Assumptions, I Has ‘Em

And, no, don’t go all business-school on me and talk about “making an ass of you and me”. Just don’t. I can happily make an ass of myself without any assumptions whatsoever, thank you very much.

Anyway, I’m not talking about those kinds of assumptions. I’m talking about the kind of assumptions you have to have when you start writing a story. Call them predefined variables if you like, they amount to the same thing. X=whatever the story requires, and I don’t want to have to redefine that every single time.

Things like elves being immortal in Lord of the Rings, Jedis being space wizards (if you so much as whisper “midichlorians” I’ll have you destroyed!), stormtroopers not being able to hit shit in spite of years of training…you get the idea. These are all assumptions made before the stories were ever even created, and they quickly become clear to the audience.

As I’m working on the behind-the-scenes stuff for this next book, I have to make clear to myself the assumptions and rules that will hold sway throughout. Connor will drink a lot, yes, and cuss a lot more, also yes….but those aren’t assumptions, they’re just inherent to the character*.

*Note – I did once try an experiment with a “clean” version of Connor…it was an utter failure. He is who he is, and who he has to be.

What I’m talking about is key stuff that is implied, and is fundamental to a story’s true purpose, but is never really explicitly described (at least not in so many words). For Connor’s stories, those are:

1) Everyone is broken and fucked up in some way…anyone who says/thinks they’re perfect is either nuts, or deluding themselves
2) There are no good guys or bad guys, there are only shades of grey and the choices people make (yes, I know there’s nothing original about basic philosophy, but it’s important to remind myself anyway)
3) There is always a price to pay (okay, that one got laid out pretty damned explicitly in Wrath & Tears)

There are others, but you get the idea. These are things I have to keep in mind as I plan and as I write. Things that underlie everything I’m trying to create, and to say.

When you create a story, you have to understand what are your base assumptions. They don’t necessarily have to reflect who you are as a person in real life (although they often will), but they do have to be internally consistent throughout whatever it is you are trying to create.

Sometimes things like this will be clear in your mind long before the first word gets written, but other times your characters and world will demand something you hadn’t thought about before. The assumption about there being no good or bad guys was not something I had originally planned. Hell, it wasn’t something I had even thought about in this context. But Connor and Oz forced that assumption on me pretty early in the process, and it helped to clarify some of the truth and authenticity of their lives and their world.

So what assumptions are you making about your world and your characters? What happens if you change one of those? Are things better, or worse? Especially for stuff like this, I always keep in the back of my mind one of the Steven King’s bits of writing advice: “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, kill your darlings.”

Assumptions can be your darlings just as much as favored characters, plot devices, or even entire scenes…

The Ramblings of a Diseased Mind

I know I should probably be a bit on the sad side that I’m not writing the conspiracy story, but…well… Committing to writing Connor’s sequel feels good. It shouldn’t: this universe focuses on the darkest and most painful aspects of people and the universe. I shouldn’t enjoy writing that. But, God help me, I do.

Maybe I’ll add a new title to a business card: “Tormentor of Worlds”. Has a nice ring, doesn’t it?

Besides, the conspiracy story has been waiting for better than fifteen years…what’s another year or so between friends?

Actually, I very much doubt that story is my friend. In fact, I think it probably hates me by now and would happily see me dead. It just happens to be far too much of a slacker to actually do anything about the problem.

Committing to this story is freaking satisfying. I didn’t expect that. I expected to waver and question. But nope, not a bit. I’ve been sitting at the coffee shop today working on background stuff and figuring out just how I’m going to torture Connor* and a thought for this post came into my head.

*Hey, it’s his own fault – he’s the one who demanded this story!

I started thinking about the underpinnings of the story itself, and the question of tone and intent. Now, Wrath & Tears was intentionally melancholy and sad. Not quietly bittersweet, but full-on, punch-you-in-the-face sad. If the reader doesn’t shed at least a tear or two at the end, I failed. Completely. But the sequel? The sequel can’t share that same dynamic. Oh, it will still be dark and bitter – it is IS Connor’s story, after all – but Connor has learned and grown, and his outlook and perceptions are different.

Plus…Wrath & Tears was written in great part from my own thoughts and memories of suicide, and I am not dipping into that particular well again. I have more than enough personal demons to fight, who needs to double-dip?

