13 June 2015

The Kind of Writer I Want To Be

I decided recently that I needed to take a break from writ­ing, because it was caus­ing more pain than plea­sure. I am a firm believer of the idea that if it hurts when you do some­thing, you should stop doing it, and so I have, for the time being.

Writing for me, in many ways, rapidly becomes an inter­nal bat­tle between what I want for myself, and what I can actu­ally do. I have high expec­ta­tions for myself; per­haps too high.

For a long time, when I thought about the kind of writer I wanted to be, it was in terms like “pub­lished,” or “award-​​winning.” But I’ve real­ized that these are desires that are out­side my direct con­trol, and attempt­ing to meet these goals is almost impossible.

Instead, I’ve writ­ten myself a list; on this list are goals, rea­sons for them, and actions I think I can take that will help me achieve these goals. I should have done this a very long time ago; I’ve done it in my busi­ness. I don’t know why I never put this kind of thought into my writ­ing self. So, here’s the list:

  • I want to be the kind of writer who writes every day, or close enough to it that the dif­fer­ence is mean­ing­less. I know that there is plea­sure to be found in con­stant labor. Actually, more specif­i­cally, labor alle­vi­ates anx­i­ety. To do this, I will require sac­ri­fic­ing other activ­i­ties and it will require willpower.
  • I want to be the kind of writer who gives a story pre­cisely as much time as it requires. I do not want to rush my work because I have imag­i­nary dead­lines. In this case, I use the word “dead­line” lit­er­ally. When I write, I can feel Death bear­ing down on me. In part, I write to run away from the inevitabil­ity of my demise. To do this, I will require a new patience and an accep­tance of my own mor­tal­ity, at least temporarily.
  • I want to be the kind of writer who is con­fi­dent in his work, regard­less of any­one else’s opin­ions. This is to say, I want to respect the view of oth­ers, but I want my work to stand up to my own self-​​doubt. In order to do this, I must give my writ­ing the time it requires, and I must be pre­pared to revise until I can detect no fur­ther flaw in the piece. No mat­ter how much time it takes.
  • I want to be the kind of writer who receives a rejec­tion let­ter and is not fazed. Rejection is part of the process of pro­fes­sion­al­ism, and should not crip­ple me emo­tion­ally for more than, say, 30 sec­onds. In order to accom­plish this, I must inure myself to rejec­tion by sub­mit­ting myself to it repeat­edly, with­out hes­i­ta­tion. I must give my work the time it requires to fully develop, so that a rejec­tion does not shake my con­fi­dence in the piece — I must have con­fi­dence in the piece before I sub­mit it.
  • I want to be the kind of writer who does not con­cern him­self with the suc­cesses of oth­ers. Specifically, the kind of writer who feels jeal­ousy or envy when some­one he knows suc­ceeds where he has failed. In order to do this, I must remind myself that other writ­ers have their brains, and I have mine. I am only able to work with the tools that I have, and until tech­nol­ogy is invented that allows me to steal their thoughts and tal­ent, I am resigned to work­ing with what I have. Everyone strug­gles; I see only the successes.
  • I want to be the kind of writer who under­stands why he writes what he writes. I want to leave the blind stum­bling in the dark behind, and write with the clar­ity of pur­pose. Purpose serves as a guide post. If a story has a clear pur­pose for myself, then I can mea­sure its cur­rent suc­cess or fail­ure against this pur­pose in order to guide revi­sion. What mat­ters as much as any­thing else in deter­min­ing whether a story is a suc­cess is whether it says what I wish it to say. And of course, in order to do that, I must decide what I wish it to say. To do this, I will devote the think­ing time nec­es­sary to decide such things, instead of attempt­ing to rely on gut and instinct.
  • I want to be the kind of writer who accepts his flaws and embraces his strengths. I want to be the kind of writer who is at peace with him­self, and not dis­tracted by the kind of writer he is or isn’t. I want to sim­ply be, and through being, cre­ate enter­tain­ment for oth­ers. In order to do this, I must remind myself until I believe it: I am good enough to be here. The work will be rewarded in time. There is noth­ing about you that can­not be changed with enough time and deter­mi­na­tion, but it will take time. Learn to accept where I am now, and don’t spend so much time mea­sur­ing the me of today against the me of my aspirations.

