Yes, I know I’m doing it wrong.

I’ve come to a realization over the last few days.  I’ve been reading some Pulp Revival blogs, and other blogs by and for writers.  There is a lot of good advice on the craft of writing out there, but thinking over the perspective from which these pieces is written has made me understand something.

Successful writers are manufacturers.

Now, folks coming from an MFA, Art For Art’s Sake viewpoint might read that statement as a slam, but it’s not meant that way. I admire manufacturing.  Being able to produce a product with a consistent level of quality, to a schedule, to satisfy customers–that is a laudable skill. As a consumer of media I am very happy that certain authors can be counted on to release good books at regular intervals.  There are times when I am in the mood for a particular kind of novel, and there are authors that I can turn to for it.

Knowing what I will be getting is not the same as getting the same thing over and over. Manufacturers innovate, they try new products, they watch their customers to see what works and what doesn’t.  Charles Stross’ Laundry Files and Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files are two good examples.  Both authors manage to introduce new characters and ideas into nearly every book.  Some work and become continuing characters and themes.  Some fall by the wayside because they didn’t interest the readers.

I suspect that most writers who make a living as writers would agree with the description of writing as manufacturing. They would say that they strive to produce good books on a regular basis and that they continually refine their writing process to make sure that what they deliver is the best that they can create.

I am not a manufacturer, though.  I am an inventor.

Again, that statement is not intended as a value judgement. I am not claiming some kind of artistic high ground. It’s a different way of approaching the craft, that’s all.

I’m much less interested in what works than in why it works, how it works, how far it can be pushed before it stops working, what happens when you try it this way or that way. When I read an analysis of how authors create compelling characters or fascinating plots, my first thought isn’t to adopt those techniques but to dig into the nuts and bolts behind them.

My goal is the same, in the end.  I want to entertain my readers.  I want to produce stories that get people emotionally involved, that are enjoyable (for occasionally very skewed values of “enjoyment”).

It’s how I go about doing it that is different.  It’s hard to explain, but in every new project I start from scratch, reinventing the wheel.  Even in my series, The Book Of Lost Doors, the four novels are intentionally structured differently. (They are, in essence, each structured around the question, “Who is Agony Delapour?” and built to give four different answers to that question.)

My short stories tend to be even more experimental. I tend to write them to test a particular theory–“can this be done?”  Frequently the answer is “no, it can’t” which is why I have a lot of unfinished short stories.

Much of this work is done unconsciously, or semi-consciously. I don’t do a lot of planning in the conventional sense of plotting a story out in advance. Instead I focus on what I call the deep structure of a work–those things like word choice and rhythm of language and level of detail that invoke feelings in a reader that are independent of what is actually happening in the story.

It is in the opposition of the overt story–the events being described–and the covert story–the mood created by the way in which those events are described–that I feel I do my best work. In this way I write much more like a poet or lyricist than a novelist.

And I’m okay with that.  I realize that invention is not a way to be commercially successful–those inventors who became rich, like Henry Ford or Thomas Edison, did so because they applied their inventions to their manufacturing.  You don’t get rich by inventing something, you get rich by selling a whole lot of things.  If it’s something that you invented, that streamlines the process, but it’s the sales, not the invention, that pays the bills.

But I like what I do. I nearly always enjoy the process, and I frequently enjoy the outcome.  I think other people, both readers and writers, get something out of my experiments. When I wrote “A  Hill Of Stars” for Cirsova #1 I created a world that quite a few other authors have been able to work in, and there are more “Eldritch Earth” stories in the works.

That pleases me.

The 21st Century Thrilling Adventure anthology that will be coming out is also, in some ways, my invention. That pleases me, too.  I like to be able to see other artists building on my ideas, it makes me feel like my effort has been worth it.

So I’m going to keep doing it wrong, and see what happens.

Posted in Artists That I Admire, New Wave, On Writing, Poetry, Who I am | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Going Away (for a while)

I don’t ordinarily talk about myself and what I am doing in this blog.  That’s not what this platform is for.  But it occurs to me that some folks only know me through here, and I don’t want anyone to worry.  I will be out of town and out of communication from the 7th of September through the 18th.

I am planning to be on a cruise ship, actually, going to the Caribbean. I hope.  There is a tropical storm brewing in the Atlantic right now, and there is a possibility that it may negatively impact these plans.  If so, I will be very unhappy.

But here is hoping for the best.  Anyone contacting me via e-mail after the 7th probably won’t hear back until the middle of the month. I think I have all of my current projects at a place where they can be put on hold for that long.

