Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Year of the Teeth-Clenched Learning Experience

"Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes."  --Oscar Wilde

As much as I enjoy bucking tradition, there really is no better time than the year's end to look back and see how things have gone.  Looking back on this year, there's really only one way to sum it up:

2014 was fucking awful.

Dead serious here.  The year's high points were DragonCon with friends and Christmas with family.  That's pretty much it.  As for my writing, much as I'd love to say "the less said the better" and cut this entry short, I think it needs more than that.

I started querying THE ACCIDENTAL WARLOCK earlier this year, and received more silence than rejections.  I'm no stranger to rejections, I know none of us are.  One does not simply get published without getting rejected.  But I believed in this book.  I wanted nothing more than to start my career with this book.  Hearing back nothing got to me more than rejection; a rejection at least means I know the agent considered it before saying no.  Hearing nothing means they could have just deleted the e-mail unread.  And somehow, that's worse.

Then, as I've talked about, I decided to set TAW aside.  Realizing that the book had no real antagonist came as an unpleasant surprise, the sort of thing I should have seen when I was plotting.  Isn't all the time I spend plotting meant to catch problems like that?  I set the book aside, I didn't want to go back to it after some time, and . . . and the whole thing ended up feeling like a huge failure on my part.

I try not to feel that way.  I really do.  But seeing TAW go the way of every single other book I've written hit me hard.

It should be a brighter note that I wrote two books this year.  It would be, if they were worth reading.  The first one I wrote in a few weeks, despite knowing that for me, trying to write quickly results in crap.  Yes, 70K words in 16 days is a hell of a thing.  But as soon as it was done, I hated it.  It wasn't anything like what I wanted it to be, and what gets me the most is that I knew it wasn't ready when I started it.  But I had taken time off for a writing vacation, and it was the only plot I had that was even close to being ready.

The second book went a bit better.  The end result wasn't what I wanted, but the only way I could have realized what I truly want the world and its stories to be was for me to write the ridiculously over-the-top story that I did.  I'm slowly taking down notes for another story in this world, and assuming I get to it someday, I'm hoping it'll go better.

My bitter ranting aside, I'd like to think of what happened with that last book as a metaphor for this whole year.  Nothing turned out the way I wanted it to.  But even in mistakes and failure, I honestly do think I'm getting better at this writing thing.  I'm not good enough yet, but there's hope.  And there's no way I can stop.

So here I sit, teeth grinding together, as I consider this whole year one giant learning experience.

Next entry: IWSG for the new year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


I don't usually share this much of something I'm still working on, but I like how this bit turned out.  ^_^  In trying to work on the project that seems set on me not figuring it out, I took some advice from a few commenters and tried a different approach.  Instead of trying to hash out the world and characters from scratch, as per usual, I wrote up a sort of myth that describes how the world came to be.

As I said, this isn't the sort of thing I'd usually share, and it's damn sure not something I'd try to publish.  But since I might not have even tried this without advice from y'all, posting it seemed like a decent idea.  Here goes:

The dream god knew that he had failed, and could not bear the thought.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.  The mortals weren’t supposed to know about him.  He stood above and beyond them, and showed them what they needed to see, whether they knew it or not.  Whether they learned from their sleeping visions was not his to know, for he was only to make the dreams, not watch the dreamers.

Such was his failure, one single slip.

He floated within the starry infinity at the heart of his home, the place that was him.  The endless churning visuals of his work swirled around him, thousands of bits of sight and sound and scent and feeling – no, he thought, and darkness fell around him as all the seeds of dreams disappeared at once.  Not feeling.  Not truly.

The dreams weren’t supposed to be true.  Real, but not true.  The truth of dreams came from the dreamers.  He showed what they needed to know, but finding that meaning was up to them.  He’d known that his entire existence.  Such was his role in all that existed.

The dreamers were never to know he was there.  But one had.  One single mortal looked up at him when he held the dreams to her sleeping mind, and asked him who he was.

He wasn’t supposed to be true.  Not to them.  The dreams were real, but he was meant to be less than legend.  But she looked him in the eye and asked who he was.

And he lied.

It seemed such a simple folly, to act as though he was part of her dream.  He cast himself in red and black, to hide the face she never would have known.  The dream he made for her was a simple one, a journey with one ending, to show the path she ought to take.  He’d cast it only for her.

All the dreams were so personal.  And yet he never knew how the dreamers saw them.  Surely one time wouldn’t hurt.

