Monday, April 29, 2013

Post Cameron

This swack of prose--I probably shouldn't call it a short story, although I will for the purposes of avoiding the penalty-stick for my New Year's resolution--takes Cameron Webb up to the 25,000 word mark. That's roughly one-third of the book already.

I'd originally planned two more sections, but realized after finishing the first that writing it all would probably have been a 30,000 word one weekend. Yeah, not gonna happen with a full time job, an exercise habit and a social life. So, I wrote up to the first major cut-point, which isn't exactly a climactic moment, but is good enough for me.

I have a good feeling about this section. There's some fun additions. I fleshed out Cameron's family a bit and went into his background a little. I've advanced the main story-line somewhat, but haven't charged fully into what the rest of the book is going to be about.

I think one thing that I really need to go into in the next draft and the sections coming up is how wizardry affects Cameron's mind set. I had that little speech early on about non-mainstream hobbies and how they make one inherently uncool, and that's something that I need to reflect in the story a bit more.

But otherwise, I had fun with this. I could have written more, but I owe it to the story and characters not to half-ass or burn out on this.

So! Part two will probably come out in a few weeks. This week, I am probably getting some teeth pulled, so I will most likely be zonked out of my gourd on pain-killers this weekend. I am going to try my hand at some 1,000 word flash fiction instead.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Story The Seventeenth: Nightmare Town, Pt 1

The second installment of the Cameron Webb And The Shroud Of Solomon Series. Murder, intrigue, the ghost of Samuel Colt and a particularly heated wrestling match in a bed of geraniums.

Redacted. :-)

I have to admit, I cheated here. It became very apparent yesterday that the amount of plotting I'd done for the second section would have run well over 20,000 words, which is, to say the least, beyond my abilities to write over the course of a weekend, at least not without a) burning myself out and b) producing very low quality writing. This is the sort of story that, even though the writing goes fast, I don't really want to half-ass the characterization. So, I wrote up to a good stopping point at roughly the 10k mark. I'll pick it up again in a few weeks.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Big Things Are Made Of Little Things

Status Update:  holy Hannah, it's raining beans, oh lawd, it's raining beans. Next installment of Cameron's story outlined, but not yet written.

One of my hobbies is lifting weights. Between regular exercise over many years and a fondness for picking heavy shit off the ground and then putting it back down repeatedly, I'm relatively burly. Not huge, mind you, or muscle-bound, or Arnold-shaped or roided up or what have you, just what I consider to be in shape.

What blows my mind is how many people just assume that I'm built like this naturally, like I popped out of my mom's hoo-hah already muscular. Other people will glom onto whatever I mention I'm doing for fun these days and assume that's what keeps me fit. I mention I went for a run last night and they make the connection that bigger muscles equals running.

The truth is that I don't talk about my exercise routine because it's BORING. Anything that has any real and lasting effect requires a lot of preparatory steps, most of which are dull as hell and don't really make a good story.

For example. When I was in college, I got into physical fitness. I had a roommate whose father was the head of a rather successful local track team. I was sick of being skinny and out of shape so I asked my friend to teach me about lifting weights. He did. I got muscular. Then I went into grad school, got out of shape again, got a real job and then realized, around the three decade mark of my life, that if I didn't get back into physical fitness I'd be looking at some serious problems down the road--back problems, knee problems, possible obesity, my family tendency towards diabetes and most of all, the dreaded I Feel Old syndrome.

Are you still awake?

I went back to the gym. Anywhere from 3 - 5 grueling weight sessions a week, week after week after week. Nothing complicated. No fad routines. Didn't wait to get in the mood, didn't wait for inspiration. I just went to the gym, rain or shine, whether I felt tired or sick or not. Just picked heavy things up and put them back down, over and over and over. If they became light, I found heavier things to pick up and put back down.

And now, nearly a decade later, I'm pretty fit. I can squat over double my body-weight.  If I want to go for a three mile run, I can do it. I'm usually the go-to guy in my social group when it's time to move furniture, because, hell, that's effectively what I do in the gym every day anyway.

But I hardly ever talk about it, because it's not very exciting. It's a successful result comprised of a lot of daily small steps, none of which are really going to make the morning news, if you know what I'm saying.

