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

Friday, September 28, 2018

The Mega Massive Admin/Birthday/Self-Care Long Weekend (Meta/Personal)

[CN: Mention of sexual assault at the end (I'll warn you again that it's coming if you want to read everything but.)]

Hi folks,

I think it might be Wednesday (or POOOOSSSSIBLY even Thursday) before you see us officially, although there's a really good chance I'll break down and put something up on Tuesday.

First things first. This blog and my emails are way way WAY overdue for an admin weekend. I've got posts I haven't linked under their appropriate menus going back probably to 2017, proofreading copy going back months, and I just ticked over 500 emails I need to reply to. (That's not 500 emails I need to delete. I already do that as they come in. Those are JUST the ones I decided required further action.) That's with a spam filter. That's with Gmail separating promotions and forums. 500. 

I also need to write an Inside Scoop letter and get an early access post up for my Patrons.

Basically, I'm a total mess, and I'm holding my shit together with spit and baling wire right now. I will remind you all that if you want to write, write, but if you want to be a WORKING WRITER, you're going to have to spend a chunk of your time doing shit that isn't writing.

My chunk is overdue.

I just kept putting it off. We need at least one admin weekend a month not to fall completely apart around here (that's a three-day weekend where I don't POST, but I'm working on blog stuff behind the scenes). It's been almost three months at this point. I wrote through the weekend because I had just had a light and fluffy schedule due to summer school and wanted to get some crunchy articles up when I had time. I wrote through the weekend because I was on a train half the week going east. wrote through the weekend because I was GOING to be on a train (coming home) the next week. I wrote through the weekend because I was on a train coming back home half the week. I wrote through the weekend because I didn't want to run an appeals post after I hadn't posted in several days.

Well, now it's so overdue that I need some extra time to get it done.

Also Birthday!

It's technically tomorrow. And though the threesome plans fell through for the 43rd year, I'm definitely not going to be sitting around doing a bunch of admin shit on my blog. (But in case anyone is keeping score, I will certainly do some writing.)

So that means I'm going to need even MORE extra time to do the admin stuff. It'll dribble significantly into next week.

[Okay, here comes the sexual assault bit if you need to get off the ride.]

Last chance to hop off.
Image: two baby bunnies booping snoots

I need to take care of myself as well.

I also need a day or two away from the constant stream of social media I usually deal with as part of maintaining a page. That may even add another day to my forecast above.

I've not been coy about the fact that I'm a victim of sexual assault. I'm not trying to rehash that for the third time this week. Lord knows talking about it is like digging at a scar––I can't tell if it helps or makes things worse. There have been several assaults that fit into that weird grey area of grudging consent where my wishes were ignored. (And also a suspicious pattern of triggers I've discovered over my life that may have had to do with something that happened when I was too young to remember.)

But there has been at least twice where a clear and unambiguous no was totally ignored by my partner at the time.

There's this Die Form song I can't really listen to anymore. I skip it when it comes up on my iPod and the one time it blasted in a club, I took a step outside. I can listen to most Die Form songs, which is fortunate because all their songs sound kind of similar and I like them, but this song is very difficult for me to hear. It has the line "synthetic flesh" repeated over and over again. It makes my skin crawl because it brings up these crystal-clear memories of saying no unambiguously but it didn't matter. And with her on top of me and me lying there just hoping it would end soon, she started lecturing me about how "passionate" she was and how my reactions were going to fuel her passion and if I would get into it more, she was more likely to have an orgasm. ("Baby can you fake it so this is hot for me.") And I remember she had to repeat herself about a couple of things because that "synthetic flesh" line is really loud.

This week has been like listening to "synthetic flesh" (the actual song is called Doctor X) on a loop for the entire week. It's been....really hard. I've been reliving that moment over and over and trying to reach back through time and handle it differently. I need to step away, or at least engage in a much lighter way.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

The SJB's Fireside Thoughts

[CN: Mention of rape]

There really is a struggle for the paradigm we're going to carry into the future going on in this generation. It's not just in this country––you can see it going on in Europe and Asia and all over the world. Here where I struggle, I truly lament that it falls so predictably on partisan lines.

Because I know the thing that affects whether someone skews liberal or conservative is MOSTLY geography. There are other factors like race that are nearly as important [and always more important in some cases] and socio-economic status. Also about 1 in 20 is going to go completely against all other factors--there's lots of nuance. But geography is the main factor.

That means that the culture war of our generation (whether we are going to be insular and exclusionary or inclusive and listen to voices unlike our own) often comes down to states and even counties––at least here in the United States. You could probably get a gerrymandering map and track it by neighborhoods.

That is a dispiriting thought and one that sometimes troubles me when I'm calling out a whole political wing––that so much of our modern socio-political animus is shaped by where we were born, were raised, and where we are now. Being born in the deep south instead of Berkeley doesn't make someone a worse person.

As a writer and an artist and a human who seems to have some empathy, I like nuance. I like messy. I don't like those neat boxes that no one ever quite fits into. I like hearing people's stories. In a larger sense, I hate partisan lines. I really do know good Republicans. Obviously I have my own slant, but I've never been particularly comfortable castigating an entire political wing as somehow fundamentally more....well ANYTHING but certainly not more "evil" or some shit. That doesn't make me very popular in most groups, but I can't help it.

Yet, when I pivot and see who is being hurt (and so many who HAVE been hurt) by these ideologies and the side of the political spectrum in which such harmful philosophies have found such fecund soil, there isn't any question that this has to keep being centered as the crux of modern issues. Maybe it's complicated and not your Republican Uncle's fault, but it has become unavoidable.

Dancing around the fact that Nazis, white nationalists, white supremacists, fascist ideologies, the kinds of people who send death threats to assault reporters, and a tidal wave of naked racism, misogyny, transantagonism, and homophobia continue to be uplifted, supported, and yoked by one side of the political spectrum is patently absurd. Just as the stomping-footed, red-faced insistence that we are still having a conversation about little more than a 3% tax cut on the rich, the size of the federal government, and a few minor philosophical quibbles is disingenuous to the point of mendacity.

As I write these words, in another window, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is testifying, and bringing back up the disjointed yet crystal memories of my own rapes, and the causal way in which those aligning themselves with the right wing have dismissed, and even mocked, the efforts to have more pointed and precise conversations about consent. It is more and more clear that the leader of the Republican party (a serial sexual assaulter who even bragged about being so on tape) will stand behind the nomination of a credibly accused serial sexual assaulter to the highest court of the U.S. and put him in a position to rule over the body autonomy of people with uteruses. It was one side of the political aisle that refused the FBI investigation and instead went after Dr. Ford hoping to destroy her credibility so they could slam a pro-life judge through SCOTUS. It was side that kept repeating (with the kind of rage she would have been called "hysterical" had she displayed) that her enduring the total upending of her life and death threats and moving twice and legal fees she's not even sure she'll be able to pay and total humiliation because women just randomly do this to powerful men was the worst travesty ever witnessed......for the accused.

Image description: Simple text macro that says "Since women
apparently just make this stuff up to harm powerful men, I wonder why Obama
was never accused of sexual assault?"
Maybe he wasn't hated enough.
Yeah, that's probably not it.
Five posts down on Facebook, open racism is on display by an openly right wing group attacking the criminal character of black men in order to exonerate a police officer who somehow lacked the ability to walk into the wrong apartment and not immediately recognize that the furniture was all wrong, and who then escalated to extrajudicial murder of an unarmed person without assessing the situation. But the conservatives are okay with this because these things always become instantly partisan issues.

The news today has yet another bathroom bill floated by Republicans who claim it is to protect the children, yet they are dismissive of actual claims of sexual abuse and even have open pedophiles running in their party.

