Thursday, October 29, 2015

Wet Robots

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I recently had a stimulating discussion with an old friend about the nature of reality.  We were discussing an assertion by science and philosophy (specifically a man named Dan Dennett) that free will is an illusion and our actions are all the product of a fully deterministic physical brain.  Dennet, to his credit, makes the point that even if free will is an illusion, it's still important to live life like free will is real.  In other words, even if we are "wet robots", it's not practical to live our lives like there's no consequences to our actions.
There are some scientific findings that support the notion that our decisions form in our brain in a measurable way before we are conscious of them.  I wrote the below in response to watching a video by Dennett posted to a social network by my friend.
"My takeaway from this one is that it makes sense from a philosophical and scientific point of view but has little practical value to impart to day to day living. The analogy {Dennet makes} to fiat vs "real" currency seems like an appropriate one. I will admit to struggling with the philosophical implications of this video for about 24 hours after I watched it. But, ultimately, I think there's still room in this model for some consciousness apart from the physical body. For instance, maybe there's an infinite number of physical bodies on multiple planes and our free will phases us between alternate timelines? I appreciate the machine-like nature of the mind--and, lately, I've enjoyed trying to "life hack" myself. But, ultimately, I don't view science
as the sole informant of my point of view. Science is good at reductionist measurement, but I do think you can lose the forest for the trees. And even if we view ourselves as "wet machines", the very contemplation of that fact could negatively impact our "programming". So take this down! (Just kidding) I think we differ on this point about the existence of the external "soul". Maybe Decker is a replicant after all--but you'll never convince him while he's hooked up the Matrix. Turtles all the way down!"

My friend subsequently pointed out that Dennett's argument is actually supporting living as if free will is real.  I am still thinking about my response.  My first thought is how would I even attempt to live like a robot pretending to be a "real boy"?  I've never been a great actor.  I don't envy those who subscribe to this lack of free will principle, even if they don't go off the deep end of nihilism.  Wouldn't this belief create an undercurrent of despair in daily life?  No thanks.  My friend does make one interesting point, though.  He says the truth should trump any comfortable illusions.  I do agree with that statement.  So I think I have some thinking to do in order to reconcile my argument with these two potentially conflicting concepts (free will and the acknowledgement of the possible philosophical implications of the science).  Of course, a multiverse model of reality pretty much allows for anything--and there is "spooky" physics to support at least the possibility of that.

On the writing front, I am excited to announce I've scheduled a writing retreat for November.  My goal is to complete the first draft of Hemlock book four.  I am extremely excited about this and will probably post more frequently than I have been during that period.  The Hemlock books seem to have a life of their own!  I have virtually ceased all marketing for a few years with the exception of this humble blog, yet sales continue to trickle in and downloads continue unabated.  I can speculate on one big reason for the continued momentum: the venerable Indie Book Blog .  Scott Poe is the operator of this nice indie review site, and has generously been running a banner for the Hemlock books for *years* at this point.  Please visit his site and give him some love!  Thanks, Scott!


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Writing in Slo-Mo

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I feel like I've been writing in slow motion lately.  I'm very motivated to write, I just don't have a lot of time or energy to write.  Still, I am steadily making progress toward reaching the end of Hemlock Book Four.  I'm right at the doorstep of popping a major "bubble" for the reader which will reveal a lot about the underpinnings of the story.  It's pretty exciting stuff!

Another surprising thing has happened this week.  An idea for another book that's been percolating in my right brain for a while suddenly started generating left brain ideas for me this week.  I hastily took notes.  I think I've uncovered the fully formed skeleton of my next novel!  It's something completely different from Hemlock, although the theme isn't that far removed from it.  Notably, it would be in the urban fantasy genre rather than epic/high fantasy.  But take that for a grain of salt because it's not a genre following story at all, if that makes sense.  In other words, it was conceived in a complete absence of any genre consciousness, and it's only in retrospect that I might clumsily assign the urban fantasy "label" to it.

I've continued to be fascinated by virtual worlds and higher "planes" of thought and existence in these past months.  I'm currently reading "The Peripheral" by William Gibson.  It's phenomenal!  I've enjoyed everything Gibson has written, but this story in particular has really grabbed me.  I always feel lost in his books for the first hundred pages, at least.  In some of his books, I've never really felt synced with the story at all (although I have still enjoyed them from a distance--kind of like watching a beautiful, nude figure through frosted glass).  But I am fully engaged with the story in "The Peripheral".  I'm close to the ending.  I've resisted Googling some things about the book until I finish it.  I'm very curious about the scientific basis for some of the plot devices he uses in the book.

