20 December 2010 0 comments

A few last words for the year.

Despite the fact that I'm an obsessive realist, I tend to focus (most of the time!) on the positive.
This has been a good year. A year of changes (thanks, Chinese Metal Tiger) that haven't quite ended just yet (another six weeks) that have all proven to be for the better despite the difficulties they present.  A year of challenges, to the way I think. The way I see myself.  And my writing.  A year of new relationships -- friends, acquaintances, both personal and professional. I feel as if this single year has been the condensed version of a decade. Other times it has felt like it couldn't possibly end soon enough.

I'm looking forward to the coming year (the Metal Rabbit), of peace and introspection as a time to engage more fully in my writing. There will be more to come. A lot more. This, this is just the beginning. I hope you enjoy taking this journey with me.

Beginning the first week of January (to be posted on the 7th) the next Muse in the series will be Black. Yes, the one that's been giving me ten kinds of hell for the past three months. That's the one. I look forward to introducing this particular muse, and hope you won't mind following me a little off the beaten path.  Because... I always take the road less traveled. The path of greater resistance. The probability of hardship is greater, but the experience is all the richer for it. And that, after all, is what makes life interesting.

In February, I'm going to celebrate my birthday by pulling out a muse from my oldest work. One that I've had in and out of the trunk for roughly twenty years. It's an epic fantasy that bleeds over into science fiction, and challenges the concept of magic versus technology. It seems to be slowly turning into the story of a woman, told by the men around her. Brother, father, comrade, mentor. The dynamic qualities of the myriad relationships in our lives, and the influence they have on our choices, our perspectives. Of course, that could all change completely and the story end up something entirely different. *eyeroll* Can you tell I have a love/hate relational dynamic going on here?

Starting in March, I'm aiming for introducing the muses from "Father of All Things", if all goes well. I have a few excerpts that didn't make it into the text, and the cast in the story is more than rich enough to keep us busy up until the book's release later in the summer.

Don't worry, I promise not to spoil the story for you. But I'll tease you, to no end...

And let you walk the journey with me.

I'll let you see inside my head, but it's rather messy in there.  So, no guarantees that any of it will make sense.

Enjoy the holidays, and hopefully they're full of peace and the joy of family. The comfort of home. However you might choose to define those terms.
Oh, and don't forget to go out and watch the winter solstice eclipse tomorrow night...
14 December 2010 1 comments

Meet the Muses: Interview: Konaton

Getting Konaton to sit down with me wasn't all that difficult. It was the conversation itself I found to be the most difficult. Not the most uncomfortable muse discussion I've had, by far, but short of a jackhammer and a pair of draft horses, I knew I wouldn't be getting anything more from him than he was feeling generous enough to give.

Konaton and generous are antonyms in the New World Dictionary. I'm now convinced of it.

Everything about him is dark, as he sits staring at me with a sullen expression from the opposite side of the living room. The hint of color covering his scalp in a shadow of fuzz. The circles smudged around his eyes. The complexion of his skin, too cafe au lait to pass for a tan, especially in the dead of winter.

I tap my pen against the notebook with its carefully worded list of questions. I knew from the inception this wouldn't be easy.  Konaton jiggles a leg, solid black cargo pants bloused military-style into black Goretex boots. He arches a brow at me expectantly, and folds his muscled arms across his chest. Not overly bulky, his physique. More that well-toned, dense musculature that comes from exercise.
Lots of it. Either that or he deliberately wears his black tees a size too small. Gauging by shoulder span, I'd say not.

"So you served in the military." Not a question. Just a starting point. He declined the offer of beverages ("I don't need stimulants, thanks.") and refreshments ("Not hungry.") at which point it became blatantly clear that getting him to open up would demand a crowbar.

"Yeah, you could call it that." He rubs a hand over the tight trace of hair on his scalp, roughly, like the fuzz serves as sandpaper against his callouses or something. The corner of his mouth twitches. "Ten years, or near enough."

"What branch?"

"All of 'em, at one point or another."

"Lovely. Throw me a bone here, would you?" At least his voice isn't some high-pitched squeak. Actually, he has a very soothing voice. A slight burr, but that just-this-side-of-bass pitch makes it pleasant.  "Where were you born?"

