Hi hi! Kermit the frog here! Just kidding, it's just me. Whew. It's been a while. Sorry I've been away. Have you missed me, world? No? Well that's good. I haven't missed you, either. You're all a bunch of pains in my asses. Just kidding, I love you all. No, for real, I've been in a massive amount of physical pain these past two months from an apparent spinal cord problem . . . I had to have corticosteroids injected into my spine in order to fix the problem . . . but now the problem is fixed, and I can actually sit at my computer again for long periods of time without any excruciating pain setting in! Whoo hoo! Which also means I can write again. Thank the gods! I can work on ye olde novel again, which I've been neglecting these past few weeks or so. I wish i hadn't had to take so much time off from writing, from you, but alas, it was necessary. Anyway. Here is my latest attempt at 3D rendering, using PBR shaders, PBR stands for "Physically-Based Rendering," and you can really see the difference, can't you? The metals look like freaking metal, don't they? I'll be writing a more lengthly blog post on self-care and writing and the need to take time to care for oneself during the creative process in a little while. But for now, feast your eyes on Dizzy's new exosuit below! Iit took me FOREVER to model this in Autodesk Maya, folks. Really it did.)
Hey folks! Thought I would share my latest adventure in 3D rendering with you. Here it is, in all it's glory! It's a render of Dizzy in her Exosuit, standing next to The Fangirl, her trusty, tricked-out car that she drives around. Notice that the engine is bigger than the windshield. Not to worry; the driver sees by using a holographic heads-up display. And yes, the things on the back are warp nacelles, and the thing mounted in the trunk is an Engine. The thing on the top of the cab is an oscillation overthruster, just in case she needs to drive through solid matter!
Well, I was kicking around new concepts for the cover design, and I came up with this: Behold!
Well, I've decided to pursue writing a second draft of the book. Why? Didn't I just oh-so-proudly unveil the major, finally-finished draft of the book just a few months ago? Wasn't that the version that was finally "going to the editor after the beta-readers finished it?" Well, ye-e-es, and no. See, I let my beta-reader Ana read through the first three chapters of it. And I let my friend Greg read through it, too. He had less problems with it than she did, let's just say that. Well, no, let's say a little more, shall we? Yes, let's. The problems Ana uncovered weren't just prose-related, or structural. They were conceptual. There were problems with the characters. Problems with the way I'd written them. Problems with the way I had set up and executed the plot. Problems with the way I had handled the conflict, and problems with the way I had handled the fight scenes . . . and yes, on top of all that, there were problems with the prose, and the structure, and the way I had gone about certain other stylistic choices. So all in all, the book was full of problems. And I didn't just take Ana's word for it, either. I read through it with her, and we had many conversations where she would walk me through the text, and she'd show me specific examples of things, and we'd talk about why they worked or didn't work, and why or why not. And then she'd show the meta-examples, and the meta-data. And how this affected that, structurally, etc. Together, we went through those first three chapters and I made a list of everything that was wrong, everything that needed to be corrected. it was a long list.
And man, at first, I was so bummed. So completely torn up over it. I had failed. Worse, the book had failed. It was an utter crapfest, the whole thing. It needed to be rewritten. Again. What a waste of . . . well, now hold, I told myself. Not a "waste of effort." It was a good effort, i told myself. And besides, like Stephen King had said: The first draft was you telling yourself the story; the first draft was you getting it all down on paper for yourself, downloading it from out of your head and down onto the paper . . . saving it from the RAM memory of your skull and onto the "hard drive" of the written word. Exactly. So now what I needed to do . . . was write the second draft. Which, I told myself, would be much different. Things would have to change. A lot of things. Characters would need to have their backstories rewritten; some characters would have to be eliminated altogether; new characters would need to be created; the entire story arc of the book would need to be altered somewhat; the plot would need to change a bit; the climactic scenes could mostly be the same, if I maneuvered my puzzle-pieces into the right places beforehand, if I was careful enough . . . so yeah. Second draft, here I came. I was actually psyched for it. I could do this. I knew I could. I just needed to get revved up, "fired up, ready to go," like Obama used to say. I had this. Hell, I have this. I just needed the right kick in the butt to get me going.
And then I saw the next trailer for Ready Player One. And that finally clicked everything into place, for some reason. I realized just how hot geek culture is right now. And then I got the last little bit of inspiration I needed. I logged onto io9, to read some geeky news for a moment, and there, I saw a discussion thread absolutely trashing the new fan-art posters for RPO. Why were they trashing RPO? Because they are geeks, and geeks love to have wars over things sucking and not sucking, and RPO is just about the most polarizing book/movie in the world right now. But, as a fan of RPO, I was incensed. I was furious. And that spark of anger ignited the creative fires. I had the last little bit of inspiration I needed.
And with that, I set to work.
I don't know when the second draft will be ready. It could take anywhere from six months to nine months, to a year. Probably closer to eight or nine months. Somewhere in that area. But I do know that so far, it . . . is . . . awesome. And you guys are gonna love it.
I’ll say it again: We are living under the most wildly criminal, corrupt, and attempt-at-fascist Presidential administration ever in this country’s history. We have a President who wants to be “President for life,” who wasn’t able to successfully pay off a porn star and who “isn’t a big reader,” but yet somehow thinks he should be allowed to control the Internet, free speech, and womens’ uteruses; spout racist dogwhistle rhetoric; fail to condemn white supremacists; negotiate with a nuclear-armed madman across the ocean; piss off our allies left and right; doom our economy with unnecessary trade wars; do nothing about gun reform; and use the office of the Presidency for his own personal profit. He is an admitted sexual predator, a verified liar, has a history of being a con man and a fraud, a failed businessman, and a charlatan. He has a history of marital infidelity, something Republicans practically tried to crucify Bill Clinton over. And, we now have enough evidence to conclude that he did, in fact, collude with the Russians to “hack” at least the public's consciousness during the 2016 election process and to tilt the scales of public opinion in his favor with their added help. We also have a cabinet full of corruption and vice; cabinet members who elbaorately decorate their offices at the expense of taxpayers and break ethics rules left and right. And lastly, we have a Congress who stands idly by and does nothing about any of this, and in fact vocally supports the President and his cabinet, and meanwhile passes a tax law that only has the support of 29% of the public, and that strips healthcare away from millions, and that adds 1.5 trillion dollars to the national debt (not the deficit; the actual national debt; our sons and daughters will have to pay for that) in order to transfer that same money to the rich elites and powerbrokers who run their party. This all must — and, hopefully, will — stop this November when the Democrats take back control of both houses of the Congress. But it cannot stop if we don’t remember to get out there and VOTE this November. So to all of you young people whom I know lean Liberal and Indepdendent: Think about the choices you really do have; think about the future you can start building right here, right now, with one simply action: Voting. And to all of you of my generation: Do the right thing. Vote these immoral ass-clowns out of office this November, and let’s give The Donald the righteous kicking to the curb he deserves.
It's not that I don't value other opinions — I actually do; their critical in honing one's work and craft — it's just that I've received, in the past, such extremely, wildly, sometimes insanely-vitriolic negative reviews of my work that it's driven me to the conclusion that what it really comes down to, sometimes, in the end, is matters of personal taste that somehow touch a very deep nerve in people. As in, it not only "doesn't appeal" to them . . . but it so strongly offends their intellectual taste buds that they immediately projectile-vomit it out and across the room so hard that it sticks to the wall. Other people read my work and they love it; they love it so much that they squee about it and it makes them smile, and they fall in love with the world and with certain characters I've created. Still others are level-headed about it; they read it, identify its flaws, see its potential, see what works really well — and congratulate me on it — but they also point out the weak spots and tell me what needs work and what could use improving.
These last ones are the opinions I value the most, because they're honest and forthright without being condescending; they're useful, and above all, they're practical. They don't say, "cut half of it and it will be better" and leave me floundering. No, they specifically tell me, "Cut this, and this, and that (and here is why), but whatever you do, don't cut this, or this, or that over there." They are good readers, and even better feedback-givers. They are the people I turn to when inspiration is lacking, because they are always at the ready with ideas for what to do next, or what to work on doing better. I don't turn to the people who say, "This is too much," and who leave it at that, because that's not really useful, is it? No, I turn to the people who say, "You can cut this part; this just paraphrases what was said earlier." I turn to the people who say, "Describe his blood with a more robust adjective other than 'crimson.'" I turn to the people who say, "Try to punch up the dialogue here by using a tag other than 'said.'" And I turn to the people who say, "I love this part right here; Dizzy always makes me laugh when she does this to someone." Or, "Why do you always do X with your characters' expressions? You need to give us more variety in your characterizations, Hainline. I suggest having her smile devilishly here."