There will still be a sense of angry resentment, yes. Hell, the story starts with Connor in prison…of course anger and resentment are part of it! But there’s also a certain tone of bittersweet recovery on the agenda. And, yes, finally there will be an element of hope, and an answer to the question I wrote at the top of the page when I was first working through the details of Connor’s character…the question that kept him alive before he met Oz: yes, there IS more to life than this.

Dare I mention that Connor is growing up, and the wistful nostalgia of passing youth? Not that he had much of a youth…

Do I have to lock these things down just yet? Actually, no. Not yet. But once the background and basic structures are in place, then I DO have to know. How all that background material gets fleshed out into an outline of chapters and scenes is very, very dependent on the tone.

And the characters? They’re even more dependent because they have to be able to respond to that tone, and have their own opinions and reactions. They can’t just slavishly serve as foils for the plot, or for the protagonist’s perceptions and needs. They have to have their own reality, and their own needs.

Okay…enough rambling. That is the price of not planning (in any way) what I’m posting. If you haven’t noticed yet, pretty much everything is pure stream of consciousness. I should probably look at fixing that, but…

img_0011…I slack, therefore I am.

For now, I think I will try to use this space for its original purpose: namely tracking and posting about the process of writing a story as I actually go through that process. The original idea still has something resembling merit (I think). That idea was to create a space where someone just getting into writing long-form fiction could see someone else’s firsthand experiences and lessons without having to do all that inconvenient joining of writing groups and sitting around talking.

It might even work. Hey, you never know…”even a blind squirrel”, and all that!

Of course, this all may change…hell, probably will change. Boredom and the need for change tend to set in, uhh, somewhat quickly in my world. Shit, if you think I’m bad here, you should see my last few relationships…

I Can’t Hear Anything But the Ghost

Oh crap, I think I give up.

I’ve been pushing myself to do the conspiracy story. Friends have been pushing me to do the conspiracy story. Hell, even random passing strangers lean over and whisper, “Do the conspiracy story!”

But Connor’s rattling chains drown them all out.

The little son-of-a-bitch (err, not so little now: he’s been working out in prison, and he’s 6’1″ and 180ish nowadays) has me by the…neck, and he knows it.

I was trying to work on the two potential next stories on alternate days, but over the last week the only thing I’ve really touched is Connor’s sequel. Dammit. I don’t even have a clear plot for it yet! Basic idea, yes, but plot? Not even close. Not yet, anyway.

What I do have is a character I like, a character who has a lot more to give. I also have a universe I am enjoying (now that I turned it all dark and bitter and angry), and a ton of shit to explore.

Besides, I’ve already dealt with suicide; it can’t get any worse than that…can it?

Abandonment issues…family issues…survivor’s guilt…and, of course, the bullshit of the elites and their exploitation of the “little guy”. Yup, still got some stuff to work with. Besides, everyone needs a teen-aged thief who appreciates good booze and good music, and can scam the shit out of anyone he meets!

The fact that he’s an emotional cripple with serious anger and resentment issues is, umm, secondary. Ish.

Fine. The ghost wins. He gets to tell his next story. But I am gonna make him suffer for this!

What are the odds he gets a happy ending this time?

C’mon, it’s Connor…

Sure, and “Waiting for Godot” Really IS Just About Waiting…

Harrumph!

There are many tasks in this world that suck. Taxes…mowing the lawn…writing a “brief summary” of a novel. Hell, I’d rather go back and do my taxes again. But not mow the lawn. Never that.

No matter how hard you try, however, you’ll get stuck writing a summary of your story. Well, putting a few books on the bestseller list can probably get you out of it, but for the rest of the writer-ish universe that task hangs over every story.

I hate doing summaries, almost as much as I hate doing a synopsis. Oh, I know they’re necessary…actually, I don’t know that, it’s just that people I trust have told me they’re necessary. Personally I think it’s just the universe fucking with me.

Remember when I mentioned Little Red Riding Hood isn’t necessarily about a little girl in a red hood?

Grr.

On one level Wrath & Tears is the story of a teenager out for revenge…and if I’m doing a short plot-based summary, that’s what I’m supposed to talk about. Nothing about Oz’s unrequited love for his straight friend. Nothing about fear and loss, or the suffering, despair and inequities society has heaped on the boys. Nothing about a story of love and betrayal and suicide. Nothing about what the book is really about.

Nope. It’s “this happened, then that happened.” This task does not make me happy…this task makes me go for the single-malt, as a matter of fact.

