Tending the Garden

Ruminations

Process-wise, every few hours my buffer runs out and I need to take a break and let it refill. Earlier this year, I had an opportunity to have nearly a week of uninterrupted writing time, and I discovered that I can write for more than twelve hours at a stretch, but that time has to be broken up with hour long breaks. My fingers do eventually catch up with my brain.

So, taking a buffer break this afternoon. It’s as good a time as any to roll up the past week or so into a blog post.

The Mongoliad Book Three has been turned in. Two and a half years of working on that book with six other writers, and it’s all done but for the copy edits. Good thing, too, as it comes out next February. SINNER comes out in a week and a half, and it is the first of the Foreworld Side Quests, novellas set during our extensive chronology. This one takes place a few years before the main action of the The Mongoliad. SEER, the one I’m working on now, follows a few years later. Along with DREAMER, they make for a loose triptych of stories about two of my favorite characters from the medieval era of Foreworld.

Editorial notes for Earth Thirst have come in. I’m supposed to get those dealt with by the middle of September, which should, technically, be the end of the looping hell schedule I’ve been on. But there are two more novellas to write, one to edit and co-write, and the other two medieval era Foreworld books to shepherd along. Somewhere in there, I suspect another book will start germinating.

Chris Randall, one-time leader of Sister Machine Gun and a bit of a 21st Century Renaissance man, has posted a lengthy argument about the relationship between art and commerce in this modern era. He points out that it is NOT a manifesto (more of a mission statement, if you will), but it is certainly a call for awareness. Give it a read: ‘It’s Not A Memo…’. It’s definitely something that I think all creatives–regardless of their industry–should give some thought to.

My schedule over the past year (and in the near future as well) certainly is part of the overall argument that one should ‘shut up and make art.’ There is a lot more that can be discussed about the relationship between a creative and their audience, but fundamentally, it does come down the fact that you must create–often and consistently–before you can really start to consider reaping the commercial benefits of building a reputation garden.

On 37signal’s Rework: a Writer’s Perspective

Book Talk

I just finished Rework by the lads at 37signals. I’ve used a couple of their products in the past for managing writing projects (the text to note function of Backpack was especially handy), but I’ve lost track of their Signal vs. Noise blog over the last year. They’ve put out a book which is intended for the small business audience, but I found a number of their examples and aphorisms to be equally valid for writing projects. Because, after all, we are but businesses of one, aren’t we?

Planning is Guessing. I’ve come to realize that I prefer writing to planning, and invariably any given outline never survives any contact with the actual writing process. Which isn’t to say that an outline isn’t useful, but it is a guide to where your thinking is right now. This is the direction you point yourself. Modifications to your course must be allowed to happen. If you know the true shape of the book you are about to write before you start, then where is the possibility for discovery? It does depend on your comfort zone, certainly, but part of the act of writing is discovery.

Scratch Your Own Itch. And if you allow that discovery is an important part of this process, then the book is offering you some enlightenment, some realization about your own thinking, or the world around you, or human nature. Yes, Pulp is about entertainment, and pure entertainment has a different reward, but I challenge any writer to not come clean that their current project isn’t scratching some itch of theirs. It may be as simple as a tool by which a specific technique is explored, but ultimately there is some reason the work is being done beyond the fact that it equals a paycheck. James Patterson can, of course, disagree, and I won’t fault him for it.

No Time Is An Excuse. We never get the time we want, and we rarely appreciate the time we have. Incremental work means the book gets done–eventually–versus never being started.

You Need Less Than You Think. Lightbreaker is a bit overwritten because I was afraid I didn’t have enough story to fill out a full novel. Heartland is thirty thousand words longer, and I still don’t know where those words are because I felt like I was dropping every other line out as I was writing it. James Ellroy leaves out 80% of every sentence in White Jazz, and it feels denser for it.

Embrace Constraints. Let’s use White Jazz as the example. Ellroy chose a very idiosyncratic style, and it forced him to write the book in a very distinct way. If you look at the transition from The Big Nowhere to L. A. Confidential to White Jazz, you immediately know the sort of cop that David Klein is on the very first page. You know you’re going to have to buckle up and knuckle down if you’re going to survive the ride. “Downtown. A dress for Meg. I do it every time I kill a man.”

