Category Archives: Writing

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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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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Weird Directions

It’s early days on the new WIP, which is always exciting, and things are going pretty smoothly. They usually do when I’m just getting started, because I can jump right in on all the scenes that I’m particularly excited about and know just how to do. The tougher work will come later, so I’m enjoying things like the 2,000 word morning I had today while that lasts.

I also recently had an idea that would change the WIP a fair bit. I think it’s pretty cool and I like it a lot, but it would also make the whole thing a good bit weirder. I mentioned this on Twitter and most of my writer friends responded with variations on ‘do the weird thing’ which should not be a great surprise coming from a) creatives and b) writers of primarily SF, Fantasy, and horror.

Now, you might argue that I might want an unbiased opinion, but honestly, however much I know they do tend to love weird shit, they are also professional creators of this kind of thing and if their advice is to steer into the weird, it’s an idea worth giving a lot of weight.

I do think, generally, that you have to write what excites you, or it won’t be as good as it could be, and if the idea that is making me ‘ooh, yes please!’ at the moment is something pretty out there, well, so be it. Maybe the sober reflection on suburban life will be next in the queue. (It will not be next in the queue.) I also think, from my fairly limited experience, that it’s easier to dial things back in terms of how daring and intense they are than it is to turn up the volume on later drafts. So I’d rather write this thing as weird as I can conceive of it and figure out where to pull back on it if it turns out to be too much than write something where the primary feedback is ‘well, it’s a bit dull’.

All of which to say that I’m going with the pretty weird idea and steering the WIP in a direction that will make it very different than the way I originally imagined it, probably riskier in terms of whether it is going to work or collapse into a glorious mess, but will also definitely be a more unique tale. Those are the ones that are the most worth telling, I figure, so off we go.

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New Project!

This blog started out as a public accountability component to my stated intention to complete my first novel. In other words, I figured saying I was going to do it publicly would help shame me into sticking with the project even when I didn’t necessarily feel like it. I’ve decided to engage that function of the blog again this week, as I get set to seriously begin my next WIP.

Now, astute readers will know that I did already start working on another piece during the summer, and no, this is not that. That project got back-burnered when I had editing to do on Heretic Blood, and now I have another idea I’m a bit more excited by. It may not be exactly Best Practices to switch over like that, but if I have learned anything about my writing process it’s that I do best when I’m working on an idea that I’m excited by in the moment. I still like that other story, and I expect I will get back to it in time, but right now I’ve got this other idea burning a hole in my imagination and I sort of want to jump on it while the excitement holds.

It also makes starting to learn Scrivener a touch easier if I’m starting fresh with a new project instead of working out how to import an existing document into this new program. So, hopefully, I can sort of accomplish two objectives at once. Of course, that depends on ruthlessly carving out the time to really give this new project significant attention, because If I’ve learned a second thing about my writing process, it’s that if I leave a project for a while, I lose that elusive ember of excitement, and then it takes a while to stoke it up again. So if I’m going to do this, I need to attack it consistently, which is what I did with King in Darkness and Bonhomme Sept-Heures and even (mostly) with Heretic Blood.

I hope that this will start tomorrow; I’m meeting a friend in the morning for a writing session of the sort that gave me the final push through to finishing Heretic Blood and bashing it into shape to start sending out into the world. I’m pretty excited to see how this story goes; it will be quite different from anything I’ve written in a long time.

I haven’t written a lot so far, but (unconventionally for me) I did start at the beginning, so here’s a little taste. I’d love to hear what you think.

We were nearly cornered by armed goons and whether any of us lived through the next few minutes depended entirely on whether the old guy in the filthy coveralls was the right kind of crazy. And look, instead of ‘armed goons’, some people would insist I should be saying ‘law enforcement officers’, sure. And the old man, yes, he might theoretically be one of the most valuable people in any system. But so far, we’d had to basically drag him up three flights of stairs and down a whole bunch of corridors, and his main contribution had been to scream at the top of his lungs and make sure everyone knew exactly where we were. I’ve had relationships get off to better starts. And as situations go, well, I had my gun, and I had my ship, and usually that’s enough. But this was not great.

