Tag Archives: Mind-Gears

Thoughts for a Cooling November

This past weekend I was sick and so I spent a lot of time lying down and thinking, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad. One of the comforts whenever I’m sick is that one or both of my cats usually spends most of the day with me. It’s always good to have a warm presence when I’m not feeling well.

For whatever reason this time it really came across very clearly that one of them is getting old. He can make the jump up onto the bed if he must, but it’s also clearly not something he wants to do. Usually he’ll wait around for me to give him a lift. I remember a leap he used to make, from the floor up to the arm of my oversized armchair, that he doesn’t attempt at all any longer. He’s getting on in years.

So am I. I get sick in ways I didn’t use to when I was younger, I get injured more easily and it takes longer for me to heal. I trained this spring for a 10k and honestly thought that I hit a new PB, but then when I pulled up my race history (because of course there’s a website that tracks all these things), in fact there was this other, faster time from 8 years ago that I’m not sure I can imagine getting back to now. Father Time, as they say, is undefeated.

So, in recent weeks I have, for whatever reason, really had the understanding that I am, on the balance of probability, closer to the day of my death than the day of my birth, sloshing around among the Mind Gears and lubricating them in unusual directions.  It’s a touch sobering, if also more than a bit of a cliché, I guess.

The cat, I hasten to point out, is far from finished being a cat. He still wrassles with his brother and explores the yard and savages his corduroy mouse. He still has most of his usual cat duties to attend to, he just attends to them a little more sedately than he used to, and with rather more naps. I suppose I try to be similar – I know I’m getting older but I don’t especially mind (which is probably just as well), it’s just a thing that I have increasing amounts of evidence is happening. I still have things to do and things I want to do, my writing foremost among those, now.

I’ve worked hard in academia and on being a teacher, and in a lot of ways I’ve done rather well. I’ve studied overseas and delved in centuries-old archives. I’ve taught at universities and helped some students start their own scholarly careers. I’ve enjoyed it all, and still do. I also think (as I consider the passing years) that I may have gone about as far with it as I’m likely to, which is its own kind of somewhat-sobering realization. Again it’s not bad, I enjoy teaching and interacting with my students, but it is another increasingly apparent Thing.

Writing, on the other hand, is something where I feel I can really stretch myself and I’ve been excited with how much I have been able to learn and grow in that field over the past 4 years or so. I have a lot of work to do, but I feel like if academia turned out to be a leap that was slightly out of my reach, this might perhaps be one that I can eventually make successfully. I’m certainly enjoying trying.

It’s November, and here in Ottawa it has finally really started to get cold. We’ve had several frosts and I should probably think about using my winter coat instead of my jacket. Without realizing it at the time, I’ve almost certainly taken my last outdoor run of the season, and I need to get the winter tires on the car. Time rolls on. That’s going to be my excuse for the perhaps gloomy rambly tone of all the above. I think I’ll put a stop to it here.

I should do some writing, and pet the cat.

——

On a completely different tack, I see that Amazon has just decided to throw a bunch of money at a new series based on Lord of the Rings. In a lot of ways providers like Netflix and Amazon have been great for SFF ‘television’ (if that’s really what to call it at this point). I’m don’t know enough about the industry to completely understand why, but it’s clear that amazing new programming like Stranger Things and American Gods is increasingly finding a home in these types of places rather than on conventional TV. If nothing else, it’s wonderful for both fans and creators of fantastic stories to have another potential home for their work.

I really can’t say I understand the decision to do another LOTR thing though. There’s so many excellent fantasy (and SF, and horror) stories that have never been adapted at all that would be really fresh material for audiences to enjoy. I get that anything based on Tolkien is (theoretically) an easy sell, but I also wonder how much his fans are really dying for more when his most popular stuff has had still-pretty-recent and highly acclaimed movies done of it. There’s also the point that Tolkien’s work isn’t exactly starved for exposure, while there’s a lot of excellent writers out there who could both use and deserve a boost.

I mean I know there’s a lot of meat on the bone with Tolkien, and I do understand the marketing thing, and I’m sure it’s way way easier to get a million-dollar budget for a fantasy epic when you can throw that name on it rather than someone the execs have never heard of. I’m sure that in the end I’ll check it out and I hope it’s really good. We can always use more good fantasy. I guess I just think that Amazon might have been able to look a little farther afield and still produced an awesome epic fantasy series, if that’s what they wanted to do.

November. Melancholy and grumpy. I’ll have something in the way of tonal shift for you next week. Thanks for reading.

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Companions

I have a couple not-really-related things for this week. It’s inelegant, but I’m sure we’ll cope.

First, although things have been a little Doctor Who heavy of late, I’m going there again; Orphan Black hasn’t thrilled me so far and I am not the right person to write about Handmaid’s Tale. The series just wrapped up giving us our next-to-last Capaldi story and (one assumes) the last to feature a companion who we really just met, Bill Potts.

