24 February 2011

For Those Who Saw E.T. When It First Came Out In Theatres

Fond childhood memories? Replaced with hilarity!

I give you the E.T. sequel trailer:

23 February 2011

Woo Woo 101; or, Building a Better Connection with Your Muse

Luna by Helder da Rocha
In the other, non-writing portion of my life, I run with the woo woo crowd. I teach and practice tai chi and qigong meditation, and I train with a Taoist monk. My world is probably a little bit different from yours: in my particular (you could say peculiar) dimension, energy / chi is real, thoughts and intentions have genuine impact on reality, and non-corporeal beings are just part of a normal day.

It's fun where I live.

I don't tend to talk about it because for a lot of people, even the merest whiff of this stuff is a call to write you off. "I don't believe in energy," such a person will huff (while leaving behind a massive energetic stink wave that ruffles the feathers of everyone in the room).

I mention this now because I do think there are some things that creative types can learn from the woo woo crowd, and I'm planning a couple of posts around this theme. In the works is a post about using feng shui to arrange your writing desk so it's just perfect for you. Today, I want to talk about intentional creation, aka manifesting, aka getting what you want out of the universe.

(Don't click on any of those last three links if you have a New Age allergy, btw.)

You might be familiar with the concept of manifesting from the massive bestseller The Secret. Oprah promoted it. The concept behind The Secret is called the Law of Attraction. There's a large, complicated set of explanations about how the Law of Attraction works, but the basic message of The Secret is that if you can fully imagine yourself in the situation of having that new job, car, house, relationship, body, or whatever, and you don't engage with thoughts like "that's impossible," then it will be yours.

Personally, I find The Secret utterly repugnant on all possible levels. I think it's immoral to imply that people don't have what they want or need because they just didn't wish for it hard enough. political and economic hegemony, anyone?

Moola! by soleiletoile
Don't strain yourself waiting for your money ship to come in.

But - and this is a pretty big but - there is a softer version of the concept of intentional creation that is very, very useful for creative types. It doesn't depend on external events arriving that confirm your deep connection to the universe. It depends on your connection to your inner self, your subconscious, and possibly the collective consciousness. 

This is the essence of the idea: 

If you're stuck on a conscious level with your writing, ask for help with it, then relax. The answer will come. You do not have to wait for inspiration to strike any more, nor do you need to rely on a cranky muse who flits in and out when she wants. Who is in control here, anyway?

(I'm hearing a chorus of writers out there saying, "My muse is in control! Obvy!" Well, no longer, my friends.)

I don't mean worry about it. I mean sit back in your desk and think to yourself (or say out loud): "Okay, I need an ending that makes sense for this story. And I want it to match the tone of the beginning."

Or: "I need a new short story idea by this time tomorrow."

Or: "I'm going to go take a shower. By the time I get back, I want to have a clear idea about what needs to happen in the next scene."

Too often, we flail about while our muses skip merrily out the window just when we need them - or, if you're not into personification, while our creative urge turns to bitterness and our minds drift and we begin to feel so, so guilty for taking all this time to produce nothing. What I'm suggesting is that we can take control of our creative process by telling our muses - or our inner selves, our subconscious, our connection to Story - exactly what we need and then letting them go to work for us. Two key points here are very important: being specific about what we want or need, and then letting that idea drop down into the well of our inner selves.

We all know that we can't put the muse in a stranglehold. "Work for me, dammit!" is not a healthy creative attitude. But any relationship will benefit from a little clear communication. Your subconscious already passes info to you on a regular basis. Isn't it time you started talking to her?

At first, if you're unsure, it helps to sleep on it. If I'm working on a big problem (like I need a short story idea for this week's Write 1, Sub 1 and it's just not coming to me), I ask for an answer by the next morning. As I'm passing out, I think, "I need a medium-length short story idea to work on this week. Something I can write in a day or two." Lo and behold, when I wake up, usually the answer is there.

I think of this technique as an ordering system for my imagination. Remember when you first discovered the wonderful world of ordering stuff online? You click a few buttons, and a package of books (I assume books, but it could be anything) arrives on your doorstep a few days later. Awesome! This is the true function of the muse: ask and you shall receive.