I think I’m going to call it Spacebender, and I think it’s going to drive my friend Derek Kunsken insane. I’m excited to get started with it, and I’m already looking forward to sharing more of it with you.

Thanks for reading.

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Tools

Not much of an entry again this week; I’m still swamped at work and now also sick into the bargain, so this has been a far-from-productive last few days. I guess the only significant Writing Thing I did recently was taking the plunge on buying myself a copy of Scrivener. (Let no-one say that I don’t do retail therapy, at least a little)

At least in theory, I think it might be helpful for me. As I’ve mentioned before on the blog, I tend to write my stories out of order, doing whatever scenes I feel inspired to write or have clarity on as they come to me. Then eventually I stitch them all together. I am given to understand that Scrivener will make this a bit easier as you can have parts of your overall document defined as scenes and then easily shuffle them around. Sounds good, if I can teach myself how to use it.

A lot of emphasis is sometimes placed on tools, and sometimes we attach identity to them. I have seen various people say something along the lines of ‘if you’re a serious writer, you must get Scrivener’. I’m sure that’s not accurate – obviously lots of people thrived as writers before it existed, and many still do. I wrote King in Darkness and Bonhomme Sept-Heures on nothing more complicated than Open Office, and although Heretic Blood is probably not in its final form, I’ve created it the exact same way.

More importantly, I’m not sure it’s *helpful* to suggest that in order to be taken seriously at any particular craft, you have to use a particular tool or set of tools. For writing, all you really need to do is write. It doesn’t matter how you do it, and you should probably look around at different options and try some different things to find what you’re most comfortable with, but as long as words are ending up on the page, nothing else matters. Getting a tool doesn’t get you anything if you don’t use it, and you can do a lot of work done with really basic stuff as long as you just keep at it. I suppose I’m just a little tired of seeing suggestions that people are Doing It Wrong.

I didn’t pick up Scrivener for any reason other than that I am at the start of a new project and now is the time to try it out. (Well, also that retail therapy thing) We’ll see how it goes. My guess is that at first it’s going to slow me down as I learn to operate it, but hopefully down the line it will make things go more smoothly. And if not, well, Open Office is still always there.

That’s it for this week; I hope to have a little more to talk about next time. Thanks for reading.

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Doldrums

Short one this week, as I have been neither very productive nor feeling very inspired the past few days. Some of this is purely ‘real life’ related: we’re in the busy part of term for me and a lot of my energy is going to that. Some of it is a bit seasonal in another way; it’s cold and wet right now, I’m not doing the long outdoor runs that I enjoy so much through the summer, and while I’ll adjust, it’s a bit grim just now.

It’s also true that since I have more or less stopped work on Heretic Blood (or at least, the work is now in the ‘find someone who would like to publish it’ phase), I don’t have a go-to project that is sitting and waiting for me whenever I have some writing time. I’m in the process of figuring out what that next project is going to be, and I have a few ideas I think might be cool, but nothing that I’ve really gotten a lot of traction with yet.

I could probably sit and force myself to grimly pound out some stuff that I wouldn’t be feeling too excited about, and would probably read exactly like something that I really didn’t feel like writing. I’m not convinced it’s a worthwhile investment of time, though. Some people will insist that you gotta grind out stuff regardless of context, and while I do think it’s important to keep working on my writing as often as I can, I also think it’s basically fine to recognize the times when I’m not going to do good work, and put my energy elsewhere. Clean the house. Run the errands. Read some stuff that might get me excited to get back creating.

So, while it’s fair to say that I’m in a bit of a writing doldrum right now, the best thing I can do for myself is keep in mind that this is ok. I’m never going to be equally productive all year round. There will be periods where I write a lot, and times where, for a variety of reasons, things don’t go as well, or I may be needing to put my energy elsewhere. It doesn’t really mean that anything is ‘wrong’, it’s just part of the respiration of my creative process. Some times are not the right time for me to create. That will change, and what’s important is to take advantage of the times when I do have the energy and inspiration to write stuff that I can take pride in.

