Archive | July, 2020

World Building vs. Plot… Fight!

22 Jul

It took me twenty thousand words, but I finally figured out why I was having such trouble with my current work in progress – I was more concerned with the world I was building than the plot I was going to put in it. I guess I just figured that the plot would naturally feed itself, since I fell in love with my idea, but that quickly proved not to be the case.

This particular novel started off with a comment that Peter Gold, a fellow member of The Royal Manticoran Navy (a great fandom), told me. “The
sci-fi writers of the 50s and 60s knew the importance of the merchant
marine during WWII, and wrote sci-fi stories built around merchant
ships rather than the navy.” So this got me researching how merchant marine worked today, watching great videos from mariners on YouTube (TimBatSea, JeffHK, Chief MAKOI), and figuring out how to fit that into a sci-fi situation. Trying to avoid being Firefly, I reused one of my previous universes, shifted it ahead 40 years, and BOOM! I’ve got a great universe.

“Hey, Camp NaNoWriMo is coming up,” I tell myself, “let’s grind this out and write a story in this universe!” I came up with a comprehensive character sketch for the crew members on this merchant ship, so I knew who to have my main character interact with. My main character? Eh… he’s the POV character, so naturally not knowing anything (like the audience) is fine. But then, I never bothered to develop his backstory, or character traits, since I figured that would come out in the writing. (Partly right.)

Now what I should have realized as soon as I started is that all I had in my head for the plot was a couple scenes. Once those wear out, well… I can talk to all the characters I worked so hard to sketch out. Okay… then what? At some point, my main character has to DO SOMETHING. That’s where things got iffy. “Oh, crap! How do I keep my word count up?”

So I pulled a trick that Scott Lynch did in his book, The Lies of Locke Lamora: start in the middle of the action, flashback to the character building later. That worked… let me get back to who this character actually is. Still don’t have a plot, but hey, I’m getting more scenes in. I’m getting a glimpse of where I want to go. But that only lasts so long.

Now I’m at 35,000 words and I realize, “Oh, I have no idea what story I want to tell in this universe!” Now I’ve got 11 more days in the “contest,” I don’t want to stop when I’m so close, I don’t really want to keep writing it either. So I’m left with the realization that I’m going to finish this, a novel that is unpublishable, and it’ll take another month or so to rewrite this into something that I’ll be proud to show. And editing is not my strong suit – and I’m too cheap/broke to hire someone.

Oi.

However, this whole process has taught me the valuable lesson – figure out what story you want to tell first. Even if it’s not completely fleshed out, have a goal that you want your character to reach, and this will go to a far, far better place.

Have you ever had this problem? Most of the time, I’ve given up on the story, but have you just muscled through a story that you knew was going nowhere? Tell me in the comments section below!

What The Hell Did I Just Watch?

21 Jul

I happened to see Zardoz (1974) was available on Hulu. All I knew is that it was terrible and was one of those films I’m sure Sean Connery wish he never did (including Highlander II). But then one of my friends convinced me, “Oh, no – it’s really good. Watch it!” Okay – and I descended into movie-watching hell.

I’m not going to put a spoiler warning here because this movie is already spoiled. There is no way to describe this film–even the official description makes absolutely no sense after the first fifteen minutes. It starts off with a floating head explaining sophomoric philosophy, followed by a killing spree and a (different) giant floating head while Beethoven plays in the background.

You follow the floating head for the credits, which should have told me to run away right there. I already had the “pretentious” flag from the intro, the killing spree by men in scanty clothing, the Beethoven… but then, the “written, produced, and directed by” warning right there? I should have stopped right there!

Now if you love this film, then you and I expect different things out of movies. I expect a story. I don’t expect a visual representation of the pointlessness of existence or the ennui of being really… really old. The story should be the plot. You can have a message, you can have a really obvious message, but there needs to be a story. This has no story – it is “look at this cool universe” and “this is the message” kind of movie. The first could be forgiven – the second screams “art film.”

It’s not just that this is 70’s sci-fi. I love Logan’s Run. I love Soylent Green. But I was reading a review of this film that encapsulated it all. Will Thomas said, “A fascinating reminder of what cinematic science fiction used to be like before Star Wars, this risible hodge-podge of literary allusions, highbrow porn, sci-fi staples, half baked intellectualism and a real desire to do something revelatory misses the mark by a hundred miles.”

