Friday, May 24, 2013

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

How to Follow My Current Project

My current novel project is called, Forgotten Memories: A Fantasy, of Sorts.

As I'm discovering the shape of the story, I'm dumping the progress into this PDF file on SugarSync. (I'm not using SugarSync anymore. For now, I'm not making the PDF available.) If you want to follow along, you can check it now and then, or I'll put a note on this blog whenever there's a significant update. Please note, the contents of that PDF are copyrighted and released under a Creative Commons licence. Be sure to make yourself aware of the limits and rights granted under the particular licence I am using.


What's Forgotten Memories about? I don't know. Well, I know, but I don't know how to summarize it, not yet. Maybe it would be better to say, I don't yet know what to summarize. I know how the story begins; I know where it's trying to get to; and I know the plot thingy that is supposed to turn it toward where it's trying to get to. I don't yet know how the story is going to get to the plot thingy, or I didn't know until I wrote the second section, Diaspora. Or I thought I knew how to get to the plot thingy until I wrote the Diaspora section. Then I sat there thinking, What the Fruck! (F-bomb + frak, get it?) This is not getting me to the plot thingy -- not at all.

Diaspora was supposed to do two things: introduce the character Antwath, and have him and Vail meet each other. That's it. Get in. Get it done. Get out. Next step: plot thingy. But no. Vail had to make the Diaspora business interesting. She had to make it seem "real." She insisted on saying to Antwath, "So you don’t drop it into the trees." Fine, say it, I said. But, that's still not enough, she said. It's so mundane, I know you don't like that word, but anyone, anywhere with binoculars and high places above trees might say the same thing. It doesn't tell readers anything unique about my world. She had a point. OK, how about adding, "If you do, we’ll have to stop the whole caravan, climb down, and find it, and no one will appreciate that delay." Yes! she said. Now we can move on. Ah, what are you waiting for?

I wasn't moving on. I couldn't stop thinking about that gun -- Chekhov's gun. The one where, if you introduce it in the first act, you have to be careful to not shoot your toe off with it in the third act, or something like that. How could I introduce the consequences of dropping something into the trees and not drop something into the trees? But that frucks up the whole plan for getting to the plot thingy.

Oh no! I thought.

Oh? I thought.

Oh my! I thought.

Holly Frucking Christopher Walken! I thought. If a certain character were to drop a certain thing into the trees, that could lead to a whole new way of getting to the plot thingy -- and a wholly more, I-didn't-see-this-coming-at-all, exciting way of getting to it. It means the plot thingy will have to show up somewhere else, and the characters Sianma and Esio, who had popped into existence during Diaspora to get some minor business done, will suddenly become major supporting characters. And this even begins to solve a problem lurking off in the distance involving getting from the plot thingy to the end.

Where did this idea come from? It wasn't my idea: The ground work for it was being laid down over two weeks before it manifested itself. I don't think it was Vail's idea. Was it Sianma's idea? I suspect she's a lot smarter than Antwath thinks she is. I think Vail understands how smart she is.

You see? This is why I can't outline, or why it wouldn't help if I did.

Oh, about the whole new way of getting to the plot thingy? Tune in next time.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

After NaNoWriMo 2012

NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. It's a challenge to authors to get off their feet and onto their butts and write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November.

The challange started small, grew, and became international. International or not, since almost everyone shortens the name to NaNoWriMo, it looks like they're stuck with the, now inappropriately localized, 'National' part of the name.

I won NaNoWriMo in 2009 and that project turned into my novel, Gladiator Girl. Winning NaNo (an even shorter, common abbreviation of the name) is not an accurate statement, although, that's the official term. As I said, it's not a contest; it's a challenge. You either complete the challenge or not. Even if you don't complete it, the effort can be rewarding, and useful for getting a stubborn novel project going.

But winning is exciting, and this year I won. Yeah me! (Fist pump! Don't spill that coffee!)

I'm sure some people, remarkably well organized people, win with a good, clean first draft. Not me. I finish with a jumble: a collection of notes, character sketches, some roughed out scenes, and discontinuous runs of dialogue. It's after NaNo---that is to say, now---that I get to begin shaping that jumble into a coherent story.

The project has a working title: "Tilt World". This won't be the final title. It's too dull, and there's a casual video game with that name. I'd love to call it, "The Beautiful and the Sublime", but Bruce Sterling used that title for a novelette I fondly remember reading years ago.

Whatever the title turns out to be, here's the prologue. This is a first draft, so there are a few provisos: If you read it, expect that it will change before the novel is finished---it could even be cut in it's entirety.  However, I am not cutting anything yet; any idea that presented itself for the prologue is here. In other words, it's still a bit messy and full of itself.  What do you think?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Genies, Botnets, and State Security, Oh my!

I just finished reading a wonderful new book, Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson. It takes place in a fictional contemporary Arab emirate that's on the boiling point of the Arab Spring. Alif is a young guy, a hacker, who makes a shady, but honorable living hiding his clients'---bloggers of every subversive type: Islamists, secularists, communists, whatever---Internet footprints from the emirate's state security, run by a man who Alif and his digital friends have nicknamed the Hand of God. Alif falls in love with a highborn girl. They meet, spend a dreamy weekend together, then she tells him she has been promised to someone else by her father. The someone else turns out to be, guess who, the Hand of God, himself, and now he knows about Alif.

