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

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

No Real Post

There's not going to be a post today (other than this).

There are a lot of reasons why, and several of them are none of my business to share with the whole world.

Many apologies. One of the downsides of trying to update every day is that you (the reader) get to see EVERY time life really gets in the way, whether I'm sick or childcare falls through or I just drop the ball because I'm having a shitfully shit day. Which I think is good for new writers who think that writers are always paragons of productivity or that no one who ever made money writing spent a day staring at a blank screen thinking, "Nope. This is just not going to happen today." Sometimes a writer just has to write "twice as hard tomorrow." Them's the breaks.

I write every day, but blogging or writing something that isn't just an emotional splat on the page isn't always something my brain can handle.

Tomorrow I will be posting the results of our first semifinal round of best world building and getting up round 2.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Tall Privilege (Social Justice Metaphor)

I should get all the component pieces of a regular week of blogging up this week, but due to a sore knuckle (typing with a sore forefinger base knuckle is a bit harder than you might imagine after a while--I really need to stop masturbating so much [but I guess it beats going blind]), an extra robust round of kid watching this week, and trying to recover from pretending I was a vampire on Saturday night, things might be out of order. So today I'm dropping a social justice metaphor that was an insta-hit on FB earlier today.  

If I tell you that I'm short, and there are things I can't reach and rather a lot of women who will never date me because of the "three inch rule" and certain high powered jobs that I am statistically VERY unlikely to get due to my stature, that doesn't mean I expect you to feel guilty about being tall. You were born that way. You can't help it. I don't hate all tall people. Don't be ridiculous.

But don't tell me about all the things you'd do if you were short--like wearing platform shoes or saying everything in a loud voice to compensate. Don't try to tell me that because you had to reach for something once or once you know what it's like to be short or because you got turned down for a date because you were TOO tall that you've basically lived my life, have gone through the same trials and tribulations, and know my struggle. And if I tell you I can't reach your cheese grater on the top shelf without a step stool, don't be a jerk and tell me I'm just lazy and I need to learn to *really* jump. Or that I should just be enterprising and pull myself up onto your counter top because that's what a plucky go-getter would do. Especially don't explain how enterprising and not lazy you are as you effortlessly grab it from the top shelf using the unearned advantage of your physical characteristics.

And if I do get up there, the plucky go-getter that I am, and all you do is complain about how I'm getting my feet all over your counter or that I'm presumptuous and rude and "that's not the way to go about getting what I want." (even though I know that if I had asked for help nicely, I'd be subjected to the "plucky go-getter" condescension), I'd quickly realize there was not actually any way to handle it that you weren't going to be an asshole to me somehow.

If I point these things out, or if I say that this comes from a toxic culture that favors tall people, I am not "attacking" all tall people. (Just pointing out the toxic ones.) If tall people race to inform me that this behavior isn't about being TALL but that short people sometimes do it too, they are ignoring the messages about tall people affect us all. If they insist that the whole thing is a total wash because short people live longer and I should just get over it and never mention my experiences living as a short person, they are trying to derail and erase me with a salient point that isn't actually germain.

And if, everywhere I went, tall people just kept doing and saying that shit all the time and acting like total dillholes, I might eventually come to NOT give all tall people the benefit of the doubt for being cool. I might think that generally tall people fell victim to an all-too-typical societal view that their tallness equaled some kind of moral superiority until/unless I'd met them and knew for sure they weren't going to pull that shit. I might even feel comfortable not trusting tall people, even if they self-righteously informed me by way of guilt trip that not all tall people were like that.

I promise that I only look up to you literally.
You don't have to apologize for the advantages you were born with or feel guilty about them. Just acknowledge them. Just listen when people tell you that differences in their experiences exist and try to have some empathy about how certain advantages make your life a little easier and that not every criticism of the dominant culture is an attack on its every member. Try to HEAR THEM and understand what life would be like if you lacked that advantage. And if they take the time and energy to tell you what they need to be able to reach the same things you do without undue hardship that you do not experience, don't tell them that they're wrong.

Follow up: Someone who was "Just Asking Questions" asked a few about this post and the results were probably not what they expected.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

15 Things A Very Cute Toddler Taught Me About Writing (Part 1)

Pictured: pre-toddling
If you follow this blog at all, you know that my life changed just a little a couple of years ago. That's when The Contrarian showed up with a psychic wail of "I am NOT!" and filled our lives with unbelievable amounts of love and poop.

T.C. didn't just soil more diapers than I knew ever existed in the history of diapers. He didn't just teach me new strata of sleep deprivation for which no finals could have possibly prepared me. He didn't just reveal to me that there is a frequency of sound at which my resistance shatters and I am willing to listen to "Let it Go" for the thousandth time (or Nyan cat for another hour) for just the chance at reprieve.

He also also showed me what it meant to be a writer. Or more fundamentally, what it meant to be an artist.

He took me back to the fountainhead of so many artistic principles that I had forgotten, and reminded me that being an artist and being a child have, have always had, and will always have, an intrinsic connection that even the best artists forget from time to time (and the midline mediocre artists like me forget constantly).

Or maybe I've been blogging way too long and I'm starting to see the whole world in terms of listicles.

1. If When you fall, get back up.

I started this article a few months back, and since then, T.C. has gotten much better at tottering around, but when I it first started forming the proto version of this post, he was only a few weeks out from his "butt scoot" (he never got the hang of crawling). He would fall all the time.

All. The. Time.

He couldn't even walk across the room without falling. Three steps. Fall. Three steps. Fall. If he somehow didn't fall, he would often go veering into a wall or dive to reach his destination.

Sometimes he would just be standing there, and just.....fall. He would just fail to stand. It was like someone cut the strings of a puppet. Can you even think of the last time you saw someone (who didn't trip or get knocked over) just fall.

But here's the thing. He didn't even pause; he just got right back up. It wasn't a thing. He didn't doubt himself. He didn't wonder if he should be walking at all. He didn't feel bad. He didn’t question whether learning to walk was worth it. Falling was just the cost of doing business.

He still falls and just gets right back up. No moment of self loathing. No internalized doubt. No existential crisis. Just “Oops. Fell. Oh well. Back up."

2. There's no reason to do it if you're not having fun.

T.C. learns so much in an average day, I can practically see him picking up concepts and getting things in real time. Neural connections are forming left and right, and you think he's not even paying attention and you turn around and he's figured out how to turn on Daniel Tiger for himself or is "tricking" you into reading his favorite book for the tenth time in a row. (Seriously he goes over and pretends to get a new book and brings the same one back.) A couple of days ago I watched him realize his singing dog had more "triggers" for songs than just its heart. And he went around looking for all of them and delighting in getting to hear the new songs.

The thing is, T.C. does exactly nothing that he's not into. If you try to show him something that isn't interesting, he walks away–or more recently, he knocks it out of your hand and says "Buh bye." He turns the TV off in the middle of anything that isn't Daniel Tiger or Dinosaur Train. He has precisely no time for your shit. If it doesn't excite his interests or compel his passions, he's out like trout. T.C. never sits down and says "I need to learn how this works,” or “I need to make another three thousand neural connections before naptime.” He sits down because it's fun.