The story with Bill’s exit was, I thought, pretty darned well done. The original flavour Cybermen were back and were genuinely disturbing. (Vastly superior to their newer reimaginings, but maybe that’s a whole ‘nother blog) We finally had a story with more than one incarnation of the Master in it, and it went exactly as it should, with the Masters stabbing each other in the back. I’m not sure the resolution really made a great deal of sense if you really think about it, but it’s not hard SF and you probably just shouldn’t.

Bill herself, though, went through quite the ordeal. First shot through the chest, then isolated from the Doctor for like ten years in a creepy alien hospital, then betrayed by the one friend she thought she had and horrifically transformed into a Cyberman. Oh, and then she died. There’s been some criticism of this (probably not unjustifiably so) because we had a lesbian POC character and she meets a grisly end; this seems to fit into the ‘Kill Your Gays’ trope that many writers are criticized for.

I’m not the right person to write about that either, and I’m not sure how much of a difference it makes that Bill’s consciousness survives, apparently off to explore the universe with the mind of her girlfriend from the series premiere. However that may be, the whole thing is in line with the exits of recent Doctor Who companions, who have of late ended their journeys in spectacular fashion. Clara died, or will, and the Doctor loses his memories of her. The Ponds are banished through time and stranded there. Donna gets her memories of her time with the Doctor wiped out. Rose gets sent to an alternate universe. Of revival-era companions, only Martha leaves on her own terms. Usually, the only way someone stops traveling with the Doctor is if there is some kind of traumatic, cataclysmic severing of the relationship.

It didn’t use to be this way. Ian and Barbara, the original companions, just decided they’d really like to go home. Liz Shaw got tired of being a sidekick and quit. Jo Grant decided to get married. Sarah Jane breaks the pattern a bit – the Doctor isn’t allowed to take her to Gallifrey – but then my favourite companion, Leela, starts it again. She leaves (also to get married, which is a bit ugh), and on Gallifrey, which is a great example of why you shouldn’t worry overmuch about Doctor Who continuity. On it goes: Nyssa leaves to help the sick on Terminus, Tegan just reaches a point where she can’t stand the terrors she has to face, Turlough just goes home.

Adric, of course, dies, but the point is this – it didn’t use to require a cataclysm for a companion to stop traveling with the Doctor. A lot of them just decided to do something else. As I thought about this, I wondered what the reason for the change could be, and I wonder if at least part of it has to do with how we, in the audience see things. We watch Doctor Who and think: ‘If I could travel with the Doctor, I’d never want to stop. Look how amazing!’ It’s fun and attractive to think about in the same way that a lot of fantastic scenarios are fun to think about: selling all your stuff and moving to a cabin in the woods, or an RV, joining the merchant marine, whatever. I wonder if, at least a little, the writers of the current show are putting that essentially fan-born mindset into the characters they’re creating, so that they also can’t imagine wanting to stop wandering around in the TARDIS.

I’m not sure if the older series did a better job conveying the down side of being, essentially, space vagrants, if this is a consequence of the revival show having a (generally? arguably?) lighter tone or (I think inarguably) deifying the Doctor more, or what the reason may be, but it interests me as a fan and it interests me as a writer.

As a writer, the main thing is that as much as we often need our characters to go on perilous, exciting adventures and do nerve-wracking things (that kind of thrilling, escapist experience being a big part of what fiction is for), I think it’s also important to show some of the difficulties with these things. It’s not all a fantastic adventure; it’s difficult to leave the comfortable and familiar to go do something dangerous, and most people can only take so much tension and alarm before they simply can’t do it anymore, as happened with Tegan. People also often just decide that they’re ready to Stop Doing A Thing now, no matter how much they loved the thing to begin with. Time to move on. I think that’s a useful lesson too.

Obviously different types of stories and genres will look at these issues to different extents and get into them more or less, but I think it makes things feel much more genuine if it’s at least a minor part of the story. Even The Hobbit, which is basically a lighthearted fantasy tale, has Bilbo fret about leaving home a little bit. We think as fans that if Gandalf showed up on our doorstep we’d be all ‘yes please’, but in practice if someone turned up and said it was time to Go and Do A Thing Immediately, my guess is that most of us would have at least some trepidations, and probably be glad when it was over, and we could go back to the world we understood just a little bit better.

This is not to say that I think the original series handled things better, exactly, although I think it’s less than ideal if the new series continues to have companions only leave for horrifying and/or spectacular reasons. I will also be interested to see what the writers do with the Doctor’s reaction to Bill’s departure, because (based on what we saw) as far as he knows, there was no happy ending for Bill and she’s either dead or stuck forever as a Cyberman. This, for me, is the main problem with always having companions leave mostly dead, kind of dead, or permanently damaged – the Doctor is fundamentally a decent person, and so you’d think after a good run of these he would simply say ‘no, not doing this any more. Can’t justify it.’

In any case, I await the Christmas special with interest and for what little it’s worth I’m sorry to see both Capaldi and Pearl Mackie leave. This season really worked well and I would have enjoyed more stories with the both of them. (Also, again, Michelle Gomez’ Missy.)

