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22 Apr 2008

An Update

Games, Writing

I’ve been promising Candace an update for… god, it must be a year, or close to it.

The truth is exactly what I set this blog up to document (and in part, I guess, to prevent) – I got sucked back into playing World of Warcraft.

Since that happened, all thoughts of keeping up with anime, with writing, and even with maintaining this blog, have gone out of the window. I played, pretty much obessively, until a few months ago.

In a way, nothing changed. I had really hit a brick wall with The Book. Even now I’m not sure that I want to continue with it. And I think, partly, avoiding thinking about The Book fueled my gaming obsession. Playing WoW made it easy not to stop and think.

I’ve really enjoyed playing again. Well, there was some ugly guild drama that upset me for a while, but mostly I did. I’ve gotten three characters to 70, and a fourth almost there… but then the game fizzled, as it always seems to. So for the last couple of months, I’ve been back in EQ2 and gradually reducing the commitment even to that…

I’m not sure how much it will help, when it comes to The Book. I definitely plan to revisit the short story that I’ve been submitting. I think that one truly has potential. But I just feel like the plot complications have overwhelmed the excitement I felt while writing. And I feel that I’m too obsessive to be able to back away and rework the plot.

Well, I have a couple of other ideas, too. I’ll let them percolate as I try to unstick myself from games.

One idea I had was for a contemporary fantasy. I started working on ideas for it well before WoW intruded. Mostly as a humorous concept, then. About that time, The Dresden Files started showing, and some of its background seemed very like what I wanted to do. The series wasn’t that great, but after reading a lot of comments on IMDB about how much better the books were, and wanting to know just how large the overlap was between the real Dresden Files and my thinking, I started to read the series.

It is excellent. It’s really, really good. Very readable, very credible, first-class noir-style detective thrillers with believable, scary magic and constant intense action. The cover blurb of the latest book on Jim Butcher’s site covers it quite well:

No one’s tried to kill Harry Dresden for almost an entire year, and his life finally seems to be calming down. For once, the future looks fairly bright. But the past casts one hell of a long shadow.

Reading a Harry Dresden book can be exhausting, because they are so relentless. And that’s brought up more thoughts about trying to continue writing.

I don’t have a problem with the ideas in the Dresden Files. There is some overlap between them and the original concepts I’d worked on, but not enough that I’d have to work to avoid Jim Butcher’s mythology. But what I realize is I just don’t have the imagination to create the constant pressure that he does. And it works so well, that I think I’d be very disappointed that I can’t.

I’ve been reading other contemporary fantasy, and a fair bit does seem to be of the noir / high action type. It’s either that or horror, and I don’t have any interest in writing horror. Dark, yes, and my intention now, if I do act on it, is to create something much darker than I’d originally planed, but not horror. And if I can’t match a thriller’s pace, then maybe I have nothing to offer.

And of course, at that point, I give up thinking and log back in to EQ2…

22 Jan 2007

Out from under – for a time.

Anime, Writing

I’ve managed to evade the grip of EverQuest II somewhat for the last few days. Since writing the short story, that is.

I don’t seem to do well at handling life without an active obsession, but reworking the story as much as it needs has provided that. And rather than go back to EQ2 when I’m done with a revision session, I’ve been using the break to catch up on Simoun. The fine folks at Simoun-Fans are now up to episode 23 – only 3 left. ‘Course, that’s only 7 further on from where we were when I last obsessed over the series, so I’m still going to have a long, painful wait after I get up to 23.

I started over from the beginning, because I’d forgotten so much, and it really is a good series. [spoiler /Slight spoiler/ /Hide spoiler/] I do find myself a little depressed after episode 19. Not saying more, even behind a spoiler tag.[/spoiler] My gripe about the music persists. It’s so completely inappropriate.

About the short story – currently titled “The Scent of Petunias” – I’m at the stage with it where I can’t decide if I should really hate it. This always happens, and I find it extremely stressful. It happens right after I decide that a story / section is good enough to get critiqued, and before I get much serious feedback. I haven’t been able to name the feeling. It’s not exactly embarrassment that I’m showing the story around. It’s more an extremely strong apprehensiveness about the potential for embarrassment.

I feel very much the same if I make a controversial post to a public forum. It isn’t a rational fear – but most of my fears aren’t rational anyway, so it isn’t anything new.

In this case, I love the concept. I think that for the most part I’ve done it justice, but then I read a section and it seems incredibly amateurish, so I fix it, then find another – and soon I’m worrying not about whether the writing is any good, but whether I’ve edited out all of the feeling in my constant changes. And whether it’s worth even close to this level of effort, for only 25 pages.

