Friday, April 27, 2012

Forays into Social Media

Well, the unthinkable has happened. I have ventured into social media. Although I should say I have ventured into social media, again. Because I had, years ago, opened both a Twitter account and a Facebook account. Yes, I said years. I made a foray onto Twitter back when it was first getting started, and found it useful for a time, but eventually abandoned it over what were essentially tech issues on their part. I have been dragged back, kicking and screaming, and so far I am finding it a better experience than it was before.

Facebook was another story. My reasons for having the account, and eventually abandoning the account, were solely personal. As are my reasons for not going back to them, at least not until they sort out the privacy concerns I have.

Also, and I am aware how this makes me sound, but that criticism that gets tossed around, about how it's all meaningless updates about mundane (i.e. boring) things from people you really don't care about? That about summed it up for me. Sure, there were lots of people from high school - okay, "lots" is probably an exaggeration - but I came to the realization that these were mostly people with whom, at best, I had been acquaintances in high school. Former homeroom classmates and such. I didn't really care about the nuances of their life then; I care even less now.

The few people I want to keep in touch with, ironically, don't use social media much. I guess we're all too old school.

But there are other avenues for social networking, and aside from Twitter I have also managed to embrace Goodreads. I am not yet as active there as I probably could be, and it is primarily helping me keep track of books I want to read, but a social media site that centers around books? This was something I could get behind. Even without my delusions of grandeur about being a writer - a claim that lately seems to be more and more tenuous on my part - I have always been a book geek. And I have always lacked enough people to discuss them with.

Of course, a fair amount of what I or anyone else does on most social media sites is not necessarily a back and forth discussion. A lot of it is fairly one-sided accountings of what I'm doing, or thinking, or such. But it can lead to discussions, and I think that, more than anything else, is what brought me back to it.

Besides, if all else fails, I can start using Twitter to work on my secret yearning to be a haiku poet.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Chasing a Symmetry of Feeling

I stumbled across a quote some time back. I bookmarked it, intending to write something on it, and finally came back to it. Only, now I no longer remember what I meant to say about it back in January.

The quote was: We wish for a symmetry of feeling, but we rarely get it. It is painful to be the one who loves more, and painful to be the one who loves less. I found it here which is a site that, among other things I think about it, I think could well someday save some modern English lit student's life when they fail to read the short story that was their homework assignment. (I also think if my English lit courses had been more like her blog, I'd have given my teachers less grief.)

As I said, I'm not sure what I meant to do with it, originally. If this were a different kind of blog, I could wax philosophical about my social life. Whereupon this would probably digress into a discussion of the wisdom of the Dread Pirate Roberts about life and pain, though it would end well enough because at heart I remain an incurable romantic, even if my head is committed to a life of cynicism.

However, this is not that kind of blog. And so, in pondering what I'd been pondering (I think so, Brain, but...) I came to the conclusion that as writers, especially genre writers, we have to often feel as if we're on either side of that equation, in a number of ways. There is that short story or novel that you, as the write, adore, but yet which does not seem able to find a home. Or conversely, that piece of work that all your betas rave about, but which you yourself are never quite happy with. I think we all fall along that spectrum, somewhere, with at least something we've written.

There is also the difficulty of the market itself. We can write what we love, and watch as the market passes us by in favor of whatever's trendy. (For the record, I was writing about vampires long before anyone other than Anne Rice was making big money off of them. Although I don't think vampires are ever going to be completely out of fashion.)  You can stick to your guns, knowing that these things tend to be cyclical - how long can zombies last, after all - or you can attempt to go with the flow, in which case by the time you have something written the moment may pass. These things, like love, can be fickle.

We are constantly chasing that symmetry, that moment when what we write lines up with what's in demand. A fellow writer was lamenting the lack of good werewolf stories (which, in no small irony, the good ones seem to be cropping up in the literary section), in particular because I think he has a story or two on werewolves sitting on his hard drive.

Which brings us to the inherent dichotomy here that, as genre writers, we are often in both positions at once. We cling to our vampires even as zombies shuffle into first place, knowing that zombies just don't quite do it for us even if they are selling. We love what we love, and sometimes that means we're left waiting for it to come around again, if it does so at all.

The bright spot in all this is that, unlike in relationships, as writers, if we are any good, we can sometimes pull ourselves out of this. There is little you can do in a relationship when she's moved on, even if you haven't (I say "she" solely because I am a "he"), but when it comes to writing, if you're good enough, sometimes the story sells anyway.

Sometimes you get to make your own symmetry.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Myth of Sisyphus Debunked

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. For the Greeks, this was the myth of Sisyphus. For reasons I don't remember and don't feel like looking up right now (my copy of Bullfinch's is downstairs), he was sentenced in the afterlife to forever roll a heavy rock up a hill, only to have it roll back down again. Whereupon he had to walk down and start all over again. Forever.

