10 October 2014

Ikea Dreams

Yesterday, the wife, son, and I made our first-​​ever trip to Ikea. It was all a bit over­whelm­ing. So much so, I had what was either the best Ikea dream ever or the DUMBEST Ikea dream ever. You decide:

It was staged like a fan­tasy action movie. You see, Ikea had announced a new Wardrobe line called PÖRTOL. They were made with a rare Nordic wood, and some­thing was very fishy about them. Me an my team were rac­ing against time to put a stop to an evil plot.

Ikea, you see, was a front for an ancient evil race of Swedish fey, and they intended to invade our world by sell­ing every­one cheap PÖRTOLs and then attack­ing through them with huge armies, direct into our homes. Yes, the wardrobes were por­tals to another world.

There was a lot of run­ning around in an Ikea ware­house being chased by bad guys that looked like the elves from Thor 2, and a lot of hammer-​​smashing Ikea fur­ni­ture to bits. I’d like to think that Thor would approve.

06 October 2014

An Electronic Magazine Idea: Call & Response

Electronic mag­a­zine for­mats are a bit stag­nant in our field lately. There’s this model that’s shown some suc­cess and a lot of oth­ers have cropped up to imi­tate it, which is totally under­stand­able. Magazines need to at least break even to con­tinue, so any­thing you can do to match the suc­cess of oth­ers makes sense, but it leaves me won­der­ing what ideas are being over­looked. So some­times I’ll find myself day­dream­ing ways to tweak the tra­di­tional for­mat that has evolved.

This is another one of my shower ideas. The for­mat for the mag­a­zine would be a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. It would be called Call & Response. That should give you a basic idea of what it’s about right there. The premise is this: you pur­chase one larger piece, per­haps novella length, some­thing that’s boldly explor­ing some ideas pop­u­lar in the genre. Maybe it chal­lenges a com­mon con­ceit. You pub­lish this piece on your web­site, like most elec­tronic mag­a­zines do. Then you open up to sub­mis­sions for a cou­ple of months. The guide­line is, you must write a story that is a response to the ideas, char­ac­ters, what­ever of the novella. The edi­tors select 4–5 shorter pieces, bun­dles them together, and sells *that* as an ebook issue. They would sort of be like lit­tle themed antholo­gies released on a reg­u­lar basis.

The rea­son­ing for this is, I think there used to be a larger com­po­nent of dia­logue in the field of sci­ence fic­tion. Especially when it was smaller and no so dif­fuse. Stories were often writ­ten in responses to other sto­ries, but I don’t see that hap­pen­ing nearly as much now, and when it does, there’s a good chance you never read the orig­i­nal. So the notion here is to insti­tute a mag­a­zine based on that tra­di­tion for format.

Would read­ers enjoy this sort of thing? I’m really not sure! A care­ful cura­tor of course would be nec­es­sary. But I’d love to see some­one try it, so the idea is yours if you want it.

19 September 2014

Three Months a Dad

If I have one thought about father­hood so far, it is:

Becoming a Dad is easy; being a Dad is hard.

It is star­tling just how easy it has been to refer to myself, com­pletely non-​​sexually, in the third per­son as “Daddy.” There’s some deep evo­lu­tion­ary shit going on there. It’s almost like we’re pre­dis­posed to adapt our con­cept of self to include a poop­ing, cry­ing ball of meat.

And cry he does. Life as a par­ent is a life of con­stant inter­rup­tions. And that’s just now, when the only way the kid can inter­rupt you is by cry­ing for atten­tion. I can only imag­ine how that gets worse when they can walk into the room and really pester you. Or go to their room and play loud music. Or any num­ber of things to dis­tract you from what­ever it is you think you’re sup­posed to be doing.

I can see my future pain points already. I become irri­tated when I’m inter­rupted, when my train of thought is bro­ken. I get angry. I’m afraid of out­bursts at the child when he’s older. I don’t want to be the kid of Dad who yells at his kid. If I was the kind of per­son who prays, I would pray for patience. Instead, I cog­i­tate on it. Try to drill it into myself with a mantra:

No mat­ter what you’re doing, he’s more important.”

In gen­eral, I believe it, but in the moment, I don’t always. I’ve spent a long time now in an adult world where a per­son could be delayed a moment. “One sec­ond,” to an adult is no big deal. To my kid, it’s mean­ing­less, and even if he did know what I was say­ing right now, a sec­ond prob­a­bly seems like a pretty long time to him.

And I am dis­tracted. Usually for a good pur­pose. I hit the ground run­ning when he was born; booked buck­ets of work. For a few weeks, all I did was feed the baby, sleep in fits, and build web­sites. No read­ing, no real tele­vi­sion except for what I could sneak in while the baby was eat­ing a bot­tle, and cer­tainly not any video games. I still have to sched­ule my video game time like some kind of seri­ous busi­ness man. Times like that, I real­ize what I gave up. Nothing like what Sarah sac­ri­fices every day, mind. But in these early days, the reward­ing part was slow to come.

