Yes, I took last week off from this. Of course, it’s hard to call it a job if you’re not getting paid, right? So maybe I just typed fewer words or something. Things are late this week due to a variety of family things coming together and happening all around the same time. The hard parts of these are settled and with as good a result as one can hope for in the short term, so that’s a good thing.
YouTube links of wonder will return next week. Unless I decide I’m done with that. Like I said, I’m doing these primarily for my own amusement and some perhaps misguided sense of obligation to my audience out there, all three of you.
I’ve allowed work on NIGHT EAGLES to get bogged down in world-building (don’t worry, I won’t explain a bit of it on the page). But I needed to know a bit more about things so that I could make them transparent. This might sound counter-intuitive and even paradoxical, but I assure you it is not. There’s nothing worse for me than getting to a section of a book/story/whatever and thinking to myself “Wow, you must have done a lot of research.” Believe me, this is not a good thing to have your readers think. Ever. Sure, build a compelling world and know its ins and outs, but do your reader a favor and never explain them except in action or a side line of dialogue as your character gets ground up by the world they find themselves in. Do not explain a damn thing. Trust your reader.
And I was dangerously close to having to explain stuff, because I didn’t know it myself. Which is a sign to me to get back to work on the stuff behind the façade, make sure that it can stand up in at least a breeze, much less a stiff wind. The whole point is to make the reader move along briskly and feel something, not to explain how long you spent lovingly crafting the world and oh yes, that it’s very important that these barber poles are white with red stripes and not red with white stripes. What’s important is that the barber is really running a front for a Turkish crime organization, right? (Yes, I just re-watched EASTERN PROMISES again recently, why?)
The point is to make the world alive on the page (or in the script so that your collaborating artists can make it alive.) The point is not to sit down and talk about the history of this city block for the last fifty years (not unless the story is about the city block in question, I guess.) And I just wasn’t there. Good news is I’m almost there. Though I think I’m going to try a different approach on writing this script, mostly because the last attempts were feeling very stiff and lifeless, enough so that I threw out all but the framing sequence. Going to try and let it run under its own power, as it were.
So, sure, go crazy on world building and research. And then make it invisible. You know, like special effects done right? Seriously, your work will be better for it.
On a side note, having been watching THE VOICE on and off with my wife, I’ve got a few observations about goings-on in that show and the world of art for hire in general. I’ll be brief, don’t worry.
For those of you unfamiliar with the show, THE VOICE is a talent competition. You have four celebrity judges (all singers themselves) picking unknown/semi-pro singers for a team, take them through multiple rounds of elimination and weeks of training/image makeovers/sanding off rough edges and after a few months, you’ve got a winner, crowned The Voice Winner, Season Whatever, and then they go off and sing in Reno and Vegas, maybe tour and are often never heard from again.
The singers who come onto THE VOICE are all undeniably talented, some of them have even worked like hell to get where they are (there is a huge difference between talent and work). The fun thing is that they all are generally more interesting at the start of the competition than they are by the end. Also, the show really seems to reward the vocal gymnastics/technical events side of things rather than emotional power, but that’s another story. See, when these folks come in, they sometimes don’t even know who the hell they are. Oftentimes when they find out, they’re just like any other number of interchangeable pop singers. Oh, sure, they all have individual flourishes and the like. But in terms of quality, they’re all more or less indistinguishable. And, frankly, they’re often indistinguishable from their judges/mentors on those terms. Those rough edges get ground down. Dress a little like this. Get outside yourself. Be more relatable.
However, one of the things that happens, and pardon the technical aside here, happens in what they call the head-to-head rounds. This is where two singers on the same team sing either in a duet (in the first rounds) or their own solo track (later rounds) in direct competition with a teammate. One wins, one goes home. And it’s always a heartbreaking and tough decision. And usually there’s talk about how Xiang had a lot of emotional power or some uniqueness (more often than not, being more idiosyncratic) and Javier was just plain louder and more accessable, connected directly with the audience (more often than not was just more commercial.)
Lemme tell you how many times the singer named Xiang gets picked in that one to one. Uniqueness gets run over by accessibility. Every time. I know, big surprise. This is a competition where they’re trying to pick the winner that the most call-in-voters will love. And that audience is more and more fragmented, so they have to go for the sorta least challenging option. I get that.
Just it’s funny that it’s always a hard choice, but it never really is, right?
Go ahead, read into this all you want. But I’ll be the first to note that I don’t write very challenging material.
In terms of stuff I’m consuming in my off time, just finished Charles Bowden’s DESIERTO, which I’d started reading on a trip and had more or less misplaced until earlier this week. It’s a stunning book, though feels more and more out of time in 2017 even though it’s perhaps even more true than ever. Read the Morrison and Frazer ANNIHILATION, which wasn’t bad, but didn’t feel like it would be anything lasting, really. Re-Read Darwyn Cooke (and friends’) THE NEW FRONTIER which feels even more classic than ever. I really wish DC had picked up the ball and made other creator showcase books like this. But maybe that would draw attention to the fact that the creator is actually more important than the franchise, which is something that is being hard downplayed in Big Two comics these days.