There is a lot of boobies. A lot of “Show me more of this human thing called sex.” I now understand the “Big Giant Head” joke from 3rd Rock from the Sun. I feel asleep twice during this film… and only felt the need to rewind once. I skipped past a five minute montage of teaching Zed… with lots of boobies. There were two redeeming points in the movie – and I’m giving nothing away here – one is where Zed learns to read, the other was the Apathetics licking Sean Connery.

And then it ends, as you knew it was going to end, with a denouement which would have been nice if it hadn’t been so creepy. It reminds me of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Most of the film is slow-motion shots of “Look how cool these effects are!” set to the Blue Danube Waltz, fifteen minutes of “That’s a neat story,” and an artsy ending.

I’m gonna give this a 8/10 on the WTF meter. The only movie I’ve ever seen that rating higher (9/10) was Motorama (1991); I figure a 10/10 would destroy the fabric of the universe. I am also going to punish my friend for telling me to watch this film. My retribution will be swift.

How would you punish my friend? What piece of garbage would you make him watch? Write your answer in the comments below.

P.S. Shaktimaan (the TV show) is not an option. That’s just cruel and unusual punishment.

Prayer Reimbursement

20 Jul

Prayer really is the first social media; everyone has access to it, some people “post” more than others, and some have more “followers.” You run into the same problems as other social media. You don’t like somebody’s prayer, you’ll mute them. You might “unfollow” someone after they do or say something you find offensive. And yet, it still one of the most effective forms of mass communication on the planet!

Let me approach this idea in a non-judgmental way. I happened to come across the term “payer management” on someone’s site and misread it – I thought it would be a catchy title. But the more I think about it, social media is a good metaphor for prayer. You start off following one god because one of their followers invited you to join them. You go along and start following other followers in the group, because you like what they have to say, or they bring the funny, or make good music.

If only your worship team was this cool.

Many people stop there. Others will start following other followers to see what they think, or to get a different insight into their prayer life. Some with try out other traditions – or follow those from other traditions – to read more posts. Some people actively cultivate followers. Some post really radical things that you may or may not be in agreement with. Even if they don’t, there’s a wide variance of prayer out there, even in the same religion. The difference between a Charismatic Catholic and an Irish Catholic church is just as vast as an Orthodox synagogue and a Reform synagogue. You might recognize some of the same words and songs… but that’s it.

But let’s get back to the title – reimbursement – what do “pray-ers” get out of it? Same things as social media; a sense of community, of connecting with something more, and sometimes, getting something they want. Your goal in prayer may be to connect with the infinite, but it also may be something more concrete. You may want to heal a sick friend or to get a better job. That’s why marketing on social media (and religion) is such a big industry – there is a goal in mind. You may want to save souls or pitch the Sleep Bible app on Cable TV.

Whether you “speak it into existence” or you get a direct benefit as a “follower,” prayer has a direct impact in people’s lives, and has for thousands of years. Okay – have I butchered this metaphor enough? Am I way out of line? Tell me in the comment section below!

Unethical Veganism

19 Jul

This is not bacon and eggs. It’s actually tofu scrambled with turmeric and paprika (throw in onions and garlic) and tempeh flavored and shaped to look like bacon. The hash browns are real, although I baked them instead of fried them. Why? Because I’m an unethical vegan–I honestly don’t care about animals, I honestly don’t care if YOU eat meat either, but I’M doing it because it makes me healthier.

There’s an old joke – “How do you know someone’s a vegan? They tell you.” Normally I don’t, but… hey, I need a blog post today! 🙂 Also I don’t tell people usually because no one wants to know that. They don’t wanna feel bad about their eating habits. They know they’re eating crap, but they like it, and so they keep eating it.

If you’re a “serious” vegan, you have to avoid ANY animal products. That means asking people what’s in things when you go the restaurant. Then you have to tell people WHY you’re asking. Then you’re no fun, because in America, we have fun with our friends by going out to eat. And if you’re picky about what the “Veggie Sampler” is, you’re the buzzkill in the group.

