Sunday, February 24, 2019

"The Gospel According to IT" - An Original Short By Stuart Warren



I had an idea to write a short story, originally a tongue-in-cheek attempt at trying to tell the Gospel through the best practices that I’ve learned since starting in the managed services industry. Below is my attempt. Over the past few weeks, I’ve chipped away at it wanting to do something more comprehensive, actually trying to turn it into a “short-medium” short story. Clocking in at 2200+ words this is a reasonable size, what I would typically expect for a short story with a well-established world and narrative progression. Also, something to note, the story may be interpreted critically, either for better or worse, how the Gospel’s narrative has shaped our understanding of literature and the arts. (Structurally, the Gospel is a “comedy” in the classical sense, ultimately concluding with a wedding (as seen in the Revelation of Saint John) like most of the Shakespeare comedies.) I will leave you to be the judge of that, however. Anyways, enjoy!

Praise Him.

In the beginning there was the Operating System, and the Operating System was with the Engineer, and the Operating System was the Engineer. From crowded rack space and winding spools of cabling effervescent, the Environment was unmade, without purpose or clarity. The Engineer, on the first billable hour, made the host, and it was provisioned. The Engineer, on the second billable hour, allocated the datastores with virtual machines of all variety and utility: A domain controller to elect, a file server to preserve, an intrusion prevention system to protect, an exchange server to commune. And it was provisioned. On the third billable hour, the Engineer PXE booted His VMs, the Operating System giving shape and form to them, filling their disks with files to give glory to the Administrator, who sent the Engineer onsite to be with the end user, but not of the end user, as a staff augmentation. On the fourth billable hour, the Engineer deployed group policy, making the end users in His image. And the Engineer looked down on all he had made and said, "it is provisioned."
And then the Engineer rested on His lunch hour, telling the end user before leaving, saying, "All that I have made is yours—that I have created—for your productivity and purpose. You may access the network shares. You may leverage email. You may create files as I created them. But you must not have administrative access, for if you do, you will surely compromise the integrity of the Environment."
While the Engineer was away, Amy and Steven in accounting were running end of month billing. And they enjoyed the responsiveness of the workstations and the synergy felt by one another working together as one, without network latency or corrupted installations. But the Sales Manager was also in the Environment, and approached Amy as she made copies in the break room.
"Why have you not installed BitTorrent to your local workstation? Greg in HR has, like, three seasons of Game of Thrones already..."
Amy replied that she did not have administrative access, and that the Engineer said explicitly that they should not have those permissions.
"But if you are an Administrator, you will be like an Administrator. And you will know the difference between being able to install programs and uninstall programs," replied the Sales Manager.
So Amy allowed the Sales Manager to make her a local admin, and then a domain admin, all the while installing iTunes and internet games and opening emails with strange documents. When Steven saw Amy playing Candy Crush on her laptop in-between calls, he asked Amy to make him a local admin (as the Sales Manager had shown her) also. Amy then gave him administrative access so that he too could play games and view private folders with her.
But once they had downloaded the programs, each of them looked at one another realizing that their machines were burdened, slow, and filled with adware. And so they began to complain.
But when the Engineer returned early from his lunch he called out to Amy and asked her, "Where are you?"
"We saw that you had come back from your break and needed to close out of our programs. But they were too slow," Amy replied. "Slow your roll, man."
"What made you think that they were slow? Did you install non-work related programs onto your machines when I forbade you to?" said the Administrator, coming out of His office.
But Amy and Steven reproached the Administrator, first complaining that they needed to run updates to Quickbooks and then that they had needed to give each other access in order to do so. This made the Engineer frustrated, as well as the Administrator.