Caught THE VOID on VOD and it was really only okay. As much as I appreciated the commitment to practical effects (IE rubber monsters and fake blood versus CG models and the like) the story was too scattered, as well as the debts being paid to multiple inspirations in the field. Picking one main line would have suited them better. Still, I want to see what they go on to. There were some genuinely freaky moments and a real sense of place due to the nature of the effects. That same night I watched THE BABADOOK (on the recommendation of my son) and wow did that one hit it out of the park. Highest recommendation on this, if you like psychological horror that is heavy on the psychology and inference and very low on the fountains of gore. Nice to see that good horror is still being made. Believe me, there’s a lot on Netflix that gets labeled as horror, but just comes out as trying too hard, never delivering.
No secret to the title this week, just the track I was listening to when I got to work, by Yellow Magic Orchestra (in 1979!)
Last week was a bit more wheel-spinning than I’d like. Trying to get back on track, but I did turn over a few interesting things in the process. All of this research is pointing towards THE FUTURE AMERICA and the three story introductory one-shots I’m writing for it, so if you see a common theme, good for you!
First off, we have a look at the Abel Archer exercise that almost caused global thermonuclear war in 1983:
The music cues for this are outstanding, even if they’re anachronistic at times (“Two Tribes” wasn’t until 85 or 86, if memory serves.) Some nice dovetailing into 1983’s THE DAY AFTER, which is a movie that really deserves its own book, not as a film itself (it’s mostly just okay) but for cultural impact, it was a real turning point, moreso in retrospect.
Here’s electronic musician Suzanne Ciani filmed for OMNI’s video magazine show (I want to say 81-83 or so), designing the sound for Bally’s infamous XENON pinball table. Interesting to see her playing with expectations of female sensuality for an adolescent audience with this.
TWILIGHT’S LAST GLEAMING (1977), directed by Robert Aldritch, starring Burt Lancaster. A lot of this looks like a US TV movie of the week that you’d expect in the late seventies, but about halfway through, things go, well, bonkers. Lancaster plays an ex-Army officer who uses nuclear blackmail to force the US to own up to its strategy behind the war in Vietnam and it doesn’t go well. Is it an accurate historical document? Heavens no. Is it something that’s been cemented into popular myth? You bet.
I designed a vector scan arcade game based on BATTLEZONE that is a story point in THE FUTURE AMERICA. Looks like this:
In the world of THE FUTURE AMERICA, the US is invaded in a Soviet misadventure, most notably Alaska and the Aleutian island chain. Of course, this is a repeat of old history. Go look up the US and Japanese battles over the same territory during World War II. Also, the Aleutians are a lousy place to fight over, but nobody ever said war was a smart idea to begin with. Anyways, this was an interesting design exercise and helped me stretch out some muscles for writing NIGHT EAGLES, which is the story of Toné Akron (then Anthony Wilson) and the men of his squad in the final days of what would be later renamed World War Short.
As for what’s coming up? Actually writing NIGHT EAGLES starts out this week. Need to get a full print quote too, so I can look over paper stocks. This assuming that I print it myself. Considering running a Kickstarter to cover printing and production, but I realize that I’m likely not popular enough to get one of those off the ground. (That’s the secret sauce in a successful Kickstarter, don’t you know? Ssh. Don’t tell anyone. Nobody likes to hear this.) I know plenty of people who do just fine with KS. They also already have a following, and in some cases, their following was built in the early days of KS so their careers are tied to it. Much like when people said “Hey, Radiohead took IN RAINBOWS directly to the internet and it was a huge success, so you can do it too!”) Only, well, they were Radiohead and not just a garage band starting up from nothing. After all this time, I’m basically still a garage band starting from nothing. Sure, I’ve got a handful of friends, and that’s appreciated every damn day. But it’s not enough to throw an $8000 KS over the top. “Why so much?” you ask? Well, taxes, Amazon’s cut and shipping for one.
This is all valuable research and not just goofing around, I promise. Most notably for THE FUTURE AMERICA’s new plan, that being three 48-page one-shot issues. These three stories (NIGHT EAGLES, CRIMEBOT 3000 and THE SHOE) all will act as a lead-in to the main series. Writing these now, at least the first one in full, so that work can start on it.
That’s been most of what’s going on in the last week or so, honestly. I thought about spending this time to rail against whatever, or speak in favor of whatever, but I thought about it for awhile and decided not to. As a cultural critic, well, it’s occurred to me that the best thing I could do is write what I want to write and let other people worry about it. They can argue whatever they want by stripping away context and using a singular to prove a universal. I’m done with that game. Though there are lots of people who can work out a living, or a supplemental living, doing just that. Another voice doing the same thing is precisely not what is needed right now. Different and new work is needed, however. And while I’m working from obvious (and in many cases, plainly stated) influences and antecedents, always try to do something new with it.
Yes, I realize this makes me part of the problem. Have been for a long time.
Back to the future that didn’t happen. See you in a week or so.
