Monday, December 30, 2013

Post Final

Ah, yes. The final post mortem of the year, a place where girls are girls, men are girls, women are girls and girls, girls, girls. Rats, well, rats are still rats.

What the hell am I talking about? Right, the story.

I'd forgotten how much fun the clone stories are to write. It's an interesting setting, although this one doesn't have quite as much world building as usual (although it does have some, in between the cracks). They inhabit a spot that's 50% Conan the Barbarian and 50% Office Space.

One of the things which always strikes me about writing them is that I never really get stuck or slow down. They come on like an attack of dysentery. I sit down and come to about five thousand words later wondering just what the hell happened. I'm often a little surprised when I go back and read what I just banged out.

The only times writing slows is when I force the plot somewhere it doesn't want to. It's almost like Bo is sitting next to me, telling me about his life. In this one, I really had no idea how he was going to get out of the trap, even though Bo told me on the first page. The rat, I thought, was just there as scenery to torment him. Nope. Not at all, apparently.

I think it helps that each of these stories tend to be rather simple. They mostly fall into the 3 Act Lester Dent formula and conflict is pretty much a leads into b, b leads into c sort of deal. There's not much in the way of complicated interplay. Mysteries wouldn't work well, anyway, because clones tend not to be very imaginative. They'd rather beat asses rather than solve crimes.

And it's a cliffhanger, to boot. I wasn't expecting that, but I decided at the last moment I wanted it to lead into the McClown uprising metaplot which I'd been planning a while.

And yes, even though it's the end of the 52 week challenge, I'm not abandoning any of the serial stories I'm writing. I probably won't write them on any specific schedule, though.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Story The Fifty-Second: Into The Grind

And here we have it, folks. The fifty-second and final story of the resolution. No defaults, no skips, no misses.

Like the first story I wrote one year ago, it's about clones. Bo, specifically. And it's a cliffhanger, because I haven't stopped writing stories. 9451 words. I don't have the others up, I think, so I have to wonder what someone would make of this one without context or background.

My official final word count for the year: 247,948 story words. An additional estimated 78,000 words from blog posts. Yikes.

Redacted. :-)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

White-knuckled Adventures, Thrill Rides And The Year's End

I've been harping away at this week's story being the last story of the challenge, but it didn't occur to me until just now that this is the final blog update of the year as well. Well, not counting the brief snippet announcing said last story this weekend. I'm not going to count that because I am deceitful like that. So, without further ado...

Status Update: The story's outlined and the coffee is damn fine. In a moment which was probably symbolic as hell, I ran out of beans this morning making this last pot. They died so I could awaken slightly more easily after my five day holiday weekend. Your sacrifice will not be in vain, beans.

And here it is. 52 weeks of Thursday status updates, some of them about writing, some of them about...I dunno. It's usually about seven in the morning when I write these bad boys, and they tend to be about whatever's on my mind at the moment. This early in the morning, I'm still ripping the cobwebs from my eyes and attempting to come to grip with the inevitability of having to go to work and be awake instead of being all horizontal on my sleep-implement dreaming dreams of war-aardvarks, robot badgers and my awesome ability to knock down brick walls with my enormous wang. Leave dreams about hobnobbing with the philosophical giants of the ages to the philosophers and classy folks. I dream about things that matter.

It's been an odd year. I started this resolution like a lot of New Year's resolutions, fully intent on carrying it through all the way. Nobody kicks off one of these things intending to drop it after a month like a bathroom baby at a high school prom. But, on the face of it, it was a lot of work. It looked like a lot of work from the start, and yes, it was.

I suppose if I were the sort of person who'd make numbered lists at the drop of a hat and then post them on the CyberWebs at the end of the year like it's one of those year-end lists or something, I'd go about it like this:

Seven Things I Learned Writing A Story A Week For An Entire Year

1. Failure is kinda cool.  It's okay to suck at something as long as you pick yourself up afterwards and try again, learning from your personal suck-Vietnam.