Trust me on this: drinking scotch does not make the process any easier! It does, however, tempt me to throw in the story’s final image (quoting from an older post) of “one broken kid holding the body of another, far more broken, kid” just to see what kind of reaction I’d get.

Yeah, that’d work great.

Wrath & Tears is Oz’s book as much as Connor’s, but good luck getting that across in five hundred words or less…

Okay, the pity-party is over.

Oh, I’m still irritated…but half the reason I’m irritated is because I’m doing shit like summaries and the like. I’m working, but I’m not writing. Nothing will change until I fix that particular problem. But I still haven’t made up my mind…

imageRemember: no good can come of a writer without a story to write.

“Sad and pathetic, you are,” Yoda said to me.

Actually, what he said was, “Get over it” but I heard what I wanted to hear. Welcome to my life.

Lazy Post of the Month

Hmm…I’ve only got one post (Wednesday’s) queued up and ready.  I like to have 2-3 posts ready so I can slack off.  I need to practice my slacking off, and God forbid I let this blog get in the way of that!

I had the beginnings of a different post I wrote over the weekend, but it involved cheese sticks and nukes, and I’m not sure I’m ready to go there yet…

Screw it, time for another writing snippet I guess.  Below is a (very) early version of the opening scene for Connor’s (potential) sequel.  Keep in mind: usually I create a plan and outline before I sit down to write a scene.  This one never had that, it was done purely off the top of my head.  Unlike the other snippet I posted, I likely will use this in the story itself, but only after some serious revision:

