Thursday, August 4, 2016

Writing Status Report

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I am pleased to report good progress on my writing.  The manuscript for Hemlock IV now stands at 91k words.  It is getting close to being done, and that is very exciting.  I did write a lot on vacation, as I had planned.  Unfortunately, I've only had limited success in preserving the writing momentum I'd established now that I've returned to normal life.

If you asked me whether I'm happy with the manuscript so far--I'd say yes.  It's surprising because I've learned to expect the unexpected, but it's turned out much as I expected it would.  The exception is the ending which has changed somewhat radically from what I'd envisioned earlier.

What have my latest inspirations been?  One inspiration has certainly been the Final Fantasy video game series--specifically Final Fantasy XIII, which I recently finished.  The imagery of that game is just amazing.  It's inspired me to take some of my written scenes "to the next level" in terms of visual description.

This is a bit of a tangent, but that's one thing that has always disappointed me just a bit about Tolkien's writing.  He never describes his magic in vivid detail--or maybe it's better to say that the magic in his world isn't very visual.  I guess that's alright (and I would never presume to criticize a master writer!).  But as a reader, I do like "special effects" in magic.  So I have made sure to have some good special effects in some of the climactic confrontations in Hemlock IV.

I am also pleased with how the character arcs are developing.  That's one thing that's been nearly effortless in writing this series.  The characters have just fallen into place.  I'd like to think that's due to some sort of serendipity, but since that assumes that I've actually done well writing the arcs, I will leave that to the reader to decide.

I'm feeling strangely cold and impartial as I preside over the final fates of certain characters.  Not everything is roses and Shangri-La at the end of the story.  Some characters fare worse than others, and I feel strangely detached about it.  I have grown attached to these characters.  Like Paul Atreides, I've asked myself "Where are my feelings"?  I'm hoping it's some natural function of remaining neutral as the story evolves organically.  Maybe, after a few years, I'll regret certain things about what I've written for these characters.  What I can say is none of the main characters have ignoble fates.  That's worth something, right?

I am anxious to complete the final chapters and move to the next phase which is beta reads.  I will do my best to keep things moving because I know the wait has been too long!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

A Yogi at the Intersection of Myth and Reality?

I recently finished reading a book called "Autobiography of a Yogi" by Paramahansa Yogananda.  This is a very interesting book.  The writing is beautiful--at least in my estimation.  Many seem to feel the prose is overwrought, but I think it conveys a sense of peace and spirituality.  The subject of the book is the author's life, the life of his guru and that of his guru's guru.  All of these yogis demonstrate miraculous powers with astonishing frequency.  The tale is presented as non-fiction, but a pragmatic mind can't help but wonder about all those miracles. 

The book was first published in 1946 and deals with the relationship between western and eastern spirituality and also the author's mission to bridge the cultural divide between India and the West.  In doing so, he comes across as an unabashed cheerleader for India--but one can't fault the author for patriotic ardor.  Given that the author founded a spiritual organization that persists to this day, I have a level of skepticism about the book given the potential for self-aggrandizement for financial gain (like Dianetics).  Still, I am intrigued by many of the spiritual ideas presented in the book.  I think of these spiritual ideas as assertions whereas the book treats them as "scientifically" vetted truths (proven via the practice of Kriya Yoga which the author equates to a science).  For instance, the author presents the idea that the Earth plane of existence is bordered by a higher "astral" realm and an even higher realm beyond that.  I could write a full blog post on that topic, but that idea resonates with my theories and spiritual experience. 

An example of the way the author tries to tie eastern and western religion together is by claiming there are subtle references to reincarnation in the bible (e.g.:  John the baptist is the reincarnation of Elijah, etc.).  What the author doesn't explain is how the metaphor of suffering as purification that the story of Jesus (and Christianity in general) seems to be infused with relates to eastern religion.  I don't get the sense that eastern religions see suffering as the best path to enlightenment, so I'm curious how the author would have explained that difference.  I can imagine the author responding that being apart from God is terrible suffering--but I am making a distinction between that and physical suffering like what Jesus endured.  The stories of these three yogis aren't laden with an excess of suffering.  Despite the almost mythical level of miracles presented and what I perceive as the lack of a complete analysis of the relationship between eastern and western religion, the book proved to be entertaining to read, inspirational and also thought provoking.  And that's about as much as I hope for in a book.

I have a vacation coming up later this month and I am looking forward to completing Hemlock book four on that trip.  I'm often bored to tears on the beach; so, instead, I envision myself perched on a nice ocean front balcony typing away.  That sounds like a serene setting in which to bring the Hemlock series to a close, and I am looking forward to it!  If you are in the Americas, I hope your summer has gotten off to a good start.  I look forward to sharing the results of my vacation writing with you very soon!

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.