"Guam."

I'm learning quick with this one. "And your childhood? Where did you grow up?"

He grins, like the expression is a cookie for me.  Sadly, it's accurate. He has a very engaging smile.  Highly contagious. "Detroit."

"Siblings? Parents?"

"No. Yes." He cants his head a fraction. "Did you think I was cloned, or something?" He snorts, a derisive sound. "I told you where I was born. That fancy shit is for the rich. The merc companies."

There's a hint of an accent in his voice in those last couple sentences, one that wasn't there before. It's faint, though. "Oh, right. The ranks of the military are full of the clone types, then?"

"No," he drawls. "That tech is still too expensive to be employed in such a way. They still use the expendable population for that. Grunts are full of cybernetic upgrades though. Especially the jarheads. All gung-ho for that ultimate soldier crap. "

There's the accent again.  Heavier. Sounds almost like an inner-city slang, or multi-lingual patois influence. "Do you have any? Upgrades or implants?"

His jiggling leg stills, and his shoulders drop a fraction. It's not relaxation at all. More like he's gathering himself to jump up off the couch. "A couple. Necessity only. Can't be a soldier for a decade without accumulating a few injuries along the way." The accent is gone. Completely. As if it never existed. Every syllable perfectly enunciated.

"No, I imagine not. Unless you manage to get a desk jockey slot."

Konaton arches his brows and laughs, a soft chuckle. "Yeah."

"Was it lonely, growing up without siblings to play with?"

"I had other playmates, as a child. My father loved dogs. Said they were the best companions for a kid. There were always five or six of them living with us. They slept in my bed, played with me, watched over me. My first squad."

"Uh. Your first squad?"

His smile is a soft, secretive one this time. A loose expression borne of fond memories. "Yep. Dad was prior military. Made me count heads to make sure everyone was accounted for when he let them in from the yard."

"That old military adage, 'never leave a man behind'?"

"That would be the one. It stuck with me."

"I bet you were a good squad leader."

"My men thought so. They were the best I'd ever seen."

"Good leadership has that tendency, though, doesn't it? To bring out the best in people?"

Konaton shifts on the couch and chafes a hand down his thigh, stretches his legs out and crosses his ankles. He looks more comfortable now, like he's finally beginning to relax. "Yeah. There's a heavy weight of responsibility, but it's not much of a burden when you have a good, solid team like I did. I didn't have to tell them to watch each others' backs. They did it anyways, because they cared. We weren't just comrades serving together. I wasn't just their squad leader. We were the best of friends, for those years we served together. And I was a good leader only because I always brought them home."

He looks up at me, then his gaze slides past me and I know he isn't seeing my living room anymore. I sit in silence and watch him, the haunted, strained expression in his eyes, his face. And wait for him to continue at his own pace.

"Some implants come standard with the service commission. One of those is a synaptic communication chip. Lets squad members share information without speaking, even on a subvocal level. Much more efficient, secure. The technological application was still in its infancy when it was installed. My squad...we didn't have the filters and blocks that most of the military service makes use of now. The thing is, the implant can't be removed once it's in place. And it can't be deactivated either."

"So you're still able to communicate with your squad members? Is that what you're saying?"

"I think so. To some extent, at least. You learn to block it out, shut it off in your head, after a while. To filter it on your own. We all did, while we were together as a squad. I've made use of that a great deal since I resigned my service commission. I imagine they've all done the same. Sometimes I get vague impressions that leak through. And those barriers don't seem to stay in place while I'm sleeping. I guess they require constant conscious effort to maintain? Not sure."

"Do you have weird dreams sometimes, then? Talk to them in your sleep?"

He gives me a strange look and laughs. "Yeah, now and then. Psychological trauma from combat service tends to have a detrimental influence on a person's sleep cycles and quality."

"You don't sleep much."

"No."

"How do you know they're not just intensely lucid dream patterns? How do you know it's real?"

A sheepish grin appears on his face. "I'm a logical, rational individual. I'm willing to concede that it's entirely possible I've simply gone completely insane."

