Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Evil Dead... Lesbian Edition

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In keeping with my theme of being as outdated as humanly possible on this blog, I finally read the Willow and Tara as Evil Dead Lesbians article by Stephen Booth (a man of mystery who is either a cricket player, a Berkley English professor, a crime writer, or some dude with a website and an opinion). The Abigail has been trying to get me to read this article for a while, but I've been too busy. Actually, I'm still too busy, but I finally read it anyway.

Booth's basic premise is that Tara's death in Season Six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a prime example of the evil/dead lesbian cliche. Apparently there's a long, shameful history of this in hollywood. Gay characters are generally introduced as weak, insane, and victims (or some combination of the three). In older works, the message was that homosexuality is bad and will lead to your destruction, while in some newer films, it's more a matter of token gay characters being introduced and then killed off because their sexuality (in the eyes of the authors) stops them from becoming major characters with wide appeal. Culminating their affections with physical sex tends to lead to the death of one or both partners. Booth cites a huge list of films which feature (or even center on) this plot device. I won't reproduce it here - read it for yourself - and suffice it to say that I am basically convinced. Booth goes on to say that Whedon's decision to kill off Tara was hurtful and unnecessary, bad for the show and for people who idealized it, and reveals secret and/or unconscious bigotry or a tendency to fall prey to the allure of the ratings stunt.

Booth also condemns my favorite scene in Buffy - the Yellow Crayon Speech - as just a man saving the world from the "crazy lesbian." That I can't forgive. The Yellow Crayon Speech will live on in my heart as a perfect literary moment. I don't cry at television shows often, but the Yellow Crayon Speech made me seriously moist.

In every other way, however, Booth is pretty much right.

I don't think Joss Whedon is a bigot, but as I've said before (and will say again) I do think he's kind of lazy. A lot of his world building is pretty suspect, from Buffy's schizophrenic attitude about what it means to have a soul to the inconsistent motifs of Firefly and Serenity. Sometimes this laziness manifests in ways that are racially charged, like how the supposedly chinese-dominated future of Firefly lacked asian main characters for no good reason or how nonwhite Actives in Dollhouse are vanishingly rare and never more than secondary characters. Or, for that matter, how Buffy's Sunnydale, supposedly a Southern California town, contained few blacks and no latinos. And at least once, as in Buffy, this laziness manifested in a abrupt descent into a deplorable homophobic cliche.

The Abigail is strident about this, and over the years I've come to agree: when you write for adolescents, you have a responsibility to help them grow. I'm not going to talk about how to help them grow. Someone who writes Christian young adult novels about the evils of sex and spiritual experimentation has as much a responsibility as someone who writes sex-positive pagan propaganda; the difference is only one of content and point of view. The only sin that I'm willing to condemn here is laziness. Kids are all our responsibility, and cash cows, rating stunts, and unwitting anything has no place in fiction created for their consumption. Sell your ideas and let adolescents decide who to follow, but don't abuse your audience.

I won't go to far in decrying Whedon's laziness, however, because when push comes to shove I still like his work. After this post is done, after all, I'm going to take a nap - because I'm a teacher and therefore the first to be infected with whatever terrible disease is sweeping through Oakland this flu-and-cold season - and then watch the latest episode of Dollhouse. I sometimes just wish the man would pay a little more attention.

Anyway, read the Booth article. It's long, but you won't regret it.

* * *

  • Bitch session: what laziness have you noted in Whedon's world-building, character-developing, and word-writing?
  • Bitch at session: where have you seen Whedon be absolutely brilliant? Let me know (and be sure to tell me I'm a bad person for forgetting it)!
  • The Yellow Crayon Speech really was perfect, wasn't it? How depraved do you have to be to criticize it in the slightest?
  • Remember, I'm still taking suggestions about which of my two competing ideas to pursue this NaNoWriMo. Check my last post to read (highly imperfect) synopses and comment with your opinions.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Thoughts of NaNo

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It's October 1st, and that means that like sane writers everywhere (yes, that's sarcasm you detect in my tone), my first thought is of National Novel Writing Month and what I'm going to create this year. I am going to do NaNo this year. I have a lot of good reasons for not - brand new and terrifying career, a wedding to plan (not to mention fights to have with the Abigail about said wedding planning), and a human body and it's pesky need for sleep, to name a few - but if I let good reasons stop me from doing great things, I'd never get anywhere.

If you'll recall from December's NaNoWriMo postmortem, I didn't win last year. I'm trying not to let this trepidate me. There are lots of reasons I didn't win: I developed this stupid idea that I wrote best by hand and wasted time writing and then transcribing, I wasn't sure I was going to do NaNo until the day before so I had only the barest idea of what I was doing right until I started doing it, and most of all I didn't write. None of those good reasons are going to get in my way this year. Especially that last one.

Anyway, as October unrolls before me, I find myself suspended between two possible NaNo ideas, and I'm curious which one you all think would be the most fun/the must likely to net me a coveted win.

* * *

The first idea is a new one, based (believe it or not) on a dream.

The premise is science fantasy (that is, a science-fiction flavored story that follows the rules of fantasy). I'm kidnapping the good old neofeudal futurism popularized by the Dune series and the Fading Suns RPG. In the grim dark future of humanity, we are nearly enslaved by cthulhu angels from beyond space and time attracting to this continuity by the development of pseudo-real psychic technology (including summonable space fighters... which is coincidentally what returns the "knight in shining" armor to the status of a viable combat tactic). After being saved by a heroic pair - a tactically brilliant soldier and a woman with an unmatched political genius - a humanity that has largely forgotten how to think for itself finds itself needing new leaders. An oppressive and puritanical church arises, and in order to prevent it from becoming the sole leading cultural force of the future, the pair announce that they will marry and take on the role of Emperor and Empress of the galaxy.

What makes this complicated is that the marriage is purely political. In fact, the emperor is gay. Although friends and partners, this isn't a love match. But, since they have to play a complicated media game with an anti-gay anti-sex anti-fun church for dominion over humanity, the crowned heads of the galaxy can't let anyone know what's really going on.

Fast forward several years. The emperor has found a boyfriend (his valet), but the empress is still frustrated, lonely, and bored. Enter the The Empress's Gendarme. One of the new generation of soldiers bonded to the pseudo-real summonable warships with which the Emperor and Empress freed humanity, he is everything the Empress wants. The Emperor makes the introduction, and they fall into bed pretty shortly thereafter. Everyone's happy, right?

If they can keep the church off their backs. If they can survive the inevitable political bullshit. If they can keep humanity free when the cthulhu angels return. In short, it's far future political drama with a romance at its heart. It's kind of sexy, in a neofeudal Sun King France sort of way. With summonable AI warships.

* * *

My second idea is something I wrote part of, once. But, it's been a long time and I'm planning on basically starting from scratch, so it isn't cheating, right? Anyway, the story lay fallow for a long time before being awakened by the brilliance that is Mur Lafferty's Heaven.

A long time ago, I had an idea for an epic. It's a postapocalyptic fantasy story dealing with what it means to be a god or a man, a mortal or an immortal. The world had lasted for millennia, before the Enemy came. In a war that took a thousand years, he slew the gods, broke the afterlife, and just as he was about to destroy the world... he vanished.

Now the world is a strange and broken place, filled with the surreal and dangerous remains of old enchantments and half-dead remnants of gods (in particular, I'm fond of a city once known for its diviners and now known for its glassworkers; it's in the middle of a field of broken glass that used to be a sandy desert... until a god fell out of the sky and smashed into it) (oh, and I also wrote an "afterlife" full of lost ghosts who can't find their way to whatever comes next because the psychic landscape is full of wreckage from heaven).

One of the more common of these bits of weirdness are the Alarkine, the remnant of the heavenly host that had once served the gods. At the command of the gods, the Alar - the angels - had mixed their blood with humans, to produce powerful warrior-children who didn't require obscure circumstances to come into being and centuries to mature, the way Alar did. After many generations, the Alar find themselves weird mixtures of human and divine, with no place in the world. Some of them are crazy, some are bitter. Some want to bring the gods back... and others would like to, but only to kick their asses.

