October Is Upon Us

In a few hours October will come, promising a month of chills, scares, and shorter days.  It’s a time when things really seem to relax for me, and as my favorite festive holiday comes on the final day of the month, my brain turns inevitably to horror.  Scary stories, scary movies, and scary video games, as well as what creations I can contribute in that vein.

Last year, I managed to write a two-sentence horror story every day of the month, and while I feel that was pretty successful, it’s an activity I don’t feel inclined to repeat this year.  I still want to write, and I want to do something in the scary stories department, so I think I’m going to try something a little different.

Lately, I’ve been pondering my own “creepy clown in the woods” story.  Yes, no doubt due to the influence of It, but also because clowns have always fascinated and frightened me.  This year, I think I may dedicate October to this story, and I have a number of exercises I’d like to try out as I develop it, first into a one-page story, and hopefully into a more fully realized short story.

Since I’m not exactly sure which exercises I’ll be doing, or when, I don’t have a real schedule to share with you.  But you can bet I’ll be covering the basics: the title, the characters, the plot and setting.  Hopefully by the month’s end I’ll have the full short story finished, and can share it with those of you who would like to read it.

I’ll post updates as able.  Until then, enjoy the month of October 2017.  I certainly plan to.

Advertisements

Angel‘s “The House Always Wins” and Pissing It All Away

Angel, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as well as so many other good shows throughout television history, still occasionally suffered from the odd episode that was clearly filler and failed to really connect with fans.  “The House Always Wins,” the third episode of season 4, was one such installment, but it has one particular plot device that still speaks to me today, which I feel somewhat redeems what is generally regarded as an uneven, bland episode.

The Spin-and-Win, a gambling wheel rigged by the episode’s villain, the casino owner Lee DeMarco, is only accessible by guests chosen by the casino.  DeMarco uses Lorne’s ability to read people’s auras and see their futures, and with this information, chooses the ones with the most profitable destinies.  They are given a special gambling chip to play the Spin-and-Win, with a million-dollar prize as the lure.  When his mark takes the chip, it is imprinted with that person’s future destiny, and when they inevitably lose, they are left virtually mindless, their destiny taken away along with their ambition, and they spend the rest of their lives in a dull haze, listlessly spinning away quarters in the casino’s slot machine.

Most fans feel this is a pretty heavy handed attempt to equate gambling with throwing away one’s future, and while that’s not a completely off-kilter supposition, it’s one I never really connected with gambling in spite of the context.  The Spin-and-Win, along with its devious ‘destiny chip’ component, may have existed in a casino, and been in the purview of gamblers and those who loved games of chance, but to me the symbolism went a lot deeper.  The trap that the Spin-and-Win represented could take any form, and entrap just about anyone, as long as they obsessed enough about it.

Yesterday I wrote about creation vs. consumption, and how Stephen King’s It both represented that struggle and how it’s helped inspire me to throw off (at least for now) the trappings of consumption so I can create.  The image of this thing, the Spin-and-Win, from this episode of Angel, was another of the primary motivators that came to my mind’s eye as I came to this realization.  The Spin-and-Win, in my estimation, could be anything to anyone, much like It could take on the form of anything that its victims feared.  It wasn’t just about gambling, although I suppose my vice of gaming could easily be argued to have many parallels to that pastime.

For me, the Spin-and-Win represents video games. For someone who loves food too much, the Spin-and-Win represents food.  For others, it could be sex, alcohol, television, movies, music.  More broadly, the Spin-and-Win represent excess, the overindulgence of an otherwise harmless vice that creeps into your life and steals from you.  Time, energy, devotion to otherwise creative or self-improving pursuits.  It’s an easy retreat into something that’s comforting, but otherwise and ultimately, pointless.

