My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Best Modern Science Fiction (Semifinal 1)

Image Description: The Martian
by Andy Weir
What is the best modern science fiction book or series?    

Our Aug/Sept poll is live. With twenty-two nominations, we will have to do two semifinal polls to narrow down which modern sci-fi will end up on our final poll. And let me tell you I don't envy you having to choose between some of these titles. This is like a restaurant where everything is your favorite.

Remember you may use any criteria you wish for "best" from most fun to most compelling to best written.

The semifinal polls will go pretty quickly. I'll put this one up until late next week and the following one a similar amount of time. Then we'll run the finals to the end of September.

Round two will include:

Snow Crash - Stephenson
Ready Player One - Cline
Never Let Me Go- Ishiguro
Consider Phlebas - Banks
This Alien Shore -Friedman
Old Man's War - John Scalzi
Commonwealth Saga -Hamilton
Honor Harrington Series - Webber
The MaddAddam Trilogy -Atwood
Use Of Weapons - Banks
Ancillary Series - Leckie

Everyone will get five votes (5). The top five names of each poll will go on to the final round. Before you simply vote for your favorite five, consider that, as there is no ranking of those votes; each vote beyond one dilutes the power of your choices a little more. So if you have a genuine favorite–or pair of favorites–it's better to use as few votes as possible.

The poll itself is on the left side, at the bottom of the side menus.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Absolutely Last Chance to Nominate

Since I don't have a guest post that's slated to go up tomorrow and I'm doing about 4 hours today worth of running between old place, new place, and cat sitting places today, I figured I would nudge everyone to take this absolutely last chance to nominate for Best Modern Science Fiction* (novel or series).

I will compile results and set up a semifinal round tomorrow.

*Please go to the original post to vote. It's easier on me and that is likely the only way you will get "seconds."

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Return of Leela Bruce

Image description: martial arts clip art
"And so the ink cartridges should be filled with actual honey," I said into the phone. "And it should drip out of the front of the pen. Like....all the time. Even if no one's writing with it."

I paused while I listened to the voice on the other end. "Yes, that's correct. Messy is okay." Another pause. "Yeah, no I want them to be real gold. Golden pens of dripping honey. Yep. That's what I want. It's sort of an in joke. We're really big on in jokes here at Writing About Writing."

"Attention," I heard over the P.A. system. "Attention. This is Cedrick. Effective immediately all doors in the Writing About Writing compound will be spelled with one O. I have exactly one fan in the entire world, and we will pay homage. If you have to go from one room to another, you will be using the Dor."

I took a deep breath. Apparently that conversation we'd had didn't stick as well as I'd hoped.

"Excuse me," Cedrick went on over the P.A. "Leela he's not expecting you, you can't just go–"

That's when my office dor got kicked off its hinges by a well placed spinning side kick. Leela Bruce sauntered in.

"Can you hold for JUST a second?" I asked, putting the call on hold.  "Hi Leela," I said. "Something wrong with the dorknob?"

"I wanted to make an entrance," she said. She flashed some teeth, but I wouldn't have really called it a smile.

"Technically just walking through the dor would be making an entrance." I pointed out.

"A notable entrance," she corrected.

"Yeah, about that," I said. "From a purely statistical standpoint, literally no one ever has actually waited for Cedrick to show them through the dor, so that would be the MOST noteworthy–"

Leela slammed her hands down on my desk. It split down the middle into two half desks. Both pieces fell inward resting in my lap. The laptop, phone, and desk lamp that were on the desk slid down the incline into the newly formed ravine.

"Are you going to hurt me?" I asked, trying not to reveal that having a jagged desk cutting into my femoral nerve already had.

"Why? Are you scared?" she asked.

"No," I lied. "I'm just trying to plan my day."

"Did you just quote a 90's Duchovny movie at me to try and look cool?" Leela asked. She pulled the half desks apart so that they each fell to one side, sending the laptop and desk lamp flying, and left me sitting exposed with some balsa wood powder, mechanical pencils, and the phone in my lap. I wished very much that I hadn't chosen this day to do some work at my desk while I sent my pants to the cleaners.

"How did you know that?" I asked. "Like three people saw that movie."

"You forget where I come from," she said tapping her forefinger on the top of my head at the word come. "Anyway, I came to tell you that you've done well with the sausage fest. Good work getting women guest bloggers. I'll start writing posts for you again."

"That's good," I said. "Because I was about to tell you that the free ride was coming to an end and it is time to earn your keep."

"No you weren't," she said.

"Maybe not, but I really was going to switch out the Buy One Get One Free sandwich coupons to Arby's that I've been paying you with for Free Coffee with $10 Purchase from Taco Bell. Who spends ten dollars at Taco Bell? Honestly? And then when you came to me demanding answers, I would passive aggressively mention that you hadn't written an article in like two years."