1. I’m working on STRANGEWAYS again, and to that end, I’m reposting at least the first chapters of MURDER MOON and THE THIRSTY. I may repost the whole thing because I can hardly see it making sales any worse at this point. Updates Tuesday-Friday with some kind of bonus post Friday. Why not Mondays? Because Mondays are actual blog post days, like today. Here’s the magic URL: http://highway-62.com/strangeways. Reminder that both volumes are available in their entirety at: http://highway62.bigcartel.com. You say you like independent creators, right? Well okay then.
2. Got a story placed last week. Since there isn’t a contract yet, I won’t say where. This is always good news. I will say that it’s in a genre/setting I’ve never worked before, and one that might even be a surprise. The secret content of the story, however, is really not.
3. If you think that writing a science fiction and horror crossover story is a good idea, you’re well wrong (unless you’re trying to sell it as Lovecraftian/cosmic horror.) One of the best things I’ve written is a horror story with a science fiction conceit at its core. Or maybe it’s a science fiction story with a horror conceit. Either way, it adds up to a “this isn’t what we’re looking for” so far. So I find this all terribly amusing. Genre purity is the hill that lots of people choose to die on, and instead of pushing things a little further one way or another, it’s all very much circle the wagons. This, unfortunately, is the kind of conservatism that gets bred in austerity. Gotta hold onto what we have. Can’t expand, so we fight that rearguard action.
4. Came to the realization last week that I’d been functioning at diminished capacity for a very long time due to outside forces, with which you are probably familiar if you’ve read along for any length of time. Now this isn’t to say that this magical reckoning has cured me and I’m up to 100% on everything, look out world. It’s to say that I’ve allowed myself a realization which I hadn’t before. This isn’t magic. This isn’t a lovely little redemption story where a switch is thrown and boom, everything is right again. It’s a brick upon which a foundation gets built is all.
5. Looking at retooling my proposal for THE FUTURE AMERICA to do a series of three one-shot issues (likely double-size but for a not-double price.) Loose plots in place for all of these now, working out page beats/story turns and then to script out the first one. Comics writing is funny because of that rhythm of the page thing (the big trick being to not overload the page.) But, once you have the basic beats down, it’s just a matter of illuminating them in the script, so it’s both slower and faster than prose writing. Anyways, hope to have preliminaries out of the way shortly and then work up a sample based on this new track. And if you’ve been following along, these stories would take place before “Benign Neglect” that being the first storyline as planned. Tentative titles in place are NIGHT EAGLES, CRIMEBOT 3000 and THE SHOE. Toné Akron is central in all three, but the cast orbiting him will be familiar as well.
Ran across a few things online that prompted the following. Bear with me.
I firmly believe that people should write the stories that they want written, that they themselves want to see out in the world. If these stories are that important to you, I believe that you can and will do this. Expecting someone else to pick up that torch, or worse, *demanding* that they do on your behalf isn’t a constructive path. This is not to say that critique is to be abandoned. But to think that another writer will articulate your vision is just a path to heartbreak. Go write what you want. The only person stopping you is yourself. You’ll be happier, assuming that happiness can be created by filling what you see as an artistic/aesthetic void in the world. If you think something isn’t being addressed, then by all means, address it (but also, by all means, make it into a story and not a diatribe or a screed.)
Now if your source of upset is that stories like this aren’t more popular? Well, get in line. If your source of upset is that you can’t make a living writing this sort of thing? Well, I’ll repeat myself (and note that I am not making a living at this either.) If you note that it’s hard work, I’ll nod my head and say “Yeah, now keep going.”
But I believe, unshakably so, that you’ll feel better if you do. A lot better than hammering on someone else’s work because it’s not what you wanted. If it isn’t, then physician, heal thyself.
And you’re right. This isn’t success advice. I would not be so presumptuous as to offer anything like that. I’m in no position to. But I can tell you with stone certainty that the only way you’ll get the stories you want in the world is to do them yourself. Don’t accept any perceived notions of the privilege of talent being a requirement. Talent is largely bunk. Effort counts for far, far more than talent ever will (and if you’d seen my writing when I started out, you’d know this to be true.)
Ah, but blogs are dead, right? It’s all about your free contributions of content to #branded platforms so that you can extend your reach and find like-minded individuals to help broadcast your thoughts, beliefs and most-importantly, your projects.
Pretty sure it’s clear where I stand on all that. If not, well, Facebook wants to harvest your clicks to use you as a product. Twitter would too, if they could figure it out. Tumblr is about the same. Geez, look up one DJ rig on Amazon for research purposes and suddenly you’re swamped with ads for them. Which you’ll never ever buy because you’re not ever going to be a DJ. That’s some good work, algorithms! You’re on the case.
Embedded within this are two announcements. A little more on each.
1. I’m writing a crime/horror novella for Broken Eye Books entitled THE QUEEN OF NO TOMORROWS. Crime stories set in a world that’s going Lovecraftian, but very unevenly. This first one’s set in [DATE REDACTED] Los Angeles, featuring Cait MacReady, a forger of rare and suppressed texts. Her latest project has turned out to be far more interesting than anyone, especially Cait herself, suspected. Now she’s attracted the attention of a group of magician-criminals called No Tomorrows, their shadowy Queen and the goddess she professes to worship. It’s due out sometime after the summer and I’ll keep you all posted on developments here.
