Friday, March 29, 2013

On Categories and Public Debates

Before delving into the post I wanted to preface my words with some qualifying statements that I hope will clarify my views:

The motivation for this post is purely for the purpose of seeking understanding in a polarizing issue, not for advocating a particular stance, one way or the other. 

I do not believe people who practice the homosexual life style are intrinsically lesser than, or somehow unworthy of basic human rights under the scope of the law.

I am a Christian, therefore my convictions and views are what they are because I adhere to the tenets and beliefs expressed in the scripture, and are the foundation of my worldview which is primarily Pre-Modern.

This past week I was a bit surprised to see that a certain court case was brought to the attention of a certain higher court system in the realm of the United States. The particular case evoked thus a shitstorm of public opinions that raged through the social media networks and printed media. To myself, personally, I found the views expressed rather nauseating for both sides. I'm the kind of person that hates it when other people tell me what to think and feel, so I can imagine what it would be like for a gay man to be told by a Christian man that they should change because they think it proper for them to change. Consequently, I also hate it when a person, gay or straight, attempts to dictate to me what I should believe through a "lens of tolerance."

Here we have a classic, two sided debate. As I said in my prefacing points I think that it's odd that we should be barring a certain demographic their civil liberties just because they practice a particular lifestyle. Especially through the lenses of a dominant religious worldview, this would only amplify tensions. It would be as if, for some reason or another, the Islamic community suddenly wrestled power from the Christian Right in this country and started imposing very Islamic laws on a very secular USA. Clearly, the LGBT community should be afforded the rights given to them. It's a no-brainer.

Then again, I am Christian. How does this interplay?

Before I say what I am going to say, I would like to set the parameters for what I am about to say.

The word "Marriage," in Western society has a lot of loaded imagery associated with it. For instance, were I to pick out a handful of wedding scenes depicted in Hollywood films (not known for pushing a conservative Christian message, most of the time) most of the wedding scenes would involve certain key imagery. Generally the wedding is taking place in a church, or some kind of building associated with sacred ritual. They are married by some kind of religious figure, which generally is depicted as a Catholic minister, or a Jewish Rabbi. Lastly, there is some kind of sacred text mediating the ceremony that gives cohesion to the importance and gravity of the event.

The Christian worldview and concept of "Christendom" (a worldview no longer observed in Europe or America) once provided the dominant understanding of the world in all facets of Western society.  Culturally the word Marriage and it's associations are profoundly nested in Christian culture. Even the traditional wedding garb had, at one time, deep symbolic significance. The man wore black, because in Protestantism it is believed that the man selflessly sacrifices himself for the sake of his wife, and therefore dies to himself. The wife wears white because she represents the Church at the last day when Christ comes back to wed his blameless Church. Regardless of whether or not one is privy to this imagery, there is a lot in the contemporary ceremony that stems from previous Christian undertones that have since become lost in translation.

That being said, in non-Western cultures the word Marriage does not really exist. If it does, it is only a borrowed word, and a product of colonialism. Though marriage as an institution is an old one, it is certainly not universal. Were one to travel to Kenya, or to Japan, or even to a deep remote region of the Amazon, the expressions of unity would vary in power and capacity. There would be different rituals, different clothing, and a different meaning behind the ceremony.

So finally after all of this, I make my point. In the effort to bring clarity to the non-Christian community I will say that this debate that sparks so much contention is purely a categorical one. While there are some Christians who have forgotten the Gospel, and loving one's neighbors, and would find it okay to look down on another person because they are sinful, I think the majority of evangelicals believe that their word should not be imported into other cultures that don't use the word with the same gravity that they do. As silly as it may seem, it makes a lot of sense. Imagine in another world if the USA began using a very Kenyan expression of marriage and began to use it without a sense of gravity or weight that the Kenyans did. I imagine the Kenyan community would take offense to this, and doubly so for a Japanese Shinto demographic.

While I think that being gay is a choice (my reasoning actually rooted in science, but that's another can of worms), I also think that if a gay couple chooses to be in a serious long term relationship and are afforded the tax codes and benefits of being married then there's nothing I can particularly do about it. God gives us the freedom to make our own decisions within the scope of his will. Again, I can't really back down on what I believe, but I and my other friends who know people in the gay community have developed great relationships. We can be amicable and live in disagreement fine, and that's okay.  I won't take away their rights because they are not Christian. That being said, I don't think it's right that they would use a word deeply ingrained in the Christian community to typify the seriousness of their relationship when they neither subscribe nor adhere to the things Christians believe or practice. Consequently I don't believe that straight non-Christians can use the word either, because their relationships are not adhering to the same principals.

I think this is an opportunity rather for a more constructive approach. Perhaps the gay community should create their own terminology for their relationships. Please don't misunderstand this for being petty or dismissive, but every culture sees marriage in a different light, and creates terminology to reflect those beliefs. The word "Marriage" in the USA has Christian connotations, therefore if the gay community wants to use it, expect flack. I don't say that in combativeness, but it's the unfortunate truth.