"It was Amy that gave me the access," said Steven defensively.
"It was the Sales Manager that told me I ought to have access," said Amy. "I need music and games, so that I don't get stressed out while I work!" 
So the Administrator stripped them of their access, not before mentioning that their workstations would be slow and toilsome for the rest of the quarter. "Behold, I will send my Engineer to terminate the Sales Manager's employment for violating the Acceptable Use Policy, though not before the Sales Manager will, in anger, delete the company share on the file server, causing the Engineer to spend many project hours to recover the files from the Nimble storage backups."
So what seemed like centuries passed, as, every day, the machines loaded non-essential startup programs, demonstrated visual artifacts, and loaded applications inefficiently.
Until, one day there came a crying from the branch office, from John the Office Manager, saying that the Engineer would be onsite again, as was promised by the Administrator long ago. For John had been in a Highfive conference with the Administrator, who had approved of the Engineer's restoration of the company shares saying, "Joshua did a bang up job with that DR restore. I'm going to send him to corporate to finally fix the other issues we've been scoping." Therefore, in an abuse of "hey, everybody," John prepared them by sending a staff email.
When the Engineer arrived, the Sales Manager was sitting outside headquarters, covered in rags and living homeless behind the row of juniper trees planted along the perimeter of the building. The Sales Manager recognized the Engineer and approached Him as he ascended the steps, skirting past a dried fountain and looking out for the bulbous security guard patrolling in his golf cart.
"No hard feelings, Josh."
Josh turned to the Sales Manager and stopped, curious and bemused.
"You know how many people are hiring for an on-premise IT guy?" the Sales Manager said lethargically, drinking from a brown paper bag. "You could get work for any of those guys and make waaay more money, kid."
"The Administrator once told me, job success and happiness is better than a pay increase. I'll stick with that, thanks."
The Engineer began to walk again, but the Sales Manager grabbed Him again and pressured, "You have no idea, do you? Those suits up there, they'll eat you alive. You need to have the Administrator come out. Only he can fix this."
The Engineer rolled his eyes, removing the grasping fingers from around his arm. "He sent me to handle this. I'm not going to bother him about it."
"Oh yeah?" complained the Sales Manager. He shouted loudly across the pavilion. "Come work for me then! I'm starting my own company, and it's going to blow! This! Shit! Up! Home loans and short term lending. I'm telling you, this is going to be the next big thing."
Josh blinked, incredulous.
By now, Hank was waddling up to them pumping his fat arms against the sides of his tremulous belly. "Hey! What did I tell ya'? Get ova' 'ere!"
The Sales Manager was startled, jumping up into the air and shuffled off like an ape. The Engineer watched, amused, and shrugged. He was ready to get back to work.
When the Engineer, sent by the Administrator, entered the bullpen, and returned to see many of his co-workers, bent and low, cursing their duties, he wept.
Going around the office the Engineer went to each machine, performing maintenance on them, miraculously restoring print spooler services and casting out malware, with the power of the Operating System's native antivirus software. But Management watched him all the while, cursing his name for all the overtime he was logging, saying to themselves, "He's not certified," and "He never got our approval for all this OT!"
Though some disagreed, saying to themselves, "Didn't an email already go out about this?" and "Who cares? Look at all the good work he's doing."
But Josh heard them grumbling, saying these things to themselves and replied, "Something is coming down the pipe that will change the way we do billing. Don't worry about it, it'll be fine."
At the end of the week, while working in the later hours of the afternoon, Josh was approached by a woman with malware on her personal workstation. She had heard of all His hard work and tugged on the hem of His faded UC Santa Cruz sweater. Feeling the weight of her need, Josh turned around and asked, "Who was that?" and looked down to see the woman, for she was kind of short. 
"My machine is slow. I know that my computer isn't work related, but could you just look at it really fast?"