2. I’m also working on a comics project entitled 20XX: THE FUTURE AMERICA. There’s a pitch and first script ready right now, which I’ll be taking around to places. Though part of me wonders if perhaps this might be better served with a couple of one-shot issues that tell single stories to help set the stage. I guess part of the question here is whether or not I’m committed to the single issue as a story delivery form. The marketplace seems to really want that, mostly because single issues are used as loss-leader advertisements for the collected versions. Then there’s the whole notion of Kickstarter, which I find murky for a whole variety of reasons. I know. Lots of people use it effectively and without any of these concerns, so perhaps I’m just overthinking things. I do that sometimes.
Note that many of my concerns may actually stem from the fact that it’s entirely likely I couldn’t get this funded, which is a pretty big black eye. That and even if I do get it off the ground, lots of retailers look at KS projects and say “well, those are sales I’ll never see, so why bother to push this, even if it comes from a bigger publisher?” There’s more, but I’m not going to plumb those depths right now.
Oh, I should talk about what THE FUTURE AMERICA is about. Toné Akron is the last man who can’t be bought in a world where everything is for sale.
After World War Short, both Washington and Moscow are smoking glass parking lots. But life grinds along. A generation has been on constant alert for a war that never came, seeking comfort and solace in television and the knowledge that law and order are being dispensed swiftly and without favor. The world is right. They’ve been bought, something that Toné Akron never will be. When one of his last friends on Earth gets blown up on live TV, Toné jumps at the chance to get sprung from the prison known as “The Shoe” to find out why. The first storyline is entitled “Benign Neglect” and it’s about urban renewal, conflicting attempts at molding the master narrative, folk heroics, criminality and letting friendships die. There is, however, a good chance that there will be a series of one-shots following Toné through his fame in the Battle for the Aleutians, criminal infamy in robbing The President’s Banks and how he ended up in the Shoe in the first place (featuring America’s Top Cop and CrimeBot 3000). Like I said, I’m exploring options on this, and I want to make sure that the story (and storytelling by Jok and Estudio Haus) get a shot at a wide audience, and maybe even a chance of paying back production costs (hence my looking at KS.)
There’s been other work, mostly short stories for a few anthologies (which also falls under the umbrella of putting up your content to fill out someone else’s platform in return for greater visibility–and maybe some payment.) This is what it is. Most of my best short story work (if I do say so myself) hasn’t been bought, and likely won’t ever be, especially if I get a bunch of them together and self-publish. It’s weird, huh, how short story markets don’t want “reprints” even if none of them have really been read. I know. Legal definitions and such.
Otherwise, what’s going on? Things on a general upward trendline, at least outside work. And really, even inside, given that THE QUEEN OF NO TOMORROWS is actually happening. Maybe there’ll even be a series of them, plenty of territory to work over.
Winter’s almost over, flowers are opening and the hills are green, maybe to be so for a few more weeks.
It’s that season again. The trees are being steadily shorn of leaves, but the grass beneath them grows, having slept out the summer. The pumpkins are being put away, whether in pieces after vandalism or whole and unloved past their expiration date. It’s November. It’s that time.
National Novel Writing Month is upon us again. Steel your souls against the waves of advice and unrelenting encouragement. Be ready, for they are legion and will not be stemmed so easily. Their teeth want your flesh, your attention and your belief. They want what power you have to give and take it for themselves.
Let me state my caveat and then get on with the supper. If NaNoWriMo is what gets you going and writing, then that’s wonderful. I mean that will all sincerity. You may not believe it, but it’s absolutely true. I remain method-agnostic in this process. If this event gets you moving, great. If writing fanfiction gets you moving, then great. I’m only conflating the two by way of convenience, though I’m sure that a lot more fanfiction will be written this month than in others.
All this said, the event itself is something that I don’t participate in, for a variety of reasons. Firstly in that it is a perfect growth medium for disappointment. The novel that is written (even the novel that is just drafted) in a month is in all likelihood not one worth reading. There will be exceptions to this. But I bet in all of them, there was extensive revision taking significantly longer than a month to execute. The truth of it is, you will not draft a novel in a month.
I have been writing for a long time, some of that even professionally. I wrote the first draft of my first novel over a period of about six months in 1991. The spine of the plot was a screenplay that I drafted in about three weeks previous to that. (Hint: it was not good at all.) When I was rolling on the co/ghost-writing thing, I was working on plot for around a month and doing 400 pages of draft in 3. That wasn’t every working hour of every day, sure. But I doubt I could have doubled efficiency, much less tripled it.
This month, if I am lucky and my efforts pay off, I’ll finish about a hundred pages of novella (of course, that means writing one hundred and fifty plus and throwing out stuff wholesale.) It will require revision after the fact. I’ve had practice. Yes, I have external complications, which is why I’m tempering expectation.
You should temper your expectation too, lest it become an Everest that you can’t climb without training and equipment (one of these is literal, one metaphor.) If you don’t have real-world concerns dogging you, then great, ramp up expectation. I am not in that position. My obligations are many and often some get short shrift (thinking that self-care ends up in that category.)
If you want to participate in NaNoWriMo, then do so. Don’t expect a compelling result at the end of it. Expect that you’ll have a much shorter piece that with some work will be worth reading. Be pleased with that.