I admit, “The House Always Wins” is not a great episode of Angel, though I still enjoyed it just fine.  But the idea of someone throwing away their destiny because they see an easy (but rigged and unattainable) win in front of them is a powerful one that has stuck with me through the years.  It’s always been there, in the back of my thoughts, and I’ve at times wondered why that particular form of that vice stuck when there have certainly been others that may have been more apt.

Now I know why, and I’m sending up that image to pull free of my own tendency to put of creating–writing–with something easy to consume–in this case, video games.

It may not be the prettiest or most eloquent way to break free, but so far it seems to be working out well for me.

Creation vs. Consumption

Even though I’m only just now getting around to reading the novel–well, I suppose “reading” as in listening to it on audiobook–one of my favorite horror stories of all time is Stephen King’s It.  The 1990 made for television miniseries scared the hell out of me as a tween, and I loved it for it.  There was always something about Pennywise, as portrayed by Tim Curry, and more recently by Bill Skarsgard, that really succeeded in both creeping me out and eliciting a delightful sense of terror in the whole killer clown as a villainous entity.  I’d been unsettled by them before–Poltergeist jumps readily to mind–but this story really gave the trope new life in my imagination, and remains impossible to forget to this day.

I don’t know all of the lore behind It (hence the reason I’m listening to the audiobook), but I’ve certainly heard quite a bit of it, even without having read the notoriously doorstop-sized tome King wrote.  I’ve been regaled with tidbits from the more cosmically inclined pieces of lore from the story by countless enthusiasts on YouTube.  Friends who have read it have explained to me, in great levels of detail and with appropriate shock, the infamous group sex scene that has never been given life in the films.  And I’ve heard, from friends, YouTubers, and internet boards at large about how It and its characters and settings connect with the rest of King’s larger dark universe.  It’s fascinating stuff, and I plan to explore it as time and energy allow.

It’s no surprise to me that, at its heart, It is a story about consumption versus creation.  Pennywise, as the titular It, consumes the children of Derry, Maine every 27-28 years before returning to its slumber.  While It has no qualms about taking adults, It prefers children, particularly when they’re scared (the analogy of fear as a ‘sauce’ or ‘salt’ to the ‘meat’ that is the children).  It consumes, then sleeps for nearly thirty years, then returns to consume again.  Derry’s precarious prosperity seems tied to It’s existence, and even when Pennywise slumbers, It’s influence still manifests in subtle ways, which only seems noticeable to the town’s children.

Even the story’s heroes, the Losers Club, are plagued by the forces of consumption in their lives outside of Derry.  Sure, they joined together as kids to defeat It, but once they moved on they forgot each other and their shared experience.  They forgot about Derry, and It.  And though they may have made prosperous lives for themselves, none of them ever managed to have children.  The narrative suggests this is a result of It’s influence over them, even from afar, making Pennywise/It–already a consummate consumptive entity–a force that stops them from creating life of their own.

If It cannot consume the precious life you create, then you will not be allowed to create.  Pretty dark stuff.

And it’s at this point that I tie that theme into my own life, and the lives of many artists, writers, creators, and humans at large.  I learned a long time ago that, when people have free time, they basically spend it doing one of two things: creating, or consuming.  Consuming food, consuming entertainment, consuming air, water, energy, and so on.  Creation, while satisfying, is a lot harder to pull off, or at least do well: writing stories, painting, building, sculpting; hell, even cooking dinner is harder than eating it.

We rely on creators for the things we consume, and for many of us, having things to consume is all we need.  There are a ton of creators out there, of many and various things, after all.  But there are many of us who need more than to simply consume. Whether it’s a need to prove onself, or because someone has an idea or a thing they simply need to share with the world, there are creators.

For the past few months, I have not been one of them.

I’ve been caught up in the throes of consumption, and it’s not always easy to break out of them.  For me, the poison tends to be video games, which are so very entertaining, but which also aren’t exactly good for encouraging moderation in their consumption.  I haven’t written in this blog for several months, and have done little in the way of writing that wasn’t either directly related to my job, or directly related to video gaming.  I have become obsessed with having the highest score, unlocking the latest reward, or getting the latest piece of shiny equipment for my characters.