Josh nodded in agreement. "Well, I'm here to fix the broken machines, not the workings ones."
Powering on the machine, looking at the startup programs, scanning for adware and potentially unwanted programs, the Engineer extracted all the bloatware and installed antivirus that was continually scanning. "This should keep scanning automatically. It'll help keep your machine running well even if there are issues going forward." Josh paused to pull out His phone and sent an email to the woman. "I just sent you the acceptable use policy. Please read it and remember what I have told you, so that this doesn't happen again. But I'm always a call away if you need anything."
As the woman thanked the Engineer, the management watched. And they said to themselves, "He's doing things out of agreement now. We have to put a stop to this!"
That afternoon, they brought Him into the large conference room at the north end of the building. 
"You've been here for a full day, helping everyone, even working on assets that we don't want you supporting. Do you expect us to pay for all these billable hours?"
"It'll be fine," Josh assured them. "You'll see. The Administrator has some big plans about how we'll be doing IT infrastructure management from now on. All the work I just did was covered under the 'New Agreement.'"
The management team were confused and angry. "You were not mentioned by our account manager. And all of this work you did is going to cost us a fortune. The Administrator made this very clear to us in the beginning."
Josh shrugged. "I don't know what to say. I mean, you're just going to have to trust me. There is a New Agreement coming. It will be cost effective and allow us to do more work for you. It will be mutually beneficial and built and sealed with trust. The way things are working right now were good before, but we've all been working up to this New Agreement. The Administrator trusts me to offer this New Agreement and has put me in charge of negotiating it."
The management team became angry when they heard this, getting up from their chairs and kindly asking the Engineer to leave, saying, "I think we would like to seek other solutions for our internal IT. We would like you to leave."
"You're firing me?" Josh asked.
"Yes. And we are also going to file a formal complaint with the Administrator if you have any intention of making us pay for the work you did while you were onsite today."
Josh called the Administrator.
"Yeah, you've reached Yale's cell, owner of Moody IT. I'm not here right now, but leave me your name and number—and the time you called—and I'll give you a call back."
As Josh left the building, looking at his phone, the Administrator never called back. 
And Josh stepped out into the rain, shoving his phone into his pocket. "Man? What the hell..."
On the following Sunday morning at the Chamber of Commerce Sausage and Egg Breakfast, some of the members were gossiping, saying to themselves, "Did you hear about what happened to Josh? Tough break. It sounded like all he was doing was trying to help those guys at Wright, Cody, and Stubb."
Another member, one that they did not immediately recognize approached and said, "Who's Josh?"
Hal Bailey, the owner of the local co-op, answered, saying, "He was the on-prem engineer for Moody IT. Super cool guy. Shame what happened to him."
"He must have been fired," the other member replied, drinking a mimosa.
Hal laughed, shaking his head.  "Guy was fucking crucified. For doing his job no less." The others agreed with Hal, nodding silently under the glare of florescent lights, highlighting the polyurethane gloss of hardwood furniture and the scuffed chrome of industrial toasters. 
Josh revealed Himself to them, laughing at their surprise.
"Woah! Hey man! Didn't recognize you in those big dumb sunglasses. Since when do you wear those?" Hal said. 
Josh folded them up and put them into his pocket. "I ran out of contacts. This was all I had lying around from when I last saw the optometrist."
"So, what's going on?" Hal asked, waving what may had been his third mimosa that morning in a wide, hyperbolic gesture. "I heard you were fired?" 
"Sort of," Josh said looking at his feet. "Yale is still trying to talk them down from the ledge right now. In the meantime we are pushing out our new strategy to new clients. It's all based off of remote management, with a call center, where I'll always be available to talk, and unlimited support for a fixed rate. We're in the process of re-branding right now."
"Congratulations," said Hal, raising his glass. "You have any new hires yet?"
"A few, but I've got a good feeling that we'll be blowing up pretty soon...."


