03 January 2014

The Year Ahead

I’m com­mit­ting to writ­ing 250 words per day this year. Sometimes, the eas­i­est thing to do will be to write a blog post, so you can expect this blog to be updated more fre­quently. And if you believe that, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.

Again I’m forced to admit that social media has killed my blog­ging desires because I can just share any old thing and get imme­di­ate responses, com­ments, fav­i­likes, liko­rites, what-​​have-​​you. And online atten­tion is basi­cally heroin injected straight into my webbed toes.

However, one of my other New Years res­o­lu­tions is to spend less time on social media and more time read­ing and gen­er­ally liv­ing my life pre-​​Facebook-​​style. That com­bined with an unre­lent­ing drive to write every. sin­gle. day. means oh, look, blog posts mat­ter again. So here I am.

My res­o­lu­tions are pretty much the stan­dard things you expect form a per­son inter­ested in writ­ing. Read more. Write more. Play less video games. Treat my friends bet­ter. Lose weight through a com­bi­na­tion of diet and exer­cise. I looked up the root of the word “res­o­lu­tion” in Latin and it roughly trans­lates to “thing that nobody, includ­ing your­self, believes you will actu­ally stick to in two months.” The truth is, almost every sin­gle one of my res­o­lu­tions boils down to: “take more con­trol. Develop some willpower. Stick to your goals and be dri­ven by lazi­ness and sloth less.”

I don’t know. Maybe I expect too much pro­duc­tiv­ity from myself. In the com­ing year, I hope to fin­ish one graphic novel script, one novel, one novella, and four short sto­ries. Is that unrea­son­able? Perhaps it is if I spend all day play­ing Path of Exile. Which I absolutely didn’t do today (yes, I did).

Okay, so I’m over my word count now; let’s get into some upcom­ing things you should know about.

  1. I have a story com­ing out in Lightspeed Magazine on Tuesday. I’ll do up a grand big post about it when it comes out, along with the author inter­view. I’m very proud of this story. The suc­cess I have with it is directly owed to the Young Gunns Workshop here at Kansas University, run by writer Chris McKitterick.
  2. I have another story com­ing out some time this year in Asimov’s which marks my very first appear­ance in their hal­lowed pages. Again, I’ll let you know when that’s out.
  3. Oh, also: Sarah and I are hav­ing a baby this sum­mer, if all goes well. She’s 11 weeks preg­nant cur­rently. So we’ve got that going for us.

Still think I can get all that writ­ing done this year after #3?

Nah, me nei­ther. But it’ll be fun to try.

12 November 2013

What is Science Fabulism?

Magical real­ism, if you’re unfa­mil­iar with the term, is a genre of fic­tion that uses mag­i­cal ele­ments in oth­er­wise mun­dane sto­ries. In some of my lat­est work, I’ve been exper­i­ment­ing with adding tra­di­tion­ally sci­ence fic­tional ele­ments to sto­ries set in oth­er­wise mun­dane set­tings. For instance, the focus is on the fam­ily pol­i­tics and work­ing class trou­bles of pro­tag­o­nist Mel in “Work, With Occasional Molemen,” but it casu­ally accepts the exis­tence of giant ants, saucers, and mole­men. I very much want the sto­ries I tell in the Stranger Creek set­ting to fit into the same genre of fiction.

I wasn’t sure what to call this type of fic­tion. I played around with a cou­ple of bad port­man­teaus around “mag­i­cal real­ism” and “sci­ence fic­tion.” I put the ques­tion to Nick Mamatas and he gave me a solid name for it imme­di­ately: sci­ence fab­u­lism.

I’m hav­ing trou­ble think­ing of many exam­ples of sci­ence fab­u­lism, though. It takes a lot of arro­gance to try and pro­claim your­self as writ­ing in your own genre of fic­tion, and I’m not say­ing that. I’m cer­tain many oth­ers have com­bined toys in this fash­ion before and prob­a­bly are work­ing it today. Can you think of sto­ries, movies, and nov­els that do this? I’d love to read more of them. Or per­haps sci­ence fab­u­lism is still just sci­ence fic­tion, and not a wor­thy term, or a needed one? What do you think?

P.S.: Speaking of the guy, Nick Mamatas just became a dad! To cel­e­brate, why don’t you pick up a copy of LOVE IS THE LAW? It’s get­ting fan­tas­tic reviews.