What do you think? Think I can accom­plish this over time?

I think I can. And when I start tak­ing steps toward this, I will be able to write fic­tion again with new vigor and a healthy mind.

FLASH FICTION: What Color Is This Apocalypse?

Everyone remem­bers where they were when the world began to end, mostly because every­one was sit­ting on their couch or in an office argu­ing with friends, fam­ily, or cowork­ers about the color of #TheDress. Cultural divi­sions formed with star­tling ease over Gold/​White vs. Black/​Blue. A man in Virginia was stabbed dur­ing a bar dis­pute, but mostly, the argu­ment was con­strained to social media.

Scientists and jour­nal­ists work­ing together scram­bled to put together uneasy expla­na­tions involv­ing the optic nerve, visual cor­tex, or cones in the eye. Nobody was fully con­vinced with the expla­na­tions, but within a day, the actual photo in ques­tion had faded into a series of memes and jokes. A week later, the world for­got about it, except for that geri­atric cor­ner of Facebook where your grand­par­ents lived and you secretly sus­pect the speed of light is a third what it is every­where else.

Then #TheFruit hap­pened, and that was when we real­ized #TheDress was a har­bin­ger of some­thing much worse. Twitter user @Bollocks13 posted a sim­ple photo of a piece of fruit cap­tioned: “Uh… is this a banana or an apple?” Some view­ers claimed to see a long, yel­low fruit–a com­pletely ordi­nary banana. Others insisted in describ­ing a round, bright red apple with a nub of stem. Accusations of hacked sys­tems flew back and forth. “Very funny,” said Twitter user @NotMyJerb, “but this is clearly show­ing peo­ple dif­fer­ent photographs.”

Experts ana­lyzed screen cap­tures of the image and it was found that the dual­ity of the #TheFruit per­sisted even offline. An expla­na­tion did not come eas­ily, and the debate raged twice as loudly on the Internet this time. A dis­agree­ment about #TheFruit led to a wife stab­bing her hus­band in Detroit 16 times.

When peo­ple started to report see both, simul­ta­ne­ously, the quan­tum physi­cists got involved in the dis­cus­sion. Tests were con­ducted in lab­o­ra­to­ries and par­ti­cle accel­er­a­tors around the globe; mean­while, bat­tle lines were being drawn online not between those who claimed “banana” or “apple,” but between those who thought the entire con­tro­versy was an elab­o­rate hoax and those who sus­pected it meant some­thing awful.

Our work­ing the­ory is that the under­ly­ing mechan­ics of quan­tum mechan­ics and obser­va­tional bias are break­ing down some­how,” said lead par­ti­cle physi­cist at Cern, Fabiola Gianotti. “Evidence has come to light of addi­tional objects that seem to appear simul­ta­ne­ously in mul­ti­ple states — we are cur­rently study­ing an auto­mo­bile that appears to be a car, a truck, and a mini­van at the same time.”

The break­down accel­er­ated from there. Marches for peace over­lapped simul­ta­ne­ously riots in the streets. It’s hard to say any­more what really hap­pened after that.

People lived and died on oper­at­ing tables — med­ical staff were at a loss what to do with the result­ing breath­ing corpses. The poor became wealthy, but only between blinks, and their money spent irregularly.

Our gen­ders blurred into mean­ing­less­ness. “From my per­spec­tive” became not just a “couch­ing term” but a bit of reflex­ive lan­guage tacked on to nearly every obser­va­tional statement.

From my per­spec­tive, the bus has arrived.”

From my per­spec­tive, the bus is a jet­liner, and it just took off.”

Society sur­vived. It col­lapsed. The sky turned puce. Chartreuse is not a deep red; it’s a shade of yellow-​​green. Or is it?