You see what I mean? Useful stuff that actually helps or encourages or points to a solution to a problem. This is what I — and other writers of all stripes — need in their critiques and feedback. Not condescending, half-witted slogans or half-hearted, one-sentence quips about cutting half of it, or that tired, old, oft-repeated schlock about "killing your darlings." No. They, and I, need practical, useful, work-specific and targeted advice on what to do to make the work better. Do you get this? Does this make sense to you? It does to me.
I post this in the hopes that some of you, as in, other writers, will read it and have an "Ah ha," moment where it penetrates your skulls and sinks it, and you get it, and it makes an impression. That you understand that the others of your "tribe" — that is, the rest of us — are out here, and we, like you, are struggling with our craft on the daily, and that we work just as hard as you do to "do the heavy braining to make the words go," as the famous Twitter meme goes. You're not alone, and we'd like to feel like we're not alone, too.
So the next time someone posts a story snippet, or their cover art, or their blurb, or their sample chapter, and asks for opinions or critique or feedback, try to follow this idea; try to give them work-specific, practical, editorial advice on exactly what to fix, how to fix it, and if possible, and time permits, tell them why it needs fixing. Offer to leave comments in a Word document if they have one or can send you one. Go the extra mile. Don't just sit on your haunches and say, "Oh, someone's work, that's nice." No. If it looks interesting, if it shows any promise, and if the person is nice, and especially if it's someone whom you know — and of course, if you have the time and you're not swamped with your own work and family crises and job stress — then go ahead . . . take the shot and help that person out. They will be appreciative, and they will thank you. And it will be worth it. Hell, I tel you this: It's worth a lot more than some crappy-ass Facebook comment that reads, "Cut half of it and it will be better." Because it actually helps someone grow as a writer. It helps them hone their craft, just as you once honed yours. It makes the world a better place. Just a little. And the gods all know we need that now more than ever, in this Age of Trump and Robot Apocalypses.
My adventures in 3D rendering continue! Here you can see me playing with the "Iray Worlds" package from DAZ3D, which is a package of HDRI sky presets for the Environment system inside the IRay rendering engine. Tech talk aside: It makes pretty skies for your renders that you can adjust the color and tone of if you wish. Here I've rendered the main cast of my novel, The Technowizard Guardians Of The Infinite Worlds Of Fandom, in all their glory, with a guest spot photobomb by Cthulu himself! If you look very closely, you can see where I've had to do a bit of Photoshop work on Gygax's pant-leg; for some reason, it doesn't want to render right. I think this is because of a glitch in the clothing-fitting system inside of DAZ Studio that I'll have to compensate for by pushing up the Collisions and Smoothing factors on his "pants" object. But oh well. It's a small, niggling thing that most people won't notice unless they look really hard at it. I think it works — for now — or at least until I can delve into the clothing-fitting system inside Studio and see what's amiss there. Anyways — feast your eyes, and enjoy!
You know that meme, the one with Winston Churchill, where he's asked about cutting funding for the arts, and he responds with, "Well then, what are we fighting for?" Yeah, that never actually happened. Check Snopes, you'll see. It's an apocryphal quote. What Churchill actually said was this:
“The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them . . . Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due.”
Which, i think, is a much better quote. Because it's so damned true. Also, as a fun historical anecdote, check this out, from ProfessorBuzkill.com:
In 1940, the Battle of Britain was looking bleak. London suffered daily bombings from the Luftwaffe, and German invasion of the island seemed imminent. Kenneth Clark, the Director of the National Gallery in London, wrote to Churchill and suggested that their paintings and artworks be sent to Canada to keep them safe from damage or capture.
“No,” Churchill replied, “bury them in caves and cellars. None must go. We are going to beat them.”
And that’s what they did.
So Churchill was actually more of an Arts-saving badass than that meme gives him credit for. And we need reminding of words and deeds like this in times like these. For now, we are living in the age of Donald Drumpf, the Orange Man, the man who in his version of the federal budget (which I'm hoping gets axed to pieces by Congress and put back together again like some Frankenstein monster, with at least some of the cruelty and stupidity removed from it), which cuts — no, cuts is too light a word; it slashes, it guts — funding for the Arts and Humanities. It completely eliminates the National Endowment for the Arts. Yes, it just gets rid of it. Defunds it entirely. It's gone in Trump's budget. Poof, goodbye. In Trump's world, all that matters is military spending, not writers, artists, poets, actors, musicians, or dancers. Nah, fuck those people. We don't need them. What do they contribute? According to Statista:
The global film industry shows healthy projections for the coming years, as the global box office revenue is forecast to increase from about 38 billion U.S. dollars in 2016 to nearly 50 billion U.S. dollar in 2020. The U.S. is the third largest film market in the world in terms of tickets sold per year, only behind China and India. More than 1.2 billion movie tickets were sold in the U.S. in 2015. There are about 5,800 cinema sites in the U.S. as of 2015. About 14 percent of Americans go to the movies about once a month, seven percent go see movies in the movie theater twice or three times a month, whereas 37 percent go a few times a year. This is a considerable share taking into account 53 percent of American adults prefer watching movies at home.
The revenue from the global book publishing market is forecast to slightly increase in the coming years, growing from around 113 billion U.S. dollars in 2015 to about 123 billion U.S. dollars by 2020. British company Pearson is the largest publishing house in the world as of 2015. Besides Pearson, Thomson Reuters, RELX Group, Wolters Kluwer and Penguin Random House are also leading book publishers in the world. The U.S. has by far the largest publishing industry, followed by China and Germany.
"Yeah," I can hear you saying. "But andy, that's Hollywood. And that's the Publishing industry. That's not government funded!" But oh yes it is. Where do you think big-time Hollywood actors, writers, directors, and technicians get their start? How do you think artists live and stay alive and learn their craft while they're still trying to hit it big, while they're still small-time players, while they're young and dumb and just trying to scrape by? Many do so with the aid of government funding. Many start out in small venues, in local theater, and in publicly-funded venues as well. Many of them get their feet wet in school, in college, or apply for grants to study their craft. A lot of them need the Endowment. Without it, we're going to come up short on talent in this country . . . really quickly. Without the Endowment, in just a few short years, Hollywood and the book publishing industry — as well as the news industry, journalism, and other industries that rely on talent pools from the Arts and Humanities — are going to be coming up short, too, and we as a nation are going to pay the price for it. We will fall behind. This will cost us economically. And it will also cost us a piece of our soul, as well.
Because above all, that's what the Arts give us. Our souls. Neil Gaiman has a famous quote that says that Fairy Tales aren't there to teach us that dragons exist; they're there to teach us that dragons can be beaten. (And right now, we have a dragon in the White House, believe you me.) Art inspires us. It speaks to our spirit. It enriches us inside. It is the one thing that bridges the gaps that stand between out intellects, our memories, our imaginations, and our hearts. It is the language of the soul, spoken universally between all peoples of all nations. Art is philosophy made concrete. It is our values and our metaphysics, and our epistemology, our ethics, turned inside-out and made into physical thIngs that we can see, and touch, and hear. It is our politics, made real and intimate so that we can interact with them in real-time and really see them for what they are, what they represent. Art is a way of closing the distance between disparate peoples. It is what we do when we take our thoughts out of our heads and place them in the context of each other, of society, when we have the courage to take a sample of who we are share it with others for them to learn from, critique, appreciate, and explore. Art is a reflection and a prism of our essential humanity. Without it, we are just jazzed-up apes stumbling around in fancy hovels, tweeting on iPhones about the latest craze in banana fashion. We need our Arts. And if Trump can't see that, then he is the ape.
Like I said — I have hope that at least some of Trump's Republican colleagues are at least not half as backward and regressive as he is. I have hope that at least some of them have half a brain and will see that the Arts are as necessary to this country as oxygen is to the lungs, as blood is to the heart and the body, as food is to the stomach. I have hope that our elected Representatives have not so totally abdicated their humanity that they have forgotten that those movies they like to watch and those books they like to read (if they do still read, that is; some of them make me wonder at times) came from somewhere — from a living mind, a beating heart, a thriving soul, one that was, most likely, nurtured and bore fruit because of the Endowment, because they got a leg up in the beginning. And I have hope that my hopes are not in vain. Because if they are, then a dark day is dawning. One in which we return to savagery, and where the only Art we know is strewn upon the walls of our caves and hovels, and the only thing we know is drudgery and pain, the pain of a People who have forgotten that Art is the gateway to — and the nectar of — the soul.