Lately, this feels like it has become my life. In multiple regards.

I need one of these for my life.

Today's particular bout of Sisyphusian futility comes via my taxes and my bank account, which happen to be diametrically opposed this tax season. Two years ago, in the way back that was 2010, things were looking up, I thought. I had work, I had started to amass actual savings, and my back account was further in the black than I had ever thought it would be. That was two years ago, and the weird economic entropy that is my life has reasserted itself.

It's not that my spending habits are bad. I do suffer from the occasional impulse buy. Show me someone who doesn't, and I'll show you someone who is never in a store. Or at Amazon. But I have gotten much better about putting things back on the shelf in recent years. No, my economic woes are for the most part external, and unavoidable. Last year was lawyer's fees; this year it's taxes. Next year it will probably also be taxes, even after I fix the issue that occurred this year.

There isn't a whole lot I can do about that. I've cut back where I can, but avoiding the occasional impulse buy or reducing my grocery bill only goes so far against the tax numbers I am looking at. I am somewhat resigned to this.

Camus, in the only book of his I have ever read, once posited that at the apex of the hill, when the rock has rolled all the way back down, just before Sisyphus starts his descent, there is a small moment of satisfaction there. I do not remember why Camus felt this way. I do know I thought it was a crap, pseudo-Zen argument even back when I read it. Living it, I rather assure you it in fact is a crap, pseudo-Zen argument. Being resigned to a fate is not the same as gladly embracing it.

And yet... and yet.

It is not just my budget. There are other things in my life to which this could apply, including my writing. (This is, after all, supposed to be a writing blog.) I have a somewhat Sisyphusian relationship with my writing as well. I write, in spates, often for months at a time. And just when it seems like it's going well, that this particular rock in my life will make it up and over the hill, finally, it comes right back down. And it's months before I write again in any way that counts.

I have come to realize that it doesn't have to be this way, though. I have not, to the best of my knowledge, been sentenced to an endless loop of almost-satisfaction followed by a return to drudgery. Not when it comes to my writing. That is entirely within my ability to do something about; it is a pattern I can break, if I so choose.

I have also come to realize that I am perhaps going about it wrong. It is not necessary to roll the whole thing up at once. I have other tools at my disposal. Hammers, for instance, that I can use to break the rock into pieces. Pieces which I can then take, bit by bit, up to the top and throw them over to the other side. It will still take many, many trips, but at least then I know each trip is accomplishing something, no matter how small.

How do I turn this metaphor into something rock-solid? (Pun intended, as always.) Small goals, small projects, that can be overcome, bit by bit, until the forward momentum becomes self-sustaining. With a little shove, now and again.

So, if you'll excuse me, I have a hammer to swing, things to write.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Adventures in Kidlit

I've been reading a lot more children's books these days. Only that's not the right term for them anymore, is it? Now they are all either Young Adult (YA) or Middle Grade (MG) - though I suppose the readers of YA would object to my referencing them as children's books, and they'd have a point. These are not the books I grew up with. In fact, looking back, I don't think there was much like this at all when I was growing up.

(For those of you in the younger generations, yes, this is going to be somewhat of a "back in my day" post. You've been warned.)

I'm reading a lot more of these books because I read to my daughter, who at 8 years old has still not yet outgrown wanting Dad to read her stories. She still enjoys picture books, but started reading chapter books a couple of years ago, so we started doing longer books when we read. I managed to get through all the traditional standards I could think of: Dorothy and Alice, Pooh and Rat and Mole, even some Dahl and Kipling. And then my ideas dried up.

I consulted some people (by which I mean the good folks over at the AbsoluteWrite forums), and was able to come up with a list of titles.

All of which have turned out to be a lot more sophisticated than the books written "for kids" back in my day. This does not include any of the above named books and authors, of course, as they were around back then, too. I'm not quite so old that Dahl hadn't written about Charlie yet, not quite so old at all. But, back then, that was pretty much the lot of it, as I remember.

Oh, there were all the Newbery medal winners, but they mostly tend to be more grounded, more realistic books, and as we all know they tend to end on a depressing note or else, for the most part, they don't seem to get a Newbery. (The good folks at TVTropes can back me up on this. They could be renamed the Newbury for as many of them which have ended in death.) In terms of fantasy or science fiction.... well, it was pretty limited. There was Lloyd Alexander's Taran series, and there were the Narnia books, which I confess I have never read, and Ursula Le Guin, and then... well then the pickings got thin.

By the time I hit sixth grade, I was out of books at my school and local library, and had begun moving on to Tolkien and Herbert and Clarke. There simply wasn't a choice. The middle ground between picture books and "adult" books was narrow ground, and you skipped over rather quickly. Now, when I go the library to pick out what I'm going to read to my daughter next, I'm almost overwhelmed with choices.