2. Smarter, not harder. I started out writing very long short stories. Novellas, even. Problem is...that's a lot of words to write in one week. After a while I had to ask myself exactly what I was accomplishing banging out 15,000 words in just a few days? Was I training typing speed? All the useful work I had to do was usually in the first six or seven thousand words--after that, I was just slogging through the story. It was fun to test the limits of my writing speed and the ability to crank through plot to reach a deadline but...after I did it a few times, proved my point, such things weren't that useful. I wasn't really growing that much, nor was I practicing much in the way of useful plotting and writing technique. I was just doing work. Occasionally fun, though. Now when I write short stories, I try to work shorter but more to the point.

3. I suck at pantsing, after a point. I can go about 2,000 words without a plan before it becomes painfully obvious I have no idea where I'm going with a story.

4. I suck at following outlines, up to a point. If I get too specific about what's going to happen in a story, I get bored and then writing the story feels more like a chore instead of something fun and creative. It's all about balance.

5. Get weird. I have the most fun writing when I'm trying new things: the stranger, the better.

6. Books don't just happen. There were a chain of stories this summer where I decided to serialize my way into writing a novel. This was a very bad idea. At least I'll have material to draw upon when I get the chance slice it apart and reform it into an actual novel. But it was a lot of wasted effort and it almost got to the point where I wanted to give up in disgust. Not good.

7. About myself:  the biggest things I discovered during the course of the 240,000 or so words (just from the stories, mind you--I'm not counting the blog) are simply a myriad of things about my own writing: what I'm good at, what I need to work on, what my voice is like when I'm writing in various modes, what makes me procrastinate and how to get working and productive. What makes me tick, what I'm not excited about doing, what gets me fired up. All those kinds of things.

So there you have it. One year of Thursday updates. Next up: the year began with a story about clones and it'll end with a story about clones.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Penultimate Mortem

The hardest part about writing this story is probably something not immediately apparent. I actually spent a fair amount of time deliberating how to structure Claire's voice. She's the second POV character in the novel I'm working on and I wanted to make her voice contrast with Cameron's.

There are a few things about Cam's voice which I tend to play up a bit: he's young and rather naive, but he tends to wander off into these Sam Spade-like world weary internal monologues. Each one has a launching point and a destination and usually serves as a vessel for either a bit of exploration of the setting or his background or gives justification for the next thing he's going to do...which usually winds up with him getting his stupid ass killed. Cam's very much a penny wise pound foolish kind of guy. He's based loosely on a friend of mine, in fact, who tends to jump into things without thinking things through all the way. No, my friend is not a wizard. He's pretty awesome, though.

Claire's intention is to be something of a foil for that nature. The danger of using a character as a contrast is that it's pretty easy to only flesh them out halfway. I don't think that should be the case--they should be deep enough to support themselves. She's a very external sort, doesn't spend much time thinking things through but shows more common sense. She notices people more, but doesn't fret over details quite so much. She's more of a doer than a watcher. She also hardly ever monologues and on the rare occasion when she does it's mostly brief but strange anecdotes about her family.

They both are very organized, but in very different ways. Cam tends to categorize and analyze. He's an observer, a bit of a detective (more on that later). He could look at the cars in a parking lot and tell you which of them belongs to people who work there, who's visiting and whether anybody there was just using the available parking spaces to carpool. He's clever that way. He usually has a solution for any given problem even if it's a stupid one.

Claire brings organization to chaos--she tends to be very, very bothered when things don't add up. She wants everything to make sense, to be predictable and is more than willing to make it so. She gets bothered when books on a shelf are in disarray. In a sense, she's a bit of a contradiction because she wears the trappings of being an anarchist, but she spends most of her free time on the cheerleading squad or prepping for college scholarships. When in stress she has a fight or flight reflex which usually falls towards the former rather than the latter. She is also based loosely on a friend of mine, who probably is a wizard but won't admit it to me.

Cam tends to think in a prolix fashion. Claire thinks in shorter and more blunt sentences.

Cam describes details; Claire tends to focus on people and patterns.

It was a lot to think about. A different voice is more than just different word choice or sentence structure--you're thinking about an entirely different brain and history, how the characters construct their universes. What they notice versus what they consider appropriate to admit while they're telling you their stories.

I expect redrafting and tweaking their respective scenes once I get done with the full rough draft is going to be a pain. Either that or she'll click and become natural to write.

