Stories The Brain Tells Itself

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dreamsI’m a happily married guy with a family and a new puppy. My wife is my soul-mate, the love of my life, my anchor in life’s storm. She’s so cool I’m planning a novel based on her life, and after all our years together, I’m still eager to get home to see her each day, I still love working with her, and I still miss her when she’s off trotting the globe. So yeah, it’s like that.

But you know, I’m a guy, and over the years from time to time, I have occasionally dreamed of old girlfriends. I’m not talking tawdry sex scenes here, just rememberances. I don’t read too much into it. For years, I dreamed of childhood playmates. After my grandmother died, I dreamed I’d found a secret room in her house. I understand that dreams are a lot less about hidden meanings and a lot more about shifting and sorting while the brain is at rest.

So I had this dream about an old girlfriend, the great love of my early, lonely youth, the love that taught me the meaning of love, the love that was always going to end badly, the love that made me a man. In this dream, she was suitably older, happy, and it was nice to see her smile again and hear her voice. And in this dream, I met her current boyfriend, one of those invented, faceless extras which the sleeping brain fabricates on the spot. He was nice enough, a bit younger than me, and I showed him how to wire up an internet controller for the lawn sprinklers.

Yeah.

Freud can fold that one four ways and shove it where the moon don’t glow.

A Narcissism Test? Really?

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Some Facebook friends were recently discussing a video about how co-dependents “always” fall in love with narcissists, to which someone replied with a link to a video suggesting a sort of narcissism litmus test. The suggestion is that a narcissist cannot answer the question “What about yourself would you most like to change,” or experience a normal, human, empathic reaction to movies like Bladerunner and Good Will Hunting.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tW5rXvFXQxY

Now, I don’t know jack about codependency or narcissism, but after taking the Phillip K Dick lure, I was left thinking they might be on to something. If narcissism is what is described in these videos, and if codependents really need such a test, then they are suffering from some serious psychological brokeness.

My radar might must be calibrated a bit lower than others, but to me, long before you get to clinical narcissism, you pass through a whole deteriorating spectrum of self-absorption and delusion and personality nasties sufficient to set me running. I stopped dating a girl once because she wanted to coordinate the outfits we wore on our dates.

Instead, I married a girl who taught science not because she had no other choices but because she thought the world needed more girls who love science. She had joined the army reserves because she felt she needed to grow a spine. She was assigned to a medical clearing company and had just started school to become an army combat field medic when the busload of cheerleaders she was chaparoning came upon a car crash on a rural Louisiana highway.

She ran through the wreckage and found two survivors: a middle aged woman, pinned behind the wheel with trauma to the face and neck, and a teenage girl, presumably her daughter, laying across the far lane in a smatter of blood-soaked brain matter.  An ambulance appeared, but the drivers were not paramedics, just drivers paid by the nearest town and trained in basic first aid. They ran over with a stretcher and started trying to revive the girl as if she had been pulled from the local swimming hole, not hurled fifty feet onto concrete with blown pupils and a crushed skull and a heart too stunned  to quite know to lay still.

The first thing every combat field medic learns is triage, the art of sorting out the doomed so the living might be saved. So she explained that and had them free the mother, reminding them how to protect her spinal cord. By now the woman’s throat was swelling shut, so she walked them through the second thing she had learned, an emergency tracheotomy. Then, when they had the poor woman stable and ready to transport, she told them the third thing she had learned: when a woman on the precipice of death opens her eyes and asks after the daughter already cooling in the morning sun, you lie.

The ambulance pulled away. She walked back past the buses, sending the girls back to their seats before a car or a snake or God knew what could come along, and in the ditch behind the buses, threw up. Some of the others brought water with which to wash, a blanket behind which to change, and a giant T-shirt to replace her blood stained clothes. She wouldn’t board the bus in front of the girls until the shaking stopped.

Narcissim? Fuck that.

