Sunday, April 29, 2012

Action Brings Good Fortune

Photo by cybaea .  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
Today is one of those days where writing feels like a labor instead of a liberating trip into the exalted sky of the mind.  You may be wondering why I am bothering to write then?  A fair question.  I'm writing because I am hoping that by doing so I may again discover that spark that will lead to inspiration.  There is a passage in the I-Ching that was quoted by Syd Barrett in a Pink Floyd song, and has stuck with me over the years: "action brings good fortune".  I've found this to be true in my life, so here I am listening to some secret, magical music and writing my way in search of The Muse like a desperate man stumbling through a hedge maze.

I try to take a zen approach to my writing.  And I really can't complain about feeling uninspired because I had a very fruitful writing week last week.  My unconscious must have been digging for story ideas, because by this past Friday I was creatively spent.  I haven't hit a creative nadir like this in quite some time.  I guess the lows come with the highs...  In response I've just hunkered down and tried to have faith that the feeling will pass.  I do find it disconcerting to feel so powerless.  I sometimes find myself wondering whether there's a chance that inspiration may have passed me by for good.  But it always seems to come back.  I feel it's important to respect and cherish the magic in the creative process.  I think taking things for granted is one of the biggest risks in life, and maybe a core source of writer's block.  Historian Arnold Toynbee once said: "nothing fails like success".  So I always entertain my doubts--I never try to squelch them.  It means that I'm never truly comfortable, but I think it also prevents me from falling into habits that could lead to unfortunate outcomes.

Life is often like a hedge maze.  I like to think that, if we're wise, we sometimes find ladders to look over the walls, and help ourselves to determine the right choices.  But sometimes--inevitably--we are forced into choices that are less informed.  Life comes at us like a wild-eyed, axe-wielding Jack Nicholson, and we don't have the luxury of long, measured decisions.  Again, "action brings good fortune".  Brain locking into analysis paralysis at these moments is usually far worse than a quick decision.  The Jack Nicholson in my life is usually my day job, which often causes me to dash and stumble through my writing life.  But Jack is a necessary and positive component of my existence, despite his demonstrable insanity.

I'm getting fairly close to being able to start writing Hemlock Book III now.  That's actually a fairly amazing statement since my intention has been to take several months off before starting to write.  But completing Book II hasn't left me with the same feeling of satisfaction as completing Book I did.  Book II has a bit of an "Empire Strikes Back" syndrome going on.  The events of Book III are pulling me forward like a tractor beam.  I just have to write them as soon as possible!  Like the early onset of spring here on the east coast of the United States, it seems that I'm in the process of an early resumption of earnest novel writing.

Well, this blog post is almost over now.  And I think it had a purpose after all.  I certainly feel better for having written it.  Thank you for reading it!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Go Big or Go Home

 I've started working on Hemlock Book III.  So far it's been equal parts intimidating and reassuring.  On one hand, I know what to expect in terms of process.  I'll be reusing the process I used with Book II.  And this time I'm closer to the end of the story arc that I have planned for the series, so there is less uncertainty about plot and structure.

But Book III is probably going to be the final volume in the series... My magnum opus, if you will.  That aspiration carries some baggage with it.  And some of the things that will happen in this installment...  Well, I guess it won't surprise you that they will be epic (it IS Book III, after all).  But this book is going to be unconventional.  I'd even go so far as to say it's going to be experimental.  But I don't mean experimental in the sense that I'm unsure of the outcome.  I have the utmost confidence it will be the final part of the series that  I set out to write.  I use the word experimental to express the level of deviation it will represent from the structure of other fantasy books I've read.

As the snowboarders like to say: "Go big or go home."

I think this is the cool thing about being an Indie.  If I had a publishing deal and approached an editor with this concept, I have a feeling I'd be gently forced to do something safer.  It's nice to be able to get my unfiltered vision out there, and have an opportunity for it to reach readers directly.