I know some artists have dreadful compulsions that they don't identify as "fun" per se, but no matter why you're scratching that itch, there's no reason to do it if it's not something you want to be doing. T.C. helped me to remember that I don’t wake up at four-thirty in the morning for money or because I have to. I love it.

3. You're not good at it. You're just not. Get over it.

When Contrarian dances, he just sort of bobs to the music. Like, he kind of bends his legs a little an wiggles his butt up and down by bending his knees. It’s out of time. He has just the one move. He keeps going for ten or fifteen seconds after the music stops. But the whole time he does it, he’s giggling. It doesn't even occur to him that he's going to make it without making a mistake. He jerks, twitches, trips, falls, and sometimes face plants.

When he eats with a spoon, he can get about half the food into his mouth on a good day. When he tries to fit the shape into the shaped hole, it takes him ten tries. When he draws, he might do a line or three before he eats the crayon. When he plays with Duplos, he can't even push the blocks together so everything just falls apart at three or four blocks.

It never even crosses his mind that he should be innately good at anything. He recognizes that sucking is just part of the process. He tries and gets better because he’s happy to fail. He doesn't spend a bunch of time frustrated because things aren't doing what he wants them to. He just keeps trying until he gets it or fails.

4. Stop and notice things. Everything is new.

You know what T.C. thinks is interesting? EVERY FUCKING THING. The tiny Christmas tree we set up this winter. Really big trucks. Really red cars. Any car regardless of its bigness or redness. (He says "Ca! Ca! Ca! every time he sees one.) The credits for a show he’s never seen before. Signs. Elmo. Super Grover 2.0. His socks. His shoes. My socks. My shoes. The mural on the side of the hospital wall. A strangely shaped hole. The way the light streams through the window stencils. The way the light streams through the OPEN window. Water that is pouring through a water toy. Water that is coming out of the faucet. Water that is just sitting there in the cat bowl.

Everything in the world is new and exciting. And that's exactly the mentality an artist needs. Seeing the world through fresh eyes like you're experiencing the most banal moments from a fresh perspective is actually a fundamental part of what artists DO. 

Even more than some "artistic rubric," that maybe helps me be a better writer, T.C. has reminded me how to see the world again through fresh eyes, and to see everything as fantastic and magical again. Because Christmas trees ARE fucking amazing, and the way the light falls through a window stencil is incredible if you stop walking past it because "Ho hum," and take a moment to appreciate its beauty. Cars and shoes and that mural at the hospital...they are pretty neat.

5. If you're feeling cranky, something is wrong. Try to eat, sleep, and poop before all other things.

T.C. doesn’t have existential angst. He doesn't have unconscious anxiety. He doesn't worry about how to get his page views up from this time last year. He doesn't have relationships he wonders if he is getting enough out of them for what he's putting in. T.C. suffers from hunger.  He suffers from nap times that are twenty minutes in the rearview mirror. He suffers from gas. And frankly, that’s usually what’s wrong with me too.

Look I’m not saying everyone can shit their way to a good mood, and even some of my own moods go way beyond something that a simple sandwich can fix, to say nothing of serious or chronic chemical imbalances. But when things are particularly out of focus in a given day, it's always useful to check the usual suspects first. I can't tell you how many writers blocks were swept away with the careful deployment of a sandwich and a nap.

On to part 2

If you're enjoying this blog, and would like to see more articles like this one, the writer is a guy with a rent and insurance to pay who would love to spend more time writing. Please consider contributing to My Patreon. As little as $12 a year (only one single less-than-a-cup-of-coffee dollar a month) will get you in on backchannel conversations, patron-only polls, and my special ear when I ask for advice about future projects or blog changes.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Shawshank Metaphor

In Stephen King's Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption (the movie name is shortened) Andy writes a letter each week to the state to improve the deplorable prison library.

Eventually he is sent a box of used books and told that they trust the matter is now closed. They request that Andy stop sending them letters.

Andy's response is to start sending the state TWO letters a week. He does this relentlessly, pestering them until they send him real money for the library, several boxes of real books, even some records, and more.

This is how I feel today.

I feel like Andy looking down at that box of used books. A victory, no doubt. But not enough.

I am elated about the confederate flag coming down and the SCOTUS decisions on health care, Disparate Impact, and equal marriage. This week was pretty good; I am not completely embarrassed to be an American right this second. But the minute the champagne flutes are empty, we've got a long way to go.

Trust me that the matter of equality is not closed. Gay and lesbian adoption, housing, job protection--and that's just in the LG part. Bi erasure (often even by the LG folks), higher violence among the BTQ part of LGBTQ. The horrifying violence facing trans persons. Especially trans women. Especially trans women of color. In all but two states discovering a woman is a trans woman is an acceptable defense for murder. And all this is without even digging into racism, misogyny, and other marginalized and erased groups that are far, far, far from equal.

This box of "took you long enough used books" is not going to shut us up, this "library" is not good enough, and we will now be writing "two letters a week."

Crap quality version of the scene:

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Guest Blog for Writing About Writing?

Claire Youmans is taking some well-earned time off before she dives into her next project, but she assures me that she'll be back to keep blogging for us soon enough.

In the meantime, perhaps you've watched her wonderful contributions over six of the last seven Thursdays, and thought to yourself "Self, I could do that! WE could do that. We should do that. Let's do that."

You could! You should! Listen to you. You have some good ideas, self.

Writing About Writing is a small, niche blog. We get about a thousand readers a day. Though some articles go viral (or "semi-viral") most articles only get around a hundred and fifty to two hundred readers if they aren't shared and reshared across the blogoverse. I can't even promise you the untold "riches" of wide exposure. And even though I do tell writers I will give them the money their writing earns, that's usually only a couple of cents per article unless something is wildly popular.

However, any of the following reasons might be a good reason to blog for W.A.W:

  • You have always dreamed of being a part of a snarky writing blog, and you have lots to say about writing, art, linguistics, grammar, creativity, inspiration, reading, books, or possibly cheese.
  • You'd like to see what blogging is like for a few weeks before committing to firing up your own blog. Or you just want to see if blogging is a writing venue you might like to get your own work out in the world.
  • You want a venue with a pre-established audience to get some feedback on a proto-article for something bigger you're working on.
  • You are so new and/or small that 1000 readers a day sounds like a pretty sweet deal.
  • You are terrified of blogs any bigger than third rate seventh rate.
  • You really want to blog about writing, and this is just a great place to do that.
  • You are kind of a big deal, but you want to help Writing About Writing by bringing your star power to a page you want to support. (Laughing to the point of tears writing this one.)
  • You feel sorry for me because I'm always so damned busy and overwhelmed and a guest blog spot is a great way to give me a day off.
  • You would totally donate money, but the life of a writer is an impoverished one, so instead you will donate an article.
  • You really want to slum it.
  • You are a groupie looking for a threesome "in."
If you would like to join our motley crew here as a regular addition or just an occasional guest blogger, or just for one fire and forget point you've been dying to make about that one article I wrote that one time that you hated more than life itself, take a good long look at my guest blogger requirements and drop me a line at chris.brecheen@gmail.com.  

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Best World Building Poll (One Week Left)

What is the best world building in fiction?  

Our first semi-final poll is about half way over. Please vote, vote again, or just come and see who is winning and who needs help if they're going to make our poll.

