Saturday, October 23, 2010

Batshit Insane Dreams

I'm a lucid dreamer, by nature, because I'm insane, and by practice, because such dreams inform my writing and I might as well gain something for lost sleep. Here's a typical night with dramatic pictures and tomfoolery. The dreams generally fall into four categories, but you can probably figure it out from the pictures, so I won't fool around with alliteration.

We're on the high seas roaring through space on a smuggling expedition to catch us a whale and then use it to start a nuclear chain reaction that'll destroy the system and rescue our parents from a fate worse than death: Living Without Hope. Following that, a light lunch on Adventure!

Features snappy dialogue and grand swashbuckling, boiled in a tragedy stew and filled with comic relief and asteroids. Good, but ephemeral, times are had.

Why, hello lady. Yes, you are indeed in rather a "squirrely situation". Let me chase the squirrels away. Shoo, shoo. Now, let's have a long talk about our plans for a future relationship while we share a chaste popcorn.

(Dammit subconscious! You do realize that in a dream a man can do whatever he wants.)

Certainly, but a gentleman never would.

(Gah! I hate you, me. This is the only part I star in!)

This is where it starts to get weird. Visions of grand projects, lectures on grand schemes, whole Q&A sessions. All of it presumably cobbled together by my vast reading.

Essentially narrated Power Point presentations, but in my dreams they're all well-rehearsed and to the point. That's how I can tell.

Then the heavy stuff rolls in, and this is why I bothered to practice lucid dreaming in the first place. If I'm going to suffer through it, I might as well remember it.

This is the part of the dream-cycle that seems to last forever, but it's also the part that's most vivid, most real. Whatever element of my imagination takes the most precedence arrives, often fully formed with characters and emotional backdrops.

It's not always sad, but it's always intense.

Wake up, write it all down. Craft some good stories, go back to sleep.

If I need a break: Drink.


078 Interpwatate

250 words? Yes
Project "Untitled"
- - - -
Reading - ?


Friday, October 22, 2010

I Don't Write Longer

I write short, because I read short.
I write the story, not the length.
The writer rewrites first to be reread forever.


There, that should keep my average post length down. Oh, fine...

By "Writing Longer", I mean to say writing longer than the story requires. To be more blunt, padding the story. I hate that. To use a Fantasy example, I like "The Hobbit" but hate "The Lord of the Rings". To use a Science Fiction example...well, the only book I can remember thinking "That was too long!" instead of merely "That wasn't that good" was "Revelation Space" (Alastair Reynolds). Science Fiction is usually pretty good about brevity. So, that's good for me.

The methods I used for coming up with writing ideas keep me from writing longer.

I use three* methods, from most common to least common:

Come up with an interesting character 
or a group of characters. End the story when they're no longer interesting

Generate a pile of images
and derive the characters and story by stringing them together. End the story when all the images are gone and you've got at least one round character.

Write a really good opening 
and see what happens next (or what happened before) AKA Discovery Writing. End the story when you discover the ending, then cut out the rambling bits.

*Write while Drinking, et al. 
Not really a method, per se, but sometimes it works. And it's always fun. In the morning over coffee, ruthlessly cut what you wrote down to the 10% core of good stuff.

Do not edit while drunk.


I assume this is what our Speculative ravings will look like to one of the more positive futures.

I could care less, because without speculation, the future will almost certainly be negative. If it isn't already. I suppose it's rather sad that my great hopes for the Future are Time Travel and Multiple Dimensions.

Of course, my greatest hope for the future is for me to have one.

250 words? Yes
Short Story "Kritarchy" - finished, simmering
Short Story "The Language of Ice Cubes" - final check
- - - -
Reading - ?


Thursday, October 21, 2010

That's Not How I Talk!

I look at speech patterns as the writer's wardrobe department. Sure, Mark Twain could have spent a page describing Huck, but the reader won't remember the color of his eyes the next chapter over, but he will remember how Huck sounds because, well, he's always hearing it. This isn't Television, nobody notices if your character is wearing a purple sash.

Let's speak of dialect, pidgin, other languages, and just plain talkin' funny in fiction.

My thesis text, as it so often is, would be "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" (Mark Twain), a more or less careful transcription of a hodge-podge of local dialects. You know it works when there are whole pages, maybe whole chapters with Huck and Jim talking without any dialog tags (Huck said, Jim said). The same, lesser or greater, is true of other characters in the book (notably the feuding families and the educated Man who scares off the lynch mob in Chapter XXII). 

So how can I get myself some distinctive character voice and reduce tag clutter?

Because I've studied up on some of the dialects and creole languages of America (for example: Gullah) I know that I am unqualified. It would become "eye language", i.e. "Eye likes yer pop-gun, thar, cherroot", and be ridiculous. So that's out.

Fortunately, for the most part I'm writing fiction set in the modern day or in a speculative near future, so I can base speech patterns off of what I hear. Often do I hear a nifty turn of phrase and extrapolate a working grammar and vocabulary out of it for a character. Just another reason to carry around a notebook.