So, I recently started playing around with DAZ Studio 4.10's new advanced rendering engine, the Iray Renderer. For those who don't know what the hell that is or what I'm talking about, let me explain: In the 3D world, there's a process called rendering. That's when you take the 3D scene you've carefully laid out in the software's design interface — when you've placed and textured your 3D models, and have placed your cameras and lights in the scene where you want them — and you turn your 3D scene into a "reality," by rendering it. What that means is that the computer takes your 3D scene and it calculates the way your virtual "lights" behave in the scene as though they were real, actual lights, and as though the objects in your scene were real, actual objects . . . in other words, it looks at the 3D scene you've created as though it were a "real thing" that existed in the actual world, and takes a virtual "photograph" of that "virtual reality" as though it actually existed, and then shows you that photograph that it took. That's what rendering is. The "Iray" renderer is different than the "3Delight" renderer that DAZ3D previously shipped with DAZ Studio because it's physically based. That means it obeys that actual laws of physics in terms of the way that actual light particles (real photons) actually behave in the real world, and so your renders of your scenes turn out much more "photorealistic" — i.e., they look much more like photographs of real things — than did renders made with 3Delight. Of course, you can still use 3Delight if you want to (it certainly has its place for rendering certain types of scenes, no doubt about that), but Iray is much more realistic in terms of its output.
Anyway, all of this is prologue to the actual content of this post, which is that today, I rendered my very first scene with the Iray rendering engine, and I'd like to share it with all of you! Here it is! It's Dizzy (of course, because all my best and most interesting renders always feature Dizzy), standing in front of my tried and true prop that I created, the Wormhole Gateway. Enjoy!
I recently procured the soundtrack to a musical I didn't know existed, but was incredibly awed once I found out that it did: Jim Steinman's "Bat Out Of Hell: The Musical." This. Is. The. Coolest. Thing. On. Earth. Well, okay, maybe not the coolest thing — there's still Orange Julius and Mongolian Grill, and Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, and the macOS operating system — but you get the idea, right? It would appear that good ol' rock composer Jim Steinman finally achieved his lifelong dream of creating a Peter-Pan-like, dystopian, sci-fi romance for the stage — and a musical, at that — featuring a number of his epic, Wagnerian rock-operatic songs, almost all of which have been taken from his past oeuvre of work with Meat Loaf. When I found out this was really a thing, I was ecstatic. (See elsewhere on this website for my fanboyish obsession with Steinman and his work.) I was like, "Holy shit! He actually did it!" So, without further ado, a quick review of the two-disc soundtrack album, recorded by the original cast:
The album is very slickly produced. The sound is very open and clear, with every instrument very clearly hearable within the mix; the guitars are lightly used, but when they do show up in the arrangements, they are really effective. They add a great rock 'n roll edge to the arrangements, and are really loud in some of the songs (such as the version of "Bat Out Of Hell" that appears here). So, that's good. The "solo" guitars are a little thin, though; they could've used some beefing up, I think. But then again, this is for a theatre audience, not a rock concert audience, so I can sort of understand the guitars not being balls-out loud and distorted. The orchestra sounds great and very full, with the brass and string ensembles both getting a good workout here and there, especially the strings in some songs. The choir that accompanies some of the arrangements is in full voice as the backup singers for many of the songs, and they sound gorgeous. The mix is exceptionally good; like I said, every instrument and part seems clear and separate, and very "visible" in the mix. Nothing is muddy and there is no clipping or overbearing loudness, and you don't have to turn the speakers up to hear any instruments, as everything is evenly spaced in the mix. That's some good engineering, right there. Finally, the vocals sound sensational, and that's good, especially because there's a large cast involved, and sometimes they sing together, and one on top of the other, or several all on top of one another . . . but again, nothing ever gets muddy or muddled in the mix; the voices remain distinct and listenable at all times, and high notes and long, sustained legato notes don't feel like they're firing your speakers up. And the bass . . . good god, there's a lot of great bass in the soundtrack, and it plays and resounds smoothly, even on crappy speakers. I feel like this thing was produced by freaking Alan Parsons, but it wasn't; it was produced by a tag-team of Steven Rinkoff, Michael Reed, and Jim Steinman himself. Say what you will about his songwriting, but Steinman knows how to twiddle knobs and adjust faders. He's a dynamite producer.
The young cast's performances are likewise stellar. And "young" is good. I emphasize the word "young" because really, Meat Loaf is 70, and Steinman himself is 69. We don't need to see them on stage performing these songs anymore. It's time to pass the Bat Out Of Hell and Bad For Good torches, guys. Really, it is. And this amazing young cast are the perfect new vehicles for Steinman's grandiose, Wagnerian rock stylings and his beautifully deranged, bombastic romanticism. I say let them run with it! The kid who plays "Strat" — the main protagonist of the musical, Steinman's Peter Pan stand-in — has an incredible voice, and he's very much what I think a younger Jim Steinman might've sounded like had he been gifted with a stronger set of pipes to carry the day back in the epoch of Bad For Good, Steinman's solo album released back in 1981. And the girl who plays "Raven" — the leading lady, and Strat's love-interest — has a great set of lungs and vocal cords on her as well; she can really pack a punch when she belts out Steinman's soulful operatic tunes, and I'd love to see her launch a solo career singing his works. Of course, we probably won't see too many more new, original works from Steinman in the coming years; his career seems to be in a winding-down phase just now, and at this point, he shows more interest in revisiting his past — take the recent Meat Loaf album, Braver Than We Are, as evidence of this — than he does in inventing anything new for us. But if Bat Out Of Hell: The Musical is a revisitation of the past, then it's revisitation that's damn well worth the trip down memory lane. It's a colossal, epic orgy of "Steinmania," as Steinman's die-hard fans refer to it, and it's terrific, over-the-top, gothic, and fantastic in every way that there is. You get the feeling that this is how Steinman always wanted these songs to be performed: In an actual theatre, on a stage, with impressive set-pieces, by an entire cast of performers dressed in wild costumes, with an orchestra and a rock band together in the pit, complete with savage dance routines and epic monologues, and with whiz-bang special effects, lighting effects, and giant video screens to boot. The show is light on plot and story — the story mostly serves as a skeleton upon which to hang the muscle of Steinman's songs — but that's okay; if you're going to see Bat Out Of Hell: The Musical for it's story, you're in the wrong theatre, folks. The book is by Steinman, and his dialogue skills aren't the greatest, as evidenced by the snippets of dialogue you get to hear between some of the songs . . . because oh yeah — unlike some of Lloyd Webber's soundtracks, this one doesn't include any dialogue from the show (or at least, not much of it). It's just the songs. How daffy is that?
All in all, I'd say this is a great two-disc album to own. Especially if you're a Steinman and/or Meat Loaf fan. The songs are fantastic, the performances are great, and the quality of the mix and the recording itself are terrific. The arrangements are a little wimpy in places, so if you're looking for all of the songs to stay true to their hard rock roots, well, sorry. The songs here are also — and peculiarly for a Steinman project — mostly pretty short; whereas the album versions of some of these songs can stretch on for seven or eight, or even ten, minutes sometimes, some of these versions are barely four or five minutes long. But that's for the best, I think; it adds to the immediacy of the soundtrack and helps the whole thing flow better. Your mileage may vary with this concept though. Me, I kinda liked it, kinda didn't. I miss the gargantuan excess of the longer, more elaborate versions of the songs from the original albums, but at the same time, these smaller, more scaled-down versions can be a breath of fresh air, especially since they also tend to have sparser, less full-bodied arrangements. Most of the time, they work. Sometimes, though, they leave you pining for their longer, album-cut cousins, as is the case with the version of "Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through" that appears here. It's way too short, in my opinion, and deserved a place of greater prominence in the show.
Bottom line: If you're a Steinman and Meat Loaf fan, this is an album you can't afford to miss out on. Go buy it today, right now. You can thank me later, if you can get the songs unstuck from out of your head.
I remember the month and year I became “politically aware.” December of 2005. It was an ordinary day, like any other. But it did not end like one. At 5:35 (I think), I stepped into Great Escape cinemas one person, and at 7:50 (or so) I exited a different one.
Let me set the stage: I was a “good citizen.” I was vaguely liberal on a few social issues, and vaguely conservative on others. I supported the President. Sort of. Even though I quietly made fun of his mannerisms here and there. I also “vaguely” supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Or the troops. Or something. I was mostly politically unaware of what was going on around me. I had a muddy “both sides do it’ attitude toward Democrats and Republicans, though I really wasn’t sure what “it” was or why I should care. I didn’t know what a “libertarian” really was or what that meant. I didn’t know or really care who was on the Supreme Court. I got my news and commentary from Fox and CNN. I didn’t watch the Daily Show. I stayed away from topics like race and gender and feminsim — because those tended to start fights — and I did not know what “ableism” and “ageism” were. Plus, I didn’t really know enough about any of those topics to have really formed an opinion on them yet. I was ignorant in the extreme, and my ignorance formed a kind of blissful little cocoon that protected me from reality. I knew I was vaguely angry about the way that gay people were treated — because I knew people who were gay — and I knew that I didn’t like organized religion at all . . . but those views had not yet crystallized into actual political positions for me, because I didn’t yet understand how they were connected to the overall political landscape in Washington, nor how they played out across the country in everyday political settings, nor how they factored into the global political playing field . . . and how they were connected to other political issues and voices that mattered. In other words, I was a sheeple, quietly grazing in the fields of plenty provided for me by the mass media and the dominant paradigm.
