One of the great forces that separates humanity from other animals is the fact we’re aware of the passage of time. We’re aware of things that other animals just don’t notice or care to notice. We know how short life is, how long it may sometimes feel, and we base a lot of our opinions on how we’re doing against that clock. Dogs don’t understand time, everything feels forever to them, which is why they’re always so happy to see you at the door. Despite the fact you were only gone for half an hour to pick something up from the store, you were clearly gone forever – they counted.
But we don’t have the luxury of seeing everything as forever. Sometimes we can fool ourselves into believing it for a while, and even tell others that things are going to last forever. This feeling is going to last forever, these hardships are going to last forever, that relationship you had in high school is going to last forever. But we know that none of them actually do. Though we can fool ourselves for a time, the ability to fool ourselves also fails to last forever. And the beautiful, if somewhat bitter, thing about that is that means a person’s time is probably the most valuable thing they have in the long run. Sure, money is really nice, and don’t believe anyone who says it can’t buy you happiness – those people weren’t shopping in the right places – but time is our ultimate finite resource. No matter what you do, eventually you will run out of time.
So am I dying? No. Well, yes, but very slowly – I probably have a few decades to live. But the day I post this is my birthday and I like to navel gaze on my birthday. And, because I’m a narcis-… because I’m a writer, I’m going to tell you the contents of my navel gazing.
Though it may sometimes take up too much of my time, one of the things I like to do most is to soak up random information and learn new things. I love to watch videos or read articles about science that are way above my pay grade. I’m fairly in tune with political debates and keep informed on current events around the world, particularly if they’re about countries I otherwise don’t know too much about. I’ve sat through discussions of psychology and sociology that really have very little to do with me but explain things about the world and the people in it. On the one hand, little if any of this is actually useful to me in my day to day life, but at the same time it’s something I can use to try to add more to my own work. As I’ve said many times before, anything can be used to inspire new writing – even if it’s sometimes peculiar.
And one of the fields I’m really fascinated in that I can see some real use to my work is psychology – particularly as it relates to the motives behind actions. This is great for figuring out character motivations, understanding why people think the way they do and what they may do because of it. If everyone is the hero of their own story, then how can people who see themselves as good do terrible things? If addicts know their addiction is hurting them, why can’t they stop? Besides being fascinating, it gives me insight that I hope to use to better my characters over time.
Though sometimes what really gets me is when I listen to these talks and it reflects a mirror back on myself. If finding out why someone else does something is useful, finding out why you do something yourself is invaluable. There are may facets to my personality which I’ve listened to someone take apart, but one facet in particular has gotten dissected more than any other in the talks I’ve listened to: why do we create art? Continue reading Monday Musing: Art And Purpose→
Over the years, one of the points of pride I have in my work has been in the effort to do things that may seem almost pointless to others. The story of an agency policing the supernatural isn’t particularly new and there are certainly more well known examples even in the last couple of months, but I’ve always made an effort to look harder at the details. Anyone following the Alterpedia or Alterpedia Historia can see this pretty clearly. Where as some versions of the concept are willing to simply go “everything is exactly the same, there’s just magic here”, I tend to look harder at the idea of these two worlds colliding. Wouldn’t the existence of Vampires motivate the creation of a viable blood supply that doesn’t require armed conflict? If magic wands were genuinely a thing, what would prevent them from overwhelming the whole planet? And if mythical creatures had to deal with a world like ours, full of the messy and troubled conflicts we’ve had, wouldn’t it have left an impression on them?
So I’ve always made an effort to take concepts from fiction and then find ways to work them into the real world as much as possible. A little tweak here, a modification there, and we’ve got something that looks like it could live in tandem with our world and our history. But there are some details where I’ve hesitated because I’ve seen just how deep the rabbit hole may go – not in fiction, but in the real world. I’ve been chewed out by people who really believe in Witches and others who think I’m somehow shilling books about actualGhosts to prey on the gullible or grieving. Neither of these were anywhere close to having substance to them, but they make me realize some things have genuine believers, and I always tread lightly in those spaces.
When I was a kid, there were these commercials where a kid would tell the story of the birth of Jesus and then would say at the end that it’s the “reason for the season”. Even as I type it now that little cherub-like voice rings in my head. The kid that narrated that is probably middle aged and doesn’t even remember doing it now even though I do. But the thing is, the kid was kind of wrong, because this season has always been important to people in the northern hemisphere.
People in recent years have gotten a bit upset over the concept of “Happy Holidays”, but when you look at the history of mankind this time of year is full of holidays. Saturnalia, Hanukkah, Yule, and so many other festivals crop up in the dead of the winter months. And for all the argument about Christmas, the fact is that none of these holidays is any less valid than the other because all of them are really celebrating the same thing. As the world grows darkest and the harsh winter months are still ahead of us, humanity banded together to celebrate one thing above all others… Continue reading Spirit of the Holidays→
Drawing inspiration from many sources, be they cultural or even corporate, the figure known today as Santa Claus is a mercurial figure that changes for almost every region he’s in. His clothes, his figure, his behavior, and even his name change from one region to another. He’s associated now with names like Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, and of course Santa Claus. But regardless of what influences he may have mixed with over time, the figure started long ago with a man named Saint Nicholas.