—–

Ok, other thing real quick. This is not (I swear) going to turn into a running analogy, but I really can’t escape the conclusion that similar to how you need to warm up before serious exercise if it’s going to go as well as it can, I sort of need to warm up to writing as well. When I first sit down to write it goes very slowly. I write, like, a sentence. Then I urgently need to go Do Another Thing. I come back. I probably erase the sentence. I try it again. Another Thing calls again. This goes on, sometimes, for some length of time.

Then, as I think I’ve mentioned before, there is very nearly an audible thunk from the mind-gears and abruptly, we are in Writing Mode and things flow much more easily. The whole process is a bit mysterious to me and vastly annoying if I have, say, two hours to get some writing in and the thunk doesn’t happen until an hour of Another Thing, but this is how it goes.

This is a consistent pattern to the point that I don’t think I can put it down to mood, state of mind, or the current project. It’s apparently just how my brain works (or fails to) and I’m sure I’m not the only person for whom this is true. No doubt there is, out there, a psychologist or similar brain science person who knows exactly what processes are going on, or failing to go on, in this situation.

I don’t mention this because I have any particular answer or method for improvement, or really any insight derived from it. I mention it because for a long while I definitely added to my stress by worrying over this whole warming-up process, and that it meant I was doing something wrong or not adequately prepared or motivated or whatever. I don’t think it does. I think it just means that your process is your process, and as much as possible you need to just not worry about whether it’s right or correct and just sort of do what works, do what gets words on the page in the end.

When I write, I gotta warm up to it. This is how it is.

This is also fearsomely close to advice, so I’ll call it here.

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I Got Nothing

Ok, so it finally happened. I have no idea what to write for this week’s blog entry. Nothing particularly struck me in things I read or watched on TV in the past few days, I didn’t see any details of the world that hit a strange chord, and I don’t really have any significant news to report.

I don’t have a running analogy.

Writing hasn’t been going great but I don’t have a special part of the struggle that I want to try and dissect.

There’s no episode from my past that I want to ruminate on.

Seven days have gone by since I last threw up a post on here, and a new idea has failed to come chundering out from the Mind-Gears.

But you know, that’s ok. I think a lot of the time I feel a lot of pressure to always be doing certain things. Gotta write X amount. Gotta make a schedule. Need to be in certain places by certain times, certain numbers of times a week. Clocks to punch, boxes to tick, quotas to hit. Got to Get It Done.

And look, all of those things are probably good and useful. I really do think that I do better with most things in my life when I make habits out of them and follow routines. (Thus, doing this blog even when I don’t have an actual topic: because I post something every week and experience tells me breaking routines can be risky) However, as much as it’s useful and important to impose structure on life a lot of the time, to set goals and deadlines and things for ourselves, it’s also ok to just not do it some of the time.

I’m not saying to never do these things. I’m not even saying to usually not do these things. I do think, having kind of kicked myself over not measuring up to various standards from time to time, that it is ok do give myself a pass once in a while. Sometimes, things just Happen or Do Not Happen and what we meant to do or planned to do or thought on some level we should do just doesn’t come together. You can scream about failure not being an option but sometimes, man, that’s just not the case. Sometimes the things we can’t control and the things we can control just don’t shimmy together in that way that allows us to Do A Thing.

I mean, I don’t really know why I don’t have a solid topic for this week. I have long wondered at how my brain works, and why it spits out the ideas it does, when it does, and I guess this is another data point to chart about Not Having A Blog Idea for the longest time yet. I’m not aware that I did anything differently than most other weeks. Maybe whatever obscure formula of thought and experience that usually fires out Ideas has been slightly off lately. Maybe I’ll figure that out, although I doubt it. But it’s ok. For whatever this blog is worth, most weeks I come up with something to write about and I get it out there. This one time it didn’t happen, and it’s ok, and life goes on. It’s genuinely good to have expectations of ourselves, and good for other people to have expectations of us, and good to meet those expectations. It’s also fine, and maybe good some of the time, to not meet those expectations and realize that that’s just being a person.

Cliche as it is to say, no-one is perfect. If we recognize and accept that in ourselves maybe it becomes a little easier to accept it in other people on those days when they just can’t quite Get It Done.

So that’s what I’ve got this week. Thanks for reading. I trust next week, I may even have a topic for you.

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Time Spins On

We had our first real snowstorm here last night and through into today. In general I really do like the changes of the seasons and how they each feel different from the last. When I lived in England, although I loved it, I did miss a winter that felt like winter and a summer that felt like summer. Without the change of season I think things could very easily start to feel all much of a muchness.

The change of season is also, of course, a reminder of time passing, and that got me to thinking. (Which is not exactly a hard thing to do, as you will know if you read this blog very much) Somehow it is not just November, but the end of November, and (cliche though it may be) I find myself wondering where the year went, again. I can’t help but look back and wonder if I could, or should, have done more with it.

I mean, I think I did all right. I finished writing a book and got it published. I shared my stories with some people who hadn’t read them before. I met some amazing, delightful people. I got to teach again. I read some truly amazing tales that I will treasure forever. Heck there are a lot of different artists who I experienced for the first time, or who I ran into new work from, that I feel deeply lucky about that. I started off on a new project that I’m very excited about and will probably have a title for one of these days. I got plugged into some new opportunities that seem as though they might be really exciting.