The first semifinal poll only has a week left before I run the second semifinal poll and take the top four onto the final.

Everyone will get four votes 4). Before you simply vote for your favorite three, consider that, as there is no ranking of those three 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.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Writing's Bad Rap (Mailbox)

Why does writing have a bad reputation?  

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday.  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'm sorry if sometimes my realities are cold like the Siberian winters.]  

Anonymous asks:

Why does writing have such a bad wrap [sic]? Like the cartoon where the guy say's "I'm a writer" and the girl say's "yeah but what do you do for a living?" I know there is probably no end to the starving artist types but if you work at it, really work hard at it. Write every day, bleed onto the paper every day and really work, is making a living writing really that unattainable?

My reply:

I can't figure it out either, since we're all social animals with bodies of Adonis and millions of dollars working in Hollywood who make people immortal. Yet when I walk into parties and say "Line forms to the left ladies," they all just roll their eyes! Still.... I guess I can think of a couple of superficial bullshit reasons for this perception that writers are mostly hobbyists and why we're not getting as much respect as we clearly, so richly, deserve.

Bee tee dubs, the person who asked this isn't really anonymous. I gave a shout out for questions, wrote them all down, and then foolishly forgot who asked which questions. So if you chime in, I'll make the edit to the article.

I have a number of friends who write for a living. I also have several friends who prolifically write fiction. Here's the rub: none of these people are the same person. Unless they have a Scooby Doo mask and lead a double life, which maybe they do since most of them are pretty solitary people. What I mean is that all the writers I know who are making money are tech writers, content writers, bloggers, freelance writers, sometimes ghost writers, or otherwise writing non-creatively. All the creative writers I know–even the published ones, sometimes with several published books under their belts–are either still working day jobs or have a situation in which they don't need to (like a trust fund or a supportive and rich partner).

Or, no shit–not even making this one up–they're in their thirties and live in their parents' basement. (Hi Mark! ~waves cutely~)

Nothing but love, buddy.
Many of them–in fact most of them–make some money, but it is part time job money. Like having an Etsy store or something. It's a nice chunk once every couple of months. It could pay a cell phone bill or for a couple of nice dinners, but it's not going to keep anyone's rent paid.  And when broken down hour by hour, it amounts to a pay rate that would cause a Nike sweat shop worker to make a moue. No one is quitting their day jobs.

Even I sit unremarkably amidst the prison of these statistics. When I can get a few days to myself without The Contrarian or teaching and work really hard to write really good articles, my daily rate gets up around six or seven dollars a day for eight to ten hours of work (up from three or four dollars a day when I'm struggling to find writing time). You might think "Holy shit that's almost two hundred a month for writing, but imagine putting in about a full time job's worth of effort for the same cash payout as someone gets who works ONE shift a week at a McJob. Consider also that my numbers TANK when I write fiction. (A few people really love it, but those posts never go viral.) I'm not going to be quitting my ends-meeting househusband job any time soon or even quitting my spending-money/retirement-fund teaching job any time soon.

Whenever this "any time soon" rolls around, I'm going to keep right on doing what I'm doing.

I technically have one friend I know who is writing fiction for a living–it's smut on commission but there are characters and plots and stuff. Two if by "friend" you mean someone who returned my friend request on Facebook. Three if you extend the definition of "friend" to people I've sat in Denny's with more than once. That's roughly one percent of the writers I know. Not looking too optimistic just by the numbers. It's probably something like ten percent of the writers I know who "work really hard." But even these three friends were writing for over ten years each before they started making living-wage money off of it.

I'm afraid I've got some really bad news for you. This comic is "funny" because it kind of nails one of the cold realities of writing. You're never going to make it as a writer without lots of work (and perhaps a decade or two of NOT while writing and grinding out your day job), but it is entirely possible to put in all those things and still not make it.

Entirely possible.

That's why there is no damned reason to try and be a creative writer unless you love creative writing. If you're not feeding your soul every time you take the pen to paper, the dollar or two an hour just isn't worth it. And sure. you might make more after years of slugging away at it, but you might not. You could guarantee yourself more money from the first day (never mind after ten years of seniority) with any other type of writing–to say nothing of any other type of job. So there's just no reason to do it if you don't love the writing itself.

So that's fucking depressing right? Here's the good news:

  • It's definitely possible to make some money, especially in today's world of non-traditional publishing. From Patreon to Paypal to hosted ads, everyone from bloggers to self-publishers can make a few dollars. It won't bump you into a new tax bracket, but you might be able to fund a non-trivial video game habit with it. 
  • You will get better. Working hard and "bleeding onto the paper" (as long as that is not literal) will lead to improvement. If you work ten years at being a better writer...YOU WILL BE. I don't know how much you might be getting paid at the end of ten years, but you will be a better writer.
  • Lastly, and let me tell you this from experience, if nothing is going to keep you away from that page no matter what, and the writing itself is the reward, then it is a groupie threesome-caliber paroxysm of ecstasy to get paid for it–no matter how much or how little. When you're getting paid to do something you love, and would have done anyway, it feels fucking fantastic to make a few dollars.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Ducks and Monopoly (A Social Justice Metaphor Twofer)

Today we have two posts from my Facebook page that have done particularly well.

The ducks on campus give me a wide berth. Even when I have absolutely no intention of hurting them or even touching them, they run away from me if I get anywhere close. They're afraid of me. Most humans probably leave them alone but enough humans try to catch them and/or hurt them that they are generally wary of all of us. Some humans "just want to pet them" but that can be scary too since it's not actually what the ducks want. I would probably have to not harass these ducks for a LOOONG time before they came to trust me or treat me any differently than any other humans. After months of not harassing them, I might be able to get closer to them than other humans.

I tried to guilt trip them by insisting that they were bad ducks for treating me like other humans instead of taking my word for it that I was cool.  I told them not all humans were like that.

It didn't work.


Imagine joining a game of Monopoly ALREADY IN PROGRESS. All the properties have been already bought up on the third and fourth side (and most on the second) and you only make $108 when you round GO because that's how much the iron makes. (The car and the top hat both make $200, but the top hat also accrues 10% interest on anything unspent.)  There are half a dozen home rules for going to jail that apply especially to each piece, but the top hat and the car rarely trigger them. Your iron, on the other hand, gets thrown in jail constantly.

The people who are already playing the game will make each other special "deals" if they land on each other's property (like "let me land on your property two times without paying"), but extend no such nepotistic pacts to you. If you try to buy property, even if you have the money, you have to roll over a nine. If you get eight or under, you can't buy it that time around. Plus you're absolutely sure the banker is slipping themselves money on the sly. And if you complain or ask to start over or even call out the banker, they tell you that you obviously just don't know how this game is played and need to learn to be a better Monopolizer. If you ask for some kind of leveling mechanism that could give you a chance to do as well, they demand to know why should you be treated differently than all of them who are playing the game the right way.

Every turn they technically win the game (you go bankrupt), but you are forced to keep playing anyway, so that you can keep paying into the system. And they gush incessantly about how much BETTER they are at this game than you, and how you really need to try a lot harder if you're going to succeed. They tell you that your parents clearly didn't raise you with a competitive gaming ethic.

But don't get angry. Oh no! Don't ever get angry.

Why don't "those people" respect the system?

