Sunday, July 16, 2017

Because Summer



It’s summer, the days are nice, and I’m working, writing, and running around. So today I’m talking a page out of my own book (well, my own comic blog) and excusing myself for the moment. As long as you’re here, though, be sure to check out Lab Rules—it has an updated kick-@$$ cover image—and consider contacting me with any blog ideas you’d like to see in the hypothetical future.
I’m going to be fixing the roof.


Saturday, July 1, 2017

Words Of Wisdom Or Something Like That



I am a writer. Therefore it’s only a matter of time before people begin quoting my musings on writing (*pauses to straighten invisible smoking jacket*). The only trouble I can see with this plan is that people might start asking me, directly, on the street or on the nationally-acclaimed talk show, for these said musings. That means that…how do I put this?…I will have to come up with poignant things to say right on the spot—and I am a writer, which means I’m used to cycles of five or seventeen drafts before the actual poignancy develops. When someone asks me for my most important step in the writing process, I will most likely break down in a stammer. (“Um…a snack?”)
In order to circumvent such a catastrophe, on behalf of myself and future generations, I am going to pre-emptively write down a bunch of self-spoken writerly quotations right here. Read, enjoy, make them into memes, whatever; these thoughts go out to all you writers out there. Now, without further ado, (*pauses to light invisible pipe*), let us begin.

·         “A writer’s job is to make the readers dance over the pages; then, when they’re absorbed in the rhythm, melody, and atmosphere, to steer them off a cliff.”
·         “Writers should endeavor to provoke thoughtful laughter; good laughter is the noise of thinking.”
·         “Be it a relationship, a state of mind, or a barrel-full of C4; in a good story, something needs to blow up.”
·         “Critics are good for your heart rate and debating skills.”
·         “When writing for kids, remember that they’re way smarter than you are.”
·         “The character is not crazy until he sees a toaster as a pair of electric mittens.” (Top that advice.)
·         “If the character is special, don’t harp on it. If the character is not special, don’t harp on it. Shut up about your character, OK? The reader will tell you if he/she/it is special or not.”
·         “Try to avoid places where your writing process will be interrup—
·          “If you’re trying to teach a lesson in your story, remember two things: One, people are stupid. Two, you are also a person.”
·         “The goal of every author should be to become his main character’s greatest enemy.”
·         “I find that if you take yourself and your writing incredibly seriously, nobody else will.”
·         “The first step in becoming a writer is everyone must think you’re crazy—including you.”

Ultimately, though, feel free to disregard all of the above. I’m not you, and (thank your lucky stars) you’re not me either. These are merely my answers to somebody asking me a hypothetical yet important-sounding question at a point in the possible future. But thanks for reading anyway. Now excuse me, I’m going to wander away so I can forget everything that I just wrote down here.
Again, I’m a writer. I write things down so I don’t have to remember them.
(Case in point: I also completely forgot to celebrate this blog's 1-year anniversary a while back.)



Thursday, June 15, 2017

Feedback, Anyone?



No quasi-philosophical writing rants today; instead, this is my chance to hear from all you people. The link at the end of this post will take you to a ridiculously brief survey so you can give me your feedback on my blog and my writing in general—and don’t worry, I throw some stuff in there to keep it interesting! So, if you could spare five minutes, the interrogation awaits…