So what is the unethical vegan lifestyle? You mostly avoid animal products, but you don’t go out of your way to prove that. I get to be de facto kosher, which is nice for my faith, but again, I don’t go out of my way to determine if the grill that cooked my tofu was also used to cook meat. You try to order the green salad, because every other salad on the menu has freaking cheese sprinkled on it.

Now I’ve lost about thirty pounds doing this lifestyle. Now to be honest, this is the second time I’ve lost thirty pounds eating this way. There is a LOT of unhealthy ways to be vegan and they all have to do with eating grains. I’ve learned the hard way, 2000 calories a day is honestly not that much. They joy in eating veggies is that you can a lot of them. But start adding dressing, and bread, and alcohol… whoo! That adds up fast!

I’m still fifty pounds overweight and not thrilled about it. I cheat on my diet, but just like sin, I’ll do penance at the shrine of the porcelain god later. 😉 I’ll admit it, vegan pizza sucks. I’ll sneak a piece of cheese (or two or three) and be in hog heaven (without the pork). If someone offers me a piece of their meat offerings, I don’t refuse. Although I’ll admit, meat doesn’t taste that good any more. It’s just blah.

I’d rather eat a carrot hot dog than a real one… you just have to marinate it for hours and then roast the hell out of it, but damn, it takes good! And that’s the real downside of unethical veganism – every dish takes SO MUCH LONGER to make. You want to substitute eggs in your recipe; sure, flax eggs… but now you’ve added another minute. Chili? Sure, make sure you soak your dried beans OVERNIGHT! You want pasta-less vegetarian lasagna? A) You just added five syllables to what you eat. B) You have to salt and slice eggplant for an hour.

That’s why it’s so easy to be vegan and eat bad. Rice takes 15 minutes to cook, bread and breakfast cereal is available NOW. Carrots and celery are ready now, but they make your tummy feel weird, so why not add peanut butter?! (sigh) The Battle of the Bulge is real, my friends, but just like being friends with vegans, you already knew that.

But tell me, do you like any vegan dishes? Do you secretly find joy in veggie lasagna? Tell me in the comments section below!

Attention Deficit, Vigilance Surplus

18 Jul

Imagine you’re a caveman – you’re walking through a forest trying to hunt or gather food. A forest is only peaceful if you leave a noisy world: there are lots of sounds, images, colors that can be detected. Being able to notice all those stimuli can make the difference to survive. Today, when survival is more assured, and the number of stimuli is multiplied exponentially, those same skills make success more difficult. This is what it means to be ADD.

The term is “attention deficit disorder,” but the reality is quite different. It’s not that you don’t pay attention–it’s that you pay attention to EVERYTHING. What I’ve learned over the last couple of years is that for most people, people are able to mentally filter out all the distractions of the modern world. People don’t notice the music playing in the cafe, the lawn mower down the street, the birds chirping in your neighbor’s tree. That’s background noise to you. To me, the music in a restaurant is ALWAYS too loud, landscaping day at my complex (Wednesday) is a horror, and groups of more than five people are to be avoided. In order to keep yourself sane, you have to block out everything, because you can’t help noticing everything.

When I was growing up, ADD wasn’t a thing. You were “hyper,” “distracted,” or often, “just a boy.” My school counselor told me, “You’re like a car with both feet on the gas and the brake pedals. When you learn to let off the brake, you’ll do amazing!” This was in junior high! I didn’t know why I couldn’t focus on things, why I got bored so easily… it was just my life.

It was only when my children were diagnosed that I finally started understanding why I do what I do and what I can do about it. Apparently, there is more than one type of ADD, and the regular prescriptions (taking speed to push you over the edge and calm down) don’t work on me. I’ve learned to take a cocktail of supplements which are much cheaper; 5-HTP, Omega-3, and GABA are the most effective… along with a couple minor ones.

However, there are a lot of advantages. I can focus really hard on a project to the exclusion of all else (once I get going on it). I can notice little details that most people miss. I can work really hard on something and then drop it if priorities require me to be somewhere else. I can listen better because I notice all the signals that people are sending. But most of my life does not require my superpowers.