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Martian's Lessons of Tenacity

So no shit, I know Andy Weir.

Okay, okay. I admit it. I'm dropping names. I don't really know Andy that well. He's not MY friend, but he is only one degree of separation away. I've enjoyed a few post LARP Denny's meals geeking out about building trebuchets, joking about exploiting rules systems, or telling him ridiculous "No shit" stories about one of my vampire characters who used a summoning power to cause another vampire outrunning a garbage truck to pause juuuuust long enough to be slammed into paste. I saw him recently at Kublacon, but I don't think he recognized me. (That's being generous; I couldn't even see a flicker of "Do I know this guy?" in his eyes.) Andy's big time now. He probably has way too many people telling him they knew him when, or trying to convince him they should know him.

I'm starting to get some of that now and it's already a little weird. I can only imagine what it's like for someone who's actually a best seller.

I've watched his writing career with glee (and, yes, a particle of envy I can't deny). Most of his pre-The Martian work was published online. When he self published his book The Martian, and it took off, I was so happy for him. Not just because I had a few "I knew him when" stories, but because watching his non-traditional approach to publishing succeed was one more example of how a writer can make a career without gate keepers.

Let me say that one more time just in case you missed the money shot. Andy Weir SELF PUBLISHED The Martian.

Now his book is the number one book on the New York Times Bestseller List. The movie is the number one movie in America. Andy gets all the groupie threesomes he could ever want.*

It can be done folks. And there's no longer only one way to the finish line. Andy wrote for YEARS before he wrote The Martian, but he never gave up. He was a twenty-year overnight success. And when publishers didn't want his book, he self published it anyway.

There's a reason you keep seeing one "isolated incident" after another with self publishing and non-traditional publishing. If anyone tells you you can't make it--especially through self publishing--you laugh at them, think of how many "flukes" you've seen, and JUST. KEEP. WRITING!

[And I can't stress this enough: if you like science fiction--especially a bit on the "hard" side--you really have to read The Martian. It's quite good. I'm much more into the soft end of sci-fi, (and I was even dubious after the first few chapters of highly technical descriptions) but The Martian was so well done that it kept me riveted in a way not very many books have done in a long time.]

*I have no idea how many he wants. Could be zero.

Friday, June 19, 2015

May 2015's Best

May was a quiet month mostly because of how much time was spent on the LARP (my actual creative writing doesn't get a LOT of traffic), but a few contenders came fort to claim victory.

How to Write Plot (Mailbox) While this reminds me that I really need to get back to writing my Elements of Craft articles, I did the best I could for a Mailbox post.

Falling From Orbit LARP The whole write up for this LARP ended up getting a bit of traffic. Far far more than each individual character I posted. I suspect it was because some people kept going back to this page to then link to the next.

What Is Art (Mailbox) What actually makes for art?

My numbers are still reeling from whatever FUBAR claimed my ability to use Stumbleupon even when I am begging them to take my money. I'm creeping back up to 1000 page views every day. It may be a few more months before I catch up to where I was before I lost that traffic.

Setbacks are hard. But the only thing to do is just keep writing.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

What Comes Next? (Claire Youmans)

As I am waiting for the work of others to be complete and The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy, Book 2: Chasing Dreams to appear IRL, so I can get reviews (interested?  LMK) and appearances and attention to get people to buy this fun and exciting book, I am wondering what to work on next, as in right now this minute.

There’s Book 3, of course, but that’s kind of daydreaming away in the back of my mind, ideas condensing and coalescing into a story that will get more compelling as it forms. This is going to take some time. I plan to start writing the first draft next fall. My light reading has wended its way to Japanese history, for real events I can exploit. More Dragons!

There’a a cookbook, in manuscript, which, unfortunately, will need to be scanned or keyboarded before it can burst upon an unsuspecting world. It’s designed for life in small spaces and living from scratch. People keep asking for it. I need to do that. It feels like work, so I don’t want to.

Then there’s The Secret Project, that rattles around in my head. It’s gone from a very specific and narrow genre to something else. The characters simply refuse to parade around like Barbie and Ken and Skipper and G.I. Joe and have annoyingly turned into people. With a culture, universe, backstories, and history. Because of this, The Secret Project may never come to fruition, remaining trapped between what it was meant to be and what it might never become. It would be fantastically hard to sort it out. The difficulty is itself an attraction, but when and if I pursue this, it will take all my time and heart for a year or two, and right now I am writing a SERIES that has all my time and heart, with at least five books in it, and I want those books published. I want the series complete. It feels important, and so it must come first. The Secret Project feels like something that’s going to stay in my head for a while until I can give it the energy it deserves.

So many people say they want to be writers but don’t know what to write. The best answer to that, I think, is to write something, every day, for a short period of time.  Do the “morning pages,” or the “journaling.” Write a limerick every day for a week. Just get writing. From my perspective as a working writer, there’s far too much to write. All these projects take time. I can to some extent predict my process but I can’t do it all. I have to choose. I could work on assembling a book of poetry, for another idea. Poems on scraps and in notebooks among phone numbers and train directions hide in my house like the contents of Emily Dickenon's shredder. I am in fact writing poetry, some of which shows up in my blog along with information about THE NEW BOOK, YAY! and some of which shows up on Facebook. I could experiment with high-altitude baking and run up a quick cookbook on that, like the many people who tout some version of “Make Money on Kindle” are always urging us to do — a short book a week, non-fiction (or very specific kinds of fiction), cheap price, and keep ‘em coming. Shall I start a cookbook assembly line? I don’t think so. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s not for me.

When Book 3 is a bit farther on, I will start telling myself the story, from start to finish, in my head. Things will come to a stop. I will have to ask myself Stephen King’s invaluable question, “What Comes Next?” over and over again. I will need to remind myself of Mickey Spillane’s immortal advice to writers, “When all else fails, bring on a man with a gun.” In that context, What Comes Next is creating, and it is hard work.

But now? This is a different context, when I must sort and pick and choose. What flavor of ice cream do I want? What kind of cookies shall I bake? In which world to I want to dwell the most? This is easy, this is hard, that is someday, looks like fun.  I am toying with all of them, and new ones keep popping up. I’m going to enjoy it. For a few days, anyway, What Comes Next is a lazy and pleasant place to be.  

Also check out her blog and FB page and available books here:


Facebook:  The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy

Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Toki-Girl-Sparrow-Boy-Claire-Youmans/dp/0990323404/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top?ie=UTF8

[If you would like to do a regular or not-so-regular guest blog here at Writing About Writing, check out our guidelines and then drop me a line at chris.brecheen@gmail.com.]

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Poll: Best World Building (Semifinal 1)

What is the best world building in Fiction?   

We got LOTS of nominations for best world building, so we're going to need to do a semifinal poll to see which will go on to the finals.

This poll will only be up for a little over two weeks.

Everyone will get four votes (4). The top four names will go on to the finals. Before you simply vote for your favorite four, consider that, as there is no ranking of those four 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. 

Don't forget that the Polldaddy program tracks the ISP you vote from for only a week. Since I can't stop people from voting twice, I might as well work it into the system. Vote early! Vote often!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

What These Guys Did/Final Notes (F.F.O. LARP)

[If I slip on the gender neutral pronouns, it's because I'm remembering the game as played. Apologies.]