Human rights groups, civil rights groups, environmental studies (not the policies but just the actual STUDIES), desire to keep some level of comprehensive health care, bringing up the disaster that would be a policy of "Don't Tax, but Spend Anyway," objecting to inhumane anti-immigration policies...... all these things are reacted to like they are bringing unconscionably left-wing ideas to the table, while Nazis and white supremacists are made into posters for free speech, tolerance, and a painstakingly delicate form of nuance where even getting angry is verboten unless it's white men getting angry (and then it's "impassioned") that they aren't getting what they feel entitled to.

All these have become partisan issues and guess which side is fucking ALWAYS which?

The ideologies and even open written platforms that have been adopted by the right-wing since the Southern Strategy are so consistently hurtful to me and the people I love that I can't tiptoe around the fact that a few good Republicans don't like being lumped in. The faux innocence with which pearls are clutched and the mere suggestion that a CONCENTRATION CAMP FOR CHILDREN, none of whom are white, might not be strictly about immigration and may possibly even be the slightest bit racist has stretched credulity to the point that folks are shocked that even old white men can keep saying it with a straight face. If folks don't want to be lumped in with these political movements that are absolutely enjoying their votes, campaign contributions, canvassing and being done in their names, they need to get their fucking house in order. Otherwise make peace being seen as the party of bigots.

(And they probably want to stop letting cishet white men arbitrate on what bigotry "counts" if they want to convince anyone other than other cishet white men that the results they keep achieving on issue after issue just HAPPEN to have huge statistically racial skewing, but that it's totally this other issue and not a pretense at all....pinkie swear.)

I'm not sure that those carrying the banner of the emerging soul of the Republican party exactly understand how unnecessary this bridge they demand really is. Liberals are younger, poorer, and often a loose confederation of folks who have less institutional, social, and particularly economic power than the white folks who overwhelmingly make up the Republican party (statistically also more likely to be straight, less educated, and men). We're all QUITE capable of imagining economic anxiety and relating strongly to that as an impetus. It's not like half of us are driving for Uber or Lyft because we're saving up for gold filigree dining sets. So when conservatives say that their economic anxiety was more important than the open, outrageous racism, the sexual assault bragging, the wanton misogyny on display in their party's leadership, we pretty much agree with them.

Yep. It was more important. Gotcha. Roger that. 10-4, good buddy. We comprehend.

That's what we've been saying too! Those Republicans who weren't half-way agreeing (and, let's face it, Grand Old Party, very clearly a lot of you were more than half-way agreeing) with the every bigoted thing that was uttered and the literal Nazis on their flank and the white nationalists and the white supremacists, and the pedophiles and the sexual assaulters and and and.....they sure don't seem to be objecting. They've enjoyed these groups not just on their flank but bolstering their political capital, acting as their attack dogs, filling their war chests, radicalizing young white men, and carrying the banner of the Republican party into high office elections.

The concern that this was who conservatives were getting into in bed with wasn't half as meaningful as the promise that specific kinds of good jobs would be returning just for them. (Not the economy boosting "liberal commie" measures like better education, infrastructure improvements, or minimum wage increases, because that's like socialism or something, but that the government would step in and revitalize industries that even the vaunted invisible hand couldn't keep going...just so THEIR economic anxieties would be assuaged.) NOTHING mattered as much as your perception of where the economy might go and the return of a "great" time that was of course about racism and misogyny (because it surely wasn't about the 90% tax bracket and really strong unions).

They were more than willing to look the other way on that "identity politics shit" as long as the bottom line was looking good.

We got the message loud and clear. No bridge needed.

One "side" of this issue has made its guiding star "owning the libs," "fucking snowflakes' feelings," and a brand of "I got mine" smug cruelty so refined that it genuinely seems to take OFFENSE at the suggestion of human empathy.

It isn't that the whole system isn't built on oppressive power structures (it is) or that liberals have their own unexamined forms of bigotry (we do) or even that bigots might have a "D" after their name (boy howdy). It isn't that the left wing is less ridiculous with partisan bullshittery when they are in power.

It's that the right has basically embraced this white supremacist, isolationist, anarcho-capitalist, religious gender essentialism that just seethes hatred to anything they perceive as social justice. They didn't engage in a massive internal struggle with infighting for the soul of the party. They just shrugged and said "Yeah, okay, whatever." Even their vaunted "old guard" leadership all kissed the ring.
  • One side has openly and candidly endorsed white supremacists.
  • One side's leader has made it a point to make sure the country knew that within a mob of armed white nationalists, one of whom committed murder in the name of the cause, there were "very good people."
  • One party leader calls immigrants from central and south America animals, and nations with non-white majorities shithole countries.
  • One party has put white supremacists and literal actual Nazis on the ballot....
  • ....who have won primaries.
  • The leader of the Nazi party LOVES the current leader of the GOP and sees a real opportunity there.
  • One party has enjoyed the political mobilization, organization, and campaign contributions of the KKK, literal Nazis, white nationalists, and white supremacists.
  • And one party's elected officials are now saying openly racist things on the regular.

I want to be reasonable. I want to be nuanced. I want to see the humanity in "the other," even when I'm part of political movements that are othering conservatives. I do.

But the dance is over. The dance where they acted so wounded and shocked at the accusation that the Republican party was harboring some not-so-secret bigotry and then "GOOD FINE UPSTANDING SMALL GOVERNMENT, FISCALLY RESPONSIBLE REPUBLICANS™" fell to the ground like wounded men's soccer players at the mere insinuation that bigotry has become some kind of ubiquitous party value. But it's absurd to keep acting like we're talking about an overbearing watershed regulation or local tax ordinance that is killing small businesses while the elephant is in the room and pressing its foot down on our head.

They either get to elect, endorse, approve of, finance, and follow with no conditions or stipulations those naked bigots with openly fascist tendencies who they cheer for "speaking their mind" and "never being PC," or they get to, with the tiniest hint of liberal-guilt-inducing plausibility, act utterly offended when we suggest that their side of the political spectrum has been taken over by bigots, and they sure do seem strangely quiet about it.

Pick one.

Oh wait....it seems they already did.

And I can't stand by and pretend that the world is an endless honeycomb of nuance while the people hurt by that choice die behind me.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Reminder: Nominations Needed (Best YA book by non cis het white man pre 2000)

What is the very best young adult book (or possibly series?) from 1999 or before written by a woman or POC or member of the LGBTQ+ community?   

Remember what (maybe) you were reading when you were reading young adult lit? We're going to need a lot more nominations and a ton more seconds if we're going to have a poll worth voting on.

This poll is from our Year of Diverse Polls. Please check this page out if you have questions about the narrowed focus.

If it doesn't get nominated and seconded (and maybe thirded) it won't end up on our poll. So check out what's there and toss the worthy a second. Plus we definitely need more titles.

Please go to the original post for rules and to drop your nomination. Come nominate your faves.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Full Steam Into a Broken Future (Help Needed!)

[This article is an appeals post. It has some great insight into the actual numbers and monetization of being a working writer and how a modern working writer can make money before they have a big five contract, but I'm not going to try to "trick" you that this post isn't mostly about hoping you can spare a few bucks a month. I'll limit such posts to twice a month (once in the blog and once directly to social media) to keep down on the spam factor.

As always, if you want to help in a way that doesn't cost a dime, one of the simplest ways is to "like" (or +1 or upvote or whatever), comment, or share this post on social media so that the algorithms that drive them are more likely to show it to more people.]

