A couple days ago, I posted a little thing about the various events that used to kept me up at night as a kid. As an astronomy geek that’s been in awe of the universe since I could first read, I’ve been long fascinated and slightly tormented by just how insignificant we are to the cosmos. To paraphrase Carl Sagan, we are but a pale blue spec of dust. And, funny enough, sharing some of my old childhood fears got some people thinking about how potentially screwed we are on this rock.
But in all of the scenarios I listed, you could theoretically prevent the extinction of the human race by simply getting them off the Earth. This is because I spend my Wednesdays either pointing out something ridiculous or talking about writing and good story ideas. And while each of these outcomes would be horrible for anyone still here, there would still be a story to tell either in the aftermath or on another planet. The more people leave this rock before the end times, the more survive. Going to places such as Mars, Proxima b or any number of other exoplanets across the galaxy can prevent us from all sitting in one place, waiting to kiss our asses goodbye as the sky literally falls on us. Funny enough, there’s one scenario out there with absolutely no escape, one that could strike at any minute, one that could strike even as you read this blog right now.
You had a plan, not a good plan, but it was a plan that most certainly existed. First, you’d wake up, groan and shamble into the kitchen in search of Colombia’s greatest export. Grinding it up and snorting it, you’d take your caffeine as Satan intended and would be strong enough to face the day. Guided by the Tulpa of Juan Valdez, you would then sit down and grind out 2,000 words on that manuscript you’ve convinced yourself will be the path to fame and fortune. After all, you heard once that’s how Stephen King did it. And that guy looked amped in the 80s.
Just one problem – getting up isn’t happening. You tried for a moment but stopped once you felt your soul trying to escape yoru body. Everything hurts in ways you didn’t think were possible. Every muscle aches, your head is pounding, your stomach is churning and you’re pretty sure something is going to explode if you disturb it any. You weren’t partying last night, you had too much procrastinating to do on the manuscript for that. There’s only one explanation… you’re dying.
Oh god, you were so young, you’d done everything right, and now you’re going to melt into a pile of goo in your bed and be remembered by no one. Some poor bastard is going to find you face down on the pillow, glued to it by whatever the hell it is coming out of your nose right now. And what do you have to show for it? What have you left to the world? Stephen King wrote 12 books by the age of 35, what have you done with your life?
Wait…what if he was doing the other Colombian export? Oh god, you’ve been so stupid, spitting up black phlegm for months over nothing. Every day you’ve been walking around like some jackass from the old west looking for a spittoon!
Wait, focus, you’re dying, damn it. You need to get that manuscript done right now and make sure that you leave something for the people! You’re going to force yourself to get up and get your work done no matter what.
But that raises another question: how are you going to do that?
For a long time I’ve held that anything can be used to improve your writing. As I’ve said more than once, “all things are kung fu”. And this is often something that I tell other writers I meet because I want everyone to find new avenues to follow. To my shock, some of those people have come back to inform me that I actually know what I’m talking about, which is in part why I got started working on this blog. But sometimes I’ve drawn lessons and inspirations from things that most people just wouldn’t have ever considered rationally.
The reasons are simple, despite the fact I’m knowledgeable in the field, I’ve never had a formal education in it. There’s no shame in this, neither did Neil Gaiman or Ray Bradbury, but it does mean that I had to learn through odd methods. Neil jumped straight into journalism and writing non-fiction to help him learn how to write things in a clear, direct fashion and get readers interested. Ray taught himself by going to a library zealously until he could learn everything he needed. But me? I don’t live in a place with a good library nearby. I’ve never had access to reasonable resources.
So what I have used to teach myself are the internet, shelves of old books given to me by family, and the knowledge that everything in life can be studied. For instance, you can learn a lot by talking to people you have very little in common with – especially if they conflict with your world view. You can also learn a lot by talking to complete strangers, even if the world is full of people afraid to do that as of late. There’s always something to be learned by wandering through places you’ve never been. And sometimes, while many would tell you to read everything and watch everything, it’s often overlooked that “stupid” entertainment can still be a great teacher too.