All of which, aside from the straight objective of entertainment, serves no real purpose.

I’m not saying that entertainment in and of itself is a bad thing, but when you’re putting most of your spare time into it, it becomes an obsession.  It takes you away from friends and family.  It takes you away from creating–or in my case, writing.  And ultimately, it can chip away at your soul.  Your potential for doing other, greater, things is simply sucked away.

And I’ve finally started to feel that.

I’ve known it, intellectually, for some time.  But knowing it and feeling the large swaths of time passing in idle bouts of doing essentially nothing are two separate things.  The obsessive abandon you put into consumption of a particular thing eventually wears off, and you start to realize there’s more you could be doing, if you weren’t sinking all of your time, and energy, and passion into something that wasn’t already made simply to be consumed.

I’m not saying I’m kicking my video game habit.  I’m not sure I’m strong enough for that.  But I am saying I’m aware of it enough to be apprehensive.  I’m trying to break free of it, or at the very least strike and maintain a healthy balance between my gaming and my creativity.  I’m going to try to write more, though of course I can guarantee only that right now.

Hopefully this is the start of many more successive and regular blog entries.  Hopefully I’ll be able to get a bigger chunk of my novel edited and ready for publication.  Hopefully I can find the strength to leave behind the obsessions with which I distract myself from creating.  Hopefully I can do all these things and much more.

Because hope, as Stephen King also wrote, is a good thing.  Maybe the best of things.  And while that line may not be from It, It is also ultimately about hope, and its power (along with that of friendship) to overcome darkness.

So, as I continue to listen to It, I also have hope that I will continue to write regularly, and create regularly.

Happy New Year–Now Let’s Get This Ball Rolling

I need to see how possible it is to crop GIFs while retaining the motion, if only so I can clean up this post’s featured image some day.  Never forget, people: Google is your friend, at least if you can’t take multimedia classes.  I’ve learned a lot of DIY skills through Google (and YouTube, for that matter), and while I’m no expert, I’m smarter than before I started searching.

maxresdefaultAt any rate, as the doubtless imaginative title of this post suggests, I’m all full of New Year cheer, and eager to get underway with my resolutions.  All the more remarkable about it is the fact that, by and large, I don’t formally make resolutions, at least not during New Year season, as I find them arbitrary, trite setups for failure that can really be made at any point during a given year with equal importance.  And I’d say that’s still a relevant attitude I sport towards them in general, so it’s fair to say that I’m not going to be making any new resolutions for the coming year.

But new resolutions aren’t a requirement these days, as I have plenty of old ones I’ve either failed at or left behind, as well as existing ones that, while I haven’t failed, might do with a new twist.  Those are the resolutions I’m happy to focus on for the coming year. Here are some ideas