Living in the city of Myra in the 4th century AD, in what is now Turkey, Saint Nicholas is the root of many of the stories and traditions that dominate the Christmas season.Having been associated with stories of great generosity and a penchant for secret gift giving, Nicholas was a natural fit for the gift giving season. And, as a Saint, he was also an acceptable figure to associate with the Christian holiday (even if it was originally a pagan holiday instead). However, one question presents itself:
Over the last few years there’s been something of a shift in the culture around us. In a day and age where nostalgia properties reign supreme, it’s hard to imagine that the same properties no more than a few years ago were often considered deeply “niche”. Superheroes were considered low brow entertainment meant only for children and basement dwellers before suddenly becoming the dominant movie genre for the last several years. The Lord Of The Rings was once thought to be in the same category, familiar to children and to nerds who spent too much time playing Dungeons & Dragons. Then it became a phenomenon that a studio drove into the ground with an attempt to turn the “prequel” into a franchise unto itself.
Despite this, when you look at the entertainment industry you’ll often find that speculative fiction works still feel like they’re not allowed to sit at the adult table. There is a rush to get some works out even when they shouldn’t because that’s generally what the industry does when they don’t understand a current trend. But if you look at what gets the awards, the recognition, and the respect it becomes clear that we’re still kind of the oddballs. A few years ago I saw several entertainment industry insiders, particularly literary agents, say that sci-fi needed to minimize the “science” aspects to succeed – something they defined as a “new sci-fi”. You’d think the attitude is gone, but on multiple occasions I’ve encountered it again. For all intents and purposes, the current successes of speculative fiction are considered a temporary trend.
Yet, if put on the spot and asked to name a worldwide success in the last 20 years in any form of media, the first thing to spring to mind would probably be in one of those “niche genres”. That’s not true for everyone, and you may certainly associate “critical acclaim” with “worldwide success”, but when you think of a true phenomenon it will almost always be something that is marginalized by the same critics. Sometimes it’s argued to be a matter of “depth”, but some of the deepest stories that spring to mind are also within those genres. It’s a disconnect that sometimes makes you wonder:
It’s been weeks and you just can’t shake the feeling. You met with your friend at that party not too long ago but something was different. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but it didn’t sit right with you. They didn’t seem like themselves. Maybe it was the drinking, or the night’s festivities. Maybe it was even the outfits.
But whatever it was, you’re fairly sure, that was not your friend doing that keg stand while a dozen people, men and women, dressed as Wonder Woman chanted their name. They insist they’re still the same person, even tried to prove to you that they knew your secrets – even that one about the dream you swore them to never tell anyone ever again. But, in the days since the Equifax breach, you just can’t be too careful. Sure, you’ve locked your credit. You’ve gotten identity theft coverage. You’ve been doing everything you can to be absolutely secure. But let’s face it, there’s no way to be sure anymore that someone isn’t stealing from you at this very minute – and they could have found all that information somewhere else. So now, as you’ve taken every sane precaution possible, one last thing has to be investigated…
What if your friend’s been replaced by a Shapeshifter?
As the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer, we enter a time of traditions. The holidays are soon to be upon us, the stores are filling with decorations, people are starting to complain about the fact that Christmas shopping season “seems to start earlier every year”. For writers, this is the time of year when people new and old take an opportunity to challenge themselves by trying to write a novel in one month’s time. National Novel Writing Month is so ingrained into the culture that I do not personally know a single writer or writing enthusiast in my life who hasn’t taken a swing at the challenge at least once. And, while I myself tend to avoid rushing through word counts to meet these sorts of challenges, I’ve always had a tradition of my own.
Though I was hesitant at first, I’ve made a point in years prior to throw out some writing advice in November and editing advice in December. Though it’s often joked that everyone becomes a “guru” on the internet, it was never my intention to do this. Only after being nudged by friends did I even try to. Hopefully, over the years, I’ve said something useful to someone who was just taking their first steps into writing novels. If not, at least I hope it was entertaining to watch me try. Given the projects I need to get done before January, I’m not entirely sure how I’ll do this year. But, at the very least, there’s one lesson to be shared that I’ve been pondering lately.
Sometimes there are elements in the real world which are too ripe with material to pass up for a fiction writer. As many often say, the truth can be stranger than fiction. But sometimes there are things in the world we can’t exactly define as truth or fiction which can be even stranger. Urban legends and the fields of cryptozoology are full of stories like these – stories where it sounds like bullshit, but something about them makes it feel more tangible. Sure, these things are only really believed by people on the fringe, but they seem to be based on something and every once in a while a creature jumps from legend to reality when they’re confirmed. So, while such a thing still existing in the modern age seems pretty unlikely, there are always some true believers. Plenty of people will swear to the existence of Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, or Chupacabra and there are a lot of people who will believe in UFOs well into the future. Each of these is of questionable validity, but is trying to explain something people have actually seen, and speaks to something of the human experience.
And for regular visitors to the blog you’ll know I included an urban legend in the alternate history of my books just last Friday. The “men in black” have long been part of pop culture and have been at the heart of conspiracy theories and ufology for at least 70 years now. But for most people the term is inseparable from the charming franchise of movies based on the legend. For the people most familiar with that depiction and the basic idea of where the stories came from, it may be strange that I included them into a world centered more on creatures from folklore.
Creative professions are infamous for being full of people who are wrought with self-doubt. Though it’s easy to overlook it in others, I’ve rarely encountered someone who doesn’t have at least a little bit of doubt. Even the most famous of us will admit to having touches of imposter syndrome and a need to constantly reaffirm that they deserved to be where they are. We all know this on some level, so it’s not news to anyone. After all, if you’re here, it’s likely you followed a link about writers and you’ve felt it in yourself from time to time.
Frequently the advice that we get is about trying to simply be “okay” with the fact that voice exists and remember that the only way past it is to just keep going. The longer you keep doing what you’re doing, the more your chances of overcoming it will become. And that’s not terrible advice, you shouldn’t let it stop you even if it’s always there. But what I’ve long felt is that there’s something else that we really need to do with that voice to take ourselves to the next level… Continue reading Owning Your Doubts→