I’m really pleased to note that Kris Rusch has posted a note about the Fiction River anthology How to Save the World, edited by John Helfers. This anthology will include my story “The Legend of Parker Clark and Lois Jane.” I’m terribly excited to be part of this one.
We went to see “The Great Gatsby” today. I thought it was an interesting film that was worth seeing despite the fact that it fell flat in a lot of ways. In other words, I can see why it’s drawn mixed reviews.
What I liked:
1) The story is, of course, really solid. And, since the movie was pretty true to the book … well, you get it.
2) I always enjoy watching Baz Luhrmann’s work. Even when it doesn’t work,it’s interesting.
What I didn’t like:
1) The execution of the plot is clunky.
2) Though he makes an okay Gatsby, I admit I don’t get why Leo D is getting Oscar buzz for this. He’s done a gazillion roles better than this one. Perhaps that’s the reason he’s getting raves now. It happens, you know? Award politics can be more than a bit freaky.
3) The acting as a whole is not remarkable.
4) Several of Lurhmann’s attempts at grand slams end up missing by a bit.
For reasons that may become clear later in this conversation, after I returned, Lisa and I were talking about work hours and work ethic and flexible work balance and whatnot. By flexible work balance I mean the ability to mix your work and life in whatever ways you need. This is something that’s very different today than it was when I first came into the workforce. When I started working, if you worked twelve hours a day it was likely to entail a stint at the office that ran from 7:30AM to 8:00PM (including a quick dash to the cafeteria for lunch).
In my younger days I ran at that pace, but these days I do about 9-10 hours a day in the day job (this will be important later), but it’s easier to do those 9-10 hours because they are often spread out across the day. I no longer really pay much attention to the 8:00AM start time or the 4:30 end time, or whatever. Instead, I work on work things when they are interesting (or just flat-out due, of course…nothing motivates like a due date). If I hit 11:00 AM and my brain is struggling to grab something about work, I step away. I take a quick walk, often accompanied by a manuscript I need to read or edit–basically anything that IS NOT work. That’s right. I do personal things during the day … but, then, I am also often doing work at nine at night or 5:30 in the morning or whatever.
This is flexible work balance and I’ve evolved my approach to it over time, morphing from an 11-12 hour a day office monster to a 9-10 hour a day flexible worker.
I find this interesting because people who are new to this concept can seem to struggle. Like Lisa. She joined the company I work for about six years ago after years of working for herself as s freelance copy editor. I see her struggling sometimes. Part of her struggle is because she’s always been a person who appreciates structure and process. She likes everything in their place and time, and when she ran her own business it marched to a very controlled beat. Another part of her struggle is that she came into the company through an office union which has rules that limit an employee’s ability to work from home or go the extra mile by adding hours. Her expectation of work is formed by the environment she’s worked in.
It’s interesting (to me) to note that our conversation was jump started by a discussion about the work culture in the area of Germany I was visiting–which is full of very hard workers, but is “shackled” (if I can call it that from my very mid-American frame of reference) with labor laws that very firmly limit the raw number of hours a person is allowed to work. (I should also note here that I am no expert on German culture as a whole. Perhaps things are different in different areas of the country … I have no idea of what I don’t know here).
Anyway, the purpose of this entire discussion was to note that I’ve been chewing on a new revelation for me. It shouldn’t be a new revelation, but it is. You see, I’ve been considering myself to be working 9-10 hours a day, and that’s still true. But that’s only the work I’m doing in the day-job. I’m certain I also spend 15-20 hours a week on this writing gig, which I approach as a professional to the greatest degree I can. In other words, it’s a job … though I’ve never really considered it as such, and so I’ve never considered the time I’ve spent on it as “working.”
If I change my frame of reference I see that I’m working 60-70 hours a week.
I find it interesting for several reasons, the first of which is that I now have a new perspective by which to grant myself the right to be tired all the time [grin]. The second is that I realize I do not resent at all the amount of time I put into by work. This is different from the past. When I was working 12 hour days in my younger-days job (and traveling a boatload) I often resented being away from home. I loved the work, mind you. It was great stuff, and very “romantic” from an engineering standpoint, very heady stuff for a late-twenties kid to be driving. But it wasn’t how I wanted to be. Especially when my daughter came along. The third thing I find interesting is that while I don’t resent the work hours, I do resent all the time we have to spend doing the base logistical things it takes to keep the world around us running. I don’t remember thinking that before.
I realize there are a lot of things tied up in this conversation. An advantage of the “old” days is that work very rarely bled into the home environment. Now everything is a mix. I also note that after Brigid arrived in our lives, Lisa stayed home. She did 99% of all the home logistics, so there was considerably less to be resentful of in those days.
* Aside: — Lisa has said a time or two that I probably appreciate her more now that she’s working and we have to do all the basics together in our “free” time. And I say, no, I’ve always respected and appreciated the work she did at those times … but that I don’t think she respected herself as much then as she does/would now. Having a spouse stay home is a major competitive advantage, and dads and moms who chose do to stay at home should be viewed as a critical enabler of the family unit.