The main characters are a priestess of an old god (because what does religion have to do with the existence of the gods, anyway?) and her bitter god-hating Alarkine bodyguard who swiftly become caught up in the return of the gods and the Enemy, and have to find within themselves the strength to rebuild the world before its destroyed altogether.

It's a surreal dark fantasy epic of self-discovery, with heavy metaphysical, philosophical, and ethical angles thrown in. And one of the main characters is a half-angel paladin who hates the gods. And also there's a line (which I will keep in a new version) that makes the Abigail's knees weak:

"Look at the stars, Kaleyin. You're not dead. The prophet said that you and I would stand on the edge of the world and watch the last star fall, so you're not dead." He kissed her cold lips, and as the world vanished in white fire, he whispered "I will love you until the last star falls, and after."

This is always an important consideration.

* * *

So which do you think I should pick? Science fantasy political romance or apocalyptic dark fantasy journey of discovery? Half angel paladins or cthulhu angel antagonists? Fire from the hands or lasers from the eyes? Wait a minute...

Friday, September 25, 2009

Beneath Ceaseless Podcasts

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Thanks to some livejournal friends, I've discovered an excellent new podcast, online magazine, and fiction market, all in one neat package labeled Beneath Ceaseless Skies. The magazine specializes in "alternate world fantasy," stories that explicate some fantastic setting alongside character description and plot. So far, I've listened to a story about the mysterious origin of mysterious gems, a revenge-seeking pseudo-European fantasy man in pseudo-Africa, and a neat and scary story about shapeshifters and magic locks. I've liked some of them more than others - the shapeshifters and magic locks were the best and I didn't really like the Afrofantasy - but they have all been worth it. I've enjoyed the podcast and hope to enjoy the magazine when I have some time.

And hopefully so will you.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

That's Three and Four

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I have just heard via the livejournal of the inimitable Sherwood Smith that publishers and agents are apparently now prone to checking up on a writer's internet presence before choosing to hire, represent, or buy. Ms. Smith warns us that one of the things that annoy publishers and agents is bitching and moaning about rejection letters, so from now on, all quoted rejection letters will be accompanied by this disclaimer:

I am not out to be accepted at this point - I am out to be rejected. I am looking for rejection. I am hungry for it. Rejection proves that I am trying. I'll be happy to be accepted, sure, but I am not complaining. I have no problem with rejection or rejection letters. Failure is only another opportunity to learn.

Disclaimer aside, I have two more rejections to share with you, bringing me to a total of four.

Re: The Weight of His Words
(Please quote our reference #12398 in any correspondence.)

Thank you for submitting to Andromeda Spaceways.

Sadly, we find that we can't use your submission at this stage.

Thank you again, and we hope to hear from you in the future.

Notes from the readers:

[Cut as it's none of your business]

Hope that's of some help, and better luck next time!

Agradar the Doomed

The letter contains many good points about the story, and I'm probably going to use all of them. Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine is the second market to offer good advice alongside their rejection (Pseudopod was the first). Good advice makes me happy and responsive magazines make me happy; I'm definitely going to send more stories to ASIM.

I also got a more generic response from Weird Tales.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read your manuscript. The volume of mail I receive keeps me from responding personally to each submission. And unfortunately I must often turn down good work due to space limitations and other considerations. I am very sorry that I will not be able to publish your piece at this time. I appreciate your interest in Weird Tales and hope that you will keep me in mind for future submissions.

Yours Weirdly,
Madrador the Strange

I believe that I will soon become an expert on rejection letters. They come in many flavors: some are form, some are personalized, and some are a little of both, some are gentle, some are utilitarian, but all of them are awesome, because all of them mean that I'm one step closer to being published.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Thursday Bonus... Oh Forget It

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Don't look a overdue gift post in the mouth. Times are tough, and I'm lucky I'm writing this. I'm not giving up on posting once a day, not exactly. It's a goal I plan on meeting... it just might take a while. Teaching is one of those careers that gets a little easier every day. My kids get more used to me, I get more used to them, I build up a bigger store of good ideas, and I have more time for the other things that make my life go pop.

Let me say, though, that having a life where there's nothing that doesn't make me go pop is awesome. I teach, and when I'm not teaching, I write. When I'm not doing either, I'm with the Abigail.

And also, I have a huge backlog of dishes that need to be done and a staggering amount of paperwork piled up... so perhaps this new system has some kinks to work out.

For all that buildup, this is going to be a pretty lame post. I have in my brain a link to share with you, one I hope you will enjoy. John Wick (author of many, many games that I've referenced in many, many posts, and I'm too tired from wrangling hormonal teenagers to make new references) has taken a comission to create several NPCs for an upcoming RPG project. In his second-most-recent post, he talks about a fascinating potential consequence of magical healing and resurrection. Check it out.

A more substantive post about dreams and stories (and several other posts, too) coming (hopefully) soon.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Robo Insect What?

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Merovingian has the right idea about learning to write.

That is all.

* * *

Basically, I've been in pre-school Professional Development and classroom cleaning and classroom setting up and lesson planning, and the fact that my school's wireless refuses to load Blogspot and I haven't gotten home before 8:00 PM since Sunday has made blogging... challenging. Fear not, gentle reader, for things should stabilize once school actually begins.

On Monday.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Burning the Midnight Zeppelin: What Could Have Been

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I'm not a very good fanboy.

I'm usually the last person to know about anything, and what I do know, the Abigail tells me. I just don't have the patience to scour celebrity blogs and twitter the way she does - hell, I don't even read the newspaper as often as I want to. Most of the fannish facts I know are truly ancient: tidbits of Star Trek trivia and an exhaustive supply of facts about J.R.R. Tolkien and a few about C.S. Lewis.

In general, I'm content with this state of affairs. I have better things to do than hunt down facts - especially when I have the Abigail to do it for me (I love you!). However, there is one fannish thing that always turns my crank: I love to know what could have been, the processes that lead the creators of the things I love to create.

For example, I bet you didn't know that in Exalted, the Dragon-Blooded were originally going to be the heroes of the piece and all their beliefs about how the Solar and Lunar Anathema are soulless villains was going to be true. The game was meant to focus on the crumbling, decadent empire of the Chosen and its death throes, until the developers decided that the idea was too much like some of White Wolf's other games and that it might be more fun to take Exalted in a different direction. Actually, you probably did know that. It's not a big secret.

In any case, it was therefore with great joy that I sat down last night with the Abigail to watch Echo, Dollhouse's original, unaired pilot.

Echo laid a lot of the plot out there; some threads that weren't fully resolved until the end of Season 1 were finished in one episode! It was obvious to me that Whedon intended Echo to catch the studio's attention, and I'm glad it did.

That said, I'm glad of many of the changes. I like that the real series drew out the process of breaking Adele DeWitt down from the untouchable and all powerful matriarch of the dollhouse (actually, in some ways, an example of the rare, well-done ambiguously powerful matriarch) to a conflicted middle-manager with intimacy problems. I also enjoyed real-series-DeWitt's less vulnerable, more self-consciously wicked style. I like that the real series softened Topher a little by making him the origin of the "humanitarian" pro-bono assignments on which the Dolls are sometimes, rather than Doctor Saunders.

On the other hand, some things seem to have been lost. In particular, the Topher/Boyd friendship was much stronger and more compelling in the pilot. Similarly, Topher's mercenary bent and anti-humanist ideals - all morality is programming, all humanity is meat and nerve, undeserving of respect or compassion - are downplayed in the series. It may seem contradictory for me to say that I liked Topher's image being softened on the one hand and wish it were harder on the other, but I don't see it that way. I like Topher conflicted. Epitaph One - the second unaired episode - did this brilliantly... but I'll let you find out how for yourself.

From whense comes my strange fascinating with what might have been? Why does it penetrate into my otherwise current-events-impermiable skull?

