Thursday, April 7, 2016

Impermanent Marker

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A lot of things are changing in my life right now. My first reaction when reflecting on change is to begin to judge the changes: are they positives? Negatives? I want to try to quantify them and then aggregate their net effect into some overall statistic. Am I better or worse, and in what magnitude? I suppose this is the computer scientist in me.

No matter whether we perceive changes to be positive or negative, I think there's value in taking a step back and realizing that changes just are. They exist free of any context. Any emotional response we may feel toward them is separate from the changes themselves. It helps me to ground myself when I think like this. It's always important to remain sensitive to life and also to the opportunity to influence events. But certain events--especially those we can't directly influence--exist outside of us. We are just observers and are left to contemplate their impact on us.

 I often tell kids that I've found it to be a useful technique to visualize emotions as clouds that pass through our bodies. Emotions can build on themselves and strengthen if we begin to question them or become attached to them. I do spend energy trying to figure out why I feel the way I do. But I try to do it with a detached mindfulness. When I was younger I remember getting worried when I was experiencing negative emotions. It's like I expected not to have them and felt slighted by the universe because I was feeling them. I would get more and more upset as I experienced the original emotion plus the amplified effects based on feeling like I didn't deserve my fate. Now, I think I know better. In the words of an immortal (and temperate) philosopher: excrement happens!

A friend told me a story today that relates to the concept of impermanence. The Persian king Xerxes stood atop a hill as his massive army passed below him. His aides were startled when they noticed that Xerxes was weeping. Incredulous at the sight of their king in tears as he witnessed the spectacle of the passing troops, they asked him why he cried. He replied: "In a hundred years they will all be dead." Maybe our emotions are like that passing army. No matter how grandiose they may seem, they will fade into nothingness soon enough--provided we can just let go of them. The challenge is for Xerxes to stay on the hill and not descend into the torrent.

The astute reader may have noticed that the preceding paragraphs have amounted to little more than an elaborate distraction from an update on my writing progress over the past several weeks. The good news is I have made some progress--albeit less than I had hoped for. I did succeed in writing one sequence featuring dialogue with a divine presence that I found particularly challenging. Getting into the voice of this character was something I just had to wait to come to me. I couldn't will myself to write that dialogue--I just had to channel it. The bad news is I'm not done the story yet! I had planned to be done the first draft by now. So I am a little frustrated by my lack of progress.

 I really am entering the final lap of this novel, but these life changes have me in the proverbial pits. I promise you that I will get moving again very soon! I miss the writing and I need to complete it before I lose too much of the story's context that's sitting in my mind. My mind tends to wander, so I have to be mindful of striking while the iron is hot.

I briefly thought about doing another interim book release rather than waiting to release the completed final volume. I typically get anxious like this when I reach a potential stopping point in a manuscript. But I know this isn't the right answer this time. I have to forge ahead and reach the finish line of this multi-year journey--I have to complete this series of novels. And then, flush with victory, I can consider what I hope you will be there to complete this journey with me, dear reader.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Full Throttle and then into the pits

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It's a new year and I've been remiss when it comes to blog updates.  What have I been up to?  I've been doing some writing, of course.  I started working on a blog post some time ago to report on progress made during the extended writing session I did in December.  Somehow, I seem to have misplaced that post.  I can assure you that the lost post was a legendary piece of prose, and we should all lament its passing.  But we must carry on somehow, despite the sorrow...

Let me put the melodrama aside and tell you what I actually did.  I wrote a lot of words and I managed to get through most of a very, very challenging part of the manuscript.  The manuscript is close to 90k words now and I think the end is in sight, although there are still a couple of potentially daunting sequences remaining.  The end of this series is taxing me as a writer and a thinker, and I believe those are both good things.  It would have been a disservice to readers and to me (on a personal level) to play it safe on this finale.  The entire series is thematically predicated on the concept of bold risks and danger.  It only seems fitting that the end of the series should retain a high level of ambition.

I will confess to taking another writing break since the holidays began last month.  But it's getting to be about time for me to come out of this hiatus and get this book completed.  I think I am going to need a some dedicated writing days to pull this off--and those are typically in short supply.  But I will do my best to make that happen as soon as possible.  I am ready to cross this finish line and move into post production!

I wish you a very happy New Year, and I hope you will be reading Hemlock and the Maker's Fire well before the end of it!

This post is dedicated to the memory of David Bowie.  He's one of those artists that made a significant impression on me despite the fact I never considered myself a true fan of his.  It's a sad reality that sometimes the significance of a person is most easily appreciated in retrospect.

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.