Can’t help but wonder if there was more I should have been doing, though, and limiting this only to thinking of ‘as a writer’ things (because otherwise it gets Too Big in a hurry). Should I have gotten some more stuff written? Maybe some short stories. Could I have figured out better ways to promote my work to get more eyeballs on it? Were those times when I was tired or shy or both and couldn’t quite hack shaking a few more hands or introducing myself to some more people opportunities that I’ll never get back? Did I write the wrong stuff? I know I missed some chances – how much will those haunt me?

One of the great things about the internet is that you can see how many wonderful, amazing voices there are out there, how many outstanding writers writing outstanding stuff and it is exciting and uplifting and (for a reader especially) tantalizing. It is also a little scary at times because there are so many writers, and of course on some selfish level I do really want people to read my stories, and I wonder if I am doing anything near enough to give that the best chance of happening. The crowd of artists is wonderful, but being lost in the crush, perhaps not so much.

I try to take a deep breath, look at the snow, and give myself a break. First of all, it really is wonderful that there are SO MANY stories out there for those of us who love to read them. I wish I had unlimited time so I could read every single one. As for myself, I’ve done what I can. It’s probably not according to an ideal plan, but I did what I could based on what I had time for (it being, alas, not unlimited), what I had energy for (that not being unlimited either) and what I felt like was the right thing to do at the time. In terms of writing, I don’t know any way to do it other than to write what I’m excited about, and if that’s not the perfect thing in terms of marketability, so be it. I remind myself that I mostly write because it makes me happy, and so I may as well do that.

Hopefully some other people will enjoy it too.

I recently saw a series of tweets from Daniel Jose Older, a writer who seems to be a pretty wise individual, saying that writers (and artists) have to allow themselves to fail. Every project isn’t going to work out, everything can’t be the best thing you ever did. It’s ok. It’s like how I had to learn from my coach that even if you work really hard in training, not every race can be a personal best. Nobody does that. You do the best you can, and it goes how it goes. You write what you have in your soul to create and see what comes of it. Better to spend your energy working on the next thing than picking over the bones of what you might have done differently. If it wasn’t great, there’s probably a lesson you can use next time. Or at least, you Tried a Thing and now you know how that thing ends up.

There is probably always going to be more that could perhaps have gotten done in a particular year. There’s probably always going to be those moments that could have been handled better. There’s probably always going to be ‘what if’s. Part of that comes from (again) having a good imagination, being able to see all those alternative ways things could have broken. Part of it, I am sure, is just being a person.

Time spins on.

We do what we can.

————–

Although I can’t attend (Real Life being what it is), Renaissance Press will be at the Creative Ottawa Nerds Holiday Craft Fair this Saturday, from 10-5. Admission is $5 or 2 cans of food, in support of the Ottawa Food Bank. This is a great cause to support, you can get a copy of Bonhomme Sept-Heures if you want to, and I do incidentally love that the church is named after Julian of Norwich. Details here.

In an amazing act of bilocation, Renaissance will also be at the Ottawa ComicCon Holiday Edition, out at the EY Centre. Admission there is free, and you can pick up all the amazing stuff from Renaissance as well as a lot of other awesome vendors. Details here.

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Momentum

I have hit what I feel to be a key moment in the new WIP, and that it has generated some critical kind of creative momentum. It is now spontaneously generating ideas, or at least that’s how it seems to me. What I mean is that even when I’m not sitting down for Writing Time and deliberately focusing on the book, scenes and scraps of dialogue will pop into my head. I think of it as my imaginary people demanding to have their story told. Both of the novels that I’ve written to completion had stages where they went this way, when the ideas started coming whether I wanted them or not.

I am not in the least complaining. Having the ideas behind the work (if not always the actual writing down of the ideas) coming easily is a wonderful way to feel, especially in contrast to the times when I can’t seem to drag a sentence out of me. This means that even with a relatively full schedule these days, I am making significant progress with a story that I’m genuinely excited about. It is, perhaps, just a tiny bit frustrating when I get a great idea for how to do a scene when I’m meant to be writing a lecture, or a nice exchange of dialogue pops into my head right when I need to be going to sleep.

This phenomenon is interesting at the same time as it is frustrating – although I think of these unsolicited, unprompted ideas being the story writing itself, or the characters telling me their story, obviously it is all coming from me and there aren’t really any other minds or entities at work, but it really doesn’t feel that way when, as I said above, something about a character pops into my head while I’m trying to concentrate on something else.

No doubt a psychologist or someone who understands the physical processes of the brain would know exactly what’s going on here. I doubt I’m the only one who experiences moments like this, when the brain starts firing up thoughts and conclusions on a topic other than whatever we were intending to be focused on at the moment. Certainly I know it happens to me involving things other than writing – thinking about things that I would really prefer to forget, or put aside, that I not only haven’t chosen to focus on but would absolutely choose not to focus on, if I could. Those last can be especially frustrating, particularly when you remember the times when you couldn’t get ideas on something you were interested in. It seems like your brain is being contrary – no, you can’t have what you want, but here’s a bunch of stuff you definitely don’t want.