My intentions of writing this and getting it out on (internet)paper is purely for informative reasons. They are opinions, so take them for what they are. I am by no means an authority on sociology, but I felt rather pushed to weigh in on the issue at hand. Anyways, I hope you all have a great weekend. And stay tuned for more updates for Spirit of Orn.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Av Hjerter og Menn (Of Hearts and Men)

“They are ready, Captain.”

“How many?”

“45, new recruits.”


I am Feggi.

I am a man.

Every year they come from all corners of the North to fight for the Bargainers. I am the one to decide their fate, for I am their Captain of War. Aye, it's a strange thing to call it that, seein' how the game is played. I myself know a thing or two about the early days, back when the title meant something. No one dies any more. So what's the importance of calling it a war then?

“I've seen better men fall out of drunk women covered in birthing slime!” I shout at them like weak dogs. I have no pity for them and their misplaced hubris. Damn wretches! Climbed out of their hovels with delusions, and I am the one to settle their foolishness? “I would thank you all for coming, but seein' how you all are wasting my time I will stay my tongue.”

My eye catches one, shivering in his boots. He was made a fool by making the journey. Today he saw the spire with virgin eyes and fear broke his will.

“Who are you? Why are you shaking?” He doesn't say a word. Maybe he isn't as stupid as I thought. “What did you come here to do, boy? This is a man's game. Did you not expect to see the spire burning when you came? Did you think yourself lucky enough to escape death? Castle is not a game to be played lightly...”

“I came for honor,” he shouts back in reply, “for glory.”

What a stupid thing to say.

“Is there glory in Castle? I did not know this. You all here fight for renown, for applause, I fight for honor. For there was a day when men died in the arena for those cries and worship. You undeserving whelp!”

My fist crashes down upon him, breaking his jaw. I can feel the crunch of his teeth against my gauntlets. It is so satisfying. Wordlessly two scribes come from behind me to carry the insect away.

“If you all are finished with your insolence I shall tell you all, for you, why you are here. You are here to play Castle, a most brutal sport this end of the Sognefjord. You are here to be chosen, to be culled from the masses to be Bargainers, to don proudly our colors and take victory to the glory of the area. You will support the city with your insatiable lust for violence as heroes do! And I myself will watch in the shadows as your master.”

“There are two teams in Castle in opposition, numbering with each a single runner. Under fire, the runner must route the enemy to score, and you will do all that is in your power to stop them. This construct rifle will aid you. Your team members will aid you. All shall be well in the event of success, and in failure I shall see to it that you are severely punished for your actions before I cast you out of my presence.”

They stand tall and stalwart still. I hoped to have broken them, but they are still deluded. My scribe brings me my construct rifle. Thumbing the trigger I shoot a volley into the crowd. Some duck, but I am too quick for the rest. Three men are hit, and thrown to the ground writhing in agony.

“How many of your ribs are broken?” I call out to them. “Two? Three? Pathetic... That was at 5. Matches play at 10... Bring them to the medics, you two.”

Castle is no game for the weak of heart. Before me, the captain who trained me did the same, but I stood proudly and asked for another.

“Today will mark the beginning of your life. All that you knew before is irrelevant. You will learn how to shoot, how to move quickly, and how to absorb incredible pain hencefourth. Do these things well, and you will succeed. Let the games begin. Game Runners, I Salute you!”

Monday, March 25, 2013

Fact Checking and Editing Woes

As I complete my final edits of my book I think one of the most challenging things that I've had to deal with is the aspect of fact checking.

It's humbling to write a book when dealing with aspects like these, and you will find yourself feeling demoralized when you go back on the final round of editing and find out that Character A gave a sword to Character B and you completely forgot about that. Generally there's a few ways to avoid things like this, and here I've compiled some methods that can help you get a good handle on the nitty-gritty in your novel.

Writing it down...

Maybe not terribly ground breaking, but it helps to just write things down.

What I do here is that I start at the top and work my way down, and at each successive layer the imagery gets more and more intensive. Recently I just began work on a comic book, and at the very beginning I drew the map of the world, or at least a rough approximation of where the story was going to occur. Then I documented the names of the "leading" figures in each location. From there I wrote down what the name of their spouse was, their kids, their ages, and any pertinent background information. I do this so that when I'm two hundred pages into the book and character A says that he came to the town at a certain age, I could approximate where that character stood in relation to those around him. In one instance, a certain character comes to my primary location when he's ten, which means that another character in the book was in his early twenties, which gives me a handle on what kind of back story and potential sequels I could work with. About 4 years ago I created a document full of information like this. I still use it today, and it is very, very helpful.

Who has the Sword?

Always ask yourself in any scene you are writing, "who has the sword?" It's a rhetorical question, obviously. Think about it like this:

There are three characters in a room. Character A is sitting, Character B is crouching, Character C is smoking. Here's the question. Who is standing?

It's a trick question. None of them are. Until you move your character in a narrative think of them as static and immovable  You will see this in movies. Take a look at any scene in a movie where the entire ensemble cast is on the same set. Generally the only people that move and react are those that are speaking their lines, otherwise everyone else is still. So it's important to remember the placing of your characters. Saying that Character A is sitting will wash over subconsciously in the reader, but later on in the dialogue, if Character A is suddenly standing the reader will know something is wrong. The entry of detail and the transitioning of character states will create the image of movement and dynamics in a scene. Therefore, keep track of "who has the sword."