I believe that it is an example of my own writerly nature emerging. I have always enjoyed glimpsing the "maker's hand" inside a finished work. I like those moments when the world is pulled over my eyes, I am caught by some invisible trap in the fiction. The words (or images, or whatever) pull on my hearstrings, and while I succumb, some part of me goes "aha! Well played, sir!"

It's kind of like that, but retroactively, when I see what a story could have been and get to compare it to what was.

* * *

  • What "maker's hand" moments have you enjoyed? Does the concept make any sense to you, or am I on my own?
  • Do you know of any interesting "what might have been" stories? Care to share?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bonus Burn II

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Lots of Bonus Burns this week. School starts on Monday the 31st, so enjoy it while you can!

All I have to contribute at this particular moment is an RPGnet post asking people to contribute their gaming and roleplaying blogs. I noted the Burning Zeppelin Experience, even though it's only partly a gaming and roleplaying blog. If you have a blog and you want to sell it, or if you're looking for more neat gaming and roleplaying blogs to add to your feedcatcher, check it out.

Web Redirect Protocal Alpha

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I hope you'll forgive the link post, but it's time. It's less a matter of laziness and more a matter of the internet (especially Twitter) turning up a huge wealth of nifty stuff over the last week, nifty stuff that I want to share with you, my devoted readers, before it all becomes obsolete:

  • The World's first Muslim Superheroes to come to British television - a team of super-powered Muslims, with abilities tied to the 99 Attributes of God. Most importantly, these are superheroes tied to traits like Mercy. The show is intentionally aimed to counter the influence of violent radicals, spreading a message that while it's neat to be Muslim, it's also important to be accepting , peaceful, and cooperative. If it works, it'll be a testament to the power of fantasy.
  • This was just cool and you should read it.
  • And finally, a blog post about why it's often important to not explain everything about magic. For magic to be magical it needs to be, well, magical. Good article. Enjoy

And finally, for your viewing pleasure:

A list of fantasy covers, sorting the prevalence of diferent cover elements. The list (I'm not sure why the image insists on being so small!) includes dragons, swords, citadels, and meaningless blackness, among others.

I'm surprised that the chart does not include gratuitous leg, breast, and panty shots.

I'm also increasingly terrified that the process of getting A Knight of the Land published may lead me to kill all humans, which would be depressing.

* * *

Remember that in addition to tweeting cool links and images in my presence, you can also get a picture or link tossed up on the Burning Zeppelin Experience by posting it in a comment, hoping it catches my eye, and waiting until I'm lazy/busy enough to do a lame internet post rather than a real post.

Till next time, have fun.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

This, I've GOT to share.

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Thanks, Scattercat!

Johnny Jordan <3<3

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Found in the bathroom at the cafe where I do my lesson planning, written on the wall in black permanent marker:

"Your soul was made for eating," said Johnny Jordan at midnight. He'd lasted a long time without eating souls and he was very happy about himself. He was also stupid. Very, very stupid.

Johnny Jordan <3<3

I wish I had a digital camera so I could capture for you the true strangeness of this moment, but you will have to make do with my meagre efforts at reproduction.

Who is Johnny Jordan? The closest I could come was an English former professional soccer player named Johnny William Jordan, and I can't imagine that's who our enigmatic graffiti artist was talking about. English soccer players don't eat souls, right?

Right?

H.P. H.P. Hurray for Lovecraft Day!

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According to Wikipedia (and blessed be its name), today is the birthday of the immortal (for "that is not dead which can eternal lie / and with strange eons even death may die") Howard Phillips Lovecraft. That makes today... Tentacle Day? Lovecraft Day? Extra-Galactic Horror and Hatefulness Day? The geeks of the world have not yet united behind a single vision of how to celebrate the life and works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, but I'm sure we will. Soon. The revolution is coming.

To do my part to spread the Lovecraft, here are a few links you might find titillating (or terrifying) (or both):
  • A list of lovecraft quotes I found, just now, looking to confirm the exact wording of the "death may die" quote above.
  • The Drabblecast's newest episode features some H.P. Lovecraft poetry and a Lovecraft-inspired story.
  • A Pseudopod story from some weeks ago that pokes gentle (and loving, I'm sure) fun at Lovecraft's Yog-Sothoth.
  • To toot my own horn: a rather silly (musical) Burning Zeppelin post from quite a while ago, a Call of Cthulhu character posted on my blog as part of my (currently suspended) project to make a character for every game I own, and another blog post (I think) from Rabbit Hole Day 2007.

* * *

Seriously, though, what is it about H.P. Lovecraft that we (ok, I) find so compelling?

The first is, simply, that Lovecraft is the father of a subgenre, and there's something kind of nifty about that. Despite never achieving much commercial success, despite honestly not being a very good writer, Lovecraft managed to touch a nerve. He tapped into something we thought we'd forgotten - some primal fear of the dark - and made art out of it.

But you know what? You've heard that already. If you're reading my blog, you know all about H.P. Lovecraft and how he came out of nowhere after his death and redefined horror and blah blah blah blah blah. You want to know what really inspires me about Lovecraft?

First of all, Lovecraft had balls. Huge writerly balls. Lovecraft made up words left and right, wrote the absurdly dense and flowery prose that he felt best served his fiction, and told stories that were far ahead of their time. As China Meiville said in a recent I Should Be Writing interview, (paraphrased) there's something to be said for tight, sparse prose, but there's also something to be said for lush, vicious, enticing prose that draws you in, sucks out your brain, and gives it back backwards.

Secondly, Lovecraft turned his life into art in a way that I admire. He was afraid of shellfish, so he wrote stories about tentacled horrors from beyond space and time. He loved Providence, Rhode Island, so he wrote stories in which the beauties of Providence were sufficient to draw the gods of earth from the rightful thrones to cavort among its steepled roofs. He was a vaguely racist, nativist, eurocentric weirdo, so he wrote... ok, let's leave that one alone. The fact remains, however, that Lovecraft wasn't afraid to mine every last thing in his life for inspiriation, and I like that.

So let's here it for Lovecraft! What the world needs now is Lovecraft! All you need is Lovecraft! Make Lovecraft, not war? Um...

Lovecraft,
Mark

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Stuff It!

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Most fantasy writers I know and know of have a love affair with stuff. Much like our love affair with invented vocabulary, I get the feeling that a lot of us know we shouldn't indulge, but we do it anyway. We build these fantastic worlds, and we want to show it all to you, not just the narrow corridor of the main characters' experiences and histories. So, we write extraneous stuff, appendices of history, pronunciation guides to our imaginary languages, huge, lovingly crafted maps, descriptions of noble houses and mercantile organizations and their intrigues. We don't want oto keep it to ourselves, we want to share it. We want to put it in the finished book. We want to send it to the publisher, so he can enjoy it, too.

In yesterday's Deep Genre post, contributor, writer, and former slush pile reader Madeline Robins gives us some bad news: slush readers don't like to recieve stuff with our fiction. No maps, no pronunciation guides, no appendices full of extensive historical details. In short, all the really awesome stuff that we loved creating but couldn't fit into the story... has to stay out of the story.

There are apparently two reasons for this. The first is that apparently including stuff in a manuscript you send to a publisher is just a newbie error. The second is that including all this stuff implies to the reader (in this case, a publisher) that you have neglected the story in favor of tons of abstract worldbuilding. While this might not be fair - in A Knight of the Land I wrote a significant chunk of a fantasy language, and while the story isn't perfect yet, I certainly didn't neglect it - it's important to remember that one of the businesses we writers are in is sales, and in sales, appearances matter.

Robins goes on to discuss what brought this up, a particularly frustrating fantasy series. Although basically a quality read, the maps and pronunciation guide were vague enough to be frustrating and specific and complex enough to be distracting, respectively. I can imagine how this would be a bad combination. Spending half your time peering at vague maps and trying to figure out where the characters are and the other half of your time flipping back and forth between the text and the pronunciation guide to figure out how you are supposed to say what you're reading is no way to enjoy a novel.