Fend off the bromides and anodyne of helpful advice accounts. Be particularly wary of anything that smells of snake oil and just wants your money. Be wary of the free advice that is not prefaced in bold type with “This is what worked for me, and I can only guarantee that it worked for me.” Be distrustful of success advice, or those who tell you that you can have a #1 bestseller in your category on Amazon if you game the system like so. Those books are worthless. Leaning on bestseller status isn’t worth it, and gets you far fewer returns than you think it does. Beware the writer as best friend and the cult of personality. Shunning it is a good plan altogether.
Success advice is your enemy. You might crave it. I did. I still do. I would love to have a life coach tell me something other than “keep rolling the rock up the hill” or “the rock only rolls downhill if you push it downhill.” Seriously. If you step away from writing for a day or three, you’re not a bad writer. You’re not even a bad person. If you have real life demands then honor those. Because your real life is just that (but be careful to know which demands are genuine and which are manufactured at best or pure distraction at worst.)
And know that being a writer is not a glorious profession. It doesn’t make you smarter or better or more honest or authentic. It. Does. Not. The attention of others is good right up until the moment that it becomes bad (and I’ve seen this pursuit burn up some folks right to ash – again, this includes myself.) Being a writer does not bestow a coat of ermine or even a visible badge that one can wave around to indicate an elevated status. Other folks may choose to elevate you on that basis (just as likely, they will seek to bludgeon you with that pedestal.) Both these are to be considered only on a minimal basis at best.
I know many other writers (and artists, and musicians, and assorted). They are all, to a person, smart, witty, cantankerous, difficult and exceptional. They would be all these things if they never wrote or created another god damned thing in their lifetimes, or even if they hadn’t ever. And, frankly, some of the most successful that I’ve met in these fields? Well, they’re not people that you’d choose to hang out with for an extended period because some of them are (wait for it) just plain bad people.
Please accept my apologies if this is not the comforting boost that you had perhaps sought on this, the month where promises are made that only winter itself can keep. The nights are indeed growing longer and even colder here, finally. The skies are heavy with rain.
You already know if you want to keep to this path or not.
Our supper served, back to more mundane matters.
My wife’s surgeries are completed. However, there is no proof that these procedures will have mattered at all until we go in for an appointment on Friday. So imagine undergoing two surgeries over a couple of weeks and then waiting another out to begin the process. This after literal and actual years of struggle against symptoms and medication that is notoriously unreliable. The frayed ends of my nerves are themselves worn down to invisible and fractally-complicated patterns, all quite tender.
I’m just waiting this out, as is she.
As alluded-to above, I’ll be doing the draft of THE QUEEN OF NO TOMORROWS this month, hell or high water.
Work on the pitch for THE FUTURE AMERICA continues, but nothing I should show yet.
I bought far too much candy for Halloween and I really should hide it from myself.
Only I won’t be making any deals. I know things don’t work that way. Yeah, there’s maybe four of you who will get that joke.
This week will be big. At least assuming that the insurance company stops fouling up the infomation chain and my wife’s surgical procedure gets approved. Apparently when you put humans into an equation and there’s several chains of information running through them all, there’s a chance that mistakes will get made. Only these mistakes can have some serious fallout.
Been on pins and needles for the last five days over this, but it looks like the insurance approval is just a hiccup. Find out tomorrow. Which is good, because surgery is on Friday. And not simply surgery, but potentially life-altering surgery, at least in terms of symptom relief. I’m not going to give out too many more details. If you’re reading this, then you probably already know the nature of the operation. I will say that it’s actual brain surgery, but about as risk-limited in nature as that endeavor can be.
But I know how things go. Nothing is without risk, even though everyone involved does their best to minimize it. So I’m going to be holding my breath until she comes out of surgery early Thursday afternoon. Sorry if I’m edgy, I hope you understand. And if anyone out there wants to send out positive thoughts/good vibes/the force/manipulation of the simulation/non-sequential transactions with the Basilisk, I’m all for it. I will accept any and all of them, as will she.
Like anything else in this life, this isn’t a race with a finish line, but this time around there are some definite hurdles to clear. The biggest one is Thursday. There’s another two weeks after. Then another two weeks or so after that when we begin to see if the operation will actually pay off in terms of improvement of quality of life. Which is to say, how much of her life she gets back. She’s fought to keep as much as she can, but her condition is variable from hour to hour (and balancing the medicine makes it worse.) Yes, she’s still working, which requires an effort that I can only characterize as “super-human.” But when the symptoms are bad, everything’s bad. Hence surgery, of a nature that one doesn’t just undertake on a whim.
But let’s us clear the first bar before we worry about the second.
In the meantime, I’ll probably be going quiet on most public outlets, perhaps interrupted only by more-cryptic-than-usual pictures from the field. Everything else has been sitting by the wayside. No work on ABYSSAL, which kinda stings (but it needed a little more time to simmer and loosen up). Intrapanel basically shut down (and honestly I flip-flop on whether or not I should even continue it.) The outside world is a vortex of flaming aircraft parts with no discernible eye to the hurricane, so perhaps I should stop watching it for awhile. Plenty to do on the inside.
