Archive for the ‘Gneechy Talk’ Category »
Diversity in “the fandom” (by which I mean a broad umbrella term that encompasses SF, fantasy, comics, conventions, and such related geeky pursuits) is a big issue lately, which is an awesome thing. But it’s one of those things which, because it involves human beings, tends to be complex and confusing at times.
I’m thinking just this moment of John Scalzi, who picked up a Hugo at WorldCon for his book Redshirts. I have not read the book myself, but Mrs. Gneech has and declared it an enjoyable read– I don’t have any doubt that it deserves the award. And Scalzi is certainly someone who at least tries to champion the broadening of horizons.
And yet… well, and yet… given recent events, I’m not sure how I would feel in Scalzi’s place. Scalzi, like so many Hugo winners, is yet another privileged white dude, and on some level, does that cheapen the accomplishment, no matter how hard he may have busted to get it?
I ask this because, although I’m certainly nowhere near being in contention for a Hugo myself at the moment, given my upcoming career change it’s not an unreasonable goal for me to shoot for… and I am also yet another privileged white dude. Scalzi and I share a lot of qualities, and a lot of opinions, and a lot of sensibilities, so it’s not hard for me to project myself into that place and wonder how I would feel there.
Certainly if he has any of these thoughts, he hasn’t said so, and I honestly don’t know if it wouldn’t be churlish if he did. The whole topic is fraught with peril. If you are a Scalzi here, what are you supposed to do? Turn down the Hugo? Recuse yourself from the running all together and throw away a valuable career opportunity? Use the moment to call for change (while still benefiting from the system)? Or just do as he has done, smile and say “thank you” and be yet another privileged white dude who won an award when some other just-as-talented, just-as-worthy author not in that category didn’t?
I don’t have a good answer for this. I’m open to suggestions!
I didn’t talk about it much on Friday because I wanted it to sink in a little first; but on Friday I was informed that my job in its current form would cease to exist at the end of September.
So, yeah. Not a surprise, if you’ve been following the saga of my transition to pro writer, but still A Thing. I had hoped to have a nice, easy transition period where we sold the current house and bought a new one on our own schedule, after which time I gave my notice and all was well with the world. And certainly, “the end of September” is about when I was projecting for that to happen, so Congratulations, me! The universe’s plans and my own are more-or-less in synch!
So what changes? Fairly little, actually. I will probably talk to some folks in the graphics department about taking some part-time or freelance graphic design work as a fallback, but we were on target to have the house on the market by the end of the month anyway, and certainly if we’re actually moving or moved by the time the job goes Pfft! I’ll be just as well off to say my goodbyes and throw myself into the new life.
Good news is, staying through the end of September entitles me to get my yearly bonus.
But Enough of That Pain! Let’s Talk About Gaming!
Ran the third session of my Eberron Pathfinder game on Saturday. The characters had an epic battle in the skies over Sharn as their new would-be menace, Aric Blacktree, tried to kill them all for reasons still unknown (at least to them). For those who don’t know psionics, a word of advice: a 4th level Wilder can do horrifying amounts of single-target burst damage. Beware. By taking a wild surge, Blacktree’s “energy ray” power did 6d6+6 damage as a touch attack. The downside was that he kept suffering enervation (which left him dazed and ate an additional 4 power points), so could only get that shot off twice, and the first one missed. Still… dayum. The second shot incinerated the NPC skycoach pilot on the spot. Fortunately, when the skycoach crashed into a tower, the PCs managed to abandon ship without getting killed in the process.
The second half of the session was basically segueing into another scenario, this time going into the “goth deco” ruined district of Fallen in search of a mysterious statue for an even more mysterious NPC patron. This brought the party’s lack of a cleric into sharp relief, as an exactly on-level encounter with a pack of barbarian ravers (think the inmates from Escape From New York, that kind of thing) dropped two of the characters and severely injured most of the rest. (1st level barbarian, raging, two-handed greatclub power attack: +6 to hit, d10+9 damage. Ouchie.) A healer in the group would have made all the difference. I suspect there will be an investment in potions/wands soon.
