Saturday, July 13, 2013

Seven Random Things

I was tagged by the mighty and righteous Bridget Shepherd to post up seven random things about himself. That was nearly a year ago. I decided it was time to call this blog's period of inactivity to a close, and what better to close the book on that period than something fun like this?

So, seven random things about myself... well, here we go:

  1. I absolutely love history. Name any part of the world, any country, any period, and I'll likely know something about it. This knowledge also extends to current events as well. My friends joke that I have bardic knowledge. I know the most about Asian history, especially Japan. I fell in love with Japanese history in seventh grade or thereabouts as a result of reading a book about samurai in my school's library, and I've never looked back. As a corollary to the first point, I have an absolute and overpowering fascination with Manchuria in the interwar period. For those who don't know, Manchuria is the northeastern-most part of China (the part that looks like the rooster's head). It was a Japanese sphere of influence for a long time, and eventually became a Japanese colony in all but name. I have a fascination with interwar period Japan in general, but there is something particularly fascinating about Manchuria. There is a kind of faded glamor to it, a tarnished, flawed beauty that is all the more beautiful for being tarnished and flawed. Manchuria in the interwar years was a land between the ancient world and the modern world, and that kind of thing is pretty romantic.
  2. I'm rather well traveled. Aside from Canada, which is incredibly easy for me to get to, I've been to Ireland, Thailand, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Japan. Unfortunately, most of those were not on the same passport. I dream of having a ten year period where I travel so much that my passport gets filled up. I loved all of the countries I've been to so far, but in different ways. If pressed, I would probably say that Japan has been my favorite, with Germany a close second.
  3. One of my hobbies is weightlifting. I wasn't athletic at all growing up, and didn't do a lot of sports. After I got into middle school, I think the only sports I ever did were for PE, so I'm making up for lost time now. The sensation of getting stronger, of struggling to lift a heavy ass weight, is an incredible rush, and I can't believe I used to think that athletics was completely pointless. I certainly wouldn't want lifting to be the ONLY thing that defined me, but as a hobby, it's a lot of fun, and the benefits it (or any kind of athletics, really) can give you are huge.
  4. I'm slowly (very slowly) teaching myself to play guitar. I have a nice Gibson electric sitting in my bedroom. It has been lonely for far too long. There are a lot of other instruments I want to learn how to play too (there's a lonely bowed psaltery who is first in line behind the guitar), but I'm going to start with guitar first.
  5. I speak German and Japanese. I'm pretty rusty on both, and getting back into both. I decided recently that I didn't want to lose them, especially after I busted my ass to learn them. I'm somewhat better in German than Japanese, and I've been told by native speakers that I sound like I come from Munich. Considering that my German teacher in high school studied in Munich, and that he was the greatest influence in my learning of the language, this isn't very surprising. In Japanese I am very good with kanji, but not as good with spoken or written. When I visited Bridget in Japan with a friend, we joked that what we needed to do was have a Vulcan mind meld, because between the three of us we were tops in kanji, speaking, and writing. Kanji are a pain in the neck, but they're also kind of fun, and they're really pretty.
  6. I actually got interested in creative stuff when I was in my teens. Back then it was a lot of drawing (I loved manga, so it became my style), some extremely derivative fanfics (again based on manga and anime I'd read and watched), and poetry. I kind of dropped out of it for a while. I might have dropped out of it completely, but Bridget pulled me back in during my second year of college. She asked if I was into writing, and I said I was because, well, it sort of was true; I liked reading, and I thought it would be cool to write my own stories, and I had made some efforts at it in the past, but nothing very organized or serious. So then she suggested that I do NaNoWriMo with her. That was in 2005. Since then, while I have had long periods of inactivity when I haven't really been working on things, I've never really considered myself as having stopped being a writer. There have been times I thought about quitting, but I never did. I didn't want to give it up. When I go over my old notebooks, I see that I've actually had a lot of cool ideas over the years, and it'd be good if I could finish some of them.
  7. The unexpected influence on my writing that people who don't know me wouldn't see coming is H.P. Lovecraft and the other writers who have delved into the Cthulhu Mythos. It is present in some form or another in many of the ideas I've had over the years, some obvious, some not so obvious. For some reason the concepts and the world of the Cthulhu Mythos are really fascinating to me.
And there you have it!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

2012, a belated retrospective

This started out as a catalog of all the things that went wrong with my writing in 2012.  Instead, I'm going to take a somewhat more balanced approach and start by talking about the things that went right, and that I am thankful for.

