Tag Archives: Writing

Back at it

Sunday, I sat down and wrote a little over a thousand words. It was the first work I had done on the current WIP since January, which neither sounds or looks great when I put it like that. In some ways, there’s a similar intimidation factor to getting back out on the road and running, now that the thaw has finally settled in. (Oh no, they said. Another running analogy.)

However, the comparison doesn’t really work because I wrote that 1,000 words in a little more than an hour, which is how it generally goes when things are flowing well. Not to say, at all, that everything was pure gold, but in terms of something-out-of-nothing, when things are going really well, I will be creating about as fast as I can type. Cardio and my running legs take, uh, a good bit longer than that to recover if I’ve been lazy for a while.

So, that was encouraging, although the next challenge is to get into a rhythm with it again, so that I’m writing consistently, instead of just as the mood strikes me on a holiday weekend. If I can do that relatively soon (and my schedule is such that I think I may be able to), then I figure I might be able to get a complete draft of this thing by the end of the summer, just in time for my schedule to get complicated by the day job again.

To the extent that I have a long term plan, it is to continue to produce some stories that are distinct from one another, rather than following my natural inclination, which is currently to write the sequel to Heretic Blood. But, there is basically no point to writing a sequel to a story I haven’t sold yet, so I’m going to (kind of) buy another lottery ticket by working on another story I can (potentially) shop around. I have no idea if this is the right approach, but it is what makes sense to me right now.

I’m also kicking around trying some short fiction for the first time in a long long while, but I’m reluctant to do that if it means putting a bigger delay on getting back to work on the WIP.

All of this is makes for a very thinking out loud, progress report-y blog this week, but there you have it. I will say that it felt awfully good to hammer out a good chunk of creative writing for the first time in a while, just like it has felt great to get back outside and run.

Hopefully more of both over the next little while.

Thanks for reading.

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Broadcasts from the Wasteland

So, this past week I have been fighting a virus and busier than I would like to be at work, and am therefore struggling for content. As a result, I’m going to tell you about the podcast I’m helping make. I didn’t actually get clearance from my broadcast partner Brandon Crilly for this, but what the heck, we’re in ‘soft launch’ territory, it’s either that or my year-late take on Infinity War, and if he wants to fight me I’ll get germs all over him.

So, podcast? Yeah, that’s what I thought. A while back my good friend and fellow author Brandon came up to me and said he wanted to start making one. I thought it was a good idea: Brandon is a great conversationalist and is quickly becoming a deft hand at interviewing. “I want you to be on it,” he said.

Wait, what?

This was unexpected. I mean, I’m always delighted to have a chance to talk with Brandon, and I always find our conversations interesting. I had just never thought about recording them. He explained that what he wanted to do was have the two of us sit down with two other creative people, and have a free-roaming chat about whatever was on our collective mind.

It sounded like a great idea. That idea – mostly through the perseverance of the aforementioned Brandon – has now become a full season of a podcast called Broadcasts from the Wasteland, which we have just soft-launched. The whole process has been very educational, at times a little freaky, and now that the end product(s) are starting to emerge, it’s exciting in that way of, say, diving from a considerable height. Some admixture of fun and terror.

You can listen to our ‘Episode 0’ chat right now at our website here, you can find us on Spotify as well, and although we are not yet up on iTunes, it’s coming. I’m truly very excited to see what people make of Broadcasts from the Wasteland, and I’m very grateful to Brandon for beaming me aboard this lunatic ship.

Thank you for reading, and for listening.

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St. Gertrude’s Story

So St. Patrick’s Day, I did the same silly tweet I did every year about St. Gertrude – March 17th is also the feast day of St. Gertrude of Nivelles, today seen as a patron of gardeners, sufferers of mental illness and cats. I am generally not a St. Patrick’s enthusiast, I find the curious world of lesser known saints interesting, and pointing out that you could celebrate St. Gertrude instead is at least arguably a joke.

This year the tweet kind of blew up for whatever reason, getting seen by (checks stats) 87,000 people. This provided me with the answer to a question I couldn’t help but have: ‘what happens when you have a tweet go (semi?) viral?’. The answer is ‘not much’, but it was fun to watch happen.