  1. Get healthy–or at least, heathier. Always easily said, I’ve had my ups and downs when it comes to getting fit and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. On the down side, I was diagnosed as being pre-diabetic last year, but as a result, I’ve implemented at least a basic exercise regiment that has stuck pretty well these last few months. My biggest enemy here tends to be stress, as it makes me go to comfort food whenever things get tough.  There are a few ways I can continue to improve and uphold this goal:
    1. Take up a more intense form of exercise, such as martial arts.
    2. Get better at avoiding sugars, such as sodas and desserts.
    3. Eat less in general, while doing more.
  2. Continue to write, and write more.  I once wrote in a blog every day for six straight months, and this was back when I had a full-time job, so I know I can do more writing than I recently have been.  I profess to want to write, and yet I way too often find myself wasting time on video games, Youtube, and other idle pursuits.  Stress, again, tends to be the enemy here, so I should probably look into ways to manage it.  Specific to writing, a few possible goals are spinning in my head, among them:
    1. Resurrecting 187,500.  This is a 500-words per day mandate, at the end of the year of which I should have 187,500 words written.  I’ll detail the rules of this self-created goal some other time, but it’s significant that each year I’ve tried to accomplish it, I’ve failed.
    2. Creating themed day posts for my blog. Madcap Mondays, Terrible Tuesdays, things like that.  We’ll see.
    3. Find a writing exercise every day, and do them.
    4. Work on my novel(s).
    5. Write X number of {short stories, articles, novel excerpts, etc.} per Y unit of time.  Taking suggestions on how much of what in what amounts of time.
  3. Work towards a writing career.  Similar to the previous resolution, it’s more focused on publication and earning income.  Some possibilities:
    1. Finish a novel manuscript and start shopping it around.
    2. Enter x number of writing contests this year.
    3. Find websites and magazines that pay for writing, and start submitting applications.
  4. Make things.  So many possibilities with this one.  Writing is technically included, I suppose, but I’m thinking in a more broad sense.  Some examples:
    1. Learn to play an instrument (make music).
    2. Create superhero costume parts/pieces (make cosplay).
    3. Raspberry pi/arduino projects (make fun and useful technology).
  5. Read more–or at least, consume more audiobooks and podcasts.  Aside from graphic novels, which I love, I just haven’t found much time to actually sit down and read.  I’ve found that audiobooks and podcasts have been much more conducive for when I’m doing things like exercise, driving across town, or simply working on chores, writing, or other tasks.  Some things I’ve considered:
    1. Ask friends for podcast recommendations.  Try out a new podcast every week, and expand my current base of podcasts.
    2. Listen to both fiction and nonfiction in audiobook form.  I’m loving The Dresden Files so far (James Marsters reads them!), and am almost done with Stephen King’s On Writing, which he narrates.
    3. Where possible, listen to these things for free.  Library cards are your friends in this endeavor.
  6. Educate and teach others.  I do this more or less every day as a librarian (case in point: want to learn how to use your tablet or smartphone to access your library’s e-books and e-audiobooks? I and other librarians can help you!), but I’m hoping to do so this year in a more formalized sense.  Some ideas:
    1. Host a program or programs at work on a topic I’m knowledgeable in.
    2. Participate on a panel at a conference or convention on a topic I’m good at.

Quite the list there, eh?  I’ve been working on a lot of these for a long time, and hopefully can just build on them as the years go on.  There may be more new ones as the year continues, and I reserve the right to modify or abandon these as I choose (at my own risk, of course–I’m sure if I eat too many more chocolates, I’ll go into a diabetic coma), but this is a good base from which to work as I try to make 2017 as good a year as I can.  It is my hope that each and every one of you can achieve the goals and dreams you set for yourself this year.

75cfb75b958e159f647988b804a4ce36aa1d2ace5be9328ddb1eaf505ec4e1e1Happy 2017, and may it be a great year for us all!  Now, let’s get this ball rolling, and knock it out of the park as best we can.

NaNoWriMo, and the Benefits of Failure

It’s been about a month since I’ve posted anything here, and a lot has happened in that time.  Holiday stuff, family stuff, personal stuff, all kinds of stuff that has–of course–affected my ability to keep my nose to the proverbial grindstone where writing has been concerned.  With that said, I’m hopefully back to blogging regularly, and writing more consistently even when I’m not blogging.

As I mentioned in previous posts, I participated in NaNoWriMo this year, and managed to get a large chunk written of a novel that I’ve been spinning around in my head for years.  In terms of the stated victory conditions for NaNoWriMo–50,000 words of a novel written during the month of November–I technically did not win; my novel has come in at just under 40,000 words, and it’s not complete.  However, I’m not sure my failure this year is as complete as one might initially believe, even when one factors in the excellent pace I was maintaining at the beginning of the month, and the sudden drop-off at the end.