The take-home lesson seems to be:
  • Don't include extraneous stuff in your submission to a publisher, even if it's stuff that you're sure the book will need when it's published.
  • When the time comes (and may it come for all of us, amen and amen) for you to put stuff into a finished novel, make sure that the stuff is quality, that it is actually essential to the experience of reading, not just nifty stuff you want to add.

Otherwise, stuff it!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Drabblepost

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Last night, my friend Jon introduced me to yet another podcast - the Drabblecast - and today, I am introducing you to it. Or, perhaps, I'm introducing the Drabblecast to you. I have to admit that I'm not entirely sure which has more reality. Me, too, if it's any consolation.

The Drabblecast is good for fiction - 500 to 2k word short fiction, shorter flash-fiction, and 100-word drabble stories, to be specific - and good fiction at that. The Drabblecast is also good for news. Many casts include news items viewed through a hillariously sardonic speculative fiction lens; the one I just listened to explored the discovery of immortal and adolescent jellyfish. Finally, the Drabblecast is good for excellent production values. The narrator, Norm Sherman, has a wonderfully flexible voice and intonation and he peppers his stories with sound effects and music clips, producing a truly engaging listening experience. This means that even those of you who complain that years of headphones and boring professors have produced callouses on the parts of your brain that process auditory input - and therefore cannot listen to podcasts - have no excuse.

Anyway, I heard there was a cream for that.

Most importantly, however, the Drabblecast pays. 500 to 2k word stories will earn you 1.5 cents a word, which is definitely below the professional rate. It's also definitely money, though, so I can't really complain. A 2,000 word story will still earn you $30 and a moment of internet fame which could blossom into a following. Stories below 500 words will get you the dubious fame, but not the money. Such is life. The Drabblecast likes fantastic stories that are funny, weird, gross, and badass, but foul language and truly dark, heavy, and disturbing themes are frowned upon. Also, an "insider tip" (from the website):

"Luke likes pretentious stories that make him feel smart for understanding them. He is pretty lazy and good for nothing though so he probably won’t get around to reading your story and it will wind up with Kendall and Norm in the first round.

Kendall likes stories about poop, superheroes and vapid, saccharine relativist philosophies. He doesn’t like stories about vampires, pirates or ninjas. Send them anyways though, because he’s fun to piss off. Goofy stuff that doesn’t take itself seriously will make his day.

Norm likes stories with aliens fighting each other. He likes other stuff too though."

I think that does it for today. Listen to the Drabblecast (I already do). Send your stories to the Drabblecast (I will, soon). And remember, we all like stories with aliens fighting each other. And we like other stuff, too.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Vienna, CA

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I'm fresh home from a concert by my favorite musical artist, Vienna Teng (check out her website for music and information - more available at her myspace), and as usual, she blew me out of the water. This is the music that I dream in, the music that accompanies my prayers, and often the music I listen to when I write. More characters and stories have been inspired by Vienna Teng's music than I can count (and that's not considering Hope on Fire, the song that kept me going during the tough early days of the Oakland Teaching Fellowship's Summer Training Institute).

Better yet, Vienna Teng writes science fiction! Consider the lyrics to No Gringo, a song on her latest album (lyrics courtesy of elyrics.net):

Father says head down
We don't want them finding you
Mother says practice now
All the words you know

Oh Arizona's burning
They say the fence turned round
Now the razor wire keeps us out

Mother says with luck
We'll sleep under a roof tonight
Father says in the truck
We'll be crushed in tight

Oh Chicago don't forget me
As the miles between us grow
Keep the maple tree carved with the name of my love
The hills we would sled race down
Lake Michigan stay endless and painted in sky
Goodbye

Mother says years ago
The whole world was ours to rule
Father says let it go
Those days are gone for good

All the signs read no gringo
But somehow we'll find our way
Maybe waiting at dawn by the factory doors
Sunburnt and bent in the fields
Please don't turn us in
We'll be silent as the grave
As time

No gringo
No Gringo aqui
Words as levies against the flood
Hoy cerrado
There's too many to feed
Room for only our own kind, our own blood
No gringo, no gringo aqui
You have stayed in this land for too long
Tan amargo
But there's no time to grieve
You just pack up your things and move on

If you can't figure out how this song is science fiction, leave a comment and I or someone else will explain it. It's subtle and quite brilliant.

Finally, I like Vienna Teng's approach to creativity. A quote from her myspace page:

"These days I'm influenced by whoever intimidates me. I hear them, I'm astounded by them, I think daily about quitting music because I'll never be able to do it as well as they do. Then I try to steal from them without imitating. A tricky thing."

A beautiful sentiment, and one I could explore further. I won't right now, though, because I'm sleepy. I'll be certain to return later. In the meantime, however, I leave you with this: if you haven't checked out Vienna Teng already, you should.

That is all.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Prometheus in Chains

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Today I'm going to talk about my friend G.D. Crowley and how he has revolutionized my understanding of roleplaying in specific and creating in general.

G.D. is the prolific game designer no one has ever heard of. If you followed the short rise and precipitous fall of Shifting Forest Storyworks (of which no web presence remains), the company co-founded by G.D., you might have already heard of his work and maybe even played one of his games. Shifting Forest produced one-shot Live Action Role Plays - parlor LARPS as they are often called - in handy little books. The games were, generally, intricate, surreal, and dark, like Neil Gaiman on an absinthe bender. Unfortunately, after a promising beginning, the company vanished off the face of the earth and is unlikely to return.

This is a shame, because the man is brilliant.

Two of G.D.'s tabletop games - the two I have the most contact with - are referenced in the title of this post. The first, Prometheus, is something I'm playing right now alongside the Abigail. Our characters are two dyanic invidivuals - a Blake, a Byronic loner, and Natalie, an angry vigilante - attempting to guide about two hundred human refugees through the strangest alien invasion I've ever heard of. Chains of the World is an epic game of modern sorcery that takes a character through the transformation of the world. Both of these - and many of G.D.'s other creations - have been well-recieved by those lucky enough to experience them... but there's a catch.

G.D. has very little interest in commercializing most of his games. He talks about writing a game for publication one day - and I hope he does and eagerly await the prospect - but most of what G.D. writes, he writes for himself to Gamemaster and his friends to play.

The major advantage of this form of creativity is that G.D. can afford to be extremely idiosyncratic. Many of the systems aren't quite comprehensible to outsiders. They work extremely well in every way - they are atmospheric, stylish, and easy (in that I as a player interact with them, anyway) - but I don't really grok them yet, and I'm not sure I will. Prometheus, for example, relies on a complex mandala of playing cards - used kind of like a Tarot spread - which are determined to support either success or failure based on an arcane set of qualifications that include the chracter's traits and aspects of human (and alien) paradigms of thought. Chains of the World, on the other hand, relies on three twenty-sided dice, one representing power, which relates to the character's success or failure; the other representing weirdness, which can add or subtract a random degree of, well, random; and the third representing significance, which is a measure of how important the roll will turn out to be in the larger plot. I think most writers and designers will join me in acknowledging the appeal of idiosyncraticy. Imagine... producing evocative fiction without having to explain yourself... it's fantastic.

Similarly, G.D. doesn't have to bother actually writing a lot of his game material. They can live in his head, with only just enough external notes to provide a stable skeleton. Setting, system, chronology, and important NPCs... all of these only need to be written down as much as G.D. needs them written down. G.D. is no slouch. He's more than willing to write down what he needs to write down, but this is certainly less than he'd have to write down if I was going to run one of his games.

A more neutral, but fascinating, trait is the linear and directed nature of G.D.'s games. While there is always room for character choice, G.D. manages to write games that tell very tight stories in a way that I have never seen before. Other games that try to do the same thing - White Wolf's Scion and Orpheus (both brilliant games) for example - often come across as heavy handed. With G.D.'s games, however, this never seems to be the case. I'm still not exactly sure why this happens; I'll have to get back to you on this.

The only downside to all this is really all about me: G.D.'s games lack something difficult to define. I contemplated it, turned it over in my head, and finally spat it out again.