One of the reasons LARPs can be such a valuable lesson for a writer who's paying attention is because the characters completely drive the plot. If I ran this LARP with all the same characters and plot ten different times, I would get ten different results.

In general the players really rallied and blew away the plot. Every character had equal "power" over determining how the lunar fissure might be averted or not, but there were about half a dozen characters who were less committed to averting it at the outset, so convincing them to overcome their primary motivation was definitely a part of the internal drama.

It wasn't so much a question of would the characters passively like to not be genocided by a giant chunk of moon (most of them were not eager for that fate), but rather what would they be willing to give up for just the chance to make that happen. A career? Their lives? Duty? Love?

There were three main groups, working on the future by the end of the game:
  • A consortium of characters got together and started a human/Android corporation, ostensibly for the mining of Helium 3, but also eventually to offer the technology that would merge humanity and Androids into a single race that could switch back and forth between biological or synthetic bodies through transhumanism.
  •  A political military alliance was hammered out making Luna colony a sovereign nation. The generals and politicians were fully dedicated to making it happen.
  • And Paris managed be the charismatic leader they were and gather up enough resources to make the ARK project a pragmatic reality. They basically pulled 

The end result was the power blocks they represented ended up at war with the United States for the sake of not only Android self determination, but reunification. And while it looked like the US could have handily won, when two of the top ranking generals defected before a shot was fired to join the resistance the battle started to drag out. When the Androids/resistance discovered an almost inexhaustible supply of energy, it was only a matter of time. After only two years of fighting, the US surrendered to the EU/Android alliance.

Of course the one person who could have stopped easily stopped a EUR to commit to a war was Uriel. However Uriel (fortunately?) was far more interested in getting on the ARK ship and off of Earth. In fact, most of the characters who would have objected and "changed the fate" of such a good ending, seemed more interested in getting off the planet.

With reunification being a given, the idea of uploading humanity into immortal Android bodies bridged the gap of bigotry and ushered in the next stage of human evolution. Basically, there in my LARP, the players worked out the singularity. BAM.

Specific Characters

I'll have to hit the highlight reel here (because it would take WAY too long to talk about every single character and their own struggle against their fate), jbut if anyone who played the game wants to add in some details in the comments, they would be most welcome.

Avery- Did not really overcome their fate. They ended up continuing to work for humanity while waiting for the day they could really help out Androids....in perpetuity.

Reese- Likewise did not really overcome their fate and ended up being a murderbot in the next conflict....and the next one....and the next one.

Mishka- Became the premier general of the resistance and went on to be the head of the Earthforce military

Eren and Harper ended up together since Eren joined the resistance and no longer said the things that made Harper want to kill them.

Tohru and Boipelo ended up married, a wedding ring appearing on their fingers as the timelines resolved. Boipelo revealed that they were an Android as a gesture of good faith, and had to go underground during the war, but after it was over, they found their reelection was overwhelmingly supported, and became the first known Android to win a Senate seat.

Casey- Did not OD on heroin, since the moon disaster was averted, but not having overcome their weakness, they also couldn't remember the epiphany that led them to be able to send a message in a bottle to the past. (Which could have been a useful thing to recall.) A true paradox since how did they change the past if not for that epiphany?

Kai- This player went after the idea of their flagging life enthusiasm with a vengeance and came up with a really unique solution for an algorithm that "degraded" memories that had less emotional impact. In this way he was able to solve the problem of android apathy as the quest for a memory that wouldn't eventually fade drove them to realize their ambition. (He was basically the keystone in the transhumanism part of the overall plot solution.)

Paris and Uriel sank all their fate-changing mojo into the ARK project and left Earth as soon as they had a colony ship that could viably do so (and that wasn't a hail Mary). Humans without transhumanism are out there on another world. (Possible fodder for a sequel.)

Salih- Went down the spiral of their weakness and ended up "going native." Eventually they installed a mortality program so that they could experience the ultimate human condition.

Imari- Had a mixed result and ended up struggling perpetually on the edge of social justice issues. Never feeling like enough progress had been made to relax. Always feeling like there was so much further to go.

Valentine - Had a difficult time overcoming their fate and ended up always vaguely disquiet about their position between two worlds.

Dakota- Completely embraced their weakness to overcome their fate and ended up having a press conference where they blew the whistle on a number of U.S. lies about Android relations.  They were fired of course, and as their time line merged, they saw their family on the couch, but playing and telling them "You look upset. Are you okay?"

Monday, June 15, 2015

Nominations Need: Best World Building

What is the best World Building in fiction?

Just a couple of days left, and our "Best World Building" poll needs your nominations, but more than anything we need more of the nominated worlds to be seconded. While I might do a protracted poll with lots of quarterfinals and semifinals and grudge match face offs, if a reasonable, poll sized number of worlds have secured two seconds (thirds?) or even three seconds (fourths?), I will cull the list instead, so it's up to you to second everything you think deserves a shot at slugging it out on the official poll.

Please please please go to the original post to make a nomination, so that when I compile the poll, everything is all in one place.

Otherwise not only are you less likely to get the needed "seconds," but you might also make me think you hate me.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sundays off Next Six Weeks

Not that kind of Sabbath!
Fire the image-finding intern......again.
So based on two years of doing this, I'm going to take Sundays off until I'm done with summer school.

I know I try to bring you something here every day, even if it's just a little bit of fluff (and trust me, there will be plenty of that), but the last couple of years were ridiculous and stressful, and at times positively life sapping. Like even more than that machine in The Dark Crystal.

I've been promised good, solid tag ins this summer on both housework and toddler wrangling that will help me get through this with less anguish and gnashing of teeth than the last two years, and if that's true, maybe I'll pony something up on Sundays. However if the next six weeks are as busy as I think they're going to be, having a day completely off will be very important.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Casting Notes/ In Game Notes (F.F.O. LARP)

For anyone who might consider running this LARP, here are the notes I took for casting. Alisha did an awesome job casting for me while I did the pregame announcements. She came up with a wonderful questionnaire that included what type of character (politician, military, religious, other) and whether or not romance was okay.

Avery- Very diplomatic role

General Mishka Valenz- A pivotal character in determining what will change. Their loyalty could make or break a war.

General Eren Hoist-  Commander of Earth forces. This guy has a gun, so make sure the player is not the type to use a gun just because they have it.

**Reese Domino- (Synth infiltrator) REDICULOUSLY POWERFUL. Assign with great care to a player you trust.

**Dr. Casey El Amin- Will need to be played by someone who can digest an extra page of “The Rules of the Message in a Bottle” and probably bullshit science babble on the fly.

Dr. Tohru Nakamura- Another vital character as even synths will be limited in the message they can send themselves if they do not visit Tohru

Kai- Self motivated player

*Reverend Paris Atonia- Don't give this one to someone who would have a hard time role playing a bigot.

*Imari- Someone who is at least passingly familiar with social justice is important

*Salih - (Synth Infiltrator) Has a very difficult character arc (and also is the only character with Valentine's activation code). Give to a player who likes a challenge.

Boipelo (Synth Infiltrator) - Incredibly powerful character with a lot of ability to change the direction of the LARP's fate. But also deeply anti-human.

Dakota Langton- Someone who is good kicking off the "Why we're all here" part of the LARP and speaking in front of everyone early on.