I don’t really understand why thinking works this way, at times, but ultimately even though I find it frustrating at times, in the end I don’t mind. For one thing, I would never want to do anything that might disrupt my ability to create new ideas to write about, so if it has to be an erratic and nebulous process, I can live with that. If I’m honest, I also kind of enjoy the thought of my characters telling me about themselves and explaining their stories to me, so even if rationally I know that it’s just me talking to myself, I’ll happily pretend to believe in the illusion instead.

I’m not sure how to assess the times when some of these revelations are (or at least seem) genuinely surprising to me – I honestly do have ‘oh, I didn’t know that would happen’ moments thinking through plots and scenes, or ‘wow, ok, I hadn’t realized that about them’ realizations about some of my characters. It does make it seem like there’s a part of my mind operating outside my supervision, which is both fun and slightly disturbing. Again, I know there’s a rational explanation in there somewhere, but I doubt knowing it would really affect the experience, and those revelations can be very exciting, so I think I’ll keep them.

Anyway. However things are happening, at the moment they’re flowing well and I feel like I can have a complete or complete-ish draft of the next book by the springtime, and perhaps spend the summer trying to find a home for it. I know there will be tougher stages ahead so I’m trying to just enjoy the ride for now.

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

————

As much as I’m excited about my new project, this Saturday is the launch for Bonhomme Sept-Heures! If you’re in the Ottawa area it would be great to see you at the huge event Renaissance Press is doing for my book and seven other local artists. Details here.

If you can’t make it to the launch, watch this space for details on how else you can get your hands on a copy. I’m really looking forward to sharing this one with you.

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After hitting Send

At the end of last week, I sent out the first significant piece of the new WIP to my Eager Volunteers to get some early feedback. And then started waiting.

I should make very clear that I totally expected to – among other things, it was a holiday weekend here in Canada, so the Volunteers had better things to do, I sent them a fairly sizable chunk of stuff to get through, and it’s extraordinarily generous of these wonderful people to give me their time to help make my writing better to begin with. I appreciate the heck out of it and it takes however long it takes.

However, that period from when I hit ‘Send’ until I first hear back is always a bit difficult. Time passes, for all the understandable reasons I just finished going through, and I start to wonder what the readers have thought of it. Because, as we’ve discussed, I am just a wee bit prone to self-criticize, and left alone to imagine what people may be thinking about what they’re reading, I tend to start to fill in a bunch of negative stuff. At this point I’m still quite excited about the project, but as soon as I submit even a part of my work for someone’s consideration, I do start to imagine just a bit too much about what the potential reaction is going to be.

I guess this may have gotten slightly worse after shopping King in Darkness to agents while I was trying to get it published – I sent it (or, at least, a pitch of it) out to a people and waited to hear if they liked it enough to work with it. I may have refreshed my Inbox a ridiculous number of times. In all those cases, when I heard back, it was in the negative. Some of them were encouraging negatives, but still, no-one wanted to say yes. Even prepared for it, that was difficult. I mean, you know this is how it works, everyone gets rejections, but they still sting a bit, or they did me, anyway. When I pitched the book to publishers at Can*Con, there was that moment between when I finished talking before anyone said anything where I sat and thought ‘That was awful, and they’re going to tell me to leave now’. Fortunately, one of those publishers decided they did want the book, but I’ll never forget that moment.

This even sort of happens with the writing circle I take part in – every session I read a little bit of what I’m working on, and when I finish there’s those few seconds before anyone says anything. Those seconds are, apparently, where all my doubts live. Oh god they hated it. They can’t believe I wrote that and they’re not sure how to say it.

It’s a wonderful gift, sharing my writing with people, it really is, and I don’t want to create the impression otherwise. I love to write and writing is so much better when people read it and tell me what they think. I imagine that’s true for most artists – there’s satisfaction in creation, but then also in sharing what you did with an audience. However, at the same time, it makes you vulnerable, because you put so much of yourself into your creation that you know it’s going to sting a bit if the audience – in my case, the readers – don’t appreciate it or think it’s good. And the thing is, of course people are entitled to react however they react and like what they like. I don’t hold any ill will towards the agents who passed on my book – they didn’t think they could do anything with it, and said so. But as with a lot of things, there is a difference between what you know and what you feel, at times. I would obviously love it if everyone who ever read my writing thought it was the best stuff ever. It will never happen. I suppose trying to get there is one motivation to keep working on my craft.

At least in some of these cases I do get to hear what the readers think of my work. There are really a lot of people, now, who have read King in Darkness that I have never heard from and I have no idea if they loved my book, or hated it. I hope they felt like it was at least worth their time to read it. I know for most of them I’ll never know what they thought, but when I think about that it’s at least a little frustrating. Was it good? Did you hate it?

Of course there’s no way to improve as a writer or grow as an author without sharing my work, and I don’t think I would want to anyway. It’s just that time after I hit ‘Send’, when my doubts can be particularly loud. So I’m always very grateful when i do get feedback, whether it’s the detailed, insightful stuff I get from my Eager Volunteers, or just ‘it was cool’. I appreciate that more the more I do this.