That's it for now.  I will try to double down on completing the Hemlock series as soon as possible.  I really will be an exciting milestone to reach.  I'm already contemplating physical books, which will also be an exciting step.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Tapping the Brakes

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As some of you who read this blog may know, I typically write as part of a semi-daily routine.  I've reached a point in the Hemlock IV manuscript where I'm writing a climactic battle sequence.  At the same time, my non-writing life has been very hectic.  During the last writing session I had, the details of the battle were bursting out of my brain like a fire hose gone out of control!  I didn't want to stop writing, but I knew I was taking on a sort of manic demeanor that wouldn't bode well for my overall well being. The net result is I've been feeling very stressed writing this battle sequence and I actually had to take a break for a few days!  It may sound silly, but I feel it's had a noticeably positive impact on my stress level.  But I will certainly get back to writing this exciting sequence as soon as possible, because I miss it!

This manic writing phenomenon also happened to me while writing Hemlock II.  It seems I can get obsessive about writing sometimes.  So, while  I've had to put the brakes on just a bit, the good news is the end of the story is coming into sight.  I think that's good news, anyway.  Bittersweet also, perhaps, but good for the production of this novel.

On a personal note, I'm reading a very interesting book about the relationship between Art and Religion called The Re-Enchantment of the World: Art vs. Religion .  It's made several points so far that have resonated with me and require additional contemplation.  One is that my personal fascination with mythology and fiction could be related to a disenchantment with the dogma of religion.  Another is that people relate strongly to stories because a fundamental way we all view our lives is as narratives.  The book goes on to state that we all want to "be somebody" and have a heroic narrative.  And because we think in terms of narratives it's easy for us to identify with narratives written as stories.  My initial reaction is I think these ideas make a lot of sense, but I haven't had time to fully digest them, yet.

Will this book influence the final chapters of Hemlock Book IV?  I would say yes.  At the very least they may help to guide my hand on the rudder of the story.  I have to think about Hemlock's narrative, and also the narratives of all the other characters in the novel.  I will have to ask myself whether these narratives are all coherent and brought to a satisfying and logical conclusion. Will there be other influences from this book?  I can't say yet.  I haven't even completed it yet.

Thanks for reading my update!  I hope you are doing well.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Short Post - Book Four Manuscript Update

I've reached a pivotal point in writing Hemlock Book Four!  All of the plot lines have come together for a climactic confrontation!  It feels surreal to reach this point in the narrative after all of these years.  It's both gratifying and a little disquieting because I realize there will be a sort of void in my creative life once this series is complete.  Certainly, other projects will emerge to fill that void--and that's very exciting.  But, at the same time, this story has seeped into my veins.  It's become my periodic escape into another world, and there's a lot of lore and thought that's gone into that world.  It will be strange to contemplate starting anew.

But, lest this post become too maudlin, I should realize that I still have a lot of writing to do before Book Four is completed.  I can't afford to get ahead of myself!

I'm sorry I haven't posted a "proper" blog post lately.  I've been very busy, and I've been so excited to write the Hemlock story that I've given the blog short shrift.  I'll try to be better about that in the future!  I hope you enjoy the upcoming summer months if you are in the United States!  If not, then please enjoy whatever season you will be in for the next several months!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Change of Perspective

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Writers earn their chops by successfully writing from multiple perspectives.  Characters in a story have to be portrayed differently and they should have unique points of view that come through in the writing.  Good characterization will demonstrate the unique characteristics of these personas.  This will reflect the societal norms of the societies they were raised in.  Writing a character raised in an eighteenth century Native American village has to be much different than writing a London debutante.

My hypothesis, then, is writers should be better equipped to deal with differences in beliefs and attitudes between one culture and another than non-writers are.  But then I wonder how easy it is for a writer to capture these differences unless they travel or do research about life on foreign soil.  Along these lines, I wonder about my own cultural "voice"--both as a writer and a human being.  Cultural values change and morph over time.  Is it socially and morally imperative to be receptive to these changes as one advances through life?  Or is it better to anchor yourself to certain core values?

I think the ideal is to engage in a process of continuous re-evaluation of one's cultural values.  This evaluation would ideally take place in several dimensions:  philosophical, moral, social, financial, etc.  But the reality is it's difficult to find the time for all of this introspection.  Invariably, we fall back on pre-existing values.  And this can lead to situations that challenge or contravene these pre-existing values in a disruptive way (when they have "calcified" and become brittle due to age and lack of re-evaluation).

When these moments come, how do we react?  If you subscribe to the concept of the plurality of self, you might begin a process of forming a new persona that identifies with the values suggested by new emergent realities.  In this case, the older selves don't cease to exist, but may have to be gradually deemphasized or merged with newer points of view.  And it may take a while to fully reconcile these points of view.

I think it's good for a writer to go through these evolutions for the same reason that actors sometimes get better with age.  As you realize that your own self isn't static, I think you gain perspective that you can leverage when writing your characters and giving them unique backgrounds and perspectives.

