Category Archives: Thoughts and Musings

Stormy Night

As I write this, a pretty big winter storm is just getting started outside my window. It seems as though it’s going to lay a pretty big sock of snow, ice, and wind on us before it finishes up sometime tomorrow. I’m fortunate to be home and safe inside, writing this with my stupid cats. And tomorrow, I’ll shovel out from what the storm threw down on me, and everything will continue on.

It kind of fits nicely with how I’ve been feeling, writing-wise, the last while. I haven’t really figured out how to fit regular writing into my schedule this term, so I haven’t been real productive, which is always a bit of a downer, especially when I had a nice stretch of momentum for a while.

And if I allow myself to compare to the things I can observe other writers are doing, with publications coming out, awards being won, and new deals being signed, it’s easy to think that I can’t possibly get there. It’s easy to think that I could just stop, and that maybe that would be kind of a relief, to not be worrying about my writing, any more.

However, if I follow that trail of thought along, I always reach the point where I remember that I absolutely don’t want to stop, because I love to write. I love to create imaginary people and places, and I feel a kind of joy I don’t get anywhere else when I’m doing it. So, no matter how the rest of it works out, if it ever does, it doesn’t matter because I still love to write. Things will either flow from that, or they won’t, and it’s ok because the joy is still going to be there.

So, yeah, kind of like the weather today. When the storm of a busy schedule and rest-of-life stress blows out for a while, I’ll dig out and get back at the writing, just like I always do. It’s important to remember that I’m not writing *because* I want the publication deal or whatever else (although: clearly won’t say no, heh), I write because I love to write. That’s mine. It’s what is always going to be left, no matter how the rest of it breaks.

Tonight I’ll enjoy watching the storm from a safe place, and think about how to get back to crafting something new out of nothing at all in the morning.

Thanks for reading.

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This is not really even tangentially about writing, but what the heck – if you came for a tightly-focused blog I figure you ran screaming a long time ago. This one’s going to be about something connected to the start of a new school term, and a conversation I had with a friend a few years ago now. I was telling them about some interactions I had had with some students that seemed strange to me. My friend said the students were probably afraid of me.

I have to admit, at first I didn’t think that could be right. I don’t think of myself as being intimidating, and I certainly never set out to try to scare anyone. I like to think that I’m open and approachable – but then, probably everyone does. I didn’t immediately see how I could be the sort of person that someone would find frightening, but (as my friend pointed out) as a teacher, I do exert (some) control over an education my students are presumably taking seriously, and what happens in their studies can have very real effects for things like scholarships, further academic placements, and job opportunities.

So despite my first reaction, the idea stuck around for me, and I started to think about my interactions with students in a way I hadn’t before. Which brings us to the present day, when I know my friend was right. I think I’ve gotten to the point where I understand interactions that I used to think were just awkward, or perhaps even that the student was being disrespectful, and interpret it differently. On what I still think are relatively rare instances, I have students who do find me intimidating.

When I read that off them, I try very hard to slow things down, be as reassuring as I can and emphasize that whatever concerns the student has are valid to me. I like to think I always do that, but you can always turn an extra light on things. I think, and hope, that this has made me a better teacher. I definitely think in a different way about my position relative to the students: I have an obligation to be fair in everything I do, and to help them learn of course, but also I need to actively create a circumstance where they feel comfortable interacting with me.

I guess the point I’m thinking of tonight is that even when we don’t necessarily realize it, most of us do have various kinds of power that we may be using without thinking about it as much as we might. To a reasonably humble extent, I do have a position of power over the students in my classroom. I think it’s important to recognize that, and to do our best to use the power we have kindly, when we can. I can’t necessarily prevent my students from ever finding me a little intimidating, at first, but I am pleased when, by the end of our time together, I can tell that they’re seeing me differently and bringing me their issues with confidence and comfort.

We’ve all got power. Let’s try to be kind with it.

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Find the Good Stories

So I gather there’s been another fuss where someone in the media has fired off their opinion that certain kinds of entertainment are not ‘adult’ and therefore people who enjoy them are contributing to the downfall of society. This argument seems to bubble up fairly regularly, although the frequency also seems to be ticking up a bit lately, perhaps because of the perception that certain kinds of stories have been growing in popularity in recent years, and that this is somehow indicative of the world’s onrushing demise.

