Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Villains v. Heroes

I suppose the more correct statement is 'Protagonists v. Antagonists' but I like villains. The 'I'm here to, if not end, then seriously mess up, the world and here's my creepy laugh to prove it' sort. Maybe it's my religious upbringing but I like the dichotomy of Good and Evil, Right and Wrong. But that's not the point. This is the point: I like villains more than heroes because I think they're more interesting and take more skill to write.

Even in good writing, all an author needs for a hero is as character with a vague notion to 'do what's right'. Anti-heroes and whatnot aside, at the very basic level that is all that is required. If well written, this will not compromise the integrity of the story. Because you can just have a ridiculously idealistic protagonist.

Villains need a reason. No one decides to blow up the planet just because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Any story written with such an antagonist is either parody, or insanely simple. A villain that is villainous just because will automatically reflect poorly on a writer (except in cases of comedy) whereas a hero that is heroic just because will not.

Granted, I don't particularly like reading about people who are heroic simply because that's the way they are, but it's been done. Done well even. And there is a certain sort of appeal. I have no burning, driving force that would push me toward greatness but I like to think (even though I know I most likely wouldn't) that I would make the right choices if they were put in front of me. The very ordinary-ness such characters can posses can be a very powerful tool.

Anyway. You can argue for the case of the Psychopath / Anti-Social (Mel feel free to chime in if I'm getting my disorders wrong ) villain who was born that way. But I would argue back that even this requires a layer of complexity that the very basic hero does not. Such a character would require, not only a thorough understanding of such disorders, but the writer to demonstrate how this has manifested throughout the character's life.

 Villains necessitate complexity whereas heroes do not.

Of course, the best heroes are, in my opinion,  every bit as complex as their counterparts. But it isn't necessary.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Last night, as seems to happen every so often, I found myself wandering back to Arylle. This is always a bad idea as it inevitably makes me lose interest in whatever other characters I should be working on, but somehow knowing this never stops me. Worse yet, last night I chose the last three chapters of the book, not only renewing my infatuation with the story, but leaving me an emotional cripple as well.
What is it about this story? These people? Is it really just narcissism, since they are so much a part of me – sharing my neuroses and fears to such an extent that the book might be considered a roadmap to my soul? Is it because I grew up on them, learned to write through them, experienced so much of life while toiling to create those pages? Or is it like a high school romance that will always hold a place in your heart because it was your first?

Ultimately, it’s a story about wanting what you can’t have (or what reason says you can’t have). It’s about the fear of being alone. It’s about love. Almost everything that happens was ripped off from somewhere else or lifted from my life. Some of this is obvious (Riorac’s facial numbness), and some is more difficult to discern (the reason behind Arylle’s fear of blood). All of the characters have a little bit of me in them, plus a little bit of what I’d like to be. Perhaps that’s why they’re so dear to me?

I wrote this book because it was my favorite story in the world, but it hadn’t been written yet, so I decided that I’d take up the challenge (and if that’s not the most egotistic statement ever, I’d be surprised). I know that it will take time for Aya’s Wings to compare, even if I think that the overall quality of the story is already better. I don’t know the lines by heart yet. I don’t know the path of the story like the steps to my house. Right now, there’s a lot of fumbling and faith. But Arylle is complete (or almost complete, since everything could always use one more look through). I wonder if it would take publishing for me to finally be able to let go of her?


Thursday, April 22, 2010


Two weeks ago I woke up and realized it was April.  I mean, I really realized it was April. I've been lost in a mire of job applications while La Nina's indecisive weather patterns have messed with my head (I don't like going out in the rain, and I feel super positive when I'm active...which generally requires sunny weather.   This Winter/Summer/Winter/Summer every other week is just bad for me).  The Girl is bad for me, apparently.

That said, it's April.   The countdown until Leafkin's deadline is on.    I'm trying to organize my time so that I can maximize everything I have to do before stories arrive.  Then I get to read and edit, do some event planning, and then work on website, facebook--even this blog could use a bit of tweaking.   I'm sensing that if last year, when we released our first volume, is anything to go by--this is bound to be the busiest part of my year.
 But, it's something to get my butt out of bed for.  Something to land me in front of the computer screen, where I can and will write.

But it won't pay the bills.  Still working on that one, before the sand in the glass is gone.   

Monday, April 19, 2010


Is it time for an embarrassing memory? I think it is.

Most writers have touching anecdotes about how they’ve been telling stories since they learned how to talk, making their parents write the words down because the budding genius was currently illiterate, how they won competitions when their age was still in the single digits, how they’ve always known that this was their calling, etc.

I have a story like this too.