This Saturday, my 49th birthday, I hope to be driving my wife home from the hospital with the best possible outcome awaiting us. That’s all I want. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.
Practice a little more kindness (but suffer not fools gladly or otherwise) while I’m away. Maybe it’ll be catching.
1) I signed a contract yesterday. Kind of a big deal for me because it’s not something I’ve done very often. Last time was a story for Blizzard Entertainment, which actually has yet to be printed (meaning that it won’t ever be.)
2) It’s for a story titled “The Queen of No Tomorrows” which is a thing that I’ve referred to as with the code-name ABYSSAL. This name might or might not stick. The project itself has changed some since inception (which is a good sign, really.) The title for the story itself isn’t going to change because I’ve become quite attached to it.
3) That’s all I’ll be saying about this project until the story is done. My hope is that it will be substantially done in the next four weeks with plenty of time for revisions. This would put me well ahead of the planned schedule which is fine by me.
I’ve been doing a survey of neo-Lovecraftian literature and I thought that I had a lot to say about it, but as it turns out, maybe I don’t. I spent a lot of time reading it being constantly (well, almost-constantly) frustrated with any number of choices going on, slogging through to the end of stories that I didn’t enjoy or stories that weren’t even stories, each one adding fuel to the fire of what I was going to say about the whole sub-genre of weird fiction. It was going to be a roiling, raging thing, y’all.
And then I gave it some more thought.
And I let it go, like a practiced zen master might with regard to his worldly attachments.
And I felt better. A lot better.
Because, of course, the best criticism of limitations in a genre/mode, of course, is to write it instead how you would write it and not to bow to to expectation. Unless that’s the job. In which case, you take it as the job presents itself.
Seriously, I felt a lot better after embracing this conclusion.
And, to be honest, that issue was one that rested squarely upon just one guy’s shoulders. Me. Expectation, execution, whatever. My irritation with these stories (even when well-executed) lay solely with myself in thinking that they could address the kinds of things that I wanted addressed, that they would do things they way I wanted them done.
That, dear friends, is total folly, narcissist-level delusion. The only one who is going to address things the way you want, one hundred percent of the time, is you. Character, language, setting, even the dreaded “content”, whatever. That set of expectations lies with you. So instead of being angry that so and so wasn’t doing a thing I would’ve done, I should’ve been out doing that thing. Should be.
Understand that and you’ve got some freedom, or at least I do. I can only speak for myself. Everyone’s going to have their own way of doing things, their own process, no matter how addled it may appear from the observer’s standpoint.
So I let that all go, and I’m writing my own.
Two weekends ago, I was up in Portland, ostensibly for the Rose City Comic-Con, but really to visit folks and rummage through bins of old comics and eat schnitzelwiches (though not in the plural, for along that path lies madness.) All three missions were accomplished.
Rose City is an interesting show because it originally started as something completely different. Not too long ago (okay, almost ten years now), it existed as the Stumptown Comics Festival, which was held in the conference facilities of the Doubletree at Lloyd Center. Cramped aisles and the whole room would shudder a little at the passing Max line trains, but a great show. Very much an indie comics show, though you had lots of presence from studios like Periscope (now Helioscope) which embraces both mainstream and independent/artcomix artists.
But it was too small a venue. Or the show had too many artists. Whichever you choose to embrace. So the show migrated over to the Portland Convention Center, where for the first couple of years it felt like it was trying to fit into dad’s shoes. The hall was too big, too cold, too bright. Lots of the independent comix folks felt like they were being left behind and wanted a return to the old show (alongside concerns about expense and the door price eating into folks’ spending money). But instead of crumbling, the show hung on (and I’m pretty sure there was at least one change of management, perhaps two) and now RCCC is a pretty big, pretty busy show. Lots of quality artists and books to see.
Sure, there’s still a lot of indie art show stuff, a lot of two-things drawings, a lot of art that I wouldn’t give a second glance to. But that’s the same as with any comic show I go to these days. I’m sure it appeals to someone else, otherwise it wouldn’t be there. I don’t get mad about it (well, except maybe for the artists who do nothing but draw other folks’ creations and intellectual property but everyone has to make a living, right?) But I don’t have to be excited about it, either.
Bought a foot and a half of books, mostly trade collections of things that I’d have bought from a comic store if I had a good one around. The one I do go to only gets stuff I’m really into if I pre-order it, and I don’t. Mostly because it feels like homework. Mostly because I don’t know what I’ll be up for reading three months after purchase. I know. I’m part of the problem. Got it.
Got to talk to a bunch of folks who I only see a couple times a year now (don’t go to nearly as many shows as I used to, for a variety of reasons.) Met some new folks and even found some cheap old issues of ENEMY ACE for two bucks apiece, and that’s Joe Kubert art in there. A bargain at twice the price. Played some old video games, realized I still stuck ass at SINISTAR and always will, hung out at a barbecue where I mostly just hid upstairs and talked to a friend who has similar crowd issues as I do. I know, I’m supposed to network and when I try to do that, I turn into a gawky ten-year-old again and simply can’t. This is why I’ll never work in the business, right? Maybe I just need more ketamine in my diet.