Then I heard about a new movie coming out from the Wachowski Brothers. I had liked The Matrix, and so I was intrigued. I had never read Alan Moore’s seminal graphic novel V for Vendetta, though I had loved Watchmen to death (though again, even in Watchmen’s case, the political messages had blown right over my head; I was very young when I read it). But hey, it was allegedly a futuristic, dystopian superhero film, and that sounded good to me. But I couldn’t get my friend Greg nor my friend Tonya interested in it. So, one evening, I went and saw it alone.
Hoh. Lee. Shit.
It may seem silly to say (and yes, I know the “problem” with using Guy Fawkes as a historical rallying point), but the tone and narrative of V for Vendetta shook me, and woke me up but good. All at once. And in a hurry. It was blinding, like having a pair of sunglasses torn off your face in the blinding afternoon heat. In the space of two hours and some change, thanks to the Wachowski Brothers and their film, my consciousness was ripped open and scrambled like the bowels of a tourist in Mexico who has made the mistake of ordering the spiciest thing on the menu, and then drinking a gallon of the native water . . . and then taking some laxatives. It was an astonishing and awakening moment for me, one in which so many things all clicked in my head at once. Like the tumblers all fell into place at the same time, like the clockwork gears of a combination lock all ticked into position at the same exact moment, and suddenly, I could see.
I left that theatre a changed person. Rattled to the bone, and suddenly very afraid for the world. I knew what was up. I suddenly understood my friends who were more political than I was; what drove them, why they did what they did; what their values were and why they had them . . . and why I now could no longer be friends with some of the more conservative of them. I had a sudden feeling of desperation — of the need to do something about it — all of it — though I had no idea what exactly I could do. I felt powerless and trapped, insignificant in the greater clockwork of the body politic and the greater political machine. I had been galvanized into suddenly giving a shit, about so many things it wasn’t funny, and the more my head whirled and spun with thought, the more things I found I suddenly gave a shit about, suddenly had an opinion on, suddenly had to do some research on in order to find out more, to know more, to realize more. And the more research I did at home that night and the nights beyond it, the more troubled I became; the more the galvanic charge built up in me, and the more of a progressive I slowly, gradually graduated into. The more I was pushed leftward, in other words; the more I studied the issues, the greater sense of wrongness I felt at the then-current situation, and the more I felt in my gut that things had to change, somehow, or else the world would perish from an orgy of corruption and indulgent, ignorant buffoonery on the part of conservative politicians everywhere.
Now, in the age of Donald Trump, I feel that the message of V for Vendetta — both the movie and the book, for they are very different creatures, owing to the fact that the movie is very much “inspired by” the book and not strictly “based on” it — is more timely and prescient than ever. It speaks to the days we live in now. Even though the film takes place in a dystopian England of the near future, it might as well take place in the America of today. Neo-Nazis run riot in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, killing an innocent woman, and the President issues a lukewarm response; the Russians might have been directly responsible for his election to the Presidency, and yet we have an electorate where 35% of the voters literally do not care that this is the case . . . and in fact still cheer his so-called “victories” when he champions police brutality and the denigration of our Muslim and Hispanic citizens. Yes, V’s immortal words — “these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition!” — though whimsical, are a fitting description of Trump and cronies like Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions. Never did I think I would fear my own government as I fear this one; never did I think I would have to. I had my beefs with President Obama — contrary to popular belief, he was not every progressive’s “dream come true”; he had a lot of warts that we progressives were not happy about — but never under his watch did I go to bed wondering if World War III was going to break out because of his Twitter feed, nor did I fear that due to his encouragement — or his lack of discouragement — Neo-Nazis might decide it was a good idea to set up camp in my home town and throw a big ol’ book burning party. We know, after all, that Trump doesn’t like to read.
So perhaps it’s time to dust off those books, movies, and TV shows that first “woke” you. Revisit them. Pay homage to them. Revel in them once more. Look upon them with fresh eyes in this age when being woke matters more than ever, and also, try to see them, once again, through the eyes you once saw them through . . . the eyes of a Sleeper. Let them wake you all over again, perhaps in new ways. And then — share them with someone who needs waking up. You probably can’t wake that person up on your own. And the movie, book, TV show, or comic book you share with them probably won’t do the job all by itself, either. But who knows? It might open the door a tiny crack. It might nudge them toward awakening just a little bit. It might push them closer to the edge of awareness just a tiny, small fraction more than the were the day before. And before you know it, you might just have a woke person on your hands. You never know. You can at least try.
Good luck. And remember, it’s like V said: “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.”
Ah, Halloween. I love Halloween. It's the one night a year when adults everywhere are allowed to don cosplay without any social consequences. Any other day of the year, if I dressed up as an Earth Alliance officer from Babylon 5, or a Starfleet Officer from the bridge of the Enterprise, and walked into Kroger to do my grocery shopping, I would be mercilessly teased and laughed-at, mocked and made-fun-of. Halloween is the one night a year where I can express myself creatively in terms of exotic, sci-fi inspired fashion choices, and can even take it a step further and into the realm of theatre by portraying a character with it, as well: I can don a pair of latex Vulcan ears, put on a blue tunic, black pants and boots, dye my hair black and tweak my eyebrows, and carry around a tricorder-looking thingie and tell people how "illogical" they're being and tell them to "live long and prosper" without being made into a laughing stock (Leonard Nimoy is dead — long live Leonard Nimoy!) So let's take a moment and ask ourselves why this is; why is it that we permit cosplay — creative expression through extreme and imaginative fashion choices — on Halloween, but not any other time of the year? Why can't a girl go shopping dressed as Sailor Moon? Why can't a guy dressed as Constantine walk into a mall? Why can't you wear a Catwoman costume to Walmart? And why can't you be Spock when you go to work at the office?
I think that the answer is, we simply don't tolerate or have the patience for imagination in our run-of-the-mill, ordinary daily lives. We have no use for it or place for it, no time for it, no appreciation for it or justification for it. It's impractical and it serves no "useful" purpose in our utilitarian pursuit of efficiency and productivity. It makes us uncomfortable — it troubles us — because our expression of it reveals too much about us to the rest of the world. Our imaginative choices — the creative decisions we make about how to express ourselves imaginatively — show us for who we really are inside. They tell others things about us that we would rather keep hidden. And, our appraisal of the creative choices that others make — our critical and personal appreciation of their designs, their execution of those designs, their skill-level, their use of materials, and their choice of subject matter — also reveals things about ourselves to ourselves; it forces us to confront truths about ourselves that we may not be ready to face just yet. Our appreciation for the imaginative expression of others, our critical response to their work, shows us for who we really are, to both the rest of the world and to ourselves, and that is why we do not tolerate imagination in our day-to-day lives. Except perhaps in Hollywood, but that doesn't count. Not only do we not have "time" for critical reflection on imaginative creation — and that is a real restriction that we must sadly face the fact of — but also, we do not want to have time for it. For if we did, we would find ourselves hopelessly confronted with the truth of who we really are inside, and that truth would shatter us into a million pieces. The reason we have zero tolerance for imagination in our ordinary daily lives is because we cannot face up to who we truly are. If we allowed the imagination out to play in our workaday settings, we would soon find ourselves awash in reflections upon who we really were as people, what we were really afraid of deep inside, and what we were really made of . . . and not a single one of us is ready to face that potentially-ugly truth. And so we lock the imagination away, and keep it under house-arrest until Halloween, when we let it out to roam free in the streets . . . and until Christmas, when we allow its gentler, kinder side to dream dreams of candy, snow, Santa, Frosty, flying reindeer, and for some, angels.