We've been able to get some really good posts up lately, and keep our schedule going, even between all the train trips and vacations in the last month or so, and there are a lot more really great posts coming. Perhaps even better, I've been able to finally knock some solid word counts out on Triexta. This all happens if you give a mouse a cookie a Chris some free time. The great articles. The great ones to come. The fiction I've been able to work on. The better guest blog posts I've been able to find. All of that happened because of my patrons.

Let me say that again All of that happened because of my patrons.

You can be a patron too--through Patreon

I can't do any of this without you. The amount of work I'd need to do to maintain Writing About Writing as an unpaid gig would mean I could only update about 2-3 times a week, and with a "solid" article maybe two or three times a month. Even now, my usual week is about 65 hours. 35 or so of writing and another 30 of side gigs that help me pay the bills.

But you see what I can do when I am given the time to do it.

Let me show you what the end of the month (and beginning of the next month) usually looks like to me.

Image description:
$2 Deleted, $5 Deleted, $10 deleted, $1 deleted, $1 pledged....
It's tough enough being a freelancer, but watching that end of the month can be extra nail bitey.  (That's when Patreon sends out a message thanking everyone, and a bunch of people remember that they need to cancel.)  Then of course AFTER the payments go through, there's another wave of folks who are reminded that they need to cancel. My income goes down, then crawls back up over the month then drops down again right before I get paid. And if I'm lucky....it'll end up a net gain.

Not every job you can say you will never be sure if you'll take a 10% pay cut or get a $70 raise. Spin the wheel--let's see what THIS month holds!

Currently for September things aren't looking too terrible, but we haven't entered the "purge" period yet.
Image description "September 2018 summary: -3 in pledges, +2 patrons
MOST of this activity is out of my hands. I sometimes see things grow slower or take a slight dip when I'm not able to post as much, but it seems to have a lot more to do with people's lives than my update schedule. (Every time I ask about it, my patrons usually tell me that if anything, I could tone it down a little, and they'd be okay. I'm harder on myself about that than everyone else combined.)

This is why even small patrons are so very valuable. A thriving "ecosystem" of small donors can absorb a lot more of the monthly ebbs (and occasional big donor crisis) without me wondering if I need to cancel my cell phone and stop "splurging" on the good bread.  When my income goes down by 3%, it worries me a lot less than when it goes down by 15%.

My current goal is to have enough money to not lose ground when the individual insurance plans go up (because I'm freelance and have to buy insurance off the individual plan market) as the CBO says they will. Also to not be rocked when my taxes go up because I can't write off things like my office* anymore.

*For values of "office" that include a third of my bedroom where the desk is.

However, there is another cost looming, and it's gonna get serious soon.

When I left my last living situation where I was househusband and had zero expenses (and every penny I made from writing was spending money), most of my shit was recently purchased. That was over two years ago now. My laptop seems to be doing okay and my car hasn't needed any major work yet, but lots of stuff like that is coming. My wardrobe is getting threadbare. My phone died and needed replacing a couple of months ago. My free maintenance package on my Prius expired. A lot of little costs of living are starting to show up that I didn't have to deal with right away and it's raising my "expenses" column. Christ I'm even just starting to run out of the like mega Costco packs of non perishable shit like toothpaste, deodorant, and razor cartridge refills. They aren't things I can just blow off as bougie consumerism. (I'll be the first to admit that when my iPad dies, it might have to stay unreplaced for a long while, but I can't be quite so cavalier about, like, buying some new jeans.) I'd love to keep writing instead of going for that side gig.

So if you like this blog and the writing I do and want to see more of it, please consider a small monthly donation through Patreon.

And of course if a monthly donation isn't in your cards, a one-time donation through Paypal would be fine. I can even give you a P.O. Box if you want to mail a check or send some kind of care package or goods in trade instead of cash (contact me at chris.brecheen@gmail.com). I once got a package from someone who sent me their visual art as "an art for art trade" and it is framed on my wall and one of my most treasured possessions.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

"Why Didn't You Report It At The Time?"

[CN: SA and SA reporting fuckery]

Dear fellow dudes (and a few others):

"Why didn't you report it at the time?" is a rape culture script.

These rape culture scripts act like a well choreographed dance. I say X; rape culture counters with Y. Like how anonymous reporters are never credible and named ones "just want fame/attention"––conveniently tying up ALL reporters with automatic, predetermined levels of incredulity. Move and countermove are all part of the dance.

"Why didn't you report it sooner?" is played like a "counterspell" in a collectable card game when dismissing any accusations over a certain length of time (as if the ones made the next day are taken any more seriously). It is merely THE script that gets used to dismiss any accusations older than a few days. (Just like "this will ruin their future" gets used to dismiss accusations from last night.) It joins victim blaming about clothing choices, citing prior promiscuity, pointing to intoxication, and sudden vigilant concern about a legal burden of proof (which is, unsurprisingly, comically impossible to achieve) in saying whatever it takes to blame and ignore survivors rather than their rapists.

Rape culture ignores greasy-haired sheriff's deputies who gigglingly, mockingly wonder why you're "looking a gift horse in the mouth" when you DO try to report ("because guys always want it and can't be raped, amirite?"), so you just walk away feeling sick and try to move on with your life. It ignores partners who would pick fights about how you no longer find them attractive and wail-cry for hours if you wouldn't have sex every single time they wanted, so you started to just do it...for weeks or months or years...just to avoid that fight. You didn't know what basically anyone else would call that kind of manipulation until you were in your late thirties. It ignores the people who spend years afterwards joking about it ("Ha ha! You weren't taking no for an answer! Ha ha ha."). Because then your partner wouldn't have just ignored a hard no––wouldn't BE the kind of person to just ignore a hard no––and it wouldn't be what you keep thinking maybe it was. But secretly you wondered, as the months went by, and you felt less safe ever refusing because what if they don't listen again. Could you have or should you have said no louder, firmer, been more forceful, gotten angry, risked a fight when they didn't listen and just kept going––taking a physiological response for their answer instead of a clearly stated negative on consent.

Months and years wondering if maybe it was somehow your fault.

Rape culture ignores dismissals. It ignores social censure. It ignores the church that covers it up. It ignores the family that sweeps it under the rug. It ignores the good ol' boys who simply say "He'd never do that!" It ignores an apathetic criminal justice system. It ignores the friends who turn on the reporter. It ignores how many rapists are convicted and still serve no time. It ignores death threats against the reporter. It ignores the victim blaming. It ignores the shame.

Rape culture ignores everything about what it means to report and about what those who do go through. Every. Single. Time.

The only thing someone is revealing about themselves if they ever ever Ever **EVER** use "Why didn't they say anything at the time?" is that they consciously ignored every single story that survivors took the time and energy and revisited trauma to share. Asking that question is the opposite of of a good faith query. Almost none are genuinely perplexed. Its only function is to be a cheap, passive aggressive "counterpoint" to quickly erase the report, dismiss the reporter, and the only thing it really reveals is that they weren't listening the first hundred or thousand times. They don't know because they don't want to know.

And that says an awful lot about about them.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Train Write (Meta and Personal Update)

The sun was in my eyes and the scruff was getting unruly,
but here is a picture from day 2 of the trip home.
It’s been a fantastic couple of weeks.

The train vacation/writer’s retreat has been a huge hit. While I enjoyed myself at the destinations I hit (and was wistful to leave), I honestly could have used a little more train.

Imagine the cowbell skit...but with trains.

"I gotta be honest guys. I coulda used a little more train."

"Chris, you're gonna want that train."

"I gotta have more train, baby!"

I got so much done when was on the train that it kind of felt like the old days before kids and sixteen jobs. The before time.