As a side note, I really need to do more reading about what detectives actually do. Detective work is never like what you expect it to be as is the case with just about any fictionalized line of work versus reality. One of the things I want to do is lampshade some of the reality versus expectations. The crime-fighting kids genre tends to rely on some rather lazy cliches which would be fun to deconstruct a bit.

And also, holy shit. Week fifty-one. One more week to go! I'm really excited about getting cracking on the full novel. Stories are fun to write, but I'm itching to make some real progress. I think I've got a handle on what I need to do to not get bogged down again, the sort of balance I need to achieve between long term outlining and too much inflexibility. I plan on ratcheting up the conflict and the stakes while layering in vast amounts of random weirdness. It'll be fun.

I still plan on blogging regularly. Perhaps even more regularly, in fact: instead of posting stories (often), I'll probably have something up every other day or so.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Story The Fifty-First: Claire - In The Club

Not random at all this time. I've been toying with the idea of incorporating Claire as another POV character in the Cameron novel. She's too fun to be just an accessory to Cameron. I think it's one of the nudges the story line needs.

So I took her for a quick spin. This is a scene from farther along, somewhere early in Act II. Still playing around with her voice a bit, trying to get a feel for the sorts of things she notices, how she organizes her environment. Also, I like these sorts of forays into the surreal. They tend to be revealing.

And, holy moly, this is story fifty-one out of fifty-two! One more to go and that wraps up this resolution. More on that tomorrow, folks.

Redacted. :-)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Hiccups And The Law Of Unintended Consequences

Status Update: using a lighter brew this time around. Paradoxically, this means a more heavily-caffeinated coffee. The dark stuff has a ton of flavor, which is why I usually drink it, but the heavy roasting also burns out some of the caffeine content. This is fine with me. Caffeine, beyond a certain point, just makes me jittery and gives me a mid-morning crash. This lighter bag of beans has a great flavor to it. Not too dark, not too light, but after a pot, I'm a shivering wreck. I think it's definitely going to be a special occasions sort of thing, for days in which I need superpowers or the ability to vibrate through walls like Silver Age Flash.

Surgery, even of the light and low impact variety--such as tooth removal--is an odd and complicated process. You never really know what to expect. I think being a doctor must be one of the most nerve-wracking professions in the world, because human beings are complex on a level which makes the most complicated precision Swiss watches look like hammers.

If computers were built like the human body, pressing the A key would cause the screen to fill with butterflies instead of printing the letter A. The space bar would cause pudding to ooze out the speakers. What I'm saying is, biology is weird and a few billion years of impartial ad hoc evolution will produce results which aren't always intuitive. If Intelligent Design is a thing, then God must be rather whimsical and prone to resolving decisions via coin toss and dart throwing.

In my case, I had my last two wisdom teeth pulled on a Monday a few weeks ago. What was the most immediate after-effect on Tuesday? You'd expect weakness, pain, maybe the usual effects of inflammation and blood loss. Perhaps a high level of fatigue, wobbliness and a grinding and persistent headache. You would be incorrect. The biggest problem I had was hiccups.

Normally, I get hiccups only in one situation: eating spicy foods. Since I grew up mainlining tex-mex, my bar for what is considered a "spicy food" is so high that, living in Michigan as I do, I very rarely exceed the threshold for food-induced hiccup-dom. It requires a small city worth of Scovilles or curry of a potence and concentration which would suggest it was personally weaponized by the Rajah as a genocidal tool against the invading British armies.

The hiccups, once they come, stick around for only a brief period of time and then leave. Holding my breath is the usual cure, although I suspect doing so doesn't speed their departure much. I've found the same thing happens with unwelcome visitors and relatives as well.

Tuesday morning, I got the hiccups from bending over in the shower to pick up the shampoo. They stuck around for an hour. Then I made the mistake of sitting down too suddenly at work. I coughed while drinking a glass of water that afternoon. I stepped outside and the sunlight was kind of bright, causing another attack. All told, I had six or seven separate attacks that day. Maybe eight, depending on what system of math you are using to count them. Conversations with friends and coworkers typically went like this: "I'm *hick* sorry, Steve that your *hick* mother ate your *hick* cat. My *hick* condolences. Also, gross."