I think the world would be a better, kinder place if we allowed the imagination out more. If we allowed ourselves a greater freedom of imaginative expression in our day-to-day lives, except perhaps in Hollywood, but that doesn't count. Let people cosplay all the time; let them wear their expensive and time-crafted costumes out in public! Hell, let Sailor Moon go to McDonald's and eat lunch with everyone else! Let Constantine go to the mall or to the movies! Let the Ghostbusters or Spock or Superman go to Walmart! Let Batman go to the office for a day or two! Maybe not everyday, mind you . . . all of these things would get old very quickly if we did them every day, and the novelty would quickly wear off. Thus, they should only be done sporadically, or spur of he moment. But still . . . let these things happen. Let us not fear fandom or passion. We shouldn't mock or protest, jeer, disdain, or fear the imagination in our day to day lives. Same goes for artwork or things that you create. If you're a writer or an artist, be proud of your work. Display it in places of honor. On your computer's desktop at work or on your desk there. On your refrigerator if it's your son's or daughter's creation. On the walls of your home if it's yours. On your lawn if it's a sculpture or something like that. Don't hide it — show It off, and tell the Homeowner's Association to go fuck themselves.
And while we're on the subject of passion: Everybody's always against the idea of "public displays of affection." Why? I don't see the problem. If you're passionate about something — or someone — you should be allowed to display your passion. So hug. Kiss. Make out. In public if you want to. Don't be afraid to show your love for one another, and as far as other people go . . . well, if they don't like it, so what? Let them be offended. Let them sneer and walk away. it's their cynicism and their problem. And to the people sneering: Why are you doing that? Is some part of you ashamed for them? Why? Is some part of you maybe upset that you're not loved like that, or that you can't love like that? Or that you have no one to love like that? Or that you, yourself, are somehow incapable of a display of passion like that, because you lack the courage, the fortitude, to display your love so publicly? Is there something perhaps missing — or worse, present — in your social DNA that forces you to conform to other people's expectations of behavior so stringently that it exerts control over how you and your partner — if you have one — indulge in your passion for one another . . . assuming, of course, that the fire hasn't gone out of your relationship, and your love for one another hasn't cooled down to a dull ember that glows but doesn't burn. Assuming of course that you can love, and that you aren't just a hollow shell of a human being who stumbles through life expressing cynicism and disdain for those who still can and do. Assuming you haven't gone "full Mundane" and aren't just a societal drone, humming along like a robot without any emotion, incapable of being moved to any display of such, and are uncomfortable with any expression of that which you once had, but now have lost forever. Think about it carefully the next time you see a couple throw their arms around one another and engage in a passionate love-fest on the sidewalk. They deserve that. Because they love one another, and that love is powerful enough to compel them to thrust themselves into one another's embrace. They are alive with love. And they shouldn't be made to be ashamed of it. Never be afraid to show that you love someone — or something. If you love science fiction, or fantasy, or comic books, or geek fiction in general, or toys, or role-playing games, or card games, or collectibles — then DON'T BE ASHAMED OF IT. Thrust your passion out there, for all the world to see. Let the world know who you are, and don't hide it or lock it away in a closet. Be proud. Fly your flag. Engage in public displays of passion and affection for what thrills you and excites you, and never mind the nay-sayers and the haters. Because those people are dead inside, and they cannot know the love that you know. They can never see with the eyes with which you see, can never be excited in the way that you're excited. They can never know what it is to be into something, and that's sad . . . but you can't let them infect you with their Mudanity and their their dour cynicism. Your passion is an explosion of light, a supernova. Let it shine in the darkness.
The Official Book Trailer For "The Technowizard Guardians Of The Infinite Worlds Of Fandom" Has Arrived!
Well, you all knew it was coming, and the day has finally arrived! After about four weeks of work in DAZ Studio — including some insane render times producing the 3D animations required — and Autodesk Maya (producing the custom 3D content for Dizzy's Exosuit and Guitar, and Gadget's Mind-Weirding Helm), along with about two weeks' worth of work in Apple's Motion, and then about a day's worth of editing in Final Cut Pro X, I've finally completed work on the book trailer for The Technowizard Guardians Of The Infinite Worlds Of Fandom. To top it all off, my excellent friend Rommy Driks agreed to provide me — free of charge! — with some voiceover narration, volunteering to read aloud the excerpt from the book that appears at the beginning of the trailer. There's been some discussion on my writer's group on Facebook about whether or not the text at the beginning goes by too quickly or not — my friend Ana and I think it's fine, but there are some detractors who think it flies by a little too fast for people to read — but other than that, reviews so far seem pretty positive. Take a gander at it below and see what you think!
Hey all. I recently posted a flash fiction challenge on the writer's group I run on Facebook, and I wanted to share my entry here on my blog! Here's the scifi desktop wallpaper I used for the inspirational prompt, with the instructions being to write a 100 to 300 word flash fiction piece to go along with it:
And here's my entry in the flash fiction challenge:
It was dead. She had killed it. The creature, part blue-sparking machine made of servo motors and circuits, and part gristle and flesh, pumping crimson blood, now a sliced-up corpse made of severed muscles and limbs, lay before her on the street. Who had made it, and who had sent it after her? It was a custom job, that was for sure; she had never seen anything else quite like it. Nature didn’t make animals with teeth that big, and she sure as shit didn’t make them with PX-91 servos stuck inside their hindquarters, driving them after their quarry at fifty miles per hour while the cyber implants in their brains overdrove their amygdalae and adrenal glands. Lyxana sheathed her katana and stood there for a moment, thinking. It had to be someone with money, someone with connections, and there had to be a reason for it. Who else had she worked for recently who might’ve incurred the wrath of the rich and powerful? Whom might she have been Running for and not have known what she was Running? You didn’t send a biomech like this one chasing after a low-level Runner like her unless you thought that said low-level Runner had seen something they weren’t supposed to . . . had maybe dipped their sensors into whatever next-level shit you yourself were wired into brain-deep. Had maybe glimpsed the truth of whatever it was you were trafficking in. Lyxana shivered. She, personally, hadn’t seen shit. Until now. Until this . . . thing . . . had chased her down and almost mauled her to death on the street. But now that she had? She wanted—no, needed—some answers. She hoped back on her trans, and fired up the engine. It was time to hit the streets.
Well, I didn't really know this, but it appears that The Technowizard Guardians Of The Infinite Worlds Of Fandom has an unofficial theme song out there. I found it by accident. It's by a singer named Delain, who is pretty freakin' awesome. She's a hard rock singer from overseas, and this song of hers is absolutely the perfect theme song for The Technowizard Guardians. Why? Because it speaks to one of the core themes of the book, and that is that being "different" is a good thing, that standing out from the crowd is awesome, and deserves to be rewarded, not punished; that being a square peg in a round hole can be a beautiful thing, worthy of celebration. It's perfect. And, it's got an undertone that addresses bullying, as well, which is something that one of my characters has struggled with in his past. So there's that, too. My friend Greg introduced me to Delain and her work; he's a total metalhead, so that figures, right? Go check her out on YouTube if you get the chance; most of her stuff is pretty damn rad. She's enormously talented. But for now, enjoy We Are The Others:
When I first began writing, I was a pantser. That is, I flew by the seat of my pants. I wrote as the will of the winds took me; I wafted on the zephirs of pure inspiration, letting the story take me wherever it wanted to go, allowing the narrative to grow organically from the seeds of the idea into a writhing mass of vines and branches that would, often, get out of control and need to be trimmed back a bit like an unruly rose bush. I had a lot of fun that way. It was often exciting to see a story bloom out of control, its buds opening to the rays of my imagination and intellect, flowering and blossoming and coming into its fullness over time as I watered it and gradually let it become its own thing. Every story I wrote was unique, too. No too were alike. I liked doing things this way, because it always seemed I was surprised by what I created. And, I always told myself, if I didn't know where the hell the story was going, then by gods, the reader sure as hell didn't know, and that made it exciting for both of us! I figured that this was the only good way to write. I didn't need outlines — no sir, I didn't need a carefully synopsized plot, or an organized plan of attack. I didn't need a story structure set in stone ahead of time. Where was the fun in that? Where was the spontaneity? Where was all the gooey deliciousness of seeing where the story went next, of seeing what surprises lay in store around the very next corner?
And then I tried to write my first "real" novel, The Reality Engineers. I finished it within a couple of years, and I hit the "publish" button on CreateSpace, and dutifully waited for the praise to roll in from the no-doubt-glowing Amazon reviews to come. And I waited. And waited. And then, finally, the reviews started to trickle in. Trouble was, they weren't all glowing. Some of them were downright awful. Mean, even. Even some of my friends didn't like the book. They told me privately, of course, sparing me public humiliation. It was then that I knew I had screwed up. Big time. But where? How? How on Earth had I gone wrong? I honestly thought that I had written the best book I knew how to write. And I was correct in that thinking. But notice the fine print, there: That I knew how to write. It was the best book that I knew how to write, given the methods I had used to write it.