First of all, my comrade-in-arms and dear, dear friend Bridget: thank you, thank you, thank you.  Bridget's the one who is responsible for me getting back into writing, and whether she means to or not she always succeeds in pulling me back in whenever I start to feel down in the dumps and feel like quitting.  We knew each other in high school, but only really became friends in my second year of college.  She asked me if I was interested in writing; maybe she remembered that I had worked on the high school literary magazine back in the day.  For whatever reason, I said "yes," even though at the time I hadn't been writing much, and hadn't written much even in high school.  She told me about this cool thing called Nanowrimo, where the goal is to write a 50,000 word manuscript in the month of November.  The rest is history, and a history that I look back on fondly.  My work from that first Nanowrimo probably wasn't very good, but I can say this about it: I wrote with wild abandon and with enthusiasm.  It's a small goal of mine to recapture some of that enthusiasm again, to write like I don't care, even if I do.  Sometimes the best thing to do is just get the thing out on paper.  Bridget's encouragement and her talk about her own projects has been the thing that has helped sustain me.

2012 was supposed to be the year we both completed manuscripts.  This didn't actually happen.  In my case, I think it was because at the time I was not completely committed to it.  Writing a manuscript, I have learned, is something that you can't treat lightly.  You don't have to be serious about it all the time, but you have to realize that it's not going to be a walk in the park.  You have to be willing to slog through it, to sometimes work when you don't feel like it, to really work through the hard times.

You also need to be able to manage your time effectively.  This is a skill that has to be actively developed, at least in my case.

I've also noticed that to really succeed at things, you have to want them.  That's not to say I didn't want to write a manuscript in the past.  I did want to write a manuscript, but the level of want wasn't high enough.  It has to be the sort of thing that fills your heart.  It has to be something like eating: if you don't do it, your day doesn't feel complete.  It doesn't have to be all of your life; in fact, it probably shouldn't be all of your life.  But if there's something you want to achieve, then make it a part of your life.  It will be difficult at first; God only knows it's been difficult for me.  But keep at it for a while, and really make it something important to you, a part of your day.  And if you find that after you've done that for a while and you still don't enjoy it, even a little, then maybe it's time to consider how you got to this point in the first place.

As for me, I already know that I enjoy it.  I am still working at making it a consistent part of my life though.

So let me say thank you once more to Bridget, and to all the other writers who have inspired me and reminded me of what is possible in this wide world of ours.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

If my novel had a soundtrack...

I was inspired to do this by my friend Bridget.  Music is pretty important to both our writing processes.  For me it helps give me an image of the character, and sometimes is able to jolt me into productivity, to get the gears moving.  Here are a few of what are called "image songs" for several of the major characters.

Sullen Boy (Main Character) -- "Narcissistic Cannibal" by KoRn.  My MC is a rather angry sort of person, but has begun to realize that all the anger in the world doesn't help him.  He's still dancing to the tune of the object of his anger, letting it rule his life, and to a large extent the story is about him coming to terms with that and breaking free of it.

Angry Girl (Love Interest) -- "Love Is War" by Nico Nico Chorus.  "Love Is War" is an amazing song.  It has the feel of a rock anthem, a war song, and a ballad rolled together.  The lyrics don't exactly correspond to the Angry Girl's relationship with the Sullen Boy, but they very accurately express her feelings, and the inherently warlike nature of her relationship with him.

The Commander (Mentor) -- "Rise" by Origa.  I heard this song one night while developing the Commander.  The line "I am a soldier" jumped out at me, and I immediately knew I had found her image song.  The Commander is a soldier, from start to finish.  She has dedicated her life to fighting a war, and the thing that has kept her alive is the thought that if she lives one more day, she'll be able to strike one more blow against her foe.

Ten days left until the writing starts.  I'm into the back stretch now.  I've got to keep a cool head, keep the last minute panic at bay, and work like a madman.

Friday, June 1, 2012

June is upon me -- preparation 20%

So things are beginning to take shape, but at a much slower pace than I had wanted.  Work items for the remainder of the PlotMo:  big focus on self-discipline.  There are no deadlines in this business but those I give myself, I do not have a professor breathing down my neck to finish the manuscript on time.  It's just me, my Muse, my notebook, a box of pens, my story, and Scrivener.  That's all I've got.  Fortunately, motivation is kicking up.  Part of it is renewed desire, part of it is the realization that I have less than a month left, and that June, as I said, is upon me.  I begun on the Solstice, ready or not.  I had much rather be as ready as I can be.