Wednesday, February 6, 2019

I Just Read Daytripper And This is How I Feel Now


I spend so much time thinking about the past, and so much time thinking about the future. And very clearly now do I see that living in the present is the most tenable, yet realistic place to be.

I'm 30 years old. And it's taken me this long to understand that.

Jesus once said the following:

 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."

The idea that the bible is carved up into chapters, passages, and verses, was a later development in Christianity. It was done to make referencing easier to do. And, I imagine, when the laymen and women could read it helped them to find their places during mass/service/sermon. But the problem with numbers and codices and cross-references is that these words, that Jesus spoke to us, are no longer words of conversation, but teachings and practices. Christianity was never meant to be a process, or even an experience, it was meant to tell us that everything was going to be okay.

This is the trouble of living in the past and the future...

In the past, we look back and wish we could have done things differently. We feel guilty of not taking chances when we had the opportunity to be young and stupid. When you're older, you feel regret for doing all those stupid things. In the future,  telescoping dreams and concerns set expectations and plans in order, all for it to fail (in the eyes of the past self).

The trouble of living in the present, is that uncertainty awaits and the moment before is now a memory. It is this reason why I sometimes believe that "sin" is not just choosing to live a life apart from God, but that sin is entropy.

Sin is time.

It is my hope that Heaven is here and that time no longer passes. Let the heat death of the universe be averted so that we can explore it completely and witness the majesty of what God has made.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Process (Of Writing a Book)



For the first time in a long while I have nothing to do this weekend. My wife is currently looking at my second draft, while I am on child duty until she completes. While it would be nice to catch up on my personal reading, I’m not sure if that will happen or not. I seem to have less and less time for that these days, unless I’m on vacation. I mean, there’s certainly time to do all these things, but binge watching Star Trek: Enterprise has monopolized our evenings. Everyone likes to shit on that series, but it’s great. When I imagine a speculative fiction of the first years following warp space flight, Enterprise embodies what I would expect to occur: cultural tensions between alien races that are trying to be helpful, humanity’s own immaturity, and the collective mustering of human potential for the better of tomorrow. Ideally, a Star Trek property should encourage us to be explorers, to be understanding, to be open to learning new things, and more than any other, Enterprise exceeds that vision.
                So maybe when that is over I can start reading in the evenings again, especially while my kid is still content on going to bed at 7pm every night. She’s like her dad. She sleeps like a rock and we are very grateful.
                While I’ve written about this before, most of my older posts were archived permanently post-rebranding. I wanted to revisit and share again the process by which I write books. It’s probably my personality—well, definitely—but I never have issues getting ideas on paper. Many times I’ll read something that self-referentially talks about the writing process as this creative struggle. Personally, I don’t get what the big fucking deal is. But it only recently occurred to me that maybe my “system” has a lot to do with the way I lay out everything and then fill in the gaps
                Usually I’ll get an idea, a two sentence extract, and start with that. It’s concise and purposefully focuses on conceptual details rather than specific characters or settings. That’s “part one-and-a-half” of the recipe. The second part of this is really the expansion of the extract, which I call a “concept bible.” Any ideas relating to the story are put in this document, almost as if it was a wiki entry all spread out. See below for screen shots from the Concept bible for my third book:

Usually my wife writes a few notes on the first chapter so that I know I am going in the right direction. This is followed by a plot extract, detailing the full overview of the plot from start to finish.

Usually if my book has a central philosophical point that I want to explore or rediscover I have a section dedicated to this. My next book explores  the different facets of artificial intelligence, hence the above.
I like exploring different languages so usually I will create a fictional language and explain their rules so I can remember
them later. Also, main characters get a large paragraph with a full explanation of their visual appearance and motivations.

Any characters that appear in the book, even minor characters, I write bios for. This is helpful because, it helps me keep track of details like their visual descriptions and any characters I might forget about and never feature again. 

Every book will have minor subplots that affect the main plot. Sub-plots can get lost in the writing process and become non-sequitur, off-hand references, so I write them down to keep track of them. Some notes don't fit with other categories. World building details like population size, laws, cultural values, go here. As you can see above, I wanted to invent different types of drugs at one point. 
The above are only screenshots of a large document. By the time the book is finished, this document balloons in size. But I can’t even say how many times this document has saved my ass and helped Alyssa track all of my thoughts.

                What I started doing for this book—and I think I will continue doing so—is that I created a character mythology. Every main character follows a journey (ie. Heroes’ Journey) that demonstrates how they grow and change over the course of the narrative. Immaturity to maturity. Child to adult. Unknown to known. I wanted to start keeping track of these details because I felt like my books didn’t demonstrate enough internal character development. Similarly, I create artificial rules for the narrative before I begin writing, which I just call “Book Rules.” Whereas a character mythology is written after I receive feedback for the first draft, book rules serve to, from start to finish, ensure that certain technical practices are consistent throughout the story. For instance, if I create an artificial language for my story, I write down the proper syntax in this document so that both Alyssa and I adhere to these rules throughout the entire book.
                The first draft feedback, like my first novel Spirit of Orn, was provided by my best friend Desmond White. This document I rely on is invaluable. Good feedback is critical in tone, which helps in two ways. First, good feedback is humbling. I laughed so hard when I read the feedback for Spirit of Orn, that I was crying. Desmond lays into my books and points out all the inconsistencies where my ideas are pompous or overcooked. The second thing that’s valuable about feedback is the substantive additions that come from the reviewer. Desmond, for instance, suggested that I read Brave New World and Notes From Underground to supplement and further some of the compelling ideas I was exploring in Spirit of Orn.
                The last document that I keep around is the “cut” document. Most of draft one is rewritten for draft two, and sections that are conceptually valuable, but no longer suitable for the story, I cut and paste to a separate document. Draft two of my upcoming book has the same word count of my previous draft, but my cut document is 21 pages long. I’m never sure what I’ll need or return to, so this document is a backup of old (and mostly bad) ideas.
                The process that I use works for me. I like the structure. I’ve always been very good at visualizing the grand narrative, but the minutiae is so hard for me to keep track of. I’m always encouraged by hearing from others about their way of doing things, so I hope that this is just good perspective.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

15 Years Later, Still Christian, Highs and Lows


My life everyday.