And Then There Was WoW
Last night, after working on the whole “pack up and move” thing for a while, I broke down and bought the full updated version of Mists of Pandaria for World of Warcraft, mainly ‘cos I wanted to make a tanky pandaren and the warrior class was just too darn dull. So now I’ve got an up and running pandaren windwalker monk named Akiji (somewhere in the low teens) and a draenei ice mage named Duskgem (somewhere in the high teens), both on the Moon Guard server, both members of the Fortune guild. Look me up sometime.
I don’t honestly know how much time I will spend in WoW, given that I will soon be unemployed and might not have money to blow on a monthly rent-to-pwn fee, and given that I’ve always had a begrudingly-enjoy/hate relationship with MMOs, but for the time being it’s serving fairly well for my “Braindead, me go kill monsters until sleeptime…” needs. I’m also a bit uncomfortable about the “racial conflict is in the world’s DNA” nature of the setting, but honestly that’s a common thread in almost all contemporary fantasy– it’s usually just less blatant about it.
I honestly can’t remember if I’ve mentioned it here or not, but the organizers of another con seem to have taken leave of their senses and named me a GOH, specifically FurTheMore 2014. This year’s theme is “Pirates vs. Ninjas” (or is it “Ninjas vs. Pirates”?), so both myself and co-GOH Redcoat Cat are doing covers, with the book flipped halfway through so that each side is “the front.”
So here we see Quoth the Raven (the FTM mascot) commanding a daring raid on a feudal-era Japanese castle… and being met with some unconventional resistance…
Aside from said piece of art, this weekend was spent working on The Escape Plan, which is another thing I honestly can’t remember how much if anything I’ve said about here. But in a nutshell: I am working on going full time with my writing/comics/creative work, and part of that plan involves selling our current house (fond as I am of it) and buying a much more affordable one, as I’m expecting to take a severe financial hit as part of the process. This weekend we rented a van and moved a lot of our more visibly geeky things into storage as step one, so we can stage our house for a more general audience. Of course, it was a babillion degrees out while we did this, because we seem to be incapable of moving during nice weather. (The last time we moved, if I recall correctly, there were torrential thunderstorms for most of it. Or perhaps that was the time before? It’s all become a blur.)
Early on in this process, I had a few freak-outs. The Hobbit Hole is the first house we bought and the first place I’ve ever felt like was really “my home”– even when growing up I was shoved into the guest room because I was an unexpected child– so the prospect of losing that really hit me hard. However, as we’ve buckled down and started working on it, most of that has ebbed. Now I’m getting really excited by the prospect of finding a new place where we aren’t such slaves to the mortgage, and of course at the prospect of doing my writing/comics/art as my day job, instead of the thing I have to hope I have enough energy left for at the end of the day.
Don’t tell anyone but… I even occasionally fantasize… about stopping my writing at 5:00 one day, and saying, “Ah, that was a good day’s work. Now I can relax for the rest of the evening.” Just once! What a rare and strange thing that would be!
Meh, that’s crazy talk, I know. But it’s a fun pipe dream. In any case! We spent the weekend moving. Except for the part I spent drawing. And that’s your Gneech News report.
I’m a writer. That’s what I do. That’s what my whole mind is organized around. Even when I’m creating comics or drawing pictures, I put some kind of an inherent story into it. I’ve been doing this as long as I can remember.
Many times I’ve flirted with the idea of going pro, but various things have held me back, usually starting with “money” and moving on from there. But I think it’s time to start heading that way. There are several factors informing this decision:
- First and foremost, people like my work! Which I’m very grateful for, of course. More than one publisher has told me, “You write it, whatever it is, I’ll publish it.” That’s… well, for a writer, that’s huge. In books where my stories have appeared, they’ve been singled out for special mention. It would seem, judging purely by external evidence, that my writing doesn’t suck. I should really be doing something with that.
