Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Few Days As a "Real" Writer

Photo by wwarby.  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
I'm at the tail end of three full days of dedicated writing.  It's been an amazing experience.  And a slightly draining one.  I've been preparing for these past days by imagining and engineering (imagineering) the details of the new novel for the past months.  For me this consists of figurative gears turning in my head--but also a lot of note taking and jotting down scene fragments.  So what happened over these past few days is best described as a frenzy of regurgitating, writing and cross referencing ideas that I've been working on for a long time.

The work has proceeded quickly.  I've written close to 25,000 words since Monday.  My work in progress, which I'm now dubbing "Hemlock and the Dead God's Legacy", is tantalizingly close to completion.  Yet significant work remains.  I'm unsure whether I'll be able to complete the first draft by the end of the year, but that is my goal.

I'm in a strange emotional place with this novel.  My mood seems to be alternating between thinking that it is going to be great, and thinking that it's going to be nothing more than another self-published fantasy novel in the proverbial slush pile of life.  Even mediocre novels are an amazing journey for a writer.  They start out as wild ideas in our minds: necessarily ethereal and inherently wonderous.  We sort of hold out our dream catchers and channel them into words.  Almost by definition the words we produce are not the same as the initial vision we had.  They are derived from that vision, but they are something separate.

I think every story starts out as a wonderous thing.  The devil in the details is the translation to words.  That is where the craft of writing comes in.  I think I've improved my craft, and I think my new story is at least as good as Hemlock and the Wizard Tower was.  So unless I'm really in the grip of some nasty self delusion, this book should be better.  But I dream that it will be worlds better and that it will excite people as much as it does me.  In order to do that the words will have to be invisible.  They will have to describe the magic of the original concept as closely as possible.  And that's where I can't gauge my success.  Only other people will be able to do that.

I have to confess to feeling a little hollow.  It's very solitary writing all day.  I miss being in an office.  The irony is that within an hour of being at the office I'll be pining for another day to write.  Just one more precious day.  I guess it's all part of the cycle of desire and fulfillment.  I need to wait for my creative fire to re-ignite before I write the final chapters of this novel.  You could call it the Maker's Fire.  Hey, isn't that the new name of my trilogy?  {wink}

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Songs, Cycles and Surfing

I heard a new song today, and it propelled my mind's eye into unexplored dimensions.  I had a very vivid vision of a vast machine where people were the cogs and gears (Artist=Royksopp, Song=The Fear).  This piece of music transported me to "another place".  That is the highest goal of art I think.  Great artists can probably exercise control over the nature of the experience that the listener/reader of their art has.  In my writing world, I'll just be happy if I can get the reader "there".  Or maybe I should say I'll be happy if I can get the reader somewhere other than "here".  I'll have to have faith that their experience of "there" will have some relationship with what I am imagining when I write.

But lately, I've not been so sure that will be true.  At times I fall into a kind of despair that people aren't connecting with my stories the way that I hope they will.  But in my more rational moments, I think the reality of the connection is more beautiful and wonderous than I could hope to imagine--or to control.

I think it's like the ending of Blade Runner when Roy Batty is delivering his monologue:  "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I've watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. ... Time to die."  The author "dies" when they complete their manuscript.  The white dove flies off into an uncertain darkness--gone to seek out new nests: alone, naked, shorn of its former body--the cord that once tethered it to the author and allowed it to grow and evolve being forever cut.  Like all things in life it is a cycle of birth and death.  The death of a story's connection to the author begins a life of connection with readers.  Soon that connection with readers may pass as well.  Then it's time for the line I omitted from Roy Batty's monologue: "All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain."

Oh well.  It's a melancholy thought to think that your writing may end up as nothing more than some forgotten bytes on a descendent's hard drive or an archaic backup.  But that's life: the cycle of birth and death.  Lest these melancholy thoughts become too cumbersome, it becomes time to queue up some Surf Music: the universal cure for emo outbursts.  My recommendation is the album "Surf Drums" by The Lively Ones.  I think it's the most life affirming music I have in my collection.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Constraint and Inspiration

Courbet: Desperate Man
I was fortunate to grow up during the genesis of video gaming. As games have matured and grown along with computer technology the gameplay, sound and graphics have improved steadily.  The first video "game" that I ever played was on a "dumb" terminal. We used to type out racetracks on the screen in ASCII characters, and then we would "race" the cursor around the course using the arrow keys. We thought this was very entertaining at the time. Then came a little program called "Eliza" that simulated a psychiatrist. It was a crude piece of code that did little more than rephrase what you typed in and posed it as a question back to you. But we spent hours and hours playing with it.