I live a mostly soli­tary life now, like a monk. Many of us do, among the sur­vivors. We can­not trust our senses, and we can­not trust that what we say will be per­ceived cor­rectly by our observers. It’s not so bad. There is grace to be found in a state of flux.

We’ve learned to accept con­fu­sion and igno­rance. With the com­plete col­lapse of objec­tive real­ity, many of the old argu­ments died quick deaths, or at least were made irrel­e­vant. We think so, any­way — you must remem­ber, these are merely opin­ions and they should bear lit­tle weight on how you per­ceive things.

Only one thing trou­bles me right now. I don’t know who is writ­ing this.

Is it me, or is it you?

09 April 2015

Stories for the month of March (and a little bit of April)

Here are fur­ther sto­ries read recently. In no par­tic­u­lar order, because I’ve been very bad about keep­ing up my records, but I have been read­ing. Remember, these are not rec­om­men­da­tions or endorse­ments unless indi­cated. They’re just very brief notes and records towards my goal of read­ing 365 sto­ries this year.

Story 79 — Pay Phobetor by Shale Nelson (Lightspeed)

Clever, remind­ing me a bit of Ghost in the Shell.

Story 80 — The Shape of My Name by Nino Cipri (Tor​.com)

Well-​​written, inter­est­ing time travel story, focused more on the per­sonal character.

Story 81 — The Book Seller by Lavie Tidhar (Clarkesworld)

Recommended. Nobody writes quite like Lavie in this multi-​​cultural far future setting.

Story 82 — The Clear Blue Seas of Luna by Gregory Benford (Clarkesworld)

Some really detailed, inter­est­ing world-​​building. Literally.

Story 83 — Coming of the Light by Chen Qiufan, trans­lated by Ken Liu (Clarkesworld)

Recommended. Some inter­est­ing cul­tural crit­i­cism as SF.

Story 84 — All Original Brightness by Mike Buckley (Clarkesworld)

Dark, some great descriptions

Story 85 — Cassandra by Ken Liu (Clarkesworld)

Interesting superhero/​supervillain story. Good char­ac­ter building.

Story 86 — Slowly Builds An Empire by Naim Kabir (Clarkesworld)

Recommended. Alienating, dark, strange.

Story 87 — Acrobatic Duality by Tamara Vardomskaya (Tor​.com)

Recommended. Great voice.

Story 88 — The Last Surviving Gondola Widow by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (Clarkesworld)

World-​​building was interesting.

Story 89 — Pareidolia by Kathleen Batholomew & Kage Baker (Asimov’s March 2015)

Some really inter­est­ing sci­ence under­ly­ing this (and I was really happy to see Zeus Inc. again)

Story 90 — Twelve and Tag by Gregory Norman Bossert (Asimov’s March 2015)

Really neat stories-​​within-​​story structure.

Story 91 — Tuesdays by Suzanne Palmer (Asimov’s March 2015)

Another inter­est­ing struc­tural piece, with a UFO angle.

Story 92 — Military Secrets by Kit Reed (Asimov’s March 2015)

Dark and emo­tional and very slip-​​streamy.

Story 93 — Holding the Ghosts by Gwendolyn Clare (Asimov’s March 2015)

Recommended. Reminiscent of the show Doll House.

Story 94 — The Endangered Camp by Anne Leckie (Forever Magazine, Issue 2)

Really fun and inter­est­ing species-​​building stuff.

Story 95 — Mitigation by Tobias S. Buckell and Karl Schroeder (Forever Magazine, Issue 2)

Recommended. Just fan­tas­tic cli­mate change SF.

Story 96 — Paul and His Son by Joe M. McDermott (Asimov’s April 2015)

Recommended. Well-​​told story of a father and his son deal­ing with men­tal ill­ness. Of sorts.

Story 97 — The Marriage of the Sea by Liz Williams (Asimov’s April 2015)

Very well written.