Returned home after a long delayed flight and watching half of JAWS at Parker’s house and wish it was delayed long enough so I could watch the whole thing because damn that’s one effective movie.
Last weekend’s excursion to Los Angeles was under the guise of research and the Long Beach Comic-con. Mostly what I did was walk around and take pictures. Walking along Olive and Victory in Burbank, taking pictures. Walking around the purple neon of the vape shop at night and taking pictures. Walking around the abandoned Griffith Park Zoo looking for sacred geometries in the cage shadows, taking pictures. Stumbling through LBCC and only taking occasional pictures, but mostly hunting for old Gold Key comics worth paying sticker price for and encouraging friends to do the same. Didn’t stay for too long, just the afternoon, really.
LBCC is a show that’s had an odd transition. Once it was a Wizard World show, the only one for the LA area, and DC/Marvel used to show there (even when Marvel was rarely at big shows at all, back in the early 2000s). Now it almost feels like a local show, with I think Top Cow and Aspen being the biggest publishers with a booth presence. Lots of toys and such, but not the kind I’m looking for at this time. Which is almost no toys, really. Trying to de-clutter the office ahead of some renovations to the house.
Anyways, LBCC seems to have settled into a regional show status, which means it faces competition from a bunch of other, diversified offerings. I’ll probably keep going since it affords a nice excuse to get away for a weekend, but it’s not a show that I am actively looking forward to any longer.
And before anyone gets upset, I’ve done shows for long enough that my days of actively looking forward to them are pretty much over.
Had dinner with friends across from a freshly-restored Art Deco theatre, talked comics and movies and honestly I wish I had more friends up here in the sticks, but I knew what came along with this move when I undertook it nearly ten years ago.
Tried to sleep that night and couldn’t. Up at 4:45am and just packed up everything and went. Drove up to Griffith Park after doughnuts. Listened to a guy and his drone-operator DP talk out a shot which they then actually shot as the sun came up. Something about pterodactyls attacking a kid, they’d add it all in post.
Sunrise at Griffith Park, by the by, is spectacular stuff. Recommend you do it if you get a chance. If you get there early, you can even get parking. This isn’t a joke, either. Lot was full by the time I left at just after seven AM. Still, worth the effort.
Walked around downtown, past the LA TIMES building, past City Hall, to Olvera Street and Union Station, met a friend at Grand Central Market for lunch, walked around the Bradbury Building and the theatre district where I took pictures in dazzling sunlight (last year when I was there, it was all about the buttermilk sky and being obscured by clouds, which gets you very different results. Met another longtime friend for a rummage through the Last Book Store and coffee afterwards.
And like that it was time to get home. Time to start working on a thing. Time to count days. Time.
2016 continues to be an unpredictable mother of a year. I know, for everyone, right? But me and my family have had a few punches thrown that we didn’t see coming, and payments from others are coming due.
One thing that I probably didn’t talk up enough was appearing in TOMORROW’S CTHULHU from Broken Eye. I should have made a bigger deal about it as it was the first thing that I’d sent to an open anthology call (that’s a thing in F/SF/genre) that actually got printed. But I’ll be honest. When it happened, it was a smaller thing than I’d thought, or I thought it was smaller than it was. Whichever. Loss of perspective and fixation on other issues. Let’s hang it on that. Then I broke my arm and sat mostly immobile on a couch, chewing painkillers for about six weeks, watching all kinds of garbage on-demand on the television or via Netflix. I also gained what I say is ten pounds (but was probably less than that.)
With that fixed, I went to work on some stuff, notably THE FUTURE AMERICA, for which I did a bunch of world-building, research and writing (as well as visual design stuff which was fun and a welcome break.) That’s still being worked on by the guys down at Estudio Haus in Buenos Aires. I’ll share stuff when I can.
Then summer hit in full and with that a brief return to San Diego, which probably deserves its own entry some time, as it’s been about ten years since the family and I bailed there and ended up here in the Sierra Nevada foothills. And the aforementioned other stuff coming due that had to be dealt with, yeah. Like dropping almost twenty-five pounds, which leaves me susceptible to periods of more-than-usual grouchiness but my jeans fit a lot better now, so, trade-offs.
So I’d honestly put “Chunked” behind me, that being the story in TOMORROW’S CTHULHU. Though in the process of going through my notes for various project pitches I could do (and spend a fair amount of money on to get a pitch package, but that’s life) as a comic. I’m thinking about this since I’m going to be at Rose City Comic-Con next month, which is kind of a big deal show now. Not that I can pitch comics on the show floor without art. Be real. Only known quantity creators who know editors personally get to do that. Otherwise, shows are too noisy and busy and you don’t want to try and do the publisher speed date while everyone’s watching the clock for show close so they can hit the con bar or go back to their room and scream into a pillow for an hour.
But still, the best way to pass time is to keep busy. So I took another look at “Chunked” which s a story that defies easy categorization, but suggests a pretty interesting world with stuff going on outside the bounds of the story itself (some of which I actually had to cut for the anthology, want to say a couple thousand words, since my natural length in stories seems to be around the 10K mark.) Which, by the by, I’ve found is on the long side of things for most markets. But then I see flash fiction of “up to 100 words” and I shake my head sadly because I simply can’t do that.