01 November 2013

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The Thin Wall Challenge

How would you react if you lived next door to a cou­ple that has a lot of sex which you can hear through really thin walls? I know I’d prob­a­bly react with extreme annoyance.

This YouTuber instead has reacted by turn­ing it into a YouTube game show for him­self. He attempts to com­plete chal­lenges before they finish.

Everything about this is hilar­i­ous. I hope that faced with sim­i­larly frus­trat­ing cir­cum­stances, I could be this clever.

So, come for the premise, stay for the hilar­i­ous Batman jokes.

PS: Yes, I’m pretty sure it’s a con­trived sce­nario and not real. It would be kind of creepy otherwise.

31 October 2013

The Power of Routine

If there is some­thing I don’t need to do, that I don’t have an exter­nal moti­vat­ing fac­tor around, I’m find­ing that sim­ply doing that thing rou­tinely is a good way to get myself doing it almost auto­mat­i­cally. Writing is one of those things, sadly. The money it gen­er­ates isn’t a drop in the bucket com­pared to other activ­i­ties, and it’s hard to rate “artis­tic sat­is­fac­tion” high on the hier­ar­chy of needs most of the time. Basically, unless I get extremely excited about a project, moti­vat­ing myself to write can be dif­fi­cult when there’s a lot of other things going on.

As a per­son who gen­er­ally dis­likes for­mal struc­ture in his life, it’s taken me a very long time to come around to the power of rou­tine in get­ting things done. Part of the joy of work­ing for your­self is not hav­ing a weirdly rigid sched­ule. Schedules are for wage slaves, man, not us self-​​employed, right? Nah, if any­thing I think self-​​built rou­tines are now even more impor­tant to me than ever before.

On the cre­ative front, weekly write group meet­ings with other local writ­ers have dri­ven home the value of doing some­thing on a set sched­ule. And back­ing that task up is a lit­tle peer pres­sure, which works as a good exter­nal moti­vat­ing fac­tor when my own inter­nal moti­va­tion is lacking.

Thanks, Lane Robbins, for invit­ing me to those. Even though I missed last night because of my sinus headache.

On that point, rou­tine can be a lit­tle brit­tle, though, at least for me. One failed sched­ule item and I find it much harder to get back into the rou­tine. Which, para­dox­i­cally, acts as rein­force­ment when I have a good unbro­ken streak going. I’m going to write group next week, no mat­ter how I feel, because while I broke my chain, I know that if I break it more than once in a row, i’m in seri­ous dan­ger of los­ing the habit. And this habit has me writ­ing 10 pages of comic script a month at a min­i­mum, so I know it’s work­ing well.

Nothing beats doing what you truly love, but even that moti­va­tion can be lack­ing some­times. A rou­tine can get you through a lack of moti­va­tion. You may feel like you’re just going through the motions at first, but you warm up to it over time. So how about you? Have you used rou­tine to build habits for your­self that you wanted?

30 October 2013

My Dark Obsession: Comedy Panel Shows

This close to Halloween, I fig­ure the only way to get your atten­tion with a head­line is to make it spooky. This is really a blog post about com­edy panel shows and how much I want to have their babies.

am obsessed with them, but not darkly, and I have been ever since we vis­ited London and, bat­tling jet­lag, dis­cov­ered a QI marathon on the “telly.” QI is a British panel show in which come­di­ans (mostly) attempt to answer quiz ques­tions posed by British trea­sure Stephen Fry. Mostly, peo­ple make jokes and try to avoid the obvi­ous wrong answers which result in neg­a­tive points. Fry is joined in every episode by his side­kick, Alan Davies. Two episodes into this show, we were hooked. I remem­ber dis­cov­er­ing QI as warmly as I do vis­it­ing the Tower of London. So I’ve been hooked on com­edy panel shows since that first taste.

I’ve always adored stand-​​up com­edy, and I love trivia and games. My dad loved Carlin (and, oddly, Gallagher), so we watched a lot of stand-​​up spe­cials as a kid. And I’m a nerd, so of COURSE I love trivia. Comedy panel shows like QI, Nevermind the Buzzcocks, or 8 out of 10 Cats are tailor-​​made to be my ver­sion of tele­vi­sion crack. Only they’re much harder to get than crack.