G.D.'s games don't feel finished.

It came out in a conversation with the Abigail. I consider a story or a game finished when it's "marketable." Not "marketed" - I have no illusions that many of my creations that I'm most happy with may never actually be sold, much less actually make any money - but "marketable"; ready to be produced, sold, and presented to the world. I long for, as much as I fear, the moment that I let go of my baby and let it fly away. G.D., on the other hand, aims for ready to be presented to his friends, with himself as the presenter.

Ultimately, however, G.D. achieves much the same thing I attempt, with much more success. He creates cool and evocative fiction that touches people and changest their lives.

As a result, I am contemplating changing my definition of finished. Perhaps it shouldn't be "ready to be...", but just "ready." Ready for what? For whatever I created it for. Ready to be run for the Abigail. Ready to be given to Jon as a birthday present. Ready to be edited. Ready to be sent to an agent. Ready to be sold. G.D.'s flexibility has given him more success in game design than my rigidity has given me, so perhaps its time to consider changing my ways.

* * *

  • What alternate definitions of "ready" have you seen and toyed with?
  • What have you created with a goal in mind other than the obvious?
  • Have you ever played in a similar game, one that could only be run by its creator, but is still brilliant and evocative?

Fire From the Zeppelin, Lights in the Sky

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I just got back from viewing the Perseids with the Abigail and our good friend Alan. If you haven't gone to see the meteor shower yet (and by some weird chance you're awake and reading this post) for God's sake, go do it. It's beautiful. It always is. Oddly, it reminds me of why I do this: why I blog, why I teach, why I write.

It's late and I'm tired - I'll write a longer post tomorrow - but I just wanted to check in with you tonight and let you know that there's fire in the sky, waiting for you.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Burning Update Experience: And We're Back!

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Tonight I'm going to fire off a brief update - let you know where I am and what's going on with me and what the future of the Burning Zeppelin Experience is going to look like.

As to the first, I am a very happy, very tired man. I have successfuly completed the Oakland Teaching Fellowship. I've been hired to work at Frick Middle School way (way) out in East Oakland, where I'll (hopefully and probably) be teaching 7th Grade Life Sciences. This is a life direction that I am exceedingly happy with.

This doesn't mean that I'll be abandoning my writing or my blogging, though. In fact, both will likely get more important. Frick is a high-need school in a high-need part of a high-need city. Nearly 100% of my kids will be recieving free or reduced lunches - a common benchmark of a school district's poverty - and their neighborhood has a staggering murder rate. After a long day of working miracles, I'll need something I can do for me, and I can't always lean on the Abigail. She'll be starting work at the Homeless Children's Network at almost the same time.

That's the Abigail and me, living the Oberlin Dream: doing the most important work in the world for not enough pay, on not enough sleep, and loving it.

Furthermore, I'm convinced that my writing will get better because I have so much going on. There is nothing less inspiring than sitting in a coffee shop all day and looking for work. Conversely, if there's something more inspiring than working to expand the horizons of high-need kids and equip them to shake the world to its foundations, I don't know what it is. How will I find time for writing, you ask? Bah! Stuff and nonsense. You don't find time, you make it!

In any case, a counterpoint to my glass-half-full attitude is that I haven't done much writing or writerly-related things in the past six weeks. I've run and played very little in the way of roleplaying games, written very little in the way of stories, and gotten almost nothing done on my Rejection Letter Challenge. I did, however, finish one story, a neat little piece called The Weight of His Words. After I've had a chance to clean it up, it will join the others on the rejection letter front.

As to my various rooms - the Writing Desk, the Back Burner, and Threshing Floor - I don't even know where to begin. I'm going to do have to do some serious inner housekeeping. I can tell you that my first priority is creating short fiction so I can meet my goal of gathering fifty rejection letters. The Abigail and I have plans to do National Novel Writing Month again. Other than that... who knows?

Where is the Burning Zeppelin Experience going? I'd like to go back to posting every day, at least until August 31st, when school starts. After that... I just don't know yet. Continuing to post every day would be cool, but it might not be feasible.

We'll know when we know.

That's all folks. See you tomorrow.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Look, A Distraction! Part II: Black Hats

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So, it looks like the Burning Zeppelin Experience's triumphant return will be delayed a day.

No, wait, tons of stuff has happened in the internet! I'm sure you can amuse yourselves while the Abigail and I take a practice honeymoon (because we've never been on vacation alone together ever! We're afraid we won't know what to do!).

In particular, Black Hat Matthew McFarland seems to have taken my advice (ok, the credit probably doesn't belong to me) and gotten a blog. The website I linked to in my previous post is defunct. You shouldn't go there anymore. God alone knows what will happen if you do.

That's it for today's relatively lame beginning to a glorious new empire of Zeppelin. I'll be back tomorrow with something more substantive.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Burning Zeppelin Experience...

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Will return...

Victoriously...

Tomorrow...

Friday, July 24, 2009

That's Two

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Thank you for offering your story to Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. We're sorry to tell you that we will not be using it; you are free to submit it elsewhere.

Sincerely,

The Doom of Thraknar

Assistant Editor


Also, I'm still alive, just too busy to breathe.

I'll take a stab at editing and re-editing that story (once I start breathing again) and send it out again.

Also, this blog is still alive. I promise! Watch this space in August.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Burning the Midnight Zeppelin: Villainous Villainy

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I've talked about heroes and villains before (and somewhere else that I can't find right now), but I had a conversation today that had some interesting and surprising results, that I'd like to share. This is going to be quick because I'm sleepy, but I'm hoping it will give you all something to think about.

It probably comes as on surprise to anyone, but I really, really liked the recent Star Trek movie (though I saw it about a month ago, so I clearly wasn't in a huge hurry to tell you all about it). I thought it was an excellent revamp to an old setting. I thought what they did to the Vulcans desmarmed them and gave them some angst, making them infinitely more evocative. I think that they got better actors than the original series could ever hope to have, which helped. All this, and wrapped in a package that had the same retro-space feel as the original series, but with better special effects. Most of all, however, I loved the villain.

Wait. What? You liked the villain? Mr. Villains-Are-People-Too liked mad, bad, hates the world Captain Nero? What's up with that?

What came out of today's conversation is that there are two kinds of villains. You have your garden mill, run-of-the-variety people villains. People villains are - basically - people. They have hopes and fears, friends and affections, just like anyone else. Unfortunately, what they want is inimical to what the protagonists want, but that doesn't mean they're bad people. Even when they are bad people, it's usually in an undertandable, comprehensible way. You can see where this person went bad, and what he became is the kind of thing you could become, given the right stimulus. These are the enemy generals, overambitious wizards, and loyal priests of black gods of the world of fantastic fiction.

This kind of villain's strength is in its humanity. This kind of villain can form relationships. Protagonists can become close to him or even come to agree with him. If a hero really hates this kind of villain, it says something about her. What does it take for a hero to really hate - actualy truy despise and be prepared to kill - someone who is ultimately just a person who has made different choices and experience ddifferent consquences.

A second kind of villain is a force of nature. The villain's own inhrent nature matters less than its existence and its ill intent. This kind of villain exists to give the protagonists someone to bounce off of, rather than to have a point of view all its own. These are the evil prophesies, dark gods, exploding stars, and oncoming winters of fiction.

What's fascinating is when one kind of villain is actually the other. More specifically, when a force of nature has a name, a face, and a backstory - when a primal villain is also personified.

Don't let the trappings fool you - a force of nature villain is a force of nature villain, no matter how much she seems like a person. She doesn't exist to have a point of view, she exists to stress the protagonists' relationships and invite them to do terrible things to defeat her. She is a force of nature, she just walks like a person.

Neither villain is superior in my mind. To call either "better" is invalidated by a great wealth of literature in which the main character struggles against the environment (or some dark nature of her own) rather than another human being. Rather, I'd say what's important is knowing what you're about and sticking to it ruthlessly. When you're writing a force of nature, keep him a force of nature. Give him a personality and a backstory, make his past as tragic as it needs to be to make him make sense, but keep the story focused on the protagonists. What's exciting when this kind of villain takes the floor is not what he does, but what the heroes do in reaction to him. When you're writing a person, keep him a person. Make sure her choices are rational, her feelings are logical, and her emotions are human.