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No platformed!

Third Way Trans

Carey Callahan and I were scheduled to present two panels at the Philly Trans Health Conference. One of these panels was on detransition and the other panel was on alternative ways to work with gender dysphoria. We additionally gathered some other detransitioned and re identified people to present with us. The descriptions are below:

Detransition Panel

Detransition (reversing transition and returning to presentation as natal sex) has historically been a rare phenomenon. However, the numbers of detransitioners are growing. For the first time there are communities of detransitioners. Detransitioners face similar challenges to those that are transitioning as well as some that are unique to detransition. People detransition for a variety of reasons. Some people detransition for social reasons. Some people detransition because they discovered that transition was not right for them or did not help with their dysphoria. Some people detransition because they discover their original desire to transition…

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21st Century Thrilling Adventure

Back at the end of March I posted a call for submissions for a new anthology.  Here we are at the end of August, and I have just handed over the keys to Kevyn Winkless, who will be using it to launch his new publishing venture, EXTANT!

I think it’s a good collection.  The concept was a simple one, or so I thought.  I wanted to get stories that had the pacing and feel of the old-style pulps, but set in the modern day.

Different authors took that concept and took it in a lot of different directions, some of which I never expected. That’s always the best part about these kinds of projects, seeing where other creative minds go from the same starting point.

We’ve got an interesting mix of genres, from straight Horror to Sci Fi to Urban Fantasy to Weird Fiction to Thriller.

There’s still a lot of work to do in making the collection into a real book, but that’s mostly mechanical, editing and formatting and such.  I think that the stories we have make up a solid collection.

I’ll be updating as seems appropriate and post links for the collection once it goes live.

Posted in Artists That I Admire, On Promotion, On Publishing, On Writing, pulp revival | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A View From A Depth

[I wrote this piece for a flash fiction anthology.  Since it was rejected for that, I’m going to share it here.]

“Hey, what’s going on?”
“Hmmm? Oh, nothing. Just clearing the boards.”
“You’ve got something on your mind.”
“I’m tired, I guess.”
“Want to talk about it? We could get some coffee.”
“No, I’m… You know, I’d like that. You ready to clock out?”
“Ten minutes. You know Jay-Bob’s, up on three?”
“Sure. Ten minutes.”

“Two black and whites—”
“Naw, get the real stuff. I’m buying. Two Konas. Extra large.”
“Are you sure?”
“I had a good month. I feel like splurging.”
“Well… thanks.”
“Don’t mention it. Now talk.”
“What do you want to talk about?”
“All shift you’ve been Mr. Zombie. What’s on your mind?”
“Well… Look, my contract’s up.”
“Oh, no—they aren’t renewing you?”
“It’s not that. I got an offer. Another five, with grade increase. I just don’t know if I want to take it.”
“You thinking about going back up?”
“Thinking about it.”
“Seriously? You know what it’s like up there?”
“They seem happy enough.”
“Tourists? Sure, they can afford to blow a couple of grand a day on a vacation. Of course they’re happy.”
“I just don’t know what we’re doing down here, you know?”
“We’re running traffic for the locks. At least I am, you’re staring off into space and letting the boats pile up halfway to St. Thomas.”
“I kept my locks moving.”
“Only because it was a slow shift, and I was rerouting half of the inbounds from eight to seven and five.”
“Bullshit. You want to run the numbers?”
“Okay, relax. I was just needling you. Man, if you’re really unhappy here, maybe you should go up. But I think you’d be making a mistake.”

“You sticking around, boy-o?”
“Yeah, I signed. You’re stuck with me for another five.”
“Good, I’d hate to have to train a new assistant.”
“Assistant, my ass. I’ve got rank in grade on you now.”
“No shit. So I guess that, ‘Oh, gosh, I think I want to go upstairs’ line worked? I need to try that next time.”
“Careful. They might let you go.”
“Shut up and safe your boards. We’ve got inbounds.”