The whirring of another lock in another cell door. Connor would never get used to that. It was just as bad now, two months after his eighteenth birthday, as it had been at thirteen. Shit, in some ways it was worse. The years in between had taught him about suffering, yes, and about the price always waiting to be paid, but also about love and friendship.
A gulp, then, at the thought of friendship. Of absent friends. Of Oz.
Blood on the floor…blood on the knife…blood on Oz’s wrists. And Connor too late to do anything other than hold his friend – his brother – as the last of a too-short, too-painful life dripped away.
At least Oz hadn’t been alone. Only one thing had ever scared Oz: alone. Being alone and, especially, dying alone. Alone was worse. That was lesson number one, a lesson Connor would never forget.
But Connor was alone now.
Oz was dead. Marie and Vin were dead. Fadi had crawled into a bottle and disappeared. And Nat? A second gulp, almost as big for her as for Oz. Nat had washed her hands of him. Takie princess that she was, pretty and rich, she had had enough of her foray into rebellion and danger. She had cleaned away the dirt and grime of dockside, and Connor with it.
“Move your ass,” a voice barked from the small intercom by the door. “Work details leave in ten minutes.”
Connor didn’t want to crawl out of bed. For all its faults, the bed was warm. The prison’s floor was cold. The cell was cold. Hell, the whole fucking place was cold. Less than a year into his five year sentence and Connor was already very, very tired of the cold.
At least it wasn’t dockside.
If they’d put him into the much smaller jail out there he’d have been dead months ago. Too many people knew who Connor Spogelse was. Too many people blamed him for the violent gang war now ripping that space station apart. And far, far too many people wanted him dead. The cops almost as much as the remnants of the crime family he had betrayed.
Grim humor, and the memory of his sarcastic friend, were always enough to find the absurdity in his life: how many people could say they’d betrayed a major crime family, brought down an entire government, and earned a price on their head, all before their eighteenth birthday?
He could all-but hear Oz’s laughing voice in his head, “Fuckin’ overachiever.”
Out of bed he did get, in spite of the cold, and down to the entrance of their pod of cells. Even after many months the ground felt weird to Connor. Most of his life had been spent in the artificial gravity of a space station, and the regular, ‘real’ gravity of a planet was just different enough to be disconcerting. He felt constantly like he was about to fall over. And that was before he went outside and saw all that emptiness hanging over his head…
As stupid as it sounded, even to him, his mind just couldn’t accept concepts like ‘sky’ and ‘horizon’. And God help him with crazy shit like ‘scenery’ and ‘weather’. He just knew he’d never get used to any of it.
The lights were still dim and just eight prisoners waited by the door. The only ones of the forty in their pod with the privilege – and the drive – to get out of bed hours before the rest and go to work. The others gave Connor a certain amount of space while they waited for the guard to get his shit together and lead them out into the halls.
With nothing to do but work, read and exercise, Connor had finally started to fill out his height. He would never be considered big or bulky, but he was no longer the slight, rail-thin teenager he had been just a year ago. It was more than just size, however. What Connor had done to the last aho who had thought he could hit on the youngest kid in the entire prison brought its own respect, as well. Dirtside criminals and thugs were little prepared for the sheer violence any dockside ikiryo could bring to bear with no warning.
The heavy door to the pod clanked open and the watch sergeant stuck his head inside. “Alright, let’s go.”
The prisoners filed out, moving automatically to walk in single file against the corridor’s righthand wall. You didn’t have to be in Chapman Penitentiary very long before the rules became automatic. Fucking with the guards could be fun, but it most definitely did not make getting through your sentence any easier. And Connor wanted to get through his sentence; wanted to get through with as little trouble as possible.
Down the long hall they marched, whispered jokes and comments the only sound. It was early enough that not even the other guards were moving around if they didn’t have to. Later, when the day shift started, the halls would have guards and staff walking in packs alongside the ever-present movement of prisoners.
The small group reached an intersection and had to wait while the sergeant called to the control room to open the heavy security door sealing the end of their corridor. It was a major crossroads, this, and each of the four corridors leading off was similarly sealed.
A wave and an incomprehensible mutter from the sergeant sent Connor over to the one door painted a different color from the others. Sky blue this one was, indicating it opened into an area that led outside the prison. The others, connecting only to other internal parts of the facility, were a dull, earthen red.
A few steps and Connor pressed the small control on the door’s heavy metal frame and stared up into the holo camera. The door would not open until the operators in Central Control had verified his identity, and his permission to access this particular door. No smile showed – could never show, not for this – but his access to this door was his greatest scam to date. Quite how the prison officials had overlooked Connor’s past as a criminal specializing in cracking computer security and networks he didn’t know, but his first job in the prison library had offered him just enough access to arrange this very special gig.
“C’mon you little fucker,” the sergeant yelled, “hurry up!”
While the door behind Connor remained open, no other door in that intersection could open. Connor almost laughed at the grumbling he heard from those behind. The other prisoners were all headed to jobs in the prison’s kitchen and storage areas, and he could never understand why anyone would be eager to start burning fake-eggs and slopping out pseudo-oatmeal.
Finally, a buzzer sounded and the door behind Connor slid shut. The dull thud of that door was followed by the popping of seals from the one he faced. A heartbeat later that door slid aside. Even the air smelled different inside. Instead of the stale, chemical air of the prison, there was a hint of…something very different.
A wave of sound washed over him, and an air of activity. Two steps inside and he was almost run over by a rushing prison guard. Short and pretty this one was, with brown hair and bright blue eyes. She threw a distracted smile and a half-hearted wave. “Sorry, no time to get things set up right now. Just hit the basic stuff. By the time you’re done the rush should be over.”
Her accent was strange, vastly different from the hint of dockside’s patois that still clung to Connor’s tongue.
A glance around and Connor saw twenty new prisoners standing in a line, wrists and ankles shackled and orange jumpsuits rumpled and dirty. Four guards stood near that group, talking amongst themselves as much as watching the criminals in their charge. More guards were seated behind the nearby counter, checking ‘screens and preparing to call out names.
The prison’s Admissions and Processing Center, its link to the outside world. Work in that area was one of the best jobs a prisoner could get…and was far and away the best job a data-thief like Connor could get.
His smile was satisfied as he went to the closet and began filling a mop bucket. An hour of cleaning and four hours of network access every day? Yes, please.
Maybe he’d arrange a little ‘donation’ to his commissary account today; why eat prison food when he could just buy his own with someone else’s money?

I Finally Solved the Problem!

Err…okay…that title may be a bit, umm, ambitious. Not to mention misleading as hell – I have way too many problems to solve at one time. Or, well, at all.

But I did figure out why the conspiracy theory book was not clicking with me, and that’s a huge hurdle to overcome. The early process of creating the structure and plan for a story should, for me at least, follow pretty smoothly on the heels of finding/creating the main character and general intent.

It didn’t, not this time.

Because I was doing it wrong.

Well, at least “wrong” for me.

