Archive for the ‘fiction’ Category

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I Am Artist, Hear Me Congratulate Self!

March 25, 2009

I was reading up on RaceFail09 earlier today, and I started following links and Google hits and somehow it got me to Alas, a Blog, which got me to Aaru Tuesday, and somewhere along the way I found the Bechdel Rule and the Miller Test and a great rant decrying the fact that a straight white guy is seen as the default hero in our fiction. It was one of those pieces where it doesn’t say things you haven’t heard or don’t already know, but says it in a way that forces me to acknowledge the truth in a way I hadn’t before.

And I realized that my book, which I have so carefully constructed for the better part of a year, fails on the basic level of not being about a straight white guy who swoops in to save the queers from the problems they can’t solve for themselves. For extra bonus points, I made the murderous bigotry merely the backdrop for my hero’s emotional journey, and his sidekicks facilitators for the same.

And furthermore, I realized that this manuscript, as currently constructed cannot be saved. But that’s okay, because I was already dreaming of the sequel, and I’ve now decided to toss Disposable Heroes and move straight to what was origonally the followup effort.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about the new idea, because that would easily spawn 10 pages of self-indugent shit, but I will say that it is much better for allowing the plot and action to flow naturally from the character relations, and that I’ve basically given up trying to pretend that my favorate characters are not in some way self-insertions.

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Self-Education

February 24, 2009

I’m working on this short story featuring Lydia, a supporting character from Disposable Heroes, the manuscript I’m working on. Lydia originally started as little more than a piece of furniture; the book opens with a funeral, and what’s a funeral without a grieving widow? So Lydia’s at the funeral, and Zack (the protagonist) tries to talk to her and she bitches him out for getting her husband killed. From that start, she caught my imagination and started percolating in the back of my mind.

From very early on in the creative process, I had in mind this idea that in the sequel, Zack would be a minor supporting character, and that I wanted one of the minor characters from the first book to take center stage. Lydia was an obvious candidate for this treatment, so I started developing her in earnest.

As part of this process, I wrote a couple vignettes to help find her voice, and then I started work on a full short story about her. I wasn’t looking for an educational experience here, I was just messing around with a character I liked.

In the vignettes I had written her from Zack’s perspective. But when I sat down to write the short story, I wanted to do it from her perspective. And I did, and she stopped being Lydia, or at least the Lydia that I wanted her to be. Her insecurities, such as they are, were more prominent than I wanted them. Her lack of professionalism was glaring rather than hinted. Her aristocratic arrogance proved to be less effective the more it was shown, which is a problem because her notions of class are some of the primary ideas she uses to make sense of the world. It was also hard to let the reader see clearly what she looked like to the people around her: a young, ambitious officer with bags of charm, a fondness for theatricality, and a preference for spending her spare time alone. From the inside, she’s much less interesting, much less dynamic. Her actions lose their edge of unpredictability and surprise.

I’ve done this kind of split between what a character feels and what the show to the world before; Zack’s character is built on this, so I know it can be done. What makes Zack interesting to me is that we see, in detail, the contradiction between the face he shows the world and what’s happening inside him. But what makes Lydia interesting is that we get the idea that her persona is a mask, but we don’t know what she’s hiding.

When she’s the viewpoint character, all the things she tries to keep hidden from the world show up. I could go the route of simply not mentioning these things, there’s a danger of getting too cute with the smoke and mirrors there, and the readers may feel manipulated if I am obviously keeping things from them. Or, they may feel that she is too much the cipher, that I play her cards too close to the vest for her to be a compelling viewpoint character.

For her to work as a viewpoint character, I’d have to strip out most of her interiority, and describe the action as a camera would see it. Not coincidentally, I’m rewriting the story as a screenplay. I may go back and try to write it as “screen prose,” if that makes sense.

While I was struggling with this, I was confronting some of these issues for the first time. And I was learning in the process. I didn’t mean to, honest. I hadn’t sat down and figured out why Lydia interested me until I grappled with why she wasn’t working. So I taught myself how to analyze characters better, and now I’m a stronger writer. And I did this simply through practice and reflection. It’s fun when that happens.

Another example: Lydia and her mother have a big fight about Lydia’s decision to join the Army. I had this bit of dialogue I’d conceived of before I sat down to write out the scene, two short sentences that carried all the weight of their hypocrisy and were crucial to understanding Lydia’s motivations and emotional journey. But when I wrote out their fight the first time, I couldn’t find a place to insert these two lines. The flow of their dialogue happened so quickly and so strongly that it seemed like they were moving the scene along without me. I re-read the section over and over, and eventually I realized that I hadn’t been making a distinction between Lydia reacting to what her mother said and Lydia making an affirmative statement that moved the conversation along and forced her mother to react in turn (In this context, even ignoring the last thing the other person said is a reaction that carries meaning). Once I realized that, I understood that I could choose which character had the “initiative” and was directing the flow of the conversation, and then it was a simple matter of making room for what I wanted the characters to say.

It is very satisfying to get to a point where your skills are advanced enough that you can improve them yourself, without outside guidance. I don’t read books or articles about writing anymore, because they all tell me things I’ve seen before. I’m not a master by any definition, but now the best teacher for me is the work itself. It’s all very Zen.

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Birth of a Meme? Please?

February 3, 2009

I have introduced a new phrase to the Internet via real-world interaction. Go forth, and make “The Cave of Naked Boomers” a meme.

Oh yeah, and there’s also a Q&A with the writer of the recent BSG episode “The Oath” in there, too.

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Take Home Final

March 18, 2008

This is the actual pair of essays I turned in for my world lit and history class.