I’m now scheming all the ways to make Amtrak points so that I can basically take ubercheap visits to everywhere. I probably know a couch I can crash on in most cities I'd go, and if not, I've never been one who needs more than a Motel 6 or Econo-lodge. I can use an Amtrak credit card to pay for everything instead of cash. (Of course, I can’t afford to carry debt, so I’ll have to pay the balance off every month as soon as it's due.) I’m even considering taking all those market research quizzes. (Why no. I don’t particularly care about the price point of yachts. Thanks for the extra half a mile worth of credit. I'm 1/10000 the way to Disneyworld!) I kinda sorta quit the summer school job that paid for this year's vacation, so I'll have to get creative and save up if I want to do more train trips. And I want to do more train trips!

"I got a fever! And the only prescription....is more TRAIN!"

I'm pretty stoked about the work that got done and where WAW is positioned for the next month or so because of it. I got a lot of writing done, including the next week of posts and an extra filler post that is actually kind of good that I can kind of get up some day when everything falls apart. You can look forward to some really solid posts in the near future. Plus I will finally be able to slap up some early access stuff early for my ten dollar Patrons.  If I can keep my hands off of any tempting double books (and I am doing JUUUUUUUUST well enough that I probably can), I can possibly even start in on some of the really long-forgotten sequels like blogging advice, my Skyrim post (which requires advancing in the game and have you ever tried having three jobs a toddler and playing a Bethesda game?), and the conclusion to some fiction.

Let me also tell you what I learned, because it just wouldn't be a personal update if I didn't try to shoehorn in a lesson about writing SOMEwhere. 

This isn't anything I haven’t “learned” a hundred times, but it’s worth saying again and again, especially to any writers who think that anything other than solid, sustained effort (things like a writer's retreat) is going to be the magic formula.

I got a lot of work done. Maybe twice what I normally do on a pretty good day. And I was on that train for six full days (non-contiguous), so you can imagine. I wrote emails, finished overdue letters to (now ex) employers, and knocked out a bunch of articles. I even got some work done on my manuscript. But here's the thing....that's only about thirty to forty pages of work. (I don't write that fast, but even if I did, I probably wouldn't have more than doubled my regular output.) I didn't finish my novel. I didn't do months and months worth of work. I still had to eat and go to the bathroom and stretch and get off the train at the longer stops to get SOME exercise. I still had to sleep. And I could still be distracted by the phone and FB every time we went through some farm or village with a drizzle of cellular signal. Also, to be honest, I wish I had spent more time reading because that's important to a writer too, and I sort of just focused on writing. And not to put to cliché a point on it, but if I hadn't cultivated the skills to focus, I could have been a lot more distractible.

It was lovely and I want to do more of it, but short of locking oneself away forever, any retreat like that is just going to be a few days of good output. It's not going to be all your hopes and dreams come true in one long weekend.

If you want to go on lockdown at a hotel or do a retreat or take a train, that's pretty normal for a writer––especially those writers who have a little bit of money to cover such expenses, but none of that is going to be a silver bullet, and you're not "missing out" if you can't afford to do it. The thing that will get the shit written––ALWAYS AND FOREVER––is going to be that inexorable, dogged determination of output (preferably daily or as close as you can muster) that gets pages slogged out week after week and month after month. No flash in the pan retreat will do that for you.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Nominations Needed: What's The Best Classic Young Adult Book (or series) Not Written by a Cis Het White Man

We need your nominations: what is the best young adult book or series from before 2000 written by a woman, POC, or member of the LGBTQIA+ community? 

Please follow this link if you're wondering why this poll has some particular limitations.

*rips that page out and throws it away*  

Okay, whatever you thought was going on with our poll is not going on.

Forget that.

Just erase it from your mind.

Men in Black flashy thingie yourself. Tell yourself there was a kick ass post that day and you totally loved it…about swamp gas. (Not swamp ass—though maybe a PSA to writers about swamp ass might be useful and um….ANYWAY.)

We just were NOT getting the kind of nomination love we need to run a poll. 

I don’t know if I worded it too weirdly or it was the timing or the day or what but now we’re going to do the really real post. CLASSIC YA. (Classic as defined by before 2000).

The Rules

  1. Please note the diversity requirements above. 
  2. This poll is for fiction written before 2000. (That means the copyright must be 1999 or before.) 
  3. As always, I leave the niggling over "YA" to your best judgement because I'd rather be inclusive. If you feel like The Joy Luck Club is young adult, I will furrow my brow, make an "Erm?" noise, and shrug. (Though you may need to show your work in order to get the seconds you'll need to make the poll.) I'll only throw them out if they get super ridiculous. 
  4. You may nominate two (2) books or series. If you nominate three or more I will NOT take anything after the first two books on your list.  (I will, however, consider a long list to be "seconds" if someone else nominates the other books.)
  5. You may (and absolutely should) second as many nominations of others as you wish. Also stop back in and see if anyone has put up something you want to see go onto the poll. This one is going to have fierce competition. Second titles (and possibly thirded and fourthed titles) will be the ONLY ones going on to the polls.
  6. Put your nominations here. I will take nominations only as comments and only on this post. (No comments on FB posts or G+ will be considered nominations.) If you can't comment for some reason because of Blogger, send me an email (chris.brecheen@gmail.com) stating exactly that, and I will personally put your comment up. I am not likely to see a comment on social media even if it says you were unable to leave a comment here. 
  7. You are nominating WRITTEN young adult fiction, not their movie portrayals. If you thought Flowers in the Attic was a great movie, but you didn't really care for the book, then that shouldn't be your nomination.
  8. This is probably well known by vets of this blog by now, but there will be no more endless elimination rounds. I will take somewhere between 8-20 best performing titles and at MOST run a single semifinal round. So second the titles you want even if they already have one. (Yes, I guess that would make them thirds, fourths, etc...) The competition on THIS poll is going to be FIERCE so please come back and second, third, fourth, and twenty-fifth everything you want to see go on to the poll.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Catch You On the Flipside (Personal Update)

Hi folks,

We're about to go "dark" here at Writing About Writing for a couple of days.

Hang on. Hang on. While I know some of you just felt the icy grip of panic, let me assure you all that you'll still get all the great posts that you're used to (and maybe even a bit more of the good stuff and less fluff)––just slightly out of the order you're used to. 

See, I'm about to lose WiFi.

You see, right I'm now heading home on a train after a wonderful and rejuvenating vacation. I'm currently on a short jump from Ann Arbor to Chicago and this train has WiFi. But after that, it'll be a couple of days on the cross country train that does not. I'll have signal when I'm going through towns or the train stops at the bigger stations, so I can try to keep up with my Facebook Page, but no WiFi with which to upload posts from my laptop.

That's why I posted through the last weekend, and I will post through the next one as well. You'll get the same number of posts, my days "off" will just be this weird cluster across the next couple of days.

The catch is, I'll be writing. The whole time. That's really all I do on trains besides sleep and read, and I'll be clacking away for most of the (almost) three days. So when I come back out the other end, I should have some really good articles to post.

I enjoyed my vacation and loved the train part (I'm really looking forward to the extended writing opportunities on the way back), but I have to say that I could have used a little more train. Both my hosts were great about giving me some time to write, but it usually takes another writer to really GET that my usual diet is six to eight HOURS, and that's too long to be rude to someone who is excited to go do something with you.

Seriously. I have a fever and the only prescription is more train.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Results: Best Young Adult Book or Series not by a Cishet White Guy (2000-Present)

It's been a long time since I've seen anyone kick the crap out of any poll so thoroughly, but there was no contest on this one. Tricksters Duology was all out of bubblegum, it seems.

It's pretty easy to guess where we're going next. Fire up your nomination lobes for young adult stuff from the late 70s, 80s, and 90s and I'll get that going tomorrow. Thank you to everyone who participated in making this poll awesome.