My characters are finally starting to talk to me.  It helps that I have finally started asking them questions.  So far I have focused on the female lead mostly; in the coming week I will expand to the rest of the cast.  Focus for the week will be on characters and plot, with an eye towards really getting to know the characters, what kind of people they are, etc.

I think I know how I will work with my characters.  I will start talking to them.  Literally talking to them.  I will think of them as actual people, with their own history, feelings, and opinions on everything from the great issues of the day to how silly I look with bed head.  I will imagine that their world actually exists, and that I have merely stepped into it as an observer to chronicle their legend.  I will speak with them so much that they begin to come to life.  While this seems like an obvious sort of thing, to develop an empathy for your characters and a deep sense of who they are, I don't think that it is something I have really done before.  Character creation in the past was more of a mechanistic sort of thing, a filling in of character sheets or questionnaires.  Those sorts of things are useful, but only as an aide to getting a feel for the characters.  They must first and foremost be real people; if they aren't, how can I expect them to take part in the plot and carry the story?

Time to do something awesome.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

31 Days to Manuscript Summer

I made a pact with my friend that we'd start writing our manuscripts on or before the Summer Solstice.  That means there is now one month remaining until this deadline is reached.

This means I will have my work cut out for me.

It is not that the novel and its plot and associated preparations are not progressing.  They are.  But they are progressing at the leisurely, cautious pace associated with General George McClellan.  I must adopt a pace more suited to the hard-driving, hammer-against-anvil style of "Unconditional Surrender" Grant.  It was said of Grant that he had the look of a man about to smash his head through a brick wall.  I have one month left to plan.  After that, I will be introducing my head to the wall.

Things that need work over the next month:  character names.  Oh gods, do I need to do this.  I am tired of using stand-in names without knowing what these characters are actually going to be called.  In fact, I think that will be the first thing I work on; I suspect that I'm the kind of person who develops a character more easily once he knows his name.  After all, our names are the first things we are given after we are born.

Other things:  the plot.  Well, obviously the plot needs to be hammered out.  I have a decent notion of how it begins, a much more vague notion of how it ends, but most of the middle third and third quarter of the plot remain so dim and foggy as to be nearly imperceptible.

I think it would be particularly beneficial, in my research for this month, to go back to the beginning.  I must turn my eyes to my inspirations, and thence to their inspirations, and their inspirations, and so on and so forth all the way down the line, until I have left Milton and Shakespeare far behind me, and find myself in the company of Sophocles and Homer.

The world map also needs to get done.  Strictly speaking it doesn't have to be done, but I'd like it to be done by the time I start writing.  All I really absolutely have to have finished is a small part of the world map, since unlike The Lord of the Rings, The Belgariad, and A Song of Ice and Fire this is not a world-spanning epic.  All the same, it would be nice to have the whole thing.

That about sums it all up for now.  Look for updates.  They may very well start coming daily.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Set your sights, and aim for the top

It took a very long time of pretending to be a writer, and trying to be a writer, but now at long last I think I am actually ready to be a writer. Stephen King's prescription for aspiring writers is to read four hours a day and write four hours a day, and it's good advice. I'd take it a little bit further, and say that generally speaking, before one can really write a story worth telling, he has to have a certain "mileage" of stories he has read, and of stories he has written. My friend Ashlethas has a similar theory, that every writer has to get his junk stories out of the way before he can get to the quality. So it was for me. I don't know where precisely I am with all of that, but I do know that I have finally got an idea for a story that I want to see through to the end; and there are a few more of varying degrees of cool waiting in the wings. So between the one that I have high hopes for right now, and the others that are waiting, I should have more than enough quality material to keep me busy.

This will mostly be a blog of vague generalities and word counts, speaking of the planning, writing, and editing stages in the most general terms possible. I do this because I want to have the full pleasure of writing the story instead of just talking about it, and because I want to give you, dear reader, the pleasure of eventually reading it once I can persuade a publisher to print it, and because I do not want some unscrupulous villain snatching these stories as if they were the Sabine women. Posts unrelated to my works in progress will be rare, but they will probably happen once in a while anyway. However, I do want to keep this blog focused primarily on my works in progress -- on where I have been, on where I am, on where I am going, and on where I want to be.

My thanks to Ashlethas, who set this blog up for me, and without whom I probably would have dropped out of my creative pursuits and become an exceedingly boring individual. Read her blog if you aren't already.