Alif fries his bedroom servers, and clumsily gets his neighbor, Dina, a girl he grew up with, involved by having her carry a message to the highborn girl. Alif and Dina go on the run. This is where the story rolls off into an amazing world of its own. The highborn girl gave Dina a book to hide, an ancient book, a one of a kind book, a book dictated by a jinn, full of dense layers of meaning that can only be understood by the jinn, and the Hand of God wants it. Desperate to be unseen, Alif and Dina descend into the magical world of the jinn to seek the protection of a dangerous genie named Vikram the Vampire.

The story is a magical adventure set to the heartbeat of young love, revolution, and warring botnets. It has its own dense layers of conflicting social, philosophical, and religious meaning handled with a wit and charm that makes it all part of the forward momentum of the tale.

So, yeah, I loved it. I hadn't heard of G. Willow Wilson before. She's an American who converted to Islam and now lives in Cairo. This is her first novel, but she has written award winning and Eisner nominated graphic novels. I'll have to look them up.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

I Guess, I'll Have to Write It

Years ago, back in the dimly remembered (nineteen) Eighties, I read and delighted in Norman Spinrad's science-fiction novel, Child of Fortune. Two years ago, for the 2010 NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) thirty day dash, I desperately grabbed ideas from Spinrad's book to get something---anything---started, and ended up with a collection of hacked together chunks of plot and bits of character sketching out a story that put me in the head of, and had me speaking with the first person voice of, a thirteen year old girl (Earth years). How embarrassing! I put it away; I had other things to do.

Until now. It's been bugging me; I had to pick it up for another look. It's the embarrassment, you see, an almost perfect sign that I was on to something. Plus, the NaNo stuff was fun to write, and is fun to read, even in it's current scattered state. I now need to put fresh batteries in my flashlight and go poking around for the storie's missing bits. I estimate about eighty-five percent is missing (I didn't achieve the NaNoWriMo fifty thousand word goal in 2010). But first, there's the question of the liftings from Mr. Spinrad. I took two things: Telling a wanderjahr tale, and telling it with the first person voice of an ernest, self-absorbed teenager. I'm not dropping either; they're why I'm willing to commit a year to digging this story out of my head and getting it cleaned up and ready for presentation. Still, it might be a good idea to re-read Child of Fortune to be sure I'm not mimetically channeling it.

A few things have already changed since the NaNo roughs. There is now something unique about the biology of this society that is the reason they have a wanderjahr tradition, and as a side effect of this biology, the protagonist is no longer a girl, not entirely. And no, it's not an alien, or an androide, or an uplifted whatever. Let's just say, to cover my butt, I also re-read Ursula K. Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness.

Next Blog: Most likely, an ode (most definitely, not a review) to Child of Fortune, and possibly some swooning words about Left Hand of Darkness.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

On Originality

I like to work under the illusion that my ideas are original. Really though, I assume many people have had the same ideas, and I assume some of them have already done something with them, but I doubt they used them to tell the exact same story I'm telling, and most certainly not in the exact same way. The details of my telling are a total rip-off of everything I've experienced, read, seen, or heard. The chances are, even if those other story tellers have seen the same things, read the same books, listened to the same music, they will have lived different lives. Our tales will pass through each other like ghost ships bound for the same shore, but on opposite tacks.
Here's a quote from Jim Jarmusch. You've probably seen it. It's been floating around the Internet for a while as a JPEG. Like all pithy quotes, take it to heart at your own risk. It is interesting to read it in context.
Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery - celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from - it’s where you take them to."
--Jim Jarmusch

Friday, April 8, 2011

Never Let Me Go. Kazuo Ishiguro, How Could You?

Movies based on good books, even when they are themselves good, are never more than shadows of the original work.

I bought and downloaded the Kindle version of Never Let Me Go, and read it over the weekend, finishing it Tuesday morning. My reaction was even stronger than to the movie. I put the book down in a virtual sense (eBook remember) and said to no one, but intended for Ishiguro, "Fuck you." I meant it. I felt it. The thing is, despite the words, it was praise.

Life changing books are rare these days. The last one I can think of was StarStruck, mentioned in a previous blog, and a very different sort of experience.

A life changing book, or a life changing anything, is personal: the effect is outside the realms of review or criticism. I read a one star review of Never Let Me Go on Goodreads. The reviewer was perfectly reasonable in explaining why the book meant nothing to him. I understood why, for him, this was true. For me it was exactly the oposite. I was devastated, first by the movie, then more so by the book. Ishiguro's telling of the story through his main character is expressed in an honest, unassuming voice, but it left me an emotional jumble. I fell in love with the main characters, yet after finishing, I hated the author for creating them, and then trapping them in his story. How could he do that? How could they let him?

It's been a few days now. Although I'm not in a rush, I'm beginning to understand something of my reaction to this story: I suspect it has to do with Never Let Me Go invoking the feeling that, as your life stretches out, it gets thin. The people you've grown up with in all those complicated give and take relationships that cannot be summed up simply as love begin dropping out of existence---becoming frozen in cherished memories. "Completed" as the book says. You can't be alive and complete.