It’s probably been ten years since I’ve read White Jazz, and yet I can still quote those lines (and a few others). Embracing constraints gives the work its own life.

Start At The Epicenter. See Kurt Vonnegut’s Rules For Writing. “Enter the scene as late as possible; leave as soon as you can.” Keep your focus. Know the point you’re trying to make. Trim the fat.

Tone Is In Your Fingers (and Who Cares What They Are Doing?). You can’t NOT be aware of what others are doing, but it is what they are doing and has little relevance to your own work. Your work is YOURS, and that is a large part of why you are writing it. Because you are the best candidate to write THIS book. So, be comfortable in your skin, and let the muse work your fingers. That is the proper way of things.

Launch Now. This one is a bit harder to properly quantify, given that a book does take some time to complete, what with drafting, panicking, trimming, editing, and other fussing that writers like to do. The software world has a theory of Good Enough, which is a call to iterate often. Writers don’t iterate; they finish and move on. To that end, “launching now” may seem to be paradoxical, but more critically, it should be thought of as “Write Now.”

Good Enough Is Fine and Quick Wins (aka Build An Audience). Again, while we don’t have the luxury of iteration, finishing the current book and starting the next one and the one after that is important. A career is not built off one book (statistically speaking). The career rises out of a body of work. A key part of the recent self-publishing success stories is the presence of a body of work. Write Now. Write Often. Finish Occasionally.

Estimates Suck. It will always take you twice as long to write it, and it will also be half again as many words as you thought it would be. This is okay. George R. R. Martin says the book after A Dance With Dragons will be done when it is done, and given the tortuous wait on ADWD, his fans have learned the value of patiently STFU.

Don’t Scar On The First Cut. Their point is more toward the creation of internal policies, but for writers, the same sort of intent is in practice: don’t get sidetracked by the actions or opinions of one person. Stay your course. Correct as necessary. But hold true to your vision.

I wish more books on writing were like Rework, because we don’t need more lessons on how to actually write, we need more observations on how to approach writing.

Do more. Think about what you are doing less.

David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Film

I stumbled upon the trailer to David Fincher’s upcoming version of Steig Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and have been somewhat distracted by it. More than a little, really. Go watch the trailer if you haven’t seen it. I’ll wait.

  • Much like the boat racing scene in The Social Network, the pacing of the images is tied to the music. In this case, it’s a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” with vocals by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Each image changes with the beat of the music. Motion in the trailer is either up or to the right, directions consistent with what I’ve heard about the subliminal aspects of movement in media (moving to the right is considered forward motion–looking to the future).
  • You’re in constant motion, and the climax of the trailer is an approach to the house as the tagline starts to flash. Do you find yourself dreading ever reaching the house? I do. It’s a fairly unassuming house, but it is bound with snow and the image has that creepy sort of white light (which isn’t in many of the other scenes, mind you, even though much of the book takes place during winter). If you’ve read the book, you might fear that house, but even if you haven’t, you’re thinking, “Creepy fucking house.” You might even be flashing to the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. But the music–which we all know as love, even though it’s a new version of “Immigrant Song,”–is starting break down. It’s the sort of aberrant noise that I don’t mind, but I know that it interrupts rhythm and forces us to either engage more fully or to switch off.
  • It’s been a while since I’ve read the Millennium Trilogy, but I seem to remember The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo being somewhat of the least action-oriented of the three (courtroom drama of The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets’ Nest notwithstanding), and yet, at first pass, you think the film is going to leave you breathless. Watching it again, it becomes more clear that it is a series of shots of people being very British (Eddie Izzard style) with each other, but all of the expressions are filled with fear, angst, or sadness, leaving you with no idea why everyone is so overwrought, but OMG! you want to find out.
  • I’ve already tried to find the song. It’s not available, as far as I can tell. Which means if I want to talk about the song or share it with friends, I have to tell them to go watch the trailer. That’s a bit of brilliant marketing right there.

Anyway, I know it is just a teaser trailer, and I’m sure we’ll be bludgeoned by lots and lots of variants that spoil a great deal of the story, but I do like the teasers. They have to be visceral. They have to grab you. They have to do their job without words, and as my job is all about using words, I like figuring out how to do more with less.