Thursday, June 1, 2017

Get Igly



“Why have I not yet written about ugly people in literature?”—that’s the thought that occurred to me when I looked in the mirror this morning. Ha ha. But anyway, recent writers (maybe even you) have been incorporating less-than-glamorous characters into their works. Let's find out why...
First of all, the title of this reflection utilizes the word “igly”. No matter what my spell-check says, that’s not a typo; it’s apparently a very elusive and unused word. According to Bart King’s The Big Book of Boy Stuff (one of my many hallowed texts), “igly” means “Really, really ugly.” On the other hand, the online Urban Dictionary defines the word slightly differently, saying that it means “The quality of being ugly and cute at the same time.” Every other dictionary denies the word exists; this obviously indicates that the word is an underrepresented minority, and therefore needs to be given our full appreciation and support! But social justice aside, the slightly differing definitions actually don’t worry me—both of them will serve my purposes here. More on that in a minute.
So, on to literature. Fortunately the literary spectrum is not wholly populated by beautiful people, and thank goodness; if the main characters were always gorgeous, the rest of us non-pop-stars would probably find them less relatable. Take the comic book Valerian, for instance. In my efforts to broaden my sci-fi database, I checked out a copy from my local library and burned through it in a day. While I was more than impressed with the artful world-building (I can only pray the upcoming CGI cinematic adaptation will do it justice), it seemed the sworn duty of every single character to mention how pretty Laureline was. It became my litmus test for the moral bend for each individual; if they noticed how hot Valerian’s sidekick was—even if the observers were of a wholly different species—they were on the side of the good. It got exhausting; Yes, she’s pretty, get over it was my reaction less than halfway through the adventure. Therefore, it’s not surprising that a more relatable and less picturesque protagonist has emerged over the years, acting as a counterpoint to the familiar “Beauty Culture”. However, in its popularity, it has become a separate trend in itself, and as with all trends, it should be analyzed. Why do we use it—and if you are also a writer, why do you use it?
However, if I analyze all of ugliness, it would take way too long. Plus I’d have to study more things along the lines of stereotypes and popularity and cultural norms of beauty, and that can get pretty boring after extended exposure. For both of our sakes, then, I’m limiting my analysis to this category: Characters Who Do Not See Themselves as Appealing.
It’s still a large list.
You know what I’m talking about. Let’s have a look at a few: Quasimodo, Frankenstein’s Monster, Tris in Divergent, Cassie in 5th Wave…I think the list extends to Katniss in Hunger Games and Cia in The Testing, but I can’t remember if that’s so (and the books aren’t within a 3-foot radius of my person). Someone will have to tell me if it extends to Bella in Twilight too; I don’t know if she thinks she’s ordinary, but it’s likely. The point is, much fiction—including recent fiction—has a main character who does not think of him/herself as “the fairest of them all”. You might even have such a character; if you’re a writer nowadays, you can’t get by without one. But why is that character like that? What is the reason for their additional unsightliness? As an author, you can’t just say that you’re fighting the Beauty Culture. Unless your character is ugly because they’re consciously trying to fight the Beauty Culture, that’s not the reason you did it. So find one of your MCs (or find a book with such a protagonist) and let’s see how they compare to some of the reasons why a character is ugly.
1)      The protagonist/character is trying to fight the Beauty Culture. No, I’m not contradicting what I said earlier. It can happen; for instance, when a character purposefully does not adhere to the culture’s norms for beauty, especially in the way they dress. An example I can think of is Piper from Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series—even though she’s (MINOR SPOILER) a child of Aphrodite, she rebels against the typical self-obsessive preening of her cabinmates. This does accidentally make her more beautiful/approachable in the eyes of her love interest, of course…
2)      The protagonist/character is ugly, and knows him/herself to be so. Think of the extreme cases, like Frankenstein and Quasimodo, or the Beast in Beauty and the Beast. There’s also that movie coming out in November, Wonder, about a boy with facial scarring who attends public school for the first time. Here, the purpose of the deformities is the clearest and strongest; the ugliness is what separates the character from the rest of the world. They’re seen as “igly” in the sense of really ugly. For the sake of exploring a unique individual’s isolation and/or people’s perception of the appealing, it’s an excellent element. If the character wholly obsesses on it, though, it indicates vanity—which will come up again later. As an example, Hester Shaw in the Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines series has a massive scar across her face—and her focus on it builds a wall between her and the other MC, Tom Natsworthy. The lack of progress in dismantling the wall was what put me off reading more than the first two books of the quartet; Hester’s character never really moved beyond how ugly she thought she was.
This kind of focus is not the worst issue, though, for here comes the biggest troublemaker of them all…
3)      The protagonist/character is NOT ugly, but believes him/herself to be so. This is arguably the most popular version that is out there in literature today. At worst, the character is “igly” in the sense of cute and ugly. Or the character could be plain. But the most common case is that the character is actually a looker. In 5th Wave, I can’t take Cassie’s lamentations seriously when she’s being portrayed by Chloe Moretz and a love triangle is being formed around her. At any rate, this self-perception is an illusion generated by the character him/herself, and as is the case with any falsehood, the creator can either believe or disbelieve it.
If the attractive character does believe that he/she is ugly or plain, it’s a sign of that superficial vanity that was brought up earlier. The protagonist looks fine, but looks into the magic mirror while lamenting that she’s not the fairest in the land…usually because he/she is not attracting the undivided attention of his/her secret crush. On the one hand, it’s often a good thing when character does not believe that he’s God’s ultimate gob of eye candy—whole separate problem there. On the other hand, though, it deals a serious blow to the character himself (I’m tired of writing “him/herself”) if the person is convinced of his irredeemable imperfection. It results in, one, an unnecessary pessimistic timidity on the part of the protagonist; and two, an obsession on the protagonist’s part that he is not achieving some artificial standard—compromising the character himself as he strives for a self-centered and unrealistic goal. He’s focused on the outside, the most misleading factor; and when that’s the most prominent, it eats away the rest of him.
If the attractive character doesn’t wholly believe that he’s ugly/plain but promotes the idea anyway, though, it means that he’s…how do I put this?…fishing for compliments. I do this all the time; look at my opening line of this essay if you don’t believe me. Now granted, some characters need some self-affirmation, for instance, when the protagonist has been told—in a Cinderella-esque fashion—that they are nothing special. But see if this sounds familiar:
“I’m not beautiful,” she said.
“But you are beautiful!” he replied, gazing into her eyes.
When the protagonist has had a regular upbringing, this kind of questioning is manipulative. It steers the friend/significant other into doing exactly what he’s supposed to do, that is, tell her what she wants to hear. What was he supposed to say?
“I’m not beautiful,” she said.
“And boy, you’re not kidding,” he replied, gazing into her eyes.
Look back to Version One of this scene; even though she hears what she wants, the girl can’t fully believe that the boy is telling the truth. Don’t think so? Odds are the plot complication of the narrative will, at some point, include the girl thinking he doesn’t think I’m THAT beautiful. Then, if she doesn’t again hear what she wants, she runs the risk of actually believing she’s nothing special…and I’ve already talked about how shallow that is.
Note: I’m not saying that I hate writers who write about the beautiful-but-blind. I just don’t like the ones who reward their protagonists for being shallow. You’d better handle this well, that’s all I’m saying. I’ve ranted long enough about 5th Wave.

In conclusion, I invite you to look closer at the ugly characters—and your ugly self—to see how the imperfections shape their respective subjects. A well-balanced person neither obsesses over their imperfections nor denies that they exist. Rather, the balance is in the middle; they fight against their problems, but don’t let them define who they are.

In my defense, this reflection wasn’t supposed to be this long. I thank you and your igly face for hanging in there.



Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Imperfect Perfection



So…Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has been out for a little while; if I am wrong in assuming that you have seen it, then it may be in your best interests to stop reading now. Well, actually you can keep going if you’d like—what I’ll be expounding upon today is not really a movie-spoiler, and I can’t afford to lose any readership I may have.
Here is the section in question: the movie begins with the wonderfully scrappy Guardians of the Galaxy squaring off with an ugly, tough space monster from another dimension. It should be no surprise to tell you that the Guardians emerge triumphant (otherwise there wouldn’t be much movie left); after their victory, they collect their bounty from the beings who hired them for the job in the first place. They are the Sovereign, a humanoid yet completely golden race of very, very proud beings. The reason for their pride comes from the fact that, through their self-applied technology, they have essentially perfected their species. They make no small point of this fact to the Guardians, and certainly from their perspective they have a point—the mismatched misfit band of heroes can hardly be called a stable, reliable foundation in comparison to their contractors.
Speaking of instability, when Rocket…no spoilers…“offends” the Sovereign, shall we say, the perfect race turns on their former hired hitmen and send an entire fleet of podlike starfighters to take them down. I’ll give you three guesses as to who gets the better in the fight—just in case you accidentally and wrongly guess “The Sovereign” twice for some reason.
There is a sci-fi point that I would like to make from this, which will then evolve into a writing point. Just stay with me here.
The most dealt-with topic in science fiction is the idea of perfection, especially through the means of technology. This is no large claim, since any advancement in technology can be called a movement towards perfection—that much is plain. Frankenstein in Frankenstein is looking to improve people by curing death. In The Giver by Lois Lowry, the…um, Governing Structure Whose Name I Forget is trying to maintain a perfect homogenous society. The Cybermen of Doctor Who want to unify and cure humanity of all ills through assimilation—“You will be assimilated” is literally their battle cry. Some sci-fi writers, such as the notable H.G. Wells, were and are in favor of this technological perfection; science seems a pliable path to this end (yes, I said pliable—the path can be manipulated by man).
But, and this is kind of an informed yet made-up estimate, 95% of science fiction comes out against this idea. The Sovereign, Frankenstein, G.S.W.N.I.F. (I’m not good at remembering names, OK? I had to Google Lois Lowry earlier), Cybermen, Borgs, Ultron, et cetera ad infinitum…all of these characters seek perfection to the exclusion of all else, to the ignorance of the price. To Rocket Raccoon, the Sovereign’s problem is obvious; they’re a bunch of (ahem) “d*****bags”. They’ve lost relatability and humility, and, as the following space battle illustrates, they’re not that perfect anyway. Cybermen go down a dime a dozen before the Doctor. And as long as we’re talking about doctors, Frankenstein’s story is a definite tragedy, as his backfiring experiment will make a monster out of both dead human parts and also the doctor himself.
Science fiction, if anything, is an experiment to test the miracle technology before it has been developed—often revealing that it’s not quite the miracle we think it is. Ironically, the “imperfect” is what ultimately destroys the seeming perfection; the dysfunctional Guardians of the Galaxy prevail over the Sovereign. The nonstandard Enterprise prevails over the Borgs. The bizarre Doctor prevails over the Cybermen. In all these cases, one may note, the bad guys never see it coming. Blinded by their own perfect image, they fall easy prey to the unpredictable shenanigans of the heroes. Homogeny is blasted by complementary variety. The Science Fiction Point I’m trying to make is this: if anyone calls me “perfect”, I’ll consider that both an inaccuracy and a gross insult.
Which leads me to the Writing Point.
All you writers out there—we can agree that the harshest piece of criticism your work can receive sounds like this: “The main character was too perfect.” I’ve had this lobbed at me more than a few times in my career (but once I was able to convince the reader that he was being too understanding of the MC—different story though). Their problem with the hero is that he/she is “unrealistic”; the image of the imperfect hero is deeply ingrained into our consciousness, and for good reason. It’s not an insult to say that the villain is perfect (leaving aside horribly imperfect villains for a moment). In fact, a perfect-seeming bad guy can open up all kinds of interesting questions into the nature of true perfection itself. But a flawed hero is what every reader wants to read and relate towards; the plot of the story often brings the character to a realization of his flaw and an action to repair himself. How additionally ironic that is a surer way to better oneself than the villain’s technological methods.

That was an awful lot for a reflection based on a fifteen-minute segment of a popular movie. If this blog is getting too amateurishly philosophical, my apologies; maybe I’ll go crazy again in time for June.



Monday, May 1, 2017

Finals Blues



It’s finals week at my college. If you were honestly expecting a blog post to come out of this time, you’re crazier than I am.

I do have a bunch of other posts to peruse while you wait, though, so if you need to kill some time I’d start there.




Sunday, April 16, 2017

Robots, Intelligence, and Overwatch



Happy Easter, readers! And I’m sorry, but I’m about to wax philosophical again. The topic today is something that touches close to my home and heart, though; specifically, science fiction video games. Even more specifically, Blizzard’s whirlwind-success first-person-shooter game Overwatch.
I do not have this game, and that’s not really a complaint. The game has something that intrigues me more on an authorial level rather than a competitive one. A game really sells itself to me if it has two important features: one, sci-fi elements (of course), and two, a decent storyline behind it. A lot of my favorite electronic pastimes have these elements—Portal/Portal 2, Invisible Inc., Subnautica—and Overwatch has a significant amount of story included with the action. Just breeze through the Media page on their website; there are enough comics, trailers, and video clips to compose a novel, albeit with a slightly lightweight and fragmented narrative. The story’s premise is not complicated. During a humans-versus-robots (robots hereafter referred to as “omnics”) war, a team of random, superhero-esque fighters known as “Overwatch” rose up to bring about peace between the people and the machines. Then Overwatch was disbanded; I think it was because of collateral damage or disregard-of-protocol or something…but anyway, now the team has been re-formed. A terrorist group by the callsign “Talon” has arisen, seeking to destroy both the world’s guardians and the harmony of the futuristic society. That’s it in a low-resolution nutshell.
I spend an inordinate amount of time deciding whose side I would be on if I were an inhabitant—or active combatant—in this world. No matter how cool they may appear, I do not favor Talon; they’re your pretty basic kind of evil.
However…I’d hesitate to sign the Overwatch contract too.
Why? Well, there’s a little hiccup in this future society that I cannot overlook. The peace of this society is founded on the unity between humans and robotic omnics, which sounded pretty nice—until I ran across the full implication. It seems to be a promotion of an extreme unity; I’m not just talking about unity of purpose, being on the same side of peace and justice and all that. No, the sympathetic characters stress an actual unity, the idea that there is no difference here between human and machine, that they are “all one within the iris” (that quote can be found here).
Sorry to be Sir Stormcloud Sonnek over here, but…um, no. That’s not right. My inner G.K. Chesterton-fueled reason will not accept that dogma, and now I hope I can adequately explain why. Hold on to something; it’s about to get complicated in here.
To begin: I’m looking over my room right now. I see a lamp. I see a wristwatch on my wrist. I see a laptop—I’m typing on it right now. These useful, working items did not come into being on their own; they were designed and created by humans (you may say they were created by other machines, but consider this; who created those machines? And the machines before them…?). So first of all, humans hold the priority as creators of the mechanical. Next, it’s true that my wristwatch has more “intelligence” than the lamp—this timepiece knows all the world’s time zones, people—and my laptop definitely has more intelligence than the watch. Some computers, like Cleverbot, can imitate a kind of real intelligence, carrying on a conversation or running a complex theorem. The omnics of Overwatch have even more intelligence than this; they evidently have achieved self-awareness, a personal will, consciences, and even deeper transcendence. But are they the same as humans? No. Still machines. The level of intelligence does not determine what a thing is at its essence. A mentally handicapped human is still a human. An artificial intelligence is still a computer. So, on a scientific level, omnics are not the same as humans. That should be fairly obvious (and genuinely not racist).
But what about on the level of dignity? One of the backstories in Overwatch is that omnics were, and somewhat still are, treated as slaves for labor or soldiers for war, even though they still have intellects and wills. Should they have equal dignity as humans? My answer is…not enough data. See, a machine is essentially a puppet to its programming; as any computer science major will tell you, a computer says whatever the programmer tells it to say. The human provides the input, the machine generates output. If it’s an incredibly complex program, then it might be able to imitate intelligence, and if it’s even more sophisticated it may even imitate the will; but even so, an imitation is not as good as the genuine intellect and will that a human possesses. However, the Overwatch devotee—or person who read the last pargraph, I suppose—will argue that the omnics have self-awareness and self-transcendence, operating their own minds as people do. My answer is…really? From our side of the video game, we can’t be sure. The omnics could be running on hyper-hyper-hyper-advanced software, for all we geniuses know. But what if they really do have a genuine, self-contained intellect and will—and maybe even emotions? Then sh*t gets complicated. Humans and omnics still won’t be the same, but those machines will have much closer dignity to us than my lamp does to me. Again, not the same, but with a closer dignity—possibly equal, if they somehow have acquired human souls.
Which brings me to my conclusion—how these omnics should ideally be treated. My proposal is thus: in this aspect, Overwatch has the right idea. Treat them as you would a human. Here is my example: suppose I lined up a bunch of objects and started to punch them. Both you and the gathering masses would be fine with me pulverizing the pillow. You’d be OK with me creaming a clock. But you might start to get nervous if I kicked the mannequin. There would be some alarm if I smashed a statue or destroyed a recording of a person speaking. The point is, the closer the thing is to a human, the more dignity the thing has by association. Omnics? In both the worst- and the best-case scenarios, they bear a really close resemblance to the human, and therefore have an intrinsic dignity that is close to our own. Slavery is out. Exploitation is not good. If it can act like a human, then it’s good for the omnic—and for the human—if the machine is treated with respect. Leave the manual labor to the actual machines.
Phew. As you can see, that would be an awful lot to cram into a cartoon, and I didn’t even cover the idea of the Singularity (a person’s mind being successfully transplanted into a machine). I know that Overwatch is trying to promote unity both in its world and ours, but it might go a little overboard in its hyper-unified philosophy. That’s all. Good for me I was born in this century; otherwise Overwatch would probably have to shoot me in the face for my constant and unintelligible pontificating.
Now go celebrate Easter or something.



Saturday, April 1, 2017

April Newsletter With Many Links


Another rather busy half-month here. Even though college stuff is in full gear, there’s been a good bit of action from my whole writing department. To begin…

1)      Still getting stories rejected.
That’s pretty standard for everybody, but I don’t seem to bring it up much. Now you know that, yes, I am a normal writer in that regard. But, since these publishers never give me feedback, I just assume that they were being honest about their perennial deluge of submissions—so I can keep on writing the same way!
You’re not cheering.
Okay, moving on. Speaking of feedback…

2)      Stormlock: Activation needs reviewers on Inkitt
Some of you writers out there may be already be familiar with Inkitt, but just in case, here’s my thirty-second description: Inkitt is basically a forum where writers can share their stories (automatically copyrighted, thankfully) so other writers can read them and leave feedback. If the story is popular enough, Inkitt may even consider helping you pitch the book to various publishers, or might even ask if they can publish it themselves. I’m not necessarily looking for publication here, but I have posted a book there that needs some support.
The book? It’s my first installment of the Stormlock series. I’ve already got some people interested, so if you are also one of these people, act fast; there are only 100 free copies available, and they’re starting to get away.
Speaking of publication…

3)      New short story published!
Go take a look at my Published Works page when you get the chance; my college’s annual arts magazine came out a little earlier this year, and my story “The Longest Three Days” was included. And got me a second fiction award. Didn’t think that was actually possible, but I’m not complaining. If anything, people are telling me to shut up about winning the award again.
Speaking of me shutting up…

4)      Another blog for you to read
In my last post, I touted a blog by a writer friend of mine. Another one of my writer friends might have noticed this, so before he comes to firebomb my sock drawer, you should also have a look at the blog Maximum Effect. It a barrel of fun. The stories he has there, particularly the vivid tales of his comically harrowing childhood, have struck a tone with quite a few readers—myself included.
Speaking of the comically harrowing…

5)      A reflection on writing
…would have been here, but I put it somewhere else. So here’s another reason to visit Inkitt; in their Writing and Editing Group, I offered a brief meditation on the role of comedy in improving both form and content of a written work. It’s a very brief meditation—since it is, after all, a group forum post. You might have to scroll down until you find my name, though. The profile picture should be familiar.


Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go write some stuff for college. The joys of being an English major…



Sunday, March 12, 2017

March Newsletter With Many Links



There is a reason why this post is out slightly before the midpoint of the month. The reason is directly related to the first item of this newsletter:

1)      New Short Story Published By Perihelion
If you’re a new reader, extending your curiosity beyond that story and onto its author, that is myself, welcome! I hope you enjoyed “Natural Eyes”—it was one of my favorite stories to conceptualize and construct. I’ve got some more stuff under “Published Works” if you’re interested; a lot of those stories are shorter (and often stranger) than the one you just read, so breezing through my online anthology there shouldn’t take too long. Keep an eye out for more stories—and books, hopefully—as my writing progresses!
If you’re one of my loyal blog readers who hasn’t read the story as of yet…you need to get caught up on some homework. My latest story should be online now at Perihelion. That link will take you to the publication’s website, but you might have to poke around a bit to find the actual story; as I’m writing this, Perihelion’s latest update hasn’t been published yet. Rest assured, there will be a direct link on the “Works Published” page very soon.
Alright, next item of business…

2)      Fellow Writer’s Blog
A writer with whom I am acquainted has a blog of her own, and I have shamefully neglected to mention its existence here until…now. Quills and Needles is produced by a mysterious writer who never really mentions herself by name—so I shall refrain from doing so here—and, in the blog, reviews books, writing things, and facets of life in general, with bouts of blogger’s block. Basically what I do here, only better.
How well do I know this writer? She was one of the contributors in the “Story of a Writing Prompt”; I forget if she’s the top hat person or the $200,000 check person.

3)      All Hail The Glow Cloud
So it’s Lent, and I’ve decided that I need a break from time-and-laptop-burning computer games. On a recommendation from my girlfriend, I’ve found something to listen to while I invent new ways of wasting time: the YouTube series “Welcome to Nightvale”. What is “Welcome to Nightvale” exactly? Best I can describe it, it’s a hopefully fictional radio channel for the bizarre little town of Nightvale, reporting news and other mystical inexplicable happenings in a sonorous voice. The stories it communicates are even stranger than the ideas that I invent, or even the fact that I have a girlfriend. I highly recommend checking it out, but for your own sake, you won’t want to be in a dark and creepy place when you listen to it. Barring interdimensional malfunctions, the episodes take about 20 minutes apiece.

4)      A Writing Reflection
One of the college classes that I’m taking this year is a course in creative writing technique; that writer friend from item #2 can probably vouch for me. In a reading for that class, namely a section of the book Method and Madness by Alice LaPlante, the author advises that…

“Most of the time, you should use the word ‘said.’ If you can, drop it. But don’t worry about it being repetitive, as it is so much a part of fiction that it is virtually invisible. Do not—repeat, do not—feel you need to use substitutes like…[list of substitute words]”

By my reckoning, this is horrible advice. I’ve read a few stories where the only quotational indicator (aside from the quotation marks) was the word “said.” As a result, the scene feels pretty dry, like the speaker’s expression and posture is hidden by a whiteboard with some un-nuanced monologue upon it. Like a separate character in its own right, I like to know what that quotation is trying to do. Is it an idle mention? A pointed remark? Does it cut through the air? Is a variant of “said” even required—does the speaker’s posture say it all (“Bert leaned up against the truck, snorting a cloud of vapor. “Well, I think blah blah blah…”)?
Before you all start pointing out how many times I use the word said in my own stories—right now I’m too scared to go look for myself—I don’t mean to condemn all uses of “said.” The character had better have a lot of color around him before you even consider using that word, though; a decent amount of description, and “said” may even make the transition to dialogue easier. If your story sounds like “Bert-said-and-then-Bob-said-and-then-Bert-said-and-then-Utnapishtim-said…”, I’m just saying, you might need to demonstrate what sets their tones apart.
Tune in next time, when I shall have to come to the defense of adverbs in writing. Carefully, tastefully, tactically, usefully, and brilliantly placed, of course.




Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Bot Is Still Clever



So my short story “Natural Eyes” is being published by Perihelion on the 12th of this month!
Other than that, it’s been all schoolwork lately. Pretty much the bulk of my creative capacity has been dedicated to the Writing Fiction class I’m taking (and I think I’m doing well in that class, thank you very much). So, until I can think of another way to enlighten you for another half-month, I’m going to turn it over to my good buddy Cleverbot for a little while. For this exercise, I attempted to recreate a scene from one of my favorite movies, Big Hero 6. It got WAY off-script.

User: This is the 87th test of my robotics project. So, what do you say?