I will add here a little tertiary detail, that the static characters, while "silent" are assumed to be paying attention to what is going on. If I wrote a small dialogue with these three characters and said, "Character A looked up at Character B and asked, 'how's the weather?'" it will be assumed that Character C watches this happen. Even in our minds you can watch the line play over and over fluidly. Character C is "smoking," looking on while the others exchange their dialogue. If you want static character to do something in the dialogue, you need to say it up front before the dialogue happens, otherwise the reader will be wondering if they just started doing this or if they had been doing this prior.

In Conclusion

Again, these are things that have helped me in fact checking in a book. The human brain is very intricate and powerful. Don't sell it short! Subconsciously, it can absorb torrents of information, so it remembers details from long ago in a narrative. When inconsistencies come up, it's very jarring, so take into account what your characters are doing at all times. It's difficult to get used to, and takes time to figure out, but when it all clicks, your story gets much better.


Friday, March 22, 2013

Dubious Decadence

There's 4 mega blockbusters coming out in the next two months and all of them look promising. Rarely do I get excited about movies, but in this case the weather out there looks pretty good as the climate for Hollywood shapes up.

I'm a big Superman fan, so Man of Steel looks really good. Like many others I've been trawling the internet for any glimpse of visual nuggets to feast on, but Warner Bros seems pretty tight lipped this time, which could be a very good thing. The famous opera piec"La donna è mobile" was covered up until opening night of Giuseppe Verdi's opera Rigoletto for the reason that it was so catchy that the impact of the opera would have been ruined. The song was important to the foundation of Italian unity in the min 19th century. Man of Steel, likewise, is the corner stone of the mythic Justice League mega-movie franchise. If it all goes well, maybe I will see Darkseid on the big screen after all.

 Iron Man 3 and Star Trek 2 come out in May as well. These I'm excited for, but like any sequel they are just building onto the universe that's already there. There's not much original territory to be covered there. Pacific Rim, with it's goofy Lovecraftian story, is a good example of an original concept getting unleashed onto the unsuspecting public. That being said the only allure of a creature feature is the novelty of the content, but without the depth and range of developing characters we may just get another Hellboy. They were cool movies, in that they looked cool, visually and conceptually, but the characters were so two dimensional that you could of watched the movie just as easily in the theater lobby looking at the cardboard promo material.

I didn't mention this but a few weeks ago Neil Gaiman RT my Sequart article.

I was pretty blown away and honored that he thought is was good. Generally when a world famous author does that you're supposed to be, right? I've been told by my boss Julian at Sequart that it's good to feel okay about that, but not let it go to your head. Getting into the comic book/author business is a tricky game. You don't win awards over night. Just like Gaiman, I probably wont gain notoriety until I'm in my forties, if that. But a young man can dream, no pun intended.

Yesterday I paged out the Spirit of Orn book, and got a better idea of when I would be finishing it. Right now I'm looking at completing the third and final revision in early May. Once my wife is done editing it I'll be sending out advance copies to friends and family to tell me what they think about it. After making edits and changes based off of their feedback, I'm sending it off to my buddy Phil for the illustration work. Things are promising. 

Keep your eyes peeled for my latest project, a web based graphic novel, that I'll be undertaking this fall. I expect the first issue to be out around October. Stay tuned for concept sketches!


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Why Man lives in Darkness and Wears Humble Cloathing

“Tell us!”

“But  you promised...”

“Where did the village come from?”

The children are eager to learn, always asking questions, but very loudly. They are the creatures of Sky  chasing each other like Skoll and Hati chase Sun and Moon. But they learn because they are wise. All children are wise.

“Settle down your spirits, children. I will tell you another story. But then, afterward, you must settle yourselves. The wise always know when to rest their minds, otherwise it will no longer be firm, but will become soft like Thor Odinsson in the hall of Skrymir.”

“I liked that one the best,” one of them shouts.

“I know you do. It is an old story. This next one is not so old though, but it is secret and you mustn't tell another until they ask you to tell the story of the new world. It is a dark one, about the end of the ancients.”

All of them grow silent as I prepare the stones of heritage. They are hot as Muspelheim, the realm of fire, where ice once met in the Ginnungagap, and steam the waters as once was when fire and ice   founded the world.

“Long ago when Man was young and proud, all were gods, walking with one another as equals. Each possessed dominion over the land and the power of Odinsson. But they were proud in their own minds, and it made them think too highly of their ways.”

“Long before their end, one arose among them, greater than all of them, and gave them gifts in plenty to all who would accept. But one day his heart hardened, growing dissatisfied. He had turned them all into men that walked liked women and women that walked like men. Their ways became backwards and foolhardy, and he grew angry with them.”

“So from his mind he plucked the guardians, each powerful in their own right, and taught them to guide and protect the people. Of them all, the oldest guardian was the wisest, and saw Man, pitying them. They were lost, so he called together his brothers and sisters and told them, 'Behold! Man is lost, and are like men who walk like women and women that walk like men.” They agreed and then conspired to end Man.'”