These shows are not pop­u­lar in the United States and as far as I know almost never air here as imports and rarely as locally made vari­ants. The clos­est thing we’ve ever had was Whose Line Is It Anyway? which was a British import I believe, and really not a panel show–improv is its own beast. Because of this, to get my fix, I’ve been forced to illic­itly down­load the UK shows. I mean, allegedly down­load them.

Now, I can get some of my fixes with­out vio­lat­ing byzan­tine inter­na­tional copy­right laws. Thanks to Comedy Central, I’ve been able to wit­ness an American take on the com­edy panel show that actu­ally works quite well–it’s called @Midnight, and it’s hosted by Chris Hardwick. I’ve never been a Hardwick/​Nerdist fan, but he’s rapidly grow­ing on me, six episodes in.

The show has had some great come­di­ans on already, such as Kumail Nanjiani, Patton Oswalt, Nikki Glaser, to name a few. It’s your stan­dard “the points really don’t mat­ter, this for­mat is entirely an excuse to get come­di­ans to make up jokes on the spot” type of show. As you might expect, due per­haps in part to its time slot of mid­night, the jokes are raunchier than any British com­edy panel show, or per­haps the lan­guage is just coarser. There are plenty of innu­endo sex­ual humor jokes on a show like QI. But American come­di­ans don’t really do innu­endo as far as I can tell. They’re more straight­for­ward with their raunch. Luckily, I can appre­ci­ate both sides of the sex­ual humor divide.

If you’re not watch­ing @Midnight and you like stand-​​up comics, I rec­om­mend you give it a try. It helps if you’re a Twitter/​internet meme addict, because the entire for­mat of the show is pretty Internet-​​centric, with a lot of rounds based on hash­tag humor and the like. I think it’s fun­nier than the Daily Show, and the Kumail episode (the first one) was the hard­est I have laughed at American comics since Kumail’s spe­cial, Beta Male.

29 October 2013

The Winding of the Seasons

I awoke in the night to the sounds of thun­der, of rain on the dry and brit­tle leaves of the trees that ring our home. I some­times think that Spring and Fall are mis-​​named, at least when it comes to the speed of their approach. Spring is slow and grad­ual. Fall strikes like a viper. One day, it was almost 90. The next, freez­ing tem­per­a­tures in the morn­ing and the trees were show­er­ing us with their dis­carded leaves.

Perhaps the tran­si­tions are not so bru­tal as they seem. It’s not an absolute truth that spring is grad­ual and fall is abrupt. Perhaps it’s just my per­cep­tions, which are shaped by my moods and activ­i­ties at the var­i­ous times of years.

I’m never ready for fall. As much as I dis­like the Kansas sum­mer heat, fall means the with­er­ing plants, the hiber­na­tion of life. I’m always eager for spring, as the long win­ter releases its icy grip on the soil and new growth springs up. For me, see­ing fresh green growth after a brown, dreary win­ter, is more pow­er­ful than any anti­de­pres­sant or mind-​​altering drug.

It’s no won­der to me that our ances­tors had reli­gions cen­tered so heav­ily on the turn­ing of the sea­sons, the sun and the moon. Just as early man was aston­ished each time the sun rose to end the night, I am pro­foundly affected by the break of win­ter by spring’s first ten­ta­tive shoots and leaves. I under­stand the sci­ence of the sea­sons, but that makes them no less pro­found, no less deeply spir­i­tual to wit­ness, when I can take a moment to appre­ci­ate the small but sig­nif­i­cant signs of the pas­sage of time.

28 October 2013

Who Killed the Blog?

This is a response to Gord Sellar’s entry, “Ominous, Or, How Blogs Die.”  In the spirit of the dis­cus­sion, I felt that I should write my response here rather than on Facebook or in the com­ments sec­tion. It might even put the stu­pid track­back func­tion to work for once with some­thing other than obnox­ious spam.

There’s no ques­tion in my mind that Facebook and Twitter killed the blog. Anecdotally, it was the adop­tion of these ser­vices in my own life that led to the fal­low nature of mein own blo­gens, and the slow decline in par­tic­u­lar of LiveJournal was has­tened by the adop­tion of Twitter by every­one I fol­lowed there. I sus­pect at this point, LiveJournal is com­posed of Nick Mamatas and 500,000 Russians–which coin­ci­den­tally is either the title of the story of how Nick goes out in a blaze of glory, or a really good Pussy Riot cover band name. Ooh, or the answer to a Jeopardy ques­tion: “These peo­ple still believe in com­mu­nism.” (Kidding, com­mu­nists. Kidding).