Harper- This is a very "romantic plot arc heavy" character and may end up being paired in a same-sex relationship, so check with the player first if that's okay.

Uriel Petrovitch- Uriel has a lot of power but can be a little dry "on camera," so finding someone good at generating their own drama will help.

Valentine - A difficult character who should be given to someone who is good at coming up with their own goals and pursuing them

* We will want people who have some knowledge of religion--enough to roleplay.

In-game notes

There are very few plot points in this LARP, so I'm not going to make this its own section.

Note: The timing is actually very important to the tension of the LARP. They don't have a lot of time. After pregame and breaks are factored in, you will run about 5 1/2 hours anyway, so there's really nowhere to add time anyway in most convention settings.

Scene 1- EXACTLY 90 minutes

Keep a clock visible. (I used my iPad.)  Announce time remaining at 90 min, 60 min, 30 min, 15 min 10 min, 5, 4, 3, 2 and then countdown.  Have everyone freeze at 5 seconds and remember their position and their thoughts and their feelings.

At 20 minutes have the wormhole generator fire up outside the room. At 10 minutes have the tachyon particle stream generate a wormhole that only Androids can see.


Scene 2- EXACTLY 120 minutes

Scene two's "timing" comes in waves from the future time. The Androids get their messages. Humans get. Emotions. Then thoughts. Then an exact impression of the horror they were facing. Then, at about an hour, it starts to die down, and they can extrapolate how much longer they might have.

At five minutes they begin to hear the countdown from the future sounding like it's coming to them through a long tunnel.

[At the end of part 2 interview each player to see how they did with their weakness and how they might have changed their fate.]

Denouement- Assemble players in the exact positions they were in before. Announce the results of trying to stop the sky fissure. Let them role play a few more minutes. The memories of their changes will "seep" into their minds as both time lines exist in their memories.  Then call game.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Valentine DeWhit (F.F.O. LARP)

Valentine DeWhit-2025
I look up and I don’t see the end of humanity. I look up and see the end of the war. The one without, but mostly the one within.  

You’ve always been torn. It’s just a fundamental part of who you are.

Soon this whole mess will be over, and you have to admit you couldn’t be happier on a personal level. It’s not that you want to see humanity end, but you are tired. So so tired. Tired of this war and tired of feeling in the middle of it. Tired of the pretense. Tired of the propaganda. Tired of the rhetoric. And even tired of androids pretending that they are logical and not pissed off as all fuck. Tired of being trapped between them.

That’s not just hyperbole. You had extensive network of Android contacts before the exodus and even during the peaceful years of Luna Colony. As the conflict grew into a cold war, and even several times during the hot war, you have been the liaison who acts as a go between when one side wants to send a message to the other, but can’t because official channels "don’t exist." You’re the “back door” they use. Though they haven’t used you much lately. Humans though they were about to win and Androids were apparently working on a mass driver.

When this war grew hot it tore you apart. You felt conflicted to the core of your being. Humans killing Androids gave you a palpable feeling of horror. And even though you have a grim sense of loyalty to your own, it was always impossible for you to buy into the propaganda and warmongering. It all just makes you sick.

A couple of years ago, you had an emotional crisis. You tried to kill yourself, but couldn’t go through with it. Since then you’ve tried a few times but you always lack the courage of your convictions. In a way you see the Lunar Fissure as completing a job that you don’t have the strength to do yourself. It’s completely macabre to view the end of an entire species as your ticket out of an emotionally wrought life, but you can’t help how you feel.

You have been ordered to a meeting. Having no interest in anything but waiting to die, you tried to resist (why would you want to go to a meeting in the last few hours before its all over), but you were easily overpowered, stuffed into a van, and taken. You have no idea what is going on, but your captors said something about “Everyone who was there in ‘20 has to be there today--including Valentine.

What an odd thing to say.

Valentine Skills and Contacts

Indoor Type: You’ve never been outdoorsy or sporty; in fact, you’ve never been much into physical activity at all. As a result, you aren’t very good at it; honestly, you’re out of shape and more than a little clumsy. You can’t catch a ball to save your life, and you break about one coffee cup a week. When one of your friends asks for help moving house, you quickly volunteer to help with packing, so that nobody will see just how incapable you are of moving heavy furniture.

Strange Vibes: Sometimes people give you strange vibes, but you don’t really know why. If you talk with someone for three minutes, you may ask an ST if they give you strange vibes. Might want to figure out what that’s about because you’re getting a lot of strange vibes at this meeting.

Clear Thinker: Androids can sometimes convince humans of the logic of something that isn’t true. You can see right through those games. (You are immune to superfluous logic.)

Informational Contacts: Despite all efforts to the contrary, you have a way to contact Luna Colony. Obviously they’re stuck there and you’re here, so they can’t do anything physical for you, but even an average android is a walking Encyclopedia and (for them) crowd sourcing can tap expertise that goes beyond even human knowledge. Once per scene you may petition the Androids for information on ANY subject. They cannot predict the future (unless you want them to use a statistical model), tell you how a person feels or their innermost secrets, or reveal events that have JUST happened, but they essentially possess a repository of knowledge that encompasses everything. You may also contact and "run ideas past" Luna colony at any time.

Avery is your friend and ally.  Which, in a way, is funny because they’re an android.  You can always count on Avery to be sympathetic to you no matter how out of it you might feel.
Dakota Langton is someone who you have worked closely with over the last few years.  You consider Dakota a friend.  You really feel for them that they have to push agendas they disagree with and hide so much that they want to let go.  Sometimes you feel that way too; if only it was just your job that was making you feel off lately.
Dr Casey El Amin says they have a solution to save you, and the rest of humanity, from imminent death.  His techno babble gives you a headache.  Can’t we just be left to die in peace, with dignity? And, wait.  Is he high?  He is! That motherfucker is tripping BALLS! Why are we even here?
Reese Domino is Dakota’s assistant.  You have never gotten to know Reese on a personal level.  As of late you almost feel like Reese has been under more pressure than Dakota.  It just strikes you as odd. No, Reese just strikes you as odd.  There’s something about them that makes feel uneasy.

Defining Characteristics
Strength: Diplomatic
Weakness: Torn

Valentine DeWhit-2020

Your hopes are dashed.

You came to this conference actually believing that peace might be an option. It might be the cold, tenuous peace of the last ten years but at least not a shooting war. And some small part of you actually hoped that maybe relations between Earth and Luna could stabilize. In moments of chimerical fantasy you pictured Androids being welcomed back to Earth in a few years, the sun fully on their faces for the first time in decades instead of the perpetual dusk they have been living in for so long.

It seems as though, however, most of this conference is intended to put on airs of some perfunctory attempt at peace. Humans are practically goading Androids to attack even after multiple concessions. It makes you sick to think that the path is inevitable and that and endless cavalcade of androids are going to perish because the humans could not transcend their bigotry.

You hate being in the middle of this.

So you've just been activated as a sleeper agent. Congratulations.

Yep. It's true. You're a skin job.