Initial reviews of Book II have been very positive, and that feels great.  I'm having a harder time marketing this time around though.  My energy level for social networking and other marketing has been low, lately.  I remember slipping into the marketing role much more effectively after Book I was completed.  I'm not sure what is different this time around, but since I seem to be more energized to write than to market, I'm going to "go with the flow".  Maybe I'll need a break from writing at some point, and the marketing hat will re-materialize on my head.  For now, it's full-on "imagineering".

One final note: I recently posted a free short story called "The Gene Priest" here on the site.  Check it out if you haven't noticed it.  It's linked from the menu bar.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Knight Vision

Photo by Diveofficer .  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
I've continued to indulge my Bigfoot fetish over the past few weeks.  I watch a television show called "Finding Bigfoot", and I always enjoy it.  Despite being skeptical that Bigfoot are real, I enjoy the possibility that they could be real; and watching these people who seem to genuinely believe they're real makes it easier for me to suspend disbelief.  Plus, I enjoy the vicarious experience of the wilderness expeditions, and the thermal images and use of night vision give the whole enterprise a distinctly sci-fi feel.

Watching these Bigfoot researchers also has another effect on me.  As I consider their work and watch their endeavors, it gives me a hint of the potentially illusory nature of my own life and perceptions.  If these educated people can devote their lives to the pursuit of something that is not supported by any irrefutable, empirical evidence, then certainly some of my own anxieties could be similarly misguided.  If held to the same loose standard as Bigfoot evidence, maybe the cold, hard aspects of our reality could be seen as comfortingly fictitious.  Perhaps I don't need to go to work every morning, pay my bills, do my taxes and go grocery shopping.  Maybe the widespread discord I read about in the news isn't real.  Maybe some day Bigfoot will pull up in an El Camino and beckon to me with a hirsute arm extending out from a chrome-bordered window.  The El Camino will be a UFO (of course), and we'll fly up to Venus and meet the Venutians.  They will inform me that all of my daily responsibilities and concerns are meaningless, and tell me I should just write 24x7.

All kidding aside, sometimes it's comforting to perceive your life as an illusion.  It can all get so intense.  The Buddhists say that life is an illusion, but they don't mean that it's meaningless.  On the contrary, being born as a human is supposed to represent the result of a series of spiritual evolutions.  And the purpose of this grand illusion that we call life is supposed to be our continuing spiritual evolution.

But some people perceive the insanity of life, and they decide that nothing matters.  I think many people--especially the more intelligent among us--are secretly existential nihilists.  That's one thing you have to give the Bigfoot researchers credit for: they are passionate about their quest.  Whether they are figurative Percivals or Don Quixotes is open to debate.  I suppose there's also the possibility they are figurative Rasputins.  But I'm inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.

So, when I'm watching the Bigfoot show, I feel an almost serene detachment from reality.  And maybe the thing that I like about the show is that these people are believing in an illusion, and then trying to prove it's real.  I'm doing the opposite in my life:  I'm accepting that empirical reality is "real", but at the same time I'm desperately trying to prove it's an illusion.  Or, to put it another way, I'm trying to experience that there is a duality intrinsic to empirical reality that cannot be measured or quantified.

It's clear that weird stuff happens in quantum physics.  There's that experiment with quantum entaglement where the act of perceiving a particle is the only thing that gives it a determinate charge (to anyone who knows physics, I apologize for this clumsy explanation).  So, at the quantum physical level, perception does literally equal reality.

And I found this quote in a United States Central Intelligence Agency study:  "People tend to think of perception as a passive process. We see, hear, smell, taste or feel stimuli that impinge upon our senses. We think that if we are at all objective, we record what is actually there. Yet perception is demonstrably an active rather than a passive process; it constructs rather than records "reality." Perception implies understanding as well as awareness. It is a process of inference in which people construct their own version of reality on the basis of information provided through the five senses."

I think this passage explains the mentality of the Bigfoot researcher quite well.  Every falling branch becomes a Bigfoot "wood knock".  Every unusual howl in the night becomes a sasquatch call.  But who am I to question them for that when I try to interpret every bad thing that happens in my life as part of a spiritual journey?  In a way, I don't think that much differently than they do.  And maybe that's why I feel like I'm among friends when I watch their show.