For the LiveJournal crowd, which made up a sur­pris­ing chunk of my blog read­ing, blogs were never about the form itself; they were about the proto-​​social net­work of LJ. They were used in locked form to com­mu­ni­cate with a small social clique as often as they were in unlocked form. Being on someone’s friends-​​locked posts was a kind of club mem­ber­ship. Kind of a pri­vate social net­work in a way.

It makes sense that Facebook and Twitter killed the blog because blogs were a poor sub­sti­tute for a real social net­work, and once those entered the pic­ture in a refined state, the blog was doomed as a wide­spread method of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Yes, even for writer types. Especially for them, who as pro­fes­sion­als, jeal­ously guard their writ­ing time. Much like my uncle the steak­house cook–the last thing he wanted to do on the week­end was cook steaks for the family.

So I feel like the cul­prit has been caught red-​​handed, wear­ing a creepy Mark Zuckerberg mask and wield­ing a knife carved from fail­whale bone. What I can’t decide is whether I am both­ered by the death of blogs. Would I con­vict the murderer?

To a cer­tain degree, it’s much eas­ier to absorb what peo­ple have to say on Twitter and Facebook. Forced to write more suc­cinct entries, peo­ple con­dense their thoughts and it osten­si­bly saves the time of the reader. And if there is a car­di­nal sin in writ­ing, it’s gotta be wast­ing the time of the reader, right? And Forgive Me Gord, For I Have Sinned. I may very well be sin­ning right now.

By the way, you should write a confessional/​advice col­umn blog and it should be titled Forgive Me Gord, For I Have Sinned. Get on that Gord. Literally dozens of peo­ple might read the tweeted/​facebooked sub­ject lines and URL-​​shortened links before shrug­ging and click­ing “favorite” or “like.”

But it’s also much eas­ier to get lost in the crowd. Those sites make it too easy to fol­low each and every per­son on a whim, and so you end up hav­ing to cre­ate nets inside the net to fil­ter out the cream, and even then, you can dip in, dip out, miss­ing impor­tant things. And with Facebook, you have to do bat­tle with what Facebook thinks you want to see, and it’s become increas­ingly hard to see it all. The Algorithm makes so many silent, invis­i­ble deci­sions for you; all in an effort to fig­ure out new, inven­tive ways to mon­e­tize your eye­balls, no doubt. Thanks to the Algorithm, I have missed peo­ple giv­ing birth and get­ting mar­ried! Talk about awk­ward con­ver­sa­tions at din­ner. “And whose kid is that in the car­rier? …what, yours?”

And dis­course, man. Was there ever really any dis­course? One of the worst things about blog­ging for me was that I would pour thoughts into a post and then I might get one com­ment, maybe two if I were lucky. At least with Facebook and Twitter peo­ple who are too busy to say any­thing can click “like” or “favorite.” Those but­tons are a vast improve­ment over crick­ets chirp­ing. But they’re a huge decline in qual­ity com­men­tary, in debate, con­ver­sa­tion too. Official inter­net cur­rency pegs the con­ver­sion rate at 100 likes to a com­ments, 100 favorites to a re-​​tweet.

Times are a’changing, as some folk singer once said. As a writer (of sorts), I feel reg­u­lar guilt at my inabil­ity to keep up my blog­ging. But really, couldn’t every­thing I’ve said here been con­densed into a 140 char­ac­ter tweet?

Social media killed the blog. It kind of sucks, but social media is a bet­ter tool for how many peo­ple nar­rowly blogged at friends anyway.

Well, there are fewer point­less jokes. I’ll give the form that. Death by fir­ing squad for the blog then!

22 October 2013

The Mall Experience

Like most peo­ple, I spend about 99% of my life wrapped up in my own lit­tle world of prob­lems, unaware of what life is like for oth­ers out­side my imme­di­ate bub­ble in any­thing beyond an aca­d­e­mic sense. I live my life, I strug­gle with my prob­lems, and I let oth­ers go about their busi­ness, if not with lit­tle bits of kind­ness, then at least with­out any inter­fer­ence. But 1% of the time, I expe­ri­ence a lit­tle satori, a glimpse of what life is like for oth­ers, and it gives me a squirt of com­pas­sion. Like yesterday.