When I was seven years old, I read the Betsy, Tacy, and Tib stories. These are a series of books about three girls growing up at the turn of the twentieth century and the various adventures that they embark on. In one of the books, the girls see a theatrical version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and decide to put on the show themselves for their friends and family. For some reason, this struck me as the best idea ever and, always one for originality, I decided that I would do the same.

I knew nothing more about Uncle Tom’s Cabin than the sparse details that were included in the book (I had never heard of it before, actually). There were characters named Eva, Topsy, and Uncle Tom. And it was about escaping from slavery. Or something like that. I had all the information I needed for a brilliant script.

The only problem with this plan, I soon realized, was that neither I nor anyone else in my family was Black. Of the little that I understood about race at that age, I knew a bit about slavery, and this was a crushing dilemma. Soon enough, though, I came up with a way around it. My play would not be a mere adaptation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, it would be an entire reworking of the story. This would also, I reasoned, make up for my general lack of knowledge about the original plotline. I thought like a lawyer back then. But my ‘reworking’ morphed into one of the most politically incorrect works of fiction that ever sprang from the mind of a seven-year-old.

The story would be set in 1995 Minnesota (I’m really not sure why I chose that state; probably because I was also obsessed with the American Girl stories at the time, and my favorite doll, Kirsten, was from there. Again with the lack of creativity even in my creative pursuits). Eva, who was now the star of the story, would of course by played by me. Topsy, who I somehow perceived as Eva’s younger sister, would be played by my three-year-old sister, Kayla. Uncle Tom would be played by my grandfather, who went along with all my schemes in those days. And a new character, Grandma, would be played by my long-suffering grandmother. The crux of the plot would be that 130 years after the civil war, minority groups in Minnesota were revolting and enslaving frightened Caucasians as vengeance for the first round of slavery. Eva and company need to escape to California, with a covered wagon as their only means of conveyance. Hilarity ensues.

My grandfather, bless him, wrote down the script for me since my newly-learned handwriting was still slow and shaky. In his infinite wisdom, he took down my dictation word for word, but removed all mention of race, correctly guessing that I wouldn’t notice the difference until after the show. Now, the vague ‘bad people’ were trying to enslave Eva’s helpless family. Additionally, I had wanted to kill off the Grandma character in a touching death scene, but this idea earned me a long lecture from my real grandmother, so the character ended up bedridden, but alive.

At first I conceived of the show as an epic musical affair, with full costumes for the four cast members and half a dozen songs (both original pieces written by me and pilfered show tunes that seemed to fit in). As the date of the performance drew near, though, a few key issues appeared. Namely, that I had no knowledge of how to write music, no accompaniment, no budget for costumes (or anything, really), no theater to perform in, and one of the cast members didn’t know how to read.

In the end, my grandparents’ living room served as our performance space, with my family watching on dutifully from around the dining room table. I was the only one in costume– a leotard under one of my mother’s old skirts. My sister wore a party dress. My grandparents and I held our scripts, since we hadn’t bothered memorizing them, and we took turns whispering lines to my sister, who resolutely refused to repeat them. She seemed bored with the show in general and spent most of it running around in circles, throwing her skirt over her head and giggling at the video camera. The show’s finale was supposed to involve my character tumbling off a cliff and into the arms of Uncle Tom, but the house was decidedly lacking in cliffs, so I jumped off the sofa instead. I sang one of my songs acapella, feeling that the performance would not be complete without it.

Since my family has some level of compassion, they applauded, and the affair was mercifully finished. I tried to write a sequel (called Uncle Tom’s House), but my time as a playwright had passed, and I couldn’t find the inspiration to finish it. To this day, this catastrophic event is one of my family’s favorite inside jokes, a “remember when…” that comes up every so often. The worn notebook that my grandfather wrote the script in still sits on a shelf in my closet. My grandmother still gets mad at me for wanting to kill her character.

So that was my first and last foray as a playwright. It was the first work I ever completed and one of my fondest memories of childhood. An auspicious start to my career.


Friday, April 16, 2010

On Social Networks

I am not afraid of the technological age. I don't feel that I can afford to be. If a writer wants to be successful in today's age I feel that one must be knowledgeable about technology. For the up-and coming generation (those of us under 40 years) technology has grown with us. We have no excuses. Computers invaded our work environment and proved a typing standard for academic papers. We are more familiar with the medium than any other generation, and rightly we should be. While I pour over blogs relating to e-books and e-reading devices, this is only a segment of the new era.