A number of factors have led me to consider that this failure might be one of the better things to happen to me, from the standpoint of one who aspires to write for a living.  Consider the following:

  1. The story that I’ve told this year is far more complete–or, at least closer to being completed–than the partial novel I wrote 3 years ago, when I “won” NaNoWriMo by getting 50,000 words pounded out.  That story, which still remains badly unfinished, was only to about the halfway point of the plot before I hit the word count minimum, and I haven’t had the gumption to go back and finish it.  This story, I’ve basically finished: there’s a beginning, middle, and clear end, and could probably work as it stands with a little bit of editing, polish, and a little more content.  I feel much better about this unfinished novel than the technical winner I wrote in 2013.
  2. I tried a new approach to this story that I hadn’t with the others–I wrote it in first person.  Typically, I’ve gone for the third person omniscient point of view, and even though I’ve gotten used to writing that way, I’m not sure it’s helped me over the years.  First person has allowed me to get into the head of my protagonist–no, it’s allowed me to express things through my protagonist’s viewpoint in a way that has just come off as more natural and relevant to the story I’m trying to tell.  It probably means I’ll be rewriting a lot of previously written stories, but I simply can’t get over how right it feels.
  3. My characters were talking to me.  This had previously only happened once previously, in a scene that still strikes me as one of the best character moments I’ve ever written.  It came about in that feeling of not actually having written it, but merely serving as the mouthpiece, or recorder, of your character’s words and actions.  That happened again during this story, and it resulted in some long-standing questions finally getting answered about several characters and their motivations.  It enabled me to get my characters to the final conflict, and has had significant bearing on the aftermath.  As I work to finish out the piece entirely, I look forward to hearing more from them.

I think the most significant indicator of this failure being in name only is that I’m still working to flesh this story out and finish it.  Consider it one of my New Year’s resolutions, but if I can get this story finished by the end of the month, I’ll think of this year’s NaNoWriMo as one of my most successful ever, regardless of whether or not I actually “won” or not.

A Sample from My NaNoWriMo 2016 Novel

For anyone who’s been awaiting my latest blog post, I realize the last couple weeks have been pretty barren.  I’m sorry about that, but I feel I have a good reason.  I’ve been working diligently on my novel for NaNoWriMo this year, and I just passed the 25,000 word threshold today.  That means I’m at the halfway mark, word count-wise, and it’s halfway through November.

With that in mind, I’ve pulled an approximately 500-word excerpt from my novel for anyone who would like to see what I’ve been working on in lieu of the blog (which will, I promise, have more regular posts when I’ve finished this monster).

************************

I didn’t know much about ammunition in general–I tended to prefer hand-to-hand forms of combat given the choice, though I wasn’t averse to using them if the situation called for it–but I knew demon killer rounds were some seriously high-power and destructive rounds.  They were probably all hollow-point, high-caliber, whatever the hell you say about bullets to make them sound cool, sexy, and high-tech, but they also contained traces of silver, holy water, garlic essence, and a number of other things that were generally known to be bad for most monsters.  They were a highly specialized item, and therefore not easy to get.  

“And, the organization cleared you for access to demon killer rounds?” I pressed, pretty sure I already knew the answer.

“I was able to requisition a couple of clips, here and there,” Alan said, his voice taking on a fluidic, almost evasive smoothness.  “For completely practical purposes, of course.”

“And just from where did you ‘requisition’ these clips?” I inquired.

“Spinner’s footlocker,” he said, his voice not bothering to hide the laugh.  “Last week.”

Oh, my hell.  I knew Alan could sometimes play a little fast and loose with the rules, but this was the first time I could recall him outright stealing something from someone.

“Oh, hell.  You’re kidding.  You’re kidding me, right?”

“What?” Alan asked innocently, his arms spread.  “They were extras.  It’s not like I left him with none.”

“I can’t believe you!” I exclaimed.  “You stole a man’s ammo!”

“Hey!” Alan shot back, as if offended by the accusation.  “First of all, I’m all about getting what we need, not what others think we need, regardless of who may think otherwise!”