Blog Hop: #MyWritingProcess

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I don’t often do these blog hops because they quickly take on the character of a chain letter, however, Gibson Michaels was kind enough to tag me, so I’ll dip my toes in the pool. If you’ve been following #MyWritingProcess, you know that this one is four little questions about the process of writing, and they are pretty good questions:

#MyWritingProcess: What are you working on now?20140409 - ASI - WOTF - WRITERS WORKING ON 24 HOUR STORY _1MW3960
Stuart: EVERYTHING. Winning Writers of the Future sort of threw me for a loop, because now I have a book to promote and marketing and social things to attend to that I didn’t expect until a bit later.

Writing is a little like mountain climbing. You start with a little bouldering, find out what skills and tools you need to master, and then move on to more challenging terrain once you’re fit and ready. I’ve invested a lot in my craft–gone back to school even. With my skills list in mind, I hadn’t planned to return to serious work on novels for another year, but I’m adapting. Turns out, that’s on the list, too.

In the last six months, I’ve started a new novel based on my winning WotF story, built a new website, met and become active in new writing and social groups, and kept busy with signings and appearances. I’m also working on several shorts, am in a new anthology (Tides of Possibility) and am co-editing it’s sister fantasy anthology. Despite all this, I’m still reading and learning all I can.

#MyWritingProcess: How does your work differ from others in the genre?
Stuart: I’ve been praised for the creativity and sophistication of my stories. I’d like to think that’s valid, if only for the effort I put into research and story detail. I always say that even a short story has to take place in a logically coherent world–just don’t weigh down the pages with that world’s crust and beach sand.

I grew up on an airbase on the prairie in South Dakota. At night, you could see the spine of the Milky Way. You could watch satellites pass overhead and wink out as they crossed the terminator. In the morning we’d hike past ghost towns and gold rush relics to find dinosaur bones in the mountains. It was a place of remarkable contrasts, where ancient and modern, scientific and mythic all crashed together. I grew up thinking about the connections between those worlds, and that affects how I approach story craft.

I was heavily influenced by the golden age of scifi, by Heinlein and Clark and Asimov. I try to start from the character of that breathless time in mid-century, when the future seemed so clear, but with the textures of today’s culture folded in. It seems to me that man is forever poised between greatness and doom. It’s my job to dance along the precipice, muse at the echoes, and try to have some fun along the way.

 

#MyWritingProcess: Why do you write what you do?
Stuart: The little people in my head have to get out somehow. I mean, have you seen the points on their sticks?

Seriously, though, the first story I ever sold arose from a friend’s idle comment–a careless sentence so evocative and beautiful, all the literary neurons in my brain lit up. I kept thinking about it for months until first a character, then a conflict, then a concept evolved around it.

It’s been said that all writers are arrogant, that writing is an inherently arrogant act. I think I’d agree. I mean, if you aren’t writing because you think you have something to say that the world needs to hear, I don’t know why anyone would do it. It’s hard and it’s lonely, and not very profitable for most people. That’s not the question, of course, but it’s related. I write the stories I do because I think they need to be written. I make them the best stories I can, filled with humor and adventure and struggles to tug at the heart strings and soul. But when it comes down to it, I write the stories that emerge around me, like dinosaur bones washing out of a cliff face. You find something like that, and you want to dig it out and know it, to understand and share it–because you can, because you’re the one who stumbled on it.

So yeah, I’m a treasure hunter, and when I find something cool, I want to shine it up and share it before it’s lost forever. And then there are the we little STICKS! ;-)

 

#MyWritingProcess: How does your writing process work?
Stuart: There’s this box, see, and in the box are gears which I lubricate with fingers greasy from pop-corn eating , and inside the box is Lon Chaney’s brain and… no wait. Different process. Forget I said that.

Some people try to plan the work, some people try to wing it. I like to plan the work and then wing it. Each story begins with an idea, maybe just an image, maybe a scene or premise. I start writing what I have, and as I do, the characters and world take shape in remarkable detail–far more than I need to write down on the page. I focus on just the details needed to help  really envision that world or that character. Then, when I’ve got a good start, I go back and assemble whatever I have and make sense of it. I organize around an idea, and that suggests plot, and that suggests concept.

