Tag Archives: Co Worker

It’s FICTION, morons.

Holy smokes, new posts on consecutive days. And immediately after I resolved to blog less.

I warned you that resolutions don’t last, didn’t? April may be the average, but when your temperament is as weak as mine, even twenty-four hours is pushing it.

Some people, it seems, cannot tell the difference between fact and fiction. For example, if you think the news is fact, you are sorely mistaken. There are reports every time the stock market drops, but how often the market rallies do you see the major networks promoting it time and time again? Do yourself a favor, and look at the market values prior to a decline. Then look at the current values. Where were the announcements the market had recovered? Nowhere.

But that’s a relatively minor examples. Those that matter to me are from my own genres: Speculative fiction.

I let a co-worker read a short story with a dark ending. While not gory (gory is the poor writer’s substitute for plot), the story definitely enters the realm of “horror”.

After finishing the story, this particular colleague said, “I didn’t know there was that side of you.” Read More →

Happy Blue Year

A Blue MoonWelcome 2010.

To me, a new year is intimidating in much the same way a blank sheet of paper (physical or word processed). My imagination offers me limitless potential, which has a way of freezing me in place. There are too many possibilities, and I don’t dare sully the new page or year with throwaway text. Whatever I write next sets the tone for every page that follows, right?

There’s just too much pressure to get it right.

What shall I cover?

The most dangerous drive, round trip, of my entire life?

Finally seeing my family again after a year and a half?

North Carolina’s new ban on smoking in restaurants and bars?

My co-worker who was arrested after living for years under a secret identity?

New Year’s [yawn] resolutions?

My vote is:

None of the above. As a storyteller, I have an obligation to share with you each of those tales. But I have a bigger obligation to get them right, and there just isn’t time right now.

Mentioning the constraint of time remains me that a New Year is less like a blank page than you might think. It is already filled with commitments and obligations; we don’t return to work to scrap last year’s projects and start with new ones. Our financial situation is the same on 1/1 as it was on 12/31. There’s no mystical erasure at work when the clock strikes midnight.

Just an opportunity to reflect how we might do better going forward. Last year, for example, I started this website. It didn’t magically infuse my writing career, but it has helped mold me as a writer.

So let me contend myself with wishing you well, and hoping you had as much fun over the holidays as I did, sans road hazards and travel aggravations.I urge you not to make undeliverable promises to yourselves or others. I think it’s more useful just to consider how we might improve in general, and to make progress on some of the goals we already had.

A New Year, much like a blue moon (which occurred this New Year’s Eve), is a mundane rarity. Make use of it without letting it hold you in awe.

But make it a good one.

The other-other hobby: Confessions of a jack of all trades, master of none.

Black Fender Telecaster with maple fretboardAwhile back I bought a Fender Squire used from craig’s list, with a 10-watt crate amp in the deal.

It sounds like shit.

Lesson learned: You get what you pay for. Squiers are cheap knock-offs for a reason.

I put that Squier on its stand and never played it after the first few days. Every now and then, I’d take it back out, tune it, and put it back within five minutes.

Later my father-in-law bought an off-brand guitar with a beautiful full sound to it and smooth fretboard. Color me jealous.

After playing his guitar, I thought to myself, “Man…if my guitar sounded like that, and played that smoothly, I’d probably practice all the time.” But I didn’t have the kind of money he’d spent, even though it still wasn’t even a top of the line guitar.

Thus when a co-worker announced his Fender Telecaster was for sale, I sighed to myself and thought, “Yeah, if only.”

But after a couple of days, I thought, “Why the hell not?”

I spoke to the wife about borrowing money from savings against some of my future allowance, to which she agreed. My co-worker brought the Telecaster to work with an amp one Friday for me to try it out.

Two pickups, maple fretboard, and a clean, precise, sharp sound even further enhanced by installed vintage Telecaster pickups.

Plus it was shiny. Oh so shiny.

I took it home that day.

I was right; where I can’t stand to play the Squier for more than a couple minutes before I get disgusted, I can hardly put the Telecaster down.

┬áJust over the weekend, I’ve already added multiple songs to repertoire, including Extreme’s ballad “More Than Words”, and “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, popularly covered by Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, and others.