It occurred to me, while walking home from my usual writing on the weekends at Starbucks, that I have been a Christian for approximately 15 years. I was “saved” (in common evangelical parlance) when I was 16 years old, on September 21st 2005 at Emmanuel Faith Community Church, in Escondido, California. (All these dates are speculative.) I was thinking about the past today, as I find myself in a period of renewal in my life (something that I thought I’d never say again). 
                What Christianity means to me has changed markedly over this period of time, which covered the formative years in my young adult life and my college/post college years. (Somewhere in these later years I became an adult. Not sure when…) When I was younger, Christianity was an almost inexhaustible source of social validation. Before being a Christian I had no peer group, no close friends. I was not technically a “nerd,” or some other social strata of untouchable, but someone with social anxiety acting out because I wanted people to love me unconditionally. It made me unbearable to be around. It made me tease and sometimes sexually harass women that didn’t like me the way I liked them, all while enduring the same treatment and abuse from “alpha” males and burning anger in me like a furnace. The saving grace (no pun intended) of joining a Christian community—much to my future self’s amusement—was that, by being a member of this community, no one could justify turning me away. Of course—much to my, then, present amusement—most of the people that had, over the years, viciously teased me or made fun of me, were members of the High School group. I had essentially found a community that would accept me, more or less, because it was doctrinally mandated.
                Another thing that I didn’t appreciate at the time was the culture that the evangelical community had ingrained into my peers. Nor did I fully understand how pervasively uniform evangelical culture was. Everyone went to the same summer camp. Everyone went to the same church. Everyone watched the same films. Everyone read the same books. The creative and critical freedom of this culture was completely absent. If anyone went to a different church, those members of the community were considered “the other,” as if the “body” (a term that conflates multiple people groups of orthodox communities into one global entity) could be dissected into splinter cells and organizations.
                Much of my difficulty progressing in Christianity at the time was the woefully inadequate preparation I was given, in anticipation of going to college. Once I got to UCSB, I found myself at constant odds with different cultures and groups, only realizing after the fact that the only way to continue was to either forsake God and the church, or adopt a ridged and conservative worldview, one without any room for new ideas, people, or competing worldviews. As I will later illustrate, the church that I had gone to, Emmanuel Faith Community Church, had constructed a worldview that included a false dichotomy where non-established and experimental ideas constituted an attack on biblical principles. (I later discovered this idea was endemic across all of Escondido, that many churches existed in fractured and disparate associations with one another.) I had taken these ideas to college, creating a theologically black and white outlook on the world, causing me interpersonal pain and anxiety.
                The subsequent years was a rollercoaster of different ideas, even including a phase where I subscribed to Reformed Theology, which was becoming popular during the late 2000s. But what really made me want to write this today was after I found myself listing different things I took issue with in the current Church culture that trouble me, and cause me anxiety. I wanted to share this list, and therapeutically refute the points. I do this for myself, but I also encourage any of you to do the same. And if you aren’t necessarily a subscriber to the saving work of Christ’s resurrection, maybe you can appreciate the insanity of our current day along with me…