Gotta love this guy. "If you had, you would no longer be rational though. That's slightly counter-intuitive."

"In which case, I'm either correct and the communication link is still active, or I really am crazy."

"Which concludes absolutely nothing."

"Only way to know for sure is to ask one of them."

"Ask them if they hear you too?"

He shrugs. "Yeah. To consciously attempt to contact one of them. And see what happens."

"Have you tried that?"

"Not yet. But I've been giving it serious thought. I know they've all moved on, settled into their own lives or whatever, but some shit's been flying around my general vicinity. And I could use a few people I can trust to watch my back again."

"You'll have to let me know how that goes."

Konaton grips the edge of the couch and pushes to his feet in one fluid movement. "No worries. I'll give you all the gory details. I promise."

He doesn't look back as he leaves. I listen to the door slam on the porch, and smile. He could have left without making a sound, so I'm grateful he was considerate enough to let me hear him depart.
10 December 2010 1 comments

Take what you can get.

There are as many techniques for successful productivity as a writer, as many schools of thought on the subject, as there are writers out there.

Some writers insist that focusing on a single project, and devoting all your energies to it, is the best approach. The only approach to take. That dividing your energies between multiple projects lessens the quality of energies devoted to any one single writing project.

Although there is some measure of truth in this philosophy, I don't adhere to it at all. Sometimes the best thing you can do for a story is walk away from it, let it rest, give your mind another project to work on, so that you can work through whatever block you're struggling with—on a subconscious level.

The solution will come with time, when it's ready.

At which point, the story will return to the top of the to-do list, ready to cooperate fully.

Optimally.

Personally, I adhere to the school of belief that when a writer has "block", it's the mind's way of saying, "there's something fundamentally flawed in this story's structure, and as it stands the story cannot hope to resolve itself logically with any success."

It brings to mind a computer software program with a fatal error.

If, instead of hunting down and repairing the error, you instead create innumerable subroutines to alleviate the symptoms of the flaw, what you end up with is a Microsoft operating system. I mean, a mess. *ha*

One you can't hope to untangle. Not with any amount of effort or good intention.

So instead of pushing forward, slogging through to the culmination of a flawed plot, or flawed characters, you go back to the beginning and assess the assets on hand. Pros versus cons. Where can I shore up the positive attributes, strengthen and build on them? Identify the cancerous growths that undermine the resilience and vibrancy of the storytelling. Cut them out, without bias or regret or guilt.

And then rebuild, from the foundation up. Incorporating what remains into the new structure.

Optimally, one has a blueprint for the design. Otherwise…you end up right back where you started. Having a vision of what the end result should look like is great. Awesome. Building a blueprint puts it all down where you can see it. Where you can tweak the little details, and increase the quality of the end result. This is kind of like how an artist or painter will step back from their work every few minutes. Stand there and stare at the progress they've made. Identifying the places that aren't quite right. The points in the picture that don't reinforce the overall effect or impact.

It's why the old-school painters (Leonardo Da Vinci comes to mind here) had a hundred sketches of the painting, before they ever put brush to canvas.

Okay, maybe not a hundred.

But enough to refine the image, the overall impact, over the course of a series of sketches, before the end result took actual form. There's no room for error, when carving marble statues, for instance.

So…outlining a story naturally leads from this train of thought. It becomes a necessity to do so. Otherwise the artist expends energy needlessly, fruitlessly.

And I am so tired of wasting my writing energies. They manifest rather sparsely, as it is.

Yay. Plot outlines. K

Thrilling task.

Muses are going, "nooooo…I Don't Want To."

Time to break out the whip and start cracking it. I've been much too lenient and indulgent with them, obviously.

I mean, really. Vacationing in Bora Bora? While I freeze my ass off? Seriously. Way too indulgent. I want some sun too, damn it.

08 December 2010 0 comments

Meet the Muses: Origin: Konaton



I thought it might be best to start out slowly, with a character that isn't yet engaged in actively telling his story.
Not that I haven't tried, of course. Konaton is ... not the chatty sort. As you'll no doubt get to see firsthand.  That's next week.   The origins alone, the sheer span of time it has taken me to get him even this far out of his shell, totally boggles my mind.