There have already been a lot of good responses to this, but heck, I don’t have a better topic for the blog this week. I also do read a fair bit, and much of what I enjoy falls into the categories that tend to attract criticism. Many of the movies and TV shows I watch are similarly positioned. And then, of course, there’s what I write. So sure, it feels like a shot across the bows a little bit, as well as (I’m pretty sure) just driving me slightly insane on general principles.

I do think that you should probably try a bunch of different types of book (likewise for movies, music, whatever) to expose your mind to a wide range of experiences, challenge yourself and also because you might discover new stuff that you hadn’t known you like before. Like, you can’t possibly know that you like Ethiopian food until you try some. (Which I did, and it’s delicious) You absolutely should read more than one thing, but I would give that advice to someone who only reads cap-L literature just the same as I would to someone who only reads four-colour comic books.

But then, having done so, there’s nothing at all the matter with focusing on what you love. If your absolute favourite thing in the world is to curl up with a hardboiled detective story, then enjoy (schweetheart). Life is too short, and the world too full of stories, to waste your time on ones you don’t enjoy.

Presumably the people bellowing about the need for people to read ‘more challenging’ work are also out there on the weekend screaming at people out for a stroll about how they should be running a marathon. Look, anyone can. Not everyone wants to, and who the fuck are you to dictate what people ‘should’ be doing? I can read Middle English, but I don’t do it when I sit down to unwind the day. Most times, I want a book I can lazily settle into like a nice warm bath. There’s also the argument, which I have a good deal of sympathy for, that if you tell your story such that it’s hard for your reader to understand, maybe what you’ve done is written a terrible goddamn story? Or at least, it’s not better for having been made a chore for your audience.

It’s also true that this whole thing about absolute levels of quality always existing between different types of story (or music, or, or) is bullshit as well. To paraphrase Pat Rothfuss (and tip o’ the hat to Brandon Crilly for pointing this quote my way), there is some terrible SFF out there. But there is also SFF that I will put up against anything written by anyone, anytime, ever. Similarly, the stuff that gets published as cap-L literature includes some fantastic writing. It also includes some hideous drek. Repeat for every genre out there.

If someone asks you to recommend something to read, then whole different ballgame. Give that person your best advice. But if no-one’s asking? Stop trying to fluff up your ego and reputation preening about the perceived value of whatever it is you read. In general, I try to keep my advice to myself (honest), because ultimately giving advice when it isn’t wanted is a) annoying and b) really about ego. I sure have ideas about what I think people should be reading. I surely know most people don’t care what those ideas are just the same.

Ok, that got at least rant adjacent. Thanks for reading, and go find the good stories.

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Deep Snow

If you follow me on Twitter (first of all: my condolences) you’ll have seen that I’ve been feeling a little less than my best self the past few days. I don’t want to make this into a Therapy Blog but, whatever, there might be something worthwhile here.

Part of the issue is likely to do with the time of year; apparently late January is one of the points of the year when lots of people feel a bit down. I’m sure I’m not immune to that, and I had kind of a rough day following the news over the weekend. Basically I read what felt like an unending succession of different stories that made the world feel like a pretty rotten place, both in the sense of ‘unpleasant’ and ‘ruined beyond saving’.

(Yes, I know that on the most important level this is a very special kind of whine. I know that if the problem I have is reading about bad things happening to other people I’m doing all right. At the same time, pointing to someone else who has it worse than you doesn’t instantly invalidate whatever difficulties you’re experiencing yourself. Things can be hard without being the hardest.)

(That was a very long paranthetical.)

I’ve also just been a bit tired and having to adjust my routine to fit a changing schedule, and and and. All of which to say, I have been feeling fatigued, and discouraged, and kind of down on my ability to accomplish the things I want to. The temptation to say ‘ahhh, fuck it’ and just … stop can get very real, sometimes. We’re in the deep part of winter, where I am, and it’s very easy to get stuck in deep snow, literally and otherwise.

Perhaps fortunately, I have some kind friends, one of which took some time out of their day to give me a bit of a boost. Also fortunately, this is a person who I find genuinely inspirational, basically because they never stop. They’re always plugging away at something, usually a bunch of things, and the (seemingly) tireless effort is at least as impressive as the results. The one thing I guarantee this person will never be doing is nothing, and that’s a pretty good model to have.