- Second, I’m not getting any younger. I spent the first half of my life waiting for better days, stalling for time, or “looking for the opportune moment.” But I’m running out of wiggle room. If I’m going to do it, I need to do it now before it’s no longer an option. Fortunately, my age is an asset rather than a liability here: I’ve had some life experiences now. I’ve seen things, man, seen some horrible things! Surely this must add depth to my work. And besides, many well-known and popular writers started later than I am… Rex Stout started publishing Nero Wolfe stories when he was 45. If they can do it, I can do it.
- Third, I don’t want to stagnate, creatively. I need to take on new challenges. Writing for free and publishing on the web for anyone and everyone to see is fun, but convincing people to pay you to write? That takes some mad skillz. It’s time for me to level up!
There are things I will have to do in order to make this venture succeed. Most obviously, I need to actually write, more. A lot more. I can’t just quietly putter away at a story for months or years and then leave it in a drawer any more, I need to start, write, and finish things. If an idea doesn’t pan out, I need to shelve it and move on to the next one instead of dithering around on it trying to make it go.
Also, I need to work with a plan. I need to identify markets I want to be in, and go after them. I need to make contacts in the circles I want to be known in, and find ways to be of value there. I am very grateful for the “carte blanche” publishers I’ve mentioned above and I fully intend to work with them, but they are not by themselves enough to make a career, and they don’t cover all the genres I’m interested in working in. I need to find editors and agents and production people and cover artists for works I plan to publish myself. I need to learn the biz hardcore, get serious about accounting and taxes and all the annoying crap that writers hate to deal with but will die if they don’t. I need to make that part of my day-to-day writing activity, instead of something I just turn to reluctantly when I’m forced to.
I have been laying the groundwork for this for a while, actually. One of my writing rules since the end of Suburban Jungle has been, “Know how you’re going to get paid for this.” Every story I’ve written since then (not counting Brigid and Greg Fictionlets, which have a special dispensation) has had a business plan attached, and they’ve all been for money. Not always a lot of money, granted, but the point is that I’ve stopped giving away the store.
So, that’s where I’m headed at the moment. It’s an exciting thing to be really, actually, finally-and-I-mean-it-this-time doing it, but it’s also intimidating. Hiding behind “the day job” has given me something to blame my failures on for all these years. Thinking of myself (and referring to myself) as a professional writer, and treating it like a job instead of a hobby, means that if it goes Pfft! I’ve got nobody to blame but myself.
I recently finished and submitted a new Michael Macbeth: Paranormal Consultant story to an upcoming anthology; it hasn’t been accepted yet (although I’m hopeful), so I won’t say more than that about the specifics, but I do want to talk about the form a bit.
Michael is that hoary old chestnut, a psychic (mystic, what-have-you) detective, a concept that’s been around, sorta quietly lurking, since at least the pulps of the 1930s if not before. The character type has enjoyed a recent resurgence with the popularity of such things as Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, the “weirdening” of Sherlock Holmes in several recent adaptations and anthologies, and so forth. And of course Kolchak, while not a psychic himself, was a Marlowe-style private eye in a world of horror and monsters, so he fits right in.
This is a genre that I am comfortable in, and in which I will probably be writing no small amount of stories in the not-too-distant future. Whether they feature Michael, or another character, or possibly several different ones, is yet to be seen. However, I have recently come to a conclusion about the genre: the perfect psychic detective story has already been written. That story is Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.
I’m not going to go into why here, well except for the bit about use of language. Oh, and depth of theme. Not to mention the tight plot and nifty twists. And atmosphere. The point is, with all due respect to Mr. Butcher, Laurell K. Hamilton, Gail Carriger, Seanan McGuire, Charlaine Harris, and all the way back to Seabury Quinn, there will never be another psychic detective story that reaches the pure ideal of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. This is my own personal opinion of course, but anyone claiming otherwise is objectively wrong. Even Douglas Adams couldn’t do it! There’s a reason The Long, Dark Tea-Time of the Soul took him so much effort, and The Salmon of Doubt was never finished. After Dirk Gently, Adams had nowhere to go but down, and he knew it.