I think the reward of it all was the­o­ret­i­cal until he started smil­ing reg­u­larly. You feel… pro­tec­tive more than any­thing else, before that. But when he finally started to gen­uinely smile at me, I knew I was sunk. There’s no emo­tional dis­tance when emo­tions can pass between you and your child.

I have a photo of him smil­ing on the lock screen on my phone. For the tra­di­tional rea­son of “I love my kid,” sure. But it’s also a tal­is­man. A reminder. It says: “remem­ber this guy? Is what you’re look­ing to do on your phone more impor­tant than spend­ing some time with him?”

I put my phone away with­out unlock­ing a lot more often these days. Maybe enough. I don’t know.

So now he smiles, and he almost laughs, and he bounces him­self in excite­ment when he sees a boob, a bot­tle, or the chang­ing sta­tion. He is hap­pi­est on the chang­ing table, right after a feed­ing, right after a new dia­per. And now, almost inex­plic­a­bly, like some kind of mir­a­cle, the ball of meat has begun to make talk-​​like sounds.

Aguh,” he says. Over and over. Stringing them together like sen­tences. Sometimes they sound like ques­tions. “Mmm, yes, indeed,” I say. “‘Aguh,’ indeed.”

Because really, what else can you say to that?

In those moments, I can see burn­ing within him a fierce desire to inter­act with the world; to under­stand it. An impa­tience and curios­ity we share most days. I am pos­sessed with a strong curios­ity as well but I am also tired. Regardless of sleep or lack of it, he is deter­mined to observe every­thing, and cries hard­est when he’s afraid he’s miss­ing out on some­thing inter­est­ing. I am instructed through con­di­tion­ing to hold him upright, no longer cra­dled in my arm, so that he can look around and see the world. He can’t con­trol his limbs yet, and I fear for the fate of our pos­ses­sions when he learns. In my minds eye, I see him dis­as­sem­bling every­thing with ham­mer or screw dri­ver, just to see what’s inside. This child is not going to have the patience for mur­der mys­ter­ies for a good long while.

And I resolve again to myself that I shall not be the kind of father who responds to ques­tions of “why” with “because I said so,” but my resolve is weaker than before because now I know exhaus­tion and it is con­ceiv­able that I will be too tired at some point to explain, per­haps at two in the morn­ing when all well-​​behaved chil­dren should be rest­ing, I will per­haps be just a lit­tle too exhausted to explain how prisms work.

Go to sleep,” I will pos­si­bly per­haps bark. “We’ll Google it in the morning.”

It is entirely con­ceiv­able that this kid will learn to Google before he learns to walk.

But then, I am rush­ing for­ward again, as I seem pre­dis­posed to do. Time trav­els fast enough; three months in but a flap of a butterfly’s wings, and before I know it, I will be dead and my grand­chil­dren will be col­o­niz­ing Mars, but before then I must tether myself to the now. Work keeps me here, but not as a weight, I sup­pose. It’s my lazi­ness, and the real­iza­tion that between now and the future, there is an awful lot of work to be done. Best to reside in the now just a lit­tle bit longer, please.

Slowly, inevitably, we’re dragged for­ward to the future and the work that waits for us there. But also, per­haps a smil­ing, laugh­ing, talk­ing child. So the future isn’t so bad, despite the work it takes to get there.

20 August 2014

Talent is Worthless if You Lack Motivation

I’ve spent much of my life jeal­ous of those around me who were nat­u­rally tal­ented at things. I’ve always wished I had some­thing resem­bling tal­ent in visual arts; I have never been able to draw, and it’s a tal­ent I greatly admire. And while I’ve had some minor suc­cess as a writer (in that I’ve pub­lished a few sto­ries), I don’t believe it comes from nat­ural tal­ent but rather per­se­ver­ance and repeated trial and error.

I always assumed that suc­cess in cre­ative endeav­ors would come more eas­ily if I had this thing called tal­ent. Only as I grow older and I have met more tal­ented peo­ple, I real­ize it’s not as big a part of the equa­tion as I once thought. The most impor­tant thing by far is motivation.

The way I see it, there are three fac­tors in cre­ative pur­suit; you’ve got what­ever skill you bring to the table, you’ve got your aspi­ra­tional goals, and you’ve got your moti­va­tion. Talent might advance you some on the skill track, and goals and dreams are easy; every­body has them.

Skills can be learned. Talent’s a head start, but it’s not every­thing. And basi­cally, it’s worth­less if you lack the drive and moti­va­tion to achieve that goal.