You don't have to wait. It's there at all times, waiting to be put to use. You can specify a time frame, long or short, for the answers you need. If I encounter a problem in my novel, for example I need a way for a character to get across town in the middle of the night and a reason for her to meet up with another character, I'll make a resolution: by the time I'm done vacuuming the couch, I'll know the answer. And so it usually is. 

Really I think the key here is learning to trust the connection between your conscious self and the vast ocean of your inner world. There are more stories roiling around down there than you could possibly write in your lifetime. Stories inspired by things that have happened to you; stories about people you've known and perspectives or ideas you've shared; stories from the earliest time that people told stories; stories that have never been told. That's the vast untapped wealth that we creative types carry with us at all times. 

All you have to do to remain unstuck is to put the necessary structures in place. Learning to work with (instead of at the mercy of) your Muse is like building a muscle. The more you do it, the stronger you will be.

22 February 2011

Snow, Snow, Snow

Another dump of snow here in southern Ontario over the weekend. I understand that elsewhere things got pretty hectic in terms of the weather (sorry to hear about the ice storm, Eileen). 

I know that more snow at this point is basically a big, wintry purple nurple for all of us. Believe you me, "it's so pretty" just isn't cutting it any more. Sure, it's pretty, but you know what else is pretty? Spring! Flowers! Little singing birds and dancing butterflies!

But we shall overcome. You know what made me feel better, and possibly even invited me to weep for the joy of it all? This compilation of a bunch of people seeing snow for the first time ever, via Becca's guest post at Videogum.

Happy rest of winter, everybody.

17 February 2011

Hey, Novel Writers

Dominika3 by b1gfoot
Ever see someone on the street who looks exactly the way you've pictured your MC, or other characters?

This happened to me a couple of days ago. I was driving down King Street here in Hamilton, on my way home for a day of writing after dropping Dave off at work. A young woman, somewhere in her twenties, was walking down the street, headed toward the downtown core. She was brunette, round-faced. She wore black tights under a pink sundress, over which she'd added a brown corset. A knee-length trenchcoat finished off the outfit.

As I drove past, I thought, "I know her."

This is a small city. I've lived here for a lot of years. When I meet someone new, I know to watch what I say, since you never know how many mutual acquaintances you and the new person have - chances are, there's at least one. So it's not totally weird to see someone you think you know.

But then I realized that this woman looked just like Emma. Emma is the main character from my novel-length WiP. A pink sundress over black tights plus corset is exactly the kind of thing Emma would wear. In fact, she has worn that outfit in at least one or two scenes in my book.

So, here's how I see this: it's possible I've managed to create a tulpa. Alternatively, seeing this woman was a high five from Zeus. Lest I defy Olympus, I think it's probably time to finish the damned draft.

Get down with your bad writing self! ~ Zeus

16 February 2011

Developing Likable Characters: How Weird Can They Be?

Meet Mark Moffett:

Looks like a nice enough fellow, doesn't he? In fact, based on what I've gathered from his YouTube video, Mark Moffett is a lovely man. He's got a variety of traits that you might include if you wanted to build a likable fictional character. He's intelligent - in fact he's got a PhD. He's interested in communicating his experiences to a larger audience, so you could say he's generous. He's got a sense of adventure: He has travelled widely and studied abroad. He has a community of friends and colleagues willing to cheer him on through his achievements. He's an ecologist by profession - so he's trying to save the earth! And he cares about animals. You could say he really cares about animals.

Ever since I listened to this interview with screenwriting and video game consultant David Freeman, I've been thinking about the importance of building likable characters in my fiction. Freeman has created a system called "Emotioneering," designed to allow a film audience or a video game player to become immersed in the story through an emotional bond formed with the main or point-of-view character. In that interview, Freeman discusses some of the traits of bond-worthy characters: loyalty, independence and longing are a few. He's written a book that includes many more techniques.

I struggle with this concept, frankly. I like writing characters who are difficult, and not in a cute way. I like thinking about people who think differently, who are outside the pale of what's commonly considered "normal." In one short story that I vetted with an online group, my main character was a gay man who had been mercilessly bullied through his high school years. He still bore the scars and resentment from that time. He was a wounded guy, and not a nice guy, but he was no villain - in itself a miracle of sorts, and a testament to his strength. The story was about how he got a chance to see exactly where the habit of bullying took his high school enemy (not a nice place).