I honestly forget where I first read about St. Gertrude, but she’s an interesting figure. She was born in the early 7th century, refused marriage (shaving her head to try to put off potential suitors), eventually entered a convent (well, double monastery) and is supposed to have saved the faithful from both a storm and a sea monster. Regarded as a saint (although not recognized as such until the 17th century), she was invoked for help by people keeping gardens, travellers, and people suffering from fever.

The association with cats appears a very late addition, usually slotted into the 1980s. St. Gertrude was invoked against rodents earlier than that, at least in the 15th century against the Black Plague (spread, in part, by rats), and concern with rodents does make sense for a gardener. In addition, several depictions of St. Gertrude show her surrounded by mice or rats. There isn’t another patron saint of cats, a lot of people like them, and it’s not such a leap from invoking a saint against rodents to invoking her in favour of their classic nemesis (and our companion).

(I did find one article that said (correctly) that most monasteries and abbeys would have kept some cats to deal with the mice, and that Gertrude was known to be especially kind to the ones in her abbey. They didn’t cite a source, though, aside from mentioning the vita of her life in general, and I haven’t ever read it myself. So I’m not 100% confident on that one)

There’s another explanation out there for the mice – St. Gertrude apparently had special concern for souls in Purgatory. (imagine a sort of afterlife penalty box where you serve out the balance of your sins on earth) These souls were often represented in medieval art by mice or rats – so the depictions of St. Gertrude and the mice may have had nothing to do with actual animals at all, originally: they were about her interest in relieving souls from Purgatory, reinterpreted to be literal mice by the later Middle Ages and then to interest in cats even later.

We should note that she’s still not officially the patron of cats – the Vatican has never recognized the connection. But all of this demonstrates a lot of things about medieval religion that I find somewhat charming and endlessly fascinating, because a great many saints ended up getting their patronages due to popular connections first, and then later recognition by the institution. Popular practice was the driver a lot of the time, and people brought their own meanings to their devotions and found ways to get their needs served.

It is also interesting to me that St. Gertrude clearly has a great many authors to her story, and it has been continually rewritten, or at least reinterpreted, over the centuries. Unpicking what is the truth of her life is a puzzle for historians, but it probably didn’t matter to someone in 15th century Holland, looking desperately for help against a deadly disease. Their version was that St. Gertrude would help. It probably doesn’t really matter to the cat lovers who liked my tweet Sunday whether or not Gertrude of Nivelles really liked the abbey cats or not; their version is that she loved cats like we love cats.

Different people with different needs and priorities wrote the versions of St. Gertrude that they liked. I think it’s very cool that we’re still, on some level or another, working on the story of this woman from the 7th century today. It also demonstrates (I think) something else that fits more clearly into a writing blog.

Chuck Wendig wrote a blog entry last week about how, in his opinion, the people who run the Star Wars franchise should split off the movies into a separate continuity (or ‘canon’) from the books and comics, in sort of the same way that the Marvel superhero universe is similarly divided. His argument was (basically) that then writers would have more freedom to do what they wanted without worrying about whether they were fitting in with a lot of previously established (or still to come) canon. They could just write their stories, and not worry about it.

I think when you look at writing in the past, our obsession with ‘canon’ is a relatively recent development. If you look at the stories of King Arthur and his knights, it’s clear that there were a great many different writers across a great many years writing the stories they thought would be cool about these characters, and many of them do not even slightly make sense together. Even when someone tried to create a canon, like Thomas Malory, it doesn’t really work: Malory’s compilation still has two Excaliburs kicking around, and the Lady of the Lake is deeply confusing.

People at the time would have been perfectly aware of this, of course they would. This was their popular culture! But they also don’t seem to have been particular bothered about it, loved the stories anyway, and writers just wrote their tales, and didn’t worry about it.