There’s a lot of cutting and taping and bleeding and chocolate. There is no chocolate. The concept and plot suggest more scenes and ideas and characters, and I go write those I’m most excited about, then the cycle repeats. Then I pull down the shelves and graph the story arcs and pacing across the walls. I don’t really do that. That would be crazy. Why are you looking at me that way? Often, the beginning and ending arise fairly early. Just as often, they change dramatically. It’s a very iterative process. I wish I could do it all much faster. I need to go paint my walls. Do you know how to get permanent marker off the rafters?

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So there you go. Writing makes you crazy. Or is a perquisite. The rule book is not clear on this.

If you are following the #MyWritingProcess hop, drop by to see fellow scifi author, Kyle Russell at holeinhell.blogspot.com, or go check out last week’s victim, http://www.gibsonmichaels.com

Doing It With Authority

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A writers group to which I belong recently got into a discussion of common “mistakes” that lead readers to bail from a work. I pointed out that it may be a mistake for those in the businessaad094e93c9593a4612cac7155fc568a even to attempt self-guidance in this reguard, as the things that drive writers and editors batty may not be the same things at all that typical readers care about.

For example, did you notice that I put even in the grammatically preferable position in the previous sentence? I rest my case.

Lists like this are invaluable, but it’s probably counterproductive to think of anything in writing very prescriptively. Novices (at anything) are apt to take such lists too much to heart, and the result can be crippling.

Dave Wolverton talks about “writing with authority,” writing in which the author’s intelligence, command of the language, and intent are immediately clear. I think I know what he means, and if you read very much, you probably do to–or you will now that you’re looking for it. It’s that intangible something so often missing from otherwise fine stories up for critique, invariably present in the Hugo and Nebula winners, and which is often enough to justify my patience with whatever pet peeves a particular work may violate.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s “dark and stormy night” is universally derided in the business today, yet it pleased enough readers that we’ve all heard it. Dachiell Hammet founded an entire genre on static character description and copious repetition. Games of Thrones has a prologue.

Whether you are a writer or not, in the end, you must choose what kind of artist you are and what kind of work you are aiming for. The best advice I can give is, learn from the very best.

ApolloCon X

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I just got back from ApolloCon where I made some friends, learned a few things, and surprised local Wrbarbarianiter’s of the Future finalist DL Young with some swag.

This nice barbarian let me take his picture, but the mean evil Star Fleet officers beamed up from the other end of the conference center before I could catch up to them.

One of the highlights was a talk by David Gerrold, one of the original Star Trek writers who gave us “The Trouble With Tribbles” and more recently, The Martian Child.

Gerrold says he loved and respected Gene Roddenberry, a man “loved by everyone who never worked for him.” He said Gene had a knack for assembling just the right team of just the right talent–and then not listening to any of them. He “could always take a crappy story and make it into a good script, but could also take a great story and turn it into a good script.”

He said the fans probably shouldn’t have blamed the network for the show’s cancellation. “They knew Star Trek was bringing in a demographic they wanted to reach, they were just sick of dealing with Gene.” It didn’t help that by the third season, Gene was working on other projects and brought in Fred Freiberger to produce the show. Gerrold said the first words Freiberger ever said to him were “I screened Trouble with Tribbles this morning. I didn’t like it. Star Trek is not a comedy.” It’s worth noting that others have stated that Freiberger did everything possible to boost the show but that, as Nichelle Nichols puts it, “Star Trek was in a disintegrating orbit before Fred came aboard.” Still, he was wrong about the tribbles. The through-line of humor, respect, and idealism, is what made the show (TWT missed winning the Hugo that year by three votes, it lost to Harlan Ellison’s script for the Star Trek episode, “City on the Edge of Forever”).