I’m slowly working on Cliffs of Dover (Eric Johnson), but that’s going to be a long time coming. I’ve just started practicing my pentatonic and blues scales so that I can perform riffs better, since those have always been my weak point.

Best of all, I’m starting to write music again.

How to write amidst the endless barrage of life

Thank you, Broaddus, for that much-needed kick in the pants to get me arse in motion once again. That is EXACTLY the reason I started this site; to get my friends to grab me by the arm and say:

“JASON! What are you working on now? Is it done now? Will it be done soon?’

Whether my work is good or bad, published or unpublished, lauded or hated, the only true failure is if I don’t keep writing.

The Excuses

They aren’t necessarily good excuses. But they’re still excuses.

I worked 9 hours of overtime last week; to some people, that’s going to sound like nothing. To others (those who log 40 but spend 20 of them at the coffee machine) it may sound excessive. To me, it’s just tiring. And when my workday is long, when I come home I kind of need to recharge my batteries. I can’t dive straight into writing unless I still have some energy.

Weekends are obviously a great time to catch up, but we had company Saturday…pretty much all day. I was also up until 2 AM, which is 5 hours past my normal bedtime, making Sunday a wash for any productivity.

New Hobbies and Old

The gathering Saturday was to create characters for a new 4th edition campaign, and one trying out some new house rules. It’s a different sort of campaign for me in that I’m trying to NOT DM — at all. My friend Rich is, for which I am very grateful. The hope is that this will leave all my creativity for writing.

The two new episodes of South Park so far this (13th) season have not disappointed.

Wizards of the Coast, with D&D Insider software tools for tabletop gaming, have disappointed. More on this soon in a full post on the subject.

A co-worker got me into Battlestar Galactica; I’m about halfway through the first season (no spoilers please) and so far I am monumentally impressed. Those who know me know that I am not easily impressed, especially by television, so this rapidly puts BSG in contention for one of my favorite shows of all time.

I finished Drood by Dan Simmons. It was really good but it could have been a lot better. There was loose ends that Simmons did not tie to my satisfaction. Still, Simmons’ real strength is his incredible ability to narrate extremely complex characters, and this shines through from the first sentence to the last.

Upon re-recommendation from dad, I have decided to give George R. R. Martin another try, so I am reading A Song of Ice and Fire from the beginning (A Game of Thrones). If I remember correctly from before, Tyrion was my favorite character. I still like Martin better than David Eddings or Terry Goodkind. (Sorry long-time fantasy buffs.)

The Writing

Most of the recent writing energy I have expended recently has been spent outlining Fragile Gods. This is an odd sort of process for me, intermingled with a lot of “wait and see.” I don’t just sit down with MS Word and outline a story end to end.

Instead, a thought occurs to me. “What if I did this?” I will ruminate and ponder the idea for several days, and it will spawn several sub-ideas; sometimes for characters, sometimes scenes, sometimes themes. If I like where these stray ponderings take me, I work them into the outline. Rinse and repeat until I feel like I have “enough”.

When is that? I don’t know. It’s the sort of thing I know when I know.

I will tell you one theme I am considering is abortion. Writing on modern topics can be deadly, and abortion is the most polarizing issue I know. “Handle with extreme caution.”

In my opinion, a good writer should not simply be pedantic about his own viewpoint. Rather he should explore the issue as fairly as possible from all angles. Straw Vulcans hold little appeal to me.

My idea for abortion in Fragile Gods is to combine the two types of magic in the world of the Drim and put them on opposite sides of the issue. It’s important that you know up front that neither the Drimmi priests’ magic nor the Sight is upheld by the story as the “right” magic over/above the other. There are good and evil practitioners of both.

My idea is that those with the Sight are sometimes called upon to See the mind of unborn children, and at early enough development when there is no neural activity, the Seer sincerely reports that the child has no mind to read. The proponents of abortion in this fantasy world cite this as evidence that abortion does not destroy human life.

The Drimmi priests, however, have a kind of pantheism which includes honoring all life; including unborn life. Their own power over the elements and the Drim lends credence to the idea that they may know more about the inner workings of the unseen universe than the common man, too.