Then I bought a book called Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks. I got it at Half Price Books for only $8, and let me tell you, that's probably the best $8 I ever spent. In that book, Larry enlightened me and showed me what I had done wrong. He opened my eyes to the idea of story structure, the fact that a book, a story, like anything that exists in the physical world, has a set of rules that it operates by, a set of physics, if you will, that holds it together and makes it run, the same way that the laws of physics dictates how an atoms works, or how an engine runs in a car. He showed me that a story has to have a certain structure in order to work properly, in order to have its intended effect; showed me that in order for a story to achieve its goal — that of being emotionally satisfying and hitting all the right notes for the reader — it has to fire on certain cylinders at certain times and points, in certain places, and that it has to do things in a specific order. He showed me the importance of organizing a story into its constituent components, and of planning my story one piece at a time. Of organizing my novel into scenes, with each one building upon the next in order to achieve specific goals and set up specific ideas in certain and specific places. In short, he introduced me to the world of outlining my novel, of drawing up a blueprint before i began writing. Of becoming a plotter rather than a pantser.
And to this day, I am a plotter. When I have an idea for a story, my first thought is to recall Brooks' argument of concepts versus ideas — the notion that a complete story concept involves a specific character in a specific situation, trying to achieve a specific goal, versus an idea, which is just a "what if" scenario or situation — and try to coalesce my thoughts around a character who's doing something versus just a nebulous "what if." Then my thoughts turn to the crucial inciting incident, the thing that gets the character going on his journey. Then I start thinking about structure. Do I want to use Larry's six-part structure, or do I want to use Joseph Campbell's "monomyth" structure, also known as the Hero's Journey? Do I want to "save the cat?" Do I want to use the most common structure, which is three acts? I think these thoughts now automatically; then I start outlining. I start with the inciting incident, and I always think in terms of characters now, in terms of what roles they might play, what duties in the story they might serve.
Of course, I would be lying my ass off if I said I still didn't let inspiration sweep me off my feet. Of course I do that. Of course there's room in the process for that. There has to be. That's why while I outline the overall structure of the work — writing an outline of which scenes go where and what role they play in the overall story — when it comes to writing the individual scenes themselves, I'm all about cutting loose and letting my imagination take over the keyboard. I let it all fly, then. Anything goes. I will imrpov-write the shit out of those scenes, and enjoy the hell out of myself as far as anything-goes inspiration is concerned. And as far as the connective tissue between those scenes goes — the other scenes that glue the main scenes together — well, I improv those as well, totally pantsing the shit out of them like I never left the pantsing school to begin with. I have great fun with them; I liken them to the cartilage and tendons that hold muscle tissue together, and I am a god, designing whole new lifeforms. I have total berserker amounts of giggly fun doing it, too. Like a writer should. Because in the end, it's all about the fun you have with your craft. If you're not having fun with it, you're doing something seriously wrong.
So that's how I went from pantser to plotter. It was a revelatory journey for me, one that began with me wafting on the breezes of inspiration, but where the transformative moment came in the form of a rude awakening from dewy, creative bliss . . . and a subsequent moment of enlightenment given to me by an old master of the craft. Larry taught me a good set of lessons with his book (a book a highly recommend to anyone who's just getting started writing; I only caution that Larry can be a little full of himself and a bit overbearing at times; try to take his ego with a grain of salt . . . several grains, if you can). I don't recommend that everyone start out as a plotter, though. In fact, I caution against it. I think everyone should start out as a pantser, because you learn a lot of valuable lessons that way. You learn what works, and what doesn't. What's good, and what's not so good; what's effective, and what's not. You learn a lot about your own style as a writer, and you develop a sense of your own plotting abilities and your own sense of narrative development that way. Being a plotter from day one cheats you out of a lot of hard-won experience. So, I recommend that everyone go through at least a year or so of being a full-time pantser . . . and then make the transition to being a plotter. It will help you be a better writer, and you'll learn a greater appreciation of plotting's lessons.
And that's my writing advice for today: Pants first, then plot. But if you're a pantser now, please consider doing some plotting. It will, in the long run, save you frustration. Plotting is a wonderful tool that will open up whole new vistas of the writing world to you, whole new worlds of organized fun for you to play in and explore. So plot away. Boldly go where you haven't gone before!
The pull-quote on the front of the book, by George R.R. Martin, says "Interplanetary adventure the way it ought to be written," and I'm damned sure having a hard time debating that. So far, I love this book. It's taught, well-written, and suspenseful. It's got great world-building, and the characters really crackle. I love the dialogue, too. And, it's great hard sci-fi; it's set in a world where Mars and the asteroid belt — not to mention a lot of the moons of the outer planets — have been colonized, but where the stars are still, sadly, out of reach. But thanks to a brilliant invention called the Epstein drive, a type of fusion rocket, man has finally conquered the solar system, and we live in a robust space economy in this brave new world that the authors (for whom Corey is a pseudonym) have imagined for us. I haven't finished the book yet — I'm only about 60 pages in so far — but from what I've read, I love it so far. The science is great, and so is the story. These guys really know how how to write a crackin' good yarn, I tells ya.
The story concerns several characters in this wild new world: Julie Mao, the sole survivor of a pirate (we think) attack on a ship called The Scopuli; Holden, the XO of an ice-mining ship; and Miller, a police detective on Ceres, a space station situated on an asteroid, tasked with locating Ms. Mao for her rich parents. So far their lives have not intersected, save for Holden's ship being redirected to search for the wreck of The Scopuli, and finding a strange beacon there that doesn't make any sense. I'm hooked. I gotta find out what's gonna happen next. I think the thing I like best about Corey's writing is that it's the opposite of my writing. My writing tends to be very florid, with lots of adjectives, rich description, and tons of flowery ornamentation . . . a lot like — and I hate to say this because it sounds l like I'm criticizing myself, here — a lot like Lovecraft's writing, or at least the things he's sometimes criticized for overdoing. I tend to be heavy on style a lot in my writing, maybe too reliant on it at times. But Corey's writing isn't like that at all. His writing is lean and mean. Not Hemingway lean and mean . . . I couldn't take that; I don't like Hemingway, as I've been very vocal about in the past (just ask any of my literature professors about that), as I find him boring and way too clipped . . . but I do admire the art of sparsely-decorated prose that gets the job done, in the spirit of Arthur C. Clarke or Robert A. Heinlein, two of my sci-fi idols of years gone by. And this book totally nails the Heinlein vibe, much like John Scalzi did, only without Scalzi's trademark sarcasm and witty sense of Joss-Whedon-like humor. No, Corey is all-business, rather cutthroat, if you will . . . this story is serious, dead serious, buster. But it never feels forced or like it's heavy-handed, which is very good. It feels compelling, but not claustrophobic or cloying. Yet it still has that awesome, "there's nothing between you and the vacuum but three inches of metal" feeling that you really need with hard sci-fi, and it gets that tone and feeling just right, in just the right dose. Not too much of it, but just enough.
And again, OMG, the science accuracy. Of course, there's no hyperdrive or FTL in this book. (I understand that the aliens they eventually meet have FTL, but that's supposedly not until Book 3 of the series.) And I thought that, you know, that might be boring when I first picked it up. I mean, what's space opera without FTL, right? Well, I was totally wrong on that. It's actually really compelling to read about space travel that sticks to the solar system and that plays by strict Newtonian and Einstenian rules. Because you know what? Without FTL in the mix, you're reminded of just how HUGE and EMPTY and VAST the depths of space really are. How utterly devoid they are of life, and of how inimicable and hostile space really is to human life. Which is really easy to forget when you're cruisin' on the Starship Enterprise with its cushy, plush interior with its warp drive, its replicators, and its holodecks. It's not so easy to forget when your ship works and operates more like a clunky-ass giant submarine that crushes your body to the seat whenever thrust is applied by its giant fusion rocket engines . . . when the fusion reactor at its core can melt your face off at twenty paces if even one tiny thing goes wrong with it . . . whenever radiation from the thruster assembly is a thing you have to really, really worry about . . . and whenever the atmosphere could vent at any moment if even a tiny ice-crystal pings the hull, and whenever it's just one inch of steel between you and the total vacuum of space. Yeah, it's hard to forget the cold reality that space is fucking terrible when you're not drivin' by at warp speed on a cruise ship with artificial gravity, like the White Star from Babylon 5, or like the Prometheus from . . . well, Prometheus. Shit gets real, real quick, when you have to fire breaking thrusters to slow down so you don't hit the goddamned planetoid in front of you because you're going too fucking fast. Basically, what I'm saying is that real science can be just as sexy as the fake science we sci-fi writers tend to like to employ in our made-up fantasy worlds. Every bit. And Corey knows how to manipulate it like a master in the telling of his (their) tale.
I'll let you all know how the book turns out. Should be fantastic. I'm already planning on buying the other books in the series, so that I can have them for when I finish this one. I love a good sci-fi yarn well told, and Corey is great at this. Hats off to these fine young authors and a tale deftly spun.