  • I was taught that the homeless deserve to be homeless. That they did something wrong, or currently do something wrong that causes them to be homeless. But if all have fallen short of the glory of God, why do we separate homeless people into this separate category, as if to say our poor decisions do not equate to those made by the homeless? And why do we have so much confidence in ourselves as to imagine that we are somehow immune to the circumstances that befell them?
  • I was taught that Jesus was/is a conservative, that established ideas are more reasonable because they are accepted by the majority of the dominant culture. But what then do we make of the Great Schism of the Orthodox Church rejecting the Principles of the Roman Catholic Church, considering that, at the time, the Roman Catholic Church was integrating itself with politics and making doctrinal decisions to consolidate personal wealth and status among heads of state? What then do we make of the “liberalizing” of the Roman Catholic church, when Martin Luthor called for a “Reformation” of church practices that harmed believers, encouraged them to be illiterate, and not exegete text for themselves? What then do we make of abolitionists, who fought for the rights of those that were forcibly removed from their homes, to work without pay, to be treated as livestock, when they too were made to bear God’s image and glorify God. What then do we make of the controversial policies made towards immigrants, where we justify the separation of children from their parents, forgetting so conveniently that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were victims of a cruel regime persecuting families for their political and religious affiliations, not unlike Slobodan Milošević’s ethnic cleansing against Serbian Muslims and France’s persecution of Jewish community during the Dreyfuss affair?
  • I was taught that extra effort should be spent towards disenfranchising the LGBTQ community, for their embrace of relationships that are condemned in biblical teachings. But what then do we make of the absence of legislation that prohibits Atheist’s, Hindus, Muslims, Agnostics, and Buddhists from getting married? Why are the LGBTQ community included in social, philosophical, and political policies that inflict harm on their constitutional right to “Life Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” when even the New Testament encourages believers to “Love your Neighbor as yourself,” which in context was a splinter group of Judaism corrupted by indigenous, pagan beliefs that the Jewish community went to great lengths to avoid and disparage?
  • I was taught that belief in Christ inherits a responsibility to politically ally with any candidate that is considered conservative. But what then do we make of Donald Trump, president of the United States and protector of our national secrets, who fails the test of leadership presented in 1 Timothy 3:2, where even the most simple pastor must be “…above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach”?
  •  I was taught that gun ownership is patriotic and the defense of property is categorically “American.” But when, as the bible teaches in Luke 6:29, “To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either,” how can we justify the death of a home invader, the taking of a life, when we believe that God is sovereign over history and time, that all things that come to pass are his will alone and cannot be overridden by our intervention?

I could go on…
                So many of my friends from over 15 years ago have forsaken Christ for some of these ideas, and while my younger self would have zealously blamed them for not being able to see past the faults of people, whose fallibility is a basic tenant of Christianity, I cannot blame them now. While I can accept that doctrinally, it is impossible to lose the favor of God, that we are constantly regenerated and made better by the Holy Spirit, I can also appreciate the absolute slog that affirming belief in Christianity can become, when so many of your peers seem to profess, outwardly and adamantly, ideas that irrefutably oppose the Gospel in theory and practice. Sometimes you feel alone and isolated. Sometimes you think the world has gone mad. But other times it is necessary to remember that humanity was never good in the first place, that there was no “golden age” of Christian orthopraxy, or otherwise. But like death and taxes, I can only conclude, with great certainty, that Christ continues to be king and that our hope in the gospel is sure, and that the actions of a person or nation cannot, will not, compromise the integrity of Christ’s death and resurrection and the implications of the aforementioned.

Here’s to another 15 years.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Speculative Living


How I feel irl
One of my co-conspirators, Melissa Milazzo, at Sequart Organization released her book (which was really cool) this past week. Please buy it if you can! I remember her first few articles exploring the series and they were absolutely incredible.

Concerning the above, I don’t get to see this often enough, that is, the completion of a long term project. I know myself that the second draft of my second novel should be done next week. This has been a long time coming and I am ready for a break. Specifically one long enough to read my back log of books. These last few months have been stressful. Holidays, certifications, stress management training, et al. All I really want to do is curl up on my couch and finally finish Umberto Eco’s Inventing the Enemy. (Holy shit-balls! Buy it you plebians!)

This past month, I received as payment for passing my first major IT certification from my boss the Absolute Transmetropolitan Volumes 1-3. The pitch of Transmetropolitan alone is enticing, but the execution is really cool: in the distant future a gonzo journalist cover the sprawling subcultures in a pan-continental future city, known simply as “The City.” The series emphasizes the strength of the speculative fiction genre, which revolves around the dissection of current issues, juxtaposed to multiple hypothetical settings. Even though Transmetropolitan ran from 1997 to 2002, the series covers a multitude of issues affecting us, the American people, as we speak. Its execution is almost prescient! Though the ending was anticlimactic, the sum of its parts highlights the beauty of society and its vastness. That there could be such a thing surprises us, but it’s always nice to be reminded.

That is why we (Desmond and I) started Rune Bear. The truth lies in the weird and the strange, truly. Everything is so bedazzled in consumerism and commercialism, that "reality" has become fake. Globalism, for all its goal of unifying people, only means (practically) that our goods are made by slaves that we cannot see and wars are localized, compartmentalized, and spectated. Speculative fiction uncovers the disparities at work in society. The City of God is so far away, while the City of Man is on fire and gilded with rancid Trump Steaks.

Desmond and I have fun though. Weird is fun.