The problems come when you try to write one kind of villain as the other. When an author is writing a force of nature and tries to "soften" his image with completely extraneous, well, crap, or writing a real person and crosses that invisible line that separates "sympathetic antagonist" from "total douchebag."

Which brings us back to Nero.

Nero is an excellent example of a force of nature villain in human form. He has just enough backstory and personality to make him believable, but when push comes to shove, Nero's emotional experience isn't important to the story. What makes Star Trek tick is how everyone else reacts to Nero, how they suffer, sacrifice, bond, grow, and change in the face of his ruthlessness.

So don't be afraid to write your bad villains bad. Just be sure you know what you're doing.

• • •

EDIT: I almost got this post out yesterday night, but then I passed at the keyboard. Repeatedly, in fact, until the Abigail came and took me to bed. So the post is late by reason of exhaustion. Enjoy.

• • •

  • What's your favorite example of a force of nature antagonist, personified or otherwise?
  • Who's your favorite example of a human antagonist?
  • When have you seen a villain cross this line well?
  • When have you seen a villain cross this line poorly?
  • This entry brings up the possibility of villains who are personified forces of nature, but is the inverse - a force of naturified person - possible, or just silly?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Not So End

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One of the best things about any extended practice - in my case, writing - is the things you learn about yourself. In this particular case, I've noticed a fascinating pattern in my short stories. I don't like to write short stories that really, really end. In some cases, they don't really begin, either. I seem addicted to those stories that are slices of greater stories, the past elegantly implied through masterful explication, the ending elegant and satisfying, but with a hint of further narrative.

There are three reasons I'm not surprised. The first is that I suck at endings. I always have, and they will probably always be the part of a story that I find most difficult. Beginnings are easy for me, I just pick out a suitably dramatic moment and go. Endings... endings always awkward, though. Does the narrative just stop? Do I end with a line of dialogue, a description of the sunset, a narrative musing? How do things end, anyway? So, it's not shocking that when it comes to short stories, I find a way to end the piece without really ending the story.

Secondly, I know myself to be primarily a novelist. All my best ideas first occur to me as extended epics, both personal and fantastic. Some of them I file down to short stories - especially in the context of my Burning Rejection Challenge - but they always remain contextualized by the conditions that gave them birth. Specifically, a longer story.

Finally, I'm not surprised because my one-shots are the same way. Roleplaying style isn't always an indicator of writing style, but in this case, it's dead on. I never run totally self-contained one-shots. They always feel like a first episode or a juicy cut from the center, satisfying, self contained, but implying more.

Sometimes I take the philosophical view: nothing really ends and nothing really ends. Every beginning is just a matter of point of view, not "when does it start" but rather "when did I start paying attention." I kind of like that rather than pretending that reality is neater and cleaner than it really is, my stories embody that reality.

That said, I don't know if stories that work this way are satisfying. If they are, I'm quite content to keep on writing the way I have been... except, of course, that stories still need to have endings, and I'd like mine to be more elegant. I also don't know if stories that work this way really are as satisfying as I hope they are (and find them myself). I'd hate to be doing something people think is annoying and dressing up a bad habit as a virtue (which is something I find annoying).

Fortunately, though, essays do have endings, and that brings us to it. I'd love to hear your answers to my prompts - or just your thoughts on the topic in general- below. Until then, farewell.

• • •

  • Do you think this is a serious flaw, or are stories that don't really end as satisfying (or more so?) than stories that end definitively.
  • What kind of short stories do you prefer?
  • What advice do you have for getting more comfortable with endings?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Illicit Burning Experience

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This is insane.

I'm sorry about the nopost yesterday. I was home at 9:20, needed to be asleep by 10:45, and actually wasn't in bed until 12:45, all because I was handling logistics, sending and answering important emails, and ironing my pants. Man, this program is rough. I hate ironing pants.

I actually shouldn't be writing this post. I'm currently at the actual program, at my lunch break, and I really need to be studying for the constitution exam.

Um... let's see. I still need to give you something Burning. Something good.

How about this? Check out the RPG Dumping Ground, a daily fantasy idea blog. Every idea is outlined in evocative detail and vague stats, suitable for interpretation into any game system. The first post outlines the system light pseudo-statting the author uses to describe his inventions' traits.

Now, at first glance this blog is merely a good reasource for gamers. However, it's also a good resource for writers. Remember: good artists borrow, great artists steal.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Weasel Cheeseburger Disease!

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Today's Burning Prompt Experience is inspired by my real life Tuberculosis Adventure:

Very few venture into the softlands, that ever-changing wasteland of illusion and danger, and even fewer travel to the Mouth of Chaos at its center, a twisting pillar of transformation that warps everything it touches. Mostly they are priests - come to close the Mouth of Chaos or to worship it, or try their faith against the softlands - magicians come to learn what the softlands have to teach about the nature of the world, or adventurers come looking for monsters to slay and treasures to sell. Some are desperate men, come in search of transformation, hoping the softlands or the Mouth of Chaos can change them in some way, remove some defect of body or character, or at the very least exchange a hunted face for an innocent one, however terrifying and deformed that new face might be. Cities have cropped up at the edge of the softlands, for these adventurers and madmen to spend their gold, and a few communities survive within its borders. A few.

No one knows when the sick man came to the softlands. No one will admit to having met him, succored him, even spoken to him, out of fear of reprisal. He probably suffered from some life-destroying disease, like leprosy or consumption. He had probably been cast out of his home and had nowhere else to go. Perhaps he hoped that the Mouth of Chaos would remove his illness altogether - it had been merciful in the past and might be again - or perhaps he had only hoped for death. Either way, he remained unchanged. It was the disease that enjoyed the full extent of the softlands' mad blessing.

Before, those who stayed away from the softlands were safe. Far from the edge of chaos, in sane countries, they could live in peace and enjoy whatever their lives had to offer. Before, those the softlands had touched could leave and travel the world, and though their strange or grotesque shapes might inspire admiration, pity, or revulsion - or some combination of the three - but never fear or hatred.

Not so once the Change Plague began. The mutant disease, born of one man's desperation, spread far and wide. Now a chance meeting could lead to infection, and infection invariably led to transformation. Some can carry the disease their whole lives without knowing, meaning that anyone touched by chaos - or, in fact, anyone at all - was suspect. And when the disease chose to blossom, it was as a terrible fever that changed as it killed, leaving the survivors with warped bodies and shattered minds, and the knowledge that one day the disease might blossom again, and again, and again.

Much of the world died in the anarchy that followed. Kingdoms fell and new ones rose in their place. Those who are touched by the chaos are carefully watched. In some places, they driven away or killed. The only place safe for us and those who become like us is here, at the edge of the softlands.

Welcome.

You know the rules; there aren't any! In comments (or with a link to your own blog), tell me a story of someone touched by the Change Plague, the softlands, or the Mouth of Chaos, or anything else in the above.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Burning Update Experience: Life Goes On

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It's that time again. Time for me to imitate my inspiration, the inestimable Mur Lafferty of I Should Be Writing and come clean on how much writing I've actually been doing and what else is going on in my creative world.

• • •

When it comes to fiction, I am still caught up in the Burning Rejection Challenge, where I dedicated myself to collecting fifty rejection letters in the coming year. The goal - to explain it to those who, like my father, might view it as somewhat backwards thinking - is to get myself to send stories out. If I make getting acceptances my goal, I'm bound to be disappointed more often than not. Even the best author gets rejected a lot, especially at first. If I make the goal of the game to collect rejections, though, I transform it into a win-win situation. If I get rejected, I win! One closer to my goal of fifty! If I get accepted, I win! More importantly, so do my ego and my bank account!