I was trolling search engines, looking for names for secondary characters. Unique, but viable, spellings. I hate nonsense names, and I hate to arbitrarily just change the way something is spelled just for the sake of differentiation. Especially not without verifying any meaning or source it may have. There are so many cultures out there in the world, varied and rich, one tends to sometimes stumble upon unintentional meanings.

From the US Geological Survey, Geographic Dictionary of Alaska.
This name caught my eye, and immediately sparked a muse in my head. That photo in the Excerpt post is almost exactly how he manifested.  Lurking in the deepest shadows, barely visible; just a presence so strong it was almost tangible, palpable. It's rare that you meet people like that in real life, right? To have one suddenly in your head is... powerful. And disturbing.
I wanted to poke at him. "Hello, who the hell are you and where'd you come from?" 
No answer, of course.
Just this. Below is the original character sketch I drafted when "Konaton" first crossed paths with me and took up residence in the darkest reaches of my mind.

The name is South-Pacific Islander in origin. Rolls off the tongue nicely, with a combination of sharp consonants and round vowels.  He's someone who changes moods in the flash of an eye. A man who can smile at you one minute and stab you through the heart with your own fork the next. Not in the back; he does have honor after all.
 He's a "black irish".... No flaunting his temper in a head of red hair for all to see. This one, you don't see coming, like a Mack truck with no running lights plowing through an intersection. His eyes are the icy grey of a winter sky, offering no promise of warmth and not even the faintest hope of relief in sight. A Winter Solstice Dream.... the longest night, with only the dismal anticipation of brutally cold weather ahead. Though many cultures use this pagan observance as a reason to indulge in revelry and the celebration of light and life that the coming spring will bring, Konaton is the "Black Death" lurking in the shadows, leering. He is the wolf pack racing over the ice-crusted snow, hunger spurring their speed as they ambush their prey. He is the deadly chill that freezes the sap in the trees and shatters them with a sound like the volley of cannon-fire.
 Konaton is, understandably, a cynical pessimist. Not so much "gloom and doom, woe is me" as he is "yeah. sure. let me get right on that" while he keels back, kicks up his feet, and tosses down a shot of whiskey. One never knows if a task will hold his interest long enough for him to complete it or not. He lives for a challenge, but the best way to ensure he'll follow through -- is to engage his self-preservation instincts in the process. 
During the time that I was co-writing FOAT with Aleks, I went searching for a photo to serve as a visual representation of the character I was writing. I needed to "see" him. I found one -- but I also discovered the silhouetted figure of Konaton as well. I saw it, and knew in my gut it was someone. Was distracted with the current project, though, so I saved it to my computer. A few weeks later, he deigned to make the connection for me.

The excerpt wasn't written until early September, shortly after the co-write project reached resolution. I had the opportunity to chat with a few vets about PTSD, about the things it does to them. About their experiences, both before and after retirement from the armed forces. It's rare that they talk about such things. People don't understand what they've been through.  People don't understand what the military trained them to be. They just want to be left alone, not poked and prodded like lab rats.
One vet in particular told me of roosting outside his mother's house for months on end, because he wanted her to be safe. It was this instance that birthed the scene, that inspired it. Konaton spoke up, and showed me what it was like to do that sort of thing. The mindset that a former soldier would have, what would drive them to do it.

It's difficult for me to see where Konaton is trying to take me. What he'll show me next, or even the nature of the story he has to share. It's entirely possible that this is the predator to pit against another of his own ilk.
What a showdown that would make -- sniper versus vampire. Who's hunting who?
07 December 2010 1 comments

A little writing research

Toward the goal of delving into the facets of the soldier's psyche, I've been wanting to watch the film "Restrepo" for some time. Limited theater engagements meant waiting until the movie released to dvd. It was a long wait, but well worth it.

Ironic that, as with CSM Prosser's valiance being witnessed and recorded by embedded journalist Michael Yon in 2005, and subsequently recognized and rewarded, Giunta's actions were likewise witnessed and recorded.