Story 98 — What I Intend by Robert Reed (Asimov’s April 2015)

Another Fermi Paradox answer attempt. Wonderfully writ­ten by a mas­ter of the genre.

Story 99 — Willing Flesh by Jay O’Connell (Asimov’s April 2015)

Biting satir­i­cal, good. Annoyed me because I had a sim­i­lar idea I was writing!

Story 100 — How To Walk Through Historic Graveyards In The Post-​​Digital Age by Fran Wilde (Asimov’s April 2015)

Ghosts meet SF. Second time this year I’ve seen that hap­pen. I like it.

Story 101 — The Sentry by Frank Smith (Asimov’s April 2015)

Vignette about a dam­aged war­rior, relat­ing to his chil­dren. Wonderfully writ­ten, great punch at the end.

Story 102 — We Are the Cloud by Sam J. Miller (Lightspeed)

Recommended story of young rela­tion­ships and poverty and abandonment.

08 March 2015

Short Fiction for the the Week of March 1

First, some back­story. I’ve been work­ing on read­ing at least 365 sto­ries for 2015 as a way of build­ing my read­ing mus­cles up in the wake of hav­ing my son, and to help reded­i­cate myself to writ­ing short fic­tion. Reading is the first step towards improv­ing as a writer.

I have been post­ing a few short words about the sto­ries, but I do not say any­thing neg­a­tive. These are not cri­tiques of the fic­tion or reviews, they’re just some notes for myself. If I think some­thing is really great and rec­om­mended read­ing, I might men­tion that. But don’t take any­thing I post here as a rec­om­men­da­tion. I have to read a lot of sto­ries to meet my goal, and it’s just unlikely that I am going to like all of them.

This past week, I worked my way through most of the March issue of Lightspeed Magazine. If you don’t have a sub­scrip­tion to Lightspeed, then you’re miss­ing out on great monthly fic­tion. /​plug

Note that all sto­ries pre­vi­ous to these were logged and noted on my Facebook, but as I’m try­ing to stop using Facebook as much, I’m mov­ing my notes on this project to my blog. All three of you still read­ing this will be delighted, I am sure!

Story 74 - Hot Rods by Cat Sparks

Really great, solid ground­ing in a place that I was intrigued by. Good voice and char­ac­ter in the narrator.

Story 75 — The New Atlantis by Ursula K. Le Guin

Had an ephemeral, dream-​​like qual­ity, and some ele­ments of retro-​​futurism that were really fascinating.

Story 76 - The Way Home by Linda Nagata

Sometimes a good story just involves some ordi­nary peo­ple in an extra­or­di­nary sit­u­a­tion, and this is one of them. Nagata is a great writer and this is no excep­tion to that.

Story 77 — The Good Son by Naomi Kritzer

Heartbreaking in all the right ways. Also some­what dream-​​like.

Story 78 — Documentary by Vajra Chandrasekera

Strange and won­der­ful, with the weird­est exam­ple of lycan­thropy I’ve ever seen.

24 February 2015

video

Dumbo Octopus

Amazing crea­tures. I have great sym­pa­thy for any­thing that even seems to have enor­mous ears.

(via red­dit)

23 February 2015

27 January 2015

Men of Unborrowed Vision live on Lightspeed Magazine

My lat­est story, “Men of Unborrowed Vision” is now live on Lightspeed Magazine. It’s an unusual story for me, in that it’s an attempt at deal­ing with pol­i­tics and cur­rent events. I am pretty sure it’s my only bit of near-​​future sci­ence fiction.

I wrote it con­sid­er­ably before the events of Ferguson, Missouri. There was a moment dur­ing edits that I con­tem­plated whether or not I should men­tion Ferguson in the story, but ulti­mately, it was too soon after the shoot­ing for me to feel like I had any­thing cogent to say about it. It felt like per­haps I would come across as tak­ing advan­tage of the pain and suf­fer­ing to drive home points I wanted to make in the story. So if you read this and won­der why Ferguson and Michael Brown weren’t men­tioned, that’s why.