But I also think it’s interesting that the breakage of work location with working schedule has allowed people to be more effective overall. At least that’s my take on myself. For example, when I need to break at 11:00AM from work because my brain is locked, and I take a fifteen minute walk, or whatever I do to remove myself from the situation, it pretty much never fails that when I come back to the work/problem, I’ve come back with a solid solution as well as a refreshed level of energy to apply to it. Same thing in the morning when I’m writing. I will often get to a blocked point, not know what to do and instead of looking at a flashing cursor I’ll hop onto my work mail to get a read on what the day will be like … and ten minutes later I’ll come back to the cursor and all will be well.
The downside, though, are months like this, where the two (three, counting life logistics) don’t fit into twenty four hours. In May the day job swelled to eat up a ton of time (including the trip to Germany), and my commitment to a writer’s conference this past Saturday ate up a lot of my normal time on the writing job. What hasn’t been taken by the conference was sucked up in launching “Three Days in May.” So I haven’t been getting the word count I like, and so I admit to feeling frustrated at that.
The problem with this modern work-life world, you see, (at least in the mid-American frame of reference) is that you need a lot of personal discipline to keep things apart. You have to make priorities and you have to subordinate one thing to another on any particular day.
And that’s hard.
To make it harder, you know that the decisions you make get viewed and judged by others. In some ways, they define you. Most of the time those judgments will be wrong, of course. And sometimes they will even be a bit unjust. For example, I am of the opinion that some of my mid-American co-workers (who don’t have any understanding of the German work environment) feel that their German counter-parts are incapable, or lazy, or merely unproductive. This is not correct, of course. Having been there, I know they are very productive, perhaps even more efficient than we are because, in some ways, work compresses to fill the allotted time. But they cannot possibly get the same amount of work done in 35 hours than we can do in 55. So what do they do?
Life is tough, you know?
I admit I’m not fully certain what the point of this discussion really is. All I can say is this: Calling writing a “job” (rather than just something I’m approaching as a professional) has me looking at my use of time in a different light. It’s making me step back and assess the way the world works and the places that Lisa and I sit in it. It’s making me thing about my own sense of self-discipline in fresh ways. It’s making me asses who I am again.
I thought you might find it valuable to do the same thing.
So my place of work has kicked off this Virgin Health Miles program. One of the features of the program is that you can challenge other employees to special events, which is cool enough. Of course, the Health Champion of the building challenged all employees (several hundred) in our building to what is essentially a year-long challenge of who can take the most total steps.
Challenge, of course, accepted.
It started a couple weeks ago–or just a little after I left for Germany. I was wondering how I would do. I mean, I expected I would be in the top tier. I do roughly 23K-24K steps a day on average, so that should be pretty good, eh?
Well, first off, it turns out that’s more than good. It’s (grin) the top of the charts so far. I check the standings every day, and I’ve got competition from two or three guys. For a moment early I was as low as third place. But I seem to have created some space now.
I have no idea if I’ll be able to keep hold of #1. Lots of problems can arise, after all. But I have to stop here and have everyone note the name in the number 11 slot. It’s not every day one can say you’re beating that guy, eh?
Why is it that just when you think you’ve got things under some semblance of control, the world just hits the accelerator and everything starts moving three times as fast? I was all kinda caught up and moving on with several projects when I hopped on a plane and went to Germany for a week. And there went the flow.
Slowly getting back to it, though. As you probably saw, John and I released Three Days in May. And I’m nearing the end of the reading I need to do for the critique sessions I signed up for at next week’s writing conference.
And I suppose I should note that while I was away I received a very nice email from Sheila Williams reporting that she found my story “Primes” to be exciting, and wanted to include it in a future issue of Asimov’s. Very happy, happy here.
And this evening I went through the copy edits of “Teammates,” the story that will be in Galaxy’s Edge in mid-summer sometime.
My pedometer shows 27K steps and counting tonight.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened for practice yesterday, and that can mean only one thing! Yes! Launch day is finally here! John C. Bodin and I are pleased to announce that we’ve made a short anthology of our Indy 500 collaborations available in e-formats.
This work includes or two previously published works “Oh-oh” and “The Day the Track Stood Still,” as well as “Speeding,” an original story written just for this collection.
Interested in a print version? We’re looking into releasing a print version, also. More on that later. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a print version, drop me an email (ron_at_typosphere.com) and I’ll let you know when it’s available.
Toby Buckell linked to this post on Strange Horizons about the act of “writing the other” in SF. Or, I guess, just writing the other in general, really. It’s an interesting post. I suggest you read it, especially if you are wanting to write from the perspectives of people (or other creatures) who are not of your culture.
I’m really torn on this subject.
You might be able to tell from my photos that I am a white male, and you might be able to tell from my bios that I am from the great mid-west of the United States. I am also of an age somewhere between hippy-dom and disco. This makes me of the exact mold (dare I say stereotype?) of the kind of person/writer this article is gently pointed toward. I admit that I get conflicted by these kinds of discussions, but (being a Caucasian male of a particular age and region) I think about them a lot.