The Sal Giunta Story from SebastianJunger/TimHetherington on Vimeo.

Giunta makes a very valid statement in this interview. "Fuck you," he says. Every soldier he's served with, he explains, deserves the recognition for their service that he's received.

I watched the movie, earlier today. Many poignant moments trapped on film, and no doubt I'll watch it many more times, to view them again and again. The movie isn't filled with graphic gun-fighting though. And that's not what I find valuable anyways. I watch their eyes, their facial expressions, in the moment, in the interview excerpts. Those moments when they stop talking, when you can see the memories playing out in their mind, and the emotion that goes with it.
The humanity in the soldier. That's what I strive to portray. I don't aim to glorify The Soldier in any way. To glorify the soldier is to glorify war, and there is no glory in war. No, I strive to glorify the humanity. To portray the moments of compassion, of passion. The softer aspects that are not lost in civilized society's ranks of the "expendable".

After all, isn't that what the definition of a soldier is? In the purely academic sense. I don't perceive them in such a manner at all, mind. But the accurate, authentic portrayal of one who is employed in such a role, must needs take into account this philosophy, this aspect, even if only for the purpose of turning it on its head and refuting it.

Because no life is truly expendable. The humanity is precious. And the spark of compassion, of intimacy and solidarity and cohesion, that is worth celebrating. It is the contrast, after a fashion, that holds the fascination. Life, in the face of death. Love, in the face of hatred. Compassion, in the face of rage. Intangible ideals may drive an individual to wage war, but in the end a soldier fights not for those, but to defend and protect the lives of his shield brothers, to guard their backs as they guard his. From that comes true valor.
05 December 2010 1 comments

A Plethora of Writer-Flail Analogies

I've the climactic scenes roughly outlined for the end of "Black".
It's not making the actual writing of the words any easier. I have this *waves hands* vague mental concept of what's going to happen.  The main antagonists are coming front and center to the stage for the first time in the story... at the end. I don't know if this technique will work at ALL.

Have you ever gone walking down a the line of a large television display? LED's have phenomenal contrast ratios. Beyond anything a standard LCD is capable of. And let's not even bother with standard Plasma. You look at the picture quality of one compared to the next. From 10k:1 contrast ratio, to 100k:1 in the LCD models. Big difference, right? The sharp image, the clarity. This is what the initial stages of writing is like. You get the detail, the greater focus. Yeah, this is great, it's beautiful. The quality of the colors excites the eye.

Then walk on down the line to the LED models, and the contrast against the LCD makes the latter look like you're watching mud or something. What's 10k or 100k when you've got 2 million or 4 million to one, right? Holy shit, you can see the flaws in the stage makeup. The zits they scrambled to hide. The flaws that come with age, the wrinkles and crow's feet.  Don't stand too close, though, because your eyes will start to hurt. Gives you a headache real fast. Trust me. I'm speaking from experience. Optimal viewing distance is at least ten feet. This is what editing is like. Can't bury yourself in the throes of writing each scene, and feeling the emotional tension. You have to start looking at the bigger picture, the overall slope of the the plot development.
Stand too close, and all you see is ugly. The beauty, the artistic impact, is completely lost.

Can't even describe what a 10 million to one contrast ratio is like.
But that's where I'm at. Two feet from a 47" LED screen with 10 million to one ratio. I'm seeing nothing but every little detail that is less than perfect.
And it's giving me a splitting headache.
Welcome to the Bookhate stage, in which the writer wishes to utterly obliterate their creation. In which all that was good, and beautiful, and awe-inspiring has been transformed into nightmarish proximity.

Need a breather. Need to take a few steps back. Bigger picture. The little flaws aren't that big a deal. Who cares if the character has a zit. It's the part they play, the impact of their performance. The emotion and passion their role evokes in the audience. Quit looking at the obvious signs of age in an actor portraying a character half their age.

Going to finish these last few scenes. Wrap it up, pull the threads together. And I'll worry about tightening it up after I walk away from it for a while. Come back with a fresh perspective, and make sure the design is the way I envisioned it in my head. Tweak the flaws to strengthen the impact.

And then tie the knots.

