Thursday, February 26, 2015

Missed Opportunities

It seems Google is phasing out sexiness on blog posts. Or at least that's what the banner at the top of the Blogspot welcome screen says:  "On March 23rd, Blogger will no longer allow certain sexually explicit content."

This makes me sad. Not because it lowers the places I can acquire pictures of quivering unclad pulchritude. Although that is a concern.

It's mostly because I've totally dropped the ball on this blog's sexy quotient. I really need to step up the game over the next few weeks. Maybe revamp my writing for extra steaminess. Revamp my writing in general to make it better clickbait:

36 Ways Doing That Rough Draft Makes You Better. In Bed.
10 Ways To Grind Through The Mid-point Of Your Novel. In Bed.
12 Sexy Ways To Brew Coffee. In Bed.

Of course, my notion of "sexiness" is just adding "in bed" to everything. Every once in a while, I'll read an article about someone who makes a tidy side income writing erotica under a pseudonym. Andrew Offutt, I believe, did that. A lot of people do now. Apparently, erotica is a significant portion of the Kindle self-publishing market.

I'll stop and think about it, seriously think about it, because at first blush (see what I did there?) it seems like an easy market. Bang out a short story, publish, watch the cashola pour in. I'm already a decent writer, right? I'm also very fast and the genre standards are demonstrably low. No-brainer.

Thing is, I suck at it. And I think it's kinda boring. I'm not being a conservative, black suit, black tie, mayo on white bread, listening to Amy Grant, type of guy. I'm just not very good at it and part of the reason I write is that there's a section of my brain I just don't get to use much in my day-to-day, that gives me a charge when I fire it up.

It would be just another job, like being a tech writer or something. And I already have a job. So, that.

On the other hand, I think of the entertainment factor, that sense of "what if I tried and hit it really big" and imagine what it would be like to get 50 Shades Of Gray huge under a pseudonym and then have to explain to all my friends and relatives why I quit my real job and how I could afford to sit on a beach all the time being a drunken lout somewhere tropical. I'd have to come up with some kind of story about insurance payouts or anonymous lottery wins or something. Or just fess up and take the lumps.

I recall one erotica writer talking about how she does sex scenes--she has to get liquored up before she can get herself to write them. She comes in the next morning with a pair of tongs, a bucket of water and a dry towel and edits the hell out of her drunken ramblings the night before.

Me, not so much. About all the sexy I can muster in my writing amounts to a lump of cold oatmeal. Drunk writing is more likely to make me just go off on weird tangents about personal finance, zen philosophy and fictional civilizations. Also, badgers.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Shit Gets Real

Just finished chapter 7, which was way more amusing to write than I was counting on, partly because of inter-character tension, partly because of some random details which manifested out of the gray froth of my subconscious. Namely, the appearance of a drunken hobo flower plant and some cleaning squids. It's a weird setting.

Chapter 8 is when shit officially Gets Real. It's the last chapter before the final act. It looks like the rough draft is going to wind up right around forty-some thousand words, which is close to where I was shooting. This time around I'm going for tight-but-short, instead of loose-but-way-too-long, on the general theory that it's easier to add awesome stuff than to remove awesome stuff.

It's also mostly a piece of detective fiction and, frankly, I have to go back and layer in details to make the plot hang together. I've got the bones of the important stuff in there, but there's definitely some parts where the chain needs more links for it to become an actual mystery and not, say, completely stupid.

That's the main difference between detective stories, as opposed to just about everything else. You have to write everything backwards. When you're chunking out a rough draft, you're still surprising yourself, discovering what the story's going to be about. Mysteries require a bit of deliberation and at least some sort of appearance of fore-thought, which is not my forte and something I always have to add in later.

There's also a great deal of detail in the setting I want to layer in. As it stands now, it doesn't quite feel like science fiction. Not yet. There's not as much of a sense of place as I want there to be, and I think that's just something I'll have to smooth in during post-production.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Stars

It always amuses to watch the spread of news. The first story drops into the dirty pond that we like to the internet. Ripples spread out, bounce off of the banks and become more ripples.