I smirked sideways at the flimsy excuse, but kept silent.

“And second, what makes you think I procured these without Spinner’s permission and blessing?”

“Oh, I don’t know.  How about Spinner’s little talk about how they’re not for non-military personnel?”

I could see Alan rolling his eyes dismissively.  “Oh, sure,” he said.  “Bring that up.”

“You were the reason he brought it up in the first place!”

“They were pretty!” Alan shot back adamantly, as if that were all the reason he needed.  “Besides, it’s not like they didn’t end up being put to good use.  Right?”

I rolled my eyes and sighed, unable to argue that.  If Alan hadn’t had those bullets in his gun, that little tussle with the Omega Demon would have likely gone way differently–and certainly more bloody for the two of us.  I may not have approved of his methods, but I had to admit that Alan had made a good call in acquiring, however unethically, the rounds that had both allowed him to stun the Omega Demon and enabled me to tear its bullet wounds open with the enchanted crowbar.

“True,” I conceded.  “They definitely did some good back there.”

“Yeah.  Did you see the surprised look on that thing’s stupid demon face after it realized the bullets had actually pierced its stupid demon hide?”

“I did,” I answered, smiling.  “It almost makes up for the shocked agony on your face when you tried to swing your crowbar at it while it had a stoneskin enchantment up.”

************************

That’s it for now.  I hope you enjoyed it.  Please let me know if you like it, what you think so far, etc.

Happy writing!

NaNoWriMo Report: When Your Characters Won’t Divulge Their Dark Secrets

As of this moment, I’ve amassed about 2600 words towards the 50,000 that dictate victory conditions for NaNoWriMo.  It’s a modest start, but a promising one, and I think I’ve got a decent first chapter written.  I’m planning to write more tonight, and every day, until I finish the story.

characterization-clipart-super-hero-cartoons-mdOne of the longer-term issues I’ve had with this particular story centers around one of my main characters.  She’s the main antagonist for this story, a former ally of my protagonist who has betrayed him and his group.  I’ve also decided that she’s irredeemable at this point, someone who has crossed a moral threshold from which she can’t return, necessitating the conflict between herself and the main character.

The problem is, I can’t get her to tell me exactly what it is she’s done.

That’s important information, and while it may not play directly into the conflict that I’m writing in the NaNoWriMo story, it will provide one of the main drivers for my main character to match wits and lives with her.  It’s a fuel source for their conflict.  I’ve tried to sit down with her and nail down what it is that makes her so beyond the pale in terms of redemption, but every time I ask, she just kind of smiles coyly, her eyes narrow slits, as if she’s about to say, “Wouldn’t you like to know.”

She has a number of character traits that make her both complex and interesting, but she’s using some of them against me.  Damn her.

I could try to arbitrarily come up with some big, bad, terrible situation she’s done or engineered.  I’m her creator, after all, and I could do that easily enough.  But I find these situations are so much better when your creations are so well formed and independent that they can almost take the proverbial pen from the writer, push you to the side, and go, “No, dummy, that’s not what I would do.  Here, gimme.  I’ll take it from here for a little while.”  Oftentimes, when I try to mandate a situation for my characters, it feels clunky, out of place, and in need of a lot of editing and revising.

In the meantime, I’ve got a story to write.  I plan to push on, and hopefully sometime in the near future I can actually find the time to psychically sit her down, treat her to a sumptuous meal and a glass of wine, and get her to tell me what her deep, dark secret is.  Until then, as long as she continues to play coy, I’m hoping that by plumbing the depths of the current story, maybe I can uncover a nugget or two as to what she must have done to make my main character despise her so much.

She’s enjoying the chase in the meantime, and for now I’m willing to play along.  I think she’ll eventually relent.  I would hate to think she’d be happy being a two-dimensional character–or, even worse, trapped in an underhanded scheme that wasn’t already of her own devising.