Leela rolled her eyes and walked out of my office.

"When can we expect this article?" I called after her.

"When I'm done writing it," she yelled back.

"What's it going to be about?" I yelled louder.

"Dunno!" she shouted as she left the outer office and started down the hall.

"Will you talk to Guy Goodman about also writing a post?" I shouted.

"NOOOOOOPE!" Leela yelled.

"Okay," I said, sitting back in my chair. "Glad we had this chat."

My phone was still in my lap.  I clicked the intercom button. "Uh...Cedrick."

From the outer office where I could see him (because we no longer had a dor), Cedrick turned and looked at me.

"Can we," I said into the intercom, but then realized I could just talk to him across the twenty feet. "Can we get someone in to fix this dor?"

Cedrick nodded, and spun two tentacles into a thumbs up position.

I clicked to line two.  "You still there? Oh great! Hey listen, along with this pen, I'm going to need a desk...."

This post has been edited by Cedrick the Octorian.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Move 2.0–Working Through the Bumps (Personal Update)

The current room unpacked. A bit cozy.
Image description: Bedroom with a cat on the bed.
So here's the news I was sitting on.

I'm moving again.

Again again. Like for the second time. As in, I just finished unpacking the last of the HBO series DVD's and even before the full shock and lamentation of the lack of a Carnivale season 3 had even reached stage three (bargaining), I was putting it right back in a box to move again.

So there I was in Hayward, resigned to foreseeable future of writing at least my break away debut novel from this tiny little room where I could touch my bed from my writing desk and my bookshelves had another tier of books hidden behind the ones facing outward, when I got the news from a friend of the goldilocks room.

No wait. That's not the right vibe.

The Goldilocks Room™ 

Yes. Much better.

It's a bit more expensive–right at the edge of what I budgeted for (though not "scary" since I took care of the Covered California stuff)–but everything else is fan-fucking-tastic. My commute from Hayward to Oakland where I watch The Contrarian was pretty much 35 minutes from door to door right now unless the roads are apocalypse movie empty. However from Lafayette, other than one particularly harried part of the day, it would only be fifteen minutes. My commute to where I teach will be cut from 70+ minutes to 15-20. It's in walking distance of a BART station and downtown Lafayette. Perhaps the best part for a room destined to be both fully functional groupie threesome babe lair and writing office is the room itself. I'm not exactly sure how the precise dimensions break down, but it's about half again as big as my current room by the math and feels about twice as big when I'm standing in it. And something about volume vs. surface area means I'm getting about eight feet more wall. Plus my roommate is super cool.

So while I am annoyed to literally have to turn around and move again, the opportunity had to be taken. And it's going to be ten kinds of awesome once move 2.0 is completed.

But Chris. How will you ever turn this post into some kind of folksy writing wisdom?

Well, I'm going to stop strumming my banjo for a moment, take this piece of wheat hay out of my mouth and tell the good folks reading that there's an important variation on the theme I've been talking about a lot lately. My life being the landfill inferno it is (that's a step up from dumpster fire, if you were wondering) I've been blowing a lot of smoke about how when the going gets tough, it's good to keep on writing. Your discipline will thank you. Your craft level not atrophying will thank you. And your emotional processing of your personal shitshow will probably thank you.

But sometimes the thing you're writing through isn't a tragic disaster. In fact, sometimes it's harder to keep writing when your life is about to transition in a definitively good direction. Particularly if that transition is going to be good for your writing. If you're about to get a break at work and go down to 30 hours, you might want to wait for that before you start writing. Or if you're about to move into a place with your very own writing office, you might be tempted to just wait until that happens. And in my case, I'll be getting out of a situation where I'm spending 20 hours a week commuting and cutting that down by over 75%, the urge is definitely there to just get myself moved and THEN worry about the writing.

Most of the reasons not to do this are the same whether you're waiting around for great stuff to kick in or bad stuff to kick out. Writing is a skill, and like any skill it will atrophy with disuse. Sitting down to write is a habit, and like any habit you can break it by not doing it. Creativity. Output. Vocabulary. Even smoothness of your sentences will suffer if you put writing aside for a while while you wait for life to either be great or stop being shitty.

But the main reason is that it's a never ending chain. How many times in your life have you not been looking forward to something good or hoping for something bad to be done. How many times have you truly not been in some sort of transition. That's just life. And if you spend the whole time telling yourself you're going to write when this next one thing comes along (and then the next and then the next) you'll turn around and realize life happened while you were waiting for the perfect circumstances in which to live it.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

To Write What Will Never Be Read (Mailbox)

The image finding intern is getting cute again I see.
Image description: a pair of shorts.
Is it worth it to write things that will never see the light of day? (Saturday Shorts) 

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will try to answer a couple each week. I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. I have a LOT of backlogged questions right now because my life is a dumpster fire, but I will try to eventually get to all of them.]