“When the time came to end Man, the oldest guardian relented at the very last moment saying wisely, 'For because I have seen but one righteous man, we shall spare Man, but humble him nonetheless.' On that day they set out their hands across the lands and took the spirit of the earth with them. And when they did so, the lifeblood of their world perished, casting them into eternal darkness. Yet from them, a remnant arose, and set out like blindmen to their ruined lands.”

“And that is why Man lives in darkness and wears humble clothing.”

“But wait,” another cries out. “Why do the the villages of the West know how to make light in darkness?”

“They know because their ancestors have whispered unto them secret knowledge. They know how to ask Sun for light. After the guardians left the earth, each carved their history into the mountains, which at that time were young and stout.  But the rest forgot and now live in darkness.”

“Are there other villages?”

“Yes,” I reply, “there are many villages. But the greatest of them all remains frozen in ice. No one may enter in, save the guardians. But they are gone.”

“But that is enough time for our words. You must all go into bed.”

“Aww, why? It's still so early.”

It is a good reason to keep telling stories. But they must know patience. That is why Second Man suffered under the guardians. They were not patient.

“We must all sleep children,” I say while I pull the skins over them, “for tomorrow is another day full of work and labors of the village. A story must be treated with care, lest it be told too many times and loose it's meaning. That is why we tell stories. We use them to teach, and to inform. What is a story told too many times? It is vanity and uselessness.”

At that I take my leave walking out of the tent and into the twilight. In the sky there are so many stars. I remember days when the night was so bright that no one could see the stars. But those days were long ago, and I don't speak of them.

That is why I tell stories: so that I can forget what the world was and shut my eyes to it forever.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Find the Voice

So there's this character that I have in my book named Sigmundur. Without giving away any details I'll say he's a reserved older man that serves as a mentor in the story. He also happens to be very difficult to find a voice for.

When characters in a book break from the 2D to the 3D, as far as emotions and authenticity are concerned, it's extremely rewarding. A good character in a book should be indistinguishable from yourself. I say that because we write ourselves into the character far too much, and it creates a selfish dialogue. Why do you think Twilight is so bad? It's because Meyers wants to bang Edward so bad that she'll literally make Bella say anything.

Selfish dialogue stems from two things: 

First I would say selfish dialogue comes primarily from inexperience as a writer. If there is a person in your book that is older and has already retired, you should probably go out and meet with someone like that and interview them, or read other books that feature that kind of person. It's hard to know what someone is like or why they might be a crotchety old person if you have never met them before. Maybe they are a widower? Maybe that pisses them off? Maybe the kids don't call? It could be anything, but it always rewarding to go out and investigate and get to the bottom of a character you're thinking about writing.

From my experience I took another route in doing this. Going to church has it's benefits of always being in the presence of a culturally diversified group, especially considering the plethora of older people that attend. What I did primarily to make Sigmundur's character convincing was observe how the older generations interact with each other, mostly focusing on their mannerisms (how they gesticulate, converse, etc). As far as personality goes, I think people over complicate getting an old person's voice right. Generally all I do is isolate a personality that I want, age the diction, and make the character's expressions very even and moderated. This is because as you get older, you kind of take things as they come a little better. By then you've seen people come and go, live and die, and are now coming to grips with mortality yourself. Take these things into consideration when writing characters. It'll help.

I did say two things right?  

The second thing that creates selfish dialogue, actually is sort of similar to my crack at Meyers in Twilight. When writing a character, it seems reasonable to have expectations about what a character should do, before the character is put in that situation. This urge must be crushed and put to death. Why? The reason is because that dialogue should be uninvested. In real life, people don't talk in stilted language as if they were aware of your presence constantly. Conversation, rather than be restricted, should break out, even if you don't find it interesting. These characters should be treated like real people. If they want to talk let them talk. Tarantino does a good job at this, I think. Sometimes he does too good of a job and bores the audience. Find that middle ground.

In Spirit of Orn, what I try to do is get my characters involved in something that will drive the plot before I get them into a dialogue. So for instance, if they are reading a map, I'll have character A point out something and character B will respond. Character C will then input some witty repartee, and then the dialogue starts. The dialogue can concern plot as well. I encourage this because it magnifies the humanity of the character and shows them invested in what they are doing in a variety of capacities.

I've written about this before, but lately things in my head have been coming together since then. It's good to reflect on past things and topics because it helps to consolidate what works and what doesn't. Consider that too. You'll become very aware of how much better you've gotten as a writer when you finish your book and go back to the beginning to start over again for the first revision.

It's scary, believe me.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Probing the Unknown

There's this book called, "How to Make Webcomics" that I've been tearing through lately and so far it's taught me a lot about my limitations. Maybe I'm just odd, or a glutton for punishment, but when I read about things that make no sense, it spurs me onward to do something about it and succeed.