You see, I write stories from female perspectives, and I write them from male perspectives. I write them from the perspective of white characters and black characters and characters of mixed ethnic backgrounds. I write from the perspective of single characters and married characters, I write from the perspective of straight characters and gay characters. I write from the perspective of robots and from non-human characters. I once wrote from the perspective of a leopard.
I can tell you that it’s really daunting to write from all these perspectives. It’s really hard. It’s important to me that I respect all these characters, and that I capture who they are properly. I work at it. I pay attention to things as best I can. I like the elements of the article in question that suggest that merely including “the other” in a serious fashion is a good thing, because that’s true, and I like the general suggestion that attempting to get something right about a culture is the most important thing–and that in the end it’s “okay” (if I can be so bold) to get something wrong (though you should basically just fess up if called on it and agree you’ll try to do better next time).
Because, you know, it’s always wrong. I can’t possibly get every detail of a different culture right.
Of course, the truth is that I can’t even get every detail of MY culture right (assuming by “culture” you mean race or nationality as the article in question is discussing it).
I mean, holy smokes, one of my best buddies growing up was a white male of my age group and from my city. We went to the same schools, liked the same bands, and breathed the same air … but he was, and still is, a University of Kentucky fan! I can’t freaking believe it. Now, before you go off on this, before you make light of this simple example, I want you to realize that there are deep, deep blood differences between a Louisville fan (like me) and a UK fan (like him). The differences are strongly tied to race, actually. And they are just as deeply tied to city/rural perspectives. This is not just a fanciful example that I’m pulling up to make light of a very serious question. This difference separates us. In all seriousness, if I were to write a story from the perspective of a white, male UK fan of my age, I would need to work very, very hard to treat that character properly. And I might well get it “wrong” in some important ways that would off-put some UK fans.
The article would suggest that a (the) way to resolve this would be for me to find UK fans and have them read it. I suppose that’s not a terrible idea. But it won’t help. It won’t help because one UK fan’s experience is not all UK fans’ experience. No matter if I run this hypothetical story through a thousand UK fans, there will be a UK fan that I err with.
My point here is that writing characters is serious work. All of it. And I don’t think you can really “get it right” merely by having someone of a culture read the work. Sure, that’s a fine thing to do. And it’s not a bad idea because it’s always good to learn from someone with real experience. Just don’t expect that to fix your problem, because merely sending the story to someone else is not sufficient to resolve problems of a lack of respect.
And my other point in this whole “you can never get it right” conversation is that I can say this because the world is huge, and because once a story is published the audience will read what they want to read into things no matter what you do. An example: I recently had a short story titled “The Collector” published in Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters anthology. It is set in the early 1900s and told from the perspective of a black man. I worked hard on this character and the setting. As hard as I could. And I told a story that I thought was true to the time, and important to the character (as well as relevant to today, too, really).
Here are two comments it drew from readers on Goodreads. I submit them without any complaint or whatever. I’m using them only to show how a story can be perceived by two different people.
The story “The Collector” by Ron Collins, was the best re interpretation of what a person would really do with magic. Full of hatred at the injustice against freed slaves that still fills the US into the late 1890s, and crippled from fighting in San Juan, Gamba is raging inside against everything. When trapped by an evil magician Gamba is faced with a choice, use his magic for good or seek vengeance. He never goes down the path to evil, but he is still consumed by a motivation for change. Because of this he uses his magic in an evil way for what he believes will be a good end, and that is the interesting part. Will you sympathize with him or vilify him?
And then there’s “The Collector”, in which the only African-American mage in the entire volume is also the only main character to choose Dark magic, which really makes it stand out… and not in a good way.
I have no idea what cultures these two readers come from. All I will say regarding these comments is that I was a good enough writer to bring one of these readers to the point I wanted, and not a good enough writer to take the other one there. I guess this is where (according to the Strange Horizons article) I say to the second reader “my fault, I’ll try better next time.”
But, you see, I won’t try better.
I’ll try just as hard. And I’ll succeed just as well.
I say that because to be a writer is to understand that we are only half the equation. The reader is the other half. And the truth is that I cannot expect to satisfy every reader, perhaps especially those who come from a culture that is not mine (or a perspective that is not mine … is there a difference?) and who is looking for me to fail. Luckily, though, all I need to do is to tell stories to the best of my ability. And to do that all I need to do is to respect the characters I’m writing. I need to treat them as the creatures they are. I need to get inside their heads, and know them as well as I can. I need to treat them with respect (the example in the Strange Horizon’s article of writers wanting to use a culture’s belief because they are so “cute” and “funny” is merely a case of writers not respecting a culture…and honestly, I have never heard such a phrasing before, but maybe it’s just because I’m a white, mid-western male who is immune to such commentary).