So together, they walked the path he’d prepared.  He knew every twist, every turn, every hazard and safety.  And he let her lead, as though he walked as blindly as she.  He let himself watch her wonder, he saw the dream as she did, he learned to question the warped ways and see how it made sense if you discovered how the dream was meant to be seen.

Such joy in a simple thing.  She saw what she was supposed to see, when the path reached its inevitable end.  That moment of understanding, the smile on her face and the glow of her soul. . . .

He’d never known.  Deep within, the dream god knew he was never supposed to.  She embraced him like an old friend, and thanked him for coming with her, swore she was dreaming and hoped to remember him when she awakened.

Then she was gone.

And now, hanging there in the void, the dream god knew longing and desire, as he had never before.  As he never should have.  He was not to dwell with those who slept, only to make their dreams.  She should have been just another dreamer.  Just another mortal.

But the pain hanging heavy within him, the strange new sense of loneliness, was beyond him to ignore.  All he wanted was to walk with her again.

The dream god thought of raising one hand before himself, but did not move, and clouds full of pictures floated into place through the stars, swirling around where his hand would have been.  The girl was there again, in the myriad images, standing atop something that moved beneath her.  She was unsteady, but the gleam in her eyes showed her eagerness to see where the journey took her.

A meaningless dream.  He could do better for her.  He could teach her, walk with her every night, until--


This was not him.  This was not who he was supposed to be.  This anguish, this yearning for another, was not his way.

He’d made himself an archetype, there in her dream, to hide his true nature, even though she never would have recognized it.  The colors and shapes of mortal legends worked well enough then, but they suited him no more.

They could not suit him ever again.

He’d cast himself as a devil in her dreams.  To never think of her again, he must cast this devil out of himself.

A dream for the dream god, he thought as he raised his hands, and new images blossomed to life among his fingers.  A place for part of himself to sleep until it faded away, to be forgotten like any other dream.

The place came together in a clashing of concepts, rattling around between the dream god’s palms.  A world bound by the void at its borders, a dark purple nothingness full of stars, so the devil within him would think it was still home.  Bind those borders in rose vines covered with thorns, to warn away any passing glance with the promise of pain.

For the prison itself, a place of buildings that moved of their own volition, full of paths that led never to the same place twice.  People as well, the soulless flitting semblances that populated every dream, with just enough thought and conversation to fool others into thinking them real.

All to ensure the devil within him, the part that yearned to walk the ways of dreams with a mortal once more, would be satisfied.  If it ever escaped.  Because like all dreams, there had to be a way out, a way to awaken.

Three secrets for the world, then, three hidden places and three coffins buried deep in the dream’s depths, three words to end it all if ever he needed this piece of himself again.

He carved the words into the world’s three hidden places, and made himself forget them.

With the prison complete, the dream god held it before himself and stared within, casting a critical eye upon his work.  It would hold.  Dreamers would be drawn to it of their own accord, unavoidable with a dream this powerful, but they would leave when they awoke.

It would bind the part of him that he wanted bound.  And now only that binding remained.

The dream god called up the image of himself dressed as his own devil, the seeming he wore to speak with the girl.  It wore what would have been his face, had he been mortal, but nothing else of himself.  It was all color and flesh and a smirk horribly out of place, as though that part of himself knew something he did not.  The dream god scowled, crags of his face growing shadows deep enough to swallow the surrounding stars, and ordered the devil into its prison.

And because the devil was part of himself, the dream god too swept through the binding vines and across the prison’s halls, and felt the walls of the coffin he created solidify around him.

Even as their creator, he was bound by the logic of dreams.

Calm returned to him, and peace.  He felt the devil that was once within him raging at its imprisonment, pounding on the inside of its own coffin lid and screaming to be released.

It felt.  He did not.  And so his design was a success.

In time, the devil’s struggles would cease.  It would forget why it had been bound.  It would forget who had created it, and why it came to exist.  It would forget how to feel, and thus become worthy of being part of him again.  And on that day, he would emerge from his coffin, and open the second one, to accept the other part of himself as healed and become whole again.

A faint laugh, low and devious and unfamiliar, shook the binds of the third coffin.

Something else lived in the dream now, something the dream god had not placed.  Knowledge of its presence cast shards of realization through his mind, and the dream god knew he had not completely banished the devil from himself.

For he could still feel.  And at that moment, he knew fear.

Why, the dream god wondered, had he created a third coffin?