Something in particular about the online world that intrigues me and allows me to continue. The internet is a playground of possibility. Think about it. There's 6 billion people on this planet and you have to think, "there's gotta be at least 500,000 out there ready to support you," right? In the book I finally got to the bandwidth section and domain names and it's pretty interesting. Beginning sites start out with something like 50-100GB of data for bandwidth, and then 5TB of data for $6 a month. With a growing database, the amount of data you'll need for web hosting site content I now have to consider the dedicated vs. shared server question. The answer is easy (shared), considering I'm not rich, but It makes me want to ask people like Jerry and Mike from Penny Arcade how they did it.

As I might have mentioned me and my friend Phil Kiner plan on making a webcomic. It'll be more along the lines of a graphic novel, but the more I think about it, the more worried I become. Writing prose fiction has gotten progressively easier over the last two years, easy enough to the point where I no longer worry about the mundane things like plotting characters or events. It's just kind of coming out naturally. Comics are different though. That narrative is there, but a lot of the burden lies with the artist to bring your vision alive. Sometimes there's that moment of realization too that your artist can't do that, but how many artists are going to work with you pro-bono? This is all about hoping that the idea I conceived in my depression of post-college-self-finding will go viral and bring us both out of obscurity. It's easy for him. Being an artist attending the Arts Center in Pasadena it's his job to get noticed. Most of the people that graduate from there go on to work in the film or video gaming industries as "big deals."

Chances are I would have to die to become famous.

It's funny how that works right? When you look at most of the successful authors of the 20th century, many of them weren't even renown when they were alive. I'm sure they had a publisher, and they wrote a few books here or there, but it's not like they had a 50 room palatial mansion like the J.K. Rowlings or the Stephenie Meyers that pedal goofy shit that's awful to read. I'll give the Harry Potter series was at least not written with a crayon, but it's kind of demoralizing when the art of story crafting seems otherwise forgotten in a world focused on maximizing demographics. Haters gotta hate, I guess. 

Sometime soon I plan on debuting concepts for the webcomic. (Soon is a relative term.) You'll see it eventually, but I promise the wait will be worth your while!


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Connor Warwick Interview #7: Dr. Magnusson

(UPDATE: I decided to change the title. Sounded lame! Don't you hate that?)

My plane was late, but that wasn't stopping me from getting to him. This story was bigger than the world wars, bigger than soda. Nothing is bigger than Dr. Magnusson.

He no longer lives in a mansion. The Gala Technology Syndicate is his home now. He locks himself up there all day, all night, never even looking out the window. All he does is sit there, up there inventing, making the world a better place. Twenty years since his last public appearance, he has become myth. That was until the Times got a call from his office. Then, the times called me.

The study I sit in is strewn with papers. Piles of cluttered pens, chewed down and bent, stick out of unclosed briefcases. Some of them hum and sparkle. It must be new technologies, stowed away from the world. Behind a spacious mahogany desk is a Teutonic idol, second century BCE. There's heavy red paste smeared across it's left horn and midsection. A candle beside it flickers in the waning light.

After he keeps me fourteen minutes in suspense, I hear the hinges of the door creak, and the synthetic joints of his servant creak beside him. X4-A eyes me suspiciously and steps away from his master. Magnusson's face, though aged slightly, shines. He is happy to see me.

“Sit down Connor, sit down. There is no need for that.”

I look down and see that I am slightly out of my seat, my hand poised to shake his.

“You came prepared? I hope so... I have waited a long time for this day.”

In his hands he holds a shimmering remote, once barely visible and activates the blinds on his floor. The light of the city flows in like a vapor.

“So do we begin here? Or would you prefer to do this over dinner? I've heard that the linguini and seasonal herring is smashing down at Rudolfos...”

“No!” He snaps at me. The remote begins to burn red in his hands. “Go out among them? Those insects? No, no that is not ideal.”

“So would you like to do it here then?” I take the recorder out of my pocket and lay it down on the desk. He is impressed, nodding. Regally, he encircles me and sits down behind his desk.

“You will be the key then?” he muses quietly, “Interesting. I suppose you want to know why you are here?”

I wonder the same thing. I nod, slaying two birds.

“My legacy is nearing an end, young Connor. Did you know that?” I nod once more. It must be a rhetorical question. He frowns sternly, hardly impressed. “And I have called you to record my last living interview.”

My heart skips a beat. My life is complete. I will be able to retire the day after my story hits.

“Perhaps I will see your review objectively. I'm sure the press has plenty of bad things to say about me, about the products that those vultures swarm over. They will be disappointed to learn that X4-A is taking my place. This company could better benefit from a little efficiency. Wouldn't you agree?”

“So your android X4-A will be the sole shareholder of the company? Have you communicated this with your stock holders? Will this effect the release date for the Beta Patch?

Magnusson shifts uncomfortably in his desk chair.

“It will effect nothing, at least that I am aware of. Then again I have been wrong before...”

“Excuse me?”

“Oh it's nothing that concerns this interview. Actually, I brought you here for another reason. Tell me, Connor, what do you see out there?”

“I'm not sure.” I'm not. I couldn't understand his logic. “People, transports, progress?”

Disappointed, he shakes his head.