Text results below.

Tricksters Duology - T. Pierce 112 35.78%
Hunger Games - S. Collins 47 15.02%
Graceling - K. Cashore 42 13.42%
Binti - N. Okorafor 29 9.27%
Finishing School Series - G. Carriger 26 8.31%
The Hate U Give - A. Thomas 22 7.03%
Akata Witch - N. Okorafor 18 5.75%
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe - B. A. Sáenz 17 5.43%

Friday, September 14, 2018

Are Snippets While Depressed Writing?

Does light writing while depressed "count"?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will 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. Our questions might look a little "thematic" in the next few weeks since they come from disassembled Twenty Questions posts.]

Jere asks:

I have a srs question.  

Let's say someone has many years-long depression that kills most of their will to ever create any kind of art, let alone clean their house or properly take care of themselves besides absolute basic daily needs.

If the best they can do for actual writing is to make pages of notes in building characters or settings, and small snippets of situational scenes for practice, and they keep doing this for years... does this still count as "write every day"?

My reply:

First of all, I'm very sorry about your depression. I struggle with some down energy that kicks my ass for a couple of days but it just doesn't compare to some folks' struggles, and I avoid the D word. I know that mental illness can affect creativity, daily routine, and even just enjoyment of once-enjoyable things, so I don't want to step in here like I have answers a professional therapist would. I have some advice for writing with depression, and there's more to come after my attendance of Worldcon 76, but take it with a grain of salt as well as whatever level of help you might be able to afford and as much gentle self-care you can get. The best we can do is the best we can do.

"Write every day" shouldn't be prescriptive in the sense that anyone is able to be an arbiter of any particular writing adjacent activity's validity as really real writing, and if it is, you have my permission to snap kick the prescriber in their shin*. In that regard, I am unable to bestow the status of what "counts" and "doesn't count." (And neither will the deluge of comments in various social media [most from those who didn't read the article] telling you that absolutely it counts.)

No one––absolutely no one––has the power to take that judgement call away from YOU, whether they say no OR they say yes. They mean well, and maybe they're assuring themselves as much as anyone, but it's still 100% up to you whether it counts.

(*But not really because I have no authority to grant such permission.)

If this is what you enjoy and what you love and it brings you pleasure or fulfillment, then everyone else can take a flying leap into a vat of fecal matter. It surely counts if you count it. If this is the most you can do because of depression, then it's moot how useful or not it might be, and it might make your mood/outlook worse to be unkind to yourself that you can't do more.

If your goals are to be a famous, well-paid novelist someday then the water might get the slightest bit muddy. Writing these snippets is certainly better than doing nothing at all, but your skill for the parts you are avoiding (like any other unused skill) will atrophy over time, and you'll likely have to step up your holistic game before you start to write anything that you might want to submit. In your particular case, Jere, you are likely to find that you're tremendously good at small snippets, world building, and really neat characters that you've really thought through, but may have trouble tying those together with a cohesive narrative or coming up with a compelling character arc that spans a whole work. And of course that is assuming your depression picks up, moves to barbados, and lets you work for a year.

Imagine yourself as a basketball player who has been shooting some hoops from the freethrow line and the three-point line, and gets into the occasional pick-up game. You might be quite good at sinking shots and decent at the game, but it's not the same as the practice you'd need to go pro. You're going to have to learn to move in on the basket, pass, lay up, and move up and down the court for over an hour. You will be in a much better place than anyone who had done nothing, though.

Then again you'd possibly be really good at micro-fiction or poignant vignettes. Or simply at writing works with strong characters and intense moments but a weak overall plot arc.  (You certainly wouldn't be the first published author with such clear strengths and weaknesses. Shakespeare was generally terrible at plot. If the intensity of each moment weren't so fucking awesome you'd probably notice that except for MacBeth, most of his works drag a little.) Perhaps it might work with your mental illness to consider the kind of writing you work well doing, and not trying to force yourself to be a novelist (or write a novel that focuses on something other than a grand plot arc).

Thursday, September 13, 2018

August's Best 2018

Day three here in Ann Arbor on my Writer Retreat/Train Vacation, and my host and I sort of realized simultaneously that we were going to need to schedule a bit more time for me to be writing. Fortunately, I do still have one bit of end-of-month/new-month business to knock out, so there's one more day of jazz hands to fall back on.

So without further ado, here are best three non-poll articles that will go on to untold fame in The Best of W.A.W.

Also the Best of the Year by Month has now been updated

Hospitalized Part of the reason August was a little rough. Kidney stones suck y'all. Don't stay thirsty, my friends. Hydrate the shit out of yourself.

Won't Someone Think of the Straight White Males? (Mailbox) Every single time I post one of the polls from a year of diverse polls, the comment section reminds me of exactly why it's still necessary. This time, spectacularly so.

10 Addendums to Write Every Day (The Article Some of You Have Been Waiting Your Whole Lives For) What if I told you that you don't actually have to write every single day?

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Your Fallacy is Showing

Counter protesting is ALSO protected speech.

Being angry at someone's genocidal BEHAVIOR is not the same thing as wanting whole demographics dead or forcibly deported based exclusively on the circumstances of their birth.

Right to free speech is not the same as entitlement to venue.

We don't casually debate cannibalism or pedophilia in university settings, so there IS a water's edge of acceptable ideas and not everything has to be chin-strokingly considered.

The "uncomfortable topics" status quo defenders feel the "need to discuss"....endlessly....all the time...in any space.....ever.....predominantly involve the intellectual merits of granting other people their humanity, rather than–for example–their privilege or their own cultures' toxic entitlement.

Protecting oneself and peaceful protesters against an armed group of provocateurs that has demonstrated its willingness to commit aggravated assault and murder (and speaks casually of far worse) is not the same as encouraging people to preemptively harm "someone who disagrees."

Antifa means anti-fascist.

Being a pacifist is not the same as being silent in the face of systematic violence and the armed agents of the state who carry it out, but squeamish about seeing a punch thrown or property damaged––that's called being authoritarian.

Calling everyone you disagree with "Nazis" or "fascists" probably IS counter productive, but there are actual swastika-sporting, zeig-heiling, blood-and-soil-shouting, neo and literal NAZIS marching in the streets. Really. Plus these days they're joined by other white supremacists, ethno-stateists, bleeding edgelords who are so far into their privilege they think their words have no consequences, and a conservative party who doesn't give a shit if the leader of the Republican party eggs them on as long as there's the promise of a payoff (in the form of a better economy). So sometimes the rank and file progressives might use metonymy when we're not doing interviews for NPR or on the Oxford debate team. I sure hope to see all these pedant warriors the next time a 3% progressive tax increase on the richest 1% is called socialism because that shit gets said by national level politicians ON NPR all the goddamned time.

In this moment in history, only one "side" has a body count in the name of its ideology, and it's not the OPPONENTS of white supremacy.

Black bloc is a tactic to protect peaceful activists from being run off by genocidal bigots who have demonstrated their perfect willingness to be violent or threaten violence.

Someone in your personal space screaming at you that they want to murder you and yours while you get hit with eggs and bottles and the cops laugh from the sidelines is probably not as easy to pacifist one's way through as armchair criticism would have one believe.

Attempting to take over state power to deport people from their homes, incarcerate them into a modern version of slavery, and possibly murder them indiscriminately in a massive act of eugenics is not "equally bad" as discussing punching someone who speaks openly of their desire to do these things.

Law enforcement does not protect either group with identical diligence. Nor does the criminal justice system. Suggesting that all the enemies of bigotry have to do is NOTHING has not worked in modern times or in history. Ever.