So far, I've accumulated... one rejection letter. However, I have sent out not one, not two, but three stories: The Invisible Kingdom (Redux) to Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, Storm Seeker to Black Gate, and The Evil Eye to Weird Tales. Two factors have been slowing me down: the incredibly slow turnaround time on submissions (often upwards of two months!) and what I'm calling a creative pseduo-slump. While I've had plenty of energy when it comes to completing, rewriting, and generally making printworthy old stories, no new ideas have leapt out at me. I wrote The Evil Eye back in the fall, The Invisible Kingdom (v1.0) about three years ago, and Storm Seeker back in college, back before the Abigail and I were even dating! I'm not complaining, mind you. My habit of starting stories and never finishing them is a good one to break.

As I implied in my last post, I think this is a symptom of my long inactivity. Getting up in the morning and going to an actual job (well, an actual training for an actual job for five months, then a month off, and then an actual job) will be good for my creative muscles. With old input, I improve old ideas, with new input will come new ideas.

• • •

Speaking of input, I am currently reading a lot of podcasts. Er... listening to a lot of stories. You know what I mean: Podcastle, Escape Pod, and Pseudopod have been a big deal in my personal brainspace. I like to think that all this short fiction is also helping me improve the short stories I've been sending out, but we'll see.

I've also been slowly working my way through Sir James George Frazer's The Golden Bough. I don't know how many of you are aware of this, but I was a religion major in college (I actually wanted to be a rabbi), and I remain fascinated by the things people believe. There's not much diference between fantasy and religion - I say this with the utmost respect and affection for both. We are story creatures, designed to take in life and put out narrative, making sense of the world. Making a myth is one of the most beautiful and fundamentally human things we do, up there with love, heroism, and art.

That's probably why I find some of Frazer's attitudes frustrating. His insistance that magic is replaced by religion is replaced by science is pretty self serving - of course, Frazer and his buddies are the scientists - and Frazer seems to have no consciousness about this. Despite the fact that his book studies magic and religion, he seems pretty dismissive of both. The fact that Frazer also tends to use the "savages" of Madagascar and the Indies as examples sticks in my metaphorical craw as well. That said, I haven't finished the book yet, so I shall refrain from any definitive statements until I have. This is just where I am right now.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I recently purchased a whole mess of RPG books, which I've also been reading, which brings us too...

• • •

Gaming.

Actually, the world of gaming has been pretty slow lately. Both the Abigail and I have numerous other obligations which prevent us from playing with each other or anyone else nearly as often as we'd like.

Between the Abigail and myself, we are running Divine Fire, a highly fun, slightly goobery Mage: the Awakening chronicle about a former Promethean (zombie alchemists seeking the Golden Dawn of humanity) who turned Mage upon achieving her goal. In the previous chapter, Cleo discovered her secret past and helped her Promethean friends free themselves from an onerous enmity. In this chapter, Cleo has been discovering just how far she will go to keep her friends safe... and how far some other people will go to make this difficult for her.

I also had the honor to run a one shot of Changeling: the Lost for the Abigail, Becca, and our friend Nick. In this game, I experimented with an absent-yet-present Storyteller Character in the form of Auragas, the Summer King, who had recently died of complications during heart surgery. As his favored courtiers, the player characters had the opportunity to tell me who Auragas was through their narrative and the character creation questionnaires they filled out at the start of game. It turned out that Auragas was a basically honorable but ultimately complicated man who had tried to do his job well despite his foibles. However, Auragas could have just as easily turned out to be a total bastard who the player characters were happy to be rid of, or an utter paragon of virtue, which would have sent the session in a totally different direction. I had no idea who Auragas would be until game started, and it was tons of fun.

[For a more detailed write-up of the session, you can check out the Changeling: the Lost Livejournal Community].

• • •

Finally, lest I come across as a literary saint, I have something to own up to. I did not, as I promised, send anything to the Fantasy Magazine flash fiction contest. Perhaps it was unrealistic to expect that I would, given the crazy that had invaded my life at that point, but that's not the issue. The issue is that I said I would, and I didn't, which is a shame, because now I know for a fact that I won't win.

• • •

That about covers today's Burning Update Experience. As I posted yesterday, and in accordance to the new schedule, I'll see you again on Friday.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Zeppelin Rides Again on the Winds of Change!

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I have good news, and I have bad news.

The good news is that the final results are in, the Oakland Teaching Fellowship is mine! I will no longer be an unemployed freelance writer and author, but an employed teacher, who is also a freelance writer and author. With money to spend, money will no longer be on my mind. Even given that I will have the Biology grades of fifty-odd (or more!) Oakland Unified School District students on my mind, I'm sure my creativity will benefit. In fact, I'll probably be able to mine my job for material - sitting in coffee shops being stressed isn't exactly story material.

The bad news is that my life will certainly be a lot more busy now that I have a "real" job, and as the song goes "something's gotta give." Unfortunately, the Burning Zeppelin loses out in this calculation. It would be stupid to cut into my limited writing time to write in a blog about writing, for example. If I cut into my the Abigail time... well, let's just say I'm glad my angsty poetry phase is behind me. So, Burning Zeppelin it is.

This doesn't mean that the Burning Zeppelin is going to crash, but it does mean that my promise to blog every single day is complete, as of today. I don't know what the final schedule is going to be, as I've got a lot of stress and life changes on stack for the coming months. For now, however, the Burning Zeppelin will fly on the following schedule:

Wednesday (when I have nothing going on in the evenings anyway)

Friday (when I can stay up as late as I dare)

Sunday (is a Sunday).

This schedule may make minor adjustments. Once per month, for example, when my man-cult meets on Saturdays, the Friday post may, in fact, appear on Saturday afternoon. I also reserve the right to make major course corrections as life keeps on coming at me, so Wednesday may become Tuesday, Friday may become Thursday, and Sunday... is likely to stay Sunday, but you never know. I do promise that the Burning Zeppelin Experience will continue to update at least three times a week with cool, compelling content, and other things that start with the letter "C."

• • •

I'd like to kick things off with a discussion of writing under stress. On some level, making time to write is just that. You make the time to write, you don't find it (under the couch?). That said, however, I'm sure there are a great wealth of coping strategies for writing under duress, and I want to hear about yours.

In the comments.

That you are going to post.

Now.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

= 1k Words

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Please allow me to direct your attention to the Fantasy Illustration Blog by Cynthia Shepphard (not, apparently, entirely unlike tea). I've been a follower of Cynthia's on livejournal for some time now, and I really like her art. Cynthia's paintings are wonderfully lush and full of incredibly intense colors. Her compositions are striking and dynamic, and she has a firm grasp of the fantastic and the surreal. To call Cynthia's work photorealistic would be a disservice - her paintings are far too real to be merely real. If you are at all a fan of fantastic art, I recommend checking her out, subscribing to her blog, and sending her money.

Of course, if you're into sending people money, you could also send me money. I wouldn't complain.

Cynthia hasn't posted any information regarding licensing yet, so you aren't going to see any of her paintings posted here as creative prompts. However, I have left her an LJ comment pointing her in the direction of Creative Commons licensing. If she gets on the Creative Commons train, I can guarantee that you'll see her art here on a regular basis. She really is that good.

Finally, please don't take my failing to add Cynthia's blog to my blogroll as an indication of a lukewarm endorsement. This blog is primarily about fiction, which Cynthia's paintings - however beautiful - aren't. I endorse Fantasy Illustration Blog (still not entirely unlike tea) whole-heartedly.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Wednesday Bonus Burn - Personal Effects: Dark Zeppelin

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I regret to say that I cannot endorse Personal Effects: Dark Art by self-made fantasy sensation J.C Hutchins. This is not because anything is wrong with the book, but rather for this simple reason: I haven't read it and I'm not likely to for a while.

We all saw what happened last time I made the mistake of talking about a book I hadn't read yet, and that's not an experience I'd like to repeat.