I had been coming at this from the top-down. I was researching conspiracies and secret societies and trying to come up with a plot based around them. That’s…err…very, very wrong. Four times I sat down and tried to come up with just a summary of the story, and an idea of how things would progress, and four times I failed. There are far too many conspiracies (not to mention just plain random craziness that also fits the bill) for that to work. It’s the equivalent of trying to create a fantasy story by starting with the armor.

most-interesting-squirrelADD random-thought warning!

That might actually be a fun writing challenge for when I’m bored and sick of everything else. Start with an empty suit of armor…add a sword, although for the sake of variation maybe I’ll make it a club since there’re too many magic swords in stories…then come up with a heroic story from THEIR point of view.

SQUIRREL!!

Okay, I’m over it now…back to the post I meant to write.

I know it sounds so basic it shouldn’t have to be stated, but I had to go all the way back to the beginning and start with the story first. I sat this morning and figured out the structure of the book (not as hard as it sounds – I have a certain structural model that makes sense to me, and helps me to plan things out), then I started planning out the story itself, and what I wanted to accomplish in each part.

Finally, things clicked. Thank anything and everything in the universe!

That 5-1 game I mentioned before? The conspiracy theory book finally scored a few goals. It’s still 5-4 with a minute left, but at least it’s a fucking game now.

Again, I know it sounds trite to go back to such basics, but sometimes that’s what you have to do. Well, at least, that’s what I have to do.

The other “realization” that helped me was when I remembered I don’t need to know and define every single twist and turn before I start. Especially not in a book like this. I need a good general picture, not an infinitely detailed outline. This is a story based on humor & satire, I can let the writing take me to places I hadn’t really counted on – within reason, of course.

Now it’s time to celebrate with a beer*.

*Note – had I failed at “solving” my problem, it would be time to console myself with a beer. There’s nothing quite like flexibility!

 

Soundtracks

Music is important to me. In a lot of ways music is important to me. It is key to my writing (more on that in a moment), but it also plays a role in every aspect of my life, and in who I am as a person. The more I learn about music, the more music I experience, the deeper my life becomes.

All art has power: a Pollock painting speaks with power about certain themes and realities…a walk through the Bargello Museum will teach you a shit-ton about the impact and communication of sculpture…but there is nothing to compare with a night of live music.

Everyone has their own tastes in music just as they do in any other art form. I have my own definite musical preferences, but I can see the attraction and emotional content in just about everything. I don’t care if you’re talking about death metal, punk, rap, jazz, or chamber music…every style has its worth and its own incomparable “must-listens”. I listen to a little of (almost) everything, but for me the trophy goes to good, old-school blues. Give me a small, dark blues bar and a good drink and I am the happiest guy on Earth. Throw in a cigar and I’ll…have a hangover.

Yep, I’m definitely getting older.

Now, to tie that love of music into writing. Err, that’s easy: I can’t write without music. Period. Fade to black. Exeunt omnes.

Every single thing I write has a “soundtrack”. In some cases that is simply music that sets a tone and mood for me, and for what I am working on. In other cases, however, it becomes (or defines) a key part of the story. Wrath & Tears is a good example of that – more specifically, the end of the book. In the last scene I wrote the final, painful image: one broken kid holding the body of another, far more broken, kid. That image ends the book, but in my mind the scene fades to black and the “credits” start to roll. There is, as we fade out, a song playing that sums up that final scene, sums up Connor & Oz’s relationship, sums up the entire story…

Note – yep, I’m going back to my marketing roots and “teasing” the end of the post. Hah! Take that!

What you listen to very much has an effect on what you write – and how you write it. Every book – hell, every scene – has a mood and tone, and the music has to reflect and support that. You don’t believe me? Go ahead, write a love scene while listening to Five Finger Death Punch…or write a huge, bloody battle while listening to Bob Marley…

See? I told you so.

You have to know what tone you are trying to set. More importantly, you have to know and understand (harder than it sounds) what subtext you are trying to communicate in your story. Just because a story is about Little Red Riding Hood in the woods doesn’t mean that story is ABOUT Little Red Riding Hood.

Okay…not gonna dive deeper into that particular pool. I could spend the next couple of weeks just trying to expound on subtext, symbolism, allegory, metaphor and meaning…and any of a dozen more ways for a writer to express what he or she really means.

That’s not today’s topic…for which, Thank God! I’m not even close to ready to tackle something like that today (or this week…or this month, for that matter).