I see it a lot; peo­ple who have skill and goals, but they’re always mak­ing excuses for why they aren’t advanc­ing on them. Not enough time being the biggest one, but as Jay Lake always said, roughly para­phras­ing, if you have time to watch TV, you have time to make something.

It boils down most of the time to the fact that you’re just not moti­vated enough on the pur­suit of your goal. Which isn’t to say that real bar­ri­ers to suc­cess don’t exist; of course they do. But with­out drive, or ambi­tion, or some moti­vat­ing need, you’re going to find a rea­son not to cre­ate. I don’t care how tal­ented you are if you can’t be arsed to work.

Let’s face it; not mak­ing things is a lot eas­ier than mak­ing things. Get your ass moti­vated and work. Or don’t; the world doesn’t really care one way or another. It’s gotta come from you, in the end, or what’s the point?

 

01 July 2014

Couple Writing Items of Note

My story “For Entertainment Purposes Only” in the Kickstarter antho HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!! is now avail­able for sale. It’s about address­ing hte most press­ing issue of our day: spoilers.

Also, my story “Wet Fur” is out in the August issue of Asimov’s. Really proud of that one. You can pick up a copy of Asimov’s online or even at your local news­stand. Do peo­ple even have news­stands any­more? I haven’t seen one in a long time. Anyway, it’s good, you should read it.

And now, back to baby stuff!

25 June 2014

Matthew Manley Tolbert

Matthew Manley Tolbert was born at 12:08 PM on Tuesday, June 24, 2014. He weighed 4 pounds 12 ounces and mea­sured 18 inches long. Both mother and baby are going fine.

Dad is still gobsmacked.

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15 June 2014

The Father Mask

When you’re in your 20s, and even your 30s to some degree, you do a lot of try­ing on of iden­ti­ties like masks.

Am I a writer?” You put the mask on. See how it fits. Look at your­self in the mir­ror. Admire the shape.

Am I a designer?” You change the mask. Examine it closely. Does it bite the sides of your face? Is the strap too tight?

Am I a pho­tog­ra­pher?” Another mask. Another role.

I have tried on many masks in my life. Some I keep in draw­ers and take out and wear from time to time. Some are worn, molded to my real face, because I wear them so often that they’re prac­ti­cally a part of me now.

The unde­ni­able real­ity of all of these other masks is that they can be taken off and dis­carded if you no longer like them. Masks are meant to be worn for a while.

But on this father’s day, weeks away from join­ing the club myself, I have real­ized that the father mask (and the mother mask) is not a mask you can take off again once you’ve tried it on.

It doesn’t mat­ter if it fits.

It doesn’t mat­ter if you don’t like the way it looks.

You put this mask on under your skin. It will always be there now.

And it’s the per­ma­nence of it. The scale of the change, and the inabil­ity to reverse it that makes this the most fright­en­ing, excit­ing mask of all.

I won­der what the father mask looks like, in my imag­i­na­tion. Some of the other masks I have worn have been made of feath­ers and paste gems; gaudy, showy, noth­ing of substance.

I think the father­hood mask is made of bone and sinew. It’s heavy, but the truth is, the bone and sinew it’s made of? Its our own.

*

I wrote about my own fathers ear­lier today on Facebook. You can read that here even if we’re not friends; I’ve made it public.

22 April 2014

There are no easy scores in Dungeonspace

There is no crea­ture on this Earth more giddy than a writer with a new toy.

My new toy is a set­ting that I think com­bines a healthy por­tion of the things I love into one great mess of a thing. It’s a new set­ting for a series of YA sto­ries that I’m fran­ti­cally work­ing on between spo­radic chunks of free­lance web design (if you’re read­ing this and need a web­site, email me, because I don’t have enough work right now). Pretty much every free moment right now is con­sumed with think­ing out the impli­ca­tions of my idea, build­ing up my soci­ety, my char­ac­ter ideas, my plot ideas (and pan­ick­ing about impend­ing father­hood). I could get a ten book series from this idea, eas­ily. I could work on this sin­gle set­ting indef­i­nitely. Or at least until it really bores me, but right now I don’t see that hap­pen­ing any time soon. It’s a daunt­ing prospect though.

I’ve got a lot of prac­tice think­ing in terms of sin­gle story worlds. Worlds that lend to char­ac­ters that solve them­selves neatly like lit­tle puz­zle boxes in a few thou­sand words. For the longest time, the idea of writ­ing a series didn’t occur to me. But I started to notice a trend in my fan mail (yes, shut up, I get fan mail some­times). I’d say about 75% of my fan let­ters were ask­ing me to write more in a par­tic­u­lar setting/​world. Very few read­ers seemed to be sat­is­fied with just the one story in the world.

So I’ve been try­ing to think in terms of series now. But there aren’t a lot of resources out there that I’ve come across that describe how to develop such things. And the mar­ketabil­ity of it seems much riskier. Devote a lot of energy into a series and nobody wants part of it, you’re kind of out a lot of time.