Cathy asks:

I'm starting morning writing - which this morning turned into "on the commute" writing, but it did happen!

One thing I'm finding difficult is the feeling that if I'm writing, it should be on something that I'm working on. That I'm wasting valuable writing time... but writing on an actual story runs into all of the other issues (blocked, lack of confidence, plot problems overshadowing all, etc.)

Any advice on how to convince that part of myself that it is worthwhile writing things that will never see the light of day?

My reply:

On-the-commute writing totally counts! Half the problem with people fighting so fucking hard against the advice to write every day is that they think it has to look like some eighties Grape Nuts commercial where the writer faces a still dawn from a palatial cabin resting within a silvan glade at the edge of virgin pine forest. A gentle banjo joins a piano. You know when you've got it good, writer.

Except no one's life is that serene. Even that woman in the commercial. She dipped her banana in Grape Nuts, stood out at the edge of the lake, and that's when the dilophosaurus attacked. If you can dive into the bathroom with your laptop, hold the door closed with your outstretched legs, write for a harried half hour, while screaming to every kid or spouse who bangs on the door: "Go away! Mommy's working on the great American novel," that totally counts too.

Let's talk about your question though because there are definitely two answers. The first is that it's totally awesome for you to work on something you don't consider to be an "actual story." I'm not sure why there exists the predilection among writers that everything they do must be a part of something that will eventually be published. It's sort of a unique sense among the various artistic disciplines of the non-disposability of their every effort. But really it's okay for you to work on something you don't expect to be published. In fact, probably most of it won't. I should show you some day my stack of unpublished scribbles; I could probably wallpaper a small office building. It's everything from me just playing around to things I thought were good and no one wanted.

And then there's Bunnyrats. The less said about that the better. I tucked that one deep into the "Groupies-who-like-threesomes ONLY" drawer.

Musicians practice for untold gagillions of hours. Performers rehearse unceasingly. Painters have reams of sketches that end up in scrapbooks (if they save them at all). Sculptors' studios are filled with mountains of work they aren't trying to sell. Only writers seem fettered to this idea that they need to be working on something that will bloom to audience-awing fruition one day.

This is sort of a problem. A two-fold problem really. I mean it's not just breeding a bunch of pretentious writers who are still trying to shoehorn their poetry from high school into their current zombie love story (although that certainly does happen). But it also leads to a lot of writer's block because everything a writer does feels like it has the ultimate stakes–eventually being seen by the whole world. That's a lot of pressure.

Unfortunately this is reverse polarity artistry. Anti-art if you will. Being so terrified of mistakes that you refuse to take chances is what writing electric toothbrush manuals is about, not art. Some of the best creativity happens when artists are fucking around, mess up, and love the mistake. If a writer is busy not taking chances because they feel the microscope is already there (or worse that they've got to get their half angel half demon goth BDSM sex fiend vampire character from high school into their story) their art will feel stifled and highly derivative.

So when you're not just writing for fun sometimes, not only is the shit coming out worse, but some of the best shit never happens. And you definitely want the good shit. Cause the good shit is...um....the good shit.

So absolutely let loose. Write whatever you want. Write character sketches, vignettes, and stories you will never in a billion years allow to see the light of day. Try to write a story from a point of view of a minor character. Mix two characters from two different stories to see what they do. Have all your characters playing Pokemon Go in a tournament. And know that even if not one syllable of that work ends up in front of a set of eyeballs not your own, you will have learned and developed as a writer as well as continued to cultivate the discipline of daily writing. It's like a piano player practicing. Not everything is a recital, and trying your hand at a little improv for fun is, at the very worst, only going to teach you a couple of things that don't work.

There's a second dimension to your question though, Cathy, and I don't want to leave it hanging. This idea that writing on an "actual" story runs into anxieties. Yes, it is good for a writer to futz around with writing in a way that has no professional ambitions. Just like any musician jams or any painter doodles or any actor does the lines from a movie when they're driving to work. It's good to just do your craft because you love doing your craft. But I also want to tell you....these anxieties aren't going anywhere. Publish seven, eight books–even a couple of best sellers, and you're still going to be worried about plot problems and having confidence issues. I promise. It's just part of putting yourself out there and it doesn't matter if it's your first story or your thousandth.

So let loose with some creative play, but know that one day you and these demons have a date for some serious ass kicking.