The right soundtrack helps me to write and work and create things that are right where I need them to be. The wrong music? The wrong music makes things hard – very hard. Invariably, if I choose the wrong music, the tone and pace of the scene is wrong. Wrong means revising – heavy revising – or just plain starting that scene over. Starting over is generally easier.

Below is an example of what I’m talking about: the music I listened to as I wrote Wrath & Tears. I actually have a list of specific songs and albums, but I’ll spare you that detail. It really only matters to me, anyway (well, except a couple I’ll mention at the end of this post). The full list is longer, but the main artists are:
The Fray
Gaslight Anthem
Dave Hause
Mumford & Sons
Chuck Ragan
The Veer Union

And the occasional side trips into: Toad The Wet Sprocket, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Angels & Airwaves, Blink 182, J Mascis, and even the odd foray into Death Cab for Cutie.

Some songs have been important enough to the tone and resolution to deserve specific mention:
That song I described as playing during the “end credits”? “Be Still” by The Fray (honorable mentions here for “Break Your Heart” by Gaslight Anthem and “For All We Care” by Chuck Ragan).

And finally the song that kicked me in the ass and helped everything to start to come together? “Ghosts That We Knew” by Mumford & Sons.

As a final note, the conspiracy theory book does have its own soundtrack building…a very, very different soundtrack. To fit the mood of that book, I have been listening to stuff like the Pogues, DaVinci’s Notebook, Dropkick Murphys, etc… A vastly different feeling. Good. I want a different feeling – I need a different feeling. I do not need sad, intense, dark, bitter or any other of Connor’s failings…not yet, anyway.

Perspective, Language and Mood: Pt 2, Voice

POV is only half the battle, of course. Actually, it’s probably less than a quarter of the battle. POV is what you do, but Voice is how you do it. Voice should be a natural part of the story – if you, as the reader, think about the Voice, the writer screwed the pooch – but there are all kinds of ways to handle it. I mentioned a long while back that the last two stories I wrote were…umm…boring, conventional and completely soulless. Plot and planning had something to do with that, but it also came down a great deal to the Voice. Too formal, too staid, too reserved, and way too much like a narrator from some 70s drama.

Now, I’m a character-driven guy. My protagonist has to have his own take on everything, or the story falls flat. I struggled with Connor’s voice in Wrath & Tears. Oh, not because I didn’t know what he should sound like, but because I had trouble letting-go of my ingrained inhibitions enough to actually write him the way he needed to be written. That critical little voice in my head kept pissing away at me about swearing, about cynicism, about alcoholism, and about the bitter despair that colored everything.

Listening to that little voice had made the previous stories blah, so I wasn’t going to repeat that mistake. Not listening to that little voice is hard, by the way. Most of us little writer-lings have had language and formality drummed into our heads. Ignoring all those lessons (from editors, from teachers, from your mom…) isn’t easy in any way, shape or form.

Now, first off, I need to say that I’m happy with Connor’s Voice. Yes, it’s foul. Yes, it’s bitter and angry. But it very much is true to a seventeen year old guy still learning what it really means to be worldly and “tough”. That being said, it was initially very hard to put on paper – err, on screen, actually (I write on an iPad, mostly). The proper tone and rhythm and language ran counter to many, many instincts.  Connor’s Voice, simply put, breaks a lot of rules.  I intentionally made things choppy and ragged, and filled with little asides and interjections, to reflect the way he thinks and functions.

It took one key step for me to actually let go those inhibitions and just write him: writing at the brewery. As often as I joke about “my office”, I would not have been able to pull off anything close to the Voice I did without that environment around me. One of the things I’ve learned is just how much your surroundings color what you write. When I write at home, the scenes are slower and more intellectual. Slow and intellectual might have worked for Asimov and Clarke, but definitely not for me. I want and need the immediacy and visceral reality of raw emotion.

Does it, I hear you ask, have to have quite so many swear words? Yes, yes it does. Connor is seventeen and anary at the entire universe. To write him honestly I had to “channel” the angry, confused person I used to be…that I still sometimes am. I also had to remember a great deal of my own past…which was the point of the story, by the way.

One reason this blog is “anonymous” is that my intent is to publish Wrath & Tears under a pseudonym. I have a long-ass list of reasons why, but to keep things simple I will just say I want to lock that book (and possible sequels) into a separate little box. The language & tone, the personal shit, the entire experience…they are their own world. Let that world color itself. When and if I write a fantasy story/series, it will have a different feeling and tone. Keeping things divided and separate will be fairly necessary, both for business reasons and for what’s left of my sanity.