Most of the time, I cope. I learned to carry headphones to block out noise in restaurants; I don’t have to plug them in, just muffle the sound to my ears a little bit. When I want to write, I pump up the trance/EDM music because it overwhelms all other stimulus and allows me to focus on typing. (I never listen it otherwise.) I seek out a lot more alone time than most people because dealing with other people is exhausting.

Does that sound familiar? Or do you live with someone with ADD? Tell me your experience in the comments below!

East of (the) Superstitions

17 Jul

If you’re driving one of the most lonely parts of scenery in Arizona, you might as well take some pictures. The road from Globe to Payson runs east of the Superstition Mountains and past a whole lotta nothing… except for a lake. And wildfires. And a thunderstorm.

I realized that I hadn’t finished my roadtrip story from last weekend, so I might as well finish it off. After being rather disappointed with… almost everything closed in Globe, I decided not to dwell on it and drive up to Payson, where I knew something would be open. Along the way was a whole lotta nothing. Beautiful nothing, but nothing none the less. 🙂

It took about an hour and a half to drive from the mining town to the Rim Country. I knew I would pass by Lake Roosevelt, without which, there would be no Phoenix today. But what I didn’t expect was the Tonto National Monument.

Quick history lesson: About seven to eight hundred years ago, there was a vibrant native civilization that existed in Arizona. The Hohokams occupied what today is Phoenix and about five other nations existed in relative harmony. Then about 1500, they left; climate change, exhausting natural resources (trees), no one really knows for sure. This was about the same time mound builders out east also disappeared. From these tribes came the modern native tribes that exist today.

Well, there are several cliff dwellings around Arizona, including as I learned, west of Lake Roosevelt. (Named after Teddy, who visited its dedication after he left being president.) So I pulled into Tonto National Monument, but didn’t feel like hiking up from the parking lot in 113 degree heat to see them first hand. That’s not why I was there… although the cute forest ranger in the mask did make it tempting.

So I took some pictures and left. Then I drove past lots of burned out scrub land. The wildfires this year really ripped through the part of the national forest (yes, the forest is cactus, but technically…). I even saw the fire–which is hard to make out from the pictures–but there was a whole lotta char.

After passing many signs thanking the firefighters, I got hit in a thunderstorm just south of Payson. Now this might not sound that exciting for anyone outside the Southwest, but it hasn’t rained in Phoenix since April. Let me repeat that… four months! So to suddenly have to slow down in pelting rain (that was hitting a brush fire, mind you) was pretty amazing.

Finally got into Payson, found the open bar I was looking for (this is a pic of their back parking lot), smoked my pipe (tobacco), and had a drink. I’m not going to mention which one because it’s technically illegal to be open due to the governor’s executive order… and it’s technically not, because it’s a restaurant and… other reasons. Being in a legal gray zone, which is where I love to be, I went in and enjoyed myself.

Then I drove back home down a really gorgeous highway which had more of purple’s mountain majesty that I didn’t bother to take a picture of (because it looked kinda the same as what I already showed you), because I’ve been on this particular stretch . The back of Four Peaks (the biggest mountain you can see from the Phoenix East Valley) was completely burned. It was great to get out of the house and enjoy seeing parts of the state I live in.

What kind of things have surprised you on a roadtrip? Tell me in the comments section below!

Peace, Power, Righteousness

16 Jul

Let me be pretentious a moment. Reading about the Haudenosaunee Kaienerekowa (Iroquois Constitution) made me realize two things. One, the US Constitution was NOT based on it; and two, it’s a really good system! The ideals of power, peace, and righteousness are a great way to think about fixing democracy today.

Now why am I studying this? When your wife is a religious scholar, the strangest books appear in your house, and she moved into colonialism and its aftereffects. Normally this would give me a giant yawn — “Oh Lord, not another hippie dippie political tract.” But the missus insisted that I might like this one book called Heeding the Voices of Our Ancestors by Gerald Alfred. (He goes by his Mohawk name now, and is a lot more activisty, but this was his dissertation at Cornell.) It’s short, so I decided to try it. Suddenly, I’m now reading about the political conflict of First Nations with the Canadian government and the nature of the Iroquois Constitution. This scratched me where I itched because history and politics are my bailiwick.

