“In Memory of Jianhong, Snake-Devil”

I’ve been dropping annoyingly vague hints here and there, but now it’s all out in the open—I’ve apparently started a new fantasy series. I didn’t really plan to do it and I certainly didn’t think I was ready, but then I’m not always in charge. I know writers who strongly disagree with that perspective. “I’m in charge and my characters do what I say.” And that’s often true even with me, as in sometimes I am and sometimes they do. But for me it usually works out better when the characters do what they want and I just follow closely and mark it all down, then cut out the bit where they stared at the horizon for an hour just for the hell of it and add the bit where one of them tripped and fell into the icy stream. Just for the hell of it. Or maybe because they deserved it…ahem. Where was I?

Right, the new series. The first one, “In Memory of Jianhong, Snake-Devil” is now up in Beneath Ceaseless Skies #226. I’ve already written and sold the second one and started blocking scenes for the third. As I said, after Yamada I wanted to do some stand-alone stories, since some of my favorites of my own work have been books or stories with no befores or afters, except what was implied in the story itself. I once attempted a few befores and afters in the case of Jin from All the Gates of Hell, because I liked the character so much, but none of them worked out. She was done, and thus so was I.

Pan Bao and Jing were different. I’ve had them in my head for a while, wondering what they were about. I first had him pictured as a bumbling Taoist priest kept successful (and alive) by his far more competent daughter, and there are still echoes of that, but the man himself turned out to be quite different. Then Mei Li showed up, and well, that was that. So it’s a series. I hope you like it. If you don’t I’ll write it anyway.

It’s not like I’m in charge.

Waiting

Waiting again. This time for the furnace technician. The same boiler that serves our radiators also feeds the hot water heater, of which at the moment we have none (hot water, that is). So. Waiting. I should be better at it by now. In this avocation you certainly get a lot of practice.

The advice everyone hears, once a piece of writing has been submitted, is: Don’t Wait! Write! It’s good advice so far as it goes. For one thing, it keeps you doing what you should be doing anyway. For another, there’s a good chance you’ll have a finished piece ready to submit elsewhere before the first one sells or comes flying back (Figuratively, as almost no one does that now. It was a paper thing.) Never having to pin all your hopes on just one possibility, which may (likely will) disappoint you. Doing your work, also a coping mechanism for waiting.

But you wait anyway, despite all the defenses and deflections and denials. There’s that one market you really, really want to crack before you die. There’s a special piece that you just know is the best thing you’ve ever done and you want it Out There! Rather than sitting in some editor’s queue. And if it gets bought, then you’re waiting again, until it’s actually out there, which means there are lead times and what’s bought in March doesn’t get published until October, if you’re lucky. For books it’s even longer as a rule. Before you even get to that point there are edits to get through, and then you’re waiting (again) for editorial approval of the changes, or more corrections and the process starts again…. Then there’s the gap between buying and the check arriving, and don’t get me started on that.

Waiting.

I seem to be living in reverse. When I was younger, I had more patience. I find it’s a scarcer commodity as time marches on. Too conscious of the passage of time, too aware that the time to get things done and find whatever it is you’re trying to find in your work, in yourself, is very finite. Any time spent waiting feels like wasted time, even when you’re not just waiting, you’re also waiting. There’s no real escape from it. Just make it share the time it wants to take from you with whatever doesn’t involve waiting. You can’t get rid of it, but at least you can make it earn its keep.

Words I Hate, Continued

Writers are among those weird groups of people who actually care about words. We’re a long way from the only ones, of course: Language professors, lawyers, English/French/Spanish/etc  majors…the point being that there are people who actually believe that words matter. How they’re used and misused, what power they have. So when I say, as I have before, that there are certain words I absolutely despise, understand it comes from a place of caring. You have to care about something in order to despise it properly. Works for hating something, too. As in the old illustrative exchange:

“He hates me!”
“He doesn’t hate you. He doesn’t care enough about you to hate you.”

I’ve already talked about “impacted” vs “affected.” Today I’m going to mention another one.

“Consumer.”

I really hate that word. Or rather, I hate the usage it’s been put to by every shill marketer in the whole damn world. Whenever some Conglomerate goes on the tv and pitches “Products for the discriminating consumer” I don’t picture a discriminating anything. I picture this mindless maw gobbling down every piece of crap thrown at it.