I can fabricate it outright, informed by my knowledge of linguistics and descriptivist bent. So be it, in moderation. The book "Lived Too Long To Die" has a lot of characters, and some of them have a 'projected accent'. Yes, that's the fancy term I'm going to use.

Best of all, of course, would be incorporating languages and dialects I actually happen to be familiar with into a story. My most successful attempt of that thus far has been my short story "Moving In, Moving On" in which I weave together three languages (English, Thai, Lao) and an accurate pidgin (Thai-English) based on the character and the situation. It's a bit of flavor to the story, and sometimes a trilingual bonus.

The main point, though, is to use it in moderation and only when it enhances the character. Because if you go crazy with it, folk'll yell the title of this post at you.

By the way: the title of this post is direct from a reader, so shout-out to you-know-who, and thanks as always for your comments!


Argh, you've landed your Hindenburg spacecraft in my jungle and now you're trying to eat me sideways with your weird globe-heads. Stop doing that!

Or, wait, is that my spaceship and I've just landed in your garden and you're gently remonstrating me? Sorry, natives, this'll teach you to mess with Earth.

Alternatively, we're fighting over the first space vessel to land on this jungle planet we've all been marooned on for the last two years. It's like that Star Trek episode or the reality TV show that should have been a spin-off.

2000 Words? Yes
Short Story "Kritarchy" - almost finished
Book "Lived Too Long To Die" - in progress, approaching the Middle.
- - - -
Reading - ?


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

This Blog Is...

What this blog is is a Personal Challenge: a Vow (if you will).

It has always been my assumption that the only way for me to get better at something is to dive into it and engage in trial and error. I need to learn how to do basic Internet things - image hosting, blog hosting, podcasting, html, feeds. A lot of those categories include Unknown Unknown skills which I'd only discover I'd need to figure out when I have to do it. So I started this blog as a sandbox so that everybody could watch me fail.

That's why it's updated every day, instead of the (probably) more advisable 3 to 4 times a week. I want more room for trial-and-error, more room for spectacular failures leading to improvement and surprising successes leading to confidence. After a few hundred post-days (365 max), I'll revert to a more regular schedule. Unless I start a webcomic or something.

The topic of the blog will always be limited to Writing, Craft and Business. There'll be no political opinion, no personal life, no travel tips. I'm a speculative fiction writer, so there may be discussion of Political Philosophy, but nothing I write along those lines should be considered my actual opinion. 

I follow the blog stats using Google Analytics and am seeing a slow but steady increase so I might be doing something right, but the only stat I put real value in is "# of Comments". When I see the 0 Comments sign on a post, I am sad.

Thanks for reading, and we'll get back to the good stuff soon!


If this picture makes you shudder with sheer bored terror, you'll know why I'm always on the look-out for willing Alpha Readers to avoid such a fate. That is to say, somebody who is willing to look at completed works that I've written and give their feelings. I am, of course, willing to reciprocate.

If that's your thing, shoot me an e-mail.

250 words? Yes
Short Story "Kritarchy" - in progress
- - - -
Reading - ?


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lazy Writer Cooks: Boiled Chicken

I'm taking the whole day to focus exclusively on the Writing Side, intending first and foremost to get back into the mindset for the book "Lived Too Long to Die". Since it has so many characters, I have to be in top form to keep them all in my head at once, and I cannot, will not, be distracted. But I will need nourishment.

The Lazy Writer theory of cooking has three objectives:
1. Quick Preparation
2. No Supervision
3. Easy Clean-Up

Today, I shall make Boiled Chicken.

Chicken, Rice Vermicelli, Stock Cube, Vegetables*
*Go to the early morning market and buy whatever vegetables are available that day. Sometimes there's bell peppers and mushrooms, but you're guaranteed to find onions and carrots.

With three pieces of chicken and three onions, there's enough food in there for three meals, and that's just enough for the whole day.

The key to achieving the objectives is to shop smart for a steamer. Spend the extra couple bucks for a non-stick pan and all the fancy features like a timer. You'll know it's good because it'll claim to be able to make bread (It can, but...don't).

No supervision necessary, just push the button and do something else. It's easy!
Pour 1 liter of clean water into the boiler. Unpack the rice vermicelli and form it into a triangle in the boiler, then put the chicken pieces along the sides. Place the stock cube in the center of the vermicelli triangle. Chop the onions into large pieces and peel and cut the carrot and throw them all in there. Push the button, the boiler will beep.
Write Something:
While you're waiting, write up a storm, tap away at your keyboard like there's no tomorrow. You are racing the boiler and you've got to finish at least 1000 words or you don't get to eat. But c'mon, you should be writing 250 words every 15 minutes, or you weren't properly prepared. Lazy Writer.

Just as you write the thousandth word, the boiler beeps again, finished.

Take a piece of chicken out with a fork and cut it up, putting the pieces on a deep plate, then ladle out a generous portion of vermicelli and vegetables, all delicious thanks to the stock. Add pepper, if you like.

Eat, then get back to writing, but more leisurely this time. When you've got another thousand words, eat lunch in the same manner, then get back to writing, you're going for at least two thousand.