Perspective, Language and Mood: Pt 1, Point of View

I recently discovered a planning document I wrote back when I first started thinking about this blog. Different topics & posts, plans for different days of the week, that kind of thing. And nope, I haven’t followed so much as point #1 from it. Hell, I forgot it even existed until I was cleaning some old papers & files out of my bag.

There is one thing I miss about the old days of working for other people: when I wrote things like that document, I didn’t have to do a damn thing to execute it. I wrote it, and other people had to actually make it work. *sniff* It brings a tear of nostalgia to my eye!

Nowadays I write stuff like that and then have to actually do the hard work of ignoring it. Sheesh. Of course, I already mentioned my slacker aspirations in a previous post, didn’t I? I’m a competitive guy, so if I’m gonna be a slacker, I’m gonna be the best goddamned slacker there is!

But, hey, I might as well make use of some of those ideas…thinking up post topics is hard!

So, today {Edit: waaay too long, now split over two posts}: POV and Voice. It’s something I’m thinking about, anyway, as I’m playing around with the two potential next stories.

For Wrath & Tears the first of those was the easier to decide upon, even if I did intentionally give myself some challenges as part of that decision. Connor’s character existed from the very inception of that project, and there was never any real possibility of not using him as the POV. I needed an intimate, street-level view of the world, and that meant either Connor or Oz. Oz is too intimately a part of dockside, but Connor still has a tinge of the “outsider” to him – Oz is his mentor as much as friend – since he manifestly was not born to that life.

And that’s where I started setting myself a writing challenge: I committed from day one to only using one character for POV. No swapping to other, “easer” expedients to describe things my protagonist just couldn’t/wouldn’t know. Nope, I wanted to make myself do it the “hard way”. I very much planned to have a number of events occur “off-stage”, and I wanted to force myself (as a writer) to communicate emotion and meaning through my chosen protagonist, rather than through the “easier” expedient of switching POVs.

One note about choosing Connor for the POV rather than Oz: the heart of those challenges I mentioned above IS Oz. Wrath & Tears, when you boil it down, is not a story about revenge or romance or corruption. It is a story about the friendship and love between two very broken people. It is, at its heart, a tragedy about Oz…and about suicide. It was always intended to be a story built on raw, unfiltered emotion. Just as it was always intended to tell Oz’s story from the outside. I bit off a lot with that decision. Showing the thoughts and emotions of a character whose head I cannot “get inside” was new for me, and was not easy in any way, but it felt right. It still feels right. And Oz is still my favorite character.

{Edit Note – yes, I know, I’m over-explaining the Wrath & Tears stuff, but that’s because I’m currently using this blog as a sort of exploration on what to write next. Exploring internally how I will continue Connor’s story, and it’s emotional underpinnings, is a huge part of that.}

As I think about and play with the next stories, that initial decision is still important to me. In Connor’s sequel, the same “rules” about POV will apply. To be honest, I almost tossed aside the single-POV “rule” at least a half-dozen times, but I am very glad now that I didn’t. I like having just the one lens of Connor’s perceptions*. It hasn’t always been easy writing the world through the eyes and mind of a 17-year-old street kid/junkie, but I don’t regret it even a little bit. Hell, I’m actually excited to start really writing him again (Yes, that means he is winning the battle for the next book…it’s 5 to 1 with five minutes left in the third period…if the conspiracy theory book doesn’t get off its ass, it’ll never get written!).

*Note – I also do photography for fun/work/relaxation. There is a challenge in photography where you can only use ONE prime lens – prime means no zoom, the lens’ length is fixed – and you have to shoot a variety of topics and subjects. It is challenging because it forces you to be creative and use more than just the “easiest” expedient…it is also hard as hell to do WELL, and I admire anyone who can.

That conspiracy story, on the other hand, will just as intentionally have 3-4 POVs. One will be the main, and account for 50-60%, but the others will provide insights and thoughts my slacker protagonist just can’t pull off. The world of secret societies and conspiracies and manipulation and betrayal is just too complicated, at this point, for me to rely on a single POV. The one automatic consequence of that decision is that it also decides how I write the POV: first- or third- person. Now, I’ve never written a first-person story, and I don’t plan to start now, and a second-person just seems…odd. And by “odd” I mean “insane”. I’m nuts enough, thank you very much. Third-person it is. That helps, that puts some boundaries on what I can show & describe, and how I can do it.