Next came the wonder of the Atari 2600. The graphics were amazingly crude. But we were still enchanted by them--and also by the richness of the interactivity. This was magic. I can't express to someone who didn't live through it what the sheer wonder of that era of gaming was like.
Soon advances in graphics became the driver of the "WHOA!" moments of video gaming. Video resolution (number of pixels on screen) and amount of colors became the focal point of innovation. I remember seeing 16 bit games for the first time and it was just astonishing. I later had an Amiga computer and there was an entire sub-industry built around trying to achieve the holy grail of 24bit color images (essentially as many colors as the eye can see). Again, it was mind blowing seeing a high resolution game image in true color.

Today we have essentially reached the zenith of conventional gaming display techology. There are still advances, but they are more incremental than generational; and these advances don't produce the same level of astonishment as the older breakthroughs.  Producing game imagery with only a paltry 32 or 64 colors has become a lost art. The amazing thing is that artists were able to make beautiful games with such a limited palette. Incredible passion went into milking every last bit of technology out of the earlier platforms to produce the best experience possible. Compare that to the modern environment where every game has enough boilerplate technology available to seemingly allow it to be great. But few are.

I think the lack of technological constraint might be making game designers less inspired than in prior eras.  Constraint imposes boundaries on us, and boundaries challenge us to break through them. I think the process of transcending constraint produces greatness as a necessary by-product.

My writing time is very constrained right now. When I do get time to write it often bursts out of me like one of those xenomorphs from the Alien movies. Sometimes it is a painful process--I've written myself to the point of illness a few times because I overwork myself when I should be relaxing after a tough week of work (unlike some that I greatly admire, I am not a work 24x7 person).

Like many do, I fantasize about being a full-time writer some day. But I can't help but wonder: how would I react to having an unlimited amount of time to write? Would the lack of a time constraint affect the quality of my work? Maybe I'm just being paranoid (actually, that's fairly likely), but I'm afraid to change anything about my lifestyle and work habits until the Hemlock series (official title now "The Maker's Fire") is done. I think Hemlock and her adventures are at least partially a by-product of my creative constraint.

I have a feeling that if I was no longer constrained then I would probably be writing about peace and tranquility instead of rancor and adventure. Of course life is full of surprises! Maybe if I were to start writing full time then another constraint would present itself, and I would produce good writing as a result of a different struggle. Only time will tell...

Thursday, November 3, 2011



This is one of the longest words in the english language according to the Oxford dictionary.  What does it mean?  It was a word coined to describe the political position of being against the disestablishment of the Church of England.  Some people must really have despised this political position to christen it with a name that weighs in at a hefty 28 letters and 12 syllables!  Maybe the thinking went something like this: "This is such a reprehensible example of a scoundrel that we really can't make due with an ordinary term for them."

My friends and I used to goof on this word in high school.  It was the perfect weapon in the arsenal of a bunch of nerdy guys whose conversation probably closely followed a bad script from an episode of Big Bang Theory.  We appreciated the epic feel of the word and the fact that it oozes a sense of the intellectual elitism that we believed we were engaging in.

But I think this word may still be relevant today (above and beyond its intrinsic relevance since the Chuch of England is still the official national church).  The Indie book movement seems to be gaining momentum along with the "democratization" of other forms of media.  The centralized management of the publishing house and the content filtering done by a few select people is giving way to easy online publishing, and robust, web-based collaborative filtering of ebooks.  But there are still nay-sayers out there.  If you take a moment to look, you can easily find some article or blog disparaging indie authors as nothing more than a shouting bunch of vainglorious hacks whose work should be cast aside without a glance in favor of the "real" books vetted by the traditional publishing system.

These people need a word for their backward thinking--a word that carries the same weight and gravitas as antidisestablishmentarianism.  I present to you AntiDemocratizedContentAndCollaborativeFilteringistism.  The next time one of these supporters of the old status-quo engages with you, just drop that term in conversation and sit back and watch the fallout from the mental mushroom cloud that is certain to follow.

(Note that I don't actually have (or intend to express) a position on disestablishmentarianism.  Use of the term represents the exercise of artistic license for rhetorical effect.)