“I see things differently than you Connor. But I respect the difference in opinion. Few have the initiative, or courage to stand up to their mentors.”

X4-A places a cup of coffee beside my hand down onto the table, bows and retreats from the room. It's good too, real coffee, not that synthetic shit.

“I see parasites, people who have lost their way. They knew better all those years ago.” He pauses, picking up the Teutonic idol, stroking the red paste and spreading it farther across the body. “I have spent my life giving them what they wanted: technology and mere fancies. And they shallowly express themselves like neanderthals, smearing their egos onto digital mediums, full of self-conceit.”

“I'm sorry, what do you mean?”

Magnusson sits up in his chair crossly, slamming the idol onto the desk. In his eyes the man seethes with anger. I've never seen this Magnusson before, never on projection ads and hardlight boards. He was primal, full of unearthly desire. The man that created A.I. and the future was mad, a monster and a fiend. He hated the world.

“This world was pure once, and don't bother asking me, 'what I mean.' Clearly this was a mistake.”

Getting up from the desk haughtily he brushes past X4-A curtly. The android bows in obedience. At the door he turns around and faces me, a glinting look of victory in his eyes.

“Your pay is on the desk. You will find it agreeable. Print whatever you like, it won't matter anyways. Now get out of my sight!”

After thirty minutes of waiting, X4-A sternly approaches me, escorting me from the building. I am confused. A week later I would know though, but by then it was too late. Too late.  

Monday, March 11, 2013

Pruning Your Book

You've probably heard the saying go something like this: "less is better."

It's really true actually.

As I plow my way through Spirit of Orn, I am finding myself on the cusp of transition. Earlier in my book, the chapters were really short, so I found myself having to add material and expanding upon conversations and interactions between the characters. (It's good to ask yourself questions like, "What would the main character say in this particular situation?" It's an easy question to ask, but I don't think we like asking ourselves this. It just means more work. Be brave! That's all I can say.) Now that I am at the part of the book that was written largely when I was a better writer, I am looking at long paragraphs of information, which begs the question, "How does one prune?"


I look for three types of things to prune when I am writing.

#1: Old Plot/Hat: When you go through in the second and third revisions the easiest thing to get rid of are things that are no longer happening in the book. For instance in my book the main character had in his possession something that I wrote out in the third revision. So now I have to keep my eyes peeled for any description of that item. This is probably one of the hardest forms of editing. It requires that you keep track of the plot in all of it's fine tuning and nuances. Write down the things you change if you can.

Another thing you can get rid of are just old things that you no longer have use for. In the last revision of Spirit of Orn, my main protagonist was very hyperbolic so I've had to tone him down since starting the third revision. This is easy. You'll know exactly what to get rid of. The reason for this is because the character now in your head currently will undoubtedly be much different from your previous version. You'll know what to change pretty easily.

#2: Word Economy: Less is better. If you can find descriptions of things or events and can boil them down into more concise descriptions, just do it. I think we have been taught implicitly that the stories we write should be articulate and flowery. After reading Shakespeare and all my early modern stuff like the ballad poets, I got it into my head that this is the way I wanted to write. This isn't a good idea however.

Just write simply. Shorter sentences have power, and clarity. If you can say what you want in ten words or less rather than what was originally stated in your draft, then by all means change it. I think E.M. Foster is really good at this. Look at the way he describes his characters in A Passage to India. Some of his sentences are profound, yet so simple. Take a look at that book sometime and let each of them hit you. It's awesome!

#3 Descriptions: This falls in line with the point above, but I thought I would stress it here. Do yourself a favor and take a look at your descriptions. What I like to do Is ask myself this question: "Do these descriptions advance the plot or the character?" It's a good question to ask yourself. There were lots of descriptive details in my book that I noticed could be deleted and nothing integral would have been lost. It's good to trim this stuff out. I mean, I can understand the point of creating a living, breathing world with superfluous details, but just be prudent. Somethings are better left unsaid, and implied.

Take these thoughts into account as you are writing, and I promise that you'll see improvement. I myself learned most of these points from authors caught in the throes of interviews and other forms of self-disclosure. Thus far they have been very helpful, and I hope that they remain helpful for you!


Friday, March 8, 2013

Kind of Random

Lately I've been reading The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb and found it to be rather interesting. My brother gave it to me for Christmas and, as I steadily plow through it, I find myself sort of flip flopping in confidence.

I think one of the things that we authors feel the pull of in our careers is the power of circumstance.  Really, anything we do is subject to the will of an unruly mass. If something happens, whether good or bad it's a stroke of God's good graces if you make it. A lot of the book suggests that our minds are genetically conditioned to build and design mental constructs and pathways in our brains to simplify the world in it's magnitude of information. It's nothing I haven't heard before, strangely. There's all the right statistical words and psychology terms that kindle memories of my uneventful High School career, but Taleb's point goes beyond that of a simple framing issue or confirmation bias.

He's out, to out order.