At first, I was discouraged by this. But upon reflection, I found it strangely liberating: the pressure’s off. The competition is already won. I never have to worry about trying to write the best psychic detective story ever written, because it’s already been done. All I need to worry about is writing the best psychic detective story I can write. Of course it won’t be as good as Dirk Gently, because that can’t be done. I wouldn’t feel any guilt or pressure about not being able to fly and shoot lasers from my eyes, for the same reason.
All that said… if I could manage to write a book that was “kinda sorta nearly as good as some of the bits in Dirk Gently,” I’d be totally happy with that.
While my work computer suffers from a brain hemorrhage (is that spelled right?), I’m going to take the opportunity, rare for me any more, to sit and ramble about a topic that’s been on my mind lately. And I’m going to start with what may be the most puffed-up, hubristic (is that a real word?) thing I’ve ever said:
I think I’m as good a writer as Neil Gaiman.
Not always; I mean, when I’m having a good day and he’s having a bad one, that kind of thing. The point is, in terms of my quality of prose, I’m in his league.
But of course, he’s a famous, respected, professional author who makes a living (and one assumes a pretty good one) with his craft, whereas I’m this guy on the internet, y’know? So what’s the difference?
My theory, at least at the moment, is volume. Neil Gaiman writes a metric buttload of stuff, all the time, and he sells it to anybody and everybody willing to pay. The sun comes up, he sneezes out a short story and sells it to some magazine, then he works on a novel for a few hours, goes to lunch and finds a Doctor Who script in his back pocket he’s been meaning to send off, then comes back home and works on his Ted talk.
He’s creating, all the time. He’s always got more stories to tell. This is where I break down.
I don’t feel like I’ve got lots of stories to tell. I’ve talked before about having tons of characters and settings but no plot: this is what I mean. This is the giant broken part of my writing craft that I’ve struggled with since forever. I’m working right now on a story idea that should flow from me like a rushing river, as it combines many things that I love dearly. Think “Jeeves, Wooster, and horrible monsters,” and you’ll get a glimmering of the notion. I should be all over that, right?
I’m not. I have no idea what happens. The characters are sitting around a table staring at me, waiting for me to tell them what to do. I keep shouting at them, “How should I know? Telling me what you do is your job!” and they just keep on staring.
This is why Neil is Neil, and I’m me.
But writing and making art is what I’m here for; one of the reasons I’ve been so horribly depressed lately is that I’m not doing what it is I’m supposed to do. (Pony fans: insert a reference to ‘What My Cutie Mark Is Telling Me’ here. ‘cos I ain’t gonna do it. ;P) So if the difference between Neil Gaiman and me is volume, volume, volume, that means I need to start creating more. Anything more.
To that end, I’ve been instituting a “make something every day” policy. It doesn’t have to be a finished piece every day (and in fact, there’s no way I could do that kind of volume in the 15-45 minute increments I’ve got to work with), but it has to be some kind of progress. Obviously, more is better, but as little as a sketch or a paragraph counts. The key is that no day goes by without at least a tiny dot on the progress bar.
I think there have been results already: yesterday’s Fictionlet (the first in months) was well-received, I’ve got the beginnings of an art piece that I’m looking forward to seeing the end of, and some creative thoughts regarding my new comic idea have bubbled to the surface.
It’s agonizing, glacially-slow progress, but even that is more than the no progress I was making, say, this time last month. Here’s hoping that it snowballs.
I’m halfway through my life. I don’t have time to “hope for better things in the future” any more. I’m in my future. If it doesn’t get better now, it’s not going to.