Obviously this was a very different time, before ‘intellectual property’ was exactly a thing. And I could do a pretty deep dive into why we, as a society, might tend to gravitate towards the concept that there is a single right answer to any question (whether that be ‘what is at the centre of the Solar System’ or ‘did Han shoot first’) and are often uncomfortable with the idea that different interpretations may be equally valid for different people. Even without doing that, I think it is reasonably obvious why we tend to want at least some consistency within our stories, and to want satisfying answers to our questions about them.

However, I do think this gets carried rather too far, with expectations that each and every story set in the same universe has to fit together seamlessly and unproblematically. Heck, the stories we have about our own universe don’t even do that, so why expect it of our fictional ones? I think there’s a lot to be said for writers being able to ignore or at least greatly loosen ‘canon’ in all kinds of popular settings, write their stories, and not worry about it.

I think our stories changing depending who tells them, and who is listening, is a wonderful tradition and a great way to keep them alive. There’s centuries worth of evidence that even if there isn’t an air-tight ‘canon’, people will love them anyway.

Thanks for reading.

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I hate Chekov’s Gun

I recently finished watching the most recent season of True Detective, and I’ve seen some people annoyed about it, and I have some thoughts. They are thoughts full of spoilers, so if you haven’t watched to the end of Season 3, think you might, and care about spoilers, probably just give this entry a miss for now.

Ok, for those of you still here (skipping the question of why? for a moment) – first of all, I thought the acting this season was great and I enjoyed the Ozarks setting way more than Season 2’s LA. I thought the main character’s unreliable and fragmentary memory was an impactful and clever new wrinkle to throw into the show’s established ‘multiple time frames’ format.

Now, where I saw some people getting annoyed was with how the resolution came together, and in particular that the ending violated Chekov’s Gun. I think I hate Chekov’s Gun.

To explain: we did get plenty of hints at something occult going on in the early going, with a Lovecraft reference in the first ep, creepy Blair Witch-y dolls, and a body posed on a stone slab in a cave. That, coupled with how Season One had gone (with some strongly implied Weird stuff going on) seems to have led many people to expect that dark magic was going to be part of the resolution here. And it wasn’t. We also had reason to expect some alarming child trafficking ring, and didn’t really get that either. And at least some of the audience didn’t like it.

First of all, I think some of that reaction comes from people being proud or fond of their solution to the puzzle we were presented with, and not being happy to learn that their speculation was wrong. That’s perfectly understandable, really – no-one likes to be wrong, and most people like to feel clever. However, I’ve seen a decent number of people frame their complaints through Chekov’s Gun thing: basically, that you shouldn’t introduce hints at occult magical things and then not follow through.

I am sure that the original advice behind what became the ‘Chekov’s Gun’ rule was well meant, and it probably applies decently well as a general principle (maybe especially well to a stage production? I’m not certain), but like almost every writing rule I have seen, it shouldn’t be applied as broadly as it is. Especially if you’re presenting a story about solving a problem (which a criminal investigation essentially is) – well, almost every one of those is a story of various false starts, dead ends, and things that looked important and then weren’t. Yes, in the first couple episodes of the season, the evidence for Occult Stuff looked strong. Turned out mostly to be smoke. I don’t think you want to go to the ‘fakeout’ well too often as a writer (or your audience won’t ever believe anything you present), but some misdirection is fine, and presenting the reality of any kind of investigation as a story of all the things we got wrong before we started getting things right is perfectly solid.

There were similar Chekov’s Gun complaints with the last season of The Americans (yeah, spoilers ahead) in which Elizabeth is given a suicide pill, speculation abounds about who will end up taking it or having it used on them, and then … no-one does. It gets buried in the woods as the Jennings flee the country. Again, I thought it worked great. It served to create some tension when it was introduced, and then having it come to nothing was part and parcel of how the whole world of our favorite spies was falling away. Sometimes it really is fine to introduce something intended to fizzle out, or show a road that no-one ends up taking.

Some people also objected that the non-occult resolution wasn’t as interesting. Look, I’m a huge fan of having fantastic elements in stories generally (not a shock, I am sure), but I thought what True Detective gave us this season worked pretty nicely. We saw several grandiose explanations for the murder of one child and abduction of another, but in the end it was a story about a series of reasonably humble human frailties and failings that led to it all. To me, the mundane roots of evil are at least as interesting to me as another abyss of the human soul (such as we saw in Season One) would have been.