One of the most interesting conversations I have gleaned thus far in the book was a conversation he had between a friend from some nondescript ivy league institution about employment. Essentially the anecdote goes, "A friend of mine told me to only look for jobs with scalelable income." What his friend means by this is that it is ideal to have a job where you are earning an income based off of something being produced that is duplicated and not produced. For instance, if you write a book, you only write the book once. After it's completed you send it off to the publisher, and the publisher prints it. If your book is wildly successful (5+ million copies) then your income isn't based of of writing 5 million books but the proliferation of an idea as a commodity. On the other hand, being a doctor is profitable, so much so that once you are done with the "vetting" process you're making 200 grand a year. However a doctor's income is based on patients seen. If the doctor stops seeing patients then the doctor ceases to make money. Get the idea?

What is interesting about this is that the author, the scaleable income profession, is greatly affected and dependent on Black Swans (i.e. completely unexpected near cataclysmic events of randomness). This can be good and bad simultaneously. For instance, a lucky viral campaign can boost your success on the internet, a Black Swan development of the previous decade, but if some major event happens that was outside of your model of expectations you would be hosed. This could be anything.

I think the book thus far has taught me of my susceptibility. If I can be frank, I've been approaching being an author using the advice and tips of betters already successful in the business. What is funny about all  of this is that these people, from which I get my tips, are completely subject to the same random occurrences as myself. The kindly authors that I meet who leverage considerable internet presence with their successful web comics only got to where they were by pure chance. Because I believe in God, Jesus, et al. my levels of anxiety are diminished considerably. If He should have me to "make it" then I would be so very happy and obliged, but, if not, then I'm fine with it. For those of you that don't "swing that way" then it's all chalked up to randomness.

Am I concerned that a day may come when I throw in the towel and need to give up in the interest of providing for my family? Yes, very much so. But there's always hope. You people are my hope. If any of you read these posts and find yourself gazing at this sentence, remind yourself of this. I can't be successful without you talking about what I have to say to your friends and co-workers. But also, I can't give the world what I love without a voice and a helping hand to see this through.

In some moments of doubt I look at the traffic counters and go, "wow, for an amateur blog this ain't too shabby," but I can't shake the feeling that nobody actually reads thess. But if you do, which I'm sure many do, I just wanted to thank you, wholeheartedly, and in this growing relationship I plan to give you a world (not the world) so fantastic you'd scarcely believe it was set here in our own. At least that's the plan.

All the best, Friends.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Boat Keeper

Don't think that I am a harsh man. Think of me as a business man.

That's what I say to my clients. Oh, they come and go, so many of them. It's hard to turn them down. But the warmth of their... generosity feeds me, makes me whole, and everything that makes no sense at all suddenly comes to the surface when I see what they have to offer. It's an epiphany every time I open the box and see them stirring, like little angels.

I usually observe my collection once a day, to admire my keen tastes. You see, it's hard to find constructs these days, especially ones in such good condition. While I walk I hear them hum, sensing the heat of my skin, yearning for my kinetic life force. They are like sentient creatures, starving for food. Sometimes I feel like such a beastly man.

Each construct has a different color. They ought to. After all, it is hard to tell them apart. But I don't see them by their color. I see them by their texture. Not many know this, but constructs often link psychically with their owners. Original factory settings I think are the cause of this. No, long ago in some ancient world, a man thought better than most and deemed that each construct should cater to the wishes of their master. They can't think of course, but they can obey.

In Sog the boat keeper is more an historian than anything. If you asked me I could tell you the story of any construct. Here, in each jar, one flickers like a moth.
This one, here, was owned once by Harold Hårdråda. He was named after his distant grandfather. People misunderstood him; such a shame. I liked him. Each time I whisper a song of victory to the construct it expands, ever so slightly. His construct is 1.45% larger than when I began.

This one here, studded in gems and royal gold, was once owned by a king. He wasn't a nice king, but he had his reasons. Some say he loved his land far more than any other. He strangled to death his entire cabinet once when rumors of treason emerged. Afterward he stuffed their heads, reminders of their traitorous devices. Some called them ghastly while others regarded them in fascination. Do you know what I think though? I think he was just lonely...

Not many come back to the boat house for their constructs.

But Halldórr will. I could always trust in him.

Some call me a boat keeper. No need to call me that, though. We aren't on ceremony here. No, I am a keeper of secrets and wonder. You see, constructs are hardly sacred. Neither are they tools for us to use. They are fragments of peoples' souls. With thought and precision, the mind carves it and molds it to the user's liking.

Halldórr's construct is a beautiful boat. Oh, if you could see it. Halldórr told me that he formed his while on his journey to Orn. I am not certain why he would leave it behind. He was always one to just... go. I remember he told me that he wanted to see the land. When he left, I asked him if he was content leaving me his prize. But he was already gone.

Sometimes when a construct is born, it wants to see the world. Other times it wants to hide away never to face the light. I can't stand here and justify his mistakes with wishful thinking, but I can tell you one thing. Someday he will return. And when he does I will be waiting, and he will love me for it.  