This (if done correctly) can be moral dilemma at its finest. Two credible parties on opposing sides of an intense issue, each with dissenters among their own ranks.

Writing is rewriting

justice_scaleSo, more people have read Perfect Justice now. Feedback is still rolling in.

The cool thing about hearing from multiple people, and why I push so hard to distribute my work, is that although everybody has one or two ideas unique to their personalities, there’s some advice which is the same from person to person.

That is the advice I latch onto, because it most likely represents a common element lacking in a story. And that’s why it’s important that as many people read and respond as possible.

Although I haven’t acted on most of his comments (as is my prerogative given that this is still ultimately my work), my co-worker Ted had possibly the single most brilliant insight about the opening of Perfect Justice. He pointed out that although I mention, briefly, that Replay technology is available commercially, I don’t expand on any of the possibilities. That’s a missed opportunity to draw the reader in to what a wonderful invention such a program might be. My shout-out to Ted is including baseball as one of the examples, even though I was tempted (from personal preference alone) to use an example from football instead.

As you know, I’ve been devouring podcasts about writing — more on my favorite podcast and the massive injustice to me in it in a future post. But for now, I’ll say that one episode about writing openings really opened my eyes to a simple but effective technique: mentioning objects as a form of quick and dirty, but very tangible description.

Perfect Justice has very little in the way of “here’s what things look like”, so that of course made me consider adding a little here and there.

The advice from the podcast is to use little lists of objects; especially adding one at the end that doesn’t fit with the others quite right to generate suspense. I’ll try an original example and see if I can convey how it works:

Mugs half filled with beer. A stain on the floor. A washcloth left on one table. And a flawlessly folded white kimono.

Did I succeed? You tell me. But the intent is obvious; I’m describing a bar. The kimono at the end is supposed to pull the reader in with a: What, what? Kimono? One of these things is not like the others… What’s going on? Who left a kimono in a bar scene? Why is it neatly folded in a place that’s still really messy?
Even though I may not have executed it correctly (it’s late and as always, I’m too close to the work anyway), it certainly was an effective technique when demonstrated in the podcast. The simplest of objects has a way of grabbing your attention when it’s mentally out of place.

The feedback on Perfect Justice which coincided with this is that a couple/three people have told me already (in their own various terminologies) that the story lacks imagery. And as a result, it’s hard to picture. So while it’s intellectually engaging (so I hope), it doesn’t hijack the reader’s imagination the way a truly well-crafted tale ought.

So I have been tinkering away at a new version. It follows here.

_______________________________________________________________

Aiden struggled against the urge to speak out as they strapped him down. The bench was cold, even through his orange jumpsuit. He was self-conscious, almost shameful, of the touch of handcuffs and leg irons. The light from dozens of computers cast a pale glow across the lab. He ached to tell them how so very wrong they were, but it would have been futile; his protests would be ignored. What could he say that other prisoners hadn’t said?

The System was perfect. The System didn’t make mistakes.

Inevitably, they would discover their error, but this was little consolation. By then it would be too late. Still, Aiden had to try one more time. He couldn’t simply give up and let them win.

“I’m innocent,” he said flatly.

Nobody cared. In the background, someone even chuckled. Jackass, Aiden thought. But that was all the acknowledgment he got; no one else even glanced at him.

Aiden wondered what his lawyer was doing right now. Sipping sherry in a luxury condo? Providing legal advice to a gang leader who would probably walk?

The most worthless people on earth are the ones who bill for hundreds of dollars an hour, he thought, savoring the irony.

Aiden’s handlers plugged him into the latest hardware, the victim’s record already queued.

Full of nervous energy, Aiden’s mind began to play word games: Victim’s vision! Vicious vision! Vive la vision! Recognizing this might border hysteria, Aiden forced himself to breathe calmly. Beneath his apprehension lay an undercurrent of curiosity. Whatever horrors awaited, this would be his first experience with Replay, also available for commercial and entertainment use.

For normal people, Replay was a miracle come to life. The average Joe could feel – for a reasonable price – what it was like to throw the last pitch of a seven-game World Series. Or to ponder the first move against a grand master at a chess tournament. There were even rumors of black market recordings of sex with delicious Hollywood starlets.