I don’t begrudge the reader I quoted above his or her comment about my free negro character (there were no African-Americans in the 1900′s, after all, that’s a tag that came into existence considerably later…okay, I admit that might be a little catty…sorry). All readers are free to make their assessment of my writing. It’s fine. And, perhaps technically both readers would say I succeeded in “writing from the other” as far as the character on the page, but one would suggest I disrespected a culture by making the story choice I did. I can parse that a couple ways.
In the end, though, I think that “writing the other” well is about respecting your characters, and that respecting your characters is about living inside them to the best level you are capable of. It’s not about asking “what would I feel like if I were in their shoes?” It’s about asking yourself “How does that person actually feel.”
And no matter what culture you’re writing from, that’s damned hard–because the truth is that in the end, every person is their own culture.
As noted earlier, John C. Bodin and I are excited to announce that we’ll be releasing “Three Days in May,” an anthology of science fiction related to the Indianapolis 500. We expect to see it drop on or about May 11th, which just so happens to be the day the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opens for practice. Wonders be, eh?
As promised, here’s the cover we’re planning, as well as a little blurb about the works themselves:
Strap yourself into the cockpit and follow along as John C. Bodin and Ron Collins take you on three laps around the Indy 500′s past and future.
Speeding — Famous chronumentary director Connor Singh and his best friend Li-liang Novikoff will go to any length necessary to capture the dramatic secrets of one of the most horrific accidents in Indy history, as they return to 1964 to record the events that lead up to the crash that took the lives of Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald.
Oh-oh! — It’s 1969 and a shape shifting race of aliens from Tau Ceti are out to rig the most wagered upon event in the known universe. It’s up to an undercover vice cop from outta this world to stake out the Snake Pit, find a way to stop them, and avoid the fickle fate of bad fortune himself.
The Day the Track Stood Still — Drivers have always had special relationships with their cars, but in the future this may go a little further than Buddy might have expected. He’s about to find out how far he can stretch his relationship when the B’rada come to town with big plans to win the 500, and with it take home something bigger than the Borg-Warner trophy.
A couple weeks back, I noted that John Bodin and I were collaborating again. This has resulted in the short story “Speeding,” which will be prominently featured in a short anthology that we’ll be releasing in about two weeks. The anthology’s title will be Three Days in May, The Greatest Spectacle in Science Fiction, and will include our previously published short stories “Oh-oh” from the Fictionwise anthology School’s Out: Switchblade and “The Day the Track Stood Still,” of Analog fame. All of these are based on the Indianapolis 500, naturally, and the goal is to have it available as the track opens up.
I’ll drop you the cover later today or tomorrow.
I think I can speak for John when we say we’re really excited about this work.
I can’t begin to tell you how busy this past week or more has felt. Besides getting Three Days … together, I can announce this morning that Episode Six of the fantasy series is finally “done” (meaning it’s ready for a beta-read and copy editing and all the other “post-creative” work it takes to make it into a real thing that I want others to have access to.
And work. Three days in Indy last week (fitting, given the anthology, right?), and then four days “off-site” this week, and an entire week next week. These off-site things change the dynamic of the day, and can be really wearing–especially since it seems like nothing else really gets done in the everyday of the process, you know?
Then there’s been reading. Of course. There is always reading. In addition to a bunch of short stories, I’m currently reading astronaut Jerry Ross’s memoir–which was a gift from Lisa Silverthorne.
And there’s fitness–well over 20K steps a day, and several trips to the health club to make sure we hit our monthly “quota.”
After my last post, the cherry comes on top with news that a publication to be named later has interest in publishing a short story of mine titled “Out of the Fire.” Working through the details of the contract now, and will provide more detail when the time is perhaps a bit more appropriate. Definitely good news, though. [grin]
It’s getting ready to be a little busy on the publishing front in the near future, so I thought I would take a moment to point a few things out, just in case anyone might want to get ready to chase them down. In roughly chronological order:
“Operation Hercules” is expected to appear sometime in late April (I think) in OnSpec, a Canadian magazine. I’ll be the featured author, and the volume will have a nice little interview. The story is an alternate WWII thing, with dinosaurs! Much fun.
“After” will appear in “16 One Sentence Stories” in the very near future. I’ve received the initial cut on it, and it’s pretty danged cool.
John Bodin and I are working to release a mini-collection of our two previously published Indy 500 stories, and a third original work (a short story currently titled “Race Through Time”) sometime in early May. More to come on that in the next week or two, of course.
“The Legend of Parker Clark and Lois Jane” will appear in the Fiction River anthology “How to Save the World” in June. More on that as we get closer.
I’m thinking “Teammates” will appear in the July issue of “Galaxy’s Edge.“
And per the galley proofs I just returned, it looks like my novelette “Following Jules” will be in the October issue of Analog, which means it will probably hit the stands in August or so.
If you read this blog for any time, you’ll eventually come to the conclusion that I’m interested in a few things–writing (of course), fitness, and how people think and react.
