The Post That Once Had A Point, But Lost It

Well, that didn’t take long.

Welcome back, introverted cynicism. I’d try to throw you out, but…well…you’re the only girl at the dance right now. And you did put out the last time we dated…

I swear to all that is holy, Connor threw a party when I was writing last night. “Finally!” he yelled, then proceeded to get drunk and tell me off for basically ignoring him for the last six months.

Ahem.

The writing felt good, though. It felt very good.

At any rate, that wasn’t what I planned to talk about in this post. That whole intro was, in fact, an overly-caffeinated squirrel moment.IMG_0155

Nope, what I wanted to talk about was perception, and point of view. Not our characters’ POV; there are a million posts and articles out there on that. No, what I wanted to bring up was our own internal thoughts as writers.

The genesis for thinking about this was, strangely enough, immortal characters. Specifically, what an character means to us as writers, and what they (often) say about us. And, yes, I realize just how goddamned arrogant it is for me – of all people, ME! – to presume to speak for anyone else…but what the fuck, just go with me on this one.

Let me sketch the scene a bit: a friend was telling me about a story of hers with a character who cannot die. Now, this friend is, well, there’s only one way to put it: she’s young. No big deal – she’ll grow out of it (while, of course, I’m busily trying to regress back into that particular “sin”). Now, the heart of the discussion came about because, at the same time, I have a story floating in the back of my mind about fallen gods, and the painful weight of eternity…

That got me to thinking. Thinking about what those characters meant…and how, in my little world of character uber alles, those characters define the scope and intent of the story.

To my friend, immortality was an expression of strength, a tool to be used and valued. To her – and her character – the world was a place on which to work her will. More importantly, those people/friends/characters ‘met’ along the way were pawns & tools with which her character could play.

To me – and my own main character – it was something very different. The years, and the world, were a weight to be born. More importantly, those met along the way were memories and loss. The isolation of such a character – whether wistful nostalgia or bitter regret – cannot help but define a completely different story.

And, yes, this is how I come up with story ideas: not with intricate plot threads or impressive climaxes, but with characters…and the what/why/how that comes with fleshing them out.

*shrug*

Hey, it (sorta) works for me. Your mileage may vary.

Tolkien actually touched on the price of immortality in some of his background material: the weight of millennia wore on Galadriel more than the movies, or the main books themselves, were ever really capable of showing. That weight – the fading that was a major subtext to the elves – along with her original backstory from The Silmarillion of overwhelming pride and her fall, make her a far, far more interesting (and semi-tragic) character to me than almost any other from those stories*.

*Those that most interest me may surprise you: Luthien, who gave up glory and strength for love (and, yes, she was a complete foreshadowing of Arwen)…Saruman, who fell because he believed you could use the tools of evil without becoming corrupted yourself…but most of all, Finrod – Galadriel’s older brother, and a bad-ass in his own right: he gave up everything (including his life) to keep a promise…and, yep, all embody the themes of LotR that meant so much to Tolkien. Crap, maybe some day I’ll do an entire post – or a week – on Tolkien’s stuff. Writers for the win!

Err…back to immortality, and the subtexts and themes that drive characters like that. Nearing 700 words on this post, already, so a point (and a conclusion…yay!) may be in order:

The immortal, uber-powerful character of our youth – of comic books and movies – is, well, boring. What satisfaction can there be in writing – let alone reading – about someone for whom the inability of time and death to touch them is a triumph? No, for that character to truly be interesting (to me), immortality has to be a burden. For me, time and death have to be lovers always out of reach, always running away, not enemies long defeated.

Or, maybe I think about this shit too much…

Bitter & Cynical For The Win!

I’m home.

Yay…?

Getting into a real city again was weird. For all that Yellowstone’s surrounding towns have to offer, not even the most charitable could call Cody or Bozeman “cities”. That is, of course, a big part of why I like them.

Hell, half the reason I went to Yellowstone in the first place was to run away from the crowding and craziness that are starting to take over the area I currently call home. The area to which I just returned.

I almost didn’t, by the way.  Didn’t return, that is. A winter in the vast, sprawling metropolis of West Yellowstone wasn’t sounding too bad to me at the end, there. But…

But family comes first, and right now family has to take priority over self-indulgence and my introverted desire to continue running away.

The trip home*, however, did have one very big saving grace: time and quiet to take stock of the writing I did in Yellowstone.