Not long ago, James Patterson received the Innovator’s Award from the LA Times. This award, now in its 36th year, is one given to those with innovative business models or uses of technology to further the narrative arts. Essentially it’s given to people who happen to come up with a new idea that makes an impact on the literary world. And while I don’t know the exact reason the award was given to him this year, I can probably guess it’s because he’s the most successful author in the world… that doesn’t write books.
And for those of you who follow this blog regularly, you shouldn’t be surprised by my taking that jab at him. For some time the joke has been that I treat Patterson as if he was “he who should not be named” – taking a quick jab in his direction, refusing to name him, but posting his photo so you know what I mean.
I know I’m not alone, I know a lot of people have criticized him for the same reasons that bug me. Normally I would just move on with my life after making that kind of comment so I can go on doing my thing. But a recent rumor (that I won’t be spreading today) got me thinking about Patterson and realizing something I hadn’t before:
I don’t dislike James Patterson or his brand – I dislike what it means about our industry…
Not long ago, I decided that these blogs would be updated Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. This was a vow to myself to try to make sure that I always maintained a schedule and didn’t haphazardly throw up updates whenever I felt the urge. Sure, it puts a bit more stress on me from time to time, but it also keeps me honest and it lets me see when I’m not being as productive as I should be. Funny enough, this is the first time since I made that decision that my birthday has fallen on one of those days.
What does someone blog about for their birthday? Do I carry on like it’s any other day or make a big deal out of it? Personal modesty tells me to do the former, but my own bullshit advice columns say I should do the latter and take a moment to celebrate surviving another orbit around a ball of blindingly hot plasma. Frankly, the advice holds true because my last couple of years have been a bit rough and I find myself being a bit reflective. It’s easy to get caught up in the dark stuff, but what do we appreciate about life when we stop to think about it? What can someone like me say on a day like today? I guess the best I can do is give you a wonderful contradiction.
Ah, 2015, the year of the goat, but also the year of the bullshit. It’s not that it was particularly worse than any other year, but no year’s been the same since 1999. That was the one and only time Prince got to party like it was the correct year and we’re really just hoping to run out the clock now. That’s why people got so amped up about Y2K. That’s why everyone was wondering if the Mayans got 2012 right or forgot to carry the snake monster. And that’s why religious nutjobs keep trying to predict the end of the world with the same sort of zeal as Hollywood’s trend of teaser trailers to advertise the coming of trailers.
But have we traded up? Do we have a crystal ball to tell us if we should just try to sleep through this year and hope for 2017? Was 2015 really all that bad? Did anyone get a flying car?
So, it’s a bit of time into NaNoWriMo and, if I’m familiar with the community as much as I think I am – a lot of you have fallen behind. Generally, I don’t know anyone who hasn’t fallen behind at least once over the course of a NaNoWriMo. It even happens to the professional and semi-professional writers I know. So for those of you who have, fear not, many of us have done it and you’re far from alone. As for those of you who haven’t – well aren’t you just perfect?
Seriously though, keeping up on your word count can be a challenging task and a lot of us end up psyching ourselves out by saying it’s somehow harder for us than for others. It feels strange, when you think about it, that the NaNoWriMo challenge is only 50,000 words when Stephen King insists every writer should hit 2,000 a day. If we were keeping up with Stephen then no one would lose. But a lot of us struggle to get beyond 1,667 words a day (the average that people need to hit to do it in November) and it’s usually for the same damn reason… Continue reading NaNoWriMo – A Trial of Focus→
As autumn rolls in and we find the days growing shorter and the nights growing longer, we also start to imagine the things that may be moving through those nights. Since mankind first made complete words on paper, we’ve found ourselves enamored with the possibilities of this time of year. Most of the creatures we fear are nocturnal, and the nights are making them much more active. So the questions we find ourselves asking are appropriately filled with hush tones of fear and reverence. It’s no surprise this is when we start to put more effort into our stories of ghouls and ghosts.