“What happened after they pulled you off the board? I was going nuts trying to cover eight locks.”
“I got paneled.”
“An inquiry? Because of Captain Dickweed? They’re buying his ‘diplomatic priority’ bullshit?”
“Evidently I wasn’t responding professionally to a communication from a partner nation.”
“So what happens now?”
“Suspended pending.”
“Well they damned well better ask me what happened. I was there, and you followed procedure. They’ll have riots if they try to censure you for that.”
“I don’t think it’ll come to that. They’re just going through the motions to make the attache or whatever feel like she’s a big cheese.”
“These are same jokers that talk about how bad their people need ocean harvested protein every time we try to get a price increase and you’re suppose to let a couple of thousand tons of that protein drift so she doesn’t have to wait for a lock? I think I hate upstairs.”
“It’ll blow over, and I got a couple of days off out of the deal.”
“Yeah, and I’m stuck with some cadet until you get back.”
“Poor boy. You know the drill—stay calm and keep the traffic moving. Me, I’m going to get a bottle of that drain cleaner to go and see if I can kill it.”
“Have fun.”
“…want to come with?”
“Seriously? I have to work tomorrow.”
“I’ll get you out the door in time. I don’t want to be alone tonight.”

“… to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, so long as you both shall live?”
“I do.”
“And do you….”

“Where’s the other bag? Do we have a ticket for the other bag? I’ve only got four tickets here. Which one is missing? Did we leave one at home? Damn—we haven’t got time to go back.”
“We have five bags on the trolley and five tickets. See? Relax, we’ve got it all handled.”
“And the shot records? Have we got all the shot records? The doctor said we can’t bring him without the records.”
“I have all the paperwork right here. Just sit down and wait for them to call us. This is supposed to be a vacation, remember?”
“I just want to make sure—”
“I’m sure. Take a deep breath. Everything is going to be fine.”
“I was up all last night worrying.”
“I know. You kept me up. We’re just going to islands for a week, not invading the mainland.”
“Are you sure this is the right thing for him? All those diseases up there…”
“We’ll be in the member nation quarantine zone the whole trip. Everyone who works those resorts has to be screened. We’ve all got our shots.”
“Do you think he’ll like it?”
“Darling, our son is almost three and he’s never seen sunlight. I think it’s time.”
“What if he gets scared?”
“Our boy? He’s been running around playing upstairs for a month. He’ll love it.”

“Let’s take a look at—oh, no,that is not how you tie a tie.”
“I followed the instructions.”
“Let me see that… no, that’s for the other kind of tie. You need the one for the bow tie.”
“This is stupid.”
“They’re dedicating a new transit annex. It’s kind of big deal.”
“But why do they need me?”
“Because you’re the division chief and they need someone to make a speech.”
“I have to wear this getup to make a speech?”
“You want the representatives of all the member nations to see you in a ratty old wet suit?”
“Honestly? Yes.”
“Well, you have to impress you’re new daughter-in-law in any event. They’ve come all the way from deep Alaska.”
“I can’t breathe in this thing.”
“Then stop talking. You have your speech? Good. Now let me finish my makeup and we’ll go.”

“The writer and reformer George Bruce wrote, in 1884, ‘The sea is the largest cemetery, and its slumbers sleep without a monument. All other graveyards show symbols of distinction between great and small, rich and poor: but in the ocean cemetery, the king, the clown, the prince and the peasant are alike, undistinguishable.’
“My wife heartily approved of that sentiment. She always used to say that upstairs cares about ranks and titles, but down here the only thing that matters is if you can do the job.
“She had a lot of jobs, and she did them all so well. I met her when we were both lock controllers, and I don’t mind admitting that I learned the job from her. ‘Stay calm and keep the traffic moving,’ that was her motto, and over the years it’s been the one principle that has guided my career. We’ve gone from eight locks to thirty-four, and our daily tonnage has increased exponentially. But the basics haven’t changed. Stay calm and keep the traffic moving is still rule number one.
“She brought that same calm and that same dedication to the job to everything she did. As a mother, later a grandmother, she was always the one who picked up the pieces and kept the traffic moving. Most of you know her as the chair of the civilian advisory board, a role that she kept for over ten years, until the cancer forced her to step down last year…”

“So you’re really going upstairs?”
“Yeah. The new kid can handle the department. You don’t need me any more.”
“We’ll miss you.”
“An old man to use up more breathing air? Naw, this isn’t any place to retire to.”
“You’ve been down here a long time. It’s different upstairs, you know.”
“Thirty-eight years. I’ll adapt. I’m not planning on doing anything more that lying on the beach and getting a tan.”
“Well, I hope you’ll stay in touch. And you know you’ve always got a place here, if the surface doesn’t agree with you.”
“Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind. Now, I’ve got a sub to catch.”
“Take care, Sir.”
“Carry on. Keep the traffic moving.”

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Various DIY Tools and their uses…


Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

My thanks to the Vermont Varmint for

sending this extremely accurate info:

License to use obtained- Copyright Copyright : Sanja Bojanovic on 123RF Stock Photo

SKILLSAW: A portable cutting tool used to make boards too short.