I'm really just ten kinds of fucking tired of people thinking I endorse all manner of wildly uncontained extrajudicial violence because I hate fallacies of equivocation and see some nuance when literally armed Nazis march into town and get punched.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Best YA Book or Series not by a Cishet White Man (Last Call For Votes)

What is the BEST young adult book (or series) written by a woman or POC or member of the LGBTQIA+ community?   

Please follow this link if you're wondering why this poll has some particular limitations.

Lots of titles nipping at the heels of The Hunger Games. Come vote on the poll formed from YOUR nominations. The front runners are practically tied and the results are going up in a few more days.

Everyone gets three [3] votes, but as there is no way to "rank" votes, you should use as few as you can stand.

The poll itself is in the lower left at the bottom of the side menus.

If you're on mobile you can scroll ALLLLLL the way to the bottom and click on"webpage view" to see the side menus and get to the polls.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

When the Magic Dies (Mailbox)

What to do when the magic has died?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will 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. Questions that got picked up for 20 Questions post but were nothing even resembling "short answer" will be trickled out one at a time.] 

W. asks: 

Hey. Long time follower, first time messenger. You’ve written about so many aspects of writing and the love of story. Do you have any posts about what to do when the magic has died for you?

I grew up with my nose in books, writing my own stories and then even working in BBC scripts in my twenties. I wrote my first feature length at 32. Then I had ID twins at 34 and the younger one died at 11 days old. That was 8 years ago.

I couldn’t look at a novel for years after then it had to be something that didn’t treat the horrors of life as fodder for the story mill. But it’s probably been almost a year since I read a novel.

Now I’ve been commissioned to write a series outline for a producer and I’m realizing I can’t bear to do it. I don’t watch TV drama any more and I only watch films if my husband puts them on. But I miss them.

My nickname as a child was cloth ears as you could say anything to me when I was reading. I lived the world of the story until I put it down. The same when I wrote. But it has died for me. Is there any hope?

My reply:

Just a quick announcement here regarding the shit ton of questions I'm sitting on that came in while I was in summer school for my Twenty Questions posts. It was a great idea in theory, to keep things a little lighter and fluffier for me during the weeks I was teaching, but people sent me regular questions, not quick-answer questions, and they ended up being more like writing 20 consecutive mailboxes in one post. I'm still going to get to all of them, but one at a time. I'm creating a separate file for the actually short answer questions, and I'll trickle the longer ones in.

On to our answer.....

I can't tell you if the magic is gone for you, but I can share a couple of stories about a guy named Chris. I've put down The Pen™ a couple of times in my life, usually during major transitions that sucked up most of my time (I found it quite impossible to be a writer and a restaurant manager, for example, so those were some shitty two years). In every case eventually the bug bit again, and I got back into the flow, often to much relief that my "Creative lobe" hadn't shrivelled up and fallen off.

In both situations writing was no longer bringing me pleasure. Not magical unicorn rainbow fart pleasure. Not gut-wrenching catharsis. Not deep fulfilment and satisfaction. I liked writing, but trying to do it regularly was stressing me out.

Each time I returned to writing, it was because I wanted to. Like a make-up/break-up relationship where you realize that you made a mistake. Perhaps more illustratively I always felt like something was missing when I wasn't writing; a deep and profound sense of absence within my soul.

Do you solemnly swear to stop taking eight months off to manage restaurants?
I do.
Image description:
Delicate feminine hands sliding a ring on the fourth finger of a masculine hand.

It has only been more recently in my life (since maybe my early thirties), when I treat writing as an obligation and a habit (I "settled down and committed"––wait, did I just make marriage sound like an obligation and a habit?), that I've found my writing "red shifted" into he Yee-Haw zone*. The kinds of setbacks that would have usually led to months of break tended to be more likely to just put me in a "dry spell" of gutted-out minimums and frustrating sessions for a week or two instead. Rather than even the slightest setback making the day a wash, my very worst days were 250-500 words and instead of my best days (usually around 2500 words) be these few-and-far-between one-shots, I could milk the ebb for a week to ten days.

*Not to be confused with the Hee-Haw zone where I pop up out of cardboard "crops," tell a joke and then Conway Twitty sings a song about how much his heart is breaking for you.

I keep coming back to one sentence in your question: "But I miss them." And given the tremendous agony that you've gone through in life, I wonder if there isn't something greater at work here. Something that is well above "my pay grade." It is just so common for someone having gone through something so terrible to spend years getting back to a place where they do things they enjoy again. And I don't know where you are in your recovery, but maybe now is the time you can start to do slowly reintroduce things that once brought you pleasure––things like reading a few minutes a day or maybe some light writing––and see what happens.

Sometimes we write because we love it. Sometimes we write because not writing is worse. Sometimes it brings no joy or pleasure and it's time to be honest with ourselves. It's not easy to know, but I suspect with you the magic is in the middle of a phoenix resurrection.

Because there's no getting around this one thing: I'm sitting here with this question, which if there were a simple and unambiguous answer in your heart, you would never have asked me. Perhaps, "But I miss them," is the beginning. The prologue to a prologue of a long walk home to a world where life is never what it was, but the Babadook can be locked into the cellar for a while. And as for writing, perhaps this is the tiniest spark of something that might return to a glowing ember if it is nourished and treated gently.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Narrative Distance

Narrative Distance: the distance between a reader and a narrator in a story.

In most high school classrooms and literary analysis, most emphasis is placed on narrative point of view. What isn't mentioned very often until/unless you are in a writing program is a concept called "narrative distance," and it might actually be a more important idea to understand for a writer.

Conventional writing wisdom suggests that if you want to be "closer" to the narrator, you pick first person and if you want to be "further" from the narrator, you use third person omniscient. This is overly simplistic and borders on simply untrue.

While the narrative point of view can influence distance, it in no way determines it. Yes, first person narration is generally closer but it doesn't have to be if the narrator is keeping emotional distance. Distance is best thought of as a completely different axis of narration that refers to the space between the reader and the narrator of a story.

Because narrative distance can be close or far regardless of point of view.

Consider a book like Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go: though it is in first person, the narrator is looking back many years from the time of narration to the time where the events of the book take place. She regularly admits not being able to remember things, and drizzles in some perspectives that have come from years of reflecting on these events and weren't in her head as she's narrating. She sometimes even hints at what is going to happen next because it's been years since these events and she KNOWS what happens next.

On the other hand, the narrative distance in G.R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire books, despite being in third person, is deep within one particular character's head for each chapter––even influencing whether they notice esoteric details or food or clothing or apparent fighting prowess more than other things. Their thought processes are written out.

First person close: I opened the door. My heart stopped and the world swam before my eyes. It was my brother. And he was clearly dead.

First person distant: Opening the door turned out to be the worst decision I made for many years to come. I found my brother's corpse on the couch. 

First person (very) distant: I opened the door to my apartment like it was any other Saturday morning. My brother's corpse was splayed on the couch. I staggered for a moment before starting forward. 

First person (very) close: I threw open the door. My brother. Vision swimming. Balance twisting. Heart frozen in mid squeeze. My brother....dead.

Third person (very) close: James opened the door. What was that on the couch? Was it a person? Oh god, it wasn't just any person, it was his brother. And very clearly dead. James's heart clenched closed for a suspended moment. His vision leapt left and right, up and down.

Third person distant: What James would find on the other side of the door that Saturday would rattle him to his very core. His brother's body, clearly dead, sprawled across the couch.

Third person (very) distant: When he was twenty-one James walked into his apartment one Saturday in May to discover his brother's body in an advanced state of decay. It would take years after that for James to not take a girding breath before opening a door. 

Notice how the language changes. Notice how the immediate thoughts and physiological reactions are focused on in the closer readings and left out of the more distant ones. Notice how you get more detail on the distant but less emotional resonance. Notice how we're right in James's head for some third person readings, but we can focus strictly on actions even in a first person narration.

Now let's look at John Garner's five levels of examples of this in The Art of Fiction (although he calls it "psychic distance):

1 It was winter of the year 1853. A large man stepped out of a doorway.
2 Henry J. Warburton had never much cared for snowstorms.
3 Henry hated snowstorms.
4 God, how he hated these damn snowstorms.
5 Snow. Under your collar, down inside your shoes, freezing your miserable soul.

While the fifth level obviously takes some second person liberties, all of these are in third person and yet get closer and closer.

Many stories "pan" in and out between close and distant narrative distance. Often moving closer for emotional moments and further away to cover more ground quickly. But very often the narrative distance is an important choice in how the story unfolds.

Imagine telling a story from your point of view an hour after it happened when you were mad at someone. Now imagine telling it (still from your point of view) a year after it happened and you realized that you were actually the one being the jerk. How about 20 years? Can you rightly say you were even the same person twenty years ago that you are today? Very different stories and something an author has to consider depending on how they choose to craft their narrative.

Similarly a third person narration may focus on the action of a character and the physical description, or it may go deep into their head, even bringing the reader along in the actual thought process. This could be the difference between the main character being a monster telling the story from its own point of view, or having the fact that the character was the monster all along be the "twist" ending. Two VERY different stories (even if every plot point is identical).

And of course, one of the sly tricks writers pull is to add just the tiniest hint of authorial judgement to a third person close narration.

Internal Monologue- Most internal monologue is not the shift-to-italics-and-quote-the-exact-thoughts variety. You don't see that much, and even less in modern writing. Usually it's more subtle. (James walked around the building looking for a way in. The Pendercots were exactly the kind of meticulous people to keep a Hide-a-key. All he had to do was find a rock that didn't look like any of the others...)  See how that is right in James's thoughts but without being like: (Come on, James.  I thought. The Pendercots are anal about everything. They have to have a hide a key. Find a rock that looks different than all the others.)  The irony here is that the latter is generally GREATER narrative distance. By separating the reader and the thoughts like that, you are not inviting the reader to come in to the head space, but only giving them glimpses.

Consider logistical details- Notice in the above examples that the logistical details increase with the narrative distance. Some of them are so close they don't even mention the couch. If we're in someone's head during an emotional event, it is less normal to think of those kinds of details. Consider going to your local grocery store. You just GO, right? You don't think about how you get there or what street it's on. So the addition or subtraction of these details can help you establish your narrative distance.

Consider your vocabulary- If you are doing distant first, is your character describing an event from before they had went through puberty but describing it AFTER they were an old man? A PhD describing a childhood memory will be very different than a ten year old describing what happened five minutes ago. If you are in your character's head, it's going to sound like your character's thoughts. Do they have your vocabulary? What would they use to describe things? If you use florid language in your descriptions and your character is a much simpler person, you are creating narrative distance with your reader you might not intend.

Consider "Show, Don't Tell"- One of the reasons this advice is great for starting writers and increasingly problematic for more experienced ones is because it presumes a close narrative distance.  At a close distance, you will want to show more details because you want the reader to experience what the character is, but you can "tell" a LOT at a great narrative distance.

Consider what your character would care about- This is going to dovetail with the concept of significant detail, and the closer your narrative distance, the more this significant detail is crucial in helping to characterize your focalizer character. If your character is a germaphobe, they should notice dirt and grime and people leaving the bathroom without washing their hands. A distant narration might be less interested in these details or only mention the character's discomfort at them. A distant first person narration may have new priorities and be remembering events through a different lens of priorities. In "Penumbra," my character narrates post epiphany, and often questions some of his own earlier thoughts.

Consider filters- Filtering words like "noticed," "saw," "observed," "remembered," "recalled," "thought" (and many many more) increase the narrative distance.

Why does narrative distance matter? The short answer is sympathy. The closer you go, the more sympathy you are asking for from your reader for your character. While that's usually good if you want it (and want it THEN), it's not always the right choice. Many great stories can be told through the filter of time or the filter of redemption or with a distance that allows a less sympathetic character to still be compelling in less interesting ways. "I was once an asshole," is an important trope in fiction. However, the closer you are to a character, the more you are making a deal with your reader that they will BE that character for a while, and sometimes that's not what you want. And sometimes that's exactly what you want.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Week That Was/The Week That Shall Be (Part 2 The Week That Shall Be)

The Week That Was (Part 1)

And the Week That Shall Be

(Well….the fortnight, really.)

What was I doing all this packing for? Only my neat-o-est vacation concept ever (and if it works, the shape of things to come). A full 10 on the neat-o-meter.

Trains. The future is trains.

Well, I mean the obsolete past of obsolescence is trains really, but MY future is trains. Specifically, using them to get around the country on all the trips I never take because I’m always too busy.

I know what you’re thinking, my intrepid reader. Trains? Did he say fucking TRAINS? Expensive. Slow. Antiquated. Half of them don’t have WiFi. Those trains? Why not save 40% of the price, and just fly there in 1/10 the time? What the actual, literal fucking fuck, Chris?

Hang on. Slow your roll. Give me TWO minutes. (Three if you’re a slow reader.)  Let me now appeal to your writerly sensibilities for a moment.

Yeah, I could get on a plane. Spend a little less money for as little space as one can scientifically fit.  Be there in an hour or five. Cramped between some manspreading dudebro with deplorable body odor and a guy who packed a fishwich from the day before. Struggling against my bladder because I don't want to ruin their whole flight by needing to get by Mr. Fishwich for the third time––lord, why did I drink a large Dr. Pepper. I could go through TSA where they act like they don’t know what a Kindle is and make sure I know they know I’m packing a Hitachi Magic Wand. I could be there in half a day (though it always seems to kill the whole day no matter when you fly), and once I’m there, I could jump right back in to life’s frantic pace with its never-ending distractions from writing.

However…instead, imagine this: You are provided with a very spartan room but it has a plug for your laptop, good lighting, a bed and a couple of chairs. You can nap if you want, play games or watch movies (that you’ve downloaded) if you want, and read if you want. And of course you can write all you want. Long, quiet, uninterrupted hours. Your meals are taken care of (and quite well if your don’t have diet restrictions). You will be summoned to each one by a voice on an intercom. You can go to the dining car and socialize for a few minutes while you eat, or ask to take your meal back to your room if you’re on a roll or just too into your book. You can walk around if you wish to stretch your legs and there’s even enough room to do some jumping jacks or leg lifts to get the blood flowing, and the passage of time (should you choose to care about at all it) is marked by periodic stops where you can exit the entire building and get some fresh air. There’s even a small shower that so many of those camping retreats lack. To your side, gorgeous panoramic vistas slide by the window. They are not urgently distracting like television, but provide the perfect beautiful and ever-changing landscapes to gaze upon, should you wish to let your mind wander. There is no Wifi, and often no cell phone signal, and you quickly realize how distracting the internet has been and begin to establish a whole new rhythm and pace of writing as well as a fresh sense of how you need to refocus your writing time to involve much less Facebook and hot-take editorials on politics. Perhaps best of all, at the end of this experience, you will be someplace different. Maybe someplace where a friend lives. Or some place you’ve always wanted to visit. 

You get to have a fun vacation. And then, you get to do another couple of days (or three or four if you're going across country) on the way back.