Hiccups are distinctly unpleasant. They don't cause pain or even much discomfort. What I hate about them is more of an existential thing: it's your body telling you that no, you aren't really the driver in this meat-truck you call your physical vessel. The reminders come regularly, but not by any clock. You can think you are Scott-free, and then blam! Here's another one. If you are in public, it's accompanied by people laughing at you, because hiccups are a very silly noise. You wouldn't want to have a hiccup attack if you were the President, for example.

So, Tuesday was something of my own hiccup Vietnam. Luckily, I remembered all of the supposed cures and tested them in the hell-fires of my hiccup blood-bath. Holding my breath? Ineffective. Scared by a friend? I don't have any scary friends (which probably means I am the scary friend). Breath into a paper bag? No dice. Slowly drink a cold glass of water? 90% effective. Who knew?

And that's what's kind of awesome about life in general. Just the constant sense of not knowing exactly what's going to happen as fall-out from mundane decisions. It's why I tend to do weird stuff occasionally and say yes to the occasional odd-ball adventure. Although, come to think of it, not lately because winter kinda sucks and makes me want to hibernate.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Monday Morning Is Gray

Certainly one of my less cheerful stories. I think it might also be one of my favorites of this quarter. The focus, as I wrote, was more on economical and interesting description and I think I achieved that goal.

It started out as another random title, from here. I deliberately picked one of the less ridiculous ones this time around. The title was key because it gave me the idea for the central image, that of the ambiguity of the color wheel. I'm not sure I would have chosen to write something about Shakespeare on my own.

Writing about Shakespeare is something you have to be cautious about. It's easy to come across as pretentious, or worse, produce twee Ren Faire shit. There's a fine line between being literary and being the sort of person who sits around reading Signals and wishing you were Andy Warhol. Not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just territory you have to enter cautiously.

And, wow, story number fifty. Two more to go. I have to admit, I'm not going to be sorry to be done with this and on to the next resolution. I've had my fill of weekly short stories. It's good exercise. I certainly feel like I've had a training montage of some sort, possibly to some sort of Kenny Loggins-style hit which includes the title of the movie I'm in.

My next New Year's resolution is going to be in two parts, I think: make money with my brain and start blasting out novels. There probably won't be the same fixed milestones. I'll still blog regularly, because blogging is fun and the illusion of public accountability* is useful in making me stay the course.

* Even if my reading public seems to be mostly Russian indexing bots.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Story The Fiftieth: Shakespeare Is Gray

From the same generator which brought us "Angelo For Corrupt Time", one thousand words about Shakespeare, cancer, colors and hula girl coffee cups.

It's a rather melancholy story for some rather melancholy winter weather.

Expect fewer typos than usual because I finally got around to figuring out why my spellchecker wasn't checking spelling.

Redacted. :-)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Meditations

Status Update: coffee is stronger and blacker than usual today, even for me. I think I used slightly too many beans. Even after one cup, I am caffeinated to the point where I could pound nails with my forehead or pee laser beams. When the crash comes, it's probably going to be a) at work and b) very severe.

I've been meditating a lot more this year. Usually, it's the first thing in the morning I do, between taking a shower and drinking my coffee.

It's nothing particularly new for me--I learned how the same way a lot of people learned how, I think. Early exposure through a karate class as a kid. It's one of those skills which has stuck with me over the years, along with the basics of being able to fall down relatively gracefully, tie a colored strip of cloth around my waist or stay in shape through regular exercise. It is something I haven't always made a regular practice of, and that's kind of a shame.

Meditation is one of those words which comes with a lot of baggage. I never mention doing it to friends or family, and for several reasons. For one thing, they assume you're attempting to achieve enlightenment of some sort or other, which is about as far from the case as possible.

Or they assume you've been reading from the wrong end of the book store and engaging in all sorts of alternate lifestyle behavior, like enjoying food that didn't begin its life as a cow or collecting pictures of unicorns and pyramids (shut up, I like unicorns).

Or I fail to mention it simply because bragging about things you do in your daily routine to maintain your health--mental, physical or otherwise--is an awful lot like bragging about brushing your teeth. It makes you look simple.

I meditate because it's a useful skill. One common view of meditation is that it's done for relaxation, which is only partially correct. You can relax with it, but that's not the entire story.