Hope you enjoyed it.  No blog entry next week due to Christmas and all that goes with it.  ^_^  Be back on the 31st.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

On the Night Shift.

There are times when I miss being unemployed.

Don't get me wrong: my job's not horrible.  I make plenty of money, my co-workers aren't bad, and my boss has made it clear she'll be borderline traumatized when I eventually give notice.  ^_^  Hell, because of how long I've been there and how much I know, my former supervisor told me I wasn't allowed to quit - she said the place was a black hole and it would never let me go.

I told her I keep universes in my head, so a black hole was nothing to fear.  But I digress.

What I miss about being unemployed is being able to stay up as late as I want and not have to worry about when I get out of bed the next day.  Because, frantic scribbling of story notes while at work aside, I'm more creative at night.

I've been like this as far back as I can remember.  Way back when I was pecking out really bad stories on a DOS computer with 3 megahertz and an amber monitor, it was always in the evening and at night, as that was the only time I could have the computer to myself.  I kept at this habit all through high school and college (though thankfully I got my own computer as a high school graduation present), and it's continued to this day.

Which makes it really annoying to have to stop writing and plotting by 9:30 PM so I can get to bed and get up for work the next day.

I know I'm capable of working during the day.  When I'm editing a book, I'll often do two sessions on weekends, one day and one night.  If I'm at home on the weekend and I have a plot idea, I'm writing it down, no matter what time of day it is.  Sometimes I get really inspired and do full plotting sessions on weekend days, even weekend mornings.  Nothing quite like getting out of bed with an idea.

My writing during the day is less great, as most books I've written that I actually liked were done completely in the darker hours.  But I have no trouble with editing or plotting during the day and writing at night.  That sounds really damn good, actually.

I tell myself that, someday, I'll be able to go back to those days when I could stay up late and wake up around 10:00 the next day.  Because in theory, someday I'll be doing this as a full-time job.  I'll have deadlines, sure, but I'll still have the same number of hours in a day, I'll just spend more of them up late at night.  And my (equally theoretical) agent and publisher will get used to getting e-mails from me at four in the morning their time.  I do hope they're not awake to get them, because damn, keeping eccentric hours should be the job of the actual eccentric.  ^_^

So, what about the rest of you?  When are you the most creative, or when do you feel you do the best work?  If you have a particular time, how did you figure it out?  And does anyone else ever miss being unemployed because of all this?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

IWSG: With Apologies to Kenny Rogers.

I was raised on country music, thanks to my mom, and some of my earliest memories involve car rides with that music playing.  I remember Kenny Rogers's "The Gambler" very well, as even then, I understood what the song meant.  As much as I could at four years old.

How does this relate to writing?  Oddly enough. . . .

For all that I exulted two weeks ago about how well one of my plots was going, when I was nearly done with the thing, I found myself reluctant to work on it.  While I'd gone through most of the book in a reasonable amount of detail, the entire third act was two short paragraphs, and something about it didn't feel right.

It should have been working, I knew that.  The story is one I want to tell.  I've had a great deal of fun plotting this thing and figuring out how to make it all work.  And I was so certain that the scene that made up the first half of the third act would be absolutely brilliant, hilarious and action-packed and heartwarming all at once.  No matter what, I wanted to hold onto that scene; it was one of the first I'd come up with when plotting the book, ever since I first knew the story featured intrigue and blackmail and airships.  Yet despite knowing where the story was going, I felt like I was hitting a wall whenever I tried to think on those three important words: "What happens next?"

As I'm sure some of you have guessed by now, that should-be-awesome scene was the problem.

Part of the problem with writing is that things change along the way.  What should be the story's Crowning Moment of Awesome may become the last triumphant moment the heroes have before everything goes wrong.  That minor character who only existed to help with some world-building might stand up to become a main character as they're being written.  Someone who's supposed to live through the book might decide to stab a dragon in the back.  Things like that.

Far too often, the solution is to cut something you really wanted to keep - to fold, so to speak.  And sometimes that's enough to make you want to walk away.

I was fortunate enough to figure out something that works a great deal better.  But it never would have happened if I hadn't taken the time to go over what I had in mind and recognize that the problem was a scene that I thought had to be part of the story.  No matter how much I wanted to, I couldn't hold onto it.

In the end, though, the story will be better for it.  The story feels right without it.  And that's what matters most.  Here's hoping that, whenever I actually write this, the gamble pays off.