In light of the third element, I’ve seen some recent churn on the viral video from Dove wherein a forensic artist is asked to sketch women as they describe themselves, and then do a different one where other people describe them. The result is a more “traditionally beautiful” image when someone other than the subject describes the subject rather than when the subject describes herself.
The churn is a slow-burn that questions why women feel the need to be “traditionally” beautiful in the first place. I think that’s a fair enough question, but misses the point of the exercise.
For the 10 people in the world who haven’t seen it, here’s the video:
The detractors I’ve seen generally argue that women shouldn’t feel the need to meet some standard of beauty at all. Why should they want to look a particular way? Why should they want to be “pretty” as defined by a societal norm? While I agree with that basic sentiment, I don’t find those questions to be particularly interesting or valuable. The answer is fairly obvious, and I don’t think that it’s ever going away. (The other point that’s relevant is that Dove, by running the event, is accentuating the societal norm, which again is fair … but not particularly interesting or surprising to me for the same reasons as above).
But I have to admit that I think the actual point of the video is far more interesting, and, since it has roots in individual perception rather than in societal norm, is far more addressable. I am always interested in how people think versus what is “reality.” I think it’s far more interesting to ask why a person misjudges themselves relative to what others think than ask why the baseline of human nature is what it is. And in this case, the fact that women grade themselves down relative to how other people see them (whether it’s physically, intellectually, or in areas of achievement) is important.
I mean, I think it’s fair to say that given the choice, a majority of men would pretty much all prefer to be 6’4″ and cut like a diamond with a set of washboard abs, too. So it’s not like women hold the market on being interested in looking good as defined by the majority of human existence. At its root, though, this exercise (which could well have lots of scientific issues, of course) still stands as a banner for situations where people (in this case, of course, women) misread what is real about themselves.
For example, some years ago, Lisa and I were talking about performance of kids at school. Lisa felt girls were held back in the classroom. Which is true in many ways … a mixed classroom has been often proven to be male dominated. But I said that, while this should be addressed, classroom behavior may not be the actual measure that matters. I said it was always known that the girls in my high school were the smart ones. That 4.0s and honor society kids were very often girls. I don’t know about your city, but our local paper prints the lists of the top 10 students at each high school each spring, so I told her she should look in the paper every time they are printed, really look, and she would find these lists are heavily dominated by girls–despite the male domination of the classroom environment. Those conversations were at least ten, maybe fifteen years ago. And I’m fairly certain that every list since that time has been at least 60% female–most of them 70%. This past spring one of our three or four schools top 10 list was nine female and one male. I knew I could make this highly unscientific statement because I’ve been actually watching.
I think it’s fascinating that populations of people who are different react and perceive things differently. I think it’s important to understand these differences, and it’s important to ensure these differences are not being used to the detriment of the people involved in them merely for the fact that they exist. But I think it’s also important to understand that these differences are a normal part of human behavior.
In both of these cases, you can ask: Is the problem the norm, or is the problem the perception of self? In both the quest for physical beauty and the quest to feel comfortable in the classroom, a female can be made to feel uncomfortable–and that’s a problem of itself. But in both cases, one can also ask if we’re actually looking at the subject “correctly.” The top females apparently learn quite well in the classroom (at least relative to males in Columbus, anyway), despite any angst they feel. And females are often not as happy with how they look relative to others reality. Or let’s run the counter experiment with males and see what we come up with. As I said, male humans have their own hierarchical needs of self-fulfillment.
I don’t have any grand answers here. I don’t have any chest-beating philosophy of the “right” way to look at things. I agree with the naysayers regarding the video and its reliance upon the societal norm. But I don’t want to discount the fundamental aspect of human nature behind the experiment itself. I mean, just look at the expressions on the women’s faces as they are exposed to the way they see themselves. Those expressions are, to me, the point of the story. We are not going to get rid of perception, of people slanting the meanings of various events and situations. But the expressions on these women’s faces define the gap between their perceptions and the “reality” of the world with regard to this one very individually charged issue.
They are the things that are most interesting to me.
Since I’ve “finished” episode six, I’ve decided to spend the next day or two reading through the raw material that will complete the next section. I’m doing this to plant the whole of the story back into my head so that I know where everything is going when I begin to write it anger.
Of course, having started this, I’ve already hit upon a couple small pieces that I think belong better in the last episode–which means I’m not actually done with episode six.
This is, of course, why I’m working on the entire suite before I decide to release it again. In terms of raw work, it doesn’t matter whether the stuff fits in six or seven episodes, of course. But I’m finding it psychologically difficult to keep going back to something I had earlier felt was done up just fine and dandy.
Still, back I go.
I’ve created two place holders in episode six, and half-filled one. Will finish up once again tomorrow, or perhaps tonight.
Another good morning sees episode six drawing near its end. The shape of it is done, though I still need to smooth the last 1-15 pages again. Then it will be time for the full read-through. Then it will be truly “done.” Except, of course, there’s the beta reading, and the copy editing.