For Star Trek, Gerrold said, he bigger problem was Gene’s lawyer, “an evil man who enjoyed hurting people,” and he said the man (Leonard Malzish) had said as much in his presence. I won’t repeat some of what Gerrold asserted about Malzish, but he said it’s funny that even when Gene and Majel were having financial troubles “the lawyer never was”. It’s a fact that, near the end of Gene’s life, Malzish was banned from the Paramount studio where Star Trek TNG was being filmed.

By that time, Gene’s health was in decline and Gerrold had quit the show. Malzish, he said, “was afraid others were trying to take control away from Gene, so what he was doing was undermining everybody that might be a threat. But I wasn’t trying to take anything away from Gene,” Gerrold told us, “I was trying to win him that Emmy he so deserved (and never got).”

It’s all a bit sad. Ironic too, because Gene had supposedly brought in William Shatner to captain the Enterprise because Jeff Hunter (who played Pike in the original, un-aired pilot) had an overbearing wife who annoyed people on the set. The meek may inherit the earth, but it apparently takes ego to get things done. On the bright side, it was fan uproar over Star Trek’s cancellation that helped give rise to the modern era of cons and fandom and the ready market for the franchise and it’s extended legacy, so you just never know how things will turn out.

Gerrold didn’t just talk about Star Trek. He said that as writers, our jobs are to shake things up. “I realize that some of you here may be offended by some of my remarks,” he said, “and if that’s the case, let me say, good!” He also said the caliber of scifi being written today is astounding, that “scifi is becoming not just a genre but literature.” For that alone, I went up and shook his hand. As a new writer and current Writers of the Future winner, I told him that if that’s true, its because the bar has been set very high.

I Love People Who Love Reading

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Okay, this isn’t a real blog post. I just copied this from Levar Burton, because it’s just THAT AWESOME. Seth McFarlane is kicking in a cool mill in matching money to help Reading Rainbow. I manned up with my (mumbled into sleeve) dollars. Have you done your part yet? You have? Yeah? Well I donated BLOOD yesterday, so…yeah.

Project Update #22: MORE BIG NEWS! Kickstarter’s Most Successful Projects (Pebble, OUYA, Pono & Veronica Mars) Are Here to Help!

Kickstarters!

LeVar again. It’s Friday, June 27, and we’ve now got just four days left in this campaign. But the response to Seth’s $1,000,000 matching offer has been incredible.

Hundreds of you have written and commented to tell us that you’re increasing — even doubling — your pledges to take advantage of the matching. That means everything to us, and I hope you’ll be proud of what we accomplish together.

And guess what: this afternoon, I’ve got even more amazing news.

With the renewed momentum, we are now one of the TOP 5 Kickstarter Projects of All Time:

That alone would have been incredible news, but the real news is even better. 

This afternoon, the teams behind every other Kickstarter in the Top 5 – Pebble, OUYA, Pono and Veronica Mars – are all stepping up to help us go even farther. Every single one of them.

 

Encouragement

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I got a letter yesterday from Tim Powers, the man who wrote “On Stranger Tides,” who’s sold options to Disney, who in his youth, used to chauffeur Phillip K Dick around Southern California.Issue03_powers_241x303

I had posted him a note, so he posted me back, just a little line of encouragement.

Deep down inside, I must be a Lutheran. You know, the deep-in-the-pores, Lake Wobegon sort who knows the world is nothing but other shoes just waiting to fall. I can’t tell you why I write – you probably wouldn’t want to know – but it isn’t for money or fame. I’m not that naïve. And so for the first part of my journey, I could tell myself it was just a hobby, like sight-reading chords in Chopin’s preludes or puttering around with the house’s plumbing. Then I win Writers of the Future. I meet all these souls who have dreams a lot like mine, some of whom are just starting out, some of whom have trudged the trenches and written the guidebooks.

And that’s what it’s all about, really. When Tim Powers tells you you can do it, that he’s pulling for you, that he looks forward to being able to brag on having taught you, what can you say?

Yes sir, Mr. Powers…Tim…I’m on it.