Writers––a shit ton of writers––basically pay hundreds, even low thousands, of dollars for this kind of experience, dropping gobs on retreats where they can get away from it all and spend a long weekend looking at trees and writing up a storm while someone else cooks, or booking hotel rooms to sequester themselves away from friends and family so they can concentrate without distraction. If you take a train and get one of those roomettes, you get all those things and transportation to someplace nifty. And when you consider the meals, space, lodging, AND transportation, the price is entirely reasonable. Plus, when you get to where you're going, you’ve just written so long and hard that you don’t have to feel guilty about doing a light day or two.

I’m telling you….trains.

So yesterday morning, I packed up a bunch of clothes and headed to Denver and Ann Arbor. I’m finishing up the first leg to Denver, have been on this train almost thirty hours (and have about one more to go at the time of this writing), and have finished more writing in the last two days than in the two weeks prior. And I honestly feel like I’m just hitting my stride.

 I still plan to do some writing during the vacationy bits, but the real spectacular key clacking is going to happen while I’m on the trains. Back and forth across the country.

Trains (or rather the trips taken on them) do mean a bit of logistics, particularly for my Facebook page. I can’t really post from my laptop until I am at one of my stops. And I can’t post from my phone unless I’m in a place with signal. (Despite the Verizon commercials, there are more places where he can’t hear you than you can imagine, particularly out in the middle of the Wyoming wilderness.) And while I can technically turn my phone into a hotspot and upload a post really quick––this is what I did last night––it chews through my data REALLY fast, and isn’t something I want to make a habit of. So my posting might be spotty, erratic, and even miss days. But when the posts DO hit, they will be solid like your cat-lady-aunt’s Christmas fruitcake––you know, the one you used as a door stop to hold open the fire door at your office so you could get onto the roof and smoke.

So solid.

So here’s to fun, adventure, and a shit ton of writing in the coming weeks. And hopefully it will only be my adventurous spirit and creativity going off the established path.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Week That Was/The Week That Will Be (Part 1––The Week That Was)

This post is two posts––well the first part of two days of posts, anyway so look for the exciting conclusion tomorrow.

Yesterday’s post (which you are reading even though it’s today and you have NOT ridden in any Delorians lately) got swallowed by the cascade effect that actually started over a week ago. (I will post a little something extra this weekend to make up for yesterday.) A lot of times, like Tuesday, I spend an eight hour day watching The Contrarian, and the only reason I am able to get a post up is that it was already written. And even though Labor Day created a three day weekend (the staff still refuses to come in on bank holidays even though I’ve doubled their salary from two to four cents per article on TOP of their daily stipend of fast food coupons—yet still they give me attitude), it was part of the week of dining on phail as the phail train crashed into the phail station and created the phail singularity.

The Week That Was

Last week was a recursion loop of phail. At each level the past phail magnified the intensity of the phail until everything collapsed into a phail singularity, and anyone who touched the event horizon of phail would simply have every plan for the next 168 hours instantly sucked out of them and replaced by emergency child care and screaming.

The first perturbations of phail began early last week, and I dismissed them at the time like a hapless fool in a disaster movie. In fact, a little, tiny, but high-ranking military official inside my brain assured the initial little, tiny scientist that discover the phail there was nothing to worry about. “It sure would be a shame if your department came up for an audit again” said the little, tiny, but high-ranking military official. 

The little, tiny, but high-ranking military official was the first one to get eaten by the Phail, of course.

As much as it seems like I fly this blog by the seat of my pants, the first thing I really, honestly, genuinely (stop laughing, I’m totally not kidding) try to do when my life takes a turn for the more stable––as it finally did when summer school ended––is try to stabilize my schedule, get back into regular and predictable updates of non-jazz hands writing, and even write a little out ahead so that I can do things like have an emergency day without skipping a beat or get some Early Access articles written for my amazing patrons.

And things were looking good. Even though the weekend was going to have to involve some packing to get ready for a train trip, I had it wired.I was ready to chew gum and kick ass. Things were looking so good, they were extra good with good sauce. (Like a really nice parfait.)

Things looked good enough, in fact, that several gods of mischief blew kisses at me. They were worried I might get bored. These kisses combined into one epic, life-destabilizing mega-kiss. Sadly, at this point watching my best laid plans blow up is boring, so even that didn’t work out. What would truly be interesting would be if a week of writing went like I planned.

See, I was on track to have this very wide open five-day weekend with gobs of writing time to catch up and prepare myself for the upcoming writer retreat/vacation/train trip I had planned. I had settled into my latest pet-sitting gig, didn’t have any other jobs and was about to clock some epic word counts.

The Contrarian, though, had one more week of summer, and while it was established that Uberdude was going to take a couple of days off to run kiddo through some young super hero training, no one quite got around to making sure I was on for the later half of the week.

Fortunately that came up Monday. 16 hours melon-balled out of a week’s writing time is rough (I don’t know how many of you have chased a four-year-old for eight hours, but those days are not really opportunities to “double dip”). However, I could absorb it with notice. I was just going to have to really crank it out on Monday and Tuesday. But then that packing was still going to be there on the weekend, so I was going to have to crank that out too. 

Still, doable. Just a little phail. Phail salad.

Then came the extra time. A second entire tier of phail. Super heroism in the age of Trump involves double most enhanced humans having to do overtime punching Nazis, so that meant I needed to do eleven hour days instead of eight. Coming home to collapse instead of knock out an hour of word smithing changes a landscape pretty quickly if you were hoping to get a little ahead. Would you care for a phail appetizer?

Then Friday there was a major upset and someone ended up hospitalized (who wasn’t me this time—but seriously why is my life playing like I’m a secondary character in a medical drama these days). The kid was going to need more supervision. Here’s your phail entree in a light phail sauce garnished with truffles and phail.

And this whole time, I was watching a doomsday clock on some freelance work I’d kept putting off counting down. (I mean I thought I had all day Thursday and Friday so…..) Oh….well I didn’t order the phail pairing, but let’s just go with it.

Still, what really sent the whole train wreck sliding off the rails as it barreled into the the station of Monday and Tuesday and became a phail buffet with parphail for dessert. A SCHEDULED eight hour day with The Contrarian on top of trying to wrap up a job and pack for a trip that would start crack early the next day (today). All without having had a moment to do anything but try desperately to catch up on sleep and zone out enough to achieve basic functionality.

And that’s when everything collapsed into the singularity of phail. With literally zero time to write a post, I simply had to spread my hands and laugh. I started out walking to an uplifting version of Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head, and ended up with in a Doom Metal montage about existential futility.

Of course....Where would such a post be without the PSA at the end where knowing is half the battle? 

The idea of tempering life with writing and scheduling and how “fair” the mantra to write every day is has come up a lot lately in my orbit, and I’d just like to point out that I had a day where I didn’t “write every day.” It happens. It’s not the end of the world, and to the best of my knowledge that’s not why any of my patrons stopped supporting me. There was too much and I just couldn’t get to it. 

However here’s the wisdom nuggetoid coming to smash into your atmosphere and cause an extinction level event in your ignorance: abandoning writing wasn’t the thing I did at the first sign of trouble. I kept revising my schedule and trying to get it back in there. I kept paring down how MUCH I could do and moving when all over the G-cal, but it was still there until there was absolutely no time left. I planned on getting to it until the last hour ticked over.

It was a priority.

And if people are looking for something that digs a little deeper than the bumper sticker wisdom of “Write Every Day,” one place to look would be how our lives become reflections of our priorities, not because we never phail them one shitty day of fail singularitizing, not even because we never have health problems or emergencies or sick relatives or bills that eat up our lives, but rather they tend to merit out one decision at a time over months as we place them front and center with each new plan (or don't).

Part 2: The Week That Will Be