Big things are made of little things--hence the title of the post.

Just about anything worth doing requires a lot of prep work you don't necessarily think about when you see the end results. It's just how the human brain naturally works. You see a man jump out of orbit and fall to Earth and you think he must be some crazy daredevil who woke up that morning with a peculiar hair up his ass and, since he just HAPPENED to have a balloon parked in his backyard, he might as well take his morning constitutional two hundred thousand feet off the ground.

You don't see the years of preparation he had to put into that moment. You'd probably have to dig deep into interviews, maybe read up on his background to even get a hint of it because that sort of thing probably doesn't make as good a story as the bit at the end where he exceeds Mach 1 wearing nothing but some protective gear and a big smile.

If you see a famous actor or a fabulously rich person, they are probably that way because they had to put in the miles, just like anybody else. The most successful people generally tend to be where they are because they put in a scary amount of grueling work, every single day. It's easy to dismiss them because "oh, they get roles because they're handsome" or "their parents were probably rich" or "they got lucky", but that is, in almost every circumstance, simply not the case.

And that's the biggest thing I learned from lifting weights (well, other than how to pick up a couch without throwing out my back). You set goals and milestones. You fail a lot, dust yourself off and go back at it, even if you really don't want to at that moment. You have bad days and good days and more importantly days where you don't seem to accomplish much at all, but you get back to it anyhow.

Sometimes you try new things, experiment even if it feels a bit risky and painful. But you keep at it, just a little bit daily and then...after a while, you wake up and think "Holy crap! I'm in shape!" And then you keep going because you've been doing it so long it's now a process for you.

And so it goes with writing, or for that matter, anything with a big end result.

Boring consistency works! A little work over a long period of time, even if it feels completely half-assed on any given day, will take you a lot farther than fantastic work irregularly.

Big things are made of lots of small daily habits. It's not really what you're gonna do, it's what you are already doing.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Circus Mortem

I seem to be using my stories now to air things which are bugging me about life. Next up, a little piece about how I can't abide traffic lights or people who whistle too much. My God, I'm turning into Kilgore Trout in my dotage. I'll be telling tales about aliens who can only communicate by tap-dancing and farting in no time.

I'm fifty-fifty on "Dr. Wilkes." It was a fun piece to write and it went fast. It's a bit heavy-handed and all over the place. The science fiction elements were a relatively late addition, but probably a good call. I think things in general are more fun when you can toss a robot in whenever you're getting bored.

The village idiot was another late addition and came from an experience I had in college that I fondly recall as "The Worst Essay Ever."

I minored in Spanish back in those days. Now, I'm a lousy Spanish speaker. When people try to speak Spanish to me, usually I get four words in, they get a pained look on their faces and then they switch to another language, any language, even if they only know two or three words. My reading ability is quite a bit better, but I have my limits.

I was in a Spanish lit class and mostly rocking it...until our professor assigned us a six page essay on Miguel Unamuno's "St. Emmanuel, the Good Martyr."

It was one of those occasions when you open an assignment, take a good hard look at it and your brain entirely deserts you. Like one of those nightmares I occasionally still have where I'm in school and realize I haven't bothered to come to class for four months and, hello, there's a test today. Except this was in real life.

I pound through the story, referring back and forth to a dictionary as needed. Then I read it again. And again. I think I've gotten the general gist of it,'s a pretty dense story. Lots of symbolism and characterization. I realize that I'd probably have a hard task writing six pages on it in English.

Now, these days I am an adult with reasonably good problem-solving skills. When confronted with an assignment like that I probably would translate the story into English--or as much of it as I need--then I would write the paper in English and translate it into Spanish and only after thinking everything through as thoroughly as possible. I might pay a visit to the professor to make sure my ducks were all lined up in a row before I turned the paper in. Did I do that then?

Oh hell no, that would've made too much sense. Twenty-year old Mike was not going to go for that. I wrote the essay in Spanish first, at the last minute. It was...rough. I think I mentioned mermaids at some point, but I'm not sure. I got the paper back and it was a D-, the lowest grade I'd ever gotten on an essay in any language. The professor's only comment was "Are you joking?" Ouch. I still went on to get an A in the class because I didn't have much difficulty with any of the other assignments. I just seem to have a blind spot with regards to Unamuno.