To my way of thinking, the story was about cycles of abuse and taking on the pain that others inflict on you. It was also about the infectious nature of prejudice and hatred, and the insidious qualities of anger - most especially hard-won, righteous anger.

Most of the people who critiqued that story found my MC too bitter, too weird, too alienating. To me, he was a hero.

But back to Dr. Mark Moffett. There are a few things about him that I failed to mention, that to my way of thinking would make him an excellent MC, but some people might find alienating. It has to do with entomology. Specifically, a botfly. (Read only the intro on that wikipedia page and do not scroll down if you are easily grossed out. For the sake of those of you who are new here, I have put the details below the fold. For those who like being grossed out, carry on.


15 February 2011

Want to See Something Really Scary?

Woof! Remember this iconic scene from Twilight Zone: The Movie with Baby Dan Aykroyd and Baby Albert Brooks? Boy, they sure did time their jump scares differently in the 1980s. It seems to me like Aykroyd is strangling Brooks for about half an hour there. And yet when I saw this as a young teen it scared the crap out of me. Our 2011 jump scares last no longer than 1.5 seconds each. Yet magically, we are still capable of perceiving them. WE ARE ENTERING THE TIME ACCELERATION, EVERYBODY! 2012! 2012!

But seriously, want to really see something really scary? Check out this list of Robert Heinlein's rules for writing, which are the newly adopted credo of the Write 1, Sub 1 gang:

Heinlein's Rules for Writing*, which shall heretofore be adopted -- except for the 3rd one, probably -- as our Write1Sub1 Credo:

  1. You must write.
  2. You must finish what you write.
  3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
  4. You must put the work on the market.
  5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.
*These rules originally appeared in Robert Heinlein's 1947 essay "On the Writing of Speculative Fiction."

Like I said - really scary. I am following these to the best of my ability. Even that pesky number 3 is helping me to let go of work when it's "probably good enough" as opposed to believing that there must be something wrong with a perfectly good story that I just haven't figured out yet.

(I'm not delusional enough to say that everything I write is good from the get-go. I am saying that there's a point when you've taken a story as far as you're going to take it. At that point, you probably should just send it out into the world, or at least to critique, or something. I'm working on a soft 3.)

Attempting to follow Heinlein's Rules for Writing is probably a wise decision in the face of what some genre writers have recently been identifying as a market shift back to the values of the pulp era. Kristine Kathryn Rusch, in her recent "Business Rusch" post, argues that

In some ways, we have returned - almost instantly - to the days of the pulps. The faster the writer is, the better the writer is at storytelling (not at writing pretty sentences), the more the writer's works will sell. The better the writer is at business, the more profit she will make from her own writing.

Want to see something really, really scary? Read Jason S. Ridler's post at SFWA on Frank Gruber, pulp fiction writer of the 1920s and 30s. If you're too scared to go over there and check it out, I direct you to Eileen Wiedbrauk's tidy summary: "Write more. Write faster. Get an Underwood and battle the pulp jungle."

Now that's scary. Scary in a good way.

13 February 2011

What Write 1 Sub 1 Is Doing for Me

Yippee! Skippee!
I joined the Write 1, Sub 1 Challenge sometime in mid-January, let's say sometime in the middle of week 3. It's now the end of week 6, and I wanted to share some thoughts about how doing the challenge has helped me.

Goal-setting is relatively ineffective for me. I tend to reach somewhere between 50 and 70 percent of any writing goal I set for myself. But joining a challenge and having some kind of external-to-me group to whom I can report? Much better. For example, this week I had a couple of different short story ideas, but both of them required research and were probably going to be longer pieces. I didn't do any writing on either of them, but I got some novel writing done while I was procrastinating, and I did think about them a whole lot. In an effort to get something submitted this week, I went back and edited a short story that's been sitting on my hard drive since October. And this afternoon, I decided I just couldn't let a week go by without at least making an attempt to produce a new short story. I drafted half of one today.

It was a productive week, in other words. Even if I didn't meet the challenge this week, I'll have a couple of pieces that will probably be ready to go for a first round of submissions by the end of next week.