It’s strange, really, that someone who writes so often about monsters and creatures of the night like myself hasn’t written that many horror stories. I’ve written things that were a bit grotesque, maybe even disturbing, but actual attempts at horror are few and far between. The genre’s never really gripped me like most. It’s not too unusual, most people are too creeped out by these stories to be able to read or write them. But my problem is a little different: few stories really capture the things I’m most afraid of.
Most of the things you’d find in the horror genre just doesn’t do it for me. Monsters intrigue me mostly as creatures of fantasy. I joked through most of Paranormal Activity that it was just Casper trying to make new friends. And as a child I fell asleep through a Friday the 13th Marathon. And as for books, while I appreciate the work of someone like Stephen King, I always liked his less horror oriented stories better.
So it’s strange to say, if you knew me better, you’d think it’d be easier to scare me with these things. I actually had some pretty severe phobias, almost crippling in some cases, and still have one of them to this day. Generally that would be enough for most people, but what scares me doesn’t take center stage as often. So when it comes time to give writing tips to horror authors, there’s really only one thing I can help them with:
As I type now, late to updating for the day and passing up a more substantive post I could have done, I find myself wanting more than anything to respond to… a tweet. As minor as it might be in the grand cosmos, there was something about this tweet I saw a few days ago that stuck with me. And no, I won’t post that tweet here, because I’m not trying to start shit. But I did feel the need to address something it brought up.
There are a few truths about writers that we have to accept almost universally. The first is that we’re usually going to dislike our old work, it goes without saying, and anyone who doesn’t dislike their old work has often either stagnated or is impressed with the fact it was readable back then. It doesn’t mean you have to hate it, you just can’t look at it as positively as you once did anymore. When you look back at what you did years ago, it’ll always feel a little embarrassing because you’ll see the marks of your improvement and wish you could have written it today instead of before you knew better.
The second thing is that even our most successful individuals happen to have some problems. The number of writers who are high strung, alcoholic, or just “out there” is pretty high. Not everyone, mind you, but there’s always some little voice that doesn’t quite accept where they are. J.K. Rowling released books under a pseudonym for a while after her success because she wanted to prove it was her writing and not her fame that got her where she is. Considering she’s the first author to become a billionaire simply from writing in the history of writing, it takes some neuroses to question whether or not you earned it. Unique as she is, she’s far from alone there.
And, because of those two details, the third thing we have to accept is that we’re always going to need find ways to cope…. So let’s go ahead and not crap on anyone’s coping mechanisms, okay? Continue reading All You Have To Do Is Try→
My whole life I’ve been something of a nerd. I’ve been pretty honest about that on this blog. But the thing that I never quite talk about is just how much Issac Asimov impacted my life as a kid. No, not his fiction books, but his non-fiction.
You see, while everyone remembers Issac Asimov for his fictional works about robots and space, he was also quite accomplished as a non-fiction author who put together books about science. In fact, he wrote a few directed at kids and I loved the hell out of those things when I was younger. Other kids in my school would be drawn towards the likes of Goosebumps, I found myself sitting down with science books telling me about a world more fantastic than I thought could be possible – one we could touch. It was the work of Asimov and others like him that showed me things that I never thought possible. That’s what I’ll always really remember him for.
But to say I was one of the few would be an understatement. Like I said, most kids in my class were looking at the likes of Goosebumps and were a bit baffled by my interest in all things space, robots, and dinosaurs. You look at the way our society treats science and you could honestly say that was true of the whole country for a long time. But then, as the internet started to grow, something started to change. Suddenly science could become a meme and that meme would be awesome. Hell, look at this picture of Pluto and realize how many times you’ve likely seen it this week.
But while this kind of enthusiasm has been spreading, a counter-opinion has been growing as of late as well. Essentially, I’ve heard far too many people say that fans of places like “I Fucking Love Science” aren’t, in fact, fans of science – just memes. Too often I hear these people complaining about this popularity of science and science fiction as being just an internet fad. Basically, it’s the more important version of the ridiculous “fake geek” argument that always crops up.