Don't you hate it when this happens? You get an Amazon gift card as a gift from your Hebrew school job and you stretch it admirably so that it covers World of Darkness: Inferno, Seers of the Throne, Summoners, Compass of Terrestrial Directions IV: The South, and Compass of Celestial Directions V: Malfeas. Then, the day after you spend the last imaginary cent of your gift card you discover thanks to I Should Be Writing Vidcast Episode 8 that this book that was hovering on the edge of your consciousness - Personal Effects: Dark Art - is actually something you want right now. And today is the official launch date. And you can't have it because you're out of gift card money and you're still really, really unemployed, so you're out of real money, too.

Yeah. It's a pain.

So, unless someone reading this has a spare copy of Personal Effects: Dark Art (or an extra $16.47 plus shipping and handling, or, you know, a spare job) lying around and would like to send it my way out of the goodness of your heart, it looks like I'm going to be behind the curve on this one.

What is it about Personal Effects: Dark Art that - belatedly, alas - attracted my attention? It began with the fact that J.C. Hutchins is a frighteningly effective self-promoter. He has been producing video and audio blurbs by famous writers and directors of horror and distributing them to his allies in the podcast community, running competitions on his website, and generally selling this project hard and fast.

Best of all, the book itself is a metatextual experience. It turns out that the book comes with a packet of documents - fake credit cards and driver's licenses, birth and death certificates, creepy looking artwork that J.C. refuses to comment upon - several of which lead to an ARG that lets the reader in on the action. There's the book you read, but if you're interested, there's also the book that happens to you.

I've got to wait until I've read it to comment decisively, but man, do I want this book. I don't know how good it really is, but it sounds great.

A Pullman, Paolini, Pierce Podcast Passion

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Tamora Pierce, Phillip Pullman, and Christopher Paolini have collaborated to produce a nine-episode podcast discussing such varied topics as worldbuilding, religion, inspiration, and animals. The entire series is available at one convenient imaginary location, and I recommend it solely based on the cast. I'll certainly listen to it myself when I get the chance.

I think my opinion of Tamora Pierce has been made clear. While I might not believe that Shakespeare is a demigod of the stage, I will gladly concede that Pierce is a demigod of the young adult page. My thoughts on Phillip Pullman are a little more complicated. I think he is a very good writer, and the series that brought him to my attention - His Dark Materials - is really a remarkable piece of fiction. However, it isn't that I object to his philosophy, but rather that I think he pushes it little too hard and makes it a little too obvious. Pullman is for me what many people have told me C.S. Lewis was for them. Descriptions of Paolini's books have never called out to me, but if he impresses me on this podcast, I may have to give them a chance.

In any case, enjoy! I'll post more thoughts on the series when I've listened to it myself.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Bard

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You'd think after my post about paladins, this one will be about the bard as a roleplaying and fantasy concept. Not so, alas. Instead, I would like to direct your attention to this article at Flashlight Worthy, a site of book recommendations and reviews. The article lists some of the best fiction set in Shakespeare's world, a world like Shakespeare's world, and/or featuring Shakespeare as a character.

I must confess that most of these premises do not thrill me. Though a theatrically inclined guy, I have never been an enormous fan of Shakespeare. Oh, sure, I appreciate the artistry of his verse and the sophistication of his plots and characterizations - especially when compared to some of his contemporaries - but I really see him as one brilliant author among the many brilliant authors and playwrights of the past, not a theatrical demigod.

What I really don't get is exactly what this post is about: Shakespeare adaptations and riffs. I don't find Shakespeare's plots to be the most fascinating thing about Shakespeare. Most of his stories are historical adaptations, fairly transparent farces, or iterations of plots and themes are were as old as dirt when Shakespeare was alive and are even older now. What makes Shakespeare brilliant, in my mind, is his artistry... which is exactly what you lose when you "adapt" Shakespeare or make him a character in a totally different story.

To complete my true and total alienation of my audience: I also think that arguing over who Shakespeare "really" was is completely goobery.

All of that said, however, a lot of people I really respect - including my wonderful fiance, the Abigail - never get tired of seeing Shakespeare plots finding new life, so there must be something there. If any of my audience wants to take a look at the books listed on the far side of the link and let me know which are the best - or make a recommendation of any kind in regards to this subgenre - I'll be happy to take you up on it.

While I'm on the topic of the Bard, I ought to confess that despite everything I wrote above I once did it, too. The game was Exalted, the player was the Abigail, and the character was Delicate Orchid, a rich merchant's daughter with a bad case of asthma, and had thus been raised in a wealthy "gated community" situated in the tall, air-conditioned (and more to the point, filtered) apartments of a First Age ruin. Orchid is a good example of mixing humor and drama in a game, as the character exalts as a Lunar and comes to grips with being a member of a society composed primarily of self-consciously barbarous barbarians... and she a Delicate Orchid who has never been outside because before the gods fixed her lung problem, a bad case of hay fever would have killed her. The best part was when she nearly panicked about the thought of being allergic to herself.

In any case, the moment I'm referencing took place during Orchid's rites of passage. She was tasked with arranging a marriage between a pair of star-crossed lovers in a half-civilized border town with a strong ethic of dueling and tragic/heroic suicides. I had a lot of fun playing those two hormone-crazed teenagers as really, really keen on killing themselves for love (just like so-and-so from the epics!), with Orchid acting as their divine patron, delivering messages and desperately trying to keep them alive. Her parting advice "take this girl to your aunt's in the country and get her pregnant as fast as possible!"

So, I suppose there's life in old Shakey yet.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Weekend Bonus Burn: Force of Habit

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It's daylight. I'm in a café (the Abigail chased me out of the apartment so she can work on a paper). It must be time to write a burning zeppelin post!

Not quite. I do enjoy my weekend lazies.

I don't feel that this week's posts have been quite up to my usual quality, so I'll toss you a bone. Have a look at May 24th's Worlds of Tomorrow, a regular feature at Escape Pod. Worlds of Tomorrow is Escape Pod's movie review (similar features are found at PodCastle and Pseudopod). The episode to which I am directing you discusses the (old) smash hit Armageddon.

I have fond memories of Armageddon. I enjoyed it a great deal, though I liked it's sister-movie, Deep Impact, even better. In fact, 1998 was the year I first discovered that every movie comes out twice, as rival studios aggressively compete to see whose take on a given concept would fair better at the box office.

Although Deep Impact's humanity appealed to my softer side, Armageddon is not without virtue. In his review, Pseudopod host Allister Stuart nails down exactly what was brilliant about Armageddon. If you've seen the movie and want to be confirmed in your good taste or are looking for an excuse to watch it, I recommend Worlds of Tomorrow.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

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Don't worry, the Abigail and I are fine. No, I'm breaking up with iCafe, the free wireless equipped internet cafe where I once spent my days fruitlessly searching for work, writing, and sending out short stories. I've been forced to retreat to the somewhat less snazzy Happy Doughnut across the street. When there's money in my bank account again, I'll probably go back to my first love, Tart to Tart.

I understand that the proprietors of coffee shops need to make a living, and they do that by selling coffee and sandwiches, not providing a roof and walls for my unemployed self. For fuck's sake, though I'm not costing them any appreciable money by sitting there. My computer doesn't draw that much power, my use of the internet doesn't take up that much bandwith, and my ass doesn't take up that much space. They can afford to be generous. The pricks.

More importantly, this sends me a clear message about what the shop's priorities are. They don't want to be a gathering place for the community, they want to make a buck. When I've got money, they're happy to welcome me, but when I strapped for cash, they toss me out. Well, that's fine, that's their prerogative, but it's a poor way to do business. When I do have money again, I'll take my business somewhere that has never ceased to be welcoming, like Starbucks or Tart to Tart.

I'll call this the aggravating cap to an aggravating week. Hopefully the weekend will be better.

• • •

  • Have you ever been kicked out of a coffee shop you were happily writing in by greedy, short-sighted shit-for-brains?
  • I know this is mostly my rough week and lack of sleep talking, but is it wrong for me to wish really, really hard for iCafe to burn down?
  • Even if I also wish that no one is hurt in the conflaguration?