But that didn't stop me from ganking the village idiot for "Dr. Wilkes".

Overall, the story isn't awful. It's not really my best, but it's a notch or two better than "Fences." I tend to have only marginal success with Stories That Are About Things, but I guess that's not going to stop me from trying.

"Dr. Wilkes" arises from a growing irritation I have with technology. I have a love-hate relationship with it. On one hand, I work with it for a living and I think it enables some great things. This blog, for example.

On the other hand, it feels like a distraction much of the time. Social media, smart phones and other such things keep you connected to everyone in your life twenty-four hours a day. It's hard to argue that it isn't a great thing that you can stay in touch with the people you care about constantly, no matter where you are on the planet. I think it's pretty great that I can upload a photo of what I'm eating right now and my friend Moto, who lives in Japan (and apparently doesn't do much else besides jump off mountains in wing-suits and get into constant adventures) will comment on it within moments. It's great.


I think it's damaging peoples' social skills in other ways. If you're at a bus stop, it's so much easier to mess around on your phone than make small talk with the person next to you. I've lost track of how many times I've been in a restaurant and seen entire tables of people ignoring each other to use their phones.

Modern society is developing a deep abhorrence of boredom. Nobody's comfortable just wool-gathering now--boredom has become some kind of monster to them. If you're killing time in a waiting room, you take out your smart phone instead of watching other people. If you have an hour free in the afternoon, instead of taking a walk to the park or sitting outside on the porch with a beer, watching life happen, you pull out your phone and check Facebook. And why not? You have what amounts to a supercomputer in your pocket which can play the best games ever made, contains the sum total of all human knowledge, plays you any song ever written, a good quarter of the movies ever filmed and lets you communicate with just about anybody you've ever met who's still alive.

It's pretty tempting to take advantage of that capability whenever possible. If there's even a whiff of boredom or down-time in the air, most people do. And that makes perfect sense. But...

Wasting time is becoming a lost art and that's a shame. A lot of really great thinking has been done over the ages by people who've sat under a tree and watched the clouds roll by until everything's that's been bugging them makes sense. Social media is a poor replacement for gathering a bunch of people together and shooting the shit.

I think having free time--completely unstructured moments of vacuum during the day--is absolutely essential to mental health, whether you are a kid or an adult. Modern society, I think, has completely lost sight of that. And that's a shame.

Next up: probably another installment in Cameron's story. And some redrafting of the original to reflect my latest thinking on the metastory.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Thursday, April 18, 2013

On Misery Tourism

Status Update: still riding the wave of over-abundance from last week. Damn, this coffee continues to be awesome. A key feature of good coffee beans is whether or not I can regularly mess it up when brewing my morning vat of joe. I haven't, so it is. Story not yet begun--probably going to be a short one this week to rest up a bit from last week's doorstop of a novella.

Pulp has been in a pretty miserable place the last decade or so. We've had zombie plagues, dark resource-hungry futures, apocalypses (apocali?) of various shapes and forms. Floods, famines and who knows what else.

I've been mulling over this off and on ever since I read John Baxter's (excellent) novel "Flood" and its sequels. It was a depressing read, albeit a compelling one. Sure, a lot of the science behind the water apocalypse was laughable (gotta get the action going somehow!), but the rest of the science, the various ways people tried to avoid the flood, was great. And as a sociological commentary it was bang on. It says something about the writing that it's stuck with me for as long as it has. It was bleak enough that it kind of ruined my mood for a few days after I finished it. Seriously.

Instead of being a stand-out novel, it's more or less been the tone of the better books I've read since then. It seems the general zeitgeist has been gloom and doom over the last decade or so.

I'm not saying there hasn't been a large number of more upbeat pulp novels in recent years. Hell no, that would be madness, but it meshes with a trend I've noticed in popular media.

There's been an awful lot of misery tourism lately. This is actually not my term. It's a form of dystopian lit where the author takes some sort of negative element of modern society or human nature (whether consciously or not) and then extends it to its most logical/illogical conclusion.