Many of us are versed in using social networks and gmail (with all its fancy bonus features) for our social lives, we need to adjust these behaviors into the professional sphere. We can garner attention for our writing by joining groups and actively participating in forums and commenting on blogs. Reaching out to others enables us to find markets to publish short stories, learn about contests and generally grants us the benefit of others' knowledge. Connections are important, and right now it is easier than ever to network.

Also, it should be easier to find the knowledge to help us get published. Writers need only find the right groups, online or offline, whose members have access to the needed information. Functioning as network hubs, groups can provide services to their members.

But active participation in social networks is required to achieve this. I am slowly doing this myself, as well as participating in forums and blog-reading/commenting. This is part of the difference from the romantic notion of what a writer *is* and what sort of work it actually takes.

The research is not only "who sells what" & "who represents what," but also "where can I connect with others?" & "how can I enter the conversation?" After picking your modes of communication, it becomes about learning how to do it well. Social networking may be the least time consuming of options. There aren't a million forums to sort through, on Facebook. There are discussions on the pages you participate in, and you can read the comments and post your own. The organization is much more convenient than most of the forums that I have signed into. Further, when someone replies it can be e-mailed to you.


I don't think of the "Notes" section of Facebook is blog-worthy. The font is ugly. While it may be bearable in short posts, lists, or some such use, it is hard on the eyes in extensive passages. This is why I post links. Come see us on Blogger, where I have control of the presentation of the posts and entire blog!

If you join a group, participate in the discussions and check in on the page. Not only is it advantageous to your career, but you help the group with every post you make. Traffic and visibility go hand in hand on the internet. If you enjoy belonging to a group, help that group be successful by engaging online. Leaving the discussion boards hanging, and not replying to messages or topics serves to make the site less visible and engaging to those who might come across it and be interested in joining.

Posting sensitive info on your FB page. If you have religious or intellectual bias' and are using your Facebook page to connect professionally, be cautious of your content or maintain two pages. With two pages you could maintain a public profile and private profile. What you run on your private is your business, but with a more public profile it is easier to connect with other writers.

Still, we are connected. This connection will only intensify as the net of technology grabs the world and tightens. This isn't something to resist, because in resisting people will always be left behind. Success depends on not being left behind, but rising to the top. Ideally, there will be a bunch of us who do, who succeed and give the readers fresh new material to feed their eyes on.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tick tock

I read an article last week about Nicolas Sparks, who started his most recent novel this February 17th and needs to have it done by May to keep it on schedule for getting it published this Fall. He says he’s not happy working under such time constraints, but he can get the work done. I’ve heard of people writing a novel in six months before, but three? Then again, it’s Nicolas Sparks.

My point is, my only completed book took almost seven years, and that was just for the first draft. Granted, for the first four years almost nothing was written. The characters’ names changed, even the most basic elements of the plot changed, and only a few threads remain that identify it as the original story (the prison scene at the beginning is one of the only parts that has been included from day one). Only when I was a senior in high school did I begin to make any sort of real progress on it. By my first year of college, a definite draft was coming together (previously I had only had a collection of scenes without transitions, or the first chapter written over and over again). And by my third semester, I was about two thirds of the way through. That New Years, my resolution was to finish a draft by the end of the year. The draft was finished by the end of February.

It’s funny what a little momentum can do. Once I knew where I was going, nothing could slow me down. The next couple of years were spent revising, but that was much more sporadic and happened in fits and starts.

I sometimes wonder how fast I could turn out a book if I had nothing else to do but write. No social or professional obligations, no life stressors, just me and my computer. In my experience, though, this hasn’t worked very well. It used to be something of a joke to me that every summer vacation in high school my writing would stagnate. No matter how much progress I had been making during the school year, once I actually had the free time to sit down and burn through a major portion of the plot, writing was suddenly loathsome to me.

I’ve overcome this to an extent, but it still remains true that I want to write most when I don’t have time for it. If I were on a deadline, like Sparks is, and the thing that I didn’t have time for was not writing, but other life obligations, I’m not sure how I would rise to the challenge. As this is probably not something I will ever experience, I may never know. Could I write a complete novel in final draft form in a year? Maybe, but it wouldn’t be very good. My plotlines change gradually over time. I revise them based on the people I meet, the places I go, the things I read. If I had written Arylle in high school, as I had hoped to, it would have been a very different story. And it would have been almost unreadable.

My point is, I don’t see any good reason to rush a story (unless you’ve got a six-figure contract to, as Sparks probably does). It will be told in its own time, and it will probably be better for the pace.


Friday, April 9, 2010

Story Telling: A Primitive Act Preserved In Modern Technology

It's late Friday night. I've been writing and researching like mad it seems. Because of this I'm having a little bit of a writer's block at the moment.