Since he’s explaining the rise of Mohawk nationalism on this particular reserve south of Montreal, he has to summarize the Iroquois Constitution (and forgive me if I’m missing the salient points), which was designed to balance all the political factions, more specifically, the tribes and gender. They ensured that each tribe and clan had representation, women exclusively voted for their representatives, which were exclusively men. Now here’s the point I found interesting. They did not try to achieve majority… they tried to reach consensus.

They used oratory to convince the different chiefs of their opinion. I’m guessing this might have taken a lot longer, but hell, I don’t see majority rule being any shorter. They had to achieve consensus before they made their move. This is why they stayed neutral during the French and Indian Wars, and when the Mohawk decided to attack the French on their own, they got cut off from Iroquois support.

Now it doesn’t sound perfect, but to quote James Madison, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” The idea of reaching consensus, of forcing compromise between two diametrically opposed points of view, would give power to the moderates, and things would actually get done in government! That’s a really exciting idea.

So how do you implement it? As Mohawk activists are quick to point out, you don’t get peace and righteousness without power. If you don’t have the idea to enforce consensus (like the joke about fascist libertarianism, “You WILL be free!”), then you go nowhere. So the first step in changing the culture is having politicians willing to make compromise. There’s a reason why they don’t, but if you’re in a safe district, you don’t have to risk your job to try.

And would that be worse than what we got? What you do think? Put your comments below!

Friending, Following, and Feelings

15 Jul

Stranger Danger! “Why are you following me?!” “I don’t know you!” As I’ve been reaching out more in social media, I’ve been reaching out to a lot of folks I don’t know personally or never met. I look at a lot of profiles, get some messages back, and I’m sensing that it’s a reflection of how you react to strangers in real life.

Women: “You’re trying to hit on me, you perv!” Yeah, ladies, you’ve got reasons to be concerned, I know. As I’ve gotten older, I realize that flirting with a woman who lives a thousand miles from me has very limited value, so if I reach out to you, it’s not because I want to send you a dick pic. Of course, I’ve also been married for 15 years, so I’m less likely to be, “God, so she’s so hot!” I also realize that I’m a middle-aged, middle-income guy with an extra 50 pounds, so I’m not gonna bother trying to attracting the hot chick. Waste of my time.

Men: Less concerned about strangers, but also less likely to friend you back. We’ve got a specific agenda, and if your profile doesn’t fit that agenda, men might follow you back… they might not… depends.

Twitter: Much friendlier to expanding, but also, we expect a lot less from the ones we follow. There’s only so many characters to express your opinion, and provides nice bite-sized forms of entertainment. So since there’s less at risk, there’s less worry to follow back.

Facebook: Longer form, so now there’s more concern. However, still pretty friendly to reaching out. Less expectation of entertainment, more cute pics of your kids, pets, food, et al. Maybe follow a link, but usually not. A lot more political minefields to run through.

LinkedIn: This is your virtual resume, but a lot of people (including myself) post stuff socially. I feel like it’s harder to expand your connections, because the stakes are so much higher there (after all, this could mean the difference between getting another job or not). Thankfully, since I was a consultant for six years, I already had a pretty amazing Rolodex (when was the last time you saw those?), so I’ve got a bigger audience. On the other hand, people are less likely to check out links because it takes more effort to follow the feed.

GoodReads: Yes, this is social media, but not a lot of traffic. Second hardest to get friends, and precious little benefit from it. But you never know – my fellow readers are the ones who I want to cultivate. However, it’s not your first destination on the social media stage, so I can understand you might not see my friend request for a… week?

WordPress: Hardest to get followers, but damn, once you do… they are dedicated. After all, these are people who like to blog, so they like to read blogs, too. So do I! 🙂 Since this is my goal to get people to read my writing, I value these followers most of all.

In my opinion, if 70% of communication is non-verbal, then to suddenly be limited to the 30% would make anyone unsettled. Therefore you’re less likely to reach out to strangers. Does this reflect your experience? Tell me your experience in the comments section below!

Rocky Road to Globe

14 Jul

With the missus and chillins out of the house, it was time to get out and explore Arizona. Except… there was no where to go and no one to see. So when in doubt, choose somewhere you’ve never been. So I got in the car and started driving east… right through God’s own Lego pile.