So, the general sense of "WE'RE ALL DOOMED" that's been bouncing back and forth through the news media becomes a zombie apocalypse. Society goes from "somewhat restrictive and resource-oriented" to "totalitarian government where young folk kill each other in massive media-frenzy-coverage games." And so on.

I think it's so popular because believing in a fictional universe where we are all totally fucked is weirdly relaxing and easy. If you're in a zombie apocalypse, you don't have to worry about paying off your mortgage. If you wake up one morning to find out that the bombs have inexplicably dropped and the nearest city is a glowing crater, then at least you have three arms now and can go looting.

People tend to thrive on worst case scenarios. This is why when you turn on the TV, it's all about how global warming will destroy us all, or how we're running out of oil at any time. Or how (insert political party of choice) will (do some dastardly partisan thing that will fuck it up for the rest of us) if (they are elected)/(they stay elected). These are all serious problems, yes, and we should take them seriously but...

...we don't have to. Seriously. The world is not as poorly off as we are led to believe. Fear makes good ratings. People like to play what-if and since worrying is easier than hoping--because you can't be disappointed by worry--negative scenarios seem to be more popular by far.

Escapism has taken on such a reactionary tone in recent years. We go to places where our technology doesn't work because we fear (to an extent) the changes that technology are making to our society and to the world. We live in fictional worlds where technology doesn't exist, either because society has collapsed, or because it's a medieval realm where bad things happen to good people, or simply because of (insert magical thinking). I can't really think of too many books I've read recently that highlight technology as a positive force, something that will make the world a better place.

This is kind of a shame, because one of the things that has always appealed to me about classic science fiction is how inherently optimistic so much of it is. Yes, the Boskone Empire is pretty evil and kills people and/or hooks them on horrific drugs, but the Lensmen are there to fight them off. Science in Doc Smith's universe has turned the galaxy into a wonderful place (with income tax rates of around 1.5%, even). Heinlein's books were all about technology and the great things it could do. Even the Foundation novels were really more about how science and human nature could rise above barbarism than about the collapse of civilization.

It was great stuff. Somewhere along the way we forgot how to look on the bright side of life, lost the ability to wonder at new frontiers without keeping a hedge of negativity about us. Yes, that's all fun. I love, say, the Aliens movies as much as the next guy, but there's not necessarily a face-eating monster on every world.

For me, science fiction has always been more about the wonder, the sense of exploration. Yes, some of the places you can go to can be pretty awful, like the Night Land, for instance, but that's not all there is. For every Night Land, there's also a Pern or a Xanth (shut up, the early novels were fun). For every brooding anti-hero, there's a Stainless Steel Rat or a Kim Kinnison. It's okay not to have to shroud your world-building in scare quotes or be ironically hip. Some of the best speculative fiction ever written was predicated on the notion that the future won't suck and that people aren't inherently awful.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Axe Mortem

That turned out pretty well, actually.

It needs a few more passes to layer in more imagery. At about the two-thirds point, I started short-handing some of the writing, so some of that needs a bit of dusting to get it to match the flavor of the rest of the novel, but I'm otherwise pretty happy. Some of the prose near the end got fairly purple, but...if you're going to be writing pastiche about undead cowboys, then you might as well go for broke, I say.

My stories, at least the ones that I post here, fall into two basic camps: one-offs and seeds for potential novels.

Part of the the cool things about my New Year's resolution is that it gives me the opportunity to try a lot of different styles and ideas out. It's the world's biggest brain dump. One of my longer term goals is to go through the pile of story ideas I came up with this year and then see which ones can be expanded into full novels later on.

This is definitely one of those ideas. I have absolutely no idea where I want to take this--there's quite a few ways to go. And before I'd even start, I'd really need to do a lot more research. It's an alt-history story, so I'd need to construct a more detailed time-line to figure out where everything went wrong.

Side note: the House of Lords actually did exist in Joplin and was a pretty interesting place. Scandalous as all get-out, of course. It was not, however, constructed until the late 1890's. So, yeah, I totally lied. One of the small pleasures of fiction writing is having the luxury to just make stuff up.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Story The Fifteenth: The Axe In The Tree

The latest installment. It's about cowboys and demons, whiskey and imagery that I don't particularly want a psychoanalyst to read.