What I find it useful for is training focus. You settle down in a somewhat-but-not-completely comfortable position in a room which has few distractions. You sit for a length of time (fifteen minutes at a go, for me) and you simply concentrate on not thinking. Focus on your breathing, or the sounds around you, or your heartbeat. It doesn't matter. Whenever a thought comes up of any sort, let it pass. Swat it away, dismiss it, laugh mercilessly as it dissipates into a puff of malodorous smoke. Observe the thought as it develops, then let it go. Breathe some more. Dismiss other thoughts. Ad infinitum. It's surprisingly difficult and a never-ending task.

The human brain is designed to think, so meditation is an endless loop of smacking down irrelevant thoughts. Conversations with friends, musings about anteaters, snippets of music, anger, stress, all the noise of daily life--you're going to have it wash through you as you force yourself to sit still for however long you're meditating. Eventually (and not every time you sit down) you will reach a state of stillness and, hopefully, you come out of it feeling recharged and focused.

Eventually that ability to swat down stray thoughts will stick with you. Something happens which stresses you out: an argument at work, or someone cuts you off in traffic. Maybe you're having a hard time going to sleep because your brain just. Won't. Switch. Off. And then you realize that what's distracting you is simply that: a distraction, and nothing to do with what's important in life. And you dismiss the thought the way you do when you're meditating. It puffs into smoke and you finish your drive, or you go to sleep, or the stress dissipates, for now.

I don't really think of meditation as a spiritual thing at all. I think of it as cardio for your brain. It trains a certain ability to focus on the present, a mindful state where you can distance yourself from whatever you're doing, just being content to be there, whether you're writing a story or washing your dishes.

As a person who writes, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the practice of mindfulness. When I do it regularly, I find I don't procrastinate as much. I write longer because I can focus deeper on my writing, to the point of losing track of time or what's going on in my immediate environment.

On the other hand, part of being a creative-type person is that you're a creative type person because you always have voices in your head. You're always carrying on conversations with mental strangers, imaginary friends, historical figures, whatever. It's excruciating when you're meditating and you're forced to let go of a particularly interesting conversation or a useful train of thought. I've lost track of the number of story ideas I've had to dismiss meditating.

There's always a sense you're casting away something valuable, but you're not. You're just sending it back to the well, where it will marinate again and probably return when you need it, stronger for the experience.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Bing!

Well, that certainly wasn't even close to diesel punk. It's always fun to go back and read my wild-ass predictions about what each week's story is going to be about.

It's going to be an existentialist take on post-modern deconstructionist thought. I plan on riffing on Pablo Neruda and will follow a growing trend of modern thought about the distancing effects of modern media consumption. WRONG. It's about robots fighting sentient badgers.

It's going to be a thoughtful tale of two peoples' star-crossed roma--WRONG, sentient badgers again.

I'm a little surprised the story turned out as well it did given just how lousy I've felt since the tooth extraction. I'm mostly recovered. Between ibuprofen and coffee I am once again a mostly-functional adult human type being, with only the occasional relapse into grody headache land.

The story itself was kind of a riff on "Sure Thing" by David Ives, probably one of my favorite one-act plays. Instead of focusing on the courtship itself, however, one of the things I played with was the notion that this guy, who had an unfair advantage, was working towards an endpoint he wasn't necessarily wise enough to realize wasn't very desirable.

Unfortunately, due to lack of sleep/caffeination/whatever, the end result was a bit schizophrenic. There's a lot more setup than it probably needs, even though it was fun to write, and a lot of focus on the interview itself, which was also fun to write, but maybe not enough effort with the dismount. I think if I were to revisit this, I'd put up more red flags that the company he was interviewing for wasn't necessarily a good place for him.

Or I'd have the interview be for different stakes. Make it clear to even the most casual reader that he's barking up the wrong tree. Or spend more time dwelling on the notion that the reset button, even if it takes place over years, isn't quite so useful as people fantasize about.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Story The Forty-nineth: Abort, Retry Or Fail

No randomness this time. Instead a seed from my Big List Of Ideas, a story about useful failure.

Roughly 2300 words. The Universal Reset Button, Taco Bell, a job interview and the wrong damn microprocessor company.