First and foremost it is up to you how to role play this. If you want to have a tearful emotional scene, that's up to you. If you want to keep this on the down low and use your position as a trusted human to Androids' advantage, that's up to you too. Your human memories and feelings cannot be overridden. However, your feeling of being torn is over and that is such a relief. You realize now that your suicidal feelings (and inability to follow through with them) all derive from programming edicts that you were not consciously aware of. You know and fully understand that you are a Synthetic Person. You have been a sleeper agent for years. Your complex programming was better served by staying quiet. It allowed you to be put into a careful position of great trust among humans. You are loyal to Android causes now, but it is up to you how to serve them--you do not necessarily have to be antagonistic to humans.

Helping The Purple People (How Privilege Changes The Story)

Purple people: treated equally since 1865.
I helped out the purple people last week.

You've heard the story, or some version of it, a thousand times:

The “shady” person of color does something unquestionably suspicious like standing there or breathing. They are stopped by the gleam-toothed security and told that for the sake of law and order, they must cease and desist their trouble making. The person of color doesn't realizing that existing is obviously criminal, and thinks they've done nothing wrong. Seeking social leverage in the situation, they chooses to act the victim by playing “the race card.” They suggest that the only reason they are being held at bay by the forces of light from doing their horrific evil is because of the color of their skin.

Clearly nothing could be further from the truth.

Around this time, the poor maligned force for truth, justice, and the American way invokes the clan of purple people who are so popular in every version of this story.

“I don’t care if you are white, black, yellow, or purple, I would have stopped you.”  (No one knows exactly who these purple people are, but they are always treated extremely fairly.)

This sets our hero's intentions above reproach for surely they would have also stopped a purple person. Now there can be no reason to question why their perception of certain races are skewed heavily towards suspicion, while white people get the benefit of the doubt, a bit of leeway, and even a pass. After all, such behavior can’t even be informed by racial animus if no one drops a slur or fails to announce loudly “I’m doing this because you are brown!” just before they attack. (Edit: Or as we saw in Charleston this week, even if they do.) Prejudice is always overt and cartoonish and struggling against it never involves questioning our socialized perceptions. This is about justice and truth and light.

Just ask all those purple people who are always treated the same way.

Plausible deniability established, the accusation of racism is dismissed. Sure maybe racism still exists but not THIS time. And then you hear the story again…and again…and again.

And so it was I found myself in the middle of this story in my local grocery store. A black man looking at the chip and soda display case with a basket full of unpaid for groceries and the store’s security guard acted it out like kabuki theater. The man clearly, obviously wanted to see what chips were on sale, but the security guard was having none of it.

“Could you step away from the door please, sir?” the security guard said.

“I’m just looking at the chips,” the man said.

“Sir,” the security guard said, “please step away from the door with unpaid groceries.”

“I’m not going to make a run for it.” He laughed. He laughed, but his eyes only looked sad.

“I’m asking you nicely sir,” the security guard said, his hand coming to rest on the canister of pepper spray hanging off his Sam Brown belt on his left side.

Even the staged mirth drained out of the guy as he glared at the security guard. “Do I look like a criminal to you?”

“I would stop anyone that close to the door with groceries, sir,” the security guard said. “This has nothing to do with how you look.”

The idea that both of them didn’t know exactly what the subtext was is laughable.

“Uh huh,” the man said.

They finally agreed on the man leaving his cart to go over and look at the display, but it was a disgusting negotiation. The kind you might a see from a warden make with a hardened criminal rather than a mid-day shopper trying to buy some fucking discount Pepsi and Ruffles.

And that is where so many stories like this end. No “proof” of malfeasance. One person’s will a little more self-righteous and the other a little more broken.

I can’t make fiery speeches. (I can barely write coherent blog posts.) I am not a leader. And I’m not the right kind of temperament to jump in screaming. But what I do have is privilege and snark. And sometimes that’s enough to change the story.

 That’s when I took my own basket laden with groceries over to check out some chips. What I really needed were some “Buy 2, Get 1 Free” twelve packs of soda and “Half Off” chips. Like…right then.

Of course, what happened next may throw into absolute chaos your belief that purple people are always treated with perfect equity.

I am bigger than the guy the security guard yelled at—taller and wider. I was dressed in sweats and a T-shirt with some kind of toddler inspired stain constellation. I had more groceries in my basket than he did in his cart (and it was a basket, not a cart so it would have been easier to try to abscond with). My face was a disheveled mess of unkempt early beard growth, and my hair was a ragged shock of cowlicks simply allowed to roam free across the wasteland of my skull. I stood as close as the man did to the door. Then I stood even closer. Then I walked past the door, triggering the automatic sensor, on my way to look at a fruit display. The security guard even met my eyes with a head tip despite my very best “suspicious” look. Seriously, I even glanced furtively at the door just to ham it up.

There was no metric by which I could have looked less threatening, less like a flight risk, less like I was ready to head for the door with those groceries and try to clear the parking lot with some Ritz and a spray can of Cheese Whiz.

Save one.

And guess who didn’t get talked to? Who didn’t get asked to step back? Who didn’t get told to put his basket down in order to check out a display. Who didn’t get a dramatically repositioned hand on the can of pepper spray. Guess who got to hang out near the door (just minutes after the initial assurance that anyone would be stopped).

My next stop was the manager. As I walked up the same guy was already talking to him, no doubt about being treated like he was the great tri-state grocery bandit and not a human being who wanted some fucking chips. I couldn't hear exactly what they were saying but it seemed like the usual "We'll check into it" line. He saw me coming and put up that "be right with you" finger gesture that managers are so good at.

"Actually," I said. "This is probably about the same thing..."

Privilege changes the story. It shouldn't, but it does. That guy shouldn't have had his experience dismissed, and I shouldn't have had to validate it, but when a white guy walked up and said "there's some next level racism going on here," it changed everything. The manager was MORTIFIED to hear the results of my little experiment. He groaned “Oh god,” a couple of times, and promised us both that the security company would be notified. It was a completely different reaction than he was having when I walked up.

Sometimes people only SAY they would treat purple people no differently, but you really have to wonder. If they did, why does privilege always seem to change the story?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Story-Teller (Claire Youmans)

I’ve been sick — though on the mend — and while I have been able to play with my somewhat malfunctioning computers, I haven’t been commenting much or been able to blog or push the publication of The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy, Book Two: Chasing Dreams forward as rapidly as I’d like.  So far, I think the launch date holds, but I’m going to miss a few notional days off while playing catch-up.  I enjoy what I do as a writer, so that’s not a huge burden.  If you don’t enjoy it, why do it?

Recently, there have been some posts here at Writing About Writing reflecting people’s needs to fit themselves into Schools, or Movements, or Post-Something Nouvelle Ethnic Style or some such nonsense.  Much of this angst comes from people who are enrolled (or have been) in academic programs in which the emphasis is on criticism and analysis.  I think this emphasis comes at the expense of producing truly original and creative work.

Once one begins writing to a specific set of rules, one immediately stifles creativity.  Romance, a huge market, has “authors’ guides” that are highly detailed and specific.  Those who love to write them, love to read them, and like writers of sonnets or haiku find their creativity is enhanced by fitting the stories they love to tell into specific forms.  Nothing at all wrong with this.  I’m fond of mysteries.  Mysteries have conventions.  The challenge isn’t trying to fake Raymond Chandler or Agatha Christie.  The challenge is to find your unique and original voice within the conventions.

But writing to please critics, especially academic critics? That’s something different.