Redacted. :-)

This takes me to over 150,000 words for this year--that's two entire novels. Cool.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

On Doubt

Status Update:  currently experiencing an over-abundance of coffee. Really good coffee, actually. Damn these local distributors and their excruciatingly well-selected and fresh beans. Story fully developed, just have to write this bad boy.

...and it's back to the cowboy story. It's more on the horror end of the spectrum, sort of an even mix of Dark Tower and Clive Barker. So, not so much with the wackiness this time around. This is going to be fun.

Every once in a while, I stop to wonder just what in the Sam Hell I'm doing with all this writing. None of my friends write much, save for those two or three people you see at work who are always Writing Their Novel (which usually never gets finished). Then I'll look at whatever book or story I'm reading currently and do some comparison with whatever I'm writing. And, for just a few seconds, I'm tempted to give it all up, go back to Not Writing. There's a whole hell of a lot of couch to hold down. I could sleep more. Go outside. Catch up on my video game backlog. Putting words down is time-consuming and actually pretty damn hard work. I've had less draining days digging ditches.

Then I go back to writing.

Because I know that nobody's ever any good at what they do at the ass end of the day--that slump at whatever point in the 24-hour slog where your energy levels are the lowest.

With me, it's usually when I'm at the most routine part of my daily routine. Answering detritus in my inbox at work, or taking a piss about halfway through the afternoon, maybe after a meeting about the hoozits and the whatzats.

I'll think about what I'm currently writing or something I just put out and despair a little, because it doesn't really stack up mentally to anything I'm reading. Ignoring, for a second, big names like Kurt Vonnegut or whoever, even young authors blow away anything I've ever or will ever put down. Charles Stross is funnier than I'll ever be. Tobias Buckell writes incredible action. China Mieville has entire universes in his head weirder than anything I'll ever come up with. Richard Kadrey has a filthy sort of unpredictable humor that I'll never be able to touch. Don't get me started on Gail Carriger.

And none of that matters.

This is the same dilemma that causes people to keep up with the Joneses. Your brain is not wired to think objectively about groups of people. Your subconscious makes an average of everyone you know and then judges itself on those standards.

If you're unhappy with your lifestyle, if you don't think you have good enough stuff, it's not because any single one of your friends has all the stuff you want. Nancy has a big house. Steve has a giant television. Ramon (damn that Ramon) has a really freaking awesome car. So you want a big house, a giant television, a really freaking awesome car, too.

Never mind that Ramon lives in a tin shack and Steve drives a fifteen year old Oldsmobile. Your brain isn't wired to think on that level--it evolved on the plains of Africa millions of years ago where snap judgements were a necessary part of life. When it came down to filling up your stomach or getting dismembered by a pack of hyenas you couldn't afford to weigh particulars.

And so it is with writing. Maybe Charles Stross wishes he were better at being gritty, like Kadrey. Maybe Kadrey wishes he were more inventive like Mieville. Maybe Gail Carriger envies Tobias Buckell's ability to write action sequences.

Nobody's good at everything and everybody compares themselves to hundreds of other people who all have their strengths and weaknesses. You just have to be honest with yourself, spend time getting better at what you're good at, work on the things you suck at and hate (up to a point) and leave comparisons to the critics.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Redacted Mortem

It's good to have a shorter story every once in a while. Gives me a break. Even if I never really have a shortage of ideas or things to write about and the longer stories tend to be fun as hell to write, it physically takes something out of you to bang out the equivalent of a fifth of a novel over the course of two or three days.

I don't generally tend to write stories that are about anything in particular. I'm more about entertainment  value, telling stories without much more than the occasionally mildly subversive subtext. This was simultaneously a fun change and also something I fully intend to not do very much.

I don't think I particularly went overboard with it--nobody's really going to argue that DRM is a pain in the butt and the whole copyright industry going after music downloaders thing sort of became a non-issue a few years back with digital downloads being relatively convenient these days. What you really see more of lately  is the issue of ridiculous copyright frippery going "meta"--it's all about government legislation, trade agreements and going after safe havens and whatnot instead of ridiculous DRM schemes.