My favorite writing exercise from way back when was to take popular, well-known stories and rewrite them from another POV. Being the nerd I am, I rewrote Star Wars (before the evil “prequels” of Episodes I-III) from the Emperor’s point of view…then I decided to have some fun and I did the Dukes of Hazard from Boss Hoggs’ POV. I still laugh about that one.

Do that exercise yourself…find a story/show/movie, and write a quick story from the bad guy’s perspective. It’s fun, and it will help you start thinking in other directions.

A final note on perspective: as part of my prep work, I write a plot/story summary from the POV of every significant character. I learn something valuable every single time I do that. Writing Nat’s summary of Wrath & Tears completely changed some of the things I was doing…

Who Needs a Voice?

So I just had this conversation in my “office”…

(And, yes, for those of you paying attention, that’s in quotes because my office is the taproom of a brewery. I have more than enough bad habits to kill a small village, and that ain’t gonna get any better. Just deal with it. I do.)

At any rate, we were talking about injustice and racism in the military in the first half of the twentieth century. Now, a bit of background is probably warranted here: I study naval history. I seriously geek out on naval history. Mostly the US in WW1 and WW2, but also a great deal of Royal Navy history. I can nerd out with the best of ’em when we start talking about the War in the Pacific or the Battle of Jutland…don’t even get me started on the Battle Off Samar Island.

That conversation got me to thinking outside the normal frame of reference about such things…and since I have to put a blog post together, I figured I would explore the topic a bit. Not specifically a post about the injustice and prejudice against minorities in the service – it was there, and I can go off on it for hours if need be – but rather one touching on what I see as one of the underlying issues related thereto: the ages-old conflict between the voiced and the voiceless.

Now, I’m pretty damned “voiced”. In fact, I should probably shut the fuck up from time to time. But still this is an area I have thought a great deal about lately. In all honesty, it is one of the subtexts I am trying to communicate in Wrath & Tears (how I succeed is, well, up to readers who are not as close to that story as I am). There is in fact no character I’ve ever tried to write as voiceless as Oz. Oh, not him personally, he talks to Connor all the time, but his life itself. He is a complete and total victim: of his family, his society, and the universe in general. The kid never stood a chance*.

*Note – “Oz’s Theme” is a paraphrasing of a song I really like…please keep in mind, this song is copyrighted, so I cannot and will not use it in the book/story itself, nor in any commercial context (and this blog most definitely ain’t commercial):
My sick, sadden’d heart
Is the cross that I bear
Cuz I was damn’d from the start
–Based on the song “Benediction” by Dave Hause – go buy the album. Trust me, just buy it.

What I really wanted to touch on with Oz (and with dockside in general), as well as with some of the other ideas and stories I have brewing, is just how fucked up the universe really is…and how good people are so often the victims.

I write sci-fi and fantasy, but I wish to hell I didn’t draw so much from the “real” world around me. I wish all the shit and misery I put in stories came purely from my own mind. That would make me fucked up and evil, but in the end that would be better than the universe fitting that particular description…

Both Oz and Connor live every single day with prejudice and intolerance. Their very “name”, the concept of being ghosts, comes from society’s hate of kids like them. They really are ghosts: unseen, unheard and unwanted. And I see that every time I walk through the central spaces of many, many cities.

I don’t exactly live in a “megalopolis” (to dredge up an old dystopian sci-fi name), but my home is more than large enough to have kids – teens and twenties, mainly – lurking and hanging around those central spaces. Some are homeless, and some are just barely hanging on by their fingernails. And don’t even get me started on where I grew up (Los Angeles area)…Port Oblivion has a great deal of LA’s dark side to it.

Don’t watch those kids as they hang-out, watch the normal people walking around them. They don’t see the kids. They don’t hear the kids. It’s like those folks are walking through a cloud of ghosts, and if they ignore them strongly enough those ghosts will disappear.

To bring everything back to the naval history conversation I was having: those kids are just as voiceless as was a black mess steward named Doris Miller on December 6th, 1941. In spite of everything he faced, Miller was – IS – one of the great heroes of the US Navy, and far too many don’t even know his name.

Now ask yourself: do you know the names or the stories of any of those kids you see in your town square?

The voiced and the voiceless.

The unseen, the unheard, the unwanted.

Sound familiar?