But then, I approach a short story very differently from The Book. When I write something short, I’m looking for a mood rather than a narrative – and that’s another thing I get anxious over, because I wonder if the mood is overdone, and whether it always seems to be the same from story to story… I can certainly tell the difference between tone between this short story and The Book, but I’m not sure if it’s much different from the last serious attempt I made at a short story.

What I will say is I enjoyed the process enough to try working on some others. I have several ideas that just may be viable, though most tend to be “hey, that’s a neat concept – but where’s the story?”

It’s also fueled my motivation to work on the online project I mentioned a while back. But I have to get some other starter stories for that before I can take it anywhere.

Current obsessions: (anime) Simoun

18 Jan 2007

Something Worthwhile

Writing

I finished the SF short story I mentioned, and I’m quite proud of it. It needs polishing, and I somehow doubt it will be seen as having the kind of distinctive style that SF magazines prefer, but I will try to have it published.

Current obsessions: (games) EverQuest II
(writing) SF short

16 Jan 2007

Active Obsessions

Games, General, Writing

One obvious problem with documenting obsessions – and one I did recognize up-front – is that when they hit, you don’t take the time away to document them.

So I haven’t written much since EverQuest II regained its grip. I’ve been away levelling up my characters, doing quests, obsessively wasting time. Some old friends have returned, one due to my persuasion (he was killing time in World of Warcraft, so I don’t feel guilty about dragging him back), and I’ve been playing with them some, doing the Christmas quests, making items and money in-game, and generally having a blast.

I had hoped that the discipline of maintaining this blog would help me manage my time when I got sucked back into EQ2 (or whichever game it would be), but that hasn’t happened. If maintaining the blog had required any real commitment, I would likely not have started it anyway.

My writing’s suffering. of course. I still am at a part of The Book for our critique group that isn’t going to change, so I can refurbish it a little and present it – but soon I’ve got to start making serious changes. I’m convinced now that the narrative is too linear, and I don’t know what to do about it. I introduced plot elements that stretched credibility in order to keep the plot from being simplistic; what I need instead is more story twists, and simplify the involvement of the antagonist(s).

I just finished a Robert Ludlum book, “The Ambler Warning“. He needs better editing, as do most authors as popular as he is, but he still writes a hell of a good thriller. A Ludlum thriller involves huge and unexpected plot twists, inexplicable background that you know will be explained, but can’t see how, and action-packed scenes all the way through. The Ambler Warning didn’t disappoint. It just makes me realize how far away I am from creating a powerful thriller.

I have had an idea for a Science-Fiction short story that I intend to write, if I ever free up the time to do so. I pretty much have it all mapped out in my mind now, it’s time to put pen to paper…

Current obsessions: (games) EverQuest II
(writing) SF short

11 Nov 2006

Final Fantasy X

Games, Writing

Final Fantasy X was the first console roleplaying game I played, and one of the few I’ve played all the way through. It’s going to be hard to top.

I’m not going to bother with spoiler tags, since I want to talk mainly about the story, so I’ll hide the rest of this behind a more tag. Beware – spoilers beyond the link. Heavy spoilers.
(more…)

28 Oct 2006

The “skeptics” project

Writing

So, I’m not really sure what I should say here. Obviously, when it gets to The Book, I’m not going to mention plot, if for no other reason than I don’t want it stolen.

This “project” is a little different, though. If it’s going to work, I’ll eventually go public with it. Sooner or later I’ll have to give details. And right now it’s a major obsession, so I can’t really avoid it.

I’m not a fanfic writer. Fanfic has improved over the years, and it’s often a high-quality fictional product these days. For me, though, I wouldn’t want to work with someone else’s characters. I can’t do justice to another writer’s canon. I might possibly be able to set stories in another’s world, if I avoid their primary characters, but then it wouldn’t be as interesting. And there aren’t that many world settings outside of CJ Cherry’s merchanter space that would support disparate storylines.

So I started thinking about a setting that could go beyond a single storyline, and came up with something I think could work quite well. It’s a contemporary fantasy, centering around a group of rational skeptics who aren’t quite what they seem. The ground seems to be sufficiently fertile for several threads of stories, with comedic possibilities. I’m working on an episodic story as a starter. I’d see it primarily supporting episodic or stand-alone short stories.

What I’d like to do, after I finish this story, is open the world up for development, and solicit stories from others. I’d ask other writers to contribute to shared background in a wiki, and publish any stories online. I’m not sure whether the background itself is robust enough for that, but I think it’s an interesting concept, and I’d like to try.

My own series of stories borrows heavily from anime clichés, and would probably be better expressed in manga-form, if I could draw. And, yes, one of the clichés is yuri, and it isn’t comedic. I like it well enough so far to want to see it published online, so I’m hoping I can make the project work.