You've got two thousand words out, eh? Well, this has left you ravenous, so you need an afternoon snack.

Chop up the smallest piece of chicken and stir it back into the remaining water and vegetables, then pour it all in a large bowl. The stock flavor will be especially intense, so enjoy.

Read through what you've written today and fill in any holes or continuity errors that you see. Figure out the first two scenes you're going to write tomorrow, then put it aside. You've done well.

After you spend a few minutes cleaning everything up, pop open a beer. If you're feeling especially bohemian (which of course you are) you can drink Archa, the PBR of Thailand at a buck a bottle.

Repeat indefinitely.


Don't forget! If you comment on this blog and mention the Available Story that most intrigues you, I'll send you a coupon code to get the whole story free on Smashwords. If your e-mail address isn't visible on your profile/blog, just shoot me an e-mail when you make your comment so I can send the coupon to you.

Words? 4000
Book "Lived Too Long To Die"
- - - -
Reading - ?


Monday, October 18, 2010

A Grand Experiment

I can't put it off any longer without being a coward. I'm taking a first step into the heady world of indie publishing.

There comes a point where no amount of research is worth as much as a little personal experience, and that time has come. I've crunched the numbers, worked out the logistics, and read everything I could find on the subject, and the conclusion I am forced to reach is to Go For It.

Amongst those sources have been Dean Wesley Smith and Joe Konrath, who know what they're talking about. I urge you to check out those sites if you're wary of self-publishing (as distinct from vanity publishing) by default.

So what is this grand experiment? I've taken six of my very best short stories and published them as ebooks. I have some very specific performance goals for them, and if it works out, I'll expand along these lines. Let's call me a hybrid writer: I'll still be writing short stories for submission to fiction magazines, many of which I read regularly and would love to see my name in. But I'll also be writing for my own magazine, which has the toughest editor in town: me.

I wouldn't be taking this step if it weren't for my confidence in the quality of my writing, a confidence hard-earned over the last two and a half years of daily writing. I've knocked out my First Million Words (and burned them!), and now I'm digging into the Second Better Million. And that's what you're getting with these stories, that and my assurance that I will never, ever waste your time. Or waste my own time wasting your time.

If I seem a bit nervous, I'm not going to pretend that it's not nerve-wracking to start something new...but it's also exhilarating.

From Dean Wesley Smith's Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing:

But the challenge is great fun. If you aren’t the type of person that goes at something that seems impossible and says, “Oh, why not, let’s try,” then you might want to find another job to chase.


Skeptical? No worries, we can make this as painless as possible. There's two easy steps you can take to give my writing a try:

1. Read "Preemptive Mercy", a flash fiction on Smashwords for free.
2. Comment on this blog, noting in your post which of the Available Stories most intrigues you, and I'll send you a coupon code letting you download that story for free from Smashwords so you can see how you like it. Comment on this or future posts (only one coupon per day, though). Note: if your profile or blog doesn't have your e-mail address visible, shoot me an e-mail after you comment so I can send you the coupon.

250 words? Yes
Project "Untitled"
- - - -
Reading - ?


Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Bechdel Test

It is time, once again, to talk about the possibility of subconscious sexism. Whoo?

What I mean is being fair to the characters and to the story by not making it all about one particular gender, skin tone, or viewpoint. The most egregious example historically has been men, more specifically white men, even more specifically white men with money. Which is fine so far as it goes, white men with money did and do engage in many story-worthy things. For instance, beating up all those Na'vi and burning down their silly tree to get their magic rocks. Parker Selfridge was the true hero of that movie, also I've never watched the ending.

Anyways, to avoid this, I apply The Bechdel Test in a non-binding way to everything I write, the basic structure being:

1. it includes at least two women (preferably named),
2. who have at least one conversation
3. about something other than a man or men.

If it doesn't pass, I answer the question "Why?" to my satisfaction and move on ("There's only one character!"), but the important thing is that I've answered it.

The Bechdel Test isn't restricted to women, of course. There're viewpoints and skin tones and, in speculative fiction, species. In fact, I'd have to say I use the test more for moral viewpoints than for anything else. I'm calling it the Straw Man Test.

1. it includes at least two characters who believe X.
2. who have at least one conversation
3. about something other than characters who believe Not-X.

If a character's belief is only defined by opposition to another belief, he's a Straw Man. If all of your character's beliefs are only defined in opposition to each other, your characters aren't having any fun.


This picture passes the Bechdel Test handily. Two women, Ms. Sato and Ms. Takahashi, discuss the three most popular beers in Japan before purchasing and consuming them. This is, of course, a common street scene in Modern Tokyo. Or at least much more common than giant robots and monsters. I'm not sure why large glass bottles of beer are more popular in Asia than cans, but it does look more classy, and it's louder. Two essentials in the drinking experience.

In case you're wondering: The ladies decide that Sapporo is the best of the three, because it has a star.

1000 words? Yes
Short Story "The Language of Ice Cubes" - finished
- - - -
Reading - "Anansi Boys" (Neil Gaiman)

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