Do writers look at readers that way? I doubt it. While “consuming” might be a useful metaphor for a certain type of reader at a certain stage of their awakening(me included), it is literally not true. You read a book, anyone’s book or story, and the book/story is still there. Anyone could still read it. You can pass it on to another (and we love you if you do) saying, “You gotta read this.” Maybe that next person would become our customer/reader too. Readers have tastes. They either like your stuff or they don’t, given the chance to try it, but there’s nothing mindless about their reactions.

I’ll give farmers a pass because we really do consume their products, and bless them for their service. But then, except for the occasional farmer’s market, we rarely do this directly where I live. It usually goes through distribution and into a grocery store. Whose customers we are, not consumers.

I understand why “consumer” is a useful term for the average marketer. I know that’s how they want us to think of ourselves, which is why they say “consumer” rather than “customer.” I know that’s exactly how their customers are viewed. It’s easier to think of a mindless, indiscriminate consuming maw rather than people, who have quirks and want something better than is usually on offer. Sorry, but I am your customer, not your bloody consumer. Though if you keep pitching crap at me I won’t even be that. Fire is a mindless consumer. I’m not, and neither are the rest of us.

Forget that at your peril.

 

Walking the Tightrope

You know all those “author bios” you see when you read a story or book and have something like this pop up at the end?

“Johnny Authorboy is the author of many novels, of which he is the author. He likes cats and chocolate, but not together. He lives somewhere in Wyoming, but he’s not sure where because the road isn’t marked.”

Or maybe: “Elizabeth Page-Turner is the author of the bestselling “Empirical Empress” series for Goshwow Books. In her spare time she collects celebrity belly-button lint.”

Yeah, those things? We have to write them ourselves. Continue reading

“Typical”

In these divisive times, most people of whatever political bent do tend to agree on one thing—other people’s dreams aren’t that interesting. Proper dreams are full 3D VR experiences, complete with touch, smell, sound, color, emotion, the full range of human sensory experience. Telling the dream loses that, unless you’re a good enough writer/storyteller to shore up the gaps, and even then you’re down to something like “I flew from one mountaintop to another! It was amazing!” And the listener nods politely and changes the subject.

So I will tell you about a dream I had and immediately change the subject. Sort of. The dream, in its odd way, was the subject. It was a fairly prosaic dream which I will not embellish. Essentially, there was a writer’s group I was part of and we were looking for a place to meet. We eventually found a venue where dozens, if not hundreds of writers were already meeting, so we joined in. There was an invited Guest Speaker. I was listening to what he had to say, or trying to, because every other person in the room immediately broke up into small, intimate groups of five or six and started discussing their latest works. One woman was even narrating her most recent story via interpretive dance and method acting. No one was listening to the speaker except me, and I just thought, “Well, that was rude.”

Once awake again, I revised that comment to one word­­—“typical.”

What I was seeing in the dream was an overt example of writerly ego out of control. Never mind you. What about me? It’s sometimes called Writer’s Arrogance (WA) and it’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes it’s essential. Especially in the white heat of creation, where you must believe, to the bottom of your soul, that you’re making something worth another person’s time to read. Not to mention that it takes a great deal of self-confidence to face down the other writerly emotion, Crippling Doubt (CD). Which is likewise not always a bad thing, especially when it comes time to revise. There CD has to edge out WA so you can take a good hard jaundiced look at what you’ve written, and pinpoint the flaws so you can fix them. However, CD cannot be allowed to beat WA during the creation process, or nothing gets written. There’s a balance, or should be if this thing is going to work.

The dream was an example of WA run amuck. No one in the dream was capable of listening to anyone except themselves. I’ll give the Guest Speaker a pass because he had been brought there specifically to talk about his work. Only no one except the “I” of the dream was listening. Hmmm. According to several psychological theories, everyone in a dream is just a reflection of the dreamer. All those aspects of me, not listening? Then again, if the Speaker was just me talking, maybe I wouldn’t listen either.

There could be a lesson there, or not. I don’t pretend to know. Maybe I should listen more and talk less. Or at least not be so rude about it. It’s a thought.