So if you’ve ever taken the time to let me know what you thought of something I wrote, if you wrote a review or rated King in Darkness on Goodreads or Amazon or where ever, thank you. And, you know, if you have a chance to let any artist whose work you’ve appreciated know, I imagine they’d be just as grateful.

[In the interests of full disclosure, the first of the Eager Volunteers sent me a response and it was, as usual, extremely helpful. They’re awesome.]

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My Companion

So this week I’m going to write about my oldest, constant companion. It is both a wonderful gift and, at times, a trial, but even in the moments when it drives me crazy I also know I wouldn’t change it if I could. This companion of mine, always with me even in moments when it might be best if it wasn’t, is my imagination.

(This is going to be one of those kind of weird mind-rambly entries, so buckle up and/or bail out)

I have always – or at least, as long as I can remember – had a very active imagination. I’m not sure whether a good imagination is something one is born with, or learns to have, although I do know some people don’t have them. I grew up in a house with a very good example of that: my father has basically no imagination. (I write this secure in the confidence that he will never read this blog.) My dad never reads fiction because he can’t get past the part where the people don’t exist and the events never happened. I guess he just doesn’t see why he should spend any time on things that aren’t real. (Which is, to be completely fair, a solidly practical point of view on things) Even though he is deeply, deeply fascinated by World War Two, my mother failed to get him interested in a historical novel about a fictional WWII fighter squadron, because again: not real. Even though you could hardly have tailored a book more specifically to my father’s particular interests, I don’t believe he ever finished it. (I did. It was ok.) (I will read almost any book that isn’t actually on fire)

So I know some people don’t have much of an imagination, and therefore (I assume) not much of an imaginary life. I don’t know exactly where mine came from, whether through the genetic slot machine or learned behaviour – my mother always encouraged me to read and was immensely tolerant of imaginary games that routinely took over big parts of the house – but I have it now and again, for the most part, I regard it as a tremendous gift that I cherish.

I guess it isn’t a huge surprise that a fiction writer has a good imagination, and of course that’s where all the strange things I scribble down come from. A lot of times (as I think I’ve discussed in previous blogs) some fragment of the real world gets plucked up (for whatever reason) by my consciousness and dipped into my imagination before becoming part of a story. But obviously, it all comes from there or through there and as I love to write and increasingly love to share my stories with other people my imagination something I simply could not do without.

It has also given me a wonderful escape from the world and my problems throughout my life. It’s easy for me to wander off into a place that doesn’t exist and explore that for a while when the planet is too stressful or too disappointing or too thoroughly awful to deal with for a while. It’s a great coping mechanism and also just vastly entertaining; growing up I had space explorations and dinosaur Olympics and scientific expeditions and much more all without needing to go anywhere at all. It has let me go places and do things that I’m pretty confident no-one else ever has.

I think in some ways having a good imagination made me reasonably self-sufficient, because I’m very good at keeping myself amused and keeping myself company, or at least conjuring up imaginary people to keep me company. That’s also been a great gift, at times. I also wonder whether being able to spend so much time engaged with my own imaginings, and therefore not needing to interact with actual real people as much, helped make me into the rather shy person I am today. Probably the two things reinforce each other.

There are times when my imagination is not helpful. It has made me an elite world-class worrier. I can think of roughly 1000 worst-case scenarios for any situation or any decision, and experience them in gruesome detail. I can usually think of very, very many possible outcomes to any course of action I might want to take, which is sometimes good, but sometimes also leads to ‘analysis paralysis’ as I pause and consider all the various ways (some not good) that something might work out before doing it. There are times in my life where I know my imagination, and the many maybe-future roads it let me see, led me to wait and wait and wait before doing something, because I wasn’t sure how it would work out, and then the moment to do it was gone and will never come back.

It’s at times like these, or when I am lying awake in the night considering the 437th way that That Thing I Said will lead, inexorably, to my demise, that I can get very frustrated with my imagination, and wish it had an ‘off’ switch or at least a volume button. I have, in these moments, even tried negotiating with my imagination (look, can you cool it for a few hours so I can Get Things Done and then we’ll get right into it) but it is, I am sure, an inherently irrational thing and so they never work out.

In the end, though, if forced to choose I know I wouldn’t change it, at all. My imagination has been my companion for as long as I can remember, and it has made my life an endless amazing, fabulous, and deeply odd place. I’m grateful in many different ways for that, and can only hope it continues on for all the years ahead.

However many there are.

(Don’t start, you.)

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

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In case you have somehow failed to notice the approximately 500 times I have announced this already, here is the cover for my upcoming novel, Bonhomme Sept-Heures.  There’s a blurb for it over in the ‘Books’ section of the blog as well if you’d like to give that a read.

I’m very excited about it and to have the book ready for you to read later in the fall.

bonhomme kindle cover

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The Strange Course of Ideas

This is going to be one of those ‘process’ entries that may or may not be of any particular interest, but I do get people asking from time to time where my ideas come from. A lot of times I just go with ‘my crazy brain’ as a response, but over the last week there was a fairly self-contained example of how the ol’ mind-gears work and I thought I would share it today.

