Saturday, January 31, 2015

Note to self: Changing up your technique won't wreck your flow.

We all like to feel like our own way is best, especially in creative endeavors. Sometimes, though, we have to step away from what works for us and try something new. Vessel's first two books were written with very little outlining, relying mostly on character-driven plot development (#JesseTakeTheWheel) and how well I know my own story. At a certain point, I started to shy away from the very notion of outlining, even when it seemed like a good idea, fearful that it would upset my thinky-feely but reliably dope process, or even change the way my writing sounds. But as the Vessel universe's scope increases toward the fifth book, it became necessary for me to stop in the middle of writing Book III and outline it in detail from start to finish, as well as take a page from J.K. Rowling and create a timeline for the entire series. I finished Book III's outline TONIGHT. Holes have been filled, vague details clarified, and while some writing and editing still remains, there is definitely a cohesive book at the end of the tunnel now, and not the swiss-cheese shaped story I've been grappling with for months. Hallelujah! 

I am your despair!

From me to you: Don't be afraid to explore a new approach, no matter how far you've come already using your own system. It's never too late, and you've got nothing to lose. At best, your work will improve. At worst, the new thing won't work for you, and you can return to the comfort of your old familiar ways! 

My old familiar ways? Doodling in the margins 4EVER. Works for outlines, too!

This is what happens when I use a copy of Dinotopia to balance my notebook.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

I don't know how to quit you: The inescapable drive to create.

I spoke with a friend recently about personal responsibility, which led to some words you might take to heart if you agonize over long-term projects that aren't exactly profitable. Or if you have a creative person in your life. I told my friend that I enjoy my life--that I'm doing what I love and living comfortably--but that I sometimes can't shake the nagging feeling that I appear irresponsible to others. I work an unskilled job and basically live paycheck-to-paycheck--all to afford myself the time and freedom to write Vessel. And truth be told, I squander a lot of that time. On Netflix series, on sleeping in, on doing nothing at all (more on all that later). In addition, I realize that my numberless projects appear totally half-assed and capricious. From selling on etsy to learning banjo to freelance graphic design, my endeavors, in true Aries fashion, start off with a bang and then quickly fizzle.

All but one.

"Yeah, but what if you don't finish it?" my friend asked.

"What do you mean?"

"The books. What if you lose interest?"

I was silent for a minute. What I wanted to tell him seemed obvious and irrefutable to me, but to someone who doesn't live inside my head? It probably sounds like raving insanity at best--or, at worst, like the impassioned declarations of another self-labeled artiste who will drop everything at the next distraction. What I wanted to tell him is that Vessel, in some form or another, has had a firm foothold in my brain since the age of 12. That's well over half of my life now. To lose interest in it now--or ever--would be like losing interest in eating. In living indoors. In bathing. Losing interest would require a total sea change. To drop Vessel would be no less dramatic a move to me than dropping all my possessions and earthly contacts and trekking to live off the grid in Alaska. I am not being sarcastic. At this point, the thought of dropping Vessel is as alien to me as the concept of pointedly walking away from my family or my closest friend without a word, never to see them again. It's more than just an unlikely or unpleasant possibility. It's a literal impossibility. It just won't happen. I can't even imagine a scenario in which it could happen, besides some apocalyptic reality in which I must spend 100% of my time on survival alone. Maybe then. Maybe.

But that all sounded quite trite and crazy, so after a few minutes of babbling about family, I put it to my friend this way: "Imagine that you've built the perfect house in your head. Your dream house. It has everything you want, and you want to live in it so bad. It's architecturally sound and everything. Now imagine that you have the land, the materials, the labor to build it, all of it free. It will literally cost you nothing to build it. All you have to do is be there, build it. Again, living in this thing is all you want, and you have everything you need to make it happen. So. . . How could you not do it? How could you not?"

That's the closest I can come to explaining it. Sure, Vessel may be amateur genre fiction, perhaps riddled with cliches and irksome POV choices, but it's still the story I need to write. My job is to make it the best that I personally can. I can't promise that I'll do a better job at it than anybody else, or even that I'll do a great job at all. But I can promise that I will do it. I have everything I need, after all, and no one else is going to do it.

How could I not?

To answer Rilke's famous question, and as silly as it sounds set before a backdrop of exploding tour buses and frisky man-gods:
I must. 

So rest assured: if you read and love Vessel, the series will get finished. Have no doubt. I vow to fight my Netflix timesuck demons and get it to you sooner rather than later, but one way or another--so long as I am alive, that is--it will get to you. Now if that pesky apocalypse comes along and wipes the internet out? I'll be in Seattle, subsisting on leftover sauce at the downtown Buffalo Wild Wings. Come find me. I'll tell you how it ends. 