I think I'm going to just use some spontaneity in writing this blog entry. However, shouldn't that be a part of every writer's work (one of a few exceptions, however, would be technical writing)? Sure, writing in the formal sense, such as the writing of a novel or an article especially if these two or their likes are to be published, have to have some sort of a restraint on them. But the very energy--the movement and rhythm of the writing--especially in fiction and poetry should be that of spontaneity and therefore natural flow. Yet, even to communicate the natural flow, at least on paper (or computer screen), the writing's got to be refined and therefore revised to clarify that energetic flow.

Going back to my use of spontaneity . . . I've been syncing podcasts of old radio shows and an author's science fiction/horror audiobook novel (who I had the pleasure to meet at San Jose's BayCon a couple years ago) and have been listening to them at work. I work in a state office and so I do a lot of filing of documents that can get very repetitive and so when it get's repetitive it can make you feel like falling asleep to the point where you feel you have to stand up from your chair and slap yourself awake! So I solved that problem by buying myself an iPod at the beginning of the year. Most people listen to music on their iPods, and so do I. But since I don't get all the time I would like to read, I'll listen to my podcasted radio dramas and the audio book novel a chapter at a time.

Does this substitute for reading? Yes and no. Yes, it does substitute for reading when you are in a position where you can not read a book. I, for example, at work cannot possible file documents and make out file folders for the documents while reading a book of Ray Bradbury short stories or any book for that matter. However, I can do the second best thing which is listening to stories, whether they be fiction or nonfiction. And as I listen to these stories I'm visualising what is going on between the characters and the setting they are in. This is a main characteristic of reading as well--visualizing. The difference is obvious: with one you are using your eyes, with the other you are using your ears. But with both you are using your head and so you are forced to imagine the appearance of the action and setting. People were forced to do this before television came out and so their radios sat in the living/family room where now a TV probably sits, maybe even a computer or maybe even both since the technology to connect one's computer operating system with their television has been out for a while.

Since the audio podcast forces a person to use their imagination when listening to a story, as high of technology as it is for our time, it is using two very primitive but very significant elements--the element of speaking and the element of listening. Before the written word came out, people told stories orally and listened to them. And it was this kind of story telling that eventually led to the preserving of these spoken stories on a medium that you could mark some symbols on and keep the "speech" of those stories for as long as the meduim, whether it was paper or stone or whatever, held up and so before it could decay or crumble.

In the early half of the previous century, radio carried on this preservation of speech along with the live conveyance of it. Now podcasting does the same. And the stories of the oral story teller of ancient times have been living on in new technologically.

I don't really have much of an ending for this blog entry. If I sound like I'm rambling it's probably because I am. I just want to make sure you all get your Friday night blog entry from yours truly like I said you would to one of Sylvanopolis Society's coordinators. Hopefully this will shed some light on where our story telling is going and how both the temporal spoken as well as the permanently written word is going. It's going to new technology, particularly the desktop through Internet, the iPod and now the ebook (which I personally don't bother with because it takes out the true reading experience from me). Yet, it is still forcing us to think much more than most television does. However, those of us nerds, like myself, who like the full good "o'l fashion" experience of reading a tangible book that holds a specific work of writing by a specific author or a group of authors (such as in an anthology), will keep the printed word alive. The printed word may be in the minority, but now that's what brings diversity and excitement to life doesn't it? If a person doesn't like it, they can go on listening to their iPod, or even their radio or, if they're really that addicted to mass consumer technology, their TV. But I'd rather have the best of both worlds, electronic media and print media, as long as they both make you use your head and not merely drink yourself wasted from electronic visions.

Well, it's way after the witching hour (as us horror/dark fantasy writers like to say) and so I'm crash'in to my "coffin".

Good night, and until next week . . . !


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Net Neutrality

You may have heard... The Federal Appeals Court overturned the decision made that would prevent Copmcast--and other broadband industries--from interfering with their "customers' access to the websites and services" .

The debates are over an internet "fast lane," entrepreneurship and consumer privacy. The fast lane idea means that broadband services will charge more for access to higher speeds. If there are different speeds at which the audience can access the internet, this can affect consumer experience of websites, blogs, online stores, etc. Currently, entrepreneurs rely on filling niches that are being developed by burgeoning technologies. The more quickly the internet changes, the more it becomes integral to our lives, the more it becomes an outlet for business, advertising, and communication. Hindering the ability of anyone to experience this space equally to everyone else will suppress the creativity required by new industry.