To somewhat set the stage, I had just finished the first round of edits for Bonhomme Sept-Heures and fired the manuscript back to the publishers for the second go-round. My plan was to revisit the project I had started writing last summer and then put aside because I got kind of stuck and had more ideas for Bonhomme Sept-Heures. So much for the plan.

Instead a dear friend of mine posted on Facebook that they had driven through a town with a name that they loved: ‘Easter Meikle Pinkerton’. (A town, by the way, that I have since been unable to find out very much at all about, but never mind) For whatever reason I latched on to that and wrote back a hilarious (not really) observation that this sounded like the love interest in an obscure Victorian spy novel. Another friend commented that I was now obliged to write said novel.

And there the trouble began.

I started thinking about Victorian spies and the first thing I decided was that Easter Meikle Pinkerton should be the protagonist rather than the love interest, because a) it’s too awesome a name to not be the main character b) the ‘Pinkerton – not of the agency’ line only works from the lead and c) a female spy in the 1800s is a pretty interesting character. Also kind of d) I haven’t written a female lead in a very, very long time, and not in anything that I have shared widely, so that’s attractive right there.

Now, I make hilarious (not really) comments like that all the time and most of them don’t go any further than amusing me and perhaps exasperating others, so we now reach the part of the process that I honestly don’t understand. Where a lot of ideas and musings and concepts just kind of flicker and vanish, certain ones set the mind-gears humming away, without (honest) me thinking about it, and then gradually more Stuff that goes with the idea starts getting thrown up from whatever strange subconscious alchemical part of my brain does these things to where I can notice them.

So it was with Easter Pinkerton. I started having ideas about what the general plot of the story could be and in general I like it. I know where Easter lives, I know she dresses as a man sometimes (sometimes out of necessity), has little patience for those who aren’t as quick-witted as she is (which is nearly everyone) and has a Welsh butler (whose name I need to nail down) whose main role in life is to smooth over the social upset she causes. Like most fictional spies she can kill you with a knife (and various other ways) but she’s rather unlike most fictional spies in that she builds model wooden ships. (There’s a reason) I know who our villains are and have a broad sense of how the story will play out. I need to start making a plot diagram to help me keep things straight, and I especially need to come up with Easter’s background. I’m trying to decide how many Holmes references to put in there.

I wrote a very rough teaser/prologue thing and sent it off to some friends to see what they made of it. They were foolish enough to say encouraging things and so now of course I have more ideas coming. I am at that point where I know the mind-gears are fully engaged because (among other things) I’m thinking through scenes as I’m running. (Sorry, reset the ‘days since Evan made a running reference’ sign to zero)

So I guess that other project is getting put off for a while again, even though I do like the idea and (because my brain is crazy) do feel guilty about those characters having to wait, again, while I write another story. On the other hand I think I need to jump on this idea that has me excited right now and get as much of it done as I can. I’m even taking the advice of (yet) another friend to write the bulk of this story now, while I’m enthusiastic about it, and do repairs and edits based on research (which will have to be done) afterwards. This goes against my instincts of How to Do Things, but one of the things that helped the other project run into the sand was realizing how much research needed to be done to get it right, and thus my mind wandered off to other things, so this may work out better. We’ll see.

So there you go. The idea for this one, which I hope I will be able to share with you at some point, came from a fairly offhand comment in the most mundane of places, and for whatever reason engaged the mechanisms of my strange little mind to the point that a story has started to form. I wish I could predict what will set that process off, but I can’t. Perhaps that will come in time, and perhaps not.

Perhaps you enjoyed reading that. I hope so.

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This weekend I am excited to be at the Limestone Genre Expo in Kingston along with a whole passel of accomplished authors like Jay Odjick and Tanya Huff, talking about reading and writer related things for a few days. I’m going to be participating in a couple of panel discussions on Sunday afternoon and will be around the whole weekend, including spending some time at the Renaissance Press table, where you will be able to get a copy of King in Darkness and say hello if you’d like to.

Online registration is still available and you should definitely come if you can!

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Evan vs. Time

Last week I wrote about struggling to get my brain to decide which idea we’re going to work on through the summer. I, uh, haven’t really settled that one yet because of another issue. I have recently started a new job (which is good) but adding it to my schedule along with the other job and things like getting to the gym and other necessaries of life has meant that it’s been difficult over the past while to find time to get writing done on anything at all.

This is all basically all fine and I certainly have nothing to complain about, not really, but I do need to determine where I can rope off some parts of my days to devote to creating new work. Part of the problem is that I am a person who tends to like routines. I like to be able to move through a regular, predictable schedule and know in my mind that ‘it is now time to do X, and then after lunch, do Y’. I also know it’s not particularly realistic to expect life to be that way forever, when one of my established routines gets flipped over, I run around with my head on fire for a while trying to figure out where to put all the pieces again. During that time I’m not super productive.

