Wednesday, May 20, 2015
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
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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
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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
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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!
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
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Our modern world has many similar belief systems such as religion, law, ethics, and morality. I've been thinking about why fantasy still seems relevant to me as adult with access to all of these other belief systems. And I am starting to think pop culture has become the dominant new belief system--one that is "broadcast" on a daily basis to billions of people around the world. Our novels, shows and movies embody the more formal underlying belief systems of law and morality. Some overtly demonstrate these values, some challenge them, while others allude to them.
Fantasy stories that are widely appreciated usually involve heroic quests undertaken by brave individuals who often make sacrifices in support of their ideals. Other stories present deeply flawed protagonists--but they always have some virtuous characteristics. A good story that we enjoy informs our lives. Even if it seems like an escapist activity, immersing ourselves in a good story usually reinforces the dignity and importance of our own daily struggles.
Fantasy is perhaps the greatest form of storytelling because it has the widest latitude. A fantasy can paint any scenario--completely unfettered by the boundaries of our reality. Fantasies create their own reality--but the good ones do so in a way that echoes and reflects back on our own. Without this aspect, a fantasy story becomes a silly account of the escapades of sword wielding primitives. But with it a fantasy story can speak to the noblest and most sacred aspects of our existence.
The word count on the Hemlock book four manuscript stands at around 40k. I am hoping to accelerate my pace of writing, but I'm not sure my other responsibilities will allow it. Hemlock is about to embark on a quest at this point in the story--and that's a fun part to write for me. The political and interpersonal parts of the story are more challenging because you have to weave together many different threads. Quests are often more constrained--the one I'm about to write certainly is. That allows the author to just let the story flow. And that is usually a great feeling! Thanks for reading and I hope you are enjoying the fall (or whatever season it may be in your part of the world)!
Sunday, September 14, 2014
Here is the iTunes link: Link
Sunday, September 7, 2014
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The argument goes something like this. Assuming future humans design future computers that are powerful enough to model the functions of the human brain, chances are, given the nature of computing power becoming constantly more powerful and affordable, there will be numerous simulations of reality being run. So, simply based on probability, if there are X number of simulated realities and only one physical reality then as X increases the odds of you living in a "real" physical reality diminish rapidly.
The notion that consciousness is an emergent behavior of the physical matter of our bodies and not a separate phenomenon seems to be the vogue idea amongst scientists and philosophers these days. At least, that seems to be the prevalent viewpoint I'm reading and hearing expressed on the internet. While I find the arguments for this to be interesting, I don't subscribe to them. I certainly listen to them, though, because the people making them are often very, very intelligent.
But I believe in the concept of dualism, which advances the theory that there is a soul and consciousness is (at least partially)separate from physical reality. Now, I consider myself to be a proponent of empirical reality versus faith based takes on reality, so you may wonder how I can accept this notion of dualism.
If you accept that consciousness can be modeled by a computer then aren't you accepting that free will is essentially an illusion and we are all deterministic machines? Doesn't that crush the notions of morality and liberty and lead one down the path to nihilism? Beyond the philosophical arguments, life just feels too significant to me for me to believe it's just a mechanical procession of sensations and predictable reactions. Perhaps that's just my survival instinct or ego talking, but I believe that life is critically important and part of a path of spiritual evolution for all beings.
One thing that has fascinated me about this theory of living in a computer simulation, however, is how this could be true if we accept the theory of dualism. In my mind, these two theories don't have to be mutually exclusive. Any computer simulation has data about data. This is called meta-data, and it's not observable from within the simulation itself--it exists outside the simulation but governs behaviors inside the simulation. I think this is how theories of additional dimensions outside of human perception might integrate with the computer simulation theory.
And what is a computer other than a computational engine? Why wouldn't a deity use a computational engine to create a subordinate reality like ours? After all, something has to enforce the physical laws of our universe. The mathematics of the world are perfect. It's not incompatible with the notion of the divine to consider that we could be living in a reality of divine origin created using a divine computer.
These are big ideas and have been the subject of many books and papers. If you are interested in these topics, please read up on them and forgive me any shortcomings that may exist in my explanations of them.
The word count on Hemlock book four stands at about 36,000 words. At risk of being redundant, I must comment that I am having a blast writing this book! Writing a series finale means that you are writing scenes with very significant events occurring. And that is always fun!