Yesterday, Sarah and I drove to Olathe to meet up with my brother and his wife for din­ner and to retrieve the lap­top I’d left at his house by mis­take on Sunday. This drive entailed dri­ving against the flow of traf­fic as peo­ple got off work and fled the city.

The first real­iza­tion was how many peo­ple must spend a good por­tion of their day dri­ving in this hell­ish traf­fic to get home. I’ve worked from home or lived in such small towns for so long that I’ve never really had any­thing that con­sti­tutes a com­mute. Seeing peo­ple who had one made me feel a lit­tle bit of sym­pa­thy for them, and more likely to let some­one squeeze in front of me, to for­give the lit­tle mis­takes. If I spent an hour a day in traf­fic like that, I would go mad. That they were han­dling it, day in and day out, was a clear sign that they were all bet­ter peo­ple than me.

We met up at my brother’s place of work; a lit­tle arcade in an upscale mall. I haven’t been inside a large Midwestern mall in many years, and I had for­got­ten how much Malls and Las Vegas remind me of each other. Both are these weird arti­fi­cial indoor expe­ri­ences with no nat­ural light, bad car­pet, and a weirdly com­mer­cial vibe to every­thing. What impressed me most about the mall was how few things there were that one would actu­ally NEED to sur­vive. Almost every­thing the mall sold, shop after shop, was need­less con­sumer goods–stuff that might be fun, but stuff you’d only buy if you had a lot more excess income than I’ve had in a long time. I tried to remem­ber if there was ever a time when we would just go to the mall to buy ran­dom crap, but I couldn’t think of one. Maybe, but not in recent memory.

I started to develop this men­tal model of what the inter­nal life of some­one who has a com­mute for a job in the city and shops fre­quently in the mall must be like. They must be used to a higher level of com­fort than me, sure. But are they happy? Do they find any solace in their RC heli­copters and skin care sup­plies pur­chased from pim­ply teens at kiosks? When we go to the mall, what are we really look­ing for? It sure as hell isn’t human con­tact. As we walked around, peo­ple almost uni­ver­sally make it a point to ignore the other shop­pers. They’re just ghosts in your world, minor incon­ve­niences between you and that next Hot Topic but­ton or whatever.

As I pon­dered these things, try­ing to nav­i­gate the mall to find my brother, I felt for a moment as if I were liv­ing a past life simul­ta­ne­ously with my own. I was George, 34, father of two, who worked in a mid­dle man­age­ment job in Kansas City and liked to blow off steam after a long day in the office by pur­chas­ing new shirts at the upscale bou­tiques at the mall. He has a secret pas­sion for the girl who works at the pret­zel store.

The feel­ing passed as quickly as it came. Then we ate at a a chain restau­rant Cheddar’s and I had spagsana — lasagna made with spaghetti noo­dles. It was okay.

Then we drove home. We watched some TV. And I went to bed.

14 October 2013

link

The Escape Artists Podcasts Need Your Help

News hit yes­ter­day that the Escape Artists fam­ily of pod­casts are three months away from hav­ing to close up shop unless they receive your donations.

Escape Pod, Podcastle, and Pseudopod are some of the best places to hear pod­cast fic­tion on the web. There was a short period of time where I was the edi­tor for Escape Pod, and it gave me a strong appre­ci­a­tion for the hard work that goes into pro­duc­ing these pod­casts. They’ve also fea­tured many of my sto­ries on both Podcastle and Escape Pod (though not while I was staff).

If you’re a lis­tener, or even if you’re just a fan of pod­cast fic­tion, please con­sider vis­it­ing their site and set­ting up a reg­u­lar dona­tion via PayPal. The Escape Pod side­bar has a wid­get to do just that in the sidebar.

With the word going out that they need fund­ing, they will likely be okay. They have enor­mous num­ber of lis­ten­ers (over 30,000 down­loads per episode on Escape Pod I think). I hope that mov­ing for­ward, they’ll do more reg­u­lar, less-​​urgent calls for funds to keep the pod­casts alive for many years to come.

27 September 2013

I am still alive

I’m here, despite all attempts by the uni­verse to make it not so. I’m hard at work on a graphic novel called NIGHTFELL and I’m still build­ing web­sites every day. I apol­o­gize for the lack of blog. I think the uni­verse is also con­spir­ing to keep me from blog­ging. But don’t delete me from your feeds just yet, dear read­ers. There is more to come soon.