Case in point:
http://science.slashdot.org/story/15/02/17/1922227/another-star-passed-through-our-oort-cloud-70000-years-ago?utm_source=rss1.0mainlinkanon&utm_medium=feed

It's fairly well agreed that stars pass by all the time, sometimes pretty closely. Scholz' star was discovered fairly recently, and the study that determined its path only came out within the last few months, true.

But this is not really news. At least not in the sense of "Tokyo Is On Fire; Giant Reptile Suspected."

It's news-ish. Fascinating stuff and it's new information to add to the dust-bin of interesting information in the back of your head. Astronomy is full of stuff like that--stuff that's fun to know but not terribly important on a day-to-day basis...but the articles tend to attract all sorts of fun attention, since it collides with pop culture.

This one's great in that sense.

Relatively sober article hits Astronomy magazine. Check.

Slashdot picks it up because their contributors are colossal nerds. Check.

The other sites pick it up, start the not-so-slow process of sensationalizing the headlines. Each round of releases makes the headline and lead more ridiculous.

I fully expect the headlines next week to say that the star in question is going to loop back and fry Moscow. Or maybe unnamed experts will come out, saying that it's just hanging at the edge of the solar system, lobbing comets at us until we're all doomed.

Or more likely, the supports of Sitchin will collectively wet themselves and claim that it's Marduk, assuming they're not already.

Which reminds me, it's been nearly a year since I've read my annual dose of awesome whoo.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Coasting

You know it's a cold day out when it's afternoon by the time you can finally stop using the minus symbol. And the entire time it's traversing the full range of negative temperatures, the sun is out, it's shining. With the windows closed and the furnace on full, it's deceptively cheerful-looking. The light has the same sort of glittering quality you remember from a day at the beach in July. And then you step outside, your nose hairs flash-freeze and the cold hits you in the face, like a towel snap at a high school gym locker room.

In other words, Michigan in February, film at eleven. Carry on, folks.

Wrapped up chapter six of twelve. Had one of those moments where I wrote and wrote, got to a point in the chapter where I saw there was another scene to go, but where I was was a good cliffhanger, so I decided to cut and move the new scene to the next chapter, where it will fit into the plot better. The current stopping point is more logical, I think, and the next chapter is just a tad bit too uneventful as it stood.

I have sort of mixed feelings about outline changes like this. On one hand, you have to play it loose while you're writing. When you lay out the bones of a novel, you just have no idea how it'll play, so you have to have some give in the structure. Otherwise, it'll come out forced or, worse yet, you'll get bored writing it. You need enough room for surprises. It gives the book a bit of organic feel to it.

But on the other hand, if you find yourself tweaking TOO much, then you begin to suspect the outline, that it might be flawed and need a rethink.

So far, I'm happy with my prep work on this novel. Things are going well. Any of the things that aren't going well are fixable in post-production, I think, things that I can patch out in extended monologues, or tweak later on. But you never know.

And now I have to go outside because I am out of food and need to mail in the last of my taxes. And besides, I deliberately did not go outside yesterday, when it was even worse out and there are some things you just can't put off. Like food supplies. One more day and I'd be subsisting entirely on rice, condiments, coffee and whatever molds, spores and fungi I'd managed to scrape off the backs of the cabinets.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Doldrums

The mid-chapter is definitely the hump day of the chapter list.

I'm smack dab in chapter six of twelve. Too far into the book to remember any of that newfangled enthusiasm I started out with. Not close enough to the end to have any sort of momentum built up yet.

In my last book, the book about the magic-using dimension-hopping teen detective, this is right about where Act II degenerated into a muddy meandering mess. And possibly a few other alliterative words. I didn't know what to watch out for and, effectively, I wrote a second--mostly-unrelated--book right in the middle of my real book. That sucked. Slogged through, got out of the whole mess and looked at it, realized that it was deadly boring and almost entirely unlike what I loved about Act I. If I go back to it, I'll probably just blow the whole thing up, start from scratch, with a few scenes and ideas lifted as appropriate. I still love the characters and setting, just not what I did with it.