Redacted. :-)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Less Wise

Status Update: plentiful coffee, theoretically dark, if I would let it just run free and be itself (man). But no, I'm recovering from wisdom tooth extraction, so I'm slipping in extra calories where I can. In my case, it's drinking my normally dark coffee with milk added like the big wussy wuss that I am. Can't quite bring myself to add sugar, though. Largely because I can't figure out where my sugar is, if I have any.

This time around, the process of recovery is...better than last time. I think I'd lost more blood during the operation during my last wisdom tooth extraction. It made recovery harder than this time around. This time, I am wise in the ways of tricking myself into eating more during soft diets.

Also, I do NOT plan on going to a beer festival at the end of this week. This is very key.

Favorite moment so far: spitting up about two cups of blood in the shower yesterday morning, like Gene Simmons at the climax of a KISS concert. Apparently, when you have a hole in your sinuses you should NOT sleep on your back. Eventually, that buildup will drain when you least expect it, sparking the sort of moment which would usually be accompanied by Ave Satani in a horror movie.

I'm sure there's a parallel to writing in there somewhere.

I'm going to resist that urge, however.

I've discovered there are two things in life which you miss until you're not allowed to do them for a while:

1. Blowing your nose. Holy hell on a bucking leaf-blower do I want to blow my damn nose. According to my rather Nordic doctor, however, it would be a Bad Thing To Do, at least for a week. It would be like crossing the streams or starting a land war in China. Total photonic reversal, is what I'm saying.

2. Eat hard foods. Goes without saying, I guess. I turned down some perfectly good sausage yesterday, which is antithetical to my whole philosophy of life.

When I get over this, life is going to be one giant nose-blowing sausage party. It's going to be epic.

Also, at some point I'm going to write another story this week. I've been getting nostalgic about diesel-punk lately, so maybe a side-story in the world of "Roxy Rides The Train."

Monday, December 2, 2013

Digging A Hole

And I'm back from the Upper Peninsula. Banged out the story yesterday in between various preparations for this week's festivities. Assuming you could call having a couple of wisdom teeth out a festivity, unless you take a strict Viking interpretation of the affair. Blood? Check. Altered states? Check. Screaming? Hope not. It's a party!

Half my head should recover quickly, the other half, where my tooth has burrowed so far into my skull and sinus cavity it will most likely require a team of cartographers, spelunkers and symplectic geometrists to figure out how to get it out...probably not so much. The good doctor has explained his angle of attack. I have problems visualizing his solution due to my mortal limitations and stubborn insistence on adhering to the boring and usual three dimensions.

The story? Right, the story.

This was another random story seed, this time from this site. I selected the full five challenge objectives, since that's the sort of adrenaline-crazed daredevil that I am.

"A character will prepare for a birthday. During the story, a character drinks something that disagrees with them. The story must have a miner in it. The story must involve some horseshoes at the end. The story takes place a century into the future."

It was one of those situations where it gave you a lot and too little to work with. I wound up picking the "miner" aspect and running with it. Since it took place a century in the future, I decided to lampshade technology.

I've always been a little intrigued about situations where advancing technology allows constant connection, but not necessarily in a helpful way.

The default assumption of advancing technology, I think, at least by designers and power users, is that connection is going to be ubiquitous. The logical extension is that you're going to be online all the time, even during the most private and incongruous moments.

In a world where you're constantly participating in networks and conversations, it must be odd to find yourself in a position like the two main characters where you are always in shouting distance of help, but not necessarily in a position to be helped. Not sure I conveyed this quite enough in the rough draft, but it's there in the story. I decided to play it up a bit for the inherent gallows humor.

And I'm out until Thursday. I'll probably be capable of coherent posting by then, but if it's anything like the last dental procedure I had of this sort, the pounding headache will most likely make the post and--by extension--this week's story, rather cranky and disjointed. Which is to say, like most of the rest of my output.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Story The Forty-eighth: Always Connected

"A character will prepare for a birthday. During the story, a character drinks something that disagrees with them. The story must have a miner in it. The story must involve some horseshoes at the end. The story takes place a century into the future."

Good lord.

That's what this delightful thing gave me. Thank you, internet, for your never-exhausting supply of generators.

Roughly 1700 words. Miners, horseshoes, birthdays, social media and the Donner Party.

Redacted. :-)