And what would this do for writing? Well, we are relying on internet for blogging, book buying, book downloading (e-books) book/publisher/author researching (not to mention researching for writing projects). Should any of these experiences be hindered by an inability to pay for a fastlane could mean that an author is unable to reach all of his/her audience. Advertising will become even more class-based, divided along the ability to access particular pages, run certain media/applications...whatever... We can't assume to know the direction or possibilities this technology will develop in the next decade. So why hinder it?


Monday, April 5, 2010

Progress Report

I’ve actually been on a writing kick lately, which is extraordinary (to say the least). The manuscript of Aya’s Wings has grown to fifty-two pages, which may not seem like much, but for me it’s quite a ways. I started this thing last September, seven months ago, and while I’m pleased with and proud of what I’ve written so far, it’s often been a paragraph at a time.

I’m not sure what inspired this latest binge. Last week was Spring Break, so I had more time to write, but if anything, having more free time usually brings my writing to a standstill. I want to write most during finals week, the night before a big paper is due, etc. So maybe it started a couple of weeks ago when I had a family therapy midterm? Or maybe now that I’m out of the first couple of chapters, where everything is new and I’m still feeling my way around a strange world where not all of the rules have been formed yet, things will be a little easier?

Maybe I’m finally falling in love with the characters. I have an unfortunate tendency to get attached to them, and when Arylle was finished it felt almost like betrayal to write about other people. But with every page I’m adoring Amarinne and crushing on Narun more and more. I don’t think anyone will ever replace the first cast of characters I ever wrote about, but I’m starting to have fun with these guys.

I also needed to let go of Arylle and realize that, imperfections though the story may have, I’m satisfied with it and think that it’s about as good as it is going to get. Strange timing, when my mother just asked me yesterday, as she listened to the furious clicking of my keyboard, “What are you doing?”

“Writing,” I said, my usual one-word response.

“Again? You’ve been doing a lot of that.”

“Yeah, I’m finally getting into it again.”

“Aren’t you finished with it yet?”

“No, this is my second book. The first one is finished.”

“Well rather than starting on something else, aren’t you going to try to publish that one?”

“Not right now.” I don’t understand why it’s so hard to fathom that I might have other interests than slogging through query letters and summaries. Why can’t I be happy with my completed project? Is publishing the only way to make it matter? What matters to me is that here is something I started when I was thirteen years old; I’ve written it and rewritten it, and now I’m finally happy with it and feel like I’ve accomplished something. Doing research on the market and sucking up to various heads of industry would spoil the experience for me. That’s the grunt work, for me, and maybe someday I’ll be willing to put my head down and do it, but that day isn’t now. Right now, Arylle is done. Aya’s Wings is just beginning. And I’m looking forward to seeing it through.


Friday, April 2, 2010

World and Electronic Document Building

Again, I apologise for ditching out on everybody last week again. I was more tired than hell by the time I got home from a long day at work and so just could not write so late in the evening. They were training me on some technology at my job with the state and so it was, as exciting as it was, quite complicated and some what intensive in that it felt like there was very little room for mistakes. But my trainers had been really good with me and very understanding that it was all new to me.

Speaking about technology, and the machine they trained me on did involve documents, I've been getting more into reading up on and even learning a variety of program languages. Right now I'm taking an online course in XML through my job, and, as complicated as it can get, it is really interesting. I'm also reading articles on the subject and am just finishing up a book on the history of computer programming that's been really interesting. The more I read up on computer programming and even computer innovation in general, the more I discover computer technology to be an art. XML is especially great for document production and therefore writing and publishing both in print and electronically. It is much like HTML, or more like XHTML which is actually a combination of XML and HTML. The first one means "hyper textual markup language, the other "extensive hyper textual markup language". And so XML stands for "extensive markup language". It is often used with HTML and so that's how XHTML formed as its own program language although all three of these languages are not programming languages in the same since as C++ or JAVA are which are made more for the hardware's function. XML, HTML and XHTML are languages specifically used to produce online documents and Websites.

I think I mentioned last time that, as with nearly all other artistic professions in this country, opportunities for software and program development professions with the private sector have become a somewhat rarity. But we as artists (writers as well as illustrators) can always use such electronic documentation languages for our own art. These languages can be used to construct and design our own Websites that we can display our stories, poems and art on and promote and market them. The great thing about such languages is that we don't have to be full time programmers just to use them! In using them we are working with both a science (technology) and an art to make art, and for some of us to make a science that has not come into actuality yet and therefore to make science fiction! And for some of you fantasy writers and artists? Developing electronic documents, particularly for Web and application development, is very much like world building.

I really see a lot of avenues and possibilities with the combining of art and computer technology, including program languages, coming to us even more than they already have!

Until next time . . .


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