Things To Like In Immortel

Film

The interesting experiment about Immortel is the mix of high-end industrial CGI, mo-cap rendered CGI (the people), lots of green screen work, model work, and various ambient flourishes. Oh, and old school monster effects. It’s all mixed together without breaking the fourth wall, lending everything an I meant to do that feel. Very much a combination of The Fifth Element and Amélie with lots of Egyptian symbolism and no dearth of near-apocalyptic texturing.

So many little things to like about the film.

  • The texturing on the doctor’s face who is observing Jill with Dr. Turner in the beginning. You’re never quite sure if he’s CGI or not.
  • The outside lighting is over-saturated enough than John’s dark mask and clothes make him appear to be a hole in space more than a man in black.
  • Thomas Kretschmann plays Nikopol, and his voice is deliciously ragged and English is just alien enough to him that playing a man dislocated in time comes so very naturally. Also, are all the live-action actors speaking English while all the CGI characters dubbed in English (from French, I would assume)?
  • One of Dr. Turner’s patients is wearing a skin-tight shirt that is a amalgamation of several panels from one of Bilal’s graphic novels. Awesome awesome costume.
  • The shadow overlay of Horus on Nikopol. Never over-used. Always effective.
  • Nikopol: “I’m no carpenter.” Heh.
  • The scene where the Dayak takes the black box from the cop’s head. He’s a rubber monster; the cop is CGI; and a cut-away to the cop’s gun is a flesh and blood guy. Which makes you wonder if every shot is composed with a specific mix of compositional elements in mind in order to create a very stylized story.
  • Jill, sitting in the tub and and crying blue tears until the tub is full.

It’s a different version of the graphic novel, cherry picking elements and creating new ones altogether. As Bilal wrote and directed the film, it’s not an adaptation so much as a re-envisioning. Always interesting to see an artist re-examine their work. Ha. Bilal even says “loosely based” in the end credits.

Thinking about it more, I realize it isn’t an adaptation. It’s almost a Rashamon-style exploration of some of the events of The Nikopol Trilogy. For one, Immortel is Horus’s story (right down to the ad vitam parenthetical of the title), and Nikopol and Jill are players in that story, ones who never quite find their places (tools of the god, after all). Nikopol’s immortality is explored in the graphic novel and is, in my mind, a more bittersweet and poignant resolution than what is offered in the film.

Which leads to an on-going discussion that we’re having at Subutai about media properties and this new shiny thing called transmedia. Not every story translates well to different mediums. Immortel is a perfectly fine film narrative; The Nikopol Trilogy is well suited to being a graphic novel. Both complement the other, but are not required. But to engage with Enki Bilal on this content is to partake of both and be cognizant of the differences.

Bilal’s Immortel

Film

We started watching Immortel last night. I found a Blu-Ray edition in the cheap bins the other day, and as the old DVD I had was a somewhat suspect Russian-made all-region DVD, I snapped it up. I’m glad I did. Blu-Ray makes for much better viewing, and a lot of the animation is more seamless than I remember. Unfortunately, we were tired enough that we didn’t make it far into the film, but it is a film that tried–rather faithfully–to translate the graphic novel to the screen while still leveraging some of the aspects of film that you can’t do well with a graphic novel.

Plus it’s Enik Bilal. The Nikopol Trilogy was one of the first book reviews I ever had published.

The Foolscap Reading Series recap

Making Things Up

Sunday was the first of the Foolscap Summer Reading Series, wherein I rambled on for nearly three hours to a room of attentive and interactive listeners. It was more of a rolling discussion than a Watch The Monkey Dance! sort of show, but scarlettina was kind enough to tweet the proceedings and make it seem like all the bon mots were coming from me. For the sake of posterity, here’s the highlights of the afternoon (in a somewhat edited version from the flatstuff twitter stream).


* I start off by reading the two pieces I wrote for Omnivoracious, the Amazon blog, related to the Codex of Souls series. [NOTE: those would be “On the Nature of Magick” and “On The Existence of Monsters]

* Mark Teppo is fascinating: In twenty minutes, he’s invoked Alistair Crowley, Jesus, and Descartes.

* Teppo says: “We just wanna get naked with things that we shouldn’t.”

* Teppo says: As I wrote Lightbreaker, I repeated the words, “Men and mantras, shotguns and sigils.”