And this is my main point: Write 1 Sub 1 has gotten my creaky submission process in gear. I will sometimes go through jags of submitting stuff, only to drift away from it later. But the idea of having to get a story in fighting shape, super fast, is helping me to see that doing so doesn't have to be a laborious, painstaking process. It can be a fun, roller coaster, extra super fast laborious and painstaking process.

For the first time in a while, I'm engaging a skill I learned in grad school: researching, composing and editing a piece of writing at high speed and with an eye to high quality. I know I can do this. And hey, there will be time for any further necessary revisions after the rejections roll in, right?

A bit of theory here: in The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron uses the metaphor of "filling the well" to argue that what we really need as artists is a source of images, experiences, or encounters with art in order to stimulate our process. Otherwise, we risk becoming drained or "empty."

Right now, I'm feeling like a different metaphor is appropriate. I'm finding that as I work to "empty the well" by using ideas and engaging in writing, editing, polishing and submitting, I'm giving room for more fresh inspiration to flow in. Instead of stale, stagnant waters, I've got fresh, spring-fed, bubbling coolness. There might even be the odd mysterious sea creature down there.

I'm looking forward to finding out.

11 February 2011

The Crusade Boat is Leaving the Harbour

For the sake of making the Writers' Platform-Building Crusade functional, Rachael at Rach Writes is closing the Crusade list tomorrow night:

Because the Crusade is not just about getting heaps and heaps of followers though I can’t help but squee when I see all your followers go up, I’ve had to make a big decision. So...I’m going to close the List of Crusaders. Not something I thought about before, but it will mean you all have the chance to get to know the Crusaders who’ve already joined, without having to spend your time keeping track of new Crusaders who join as the weeks go by. And I’ll be able to spend more time getting to know you, without all the administration required when new Crusaders sign up.

I know some of you haven’t filled out the form yet, so I’ll keep the List of Crusaders open until 11.59pm (EST) on Saturday, February 12.

Go get it while the getting's good!

10 February 2011

Read This: Mama Fish by Rio Youers

You know when you read a book and there's just something super familiar about it? It's not just that the characters are like you in some way, although they might be. It's more like you're talking to someone who grew up in the same town you did, and is almost exactly your age. You share a slang, a lingo, a frame of reference, or several frames of reference. It's uncanny.

Mama FishI had this feeling, persistently, while reading Mama Fish by Rio Youers. I chalk it up to the fact that the narrator, Patrick Beauchamp, is pretty much exactly my age, and Youers is from Canada, so there may be some crypto-Canadian subtleties in there that lulled me into a sense of familiarity. Like Patrick, I've been in a near-death-causing accident (although I busted my arms and head, not my back, so I'm still able to walk and only partly made of metal). More importantly, Youers is a great writer, so the experience of reading Mama Fish is immersive.

This slender novella riffs on a couple of familiar tropes: the rapid absorption of new technologies into society and the weirdo kid at school, but does so in a manner that's completely fresh. The story flips between Patrick's memories of his spectacularly failed attempt to befriend Kelvin Fish, the high school outcast, and his present-day experiences as father and paraplegic. When he goes back to his old home town, past meets present, and there is revelation! and cataclysm! The writing is lyrical, and the subject matter speculative.

If I could recommend Mama Fish solely on the use of one word, it would be "whale," used as a verb, as in "to whale on" someone or something, as in, to beat the crap out of him / her / it. I say it often, but to see it written down is something else. Here's the paragraph, part of the scene in which Patrick finds a couple of bullies beating up on Kelvin Fish:

The cluster of trees was on the corner of Jackson and Columbus. They enclosed a lousy scrub of land where people used to dump their broken appliances and take their dogs for a crafty, no-need-to-scoop poop (you'll find a Dunkin' Donuts there today - make of that what you will). Hidden from the road, it was the perfect spot for a couple of bullies to whale on a defenseless kid.

I know, right?

Mama Fish could have been a technophobe's delight, a morality tale that tsk-tsks about the weirdness of our deep interconnectedness with the gadgets that we love so dearly. It does go there for some passages, but it doesn't stop there, which is part of its brilliance.