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This excerpt from John Mandeville’s Travels reads like the sensationalistic B-movie version of Marco Polo’s Travels. Polo plays down the scale and majesty of the wonders of the Far East that his readers expected to hear about, going so far as to only mention the more outrageous examples as second-hand stories about inaccessible islands, and not something that he actually saw himself. Mandeville doesn’t do that. You want griffons? He’ll give you so many griffons they’ll be coming out of your ass. You want amazing geography? How about a river of fucking diamonds that pours out of Paradise into an eternally flowing sea of rocks? How’s that catch yer wanderlust? Mandeville’s Asia has so many wonders that by the time he gets around to the beast men, they seem boring. Oh really, they grunt? Yawn. Show me the new stuff, man, the hot stuff. A castle made out of gemstones that glows in the dark? Wow! That’s the shit, man! Game on! Read the rest of this entry ?

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I Just Finished Playing Max Payne

March 6, 2008

The crumbs were scattered down the counter like Hansel and Gretel’s roadtrip to Hell. The bread loaf, the apple, nothing else had been hit. Just the jar. Somebody knew what they wanted ahead of time. An inside job always stinks, and I was fresh out of Lysol.

“I told them I was saving them for the potluck. Why would they do this?”

A good question. A better one would be, who are they?

“Honey, cut it out.”

The dame was feisty, I’ll give her that. She was all sleek curves and dangerous eyes that flashed like lightening or gunfire, take your pick. I like gunfire.

“Damnit John, just go talk to your boys!”

The perps were holed up in their rathole, a cramped attic filled with beds and dressers and little plastic landmines that hurt really bad if you stepped on them with bare feet. Bad like a moon rising in that song. The usual suspects were there. I knew Billy was a stoolie, but only when Tommy and Jimmy weren’t there to keep him in line. Worse luck, they were. They looked up, all puzzled innocence.

“Uh…dad? Why are you talking like-”

Clever, real clever of them. They were trying to take the lead in the conversation, I’d have to watch my back.

All right, you thugs, I said. Who took the cookies from the cookie jar?

“Thugs?”

“Dad, that’s a little harsh.”

I needed answers, not backtalk. This was going nowhere fast. Or everywhere slow, I couldn’t tell. Riddles upon riddles until my head hurt.

“Yeah, you seem like you might have hit it pretty hard.”

I still needed answers, bad. Ly. I had some leverage against them, I decided to use it. If I didn’t find out whodunit, I’d ground them like grounded pepper. Billy looked ready to crack. I asked them again about who took the cookies from the cookie jar.

“Tommy took the cookies from the cookie jar!”

“Me? Couldn’t be, I was at practice.”

Then who?

“Jimmy. Jimmy must have taken the cookies from the cookie jar.”

“You’re on crack, Billy. I don’t even like cookies, dumbass.”

But if the truth wasn’t behind door number one, and it wasn’t behind door number two, then what was behind door number three? The truth? I had my doubts.

“Okay, okay. I did it. I took the cookies from the cookie jar.”

This was a surprise. Sleet and ice water filled my veins. Something was wrong. A big something. The kind of something that gets called the Blankity-blank Incident for years to come. I had no evidence. Why would Billy cop to it? What’s his angle?

“Honey!”

The dame was calling from down below, like a voice out of Hell.

“Never mind, I found crumbs all over the dog’s bed. And I heard that voice of Hell thing, you’re sleeping on the couch.”

One mystery solved, but I’d stumbled across something even bigger. Why would Billy take the fall for Rex?

“I…I just didn’t want to be grounded.”

The last shoe, dropped at last. It was a big line of shoes, like at Footlocker.

“Wait, you didn’t want to be grounded for something the dog did, so you tried to get us grounded instead? Don’t go to sleep tonight, twerp. I’m warning you.”

Oh. Well then. Tom, Jim, be nice to your brother. Billy, watch your back.

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Dun-dun-fucking-DUUUUUNNNN!

February 17, 2008

So I guess this means that the newspost for this was just a dirty fucking lie? How dare you, Jeph? I trusted you.

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La Resistance

December 29, 2007

INT. A WAREHOUSE- NIGHT

We’re looking through the viewfinder of a camcorder. In the corner, a red dot flares to life next to REC. The PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES kneels blindfolded with his hands bound behind his back before a black sheet hung up on a cement wall. Standing next to him, pistol in hand, is the LEADER. He is a young, fit man wearing a ski mask.

LEADER
People of America! For too long you have allowed your corrupt masters to define your existence for you! The freedom they offer is a lie! Time and again you elect corporate stooges who do nothing but give you the illusion of control! It is time reject this false democracy and force the people to retake their own destiny!

The Leader raises his pistol to the President’s head.

LEADER (CONT’D)
Sic semper tyrannus!

CUT TO the CAMERAMAN, standing stepping out from behind the camera.

CAMERAMAN
Whoa whoa, stop!

LEADER (exasperated)
What?

CAMERAMAN
Sic semper tyrannus? Are you kidding?

LEADER
What’s wrong with it?

CAMERAMAN
Well nothing, if we’re the Cliché Liberation Front.

CUT TO the SOUNDGUY, holding a boom mic, a confused look playing across his face.

SOUNDGUY
Wait, I thought we were the American Revolution Leauge.

LEADER
Don’t be an idiot, Darryl.

CAMERAMAN
No names! We agreed no names around the hostage!

LEADER
Oh come on, it doesn’t even matter anymore! We’re about to kill him- hell, he’d already be dead if you hadn’t-

A window BREAKS. A flash grenade lands CLATTERING at their feet. The faint sound of CLOMPING BOOTS is heard lining up next to the door.

CAMERAMAN
Aw shit.

The flash grenade EXPLODES…