I have noticed in early reviews that the cen­tral moti­va­tion of the tit­u­lar char­ac­ters was per­haps unbe­liev­able. I will just say that this was inten­tional on my part (but you can still find that unsat­is­fac­tory. I can under­stand that).

I have two other sto­ries I would like to tell in this sequence. Let me know if you’d like to read them.

09 December 2014

On Baby Clothes

Matty, posing like a female comic book character

Matty is com­ing up on six months old, so I think it’s fair to say that I am now a par­ent­ing expert. And as I par­ent­ing expert, I have a sub­ject I would like to address with the world:

What’s the $#%!ing deal with baby clothes?

Approximately 76% of all of Matty’s clothes fea­ture the face of an ani­mal. The vast major­ity of those fea­ture the animal’s face on his bottom.

Who thought: “you know what baby clothes need? Faces on the butts.” This seems pretty cute and harm­less at first, but that’s only until you see that smil­ing, car­toon lion weep­ing brown tears when Baby has a blow-​​out.

Some of the clothes have ani­mal faces on the hoods, the butt, and the FEET. Now we’re into “ser­ial killer in train­ing” ter­ri­tory. It makes my kid look like he’s been wan­der­ing the for­est, adding new vic­tims to his collection.

Oh, hello, Mr. Rabbit–”

*snaps rabbit’s neck*

I AM GOING TO PUT MY KNEE INSIDE YOU”

Look, I’ve said it before; the only thing keep­ing babies from being can­ni­bals is the fact that they don’t have teeth. Anybody’s whose fin­gers have strayed too close to the mouth of a teething baby knows this hor­ri­fy­ing truth in their heart. So really, babies are ter­ri­fy­ing as it is with­out look­ing like creepy Mountain Men, cov­ered head to toe in ani­mal carcasses.

I think we’ll just dress him in burlap sacks from now on. Burlap never goes out of style.

03 December 2014

Just how crazy is the Batman?

When peo­ple talk about how insane the Batman is, they’re most often using our own world to eval­u­ate that level of crazy. “You’d have to be nuts to dress up and go fight crim­i­nals.” The Nolan movies kind of take this approach for the most part.

I’d argue that the comic book Batman is even cra­zier, because you need to put his par­tic­u­lar psy­chosis in con­text. In the Batman’s world, there are real, honest-​​to-​​God mon­sters, croc­o­dile men that are nine feet tall. There is a bad guy who is LITERALLY a giant man bat. A woman who can con­trol plants. A guy made of clay that can suf­fo­cate you.

An ordi­nary human who dresses up as a bat and fights crime in our uni­verse is plain-​​old nuts. But in DC’s world, it’s not just crazy; it’s sui­ci­dal. In that con­text, it makes sense that Bruce would do every­thing he could to con­vince peo­ple he was some­thing more than just a guy in a cos­tume. He’d deploy all kinds of weird psy­cho­log­i­cal tricks. Stage magic. His dis­ap­pear­ing trick is essen­tial to his sur­vival as an ordi­nary man liv­ing in a world full of extra­or­di­nary threats. It makes peo­ple think he’s more than he is.

Bruce needs the aver­age street crim­i­nal to believe in the mythos of a super­nat­ural Batman. If you real­ize that the Batman is just a guy and you start to won­der, oh, hey, where does this guy sleep dur­ing the day. What’s his deal? Next thing you know, all the gangs in Gotham are burn­ing down Wayne Manor (again) and you’re strung up from a lamp post.

There’s a moment in the new 52 Justice League where the Green Lantern real­izes that Batman really is just a guy in a cos­tume. It’s hilar­i­ous, but it shouldn’t be. Bruce should be scared shit­less that some­one has fig­ured it out.

justiceleagueextra[1]

Bruce Wayne’s biggest secret is not that he’s the Batman. It’s that the Batman is just a human. He should be will­ing to do any­thing to keep that a secret.