Going through my manuscript looking for occurrences of "passive voice" led me to a bit of a revelation about how I edit my work. I don't do it the usual way. The normal way that you're supposed to edit a work is by going in "drafts" — that is, you finish a version of your work (like, say, the "first draft" of the whole thing), and then you go back to the beginning and you read it all the way through (some people prefer to read it backwards, paragraph by paragraph, as that helps you divorce it from story structure and just see the prose), and find your mistakes, one by one, and fix them. And then you do that again, only with maybe an eye toward fixing different things. And, I've found that I can do that; I can . . . and it works. But, that's not the way I usually start out doing it. No, the way that I begin editing is a bit different. Here's how I do it.
It starts when I begin writing on a project, not when I'm finished. I'll finish part of it — say, Chapter 1, maybe fifty or sixty pages — and then I'll go back and revise that fifty or sixty pages, looking for mistakes, errors, and so forth. Trying to make it the best it can be. But I don't fret over it or obsess over it, or try to make it perfect. Just try to get it in better shape. Then I write the next Chapter. Then I go back — to the beginning. And I revise from Page 1. Then I write Chapter 3. Then I go back — to the beginning. And I revise from Page 1. This is a lot less efficient than going by Draft, as you can imagine. If the book has, say, 30 Chapters, I can wind up revising Chapter 1 over 30 times. (But, dammit, you can bet that Chapter 1 will be fucking perfect!) Then, once that is done, I let my beta-readers have it. My friends Greg and Ken, Ana, and others who've volunteered to subject themselves to my tormented variations on the English language. Once they're done pointing out everything that is wrong, I go back and try to fix what they've pointed out without damaging too much of the overall vision. Then, when all of that is said and done, I go back over the whole thing and do the normal "3 drafts" thing: First draft — story structure, plot, character, dialogue, theme, overall ideas and concepts, "what am I trying to say with this book," things like that, the big picture stuff. Second draft, copy editing — nuts and bolts stuff, things like passive voice, punctuation, spelling, grammar, and sentence structure, and so forth. Third draft — polish and spit-shine, final coat of paint, minor details, final grammar and spelling check, "is this what I really want here," etcetera. Then, I let my editor have it. Once she's done with it, and has made her suggested changes — 90% of which will, likely, be adopted and incorporated — I go back and revise the sucker one more time, just to make sure everything jibes and that everything is copacetic. If it is, then congratulations, Mr. Hainline, it's a bouncing baby book. If it's not, well, I hammer and wail on it until everything is copacetic, and until everything does work. If it doesn't, it's my fault anyway, so I'd better fix it.
I find that doing it this way works well for me because when I edit in passes, it allows me to go back and change things to better fit the new material that I've just added, adding an extra layer of continuity-protection to the work. That way, what I've "already" written will match closer with what I've just added . . . the "new" material will always jibe with what I've put down before, and all the edges will line up perfectly. After all, if i go back and revise from Page 1 each time I add something new, then everything I've written up to the new material will all fall in line each time. Also, each new addition gives me the chance to see what I've already done in a brand new context. I can go back and look at what I've done and see it in a new light, see it as it builds to the new material and not just as it is, isolated in the vacuum of its own independent existence. It's one thing to look at a piece of writing as a chunk extrapolated from a piece of an outline. It's another to see it as a living, breathing piece of a finished work that has context, shape, and definition given to it by other living, breathing pieces. That, and also, if I can see how the edges of the pieces all fit together, it informs how I approach writing the next piece, as well, and how I approach the rest of the outline. Which piece I write next. Because I don't always write my books in sequential order. Sometimes I write scenes that go later on in the book, and sometimes I write what comes next in sequence. I do it this way because sometimes, I'll get inspired by an idea, or an image, which fits better with a scene I know is coming — or that I have outlined and so that I know will be coming eventually — and that I know I will eventually revise to fit better with what comes right before it and right after it, so it doesn't hurt to have a rough draft of it lying around, waiting for that eventual revision to come. In this way, my editing process and my creative process tend to bleed into one another. I will admit, I tend to create when I edit, and I tend to edit as I create. It's not always a clear-cut line of division between the two things. Sometimes, when I'm editing the "big picture" stuff — stuff like plot, story, character, theme — I'll get an entirely new idea for the entire book, and will go back to Page 1, sigh, and dig in, and start hacking it into the overall framework, plugging in the new concept or idea where it will fit, and massaging the newly-inspired into the old. This process isn't always pretty, and sometimes I make a lot of work for myself. But it almost always yields something that, in the end, I like or am proud of. It's also a slow process. It's why The Technowizard Guardians has taken well over nine years to write and perfect.
But, the cool thing is, when I'm done, I'm fucking done. It's finished. When I type "The End" at the end of this long, drawn out process, I'm really and truly finished. There is no going back yet again and starting over once more. I know that when I finally type those fateful words, I am absolutely, positively turning in the best possible work that I can do. I've hacked it to a dozen pieces and then Frankensteined it back together again a million different times by that point, and that's when I pronounce it as perfect as it can be. Because we all have to have that point — that point when he say, "Okay, you know what? No, it isn't absolutely perfect. But it is good. It is the best I can make it. It will do." And that's that point for me. At the moment when I've taken it apart and put it back together a hundred thousand times, and have revised from page 1 a zillion times since starting — and then I do one more spelling and grammar check with MS Word just to be safe — I pronounce the patient "alive and kicking," and then I send it out the door of the hospital in a wheelchair and wish it a good long life and many happy returns. The Technowizard Guardians, when I finish it (which should be in July of this year), will be going out the door just like that in a few more months, and when it does, I know it will not be perfect, but it will be as good as I can make it.
And so that's my editing-slash-creative process. That's how I work. The Technowizard Guardians is gonna be tough because it's such a big book. 450K is not a word count to sneeze at when it comes to getting everything right. But, I'm confident I can pull it off. Trust me. I'm a professional. Well. Not really. But trust me anyway.
It was the year 2005, or sometime around that time, when I first got the idea. I had just watched the movie The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, which I had remembered from my childhood in the 1980's — hey, the 1980's were weird, okay? — and which had made quite an impression on me in my formative years. So much so that it had stuck out in my memory, and the combined forces of nostalgia and cinematic intrigue had commanded me to go to the movie store and buy myself a copy of it. (I wasn't yet buying my movies digitally in 2005; i know, I know, I'm kinda slow on the uptake when it comes to new-fangled techno-stuff.) Having just watched the film, I found myself thinking: Damn. I wish I could create a hero that cool. Sort of maybe a cool-as-ice mad scientist who's the good guy, for a change; a science-positive hero who takes no shit and who's really wild and out there, maybe like a Willy Wonka for the twenty-first century. I then promptly went to bed for the night, and — no shit, I swear — proceeded to dream one up. First things first, she surprised me in that she was a she, and not a he. She had blue hair, which was kinda surprising as "blue" isn't a color you normally associate with hair. Kind of a punk rock sort of thing, I guessed. Okay, so far so good, I thought. Punk rock chick. In my dream, she was running around a Frankenstein's-lab like setting, throwing switches and turning dials on all sorts of arcane machinery, with electricity flying everywhere and sparks going "pop" off the various devices surrounding her. Okay. Punk rock mad scientist, cool. And there were these three whirling gimbals — like the machine from Contact — all spinning around this blurry figure in the center: A cat. Her cat. A white Persian cat, to be precise, whose name I knew was Schrödinger.
Okay, I thought. Punk rock mad scientist chick with a thing for placing cats in danger. I woke up from the dream thinking about this character I'd dreamed up, wondering: What was her name? Who was she, really? And what was the purpose of the "experiment" I had glimpsed her performing? What did the cat have to do with it? That day, I reasoned the rest of it out: The cat was the subject of the experiment; he was a test pilot, in fact, and the machine was a teleportation device that used wormholes to open a gateway between disparate points in spacetime. The lab was on a university campus — maybe a creepy university like Miskatomik, like in the Lovecraft stories — and the lead character (I didn't yet know her name) was a scientist there, a post-doctoral student doing her thesis work. Something still didn't make sense. Where had she gotten the idea to do this experiment? What was her inspiration? Before the question was out of my mouth I had the answer.