When you live in the Valley of the Sun, you tend to forget the most important thing… you’re in a valley. So to get out of it, you have to cross a mountain at some point. In this case, the Superstition Mountains bar the way east to Globe, Arizona, which is the mining capital of Eastern Arizona.

To those of you not from the great southwest, in Arizona History, they teach the Five C’s: Copper, Cattle, Cotton, Citrus and Climate. Guess what, this is where they strip mine copper, out in the middle of the mountains. In exchange, I got to drive through some of the most beautiful valleys I’ve seen in this desert!

So it takes an hour and a half, I managed to follow Route 60 all the way to Globe, which is part of the “Tri-Cities…” which is really just one big mining town after another. The strip mining I saw was one of five different mines I saw there. A lot of driving up and down along the way. The place I was hoping to visit was closed (no real surprise), but I was hungry, and I kept looking for a restaurant.

Now before I go on, let me explain. In Arizona, we’re still allowed to eat inside the restaurant, allowing for 50% capacity. However, each municipality gets to set its own restrictions. Apparently, Globe being a mining town is very… (ahem) union-majority. So no dining-in was available. Therefore I ate a very disappointing Taco Bell (is there any other kind?) meal followed by lots of peanuts.

However, there turned out to be hidden gems in Globe. For example, there was a city park which had an ancient village with a museum (both closed) called Besh Ba Gowah. From what I could see of it, it looked pretty sweet. Probably dates back five to seven hundred years, but I didn’t look it up.

Also, the city park (empty – because it was 113 degrees outside!) was really beautiful. You could see all the mountains I passed through to get there. Anyway, I had to make a choice at that point. Either go back the way I came, or take the road east of the Superstitions to Payson, where I knew I would find my goal. So I decided to go to Payson… but that will wait for another post.

Where have you gone on a whim? Tell me about it in the comments below!

Plot Bunnies Aren’t Much Fun

13 Jul

There is a strange inverse ratio–the more responsibilities I do, the more I get inspired to do my creative projects. In the middle of getting a class together, I can suddenly realize, “Oh! Fatebane can realize that Nazar has been the traitor all along!” Meanwhile, there’s a video that needs to get done, and a presentation that needs to be done tomorrow. What to do?!

Of course, I can do nothing about it, and because of that the idea festers in my brain… until I realize it was a stupid idea, or I write it down somewhere. The term for this I learned from NaNoWriMo is “plot bunnies.” Those plot ideas that sit in your head, and if you don’t let them out, they start multiplying, until you can think about nothing else. The best thing to do is to write it down and forget it, so you can come back to a later. Much like Google searches; you’ll be watching a film and suddenly think, “What was the Battle of Ashdown?” (Don’t worry, I did the work for you – click the link.)

This could just be procrastination on a grand scale, but I have the best ideas when I have no time to explore them. You would think when I’m bored, my mind would be desperately trying to come up with a story to entertain me, but no, I’m least likely to write when I have nothing else to do.

At present, I have a my regular job which has two projects I’m balancing between. My wife needs my input with the mortgage refi, the kids occasionally need my attention about Hamilton, the new version of DuckTales (Whoo-oo!) and insert current obsession here. Then comes my extra-curriculars: there’s my D&D campaign on Monday nights, the fan club newsletter that I’m responsible for that’s now two weeks past the drop-dead date for submissions, the unpublished book I’m trying to edit for my new press, expanding my exposure in social media, and then my current novel (20,000 words and climbing, yeah!).

Seriously?

Something’s got to give, right? Thankfully, I’m running a published adventure in D&D, so I don’t have to worry about that until I’m running it. “I promise, I’ll work on the newsletter tomorrow!” I tell myself. I haven’t started it yet. Ick. I haven’t touched my finished novel since last week, and thankfully, my social media expansion only takes between 30-60 minutes a day. But the new novel? The one I can’t stand? Never better… I’m also back on target word count!”

Of course, that’s not counting writing this blog… which I do to get me in the mood for writing my novel. So what do you think? Do you have the same inverse problem or does any work get in the way of sitting down and writing? Put your issues in the comments below!

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