Under other circumstances, this would be downright adventurous.

“Is he ready?” someone asked.

“Who cares? Do it,” one technician replied.

“Sweet dreams,” the first added cruelly.

Someone across the room typed a command, and the keyboard’s clacking was the last sound Aiden heard. His world vanished as abruptly as an extinguished light.

Which is more important, fame or wealth?

zergrush

Gives a whole new meaning to "commuter".

A co-worker asked me this question after taking a long overdue glance over my blog.

I sincerely replied, “Neither, really.” And wondered aloud why he’d asked the question. He said because I make frequent mention of both.

Ahhh…

The honest truth is that in one real sense, I wouldn’t give a damn whether I ever made a dime from my writing, so long as I’m satisfied with my stories and so are my readers.

But all my readers so far are friends. Or friends of friends. Even when Megan’s coworker insists that Woman’s Best Friend freaked him out and scared him, I still know he would never have found my website if he didn’t know Megan personally.

The point here is that I can write the greatest story ever written, and even be reasonably sure that I’m that good. But I’ll always wonder and doubt, until the story is popular among total strangers.

Money and notoriety aren’t the name of the game. Becoming a good storyteller is the name of the game. But how do you measure how good of a storyteller you are?

…by fame and wealth.

That may seem crass, and it may seem shallow, and indeed, it certainly isn’t all there is. For instance, J.K. Rowling is plenty wealthy and famous, but while I find her work entertaining, I don’t really find it inspiring. And I’m sure there are many brilliant writers who are still in “starving artist” mode.

But it is a measure of personal success as a writer. And it’s the most visible one for others to recognize. It represents the dream that someday, my friend who called me an amateur writer (the same one who asked me this question) will get invited to my lake cabin to see what my “amateur” writings have bought me.

Also, it is very hard to make a consistent living solely as a novelist or short story writer. If I told you the hourly rate I’d make even if all my stories sold in first draft, you’d cringe. Just about the only way to be that comfortable as a fiction writer is to make it SO big, you have all the money (and therefore all the time) that you want.

__

I took the above picture myself today in Chapel Hill. I guess that driver will be buying Starcraft 2. I look forward to stomping him. (After finishing a terrific story, of course.)

Busted!

So Megan called me out for not updating the site more often, and Stephen commented no food til I finish another story.

Although I regret not having written more this weekend, I think fasting until I complete another project is a little on the extreme end.

Some points to ponder as I start the next week:

  • What makes a good fantasy? My father-in-law just finished Well of Ascension (Brandon Sanderson) and enjoyed it but for a few criticisms. Likewise I just finished Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings and pretty much hated it. I can’t even put my finger on why. But until I discovered Sanderson, I was fed up with all fantasy. It seems that feeling remains except for Sanderson. But Bruce assures me there’s nothing very different about Sanderson as an author.
  • Pondering the above point makes me wonder what the heck I’ll do with Echoes of Prophecy.
  • For my current project, I’m debating a title change. Second Chances captures a central idea as well as Instant Replay, and has a more mystical ‘feel’ to it, as opposed to the latter title, which has a more gritty sci-fi sound to it.
  • Got some emailed feedback on Perfect Justice from a buddy in training before he deploys to Iraq. Like all who read it before him, he pointed out the repeated scenes are … well … too repetitive. That’s why when a writer argues with his/her feedback, it rarely helps — the next reader (or the next 50) may have the same reaction. Duh.
    • On the other hand, you can’t always please everyone. That’s why feedback from multiple sources is so valuable. It allows you to sift through comments which are a matter of personal taste, and which comments EVERYONE made because they refer to deeper problems with the story.
  • A co-worker also looked at Perfect Justice — surprisingly. He was thrilled by the title, but complained about the flow.
  • This kinda motivates me to go back and rework it.
  • Now I feel like I have too many balls in the air, but it’s a good problem to have. I’d much rather juggle too many projects than too few.
  • I should set a deadline for Instant Replay Second Chances. But what? I have an insanely busy week at work, so this weekend is unrealistic, but the following weekend feels way too far away.