The world hinted at by “Chunked,” could go somewhere. So I thought about it a bit, and a little bit more. And not just the story itself, but the approach to horror and in particular cosmic horror, might have some legs to it. So I dashed off a couple foundational statements about the possibility and a handful of story ideas and a statement on how I planned on handling this whole world, which was on the cusp of devastating changes. But the changes themselves were seeping in slowly. No armageddon at a stroke because that’s never how it is and it’s not so interesting to me. These transformations might seem familiar on the surface, at least once revealed, but I wanted to look at the kinds of counter-adaptations that would take place in the face of a new reality, even if that reality was submerged and obscured, perhaps even willfully-so.
Luckily, I sent it to the right place. And not just because they said “yeah, we’ll publish that” but more importantly they said “yeah we get that and it’s interesting and there’s possibilities there.” I’m not going to say there was something like physical relief, but perhaps you might understand if I had, as I’ve been working at this sort of thing for a long time, even if you discard the false starts and interruptions (working in digital animation, raising a young family, uprooting, etc) it’s still a pretty long time. So finding a publisher who gets it? Particularly in a field that is in its own way very calcified and conservative in terms of genre expectation? That’s a big deal. Or maybe it isn’t and my career is so stunted and nascent and I just don’t know it.
But yeah, it’s my career. Unlike that genre-mash-up schlock artist who gets to pay $500K back to their publisher because their last book in a three-book contract wasn’t up to snuff. There’s a lot more to say on that, but I’ll just leave the potshot. I don’t like that form, how it leans on other people’s work to boost yours, the easy cash-in, none of it. Look, I could write RED DAWN OF THE DEAD and probably get a whole lotta likes on Wattpad for it. So what. That’s not doing my own work.
And even if ABYSSAL is inspired by other works, particularly those of the dreaded HP Lovecraft, it’s my own work, and it will be told with my own voice. Even if the territory seems familiar, I can guarantee it won’t be. Mostly because my work tends to be about people and the systems they inhabit (and either change or force change upon.) That’s where the action is. Sure, dress it up in whatever genre you want, though that tends to get your “science fiction” called “sci-fi”. Hey, you know what the difference between science fiction and sci-fi is? The tone of derision in the speaker’s voice.
Cosmic horror talking about humans and human systems? I know, right? Weird. Especially since most cosmic horror seems to be about humans discovering cosmic horror and losing utterly. But what if, and this is crazy, what if cosmic indifference was a sword that swung two ways? And what if people found out about cosmic horror and tried to profit from it instead of run from it or go insane? What if it became a fulcrum for stories about humans and not an end in and of itself? Yeah, weird. Because cosmic horror, especially in the old school, was the point, not watching humans deal with it. There’s a longer essay in this, but not right now.
As I said last night, even exhausted and on low blood sugar, I can recognize good news when I see it. And this whole thing is some good news. The first career-wise in some time. It’s always great (and necessary) to hear from friends and colleagues that you do good work. That’s major sustenance when you’re out there sitting on a keyboard hundreds of miles from them. Hey, the foothills are pretty but there’s not a lot of people I can talk to about TOUCH OF EVIL or the psychosexual wonders of 1980’s FLASH GORDON. That feedback is critical, but all the same, you can’t really eat moral support. And while I’m not going to be buying any new Ferraris anytime soon, this is at least a project that I won’t have to publish on my own.
Quick-ish follow-up to Tuesday’s post. The consultation went as well as we could expect it to. Managing expectation is an important life skill and I recommend it to everyone reading this right now. Or everyone in general.
The upshot of things is that my wife will be getting the surgery, barring any surprises, in the timeframe of three months or so from now. This assumes all bureaucratic expectations are fulfilled. This process will require several trips to San Francisco and back (that’s okay, I like SF just fine, though East Bay traffic in the afternoon is murderous.)
I’ll only talk in general terms about the surgery, other than to note that it is actual and literal brain surgery (though non-destructive.) The process is reversible, involving insertion of two probes (since brains are bicameral) to a pacemaker-like device, which should prevent the signals that cause Parkinsonian tremors from actually being broadcast. It will likely mean a reduced medicine schedule (which is good, as any medicines that work on brain functions are rife with unwanted side-effects.) There are minor chances of complication, but taken against possible benefit, the decision is easy. This surgery is not experimental, and doctors have had a very long time to refine the techniques involved.
My wife is one of the toughest, strongest people I’ve ever met. But that does not mean indestructible. She has been through a lot since her diagnosis, and particularly in the last year and a half or so. It is my fervent hope that this brings her a large measure of relief from these symptoms. I’m sure you hope the same thing. I’m looking at this as a positive, but there’s a number of milestones we’ll need to reach (namely waiting out the surgery, but also training and programming of the device and controlling medicine dosage after), none of which is inconsiderable on its own.
In the meantime, I do plan on continuing work, even if I have more important things to think about than fiction at the current moment.
Apologies to all the folks in SF who I didn’t get to see this time out. And maybe not the other visits, either. Schedule’s not my own to control right now.