Monday, March 4, 2013

Third Times the Charm

I think writing convincing characters, above all elements of storytelling, is a process that encompasses the focus of a writer. Over time the stories that we know have changed. Before, say in the middle ages, stories were really binary, generally serving the purpose of warning their hearers  away from tempting lifestyles. Before that stories were transgressive. They would tell the hearer about a reality that was, and the reader's job was to either accept of deny if such a thing was possible. Early Christianity falls into this realm with St. Paul promulgating not a religion but a story of a different reality. Today things have changed. No longer do we write stories with interesting plots, but interesting characters.

When I was near the end of my second revision of Spirit of Orn the thing that made me most wary about it was my characters. In it there were still characters that I didn't know what would say in a given situation even by the end of the book. Obviously, the most ideal thing is looking at a character and saying, "Oh, Steve would say that," or, consequently, "Sharon is a vegetarian, and a ponce. She could never think that!" If only it were that easy. I think as I get better at storytelling I can begin to streamline my work. As of right now, I'm going with "Third time's the Charm!"

But can we avoid this?

I think so. There's a lot of prep and guesswork that goes into making a book at first, but then once all the pieces are assembled, you can begin to get a grasp on what you are really writing. At first, Spirit of Orn was a parody, but as I got farther into the project I found out that it was really a analogous memoir. After that, everything just kind of fell into place. So really knowing what genre you are writing can be helpful.

Another thing is that if you don't know what your character is really like, really get out some markers and crayons and draw your cast onto a large poster paper, and ask yourself, "If I took two of these characters out of this story, would they make an interesting book?" When you think about it, most conversations in books are between two people. Rarely do you have a conversation larger than three people. The reason why this works is that in two person conversations yourself and the reader are naturally going to see how the characters complement one another. If you are married this will make sense. Before I got married I had a psyche evaluation with my bride to be and we both found out that our personalities complement one another very well. If you are writing a book, and your characters are all more or less the same person then you are going to have a really boring book. So in my book I might have a character who is the son of another character. The son is boisterous and rowdy, while the father is measured and practical. While the father will still be rowdy in some respect, because he too was once young, age and maturity will develop him as a character.

There's a home brewer in my book that's boring...

I thought about this the other day. Generally it's easier to write interesting primary and supporting characters because they are involved with the plot, but if there are one shot characters that pop up, it's hard to think of them more than set pieces. There's a really interesting book called The Name of the Wind. written by Patrick Rothfuss. He is known for the creation of fantastic one shot characters and I think what he's doing right in his craft is making them first, empathetic. Then, he makes them intimately connected to the character's journey in some way. There's a character in my book for instance that is an embittered woman that is a feminist now because of the way a supporting character in the book treated her. Before in the book she was just a bitch. But people are bitches because something caused them to be a bitch. Therefore I dug a little deep, and was rewarded for it.

I hope these help. After three years of writing a novel I imagine my second one will be a lot easier to write. In the mean time however, my biggest hope is to spare you from saying, "Third times the charm!" Good writing should always just flow, never premeditated.


Friday, March 1, 2013

The Philosophy of Gaming Nostalgia

I'm almost 25 and I still follow video games, at least the culture pertaining to them. I've always found the culture fascinating artistically, especially because it is the only industry that can boast the feat of creating art that is fully interactive. I'm not an artist (sadly), but a writer and novice historian. I think video games are today's contemporary means of story telling. They aren't good stories most of the time, but they seem to resemble pulp fiction, or even the serialized novels of the late 19th century.

Video games have braved the test of time due to mechanics. I still remember buying an NES with thirteen games at a garage sale and my life never being the same. I also remember getting a SNES for my birthday and my mom made me return it because I wouldn't share it with my brother and I was charging the neighborhood kids to play it. My life also would never again be the same.

Physically the systems of yesteryear have evolved very rationally, but at the time I think we were still completely blown away by them in the moment. The NES I got was a relic of the late 80s. It's controller was completely square, and I blame it's callous inducing shape on my first and only wart of my childhood. The SNES brought the powerful application of ergonomics to it's platform, thus introducing the form fitting feel of the modern game controller. It's flatness still reflected the 2D medium that dominated the artistic expressions of the market. When the N64 arrived, it was clear that 3D was king, and the controller represented it.

The controller is a window into the world of gaming. It determines how one interacts with the (in)tangible reality generated in real time. I think PC gaming approached this formula backwards, creating an interactive world through the implementation of physics. The controller wasn't the means of interaction. The mouse and keyboard were input mechanisms. It wasn't until the marriage of PC gaming and console game controllers that the PC truly shined.

When I said before that video games were chiefly expressions of modern storytelling I should have stated that I think the PC market was the only platform to get it right. Given the universality of the PC, game developers are still cohorts in this brave new world of artistic expression. Half Life is and always will be the greatest gaming franchise fabricated. Halo? what is that? Halo can kiss my ass! No, there are certain alluring prospects for a gaming franchise when it's fans utter in the hushed underground the meager glimpses of what they may or may not see. Half Life 3 in no longer a game. It's a legend, relegated to the sacred masonic temple of Valve, only to be birthed when the stars align.

I think in the next couple of weeks I'm going to start really pushing on the novel, I'll give you all the updates as they come. It should be done by May, though I still plan to release it next year. There are other goodies to come in this. I'll keep you in the dark until then.