This leaves only episode seven before I consider the full piece “done.” There may be more afterward. I have ideas. But I’ll let the first seven episodes carry the weight for a while and see what happens. So, as we move on to the last bits of the actual writing, I find myself peering occasionally at the decisions I’ll be making regarding how to progress toward market. Do I Indie it directly, as I had originally planned, or do I point to a small press and see what the options are? The Magic 8 Ball reads “Check Back Later.”
But, yeah, it will be good to move onto different things.
A good long morning in the chair has seen me run through more than half of episode 6 in one setting, and for the first time I think it all flows really well. Perhaps one more day and the whole thing will be basically done. Perhaps.
The “final” enabling process to this successful resorting was taking time to draw out a flow chart that was a combination of a chronological time flow and a plot outline. Doing this exposed the exact place I was getting myself confused, thereby making it easier to figure out what I needed to do.
These things are interesting proofs of the things I think about work in general. There is an order to things, and set of steps by which work goes properly, and when you try to force a process without doing things in the right order (or sometimes with the right frame of mind), then they just don’t work out as you want them to. For example, I’m fairly sure I needed to fix the plotline problem I talked about last post before I was really able to make this view of the story work. In fact, there’s no question about this at all–the place of my confusion was directly tied to the fact that a vital scene of the story wasn’t in existence, so I had nothing to pivot the rest of the plotline around. Once that scene existed, it was so much easier to find this problem.
Ron’s law for today is that this fact applies to every kind of work in existence, though it’s perhaps more clear in a production oriented world like writing. But it’s a strong rule of thumb in the corporate world, too, or any other collaborative thing. If you’re at the office Monday morning and thinking about something that isn’t working well, my advice to you is to see what things your team is trying to do without some basic building block of support (and my prediction is that that missing building block is most likely created by a fact of human nature that a manager or leader someplace has either discounted or missed someplace).
Anyway. Great morning/afternoon writing. Special thanks to my beloved Lisa for selflessly doing the grocery shopping alone this morning so I could work.
Work (among other things) is kicking my tail this week. That’s what happens when you have two full days of off-site training, I guess. It’s all good, though. I guess. I also went to a local writer’s group session, wherein I passed back a read of Bill Johnson’s next novel. His first, Earth 2.0: Prison Planet, is pretty good (especially if you like your SF as an equal part space opera and pulpy goodness). This one is even better.
Anyway, this morning I finished adding a new section of episode six of my Lords of Existence series. Definitely needed that. For the first time, I think the whole story is now together. I’ll take a and give the whole thing a single-setting read to see what I think then. This is actually one problem with doing the morning writing thing–it’s hard to find a long stretch of time to do one consolidated read of anything long. Perhaps this is another reason I find so much enjoyment of the short story field. While I’m constantly reading in small stints of time, I like absorbing things in their entirety. Similarly, working on long, novel length pieces using an hour or two a day feels a lot like the old story about blind me describing an elephant.
Perhaps that’s just me, though. Yes, I know … first world problems … woe is me. Whatever. Regardless, I’m looking forward to the weekend.
Besides watching two great basketball games this weekend (Go Cards!), I managed to get considerable work done on two projects. First, I finished a draft of a short story tentatively titled “Racing Against Time.” This is the collaboration with John Bodin I mentioned a few days back. It’s sitting back in his queue and we’ll see how he reacts to it in the next few days (grinning). Then I spent most of yesterday on episode six of my fantasy series.
It’s strange how things work out.
Earlier, I had removed a short story’s worth of work from the bulk of the piece, and it felt good. But this weekend I worked out all the kinks to the storyline, and realized I wanted it back in there–and (here’s the kicker) that the process of pulling it out and looking at the storyline without it (or looking at the short story line on its own) revealed to me a major plot point that I had just kinda glossed over.
It’s too late in the morning to complete it comfortably now, but I’ve jotted notes, and tomorrow I’ll come back and add it in. And I believe, insert gif of Ron knocking on virtual wood, the story will flow quite easily from this point on.
I am often surprised at how people think. Or, not surprised so much, as I am amused. The latest round for me is focused on my beloved Louisville Cardinal basketball team and the buzz that seems to be surrounding what others are calling a controversial jump ball called at the end of last night’s final four game against Wichita State. Let’s forget for a moment that Louisville is my team, and that the call went “my” way. I’ve had the exact same point of view a couple years back when Louisville lost a game on a last-second call that went against then-Cardinal Preston Knowles. In both cases, the referee made the right call.
But in both cases some people say “it’s a shame the refs decided the game.”
To which, I say bull-hockey.
In both cases the players decided the game. The refs just made the calls they were supposed to make. In fact, if the refs don’t make those calls then they are actually guilty of doing what they are being bitched at for–specifically deciding the game themselves. If they don’t make those calls, they are giving one team an advantage they didn’t earn.
In the Knowles case from a few years back, he fouled a player with a half-second left on the clock. Stupid foul. But the other team then deserved foul shots, and to not call that foul would have been a cowardly act. But the ref stood up and made the gutsy, right call. In this case, Preston Knowles decided that game. The ref just pointed it out.