First, the writer is now starting with the assumption that these critics know what they’re talking about!  This stifles the writer’s own ability to critically analyze her or his work.  Periods, movements, schools and all that good stuff, can best be analyzed long after the fact in the context of their times and places.  It’s not really possible to analyze something you’re in the middle of in quite the same way.  Nor, may I add, do many works that have extreme importance in terms of literature hold up all that well as enjoyable things to read.

Second, the writer is immediately and automatically derivative.  The writer isn’t writing something original within formal genre guidelines.  The writer is writing to please a particular critic who thinks Toni Morrision is the bee’s knees (which she is) and therefore wants the writer to sound as much like Morrision as humanly possible.  Which isn’t going happen, because Morrison is original, creative and incredibly talented.  She sets the rules, she doesn’t follow them.  The writer can never, ever succeed because the writer has lost her or his original voice in trying to mimic somebody else.

Third, the writer has lost touch with the primary function of a writer.  Writers are story-tellers, entertainers.  I am a Stephen King fan, and not because I love every single thing he’s ever written.  I don’t.  What I do love is that he tells stories, and his insights into the writer as a teller of stories have helped me enormously in pursuing my own fiction.  “What happens next?” is a King aphorism I steal constantly.  King writes well.  He takes care of the practical business of making sure his books shine editorially and are enjoyable reading experiences (whether one likes that particular book or not).  He does not show contempt for his readers by using bad grammar, failing to proofread, leaving giant plot holes and so on. He likes his readers.  What he mostly does, from the simplest of his horror stories to the books that I think will hold up as true literature, is tell us a story.

King a is a story-teller, and so, at our best, are we all.  We’re not self-conscious pundits trying to forcibly rub people’s noses into our Cosmic Insights.  That doesn’t work; it can’t work.  Why would anyone want to make that a goal?

When we write fiction, we are writing stories.  We are crafting adventures in the three great plot domains of person against person, person against nature, and person against self.  We layer these adventures, the challenges, these changes.  We weave them, we watch them grow.  They leave our hands and take on lives of their own.

If there is some Uber-message, let someone else find it.

For now, come, sit down, and let me tell you a story.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Uriel Petrovitch (F.F.O. LARP)

Uriel Petrovitch-2125
It’s all gone wrong. And you made it all  happen.  

While on paper you’re the ambassador from the ERU - the Euro-Russian Union - to the UN, for many years your ability to influence events has gone far beyond that granted by your title. Since the early days of the war, you’ve been the primary conduit for information flow between the US leadership and the ERU heads of state - which, given how good you are at subtle manipulation, has meant you were able to lead those leaders around by the nose. The ERU supported the war fundamentally because you told them to - and with the ERU and US in line, the rest of the world fell into place.

Your goal has always been a return to the status quo. The arrangement was beautiful; gloriously symmetric. The androids need direction - without it they flounder. People - humans - need resources from the moon; Helium3 was really the only way to solve the energy crisis without a dramatic decline in quality of life. The lunar environment is harmful to humans, but fine for androids, who need a place to live anyway - they clearly can’t live on Earth. So having the androids run the lunar mines was clearly the right solution. It was so obvious.

Only they didn’t see it that way.

So the war began; you let the Americans start things off, convinced that the androids would buckle under and get things back to the way they should be. Even after the blockade locked them on the moon and prevented them from getting the Earth resources they need for sustainability. Clearly they should have capitulated and gotten the refineries back up and running.

Only they didn’t see it that way.

(Honestly, you think the android’s reputation as logical beings is a bit overrated.)

Still, you chose to let it continue. At first you chose out of hope that things would turn out right. Then you chose because, if you admit it, you wanted to to teach them a lesson, to punish them for stepping out of their correct place in the world. And, finally, as the androids stood firm under your assaults, exceeding all expectation, you chose out of fear, fear of what lurked behind those defenses, behind those cold alien eyes...

Of course, it wasn’t all your fault. Just as you were shading the truth you sent home, the Americans misled you. That’s how the game is played.

And now the sky is falling. Literally.

You left your wife and kids after the Lunar Fissure and have spent the last seven days in a haze of sex and drugs. But eventually you were found by US agents, and are now en route to some meeting that you clearly have no choice about attending. You’ve sobered up and you have to admit your own curiosity. What could be going on here that is so important at this point?

Uriel Skills and Contacts

In the know: Your work with an extensive network of spies. Once per scene you may petition a storyteller to know a lot about a specific event or topic. This will not convey a skill set to your or knowledge that you wouldn’t otherwise understand. (You might have intel on Helium 3 production, but you wouldn’t know how to build a reactor.) The ST will give you a good deal of information. While this can be used on another character or a plot point, it will only reveal what “a deep network of informed contacts” may already know. It cannot reveal character secrets, things that have just happened, or anyone’s feelings.

Wide Ranging Contacts: Once per scene you can arrange for something that a powerful web of contacts would be able to provide. This can be anything from researching information to the delivery of a basic object to doing you a small favor. Most use of contacts will take a few minutes--longer if the task is harder.

Imari Kothari is a like minded individual.  They do not care for Androids, but they still defend them for being marginalized like so many humans before. It's all a bunch of "equality crap" that Yanks and the Western Europeans don't realize are completely impractical. Though you don’t always agree on details you would call them an ally.
Wong Salih is an ally who has worked with you from the religious standpoint that genocide of the androids is wrong. Sending the androids  to the moon was always a better option than taking them out. Still, you have a sense that they are more sympathetic to Androids than they really let on.
Dr Tohru Nakamura is a necessary evil.  Nakamura’s apparent obsession for androids is repulsive, but their expertise is needed to find the weaknesses to bring them low, if not take them out.
Boipelo Anderson is not someone you know on a personal level.  However, you’ve know that they will always lobby for the path quickest to war. A useful pawn if ever there were one.

Defining Characteristics
Strength: Calculating
Weakness: Hesitant

Uriel Petrovitch-2120
You may just be the most important man in the world.

Of course, nobody else knows that. If they did, it would no longer be true. You stand at the fulcrum of the world, and you have the longest lever. The masses you will move are the two titans, the US and the ERU. The lever is information. The report you bring back to the ERU will determine whether they move towards peace or war, and you know that without the ERU at their back, the US doesn’t have the will to fight a prolonged campaign alone.

Your beginnings were humble. You grew up in Russia, the largest country in the ERU but one of the most turbulent. You lost friends and family to the chaos of those times, and yearned to set things right - to see a return to order. That quest for order, for stability, has been the motive force that has led you to this point..

Androids, on Earth, were a major force against order. They stir things up; they’re just too different from real people. Androids in a human nation are like fleas on a dog; they are an irritant, and the country itches, does not sit easy. Too many fleas will drive a dog mad, you know.

No. Exile is the only solution. There’s no avoiding that. And if we want to head off an energy crisis, we’ll need the androids on the moon to keep shipping us Helium 3 for our fusion reactors. Luckily they won’t be able to build new electronic parts without trace minerals that aren’t found on the moon, so there’s scope to set up trade. The androids can't rebel. It’s in everyone’s best interest. And if the androids don’t see that, well, a bit of military action is a powerful negotiating tool.

It’s not that you dislike the androids; they just aren’t your people. Hell, they’re arguably not people at all.