Current obsessions: (anime) Simoun
(writing) “Skeptics” project

22 Oct 2006

The Book, version 1.5

Writing

Continued from The Book, version 1

EverQuest consumed my free time from 2001-2004. Well, there were plenty of other things, obsessive and otherwise, but when it came to a choice between thinking through an alternate strategy for The Book and levelling up my bard, Caetherne won every time.

Taking a break from EQ in 2004 didn’t help much. I still didn’t have a fix, and EQ2 was just around the corner. Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2 were in there somewhere. I’d rank FFX alongside the the best emotionally involving animes, so that one kept me hooked for multiple reasons, and I’m sure I’ll come back to it in these notes.

The biggest problem I had with The Book was the way that Andy had taken over. Which was bad for the story I was trying to write, but suggested something more interesting, with Andy as the protagonist. So I contemplated rewriting with her as the lead. That caused me problems with the plot, since Malcolm, as the older, more experienced partner, would be the one who knew what was going on. So a lot of my thinking was about a whole new storyline.

The problem was that whatever plot I conceived ran into a roadblock when I considered the romantic aspect. As the junior partner, I couldn’t see her as the dominant partner in the romantic relationship between them. But even less could I see her being submissive. It just wouldn’t be Andy.

If I stayed with convention, Andy would be the lesser partner, and that wouldn’t be interesting. I could certainly make her the dominant partner – especially with Malcolm, as I envisioned him, being something of a burn-out – but that ran the risk of distracting from the rest of the story. It wouldn’t be a romance, and I couldn’t afford for the romantic subplot to interfere with the story.

I played with the idea of Malcolm not being her love-interest. That had possibilities. I liked the idea of her being more independent of Malcolm. He would lead the investigation-related aspect of the story, but there’s no need for the protagonist to be in charge. In fact, it would give me another source of friction.

But I came back to the same issue. What would Andy’s boyfriend be like, if I added a third main character? If he could act as a foil for a strong-willed sardonic girl, he’d likely start taking over the story. If he couldn’t, I’d be back to the distracting idea of the submissive male. I’d want them to be more balanced than either, for the sake of the narrative, and I just couldn’t see a good way to do it, or a good role for him.

I didn’t feel that I could build a good plot until I understood how the characters related, but whatever I did wouldn’t allow either the two or the three to relate in a way that made for a good story. So again, I put it aside. It would take a new obsession to suggest an alternative to me.

Current obsessions: (anime) Simoun
Elfen Lied

14 Oct 2006

The Book, version 1

Writing

Continued from The Book, version 0

The novel, when it began to take form, was more about hacking than industrial espionage. My protagonist, Malcolm, a former FBI agent turned corporate security consultant, needed help in that area. After a few attempts at a workable sidekick, I created Andy. Mid-20s, female, sarcastic and attractive – a geek idol. I discovered that I could write Andy’s dialogue better than Malcolm’s, though the two together usually worked. My critique group always liked Andy scenes.

So I slogged away at writing, and finished what I called a first draft, though it needed a lot of work. When I came to review it, though, I began to realize just how much the book had changed over the course of three hundred pages. It wasn’t the book I’d started out writing – which in itself wasn’t really the book outline that had been my original motivation.

And the more I looked at it, the more I thought the problems unfixable.

One problem was that Andy had taken over. Malcolm was just not as interesting. And the romantic aspect of their relationship, which had become important, worked okay, but it didn’t generate any tension, after the early times. Instead it masked the natural adversity between the two.

During the early writing, I’d hit on another obsession: the wonderful romantic comedy Still Breathing. Joanna Going’s character had the smart, ironic side that I saw in Andy, and very much her appearance. For a time, that felt inspirational. Later, the identification I made between the two was limiting, because I found myself wanting a traditional romantic comedy happy ending for Andy.

She had lost her edge.

And that was where I left the book. Not only did I not see any hope for its future, but I switched obsessions to EverQuest, and from that there was no ready return.

Current obsessions: (anime) Simoun

11 Oct 2006

Point of view

Writing

I don’t want to start griping here about everything I read, but some writers annoy me because I know they’re better than what I’m reading.

Many writers don’t really understand point of view. I’m sure I will gripe about that some time. But one thing all decent writers understand is the need to decide on a mode of writing going into the book. Maybe you’ll pick a single point of view, which means nothing happens that is out of your main character’s perception. Maybe that’s too limiting, and you’ll go for multiple points of view. You need to know before you start, because if you write ten chapters in one point of view, then leap into another character’s head, your readers will be wondering why.