I think the joy we make of it comes from the implicative nature of the stories we receive. Seeing the world as it could be forces us to reflect on the present and ask the poignant question, “is this how it has to be?”

Recently, I should announce, I was able to go an entire week without taking my clonazepam. It's a huge milestone for me and it feels good to not have to rely on my "get-out-of-jail" pill to weather the anxiety storms. Someday I hope to stop taking Zoloft also, but I'll cross the bridge when I get there.

New Year. New Life. Exciting things are afoot and I can't wait to share them with you!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Truth About Writing Books

#TheStruggleIsReal


Work on my second full-length novel continues, slowly. With the holidays and my wife being sick, it’s been hard getting out to Starbucks and remaining there for my typical 6 hour writing sprints (6am-12noon). Yet, even if I did, I’m finding my chapter-per-weekend progress is slowing down as I begin to sort out the final plot details, make sure my climax doesn’t fall flat, and consolidate the denouement. Creating an enemy to hate, redeeming a flawed hero, and giving weight to a fictional world is a monumental task, and it’s always at the end that the gravity begins to pull you down like a rollercoaster bottoming out. That said, the second draft is always the hardest—I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before—but for some reasons you might not expect. For me, I call this stage I’m in the “Longhaul Blues.” That is, the period of disillusionment and creative depression. After looking at sprawling sections of old passages that are, at this point, almost 2-3 years, you want to give up sometimes. Note: the benefit of long term writing projects is personal growth. Then, you start looking at Chapter 1 and the writing is beyond shit and the reality settles that every moment forward will be a slog. To reform and refine what’s there, from coal to diamonds. In a way, it’s both a victory and defeat, seeing how much progress has been made.
The acts of reverse engineering that occur when implementing the notes from draft 1 constitute the bulk of the time; which, when handled by my friend Desmond, often play out like a friar’s club roast. Incidentally, the first notes I received from him for Spirit of Orn made me laugh so hard that I was crying. (That was back when I was washing dishes at Stone Brewing Company, and every lunch break was a release from the unrelenting torment of that place.) This is the best kind of feedback. Something that forces you to realize that you “ain’t shit” and that you ARE NOT the greatest writer of all time. Humility that knocks you on your ass, that grounding, helps embed you with your own characters even, drawing your perspective down to theirs. (Life isn’t fair, there is no rudder (narrator), the struggle is omnipresent, etc.)
There is a layer of fog between the work and yourself after a while. When becoming over-familiar with something, the side effect that comes is that suddenly everything looks overdone. Certain writing conventions and stylistic choices become wrote and it begins to drive you mad. In reality, readers will not catch these devices, most of the time. They key is variety. And you also underestimate the degree by which a reader will “fill in the blanks,” hold a picture in their head of how details transpire unique to themselves. The writer doesn’t see that step in the author-fan dichotomy.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Post-draft 1 research typically begins after reviewing the notes from draft 1. (Desmond initially asked me to read Notes on the Underground and Brave New World for more insight into my main character in Spirit of Orn. Another friend, Bern, told me that I should tune the narrative to fit with a specific audience, which at the time was split between a Christian and a Science Fiction/Fantasy crowd. I chose the latter.) The books that were recommended to you, the essays that corroborate the narrative, films with conceptual inspiration, all of this prepares me for the moment leading up to starting the second draft. It’s like clinging to a life raft in a storm. Oscillating unto cresting waves before crashing down into the foam. Over and over. Then you reach a point in a chapter only to find that about 45% of it will have to be rewritten? The struggle is real friends!
My process is very regimented. That’s intentional, to a degree. I think structure helps keep the momentum, to know what comes next. The Pre-Life crisis (as opposed to mid-life crisis) comes after college, not during freshman year of high school. Its easy proceeding forward knowing what comes next. Once you are done, then what? That where shit really gets tough.
But that’s a blog for another day.



  

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Author-Fan Agreement






We often hear the phrase “don’t patronize me,” which I, at least, interpret to mean something along the lines of this:

                Don’t assume I work for free, or will work to the specification, quality, or extent because of the preconceived notions about my trade.

In reality, the meaning is rooted in the interaction between two people, one speaking with veiled politeness to another, with the assumption that the former is greater than the latter. The phrase is rooted in the notion of patronage, wherein a wealthy benefactor, for the purpose of boosting their renown or prestige in society, will commission works of art that reflect in some capacity their personality, beliefs, or ideals. Today, it is my opinion that the notion of patronage still exists, though in a distributed sense. Authors, creators, makers, and developers all suckle at the teat of their “base,” and how well they perform at predicting the whims of their supporters will determine, ultimately, their earnings.
                Patronage, historically, has been of great benefit to society in the arts, despite the veiled agendas that underlie the circumstances of their creation. Plays and paintings, theater and sculpture, and many more products have endured and persisted because of motivated individuals indulging an artist’s whims. Today, not much has changed, with Patreon campaigns and Kickstarters, where the motivation of supporting a non-profit or individual (as “backers”) is rewarded by tangible and intangible gifts alike. I myself am considering a Kickstarter to print (for the first time) my third book. (Yes, you heard it here first, folks.) And while the results of these campaigns are mixed, art is still created and incentivized. What’s not to like?
                I have thought about it for a while, this idea of patronage, and how it applies to modern works of art. As both a fan and a creator, I know what I like, and I continue to learn what my fans (if any) also like. I have been frustrated by the creators in my life before. For instance, Patrick Rothfuss (of The Name of the Wind fame) is regularly ridiculed on his Facebook page regarding the unexplained delays of the third and final book of his marvelous Kingkiller Chronicles trilogy. Likewise, Gabe Newell is the butt of every joke on the internet about the permanently incomplete Half-Life 2 episodic series, which was also intended to be a trilogy, but ended with a cliffhanger finale in Half Life 2: Episode 2. Each example illustrates the ire of fandom, from innocuous barbs to toxic threats.
                My view that I formed is one that I wanted to share, if not to clarify why I make art, but also to emphasize how the model of patronage in the modern age is mutually beneficial to the creator and the fan.
                I call it (uncreatively), the Author-Fan Agreement.
                The Author-Fan Agreement (AFA), is a mutual agreement between a writer and their fans to produce content reliably and faithfully, and if (at any point) this agreement is violated then the fans have justified cause to halt patronage. I should clarify what this is not, before I explain.
                The AFA is not a fan dictating to the author, what the work should be about or what it should contain. I’ve said before that I know what I like. I don’t expect my favorite authors to write about the things that I want them to write about. Rather, there are qualities or ideas at play in these stories that draw me in. Regardless of the work, it is not the contents of it I like, but the creative personality that goes in to making the final product. Personally, when I write my books, I do not acquiesce the requests of fans, unless the project involves that. I like to write about things that impact me, challenge me. And though I myself have often lamented at the creative direction of people like Zack Synder and his baffling direction of the early DC Comics cinematic universe, I must observe his right to create art that speaks to him specifically.
                My thoughts of the AFA can be summarized in these points:
  •       An author and his/her fans have entered into a binding, unspoken agreement. We all like to see good art made. We do this every time we buy a book on Amazon or watching a movie at the theaters. We like the things we like so much that we are willing to pay for it. This incentivizes the creator to produce more work.
  •       If, at any point, the author stops producing work the agreement is terminated unless the author clearly communicates to his/her fans the extenuating circumstances for the delay. The unfortunate reality of the modern day is that branding has become so enmeshed with creative expression. If you are not nice to your fans, they will stop buying your stuff. If fans stop buying your stuff, then you no longer have the resources to produce it. It’s true that the maverick image of the author is one that is untethered to society. One who answers to no authority and creates art with unrestricted freedom. But we all aren’t benefactors of trust funds and rent free living conditions. Some of us have families we support. Some of us pay a mortgage. The maverick image is romantic, but not realistic.
  •      The above point allows me to transition into my final thought: the AFA is a two-way agreement. Authors cannot survive without fans and fans cannot be entertained without authors. The relationship is, fundamentally, mutually beneficial. Personally, I love what I do. I love that I have a great day job, but also an amazing dream job that I get to live out every weekend as I slowly craft sprawling narratives and release them to the world. I have been doing this since I was ten years old, and will continue until I die. But the patronage of the fan, the advocacy of the fan, is so important. Without it, all art ceases to be.

One of the best feelings is to talk to a fan, to know that your work made an impact, as an author. I know that feeling to be a fan, to meet Grant Morrison, to match wits with Neil Gaiman. The relationship between the two should ultimately be one of mutual respect and admiration. So, in defense of your heroes, be a good patron. In return, I promise to always try to be the best author I can be.

Love you guys!