Last night, Luke Hancock made a great play, tying up a loose ball that gave Louisville possession. He and Ron Baker, the Wichita State player, decided the game. Not the ref. The only way the official could have decided the game would have been to not award the jump ball that Luke Hancock deserved, to remove the advantage he had gained by ignoring it. Yet people who seem perfectly sane at other times come out of the woodwork after these events and suggest that some great wrong has occurred because referees are trying to “make this about them.”
In the end, I think this has a lot to do with story (you knew I was going to get back to writing, eh?)
People want stories to end in certain ways. They want the underdog to win or lose on a shot at the hoop. They want a victory to come with a big validation, a resounding dunk with two second to go, or a celebratory toss of the ball into the stands. The idea that a foul or other infraction seals a game is somehow not exciting enough, it’s not satisfying enough to these people.
And that feeling is so strong that it overrides their sense of justice. Perhaps they don’t see this. But it’s completely true. Rather than cheer the remarkably gutty performance of Luke Hancock creating the tie-up (as if it were dunk-worthy, which it was), these people deflate. They feel cheated.
The reason this boggles my mind is that I am not like that. It’s taken me some real thinking over the years to actually acknowledge this other perspective, to give it its proper due, to realize its proper place. But I think now that I’ve got it, that it’s an important lesson for us writers.
Fans want stories to end in ways that are satisfying to them, and at the end of the day they are willing to give you a lot of leeway to make that happen.
John Bodin and I are, once again, committing collaboration on another piece inspired by the Indy 500. These are great fun to write. First, I think John’s a great idea guy, and so that’s just fun to be around. Second, writing about the 500 reminds me of my grandfather, who made his living running a service station, and whose passion for cars and auto racing almost certainly instilled a similar interest in me (though don’t expect me to fix much of anything on a car these days). I will always remember sitting on his back porch and listening to the race on an old radio on a hot day in May, the aluminum glasses of coke we had sitting on a wire-frame table and sweating in the humidity of the noontime in late May.
Anyway, John sent me a draft of a story a few days back. I read it through the first time and, sure enough, it had some great ideas in it, and characters of interest, and a twist that was so, so sweet. I let it sit a day and went back to it. Yes, it was missing a bit, but I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I did some streamlining, mostly to get a feel for the characters. I took maybe 400 words out of the story. Then, as I was finishing up that activity I was struck by some questions. I spent five minutes in a furious free-writing exercise wherein I created a paragraph each about who these characters were, and what they cared about. As I went upstairs I thought about their family lives–who do they have close to them? What were their dreams? Had they achieved them? How did those dreams drive their actions in the story?
And then (warning: stereotypical cliche coming) in the shower (yes, I know, too much info), it hit me what needed to happen to make this work fully for me.
The cool thing here is that I can actually see these things in the draft John wrote. I have no idea if they are there on purpose or whether they are there as part of the subconscious of John’s creative process. Or perhaps they are only there to my eyes, which are tied to a brain with both these pre-conceived notions and its all-to-human propensity to see patterns where none exist. Who knows? All I can say is that I really like what’s come together for me, and I’m betting John will, too. We’re good collab partners, so it seems to just kind of work like that for us.
Anyway, I spent half the morning doing some research, and the other half beginning to re-sketch part of the story. With luck, it’ll be back in his court in a couple days.
Some say a collaboration is twice the work for half the pay. This may be true. But with the right collaborator, it’s also twice the fun.
Since I’m now essentially working on two episodes at once, I’ve decided to compartmentalize my near-term the work into three buckets. Prior to this morning, I had bucket 1) Fix up short story to make it, you know, like, a full short story (with a point of being all by itself), and I had bucket 2) Deal with a stronger launch of the protagonist into episode seven, and I had Bucket 3) Better explain the disappearance of a main character that will be the driving force of that same episode seven.
This morning I think I fixed bucket 3.
Yeah, I know. Doesn’t sound like much of a resume stuffer (Achievements: “I fixed bucket three” just doesn’t resonate, does it?). But I’m reminded of Dean Smith’s conversation from Oregon. “Just write scenes,” he said. And if you do that consistently, everything works out.
So today I wrote on a scene. And tomorrow I’ll write on another one, and before you know it these three buckets will be in the rearview mirror and I’ll be onto a fresh set of problems.
As you might remember, I made three New Years’ resolutions. One of them was to average taking at least 20,000 steps a day. I just finished adding up my steps for the month of March (not counting a few more this evening…but close enough, eh?). Here are my results over the first quarter of the year:
January – 676,911 (21,836/day)
February – 697,959 (24,927/day)
March – 710,028 (22,904/day)
Average Over Q1 = 23,054/day
So, I’m doing pretty well. These March numbers are particularly exciting for me since I started in such a hole as a result of my lack of activity during the workshop in Oregon (I averaged only 8K stpes a day for the first four days of the month).
Stay tuned to hear updates on my other three resolutions. Oh, the excitement!