BELT SANDER: An electric sanding tool commonly used to convert minor touch-up jobs into major refinishing jobs.

WIRE WHEEL: Cleans paint off bolts and then throws them somewhere under the workbench with the speed of light. Also removes fingerprints and hard-earned calluses from fingers in about the time it takes you to say, ‘Oh shoot’. Will easily wind a tee shirt off your back.

DRILL PRESS: A tall upright machine useful for suddenly snatching flat metal bar stock out of your hands so that it smacks you in the chest and flings your beer across the room, denting the freshly-painted project which you had carefully set in the corner where nothing could get to…

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It’s Personal Every Time

I have been using Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited to listen to audiobooks recently.  Now, you can search for e-books that are both KU eligible and have an audio version available, but if there is a way to search for books where the audio version is included in KU, I haven’t been able to figure it out.  That means that I do a fair amount of hunting through the lists, clicking on titles to see if they are labeled “Read And Listen For Free” or if they want me to shell out for the audio version. (Most are of the latter variety.)

However, I have found a fair number that I can listen to as part of Kindle Unlimited.  Or that I can start listening to, anyway.  Because of how I am finding books I am taking chances on a lot of books that I wouldn’t have tried otherwise.  Some of them were fun, exciting finds, and I intend to do a post on the “diamonds in the rough” that I have stumbled upon.

Some of them… not so much.  I don’t like writing negative reviews, so I won’t be mentioning titles in this blog, but I have noticed many of the same issues cropping up time and again, and I want to talk about one of them today.

I call it the “This Time It’s Personal” bit.  It works like this:

A main character is faced with a professional issue–a lawyer has a client charged with a crime, a structural engineer has a building to survey, a soldier has an objective to overtake. Then the author hits you with the kicker reveal–the main character has a personal connection to the job.  The client is the lawyer’s ex-wife’s twin sister.  The building is where the engineer’s parents were murdered. The soldier lost his best friend in an earlier assault on the objective.

The interesting thing is that it didn’t really click for me what exactly was bugging me about that particular trope until I started listening to Dickens’ A Tale Of Two Cities and met Jarvis Lorry.  In his own words:

“And you will see how truly I spoke of myself just now, in saying I had no feelings, and that all the relations I hold with my fellow-creatures are mere business relations, when you reflect that I have never seen you since. No; you have been the ward of Tellson’s House since, and I have been busy with the other business of Tellson’s House since. Feelings! I have no time for them, no chance of them. I pass my whole life, miss, in turning an immense pecuniary Mangle.”

Now, Jarvis Lorry does have a history with Lucie Manette, the young woman to whom he makes the above speech.  But it is a professional history. He is dedicated to her because he is dedicated to Tellson’s Bank.  Dickens didn’t invent some other connection because he didn’t need any other connection. Mr. Lorry’s professional dedication was the strongest possible motivation for that character.

And that got me thinking about Philip Marlowe, one of my literary heroes. When Marlowe went to the wall for a client it wasn’t because the client was Marlowe’s sister’s boyfriend’s cousin, it was because the client was a client (and sometimes not even that.  Marlowe frequently puts his life on the line for innocent bystanders.)

The problem that I have with “This Time It’s Personal” is the implication that professional dedication isn’t enough of a motivation for a protagonist.

“Ordinarily I wouldn’t care about a teenager getting gunned down in cold blood on my watch, but since the kid is related to an old friend, I guess I’ll go ahead and investigate the case.”

And I think that’s a relatively new trend.  I don’t see “But this case threatens to reveal the detective’s own shadowy past…” type descriptions on older mysteries. There was a mystery, and a detective whose job it is to solve mysteries, and that was all you needed.

Science Fiction Disasters weren’t about a scientist having to save the town because his estranged daughter lived there, he saved the town because thousands of innocent people lived there.

Which is not to say that loyalty to a friend or a family member is a bad motivation for a protagonist. It’s just that loyalty to an employer or client and commitment to upholding the standards of a profession are also perfectly valid motivations for a protagonist, and what I see in much of modern fiction is the assumption that those things are not enough without some kind of personal connection.

In fact, in many works of modern fiction I see protagonists who are willing to betray employers and violate professional standards for personal reasons and the authors present that as being a positive trait. It’s as if the concept of a workingman’s honor–“If I take your silver I owe you my loyalty”–isn’t considered a virtue in modern fiction.

Something to think about.


Posted in Artists That I Admire, On Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments