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…

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?