Anyway. I have long known that I am very fortunate in my friends, and this was Exhibit 726, or something. The people who will take some time out of their own busy goddamn lives to give you a hand up when you need it – those are your real friends, and you hang on to those.

Also a good reminder. We can always do something. Maybe it doesn’t seem like what we can do will be enough (in whatever sense), but it’s always better than not doing anything at all. It’s the one thing that we’ve always got – we can do our thing. Whatever that is. Whatever that does. Literally no-one else can, and by whatever degree, the world is different because we did it.

So, I’m both allowing myself a little time to be a bit in my blues (which I think is also important; pretending that we’re Fine 100% of the time is not helpful) but then also to make sure that I write, talk about what I want to talk about, and spend some time with people who lift me up when I need it. Hopefully I return the favour, at least some of the time.

Thanks for reading.

Keep doing your thing.

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Also, Play

Last week I wrote about getting back to work (which I am!) but this week I’m going to talk about making sure I have time to goof off. Consistent, that’s me.

There is a reason. I’ve mentioned a couple times that I play in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, and after our last session one of the other players mentioned how important the game has been in helping them handle some stressful stuff in their life. We got to talking about it. One by one, we all came out with different ways that our D&D game has had very tangible, real world benefits on our lives.

In my case, the D&D game has been invaluable in getting me into a social situation on a regular basis and in forming closer relationships with some very good people. I tend to be shy and somewhat socially averse, so I also tend to isolate myself a little. As much as I value my alone time, I also know that it isn’t good in excess. Our D&D game has been great for getting me out of my hermitage.

Now, this isn’t a commercial for Dungeons and Dragons. Obviously there are lots of ways that I could be socializing, and probably lots of things that would have been helpful to my fellow players as well. What’s important is that we all found something that was useful in the way that we needed it to be.

We are surrounded by messaging of various kinds telling us how important it is that we work hard. I seem to get reminded at least once a week about how early some people start their day, the implication being that if you’re not at a desk somewhere by 4am, you might not be doing enough.

And obviously, dedication and sheer labour are essential if we’re going to achieve whatever goals we happen to have. My next book will only get written if I sit myself down and bang out the words. Heretic Blood will only find a home if I get out on the (virtual) pavement and knock on some (electronic) doors. Work is essential.

It’s also important to take time to deliberately not work, though, and do other stuff that helps get or keep us in the frame of mind to work effectively. Especially when we get busy, it can seem like an automatic thing to do to throw all the play overboard.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s a very good idea.

Go play.

Thanks for reading.

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Back At It

Not too sure what to write about, this week … my holiday break is winding down (I have various disadvantages coming from the work I do, but the amount of time off I get in December is an undoubted plus) and I am gradually getting back to things. I’m preparing for a new term of teaching new groups of students. I saw my first class Monday and it seemed to go pretty well. Things start in earnest next week.

Having taken some time to rest and recharge, I’m also looking to get back to work on the writing stuff, as well. As usual, I had grand ideas about how much I was going to accomplish with my time off, and, well, it didn’t work out like that. Sometimes it really is important to just pause for a while, let yourself have some space and time where you’re not trying to accomplish anything.

This afternoon I took a long walk in the woodlot near where I live. I watched the birds, fed a riotous mob of chickadees, and enjoyed the peace of a snowy forest. I came out feeling quieter inside than I have for a little while. In terms of stuff that Got Done today, the list is not impressive. However, that time to pause has its own kind of value.

Now, I may have somewhat over-indulged over the past few weeks, but I may also have done just what I needed to do. Now, it’s time to get back to work. I want to continue my progress with the new WIP, and I need to finally write that query letter for Heretic Blood, so I can start looking for a home for it seriously. And I need to do the work that more directly pays the bills.

I genuinely believe that I will do all of these things at least a little better because of my quiet time, though. The chickadees are likely to agree.

Thanks for reading.

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So 2019 is here; another year has passed. I’m not the right person to comment meaningfully on all that happened in our world in 2018, except to say that we made it through some heavy weather and have some daunting challenges ahead of us. We persevere.

I think I’ve mentioned here before that I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. I think that more often than not they become sticks we use to beat ourselves with and a means of amplifying our self doubts. If making a resolution works for you, then do it, obviously, but while I am trying to achieve things, for me there hasn’t been a lot of value in making ritual declarations out of them. There is still a certain inevitability to reflecting a little over the year that has just ended, though.