Or so I keep telling myself.

Hopefully I’ll have gotten back into a bit more of a creative mode, and have a meatier blog for you, in another week.

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Review: The Quantum Magician

I don’t do a lot of book reviews on here, mostly because I don’t read enough of the latest stuff for it to really make sense. I am, however, going to do one today, because I just finished reading Derek Kunsken’s The Quantum Magician.

Now, full disclosure, and as you will know from previous blogs, Derek and I are friends, so factor that into your calculations as you read. However that may be, I had not read The Quantum Magician prior to it being published, and had only a very vague sense of what it was about – really just Derek’s one-sentence pitch of ‘Ocean’s Eleven in space’, which turns out to be about right.

Here’s the thing with Quantum Magician, though. Derek writes hard SF, and (as you will also know from previous blogs) I am not, in general, much of a hard SF fan. Very often when I read hard SF stories, I come away thinking that the ideas were neat but that there were no characters. All the stories I write are basically about people, and in a lot of hard SF I feel like there are hardly any actual people at all. Now, I have had this reaction to very well-loved and major award-winning stories, so I know this isn’t any kind of objective measure of quality, it’s just what I happen to like.

And The Quantum Magician definitely counts as hard SF. All of the science in it has clearly been very carefully thought through; nothing happens, and none of the characters do anything, without there being a rigorously established explanation as to how they do that thing and why that thing happens. I assume the science is all accurate. I would be lying if I said I fully understood all of it. But, after a thorough sensor sweep, we find no detectable levels of Handwavium here.

But, and here’s the big thing for me, the characters are amazing. The people we meet in this book are all really interesting and fun to spend some of your time with. I wanted to know more about all of them. A lot of love and care has very obviously gone into crafting each one of these imaginary people, and the result is a story, or interweaving of stories, that works on a human level just as much as it does on a scientific one.

So, I reckon hard SF fans will love The Quantum Magician, but if you’re like me and generally steer away from that particular flavour, I would still heartily recommend giving this one a shot. I’m not really qualified to assess whether the characters are better than the science, or vice versa, but they’re both really compelling and good. I’m already looking forward to the next book in the series.

—–

There’s been a lot of really upsetting and difficult things happen in the world since I wrote the last blog entry, and although I feel like I should write some kind of response, I’m also not sure what there is to be said about any of it. There’s a lot of darkness in the world right now, and it isn’t always easy to feel very hopeful.

I don’t have any deeply wise observations or magic solutions. About all I can think to say is that each of us can and should keep doing the best we can in the world around us, every day. We can’t single-handedly fix the big issues, but we can do little things every day. We can also call out the big problems when we see them. I think that’s important, too.

Part of doing both of those things is telling great stories. Let’s all keep doing that, too.

Thank you for reading.

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Beginning/Finishing

Couple of quick-fire topics tonight, as Can*Con approaches and I increasingly feel as though my head may be on fire.

This past weekend we saw the first episode of Doctor Who with the new actor portraying the Doctor, Jodie Whittaker. I’m not going to get too in-depth, partly because ‘spoilers’ and partly because ‘head on fire’ but in short: I thought it was really fun.

Whittaker was great and seemed very comfortable in the role. It will be interesting to see how much of her manic energy level will be a temporary artifact of the regeneration process and how much will be a permanent element of the character. Either way, it was a treat to watch, I thought the new cast looked like they will be fun and bring a variety of different perspectives on travelling around with an itinerant mad scientist.

I have seen some criticisms of the episode arguing that it was an overly simple plot and not grand enough for the introduction of a new Doctor. I agree that it was a pretty basic story, but I applaud the decision for a couple reasons. First, although I have enjoyed the last few seasons of the show, it is also true that I have found the increasingly labyrinthine and obscure season-long puzzle arcs to be less and less charming. A season that isn’t trying quite so hard to weave an intricate mystery out of a bunch of enigmatic hints and just has some straight-ahead tales will be very welcome.