I’ve spent the last couple mornings working to restructure episodes 6 and 7 into a short story and a short novella (perhaps even dropping it into novelette territory–though we will see). It was a bit difficult to concentrate to concentrate this morning, though. First, I woke up considerably later this morning than normal (the cat alarm clock has been slipping lately). Second, Brigid and Nick being here draw me upstairs much earlier than normal–this is a good interruption, of course!. And third, I have to admit to being distracted by the upcoming game between my beloved Louisville Cardinals and the dastardly Blue Devils from Duke.
Still, work has been accomplished.
And that is good.
The short story should be fairly simple to complete now that I’ve separated it. The novella is a little more complex because it needs (1) a new way to knit two story threads together, and (2) a new segment to deal with a deep character interaction that occurred off-stage in my earlier work.
Ah, the fun of writing never ends, I say. It never ends!
I followed a link on Tobias Buckell’s site, and it led me to a wonderful time sink in the form of this library of letters. I literally spent three or four hours tooling around and reading interesting bit after interesting bit. Completely fascinating. If you go there, I suggest scanning the archive to discover those things that would be most interesting to you. I’m sure you’ll find something.
Here are a few of my faves:
Bob Dylan – Let Me Begin by Not Beginnin: I absolutely loved this letter both for its timing–Dylan was just growing into the fame he was to wear for the rest of his life, and for the lyrical elegance of his language–the fact that he writes his own frame of mind in his own dialect.
Bob Dylan – I do not apologize for myself nor my fears: Dylan’s commentary on Lee Harvey Oswald is a piece of history that I was either unaware of or hadn’t tucked away in memory deep enough. To hear this man in his early twenties discuss the fallout of his freeform, conversational speech that included such a hot topic is extremely interesting…and again, his use of language is beautiful.
Jourdon Anderson – To My Old Master (Written August 1865): An emancipated negro responds to a letter from the man who once “owned” him.
Jarm Logue – Wretched woman! (written 1860): This is the post Toby originally linked to. Another letter from a slave who had found his freedom, and was later contacted by a previous “owner,” this time a wife of the master, asking (incredibly) for money.
John Cleese – John Cleese vs. the Sun: Cleese is, of course, wicked funny. Can’t think of anything he’s done that doesn’t have some kind of an edge to it–this included, of course.
I grabbed this list of Joss Whedon’s writing tips from another place–someone’s twitter or Facebook page–a day or three ago, and thought it was great (of course). Then I followed the link at its bottom to these tips from Neil Gaiman, which are equally full of tremendous, but even more so.
The reason I say more so is that Gaiman adds what I consider to be his most important commentary on the act of writing–his advice in item number eight: The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.
I love the use of the words assurance and confidence in that advice. For me, they are what set this piece apart–that and the fact that Gaiman is aware enough to lift his commentary up out of the morass of writing advice to suggest it might be applied to all areas of life. Think about that as you sit down to write today–or as you sit down to do anything. What does it take for you to be confident and assured? How does your voice change when you take on that feeling? How does your work feel? How do the people who are affected by your work (whatever it is) feel?
For what it’s worth, the item on Whedon’s list that strikes me most right now is his number three: Have Something to Say. I’ve been reading a lot of unpublished material the past month from a lot of different writers, and I find routinely that these two pieces of advice go together in some form of synchronicity that is hard to define other than to say that pieces with something to say tend to be ones wherein the author grabs you confidently with something that’s interesting early in the piece and then never lets you go.
The lull between basketball games is a good thing, I think.
Turning to episode six has been an interesting adventure. The overall story arc of the world is currently lying in several threads, the “main” arc is really three chords twining together, but the third one of these is really a bit of a dead-end in that it will play out to its end shortly, then (having served its characters and its story purpose in noble fashion), will fade to black.
When I was jamming this into the novel, it was a side-story that I think had enough interest to carry people along, and that did have some value in fleshing out the story in a deeper fashion, but didn’t really have a full place of its own. It wasn’t absolutely necessary for a reader to get the intent of the work as a whole. I remember thinking I should consider killing it for the greater good. Now, though, I’m beginning to think “Short story” or “Mini-episode.”
Though I retain the right to change my mind, as I sit here this morning just digging into the episode-six stuff, the idea of a mini-episode fits. The plot line feels like it carries its own purpose, and is interesting (to me, and hopefully to readers of the series) because it delves into a prominent, but secondary character much more deeply than I’ve done in the past with this series. If it sat on its own, it might feel better than it does sitting in the midst of all this other stuff going on.
These are the kinds of things I’m enjoying about the process of breaking this thing into pieces that seem to work better. This is what I mean when I say that I think the work breathes better.
Or, well, maybe I’m just making stuff up, you know? Kidding myself. I’m a writer, after all. I make stuff up all the time.
Ron Collins's work has appeared in Asimov's, Analog, Nature, and several other magazines and anthologies. His writing has received a Writers of the Future prize and a CompuServe HOMer Award. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering, and has worked developing avionics systems, electronics, and information technology.