2018 was a reasonably good year for me in a lot of ways: I finished (well, more or less) writing Heretic Blood, which I think is the most challenging writing project that I’ve ever taken on. Can*Con, which I help organize, was a great success. I made some new connections that I hope will be both professionally valuable and new friendships. I went to places that I had never been, and spent time with dear friends who I hadn’t seen in far too long. I read wonderful new stories.

Certainly there were challenges and setbacks, but overall I must consider myself extremely fortunate for the year I have just had. There’s lots to do in the year ahead: a new project I’m just getting started with, finding a home for Heretic Blood, and a new Secret Project that I should be able to tell you more about shortly. I hope I’m continuing to grow as a writer and stretch myself professionally.

Thanks for being a part of it all by reading this blog. I hope you’ll stick around and discover what 2019 has coming with me.

Happy New Year.

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Theme Music

Work continues – in between end of term stuff at the day job – on the new WIP; I crested past 10,000 words last week, which is not a huge amount but is enough of a Hunk of Stuff to make me feel like this thing has some momentum behind it, especially when I can get a little more time devoted to it. It’s a neat feeling, although I do have the odd twinge of doubt that this is really a good idea. If Heretic Blood was the most difficult thing I have written to date, this new thing is the craziest idea I’ve ever seriously tried to work on. Apparently the crazy ones are the good ones. We’ll see.

I am also encouraged because I’ve started to figure out the new project’s theme music. No, really. I don’t write my stuff imagining it as a movie or TV show (or a comic), but I do sometimes ‘cast’ the characters I’m writing. That’s mostly just a fun mental exercise for in the middle of a 10k or something. But, I always have theme music.

This isn’t necessarily the same as music I play while writing, although I usually do have that going on. I play all sorts of different things almost every time I write, and it isn’t necessarily connected to what’s going on on the page at all. Mostly I just choose something that’s either going to relax me or otherwise get me into a pleasant headspace where I can focus on making the words happen.

Every story I’ve written, though, has at least a couple pieces of ‘theme music’ that are basically connected to the mood and feel of the piece I’m working on. I don’t honestly know why I do this, because I’m not at all a musical person in the sense of writing it or performing it in any way. I guess some part of my creative brain reacts to it, though, because forming that link between the story ideas and the right piece of music seems to be an important step.

Once I have the theme music (which I usually will hear and just go ‘oh yeah, that’s it, isn’t it.’) it tells me a lot about what the tone of the story is likely to be and the direction I want to take it in. In the past, at least, figuring out the theme music makes it much easier to get to work on the writing. I’m not entirely sure why. I find it genuinely fascinating that there are these parts of my creative process that appear to be important, but I don’t (apparently) consciously understand why or how. Most of the time, I also feel that it’s one of those things that’s best not to ask too many questions about.

This all sounds, I am sure, slightly(?) overly-mysticized, and no doubt it is. I expect there’s some reasonably straightforward neuropsychological reason for why things work the way they do. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter. I’ve got the theme music.

That means it’s time to keep on with the writing.

I probably won’t blog next week, what with it being the holiday season, and all. See you in a couple weeks. Thanks for reading.

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On Sabine

I really don’t have a good idea to write about this week, but I have been thinking a lot about Star Wars (in part because of the RPG I game master, and in part because I’m doing the Star Wars Lego advent calendar), and so I think I’m going to do my thoughts on Sabine Wren. For those who have maybe missed it, Sabine is one of the characters from the Rebels animated series that I’ve talked about on here before.

I really enjoyed the series overall, and I think all the characters were written quite well. Sabine was the one that really surprised me, though. I kind of cringed a bit when I first saw her because she’s a young girl in Mandalorian armour – the stuff Boba Fett wears. I think I’ve also said several times before on here that I think the Star Wars writers have fumbled the ball pretty badly where Boba Fett is concerned.

They had a character with a neat visual design who people thought was cool in part because of the look and in part because he was an enigma. Boba Fett had fan support far beyond what his actual role in the movies really justified. The response to this was to not only do more and more with that specific character, but also to recycle that visual design into seemingly as many places as possible. A copycat bounty hunter in basically the same suit. Another identical looking guy for the prequel trilogy. Mandalorians everywhere. Everything they’ve added has, to me, undermined where the appeal of the Boba Fett character came from so that by the time I saw Sabine show up on Rebels, I was like ‘oh noooo’.

