actual Xbox 360 games, and that’s because I’m damn poor. I’ve also played a bunch of 1 vs. 100 Xbox Live. (Just this weekend I won a free Live Arcade game. Then some anonymous dickhead sent me a voice message calling me a faggot. This was attached to a friend request. Needless to say I declined that one.)

I’ve also finished reading a couple of books, and picked up Stephen King’s Wizard and Glass: the Dark Tower IV. I bought it the day it came out in paperback, way back in high school, and never finished it. I guess being in speech and drama and having a job and hunting after the ladies and playing guitar will occupy prime reading time. So, going for the second shot. Considering the first book in the series, The Gunslinger, is one of my favorite books ever, I’ll probably finish the damn thing eventually.

The past couple of weeks I’ve been helping a friend back home design their project studio for audio recording. The experience is fun, but I’m doing things that most people get paid to do. It’s a trade-off, I suppose. Doing the friendly thing, you know. A little frustrating, but I think that ultimately it will be worth it. I can’t wait to hear stuff that will be done in there.

I’ve started a new blog about Magic: The Gathering. I don’t think I’ll ever stop having opinions about the game, and I wanted to try out WordPress as a blogging platform, so I decided to jump back into things. You can read it here, if you’re in to that kind of thing. I’ll be posting more there in the future. Also, you can expect this very site to be moving to WordPress once I get the gumption to do it.

Semi-related to this is the fact that I’m attempting to start a schedule proper for myself. I’m considering getting a part-time job to supplement some income (since I have yet to figure out how to earn money off this “writing” thing), so we’re researching daycares and whatnot. I might finally be able to get some work done without having to fight with my daughter about her wanting lunch at 10am instead of a normal noon-centric lunch time. Despite the fact that I’m writing this at nearly 4pm, my most productive working time is in the morning, so I’m trying to integrate that knowledge into a schedule that allows me to actually produce during that time. We’ll see how that turns out. If I can keep myself to 1500 or so words a day, that should get me toward novel territory in a few months’ time.

Of course, I spend entirely too much time on forums, Facebook, and reading stupid crap on the internet. I wonder sometimes if I have ADD. (Why am I holding a liver?)

So anyway, that’s the most up-to-date stuff I can think of right now. I don’t think this will be my only post this month, but I know I have two slated for September: a review of the new Dethklok album, and a post-show report of U2 at Soldier Field in Chicago. So stick around, fall should be fun!

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