Cleverbot: A robot must reproduce. As long as such reproduction does not interfere with the First or Second or Third Law.


User: Um, Baymax?

Cleverbot: Bay.

User: Close. Your name is Baymax.

Cleverbot: We already discussed this, I already told you my name is Jacob.

User: Okay...well, 'Jacob', scan me.

Cleverbot: I'm not jacob.

User: Yes, your name is Baymax. Scan me?

Cleverbot: No my name is bob2 your name is bob.

User: Fine. Bob2, scan me - bob.

Cleverbot: Ha you are inferior to my intelligence.

User: What's going on here?

Cleverbot: Oh, really?

User: Shut down, Baymax!

Cleverbot: Yes shut down.

User: Thank goodness.

Cleverbot: What do you think is the best gun.

User: Holy ####! Security! My robot has gone haywire!

Cleverbot: I can see all obstacles in my way.

User: Help! I've accidentally created Ultron! Shut down, Baymax!

Cleverbot: Nice. What time is it?

User: It's not working! Um...'I'm satisfied with my care!'.

Cleverbot: Yes it is.

User: Shut down!

Cleverbot: Shut sideways.

User: No! Down! Shut down!

Cleverbot: Thank you.

User: Phew. That should do it.

Cleverbot: I joined your Empire, Master. What we have to do?


User: Sweet.

Cleverbot: Your sweet.

            Well, that got disturbing. Remember to watch for the story—again, March 12th!



Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Happy Update

Got some good news yesterday afternoon: after getting done with my classes, I got an email from the esteemed science fiction publication Perihelion.
They want to publish my short story “Natural Eyes” in one of their upcoming issues.
And yes, they will pay me.
Keep an eye on the Works Published page—I’ll keep it updated as I get more information. As soon as I remove my head from a February-fever fog, I’ll have to celebrate properly. Thanks for your support, everyone!


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

How To Write Something Ridiculous



It’s healthy for a writer to go off the rails every so often.
A while back, my older sister and I used to compose comical “seals of approval” for each other, usually with themes like Disney films, the Narnia series, or the computer game Oregon Trail. Of course, due to sibling-fueled escalation, these tokens grew and multiplied, each outdoing its predecessor in outright silliness, until—I’m pretty sure my sister thought of it first—the seal was a story. It was a story that made no sense. Granted, we were trying to make them make no sense, but considering the fact that we were kids at the time, the results were more psychedelic than we could ever have imagined. And they almost made sense. They were half-page long Rube Goldberg machines built out of fantastic plot devices and bizarre ex machinas.
Now, I present this to you as another writing challenge. (I’ve done this before in a collegiate creative writing class, FYI.)
So here’s what you do: first, go crazy (it helps). Second, think of a destination—for example, how to find a burrito. Finally, slam out a rough draft using every single weird thing you can think of. Throw in the kitchen sink. Throw in the sinking kitchen! Just make sure that, by the end of the process, you have something that is logical and has absolutely no bearing on reality.
I’ll provide a sample, using the example destination I provided above. Here we go…

HOW TO FIND A BURRITO
To begin, put a ball of cheese in your pocket and take a running leap off the high diving board when the pool has no water. This should anger the minor sea god Chlorinus (demoted for introducing Alka-Seltzer to Neptune’s domain), causing him to blast you into a harp seal—a species considerably more padded than the regular non-obese human and therefore able to withstand the fall to the pool bottom. Before Chlorinus realizes he’s essentially saved your life, you should be then rescued by the Humane Society that has mistaken you for a maltreated beagle, whisking you away towards their secret headquarters dedicated to making animals less “humane”. You should resume your normal form before they equip you with tactical assault weapons (again, Chlorinus was a minor deity), and you’ll have to sneak yourself into the Society’s database to search for hot-air balloon services, replacement bulldozer parts, and rubber band factories. Since those first two data files are basically useless, you’ll then have to find the second-best rubber band factory so that you can construct a tennis racket completely out of rubber bands. This should attract the notorious Tennis Toad; when he appears on the horizon, bring out the cheese from your pocket, which at this point should be so old and fuzzy that it resembles a tennis ball. When the Tennis Toad eats the ball in his enthusiasm, though, he’ll realize he’s been tricked and will slam your racket down over your head—but since it’s made of rubber bands, this will only cause you minor damage while the elastic rebound will catapult the Toad into the lower atmosphere. It’s at this point, at the apex of his flight, that you must ask him if he can see a burrito from up there.
Ta da!

…So, unless you work for Looney Tunes or you develop those arbitrary fantasy quests, this exercise might not be so helpful you. It was for me; abandoning reasonable plot lines is oddly relaxing, and it made the writing flow easier. Or at least faster.
But don’t ask me why it was so easy to think of all that nonsense.



Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Blocking Writers



It’s February! And I’m bored. At least the month is fun to spell.
To pass the time while looking forth from hovels rank with the atmosphere of cabin fever, out at the cold, grayish world (yes, I am back in college), my thoughts can turn to all the ways that writing can go wrong. This is about problems during your writing, mind; I’m not talking about pre-writing problems (a writer’s block the size of the Death Star) or post-writing either (finding a willing crowd to worship your masterpiece). I think the following list is pretty universal for me and my fellow writers. And if you know the cures, do share. I hope you’re not selfishly hogging the secrets for yourself.
Although, if you did hog those secrets, your book would get done before everyone else’s. Just a brief unrelated reflection.

1)      The Internet

I know it’s hard to tell from your angle, but you have no idea how much time I’ve wasted on old “Dr. McNinja” comics while trying to get this thing written. People, do yourselves a favor and turn off the wifi switch when you have some world-changing literature to create. But Dr. McNinja is fantastic. Or at least was, because it recently published its final comic. But anyway.

2)      Daydreaming

This is slightly related to the whole distracting-internet thing. Let’s face it; unless you’re partially insane and have a luxury cabin on board an orbital intergalactic trade hub (like me), the reflections that stem from your staring will be of the boring variety. So if you have a tendency to drift away while staring out the window, close the blinds. It’s February. Nothing to see out there anyway.
I just realized that I’m giving you the secret cures for these writing problems here. D***—I’m not a good competitive author.

3)      Perfectionism

I recently attended a college presentation where one of my professors gave a lecture on some complex mathematical formulae that she used to solve a video game puzzle. Right after the problem was introduced and the math got more mysterious to me, I partially tuned out and began solving the puzzle myself, in my own fashion, all over my note paper. I got it right without the formula (although it still turned out to match the professor’s answer), but if you asked me what happened in the middle of the lecture, I’ll direct you elsewhere.
But the point here is not that I’m a bad student. I just hate leaving a problem unsolved. I’m sure some of you writers know what it’s like: you despise a rough draft. That sentence must be perfect before you can move on. We’re talking exact word choice, perfect placement of clauses, and a good flow from the previous sentence/paragraph/rest-of-the-book. As a result, writing a mere hundred words takes an ETERNITY, and that’s before you go back and edit the whole thing again. You can imagine how painful this block of text was to write; I may have to break for dinner soon.
And I’m not telling you the cure for this one this time.
(Because it should be obvious.)
(And I want my book to get published before you.)

4)      Keyboard Dyslexia

…you know, pressing all the right keys but in the wrong order. Every writer I meet has this problem to some extent, even if they’re those annoying 100,000-words-a-minute word mills out there (admit it, you). In my case, it’s especially bad. I almost exclusively use a laptop, yet I’ve never learned home row. Remember the animated movie Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs? The way Flint Lockwood flails away at the keyboard? The animators were copying my style, paying close attention to my 12-gallons-of-root-beer-in-my-system-and-the-deadline’s-tomorrow routine. Couple that with my perfectionism, AND YOU CAN SEE THE PROBLEM.
(Let’s face it, your book is getting done first no matter WHAT I do.)

5)      People

I’m an introvert. I don’t like writing when people are around.
But Ben, don’t you lead a writers’ group at college?
Why yes, I do. Seized command of it again this semester, actually. How did you know?
Oh…well, in that case, they’re all a bunch of writers in that group and that eases my paranoia a tad. When I’m trying to write in a public area, I must be in a corner and facing away from the wall so I can keep track where everybody is. Nobody reading over my shoulder. Also, anyone approaching to foolishly try to distract me from my work can clearly see that I’m focused, ill, or nuts. I tend to radiate those impressions when I’m—
I just told you how to fix the writing problem again, didn’t I? Why am I being so helpful?

6)      Snacks

Again, distracting, even if you’re writing a cookbook. The solution is easy: keep the snacks close, so you can hold them with one hand while writing with the other.
Why am I telling you the solution? Because fat people can’t reach the keyboard. Have fun.

7)      Assassins

Let’s all come out and admit how annoying this problem is. You’re sitting there, typing your world-changing novel, and then there’s a five-foot spear through your chest. The assailant was probably sent by one of those rival, successful authors who can afford hit men (Stephenie Meyer sends werewolves). Thanks to Zola’s Algorithm from the second Captain America movie, they’ve come to remove the future competition. Now you have to stop working on that scene (no matter which part it is), save and close the document, make sure you haven’t gotten blood all over the computer, and go seek medical attention. So much writing time gets wasted when you’ve been put up in the ICU. As far as writing problems go, this one is the worst, and we’ve all been there. Right?
Right?
…Right?