* On writing fantasy & making stuff up: Teppo says he actually did more research for his fantasy book than he did for his science fiction story.

* Teppo says: The trouble with doing research is the more you get into it the more interesting things you find.

* Teppo says: There are elements of abstract esoteric thought that, when applied to scientific thought, start adding sense to the universe.

* Teppo says: Faith is reliance on the external to deliver to you. Crowley says there is no faith, only will. Faith is reactive; will is active.

* This is more than a reading; it’s practically a class on esoteric thought. Fascinating stuff!

* First scene of Lightbreaker, what was the inspiration? Teppo says: “It was . . . kinda cool.” First scene was the only thing saved from first draft. [NOTE: Alas, Twitter doesn’t really afford the means to capture the three minute off-the-cuff grad school style breakdown I did of the first scene and why it was the way it was; but at the same time, I can admit that I made it all up on the spot. Also, I should note that the VERY first scene–with the deer–isn’t actually in the first draft. The early version references the deer, but it starts as he boards the ferry; I hadn’t remembered this until I was reading it aloud yesterday.]

* Beautiful image in the first scene of Lightbreaker: a deer glowing with human soul energy in the dark of night. Magic afoot!

* Book is set in the Seattle; Teppo invokes the mystery of the woods, the mundane experience of a ferry ride with an acute perception.

* Teppo says: “What’s the difference between urban fantasy and paranormal romance? Paranormal romance has happy endings; urban fantasy really doesn’t.” [NOTE: I’m not the first to say this.]

* Teppo recommends Mark Henry’s series about Amanda Feral, a zombie, in the hip, happening capital of the undead, Seattle.

* Q: What makes a story horror? A: An awareness of dread. [NOTE: The longer version of is a rambling discussion about the difference between Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Thing Are and what we thought the Welsh translation’s title was: In The Land Of Wild Things. (Don’t ask; that’s an even longer digression.) The point is that the Welsh title is a fantasy title, in the sense that it is the story of a magical land over there; Sendak’s original is a horror story, because you don’t know where the Wild Things are, and they’re probably right here.]

* And then, we launch into discussion of The Mongoliad. I do a demo. We talk about how it is going to drop on all the major mobile platforms. [NOTE: I explicitly point out that it will also be available via the web, but as that’s not nearly as exciting as the mobile devices, it’s not been a major talking point in the press releases so far.]

* I detour into a discussion of the evolution of publishing, complete w/drawing of the internet as a cloud–not to scale. Somewhere in there I posit that, in five years, the mass market paperback is going to be an e-book.

* Teppo defines the distribution mechanism for The Mongoliad. PULP. Personal Ubiquitous Literature Platform.

* Q: What is The Mongoliad about? A: In 1241 the Mongols raided Europe; in 1242, they went back. The story tells the secret history of why.

* The Mongoliad will be told as a weekly serial online by a group of authors including Teppo, Greg Bear, Neal Stephenson, Nicole Galland, and others. Contributors to Mongoliad may be musicians, artists–there are more ways to tell a story than only writing.


* Q: If I invest in a Mongoliad subscription I want to know it has a beginning middle & end. Will it? A: Yes. We want that. But. . . it will have seasons, like a TV show, and shorelines will intertwine.

* Discussion about piracy, and Subutai’s solution: build a interactive, entertaining site with low overhead to join, and people will do what is easier. Piracy may increase readership; it definitely improves sales. The trick is to make it effortless to participate honestly.

The How Book Publishing Works diagram. Notice the Internet cloud down there in the lower left, along with the top three distractions that plague a writer (“snacks,” “cat vacuuming,” and “WoW”). Later, I redraft it for the Internet Age and how it is relevant to the Mongoliad model.

The map of Europe. On the far right (you can see the edge of it) is another cloud that is the Mongol horde, not the Internet. Though, at first glance, you could mistake one for the other.

Finally, there were some questions about the status of The Codex Of Souls, and I re-iterated that I had scoped ten books, Night Shade had bought (and published) two, and things were in wait and see mode. They’re still in wait and see mode, but I can tell you that the wait and see hold-up is on MY END now. Night Shade has re-expressed their interest in more books, and I’m looking at my schedule and giving it some honest thought.