More impressively, Youers slings metaphors and similes like he's frickin' Mary Gaitskill. An accident victim's body is contorted on the road, "his legs curved over his head like a scorpion's tail," while "pale rags of steam fluttered in the air" from a busted-up car.

Personally, I like using simile and metaphor, but those moments in my writing always feel like my feet are leaving the ground, and I'm just as likely to face plant as I am to perform a neat shoulder roll and come up with my hands in a "ta-daaa!" (See what I did there?) More often than not, I stick with concrete description rather than go for a metaphor or simile, out of fear that I will fall flat on my face and cause a fuss. Reading Mama Fish reminded me of how poetic language can enhance a story. If you're a speculative fiction writer who is reading to enhance your craft, you could do worse than pick up a copy of Mama Fish.

Join the Crusade

Join usss.......
Rachael Harrie at Rach Writes is building something awesome: a mighty, mighty army of writers who blog, bloggers who write. If you're writing fiction (or, I guess, nonfiction?) and you want to hook up with others so inclined, join Rachael's Second Writers' Platform Building Crusade. The crusade is ongoing until April 30th, has been going on since the 1st of February, and already has an amazing 134 participants. If you are looking to build a squad of colleagues who work on the same sort of stuff you do, this is your chance. Instructions for joining are are over at Rachael's. I am really looking forward to getting in touch with more amazing writers in the next few months!

Thanks for organizing this, Rachael!  Now let's all head on over and sign up.

01 February 2011

Blogging from A to Z Challenge, April 2011

See that shiny apple badge in my sidebar? It is your magic portal to the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, the brainchild of Arlee Bird over at Tossing It Out. What's it all about? I'll let Mr. Bird explain:

The premise of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge is to post something on your blog every day in April except for Sundays. In doing this you will have 26 blog posts--one for each letter of the alphabet. Each day you will theme your post according to a letter of the alphabet.
You will only be limited by your own imagination in this challenge. There is an unlimited universe of possibilities. You can post essays, short pieces of fiction, poetry, recipes, travel sketches, or anything else you would like to write about. You don't have to be a writer to do this. You can post photos, including samples of your own art or craftwork. Everyone who blogs can post from A to Z.

Obviously, participating in this challenge has many moral, physical and spiritual benefits. Personally, I'm planning to use it as a warm-up to the even more terrifying Story A Day in May challenge.

Maybe Go See This: The Rite

Saturday night, Dave and I had plans to go see The King's Speech. I had originally wanted to go see The Rite, since in my mind any horror flick is preferable Saturday night entertainment than an art house movie that has major Oscar buzz around it and will probably play in our local theatres for a million years.

And since The Rite combines an exorcism theme with Anthony Hopkins (these are a few of my favourite things), I wanted to go.

As of Saturday, however, The Rite was rating a dismal 17% on Rotten Tomatoes (now down to 16%!), and Dave said he wasn't up for it. So, The King's Speech it was.

We live a whopping 5 minute drive from Hamilton's fine downtown core, where we like to go to catch movies. Being that close has a bad effect on me: I usually figure that so long as we're leaving the house around the time the movie's supposed to start, we can fly down the street and be there before the opening credits. So there we were, almost hitting downtown at 8:33pm, and I turned to Dave and said:

"Did you turn the stove off?"

It's been so brutally dry here, that we've been boiling giant pots of water during the day to make sure that the air in the house is hydrated. Otherwise, my eyeballs shrivel and our skin is dry and flaky and you can't touch the cat without setting off a massive static electric charge.

Dave wasn't sure if he'd turned the stove off or not, and the vision of a house fire in which everything we owned and our two beloved pets went down in flames filled my mind. So we turned the car around, came back to find that the stove was indeed turned off, and headed back downtown just in time to catch The Rite.

If you're reading this to decide whether or not to see this movie, I would suggest this litmus test: do you like horror movies, and are you fascinated by the idea of exorcism? Do you want to spend some time looking at a film with a slightly mellower, lower key, and therefore different take on devils, possession, and the role of the exorcist? Then yes, go see it.

If you don't much like the genre and you don't have tons of experience with the idea of exorcism and you thought The Exorcist was stupid, then, uh, you might want to see The King's Speech instead.

Details and spoilers below the fold.