But then, she turned out to be far from just a retread of the ‘bounty hunter in cool armour’ concept. I mean, yes, Sabine is good in a fight and enjoys explosives, but there’s a more interesting layer. She’s an artist. That (to me, now) overdone armour is brightly painted and stylized. She bombs things with paint, and wants to leave a her symbol behind to let the Empire know who just kicked their ass. When she’s gonna take a stolen TIE Fighter into battle, well, she’s not gonna do it until she’s given the thing a custom paint job. I’m still sorry we never saw that thing again.

I guess it’s maybe not a surprise that I’d dig a character who is, on some level, another creative, but I also think this was just not a character we’d seen in the Star Wars world before. Knights, space pirates, royalty, con men, yes … but not really an artist. So that was cool, and it got me to buy into the Sabine character long enough for the writers to give me the rest of her story. Which did, in the end, involve a whole bunch more dudes in that goddamned armour, but by then I didn’t care because it was Sabine’s story and they found a way to make me care about that.

So well done, but also something to think about regarding characters in general. It gets me back to the idea that I keep running into from writers I respect that it doesn’t necessarily matter if the bare bones of your idea (plot, setting, characters, whatever) are brand new, because you’ve never told their story before. Sure, a particular character concept (Mandalorian warrior!) might have been so chewed over that people are sure they’ve seen it all before – but they haven’t seen you do it yet.

I mean, I still don’t think I ever want to see another Mandalorian armour bounty hunter in my Star Wars, but maybe I do, and I just don’t know it yet, because it’s gonna come from a writer that I haven’t seen use that particular brush to paint with. I think it may be the hardest thing to learn as a writer, and I’m sure still working on it: believing that the story I have to tell could not be done by anyone else, alive or dead, and that means it has an audience that wants to hear it.

Tell that story with confidence. Paint brightly.

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Read Whatever

Busy times just now, so a bit of a brief one. I saw several separate discussions on the internet recently about people being told that they ‘must’ read various authors, either to ‘properly understand’ SFF as a reader, or to be able to ‘properly write’ it. This is not, it’s true, unique to SFF or fiction in general; people will make the same argument about appreciating music Properly or film The Right Way or whatever. It’s not something that I’ve ever been told personally, but I sure have seen many suggestions along the lines of ‘you cannot truly understand SFF until you’ve read <Author>’. <Author> is usually a white dude from like the 1960s, although not exclusively.

I don’t care who the author is, though, this is bunk. There are lots of great stories out there, ones that will blow your mind, and you should read them. Seek them out. Hunt them down, feast upon them. The thing is, that even in a ‘niche’ genre like SF, or fantasy, or horror (or, or, or), there’s so many different kinds of story, too. For any individual reader, there’s some you’ll like and some you probably won’t, because of the writing style, the thematic approach, the characters, whatever. It’s very silly, to me, to think that there’s some imperative to read the stories we know or can guess that we won’t like very much, just because A Name wrote them.

A friend of mine noted (tangential to one of these discussions) that he’s never read any Heinlein. I’m not 100% certain, but knowing him as I do, I don’t think he’d enjoy Heinlein’s stuff very much. There’s like a billion things out there to read, why spend your limited time on something that doesn’t grab you by the throat and scream ‘READ ME’?

Likewise, as a writer, the most important thing (it seems to me) is to write the stories you feel passionate about. You can absolutely do that, because the story comes from you. There’s no background reading required (although yes, reading widely in general will improve your writing). This goes back to one of my very first blog entries and that advice from Stephen King (still some of the best writing advice I have yet seen) – you’re ready to write when you feel ready to write, and if someone tells you you’re not because you haven’t read X or Y books from whenever, tell them to get bent. Go ahead and smoke that shit.

Now, if your objective is to study the history of a field, the development of (say) SF fiction over time, then sure, you’d need to go and read particular influential and impactful writers and landmark books. But if you’re just reading to read? Read whatever tells you that it must be read. If you’re looking to write? Congratulations, you’re ready to sit down and try it out. Just write the story that you’re excited to tell everyone.

Gatekeeping, man. It’s extremely tiresome. Most creatives really don’t need anything additional feeding our impostor syndromes. Give these kinds of argument all the attention they deserve, which is none.

That’s what I’ve got for you this week. Thanks for reading.

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