"Go within. Search for the cause, find the impetus that bids you write. Put it to this test: Does it stretch out its roots in the deepest place of your heart? Can you avow that you would die if you were forbidden to write? Above all, in the most silent hour of your night, ask yourself this: Must I write? Dig deep into yourself for a true answer. And if it should ring its assent, if you can confidently meet this serious question with a simple, “I must," then build your life upon it. It has become your necessity."  
Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet (The First Letter) 

 Take it from here, Inspirational Sloth.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Best of: Books I read in 2014

So this post won't be as long or encompassing as last year's roundup, mostly because the first quarter of my year was spent on one entry alone (the Song of Ice and Fire series). Nothing that I read last year rocketed to My Favorite Books of All Time status quite like Kushiel's Dart or Lies of Locke Lamora, but I did discover a new favorite author and continue a beloved graphic novel series. So without further ado, my favorite reads from 2014:

The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood
Yes, I am late to the gate on this one. This was my first Atwood. I know. I know. I can't believe I waited this long. Girlfriend is incredible, and Alias Grace, Handmaid's Tale, and Oryx & Crake are already calling to me as I struggle to finish the books I'm currently reading. I can't wait to read more of her. But if you, like I once was, are Without Atwood In Your Life, then Blind Assassin is a great introduction to her effortlessly beautiful but totally accessible and entertaining prose. The book weaves four rather different stories together, culminating at the point where they meet: the apparent suicide of protag Iris's sister Laura. From Iris, we hear the account of the complicated youth and troubled marriage of an industry heiress in post-WWI Canada. We also hear about her freer--but much less glamorous--days as an elderly woman putzing the sidewalks and eating donuts in the town that her family used to own. Interspersed throughout her narratives are chapters of a fiction within a fiction, and a fiction within that fiction: the story of two lovers meeting again and again, continuously building a pulp sci-fi plot together after their lovemaking sessions. It becomes clear that these chapters are pulled from a book very important to Iris: but who wrote it?

A Song of Ice and Fire series, George R. R. Martin.
Endlessly entertaining family drama (and trauma). Excellent fantasy world building, zero flowery fantasy prose. But you've already heard that from every reader in your life. The hype is real. Just read it.

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark And The Spending of a Great American Fortune, Bill Dedman
This book examines the long, isolated, totally off-the-wall life of a 20th century heiress with limitless financial resources, courtesy of her father, one W.A. Clark, an American empire builder who can claim the decision to buy the land that Las Vegas sits on to build a maintenance stop for his railroad system (Ever heard of Clark County, NV?) as one of his minor financial moves. Moving on: Huguette was old enough when the Titanic sank to remember it, and died during the beginning of Obama's presidency. THINK ABOUT THAT. And she was unimaginably rich and able-bodied the whole time. So what did she do with her 115 years of lavish wealth and good health? Totes bought a lot of art, got married for like five minutes, commissioned lots and lots of very detailed Japanese dollhouses, donated to her father's charities, hung out with her bff/mom, corresponded with a married Frenchman, lived as a total recluse, and inexplicably spent the last 20 years of her life in a hospital room despite being in great health, giving money to people right and left. Fascinating profile of a one-of-a-kind boss lady. All hail.

Saga: Volume 3, Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
In which I return to one of my favorite series! Seriously, if you love graphic novels--or if you like the idea of graphic novels but don't know where to dive in--get on this shit. The artwork is breathtaking and you cannot go wrong with the storytelling. No trite hero struggling between the weight of saving the world and maintaining a personal life, no undead overtaking the earth, no butt-kicking femme fatales (unless you count armless spider lady and all-around perfect being The Stalk). It's just a small family trying to survive on the run in a war-torn galaxy, with a cast of compelling characters on their heels at every turn. And Volume 3 is the best of the bunch so far! So far. I just bought Volume 4 and I am dying to get to it! UPDATE: Volume 4 was superb.

That wraps it up, folks. Enjoy! And for further reference:
Best of: Books I read in 2013
5 Books I found essential in 2010
....Crap. I thought I'd done more of these roundups. Maybe they're mislabeled somewhere on this site. Oh well. Mental note to post more of my untimely book reviews, check.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

Another new year, another vow to blog more, be more productive, stay in touch, the usual business. 2014 was a pretty slow year for Vessel--spent deep in the inner guts of Book III, and most of that happened at the tail end of the year during NaNoWriMo. The coveted 50,000 words were written, and with them came a ton of new ideas, new plot lines, satisfying ways to connect existing--and perilously dangling--plot lines, and a few new characters. It's been the toughest book yet, and there's still a lot of work to do--major editing and some serious gap-filling, mainly--but I feel confident in saying that you'll have your hands on Deliverance sometime in 2015. And that character novella as well.

Hey, I'd rather be ambitious and wrong than pessimistic and right. Glasses half full, people. Cheers, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!