Good choices, too. A lot of these books are far more sophisticated and well-written than I would have ever given them credit for. They are exciting, and often funny, and best of all they don't condescend. Not all are great. My daughter wanted to try a particular series that seems mostly the product of a book mill while it pretends to be Watership Down with different animals, and despite it being aimed at her tastes, she couldn't get into it. After reading a bit of it myself, I understood why.

But most of them are good, and more importantly there is such a vast array of genres in the MG and YA that if my daughter gets momentarily tired of a certain genre - as she did with the "spooky" books we were reading, some of which were a lot creepier than I'd have thought kid's books would/should be - we can move on to other genres until she's in the mood again.

Most importantly, aside from giving me plenty of titles to choose from for as long as she continues to let me read to her, it has made her a more diverse reader than I ever was at her age. A diversity that I hope will serve her well in her appreciation for new things in other fields.

Now if I can just convince her there's more to music than Pop and Country....

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Shameless Call for Votes

I know I promised new and original thoughts.... and there shall be. After this.

A friend of mine, who also happens to be pretty good with the writing, is potentially up for an award over at Goodreads. (Which, if you haven't signed up for, you should. Books are good.)

You can go here to learn more about the awards.

And you can go here to vote for her.

She's doing a rather amazing project on short stories, with far more dedication and determination than I muster. From which I intend to steal an idea or two here shortly.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Wilder Writing

This is another entry inspired by someone else's entry. They didn't do much with it, though, so I feel a little more justified in stealing it.* I promise original thoughts, soon.

 Billy Wilder, and if you don't know who he is, look him up, and then if you've never seen one of his films, go rent one (I would recommend Sunset Boulevard, but I have a fondness for noir), once put together a list of tips for screenwriting. Given the number of awards he was nominated for, and won, I suspect he's a valid authority on the subject.

I, however, do not write screenplays. Yet I couldn't help noticing that more than a few items on the list applied to writing, in general, and genre writing in particular. For example, the first two items:

1. The audience is fickle.
2. Grab ‘em by the throat and never let ‘em go. 

Now, rule #1 might simply be an admonition that, just because vampires and werewolves are in at the moment, they may not be tomorrow (and I doubt that particular iteration ever crossed Wilder's mind), but I think when read with rule #2 it can also be read as saying you've got to put your best writing forward, every time. The only way to overcome fickle is by being good.

Likewise, I think #4 and #6 go together:

4. Know where you’re going.
6. If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.

I don't outline, but I don't ever sit down to write without knowing what story I want to tell. I may not know all the details, or how precisely I'm going to get there, but I do know where I am going, story-wise. Most of the time. And because the end story has to all fit together, if by the time I get to the end it's not working, it's usually because something has to be fixed earlier on. Not always, as like with most set of rules, I think Wilder's are the kind that usually hold true but still have exceptions. Sometimes a bad ending is just a bad ending.

Which leads to #9:

9. The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.

You know what else makes a bad ending? When it comes out of left field. When it feels tacked on, unconvincing, there for shock value and nothing more. An ending to a story should be organic to the story. It needs to belong, and not just belong but tie together as best as possible the threads that led there. More than that, a really good ending should build, so that by the time that final act is reached, the reader is on the edge of their seat. It should roll forward with a momentum of its own, creating that "can't put it down" need to finish.

There are 10 rules in all on Wilder's list, and to some degree I think they can all be applied to writing of all kinds. Even number eight, which is about voice-overs, but could just as easily apply to the first person narration of any good hard-boiled fiction detective or urban fantasy. (As a movie buff, I could probably speak directly on voice-overs, too. Specifically with an eye on my favorite science fiction film of all time and why I think cutting all the narration from Bladerunner in favor of that stupid unicorn dream lessens the film. But that's another entry.)

And then, of course, there is #10, which is about knowing when to leave:

10. The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then -- that’s it. Don’t hang around.

* Someone else happens to be a famous someone else this time. So I'm providing full documentation and disclosure. The list came to my attention from: and the list is taken from Cameron Crowe's book on Billy Wilder, Conversations With Wilder. Which I have not yet read, though it sounds like something that I would enjoy reading. The cynic in me suspects that the "didn't do much with it" part may have been an incentive to get people to buy the book, but it is just as likely an acknowledgement that there isn't much to improve on with the list itself. It is Billy Wilder, after all. Regardless, I happen to be a fan of Mr Crowe and his movies,** so if by some miracle you, Mr Crowe, happen to read this, please don't sue me.

** Yes, all of them. Even the one with Bloom and Dunst. May have helped that I watched it on an international flight, but even so.