This one's too short and tightly-plotted to fall into that trap, really. There's no room to meander. I think I did a fine job of preventative maintenance with the outline this time around. The only thing I'm a little worried about is having everything, you know, make sense at the end.

At this point, it's mostly a matter of keeping up energy and my sense of humor.

It is a bit of a grim determined slog right now, like getting through a Wednesday at work, when the weather isn't that nice and when your workload isn't particularly interesting, when you look out the window and the weather's settled down into the sort of determined uniformed gray that tells you "hey, spring is very, very far away, would you like more ice instead?"

You just sort of have to grit your teeth and bang out work with as much humor as you can muster, knowing that after all this, there's a weekend, followed by slightly better weather and maybe a resolution of some sort. And then the next book, whatever it winds up being.

Haven't been writing as much before work this week. I've been lengthening my meditation periods and that's been cutting somewhat into my morning routine. I've also been sleeping longer, when I can, so as I mentioned before, something has to give and that something was the five hundred words or so per day on the novel, which kinda sucks. But thems the breaks.

On the other hand, longer meditation = happier, more centered Mike, so there's that.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Towards The Downward Slope

And I just wrapped up chapter five. This means the next chapter will be six out of twelve and I'm on the downward slope. I've got something like twenty or twenty-five thousand words written. This means the book will most likely wrap with around forty-five or fifty. When I stroll through it for the second draft, start adding in more asides, spiffing up the dialogue, rethink descriptions, I wouldn't be surprised if it closes out at sixty thousand words or so, which I'm just fine with in a book of this type. Adding more later on is way easier than slashing thousands of words in a later editing round.

This chapter was one I've been looking forward to for awhile, a visit to a non-Euclidean casino, filled with customers from higher dimensions. Lots of strangeness to write about, plus there's stuff going on behind the scenes which made for an interesting flow of events while I was churning out verbiage.

One thing I've been struggling with a little is where to settle the line between the fantastic stuff and the mundane. I've already established that the setting is near-future enough that most people know what, say, a giraffe is. And there's real-world stuff like tooth brushes and Rubik's Cubes and so on.

On the other hand, they are in space and it's a pretty over the top setting. I made a throwaway reference to an entire civilization which disappeared into a black hole because they let the wrong casino set up shop in town. There are holograms and a receptionist who's a sentient cloud of gas. What I'm shooting for is a comfortable balance between the two extremes, using the balance to play off of for humor, but you never really know how that sort of thing works out until you try it.

It might be an action point in a later draft, but who knows. The only thing I can do is chug along, writing from the gut and hope it all makes sense in the end.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Milestones

I noticed this week as I started the new chapter that I've inadvertently crossed into Act II on the outline.

Weird how milestones sail past so quickly and without notice. And it's not like important end of Act stuff wasn't happening or anything, it's just that I was so wrapped up in the minutia of the book and life in general that I didn't think about it much as I pushed on through.

A huge number of personal milestones seem to happen that way, come to think of it.

When I turned 21, I completely failed to do the big awesome "hey guys, let's get black-out drunk now that I'm legal" thing. I wasn't really a drinker back then. That would come much later.

Instead I sparred with a friend, broke one of my toes on his shin, and then spent the rest of the evening watching anime because that was the sort of thing I would do on a Friday evening back then. As I recall, it was "Legend of the Over-fiend", which was edgy and slightly revolting back then, but I suppose after nineteen  and a half years of cultural drift is now something toddlers watch on Sunday mornings when the babysitter can't be bothered to come over. As I recall, it had a Nazi rape machine in it, which you can probably buy in Toys 'R Us now.