So maybe a writer should book an overseas trip once a year to stay fresh or do something unusual like joining a UFO hunting group.  Maybe one should experiment with religion or explore a new subculture.  If you become adept at creating new personas, then perhaps it lessens the pain of having to retire obsolete ones.  I will have to ask some enlightened, older friends about this.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Headwinds and Tailwinds

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I've had a couple of really good writing sessions over the past couple of weeks. Before these sessions, I hadn't felt like I'd had a good session in quite some time. I'd noticed the feeling, but hadn't really reacted to it much. I just kept writing. I don't know if this was some flavor of writer's block, but I suspect it displayed many of the symptoms of it. The thing is, though, I never thought to myself that I had writer's block while I was experiencing whatever I was experiencing. I just knew I was writing with reduced efficiency and inspiration. When it comes time to edit, I'll have to take a careful look at the things I wrote during this period. My hope is they will prove to be of the same quality as I produced during the earlier parts of writing the manuscript. I am still excited by what I've written--I just wasn't as excited while I was writing it.

Maybe what I was experiencing was due to a lack of improvisation in the writing relative to the earlier books in the series. As much as I value spontaneity and allowing a manuscript to morph, the reality is some constraints are inevitable when writing a fourth book. So, many of the plot points and character developments had already been conceived prior to the writing. There's a certain "buzz" I get when I conceive an idea. It's a creative high. When I'm writing from the seat of my pants, that high is ever-present. But when I'm writing previously fleshed out ideas, the high has faded and what's left is a workman-like joy at realizing the concepts with good, tight prose. I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with that.

The ebbs and flows of mood and inspiration seem to be mercurial. Looking back, I can't put a finger on exactly why I had this down period in my writing and then pulled out of it. The cause could have been the lack of writing improvisation, or maybe it was a side effect of something else going on in my life at the time. In fact, I can't be sure it won't come back. When I was younger I used to become very discouraged by losing inspiration during a project. I'd often bounce from new project to new project without finishing anything. It was very frustrating. At some point I realized that it's nearly always better to finish a project than to abandon it--even if the project is no longer viable or inspiring.

Ultimately, projects are units of work, and work is often something we do because we feel compelled to do it. It's true that work can also be fun. Work is fun when the tailwinds of creativity and inspiration are driving us forward. But it isn't always fun. Sometimes we are becalmed and unmotivated. Sometimes we even have to work in the face of adversity, which is like headwinds holding us back and retarding our progress.

There's probably been a lot written about how to create writing tailwinds. Maybe I should read some of it. But, for now, my stubborn approach seems to be keeping me moving.

The Hemlock Book Four manuscript stands at about 50,000 words. I am now getting into the meat of the final part of the story. I don't mean that I'm at the end of the manuscript but rather that I'm writing scenes I had always imagined as being part of the end of the overall story arc. They are epic almost by definition since they will prove to be pivotal to the outcome of the tetralogy. Hopefully they will be as exciting to read as they are to write! How can I say exciting to write given my topic in this post? Writing is always exciting--it's just the degree of excitement that varies sometimes. Writing=good!

I wish you all a happy and healthy 2015! Thanks for reading.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Adding Flair

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I've been slowly writing my way through the fourth Hemlock novel, and approaching it in a methodical fashion.  I think there's a point when an author completes the outline of a plot for a novel and the exercise of writing the manuscript can become monotonous.  There's an acute risk of this happening if the writer doesn't allow for the plot and characters to morph and evolve around the planned outline and events.  This is why I always try to allow for these changes to emerge while I'm writing.  Sometimes this causes delays, but I think these detours are very important to the overall motivation of the author and the success of the writing process.

Another aspect of embracing this variability is making sure what gets written has the necessary detail and individuality in terms of setting and characterization.  Every scene needs to stand alone in the sense that it should be interesting, advance the plot and/or advance the character development.  It's easy to settle for executing a scene competently, but I always shoot for trying to write the scene with a certain "flair".

The word flair makes me think of the period in the history of chain restaurants where the wait staff was encouraged to wear innumerable buttons and other personal items.  This practice was later satirized in popular comedy.  There is such a thing as too much flair.  An example of this might be something like having dragons being ridden by dwarves in purple power armor.  Interesting?  Maybe... OK, probably...  But "spirited" to the point where it could negatively impact the atmosphere that's been established in your fantasy setting?  Yes, I'd say that would be a risk--unless your setting is a humorous, flamboyant fantasy/sci-fi hybrid.

Part of the work that goes into achieving this flair is trying to come up with a vivid visualization of a scene and then boiling the description down to an optimal level of detail that fires the imagination but doesn't become excessive and bog down the flow of the writing.  This is an area I've been trying to improve in my writing.

Here's an update on my work in progress!  The manuscript for Hemlock Book Four stands at around 45,000 words.  I am in the midst of writing an exciting quest/action sequence and the overall narrative is approaching what appears to be a climactic encounter.  Note the word "appears" in the preceding sentence.  I still envision this novel being at least 100,000 words before all is said and done.  The thought has crossed my mind that I could go the way of popular movie franchises and release the novel in two parts.  I always despair that my slow writing might cause people to forget about me between releases!  But I'm still reluctant to split this novel into parts because this tale does not divide cleanly.  I think the reader would be left unsatisfied.  But I always welcome your feedback!

Thanks for reading!