I really should stop with the analogies. Can't help it, though. It's how I work through the gunk and devise a way to tackle the obstacles that face me. It's the only logic I can wrap my head around.

I wonder what sunsets look like, if you're colorblind?...Hmm.
02 December 2010 1 comments

I Blame the Delay on Environmental Factors

Nah, I'm not talking about snow. The torrential rains and temporary 60-degree weather (that dropped 30 degrees by nightfall) was bad enough. I cannot think of any other reason why I spent the past two days feeling, in turn, restless and lethargic.

Trying to churn out 90 pages in two days is a monumental task, for me. Needless to say, it didn't happen. I did, however, manage to outline the remaining scenes for the plot. So I know what's going to happen now -- thank you, Black, for finally bothering to share that with me -- and all that remains is to flesh them out. And then maybe go back through and plug in a few scenes that got cut into other areas of the story. Because only two sex scenes? Damn that's sparse. No worries, that Steaming Couch Scene made the cut.

Although I may need to fluff one in at the end, because as things stand the story will end without Black's gender being much clearer than mud, really. I think.
Might need some beta feedback on that. It's entirely possible that I'm not giving the reader/audience enough credit. It's not really necessary to thwack the reader over the head with the finer points -- I forget that sometimes, when I'm in the throes of writing and plotting and trying to untwist the hopeless mess of a story into something that resembles coherency.

I'm planning on making a dent in the climactic scenes over the next couple days, but I doubt the ms will reach its conclusion before Tuesday or Wednesday of next week, when I've a couple days off to slam-dunk it.

So I'm a week behind schedule. *cringes* I really must learn to OUTLINE my stories in advance. Instead of waiting until I reach the point of "holy shit there's no way this is going to work" before I bother. Heh.

Must say, though, that my plot flailing was partially cured by a few suggestions from that Burn Notice article Aleks wrote.  Make things bad, then make them worse, and stir vigorously.  And make your antagonists competent. And make your protagonist work to overcome them.

What I like, though, is the hero who never succeeds singlehandedly. Theoretically he's capable of it, but in the end he owes at least partial credit for overcoming the obstacles to someone else. Not dependency so much as teamwork. Because few things in life are attained in solitary effort.

I mean, yeah this is a solo project -- but I haven't been doing it alone. Far from it...
01 December 2010 2 comments

Meet the Muses: Excerpt: Konaton.



The colors they see, I’ll never appreciate. Where I lost one sense, I gained another. The darkness others see, I’ve never known. And it’s made all the difference over the years.

Few snipers are forcibly decommissioned – like bullets, you don’t dismantle them. You put them in the rifle and pull the trigger. They’re tools, meant to be used. Expended. Nobody cares much about the empty shell that hits the ground, so long as the bullet’s on target. One shot, one kill.

The cool steel of the rifle feels alive beneath my touch. Not living and breathing, not like that. More like me. Chilled, dead and still inside. A corporeal manifestation of my soul, visible, tangible.




Strictly functional, stripped down to the fundamentals, to the core of its being. Flat, unpolished, giving no surface for even the faint light of moon, stars, or stray beam of streetlight to refract off of. No scope – don’t need one, not with my vision. Just gets in the way. Can put flying metal through the eye of a target in LOS without one.

I can feel the tension, the danger. It makes the hairs stand up on my skin. Everywhere. That sensation drives me out here to roost each night. To watch, and wait. I know that out here, I’m safe.

Never the same roost twice in a row. I’ve staked out a dozen spots, more, to use. Random selection each evening at dusk. Unpredictable is secure. Whomever it is out there watching me, I haven’t caught a glimpse of them. I feel their presence, their attention focusing where it shouldn’t. Beyond that, there’s been no sign. Nothing tangible or visible.

That lack isn’t enough to stop me from crouching in the vee of a tree, or stretching out prone beneath the dense cover of the honeysuckle bush along the edge of the property, where civilization meets the wilderness of untouched woodlands. Cool steel against the warm flesh of my forearm, finger resting flush against the trigger, waiting, watching.

I sleep with my eyes open.

Don’t remember how else to do it.
 
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