Financial milestones are somewhat similar--I didn't celebrate the first time my net worth lost the minus in front of it, mostly because I didn't track such things then. I did celebrate getting out of debt. That was pretty cool. In typical fashion, I did everything backwards: I got out of debt and THEN started reading up on personal finance. Not exactly optimal. I didn't celebrate my net worth crossing into six figures, though, even though I was tracking my finances pretty closely by the time I hit that marker.

Milestones can be pretty arbitrary. Once you reach them, you find they're not as important or impressive as you might expect. Twenty-one was just another day. Getting out of debt was big, but the actual numbers behind it all, once you started digging, were not. Crossing into six figures of net worth felt just like crossing over from 94,000 to 94,0001. Small changes which go unnoticed on a personal time scale but only become important when viewed from a distance.

I've lost track of the number of times I've gone for a run and hit a bigger number than usual. You realize pretty quickly that the mile marker is just another patch of grass and the only reason a sound dings in the back of your head is because you make it so.

But milestones are important, I think. Find good ones and then celebrate them no matter how big or unimportant they are. On a day-to-day basis, I'm a little meh about them. But on the ten year view of your life, they work nicely into the narrative we all build out of our memories. It's important to have that little celebration, that ticker tape shower at the end of the marathon or what have you, to show you that you were there, that you did it. Even if you don't really feel like it's that important at the time.

I tend to build tiny little celebrations into things. Nothing huge, but little bits of mental calculus: if I do THAT, I get to do THIS. That kind of thing. First paycheck of new job? New painting for apartment. Pay off debt? Buy a gadget. Not only does it give you something to remember other than the slog, it also helps you pace the fun stuff in life.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Process

As the snow comes down sideways outside my window with the same sort of inevitability as an impending ice age, I wrap another chapter in the book.

This was one of those chapters I was dreading a little because on the outline it basically boiled down to "wrap up the action cliffhanger from the previous chapter and then have the main character talk to some guy for a bit." I had a few more things I wanted to cover, but the plan was disturbingly sparse.

It turned out quite a bit better than that, for various reasons. It let me fill in some back story of the setting, describe some interesting new locations and people. I fleshed out Steve, the mayor of the Rock, who showed up briefly in Spirals and Triangles. It also gave me a chance to push and prod Neah a bit, who's the focus of the book's subplot.

It was also just a lot of fun to write. There's at least three or four agendas at play in that chapter and writing around them was fairly entertaining.

One of the recurring phenomena I've noticed about my writing is that I always feel like I'm laying down complete and utterly aimless meandering bullshit, even on the days when I'm "on," so to speak. On off days, it's even worse. Let's not talk about those days. In fact, I'm avoiding eye contact with those days right now. I'll probably block them on Facebook in a bit.

I occasionally lose sight of the fact that I always feel like this, that I always have that sense I'm winging everything and filling out words just to fill the empty white space up with squiggly black marks.

And every morning, I come back to what I wrote the day before and I'm like "hey, that's not half bad."

You see, when I lay down a new chapter, I'm sketching out the flow of the story. There might be rough spots, yes, but I'm also layering in seeds. Sometimes just placeholders, sometimes stuff that, in retrospect, is pretty awesome.

Sometimes I do write something that's pretty rough and I'll have to smoke an entire paragraph or two and start from scratch, but usually I'm in the right ballpark.

I go back at some later point and flesh it out, tighten up, correct or see something I think is crap and I'm like, okay, that was all right, but I can make this better.

That's the beauty of writing, that godlike feeling of being able to dig your fingers into the weave and delete, adjust, shift, warp or create things until they mean something that's almost entirely new and unexpected, even to you, the author. That sense of dancing with your story before it's born and watching it grow into something surprising and strange and knowing it came from somewhere in your head.

At the rate of one chapter per week, this book's going pretty fast. I scheduled in fewer chapters in the outline than the last book--only twelve, in the theory that with my general tendency to rattle on too long, it would swell up to book length without much effort. So far, so good.

And damn, it's snowing hard. It's making me regret my decision, born of cosmic laziness, to not do this week's grocery shopping yesterday, even though I knew full well a blizzard was going to roll right over my lazy ass.