It takes me a while to see the gaps in my schedule and then figure out what to stick in them, whether a particular chunk of time is going to make sense for going for a run or writing some junk or petting the cat. Because the whole thing is a bit stressful for me it’s very easy to give myself more ‘petting the cat’ time than is really necessary rather than fill time with something challenging. I need to consistently remind myself that although writing sure does take energy, it is a net positive in terms of my mental state and energy level, because of how good it feels to get a piece of it done and to have created something I think is pretty good.

(I scribbled off the skeleton of a little scene in between things yesterday, and I think it works pretty well, and that made me head off to work with a smile.)

Another part of the difficulty with just grabbing a spare hour here or there and getting some writing in is that it often seems to take a while for me to get into writing ‘mode’. I’ve written about this before. When I first sit down to write, I will often spend a significant chunk of time writing a few words, erasing them, writing a sentence, fretting about it, checking Twitter for a second, then coming back and erasing the sentence. Then, and I never know exactly when this is going to happen, there is an almost audible ‘thunk’ inside my brain as the mind-gears shift over into their creative writing configuration and I can start to produce something useful. I have never figured out what the trigger is, and if I ever do I will get immensely more productive. As it stands, it means that ‘just sit down and write for a half hour’ doesn’t always work out as well in practice as it does in theory, because I may spend most of that half hour waiting on the mind-gears.

Going back to the ‘routine’ issue, it does seem that if I have established a certain time as ‘writing time’, the mind-gears do their clunk more quickly. I rather doubt that this is anything particular about my brain and the way it works (although I’m the first to admit that it is a very odd little brain) and that somewhere out there is a very nice person who works in psychology or something screaming ‘OF COURSE’ at their screen.  I also know that finding time for art is something every creative person struggles with, and there’s nothing special happening with me, but this is, after all, my blog and so I guess I’m gonna write about me.

This entry is really just me fumbling through figuring out what works and doesn’t work for having me be a productive writer, as I continue to try to do that more consistently and more seriously than I have in the past. It’s useful for me to articulate all this in writing, as it usually is for me with whatever ideas I’m wrestling with currently, so you get this blog entry today. Maybe it was interesting or useful on some level. I hope so.

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Down here below the line I have something rather more exciting for you – I can now confirm that I will be at Ottawa ComicCon later this month! Renaissance Press will have a table there through the whole weekend, which sounds like it will a super rad couple of days of SFF-y indulgence. I will be at the table on Sunday if you would like to say hi and get a copy of King in Darkness direct from my grubby wee paws. I’d love it if you did.

I also want to thank all of you who came to CAPE in Cornwall a couple weekends back; my spies tell me that a good number of you took my book home with you or had nice things to say about it and I’m very grateful for both. I hope to be able to make the trip down next summer.

As ever, thanks for reading.

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Evan vs. My Brain

This entry is going to be a bit of a ‘me thinking out loud’ one (moreso than usual) so consider yourself fairly warned. However there’s at least some chance this might be useful to other writery types, and so here we go.

With the situation surrounding Bonhomme Sept-Heures relatively static (waiting for additional feedback from Eager Volunteers), I’ve started work on a new project. Or, at least, I’m trying to. The problem is this. My plan was to start working on the idea I wrote about 20,000 words for last summer before setting it aside to do Bonhomme Sept-Heures. I think it’s a good concept, and I think it’s also a reasonably unconventional one, which may help in getting representation for it and a place to publish it.

However, my brain keeps throwing up ideas for this other concept that I’ve had rattling around my brain for about the past 4 years. I do like the concept, but it’s a fantasy story that doesn’t have quite as much of a unique hook to it as the other one does – it’s sort of my take on an Arthurian story. I think it could be a good story, if and when I do write it, but it’s arguably not as marketable and the concept is a bit more pedestrian.

And yet, that’s still the one that ideas keep churning up from the depths of wherever as I go for a run or do a workout at the gym or relax at the end of the day. So I have a bit of a dilemma: should I write the story that I’m having ideas for right now, but will probably be harder to do anything with, or risk losing whatever inspiration it is that’s driving those ideas and try to stay focused on the project that I’m not firing up ideas for quite so readily, but is probably going to be easier to find a home for.

It is of course slightly annoying and bemusing that my imagination works this way – although I can do things to make it more likely that good ideas will flow, I can’t really control when it happens, and sometimes, I can’t really even control what ideas show up. I get what I get, and then decide what to do with it. Some of it gets written up immediately, some of it gets put aside (although I have learned, after losing far too many ideas to my awful memory, to Write Shit Down), and some of it gets discarded. It’s very rare that the idea flow is really under my control, though; even when I was writing King in Darkness and pretty excited about it, I kept getting ideas for the book that eventually became Bonhomme Sept-Heures and books that would follow on after it, and had to take little timeouts to take care of those.

This is, obviously, the kind of the thing that artists have been complaining about since the beginning of time, so I know, and comfort myself to some degree, that there isn’t anything unique about my situation. It is fascinating to me the way the creative process works, apparently mostly uncoupled from conscious direction a lot of the time. Our brains are weird and wonderful things and although it can be frustrating from time to time, I kind of like that I don’t always completely understand what’s going on with mine.

Now, though, I gotta sit that thing down and have a discussion about which goddamn book we’re going to write next.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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