"She got the idea from watching Star Trek," I said to myself. And thus, the seed of the idea got planted. I would write a story that wasn't just about brilliant scientists saving the world from aliens. (Which I knew, somehow, had to be the plot. I just didn't know how I would pull it off.) No, mine would be a story about fandom, as well . . . a story about a bunch of geeks and nerds who saved the world from aliens, using their mad science skills (in every sense of the words). And Dizzy — the name just sort of fell out of my brain apropos of nothing — would be their leader. But, she wouldn't be the lead character. Something felt wrong about making her the star of the show. What was it? I didn't know. All I knew was that she wasn't meant for the spotlight; she was meant to stand next to whoever held that role. No, the lead role belonged to someone else, someone I hadn't met yet. Someone who was . . . well, someone like me. An everyday guy, but a guy with serious issues and problems that needed working on, a guy with some serious baggage that needed sorting before he could do any world-saving. A guy with some stuff to sort out, a guy whose friends meant the world to him because he had so few of them . . . and to whom Dizzy would become a great ally, maybe even a love interest. But who would never ever return his feelings. Not ever. Because that's just not how she works/worked. I knew that going in — Dizzy is not a lover. She's a fighter, and a scientist. She studies things and takes them apart. She doesn't hold anyone's heart together.
So that's how I got the idea, more or less. That's how The Technowizard Guardians Of The Infinite Worlds Of Fandom began life. Back then it was called The Reality Engineers, and it was a lot simpler of a story. I wrote it all down as best I could — to the tune of about 125,000 words or so — and then promptly released it on Createspace and Smashwords. It got about 400 downloads or so, being a free eBook. It was when I decided to charge money for it that the downloads stopped after the free samples. And I couldn't figure out why. Then came the negative reviews on Amazon. At first just one. Then two. Then three. Puzzled, I wondered what I had done wrong. What could I have missed? So I decided to re-read it the book for myself, to see where I could have possibly erred. Surely, this was a misunderstood masterpiece, and I, its author, were blameless, and had truly crafted an endearing story that people just weren't getting.
Whoa boy was I wrong. "Bigly," as our current Stupidnik-in-Chief would say. It was awful. It was as if some stupid idiot had snuck into my head and caused me to write the worst novel ever written. The characters were paper thin and two dimensional. The plot was almost nonexistent. It had a beginning, a big climax, and sort of an ending, but no real middle. It had zero real development of the characters. It had no subtext. It had little if any depth to it. And it had only a cursory amount of theme or any literary merit. I did not like what I beheld from my own pen.
So, I pulled it off the market, and vowed to rewrite it. Completely. Same characters, same basic story. Different book.
That was a year and a half ago, and I'm still working on it. The book is now called The Technowizard Guardians Of The Infinite Worlds Of Fandom, and let me tell you, the new version is one hell of a lot better. If only for the fact that this time, I've employed "beta readers" — people to read the initial drafts and tell me where I'm going right, and where I'm going wrong. I've also hired an editor (the incomparable E.J. Runyon at Bridge to Story). And, I've been studying-up on story structure (the also-incomparable Larry Brooks' series on Story Engineering and Story Physics, as well as reading up on the Heroes' Journey, re-reading my Literary Criticism textbooks from school, and, trying to work on solid writing exercises each and every day to stretch my muscles in brand new writerly directions). I've also been writing on other projects, and getting feedback on those, as well, from both readers and other writers. Oh, and I've joined two writers groups, including one that meets here in town, with whom I can share my work and from whom i can receive valuable feedback, as well. In short, I launched a major talent-improvement offensive that's lasted a year and a half now, and all toward rewriting and improving The Technowizard Guardians. Which will be finished in just another few months, and hopefully going to E.J.'s desk by August, if I have my druthers about it. I'm very excited, and I think people will really like the new version. It's much longer and bigger now — a much thicker, richer, and, I think, much more satisfying book — and is going to run about 400,000 words (about the length of Stephen King's It all totaled), but it will be worth the read, I think. It's an epic science fantasy story now, featuring mad science, aliens, vampires, werewolves, time travel, elder gods, other dimensions, and all sorts of whacky hijinx and adventures. I think people will dig it. I hope they do. It's been a lot of work since 2005 came and went, and once I'm done with it, I plan to start work on an epic fantasy project, a total shift in gears. But one I think I will welcome.
Well, that's all folks. How the project got started, and where it's going from here. Stay tuned. The journey still continues, and I'm excited to see where it goes from here! Aren't you? :-)
Recently, while working on my novel, The Technowizard Guardians Of The Infinite Worlds Of Fandom, I decided to do a fun experiment. I went into Scrivener — which, incidentally, is the best writing software on the planet, and I'll soon be selling it here as an affiliate! — and wrote up a regular expression to look for tell-tell signs of that dreaded bugaboo, the "passive voice." You know what that is, right? The passive voice is when the action is not done by the subject of the sentence. Y'know, as in, "Frank was gruesomely murdered by a horde of zombies." The zombies committed the act of murder, but Frank is somehow the subject of the sentence! Weird, huh? Well, i did this, and oh . . . my . . . GOD. I have so many occurrences of this shit. I had no idea. I am apparently really bad at overusing this particular crutch of bad, lazy writing. I must suck, right? I mean, really Andy? You've been at this writing thing this long and you're still pulling this shit? Jeebus Cry-me-a-river! For reals, yo. Get with it, Andy; get with it. Do your job, inner editor! So, I decided to go through the manuscript and eliminate each and every occurrence of this passive voice bastard, wherever and whenever doing so was necessary. Active voice sentences for one and all!
(It's not quite as simple as that, of course; the passive voice does have its uses. Not every sentence can be in the active voice, nor should it. Some sentences need to remain in the passive voice in order to have their desired effect or to sound the right way, or to roll off the tongue correctly. So like I just said in the previous sentence: Not every single sentence can — or should — be scripted in the active voice; some should be passive. Just for variety's sake, for crying out loud! But for the sake of clarity, a majority should be in the active voice. Because you want your story to be active, to be full of life, to be full of piss and vinegar. You want your story to scream off the page, yelling, "READ ME! I AM ALIVE! READ ME GODDAMN IT!" Not lying there like a wimp, going, "Oh yeah. Pick me up. Or don't. Whatever.")
The first step was looking for all the "to be" verbs — "is, isn't, are, aren't, was, wasn't, were, weren't, be, being, been" — as those are dead giveaways of passive voice. The way I did this with regex is like so:
The next step is looking for "ed" and "ing" words followed by the word "by." (See? I just used passive voice, right there.) You do that with regex by doing this:
\b([a-z]+ed by)|[a-z]+ing by)\b
\b(is|isn\’t|are|aren\’t|was|were|wasn\’t|weren\’t|be|being|been|[a-z]+ed by|a-z]+ing by|[a-z]+y by|[a-z]+e by)\b
The next phase will be looking for words ending in "ed" and "ing," followed by a phrase, followed by the word "by." As soon as i can device a regex that will look for that. The trick is constructing a regex that will search for precisely that . . . regex is like a programming language all its own, and getting it to search for exactly what you want can be tricky. The problem is you need to search for the "ed" or "ing" word that is closest to the word "by" and the word "by" that is closest to the "ed" or "ing" word.
The thing about passive voice is that it's sneaky. It creeps into your writing a little at a time, and you really have to watch for it. Because it's insidious. Before you know it, you'll be writing "Frank was killed by zombies" all over the place. Buffy will be drained of life by the evil Vampire before you even know it, and all the Jedi will have been brutally murdered by Darth Vader before you can blink. Think it can't happen to you? Well it can, buster. So watch your writing for the passive voice. Watch it carefully. Because when you're not looking, those passive voice constructions will awaken in the middle of the night, crawl out of your manuscript, and breed like rabbits and then crawl back into it and infest it with creeping death. It happened to me, and it can happen to you. So BE VIGILANT! Watch for passive voice!
UPDATE: I found the regex I was looking for. Apparently, there's not that many ways to search for what I wanted to search for — i.e., an "ed" or "ing" word followed by a phrase, followed by the word "by" — without getting a lot of false positives. However, if you're willing to accept a lot of false positives and still turn up a few good ones, you can use the following:
As you can see, yeah, false positives will result from this. However, it will find all sorts of passive voice sentences for you, so that's good. The problem is, of course, that a lot of those false positives will contain true positives as well, but you might easily dismiss them because the larger result will be a false positive that, though it contains a true positive within it, is on the whole false because it's too large and encompassing — say an entire paragraph instead of just one sentence. I haven't figured out a way to compensate for this yet, but I'm working on it.
UPDATE 2: Well, I've found a better one! This one is pretty good, and works almost in every instance. It uses more strictly defined parameters, limiting the search to fifteen words before and after the verb, and before and after the word "by". You can adjust the number of words to your preference, basically setting it to however long your sentences tend to run. But it works damned near perfectly. Awesomesauce thanks to my friend Ken Persinger who came up with this one for me. I take no credit for its creation; this was all Ken's doing!
As you can see, it's a bit more complex than the others. Just change that "15" to however many words you want to include before and after the word "by," and after your verb phrase.