Now, I would agree that the two massive dumps of exposition in the final episode came across as pretty clumsy, but it’s hard to see how they could have been replaced without at least another episode’s worth of action. None of this is to say that I thought Season Three of True Detective was perfect, but I think it was pretty darn good, and some of the criticisms I’ve seen of it seem to be treating yet another general principle of writing as an absolute, must never be broken, rule.

Increasingly, I think those don’t exist.

Thanks for reading.

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Getting Stuff Out There

Since I wrote last, mostly what I’ve been working on is trying to find a home for Heretic Blood rather than creating anything new. I’ve just not been successful at finding a regular time when I have both the minutes and the energy to keep working at the new project, so I’m trying to be successful at something else. Querying is a little easier to fit into briefer windows and pick away at when I can, so hopefully I can be at least a bit productive over the next while this way.

That’s not to say it isn’t difficult, because it absolutely is. Finding the right people to query is hard. Writing a good query is devilish. Hitting send is (for me) the hardest thing of all.

It’s kind of silly, because all I’m doing is sending writing to people who want to receive writing, but I also know that they are either going to say Yes or No to my story and, of course, I’m fairly heavily invested in that Yes. I think putting your work out there for judgment is always hard, because you’ve done your best with it, woven part of your soul into it, and then people will either like it or they won’t, and if they don’t, it’s never going to feel like nothing.

It is something common to basically all art. At some point, you put the picture up on the wall, or put the pages in front of someone, or get up on the stage, and you see what they think. That act takes courage, no matter what the context may be.

And yes, absolutely, you can write just for your own enjoyment and never do anything with what you create and you’re still a writer. I take great joy and satisfaction in the act of writing and I’m pretty sure I would do it even if I knew that absolutely zero people would ever read it. On the other hand, I have always wanted to share my stories, and hope that people would like them. It has never been easy, giving my story to people, whether a single individual or sending it off to a professional that I hope will like it.

But, I believe that stories want to be told, and read.

Get your stuff out there.

It’s a little scary.

Your art is worth it.

Thanks for reading.

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Starting Points

Struggling a bit for a topic this week, so you’re going to get something from Evan’s Barrel of Random Writing Thoughts. Enjoy?

Anyway, I read some conversations talking about the starting point for a new story. A lot of very good points were made about starting with the protagonist, what they want, and how they’re going to get it. Or a character, their challenge, and how they feel about it. You establish those things, and then you can start writing. And it makes perfect sense, and is perfectly sound.

On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve ever followed that process. The story that became The King in Darkness started with the ending scene. I had that ending in mind, and built the rest of the story backwards from there. What characters do I need, and what circumstances can construct the path that gets us to that point? Very different process.

For the story I’m working on now (for some values of ‘working on’), my starting point was an article I read on the BBC website talking about how FTL travel is not only impossible with current technology, and current ideas about technology, but is probably just straight-out impossible, even allowing for tech we haven’t thought of yet. ‘Well that’s no fun,’ I thought, and then proceeded to think about how well, if it can’t be done with science, how could it be done? Magic, obviously. That idea, and my hard SF-writing friend’s probable reaction to it, made me smile, and I created all the rest of what I’ve got from there. There’s dragons now. Very different process. As far as I can recall, I don’t think I’ve ever started from the starting point a lot of authors I respect agreed was their baseline for being ready to write. Man, creativity is endlessly fascinating.

And look, none of this is to say that I’m doing it right, or that I’m clearly doing something wrong. The main reason I mention this is just as yet another piece of evidence in the growing case that there is no Correct process for writing, or even a Correct part of the writing process. There’s only what works for you, and what doesn’t work for you, and even that may change from project to project. There’s certainly something to be said for modelling what other artists do, especially if you admire their work or if you feel like you don’t know how to proceed. At the same time, there’s no need to feel constrained by what other artists do, or to feel bad about your own process if it’s different. In the end, all that matters is that the creation happens.

God, that’s perilously close to advice. We’ll stop here. Thanks for reading.

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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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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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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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