But everybody tends to focus on downloadable music instead because that's what they're familiar with, so that's a good place to start. I'm not sure I'd be able to get a good story about SOPA or ACTA, even if that kind of thing is where all the action is. The industry is deeply, deeply flawed and it touches on everything involved with content creation. I don't think you can be any sort of creator or distributor without having a stand of some sort on copyright.

Writers have always had something of a schizophrenic relationship with copyright. Yes, ideally, one pair of eyeballs on one piece of your fiction would represent a sale, but it just doesn't work like that in real life. People like to share their books with friends. Libraries are another source of eyeballs. People sell their used books.

After a while, you just have to be comfortable with the fact that your writing has a certain lifespan to it. You have primary sales and then beyond that point, it loses direct cash value and becomes a sort of advertising. You get audience reach but not cash value, per se. And this is a good thing, in my opinion. Copyright should be about making sure people aren't stealing your crap and putting their name on it, or reselling your stuff without your permission.

But enough of that.

For a first draft, I think this turned out well. It's the sort of story that requires quite a bit of layering. When I get around to redrafting it, if I ever do, I think I'm going to put some more effort into tying the story at the beginning to the rest of the narrative. There needs to be a few more intermediary bits of DRM between the simultaneous user error and the chip in the head bits.

Also, Steve and Marco are too similar as written. I need to write in personal ticks to differentiate them in speech.

Otherwise, I think it mostly works. I like the recurring gags and the overall feel of the story. There's a decent variety of different types of comedy in it. It needs to be slightly more meta and there needs to be a firmer statement at the end about the inherent ridiculousness of building fences to protect imaginary property, but overall it was fun.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Story The Fourteenth: Fences

A semi-preachy tale about DRM, brainwashing and coffee...

Redacted. :-)

...and a reminder that I've decided to stop posting stories in HTML format in order to retain a bit more control over what's floating around out there.

I've gone with zipped PDF, which is a good compromise between ease of reading and the ability to keep search spiders from hoovering up content willy-nilly.

Also, it's less time-consuming to do it this way, which is always nice.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

On Making Sausage

Status Update: coffee supplies moderate, progress going well.

My idea this week was to write a story about bad-ass cowboys with magical handguns. The hero, who begins the story dead and leaking an alarming amount of blood onto the saloon floor, is just too pissed off to die.

So, I'm writing a story about ridiculous digital rights management in an only-slightly-plausible future.

Yeah, random, I know. That's how my brain rolls, apparently. I'm probably going to write the cowboy story at some point in the future simply because a) I like cowboy stories and b) I occasionally like to macho out and write gritty two-fisted macho tales of macho action in a macho world where macho men do macho things.

Coming up with stories is a hell of a lot like making sausage. Nobody wants to pull back the curtains and let you in the back of the store because idea-making is pretty gross and messy.

I mean, you might think from reading a story that I intended it to come out that way all along. That clever point at the end, where it all comes together and you're like "oh, of course"--you might expect that I had that in mind from the first word. If you watched the story actually being written, it rarely starts out like that.

To continue the sausage metaphor--because, hell, why not?--I'm cramming all sorts of raw, gristly, unpleasant and unlikely ingredients into the grinder. Sometimes at the last minute and with great haste. Oops, my hand slipped and now one of my fingers is in the mix. Where'd the cat go? Did I really just drop my wrist-watch into the machine? Whelp, I'm on a deadline, can't be bothered! Cook it long enough and nobody will know.

Story-writing is like that. The idea-generating process sometimes starts with the most bare of seeds. I write down something like:

Ship portals operate both ways

Then I stare at it a bit, then I start fleshing ideas around it. Do ship portals have to be at sea? What about inside a volcano? Volcanoes are cool! Then I start justifying reasons why I'd have a ship in a magma chamber 2 miles underground. I take a side tour wondering just how many puns I can make about magma, lava, rock and round windows. Then I start wondering if it has to be a ship? What about a house? Why the hell would a house be there? Both ways, wait a minute! Lava coming in, that sounds like an ending! And so it goes.

