Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Occasional Demon

About a week ago I was making good headway on a new fantasy short. I was twenty-two handwritten pages into the manuscript when something terrible happened. I lost a friend. No, not by death, but willful separation. 2016 was a bitter year, and I was foolish enough to think that I'd get out of it untouched by the election fallout. Despite the Facebook rants and riots in the streets, I thought it wouldn't touch me like it has.

As a result, my work stopped cold. Even now the draft sits unfinished. My enthusiasm hasn't gone, only the will and proper mindset to work on it immediately. For the past few years I've been devoted almost singularly to science fiction and fantasy. I wrote the occasional historical short, maybe a poem or two when I felt like nothing else. Every time I deviated, I quickly retreated back to the exotic and the fantastical. I never thought of myself as a literary writer, though I enjoy reading literary fiction. I always felt more at home among the stars and dragons of my imagination.

But every now and again the occasional demon will disrupt the magic, distort the illusion, and I'm forced to reckon with reality. Fact: I used to have a good friend. Fact: They severed our friendship because of political differences.  Fact: It hurts.

No matter how hard I tried, these facts wouldn't go away. I couldn't think of anything else. I don't like leaving things half-done, but I knew I wouldn't be able to continue unless I tackled the subject. So, I wrote a different story, eighteen pages long, based on a real incident in my not-too-distant past. I had to capture the feelings that were possessing me: frustration, sadness, indignation, and confusion. I won't know if I succeeded until I start editing later this week. I hope so. It wasn't easy.

Literary fiction has always been one of my great weaknesses. I just don't think I have the stuff to make stories about real people in the real world interesting. Hemingway did. Steinbeck did. Lee did. They were masters of observation, and their experiences taught them a lot about the human condition, which informed their writing. Me? I'm a young conservative white guy who's lived a peaceful existence. No wars, divorces, child abuse, or great struggles against the powers that be. I've met some neat people and seen some amazing things, but I'm pretty ordinary.

Reading and writing have always been ways to escape from reality because in spite of my education and insight, I don't always understand it. And if that's true, how can I write something about it people will enjoy or learn from? Will they come away having identified with my characters, and by extension, my life? I'm terrible at writing about things that actually happened to me. Life isn't exciting, for the most part. As a historian and a writer I'm often paralyzed by the thought of inventing things to make the past more exciting or meaningful. It go against every bit of academic training I've ever had. Thus, I'm confronted with a problem that can only be solved by a skill I do not possess.

It's an interesting dilemma, and I'm eager to find a solution. Lucky for me, I have a tool to help.

A very Merry belated Christmas to you all, and a Happy New Year.

Power to the pen, even if it's unsure of what to write next.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Now That I'm Relaxed...

Now that the election is over I can relax and come back to this much-neglected blog. The truth is I didn't have anything to say. In light of my own Re:Fiction article on blogging I've had second thoughts about what I write about here (excluding typewriters of course, but I don't add machines to the fleet often enough to post about that regularly). It's hard not updating this blog every week like I used to. Serious amateurs and professionals will post two or three times a week (but most usually have a lot more going on in their lives/jobs that makes constant content possible).

As such, I've waited this long to make sure I have writing-related things to talk about.

First, look for my short story The Curse of Horace Jonah in Bards and Sages January 2017! I've sold many pieces to them, but until now they've all been for anthologies. This will mark my debut in their quarterly magazine. I usually don't return to the world of a short story. Horace began as a contest entry that was done at a furious pace, got shortlisted, but ultimately lost. I tried selling it to other fantasy magazines (curious how there are not a lot of children's fantasy magazines that will accept stories over 800 words...), and when B&S bought it, I thought I was finally done. But this character was too much fun not to expand upon. Ideas for sequels started forming and I made notes accordingly.

Then, I did something that I thought I would never ever do. Since my bought with JRA a decade ago, I swore off handwriting whenever possible. It's hard on the wrist and fingers (namely the thumb joint). But while I was in Texas over the holiday weekend, a new Horace Jonah story started fighting, desperately trying to break out. All I had was a spiral notebook I use for ideas and plotting. I'd written a flash piece in it, but a full-length short? I tried to suppress the urge. Tried to content myself with reading. I even tried lecturing it. You stay right there! I'll deal with you in a minute! But it was impossible. One morning, I sat down and started handwriting a new tale.

I thought I would switch to the typewriter once I got home, but curiously enough, I was unwilling to abandon the mental track I was on. I was afraid that switching mid-draft would somehow jar me, interrupt the flow. Truth was, I managed at least two, sometimes three pages a day (barring headaches, fatigue, other obligations, etc.). Could it be I was going so slow that I didn't have opportunity to be blocked?

Six days and thirty-three pages later Horace Jonah and the Legendary Fox is complete! First draft, but I feel really good about myself right now. I've just proven that if the worst happened, if some maniac broke in and stole my collection of typewriters (or if the house burned down), I could go to Dollar Tree, grab a notebook and a pen, and start over.

I really really don't want that to happen, but...the work will continue.

Now I'm entertaining a crazier idea. My science fiction story At the Edge of Life has been deadlocked for months now. Numerous false starts. Can't make up my mind who should be the protagonist. POV is all over the place. Can't seem to make it work no matter what I do! Would going really really slow help me unblock it? At Courtney's suggestion, I've started using a daily planner to help balance my work goals so I don't get overwhelmed by the thought of not writing enough. I'll be dipped, it's working!

Speaking of Courtney, she and I went on yet another book-hunting expedition. Among other titles, we came home with a collection of H.P. Lovecraft stories. This is a writer I've sadly neglected until now, though he has my respect. Hard to knock a guy who sold everything he wrote to pulps and died before he could break out and go mainstream. It's a fate I fear myself. As Harlan Ellison said, "Every writer is trying to beat the clock, to write that one story posterity will remember them for." Lovecraft certainly did that.

Before leaving Texas, mother-in-law gave us some early X-mas money. I thought I might be able to snag the Remington KMC from the local antique store with the double Gothic font. It was gone. Disgruntled, I decided to take a quick look around and see if there were any newcomers.

Lo and behold...

I probably wouldn't have gotten the machine if I was unable to talk the guy down from $90 to $60. I pointed out that the machine didn't have the top half of its case, which would make safe transport and storage difficult. Also snagged a first edition copy of Michale Crichton's novel Eaters of the Dead while there. Serial number V689754 puts this machine around 1934-35.

This came on the coat tails of my other great find.

One of my earliest typewriter finds was a wide carriage KMM with a Sedalia sticker. Sadly, it went missing after a trip to the repairman and I've never gotten over it until now. What are the odds that a machine in the 1930s would have survived until now with all of its decals intact? It's a tad blemished in other places, but works great. Currently waiting on platen recovery and then it needs a typeface alignment.

As you can see, I have a lot to be thankful for, and that doesn't require a single holiday.

Power to the pen!