Maybe you’ll decide that you’re going to write in the first person. It can be very immediate, and very involving. Zelazny mastered the power of the first person novel. It makes for a great identification of the reader with the protagonist. It’s even more limiting than single point of view – nothing can happen at all that’s out of the protagonist’s awareness (although well-written single point of view should also be that way), and the reader has a sense that there has to be a “me” telling the story from the end, which is something of a spoiler, especially in a thriller. So it is easy to make the story predictable.

One of my pet peeves is the writer who writes in the first person, but introduces material from outside, in chapters or scenes which don’t involve the narrator. Patricia Cornwell did some of that, and it was an annoyance – until her books got too irritating for me to try to read them, so it’s no longer an issue for me. Stuart Pawson does it, and his writing is otherwise excellent.

Basically, if you can’t tell the story in the perspective you’ve chosen, you’ve picked the wrong perspective (or failed at creating the story), and mixing styles only proves that to your reader. If you’re writing a first person book, let the reader discover the facts as your protagonist does, not be privy to secret knowledge. If the material absolutely can’t be skipped, you need a multiple person point of view, and all in third person.

I like reading Michael Connelly. His thrillers are dark and moody. His protagonists are heavily flawed, at odds with the world around them. As he’s gotten more success, though, his writing has become a little more egocentric. Instead of keeping his series protagonists unique, he’s got them inhabiting the same world, meeting and playing off each other. And back into and out of the real world – where Clint Eastwood played agent Terry McCaleb in Blood Work, now Connelly has dragged the movie and Eastwood back into the book, with Eastwood attending McCaleb’s funeral… even pointing out canonical errors in the movie. It takes a lot of nerve to do all that, and it’s too jarring to ring true. But that isn’t my biggest problem.

Michael Connelly writes Harry Bosch books in the first person – and does a good job of it. He writes most of his other thrillers in multiple person point of view. When he decides to involve Bosch in another series, he really has two choices that would work: show the FBI (or whomever) from Bosch’s internal perspective, or add Bosch as one (third person) point of view to the other setting. Well, he does neither: Bosch’s contributions are still first person, and the rest is not, and it just doesn’t work. We’re trying to be Heironymous Bosch, but we know what he doesn’t know. We know everything that’s going on off-camera. Even from the mind of the villain wondering what Bosch is up to.

So, that’s The Narrows. I can’t say I’d recommend it. The Poet deserved a better sequel, and Connelly deserves a better (or more aggressive) editor.

09 Oct 2006

The Book, version 0

Writing

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, one of the changes in the world was the sudden apparent irrelevance of spy agencies. Politicians spoke of a “peace dividend” – which was pure hype, and many spoke of drastic expenditure cuts at the centers of intelligence. Whether those happened, I don’t know, but there was certainly a period when few had any firm idea of what the future held for intelligence services. Maybe – likely – that contributed to our lack of readiness when the problems of the Middle East spilled over into terrorism. Although it’s also likely that it was far too late at that point. Certainly the only voices in the early ’90s who did seem to have an understanding were pushing for urgent reallocation of resources to that region.

If we didn’t know what spies were supposed to be doing, neither did spy fiction writers. New fiction was set in the past, at the height of the cold war. Even John le Carré, one of my favorite writers and the grandmaster of spy fiction, wrote a couple of books that were either retrospectives or seemed to lack his flair. He’s found his voice again, since then – and a level of anger that makes his books more compelling than ever – but for a time I feel that his writing fell far short of “Tinker, Tailor” or “The Constant Gardner.”

That’s when I started thinking, well, what would you do with a spy evicted from the cold war? Obviously, you could send him to the new hotspots, but those were going to be covered quickly enough by the masters, as soon as they had found their new understanding. What about a spy who’d been sidelined by the “peace dividend”? What would he do in real life?

Which started me thinking about industrial espionage. It happens, but not many books are written about it. It just isn’t sufficiently violent or sexy to make a good thriller, in general. So I started wondering how it could be, and eventually, began to wonder whether I’d be interested in trying to write it myself.

I should note that by the time I got to putting pen to paper – or fingertip to keyboard – there wasn’t much left of the original “redundant spy” idea, and the book possibility mentioned above never really made it into version 1. But that’s what started the process.

Much later, I decided that yes, I did want to write. Short stories, a novel – I wasn’t sure, but I wanted to create something. I took a writing class, started working on ideas, and eventually wrote what I consider a decent short story while mapping out a novel. I met with a critique group who helped me focus my thoughts. I found that the area which had always scared me about writing – dialogue and relationships – was probably where my writing was at its best.

So in about 1999, I started writing in earnest.

Continues in The Book, version 1

Current obsessions: (anime) Simoun
Reading: The Narrows (Michael Connelly)