My tech­nique has to be dif­fer­ent. I need sto­ries that run longer arcs.. I need a world that isn’t irrev­o­ca­bly changed right off. I need a world that can breathe for a while, that I can change over a long period of time. So learn­ing how to do that is going to be my new expe­ri­ence I think. It’s not look­ing very easy so far.

But like the inhab­i­tants of my new world say, “there are no easy scores in Dungeonspace.” There are also no easy scores in the writ­ing world.

16 April 2014

WP Alchemy and wp_​editor fields in 3.9

If you’re read­ing this post, then you prob­a­bly have issues with your rich text edi­tor cus­tom fields in WordPress 3.9+. It turns out this is for a pretty sim­ple rea­son, described in this ticket here.

In essence, wp_​editor doesn’t work right if you have brack­ets in the ID. The ID can­not con­tain any­thing but lower case let­ters and num­bers. But the name of a WP Alchemy field usu­ally has brackets.

Turns out, you should use the ‘textarea_​name’ for your field name and set the ID on wp_​editor to some­thing dif­fer­ent. So an exam­ple might look like this:


$mb->the_field('short_desc');
$settings = array(
'textarea_name'=> $mb->get_the_name(),
);
$val = htmlspecialchars_decode($mb->get_the_value());
$id = $mb->get_the_name();
wp_editor($val, 'testeditor' , $settings );

I hope this entry helps some­one else fig­ure out the prob­lem. Now I just need to update all my exist­ing uses.

10 April 2014

Thoughts On Writing (This) Graphic Novel(s)

I can’t tell you much about the expe­ri­ence of writ­ing a graphic novel in gen­eral. I can only tell you specif­i­cally about my expe­ri­ence for this par­tic­u­lar graphic novel I’ve been writ­ing for the past six months. All told, NIGHTFELL will come in at about 120 pages as I wrap it up. I’m in the final stages, with only a dozen or so pages of panel descrip­tions to write before begin­ning a pol­ish pass.

I learned that hav­ing an out­line to work from for a long form project is super, super impor­tant. I wrote two out­lines for this project; one for the first half, and one for the sec­ond. The first was much more detailed, and the sec­ond was a bit limp, and hand-​​wavy here and there. Guess which part of the script was eas­ier to write?

First, an out­line is great because when your con­fi­dence in your­self wanes, you can lean on the out­line. “The out­line says this must hap­pen, and that writer was bet­ter than I am today right now.” If you can trust your orig­i­nal ideas, then you can lean on them when you’re not par­tic­u­larly inspired. Conversely, when inspi­ra­tion strikes and you think of a bet­ter way to han­dle some­thing, you do it the bet­ter way. Provided it doesn’t, you know, destroy every­thing you’ve writ­ten already because:

In my case, the artist is draw­ing pages as I write. This severely lim­its my abil­ity to go back and re-​​write pages of script. On most any project, I can do a com­plete edit­ing pass after fin­ish­ing some­thing to strengthen the nar­ra­tive — add allu­sions and call­backs and what-​​not. Luckily, with an out­line, I know what I need to fore­shadow bet­ter than if I was just writ­ing it on the fly. Still, I found myself putting in fore­shad­ow­ing “hooks” even when I wasn’t sure what was cast­ing my shadow at the end of the book. These hooks were super use­ful, but made wrap­ping things up harder.

Luckily, because adding the let­ter­ing to the comic comes even later, I can still tweak dia­logue. So most of the words you will actu­ally read, those I can edit a lot. And boy do I intend to revisit every sin­gle line of dia­logue when I fin­ish the main story pass on the script.

Working like this has been an adven­ture, full of weird con­straints that force me to think dif­fer­ently. I have hopes that the prod­uct will be some­thing worth read­ing. Thankfully, that result is not based just on me, but on the work of my fine, fine artists who will be draw­ing and col­or­ing the book.

We should start shar­ing more infor­ma­tion and art from NIGHTFELL this sum­mer. What I can tell you right now is that NIGHTFELL is a dusty world full of old gods and cults, bar­bar­ian raiders, strange pow­ers; a world where the dead rise to pro­tect the liv­ing dur­ing the ten years of dark­ness known as Nightfell, a time when mon­sters boil up from below the sur­face to destroy civ­i­liza­tion. The story focuses on a brother and sis­ter who find them­selves as the last believ­ers in Nightfell, the last of a line of priests pro­tect­ing their city from destruc­tion as the Long Day winds down.

I’ve loved writ­ing it, but now that I’m get­ting close to fin­ish­ing, I’m look­ing for­ward to get­ting back to writ­ing some short sto­ries, and then, even­tu­ally, really get­ting into the Stranger Creek novel I’ve been noodling on all year.