You let your mind go blank and you chase the rabbit. I'd say about 50% of what I write down when I brainstorm doesn't get used. Sometimes because it's awful, sometimes because it just doesn't fit what the story becomes when it grows up. Roxie Rides The Train, for example, had an entire branch of brainstorming ideas that didn't make the cut--I'd originally cooked up a great deal of stuff about green technology. The only part of that that made it into the story was biodiesel farms.

And that's okay. If those ideas are pretty cool, they can be branched off into a future story.

Other times, you're sitting in front of your desk, banging out ideas and nothing looks right. You stare at the sheet and you have some great stuff, like a kid with Ferrari gloves that lets him look like a ten-ton bad-ass or a pair of sunglasses that let you see into Hell, but it's just not clicking. No matter how much you flesh out the outline or your List Of Cool Ideas, nothing's coming together.

In cases like that, you have two options (well, a lot more, but I'm making sausage here, so bear with me): you can brute force it and just keep beating away at it until it all makes sense or at least it's close enough for horse shoes and nuclear warfare or you can just sleep on it.

I'm a big fan of the second approach.  Sometimes you just have to sit on it and let it stew while you do something else. Wait for that Eureka moment, which will usually happen while you're in the shower or at least a twenty minute drive away from a convenient note-taking implement. When you get that Eureka moment, you ride it as far as it will take you. Or you read a book, or take a nap or go to bed. When you can come at a problem sideways, you'll find all sorts of windows opening up.

Sometimes ideas come from very lame, usually banal sources. You don't often have the deepest ideas right off. Sometimes it might take some fairly persistent thrashing to get an idea up to par. Sometimes the idea never really comes together until you have that first rough draft and then can come back later, fresh, and figure out what the story is really about.

So, yeah. Ideas are like making sausage. Don't sweat where they come from, because the worst ingredients can still make good sausage.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


I've been giving some thoughts to publishing lately.

Editors get somewhat twitchy about stuff being freely available online before they get first crack at it, so I'm changing things up a bit.

I'll still post my stories after I finish them, but probably either as a pdf or full text. If I decide later on to shop it around, then I'll kill the link. Or if it's a story I intend to submit around, I'll give a short preview in the first place. So, smoke 'em if you've got 'em.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Clone Mortem

I nearly ran out of juice near the end of this one. This was the sort of story I had to rip out of me and throw on to the page, squealing insect noises and all.

Taxes were a special kind of tedious hell this year and there was a fair amount of stress at work this week. So, once I hit the weekend, I was definitely ready for an actual weekend involving stuff I apparently don't allow myself anymore, such as sleep, video games and watching the clouds go by.

But it's turned out pretty awesome.

I'm pretty happy with it. It hit my goals for this story:

- We met Jeff and found out what Bo does for a living, and we met Bo's coworkers.
- I introduced a bit of background material on the setting, namely that it's post-apocalyptic
- I introduced Bo's Dark Story Arc (tm)
- Most importantly, I hit that balance of 50% Office Space and 50% Conan the Barbarian

But I was definitely dragging by the time I hit the second from last Act, during the A-Team style building scene. It was fun, but I found myself possessed of an unusual amount of inertia.

I would say that inertia is my own particular nemesis. Superman has Lex Luthor, Spider-Man has Doc Octopus, Santa has the Easter Bunny. Mine is inertia.

I don't mind working at all--in fact, I love it. I like doing nothing, too. What I really dislike is changing states. If I'm resting, then I want to stay resting. If I'm pounding out words, I want to keep pounding out words. If you plotted my activities during a working day, you'd see that I tend to stay on the peaks and dislike being on slopes.

There was definitely a point during the last bit of this story where I was running on momentum. I usually take care of all the tedious chores and what-not in my life around Sunday morning and early afternoon. There were more than usual that day. By the time I got to finishing up Turf Wars, I'd been up and running for quite a while. I was really starting to feel the marathon effect by the end.

When I've been writing for more than, say, 5000 words in a row, I tend to come out of it pretty foggy. If I have to grab a bite to eat, or go shopping, I'm fairly sure whoever I bump into thinks I'm stoned out of my gourd.

I call it "write-brain." I had this in spades yesterday. Bo tends to do that to you, I guess. Pesky clones!