I also think it was a wise move on the part of the writers, because it would have been reasonable to anticipate a bunch of new viewers tuning in for this one. You want something accessible, not something that requires exhaustive knowledge of years and years of Doctor Who lore to appreciate. You could tune into this with very little background at all, understand what was going on, and jump on the ride.

It looks like it’s going to be a good one.

—-

Also, as Can*Con approaches, I achieved one wee little goal I had set for myself. I had planned to finish the third revision of Heretic Blood in time for the convention, in part so that it was ready to pitch to a couple people who I’m hoping to have a chance to talk to, and also because (as I’ve mentioned), I like a deadline. We are juuuuust under the wire, but I can say: Mission Accomplished.

All of the revisions so far have been fairly significant, and although that’s not always easy (what do you mean it wasn’t perfect the first time?), I think each rewrite has made the story significantly better. Right now, I have a story I’m quite proud of, that I will be pleased to share with a wider audience, and that I know not everyone is going to like.

That’s ok. There is probably some Platonic ideal story out there that will please every reader. I haven’t created it yet, and I haven’t read it yet. I think Heretic Blood has its strengths, and I feel confident that people will read it and like it. Some people will find it not their cup of tea, and I’m all right with that. I think the story needs to be the way it is. Pushing it to be something else might eventually work, but then it would be a different story than the one I wrote, and although it might then appeal to people it wouldn’t in its current form, we’d probably lose some of the people who might like it as it is currently written.

You can, I think, chase the broadest possible appeal forever. I think Heretic Blood is pretty darn close to being exactly the story that I want it to be. (It isn’t, by the way, the story I thought it would be when I set out to write, but that’s also more than fine.) At a certain point, a piece of art is what it is going to be, and you have to send it out into the world and let it try to find its audience.

I hope to do that soon.

Thanks for reading.

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Side Jobs

Short one again this week – I’m kind of running around with the start of the new semester, all the things that need looking after, and my consequently declining energy reserves. A new term is always exciting, but there’s so much to do!

And yes, as you will probably already have deduced from reading this blog or my social media, that does mean that I have a job besides that of being a writer. Writing is, in fact, very far from providing a significant part of my income, so though I love it and think of my writing as the most important thing that I do right now, it’s not paying the bills.

Many creatives are in similar situations, a fact that our society sometimes decides is a funny joke or something to sneer at. Recently (as you will no doubt have seen) a couple media outlets tried to shame an actor for having a job at a grocery store. Man, if you look the guy up you’ll see that he’s been working steady, he’s been getting jobs, it just doesn’t pay the bills. Fortunately the overwhelming response seems to have been that no-one should be made into a public spectacle or made to feel bad because they’re working a couple jobs. Just as fortunately, the actor himself seems to have a pretty good attitude about it all and may even have scored some extra work.

So that particular situation seems to have resolved itself decently well, but it is an uncomfortable reminder of the position creatives often find themselves in in society. People often assume that doing art is easy money (people have genuinely asked if I make all my money from my books), that the artists whose work they have enjoyed are set for life, and are doing nothing but work on their art all day every day. Would that it were true.

The odds are very good that your favourite writer has at least a side job or two. That singer you admire may be working a full-time job around practicing Russian pronunciation. This isn’t a cry for sympathy, not exactly – everyone has to work and lots of people work more than one job these days. In a lot of ways, creatives are exceedingly lucky to be able to make anything at all doing something they love.

On the other hand, since we (as a society) do like art so very much – and we do – perhaps we could at least not poke fun at whatever work artists find themselves needing to do to earn their bread and cheese. There’s nothing noble in not being able to pay the bills, and whatever work you gotta do, you gotta do. No job is shameful.

It also puts the complaints about artists not having their work be free or the next thing to free in a different perspective. We love art, on the whole. We shouldn’t try to wriggle out of paying the artists.

That’s it for this week – thanks for reading, as always.

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