*Thanks, airport shuttle, for having ZERO heat in twenty-degree weather!

Umm…

Ahh…

That stock-taking kinda sucked.

The plan was to write something on the order of 80,000 words while I was living in the park.

“Hey,” I thought, “there’s nothing around…I can write my ass off.”

Yes, I was that big of an idiot.  80,000 my ass – I wrote 20,000. That’s it. Shit, I should be writing 20,000 in a couple of weeks, not over the course of five months!

And you know why I got even that much done? Nagging guilt and shame had their roles, of course, but also the faith and support of my friends.  Especially of those that read my rough draft stuff and tried to keep me focused.

Hell, I don’t think I can ever really describe just how much I appreciated one friend’s…well, there’s no other way to describe it: her outright bullying.

“How much did you write, today? Nothing? Go…shoo! Go write! Now!”

Now, I’m a pretty big guy, and Billy small enough to stuff into my pocket, but I just hung my head and went to write. And valued the friendship as I went.

The time up there did, however, change the tenor of the story a little bit. That’s fine for the last third of Silence – it was intended to return a sense of hope, and of meaning, to Connor’s life – but for the first bit?

Err…

It sounds weird, but I have to recover that bitter cynicism that so colored everything – both for me, and for him – before I left. One glance at the traffic as we drove home, and I decided that rediscovery probably wouldn’t be as hard as I’d first thought.

Nothing To See Here – Move Along

IMG_0163I know I’ve mentioned IWSG Day before. But, for those who don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, I’ve never really explained. So, here goes: on the first Wednesday of every month, the idea is to put together a blog post focused specifically on writing. Preferably one that other writers will find interesting and/or useful. An additional part of the challenge is a suggested theme for those posts. Now, for a guy that pretty much writes this blog in the purest stream-of-consciousness, that thematic element is a fun little mini-challenge.

The hard part of the whole thing? It’s that stream-of-consciousness thing. When I write these posts, it is mostly just a short burst of effort to give me a break from whatever else I’m writing or doing. They receive, at best, one editing pass. That’s it, just one. Hell, most of the time I’m having a beer while I write them.

And other writers read them.

Uhh…

Maybe I really am just as nuts as my family thinks.

Ah well, we all have our crosses to bear.

At any rate, today’s theme is about putting yourself into your characters. Specifically, about whether or not you have, either on purpose or by accident, put personal info into your characters.

Umm…ahh…ahem.

No, not me. Not at all. Nope…and I’m just gonna slink away, now, whistling an innocent little tune. Nothing to see here, move along.

For me it’s more than putting myself into the characters. No, for me, the personal things go into the story itself. Even more, they go into the subtext of the story.

To dredge up something from a post I wrote a year or so ago: my favorite character – far and away my favorite! – has not even the slightest bit of me in him. He is, honestly, in no way an element of me, nor of my subconscious.

No, what he is is the most personal character I’ve ever created: he is a collage of the dead, of those friends I have lost. Oz is the face, and the pain, of suicide. To me, he embodies the very real grief and regret of that tragedy…and the very, very real memories.

In Wrath, given the limited POV I chose to use, Oz’s reality – and his power – wasn’t always easy to show…nor was I always successful. In Silence, however…

In Silence, I am playing a great deal more intimately with Oz, and with his relationship with Connor. Some of those bits make me laugh, while others are still strong enough to bring a tear.

The subtext of Silence is very much Connor’s struggle with survivor’s guilt, and with all of the shit that particular demon brings*, but…well…Oz is still my favorite. I may have killed him, but I can’t leave him behind.

*Not that I would know anything about that. Nope, not me, not at all…

And, before you ask: yes, my characters speak to me. That was, honestly, why I put aside everything else in my life to write the stories I am currently working on: Connor and Oz just wouldn’t shut the fuck up. I had thought (hoped?) that writing Wrath would quiet them down…

…boy, was I wrong.

And, yes, that does in fact make me officially nuts. Oh well, what the hell; I write sci-fi and fantasy, true sanity was never more than a distant dream, anyway.

I Love This Job

Note – Yes, I’m aware I forgot to post yesterday. Well…actually…I didn’t forget, so much as seriously edit the shit out of myself. After a reread, I decided it would be a good idea to spare you the pissed-off post I wrote following a particularly obnoxious day. At any rate, below is the post that should have gone up yesterday…

Four months ain’t a long time. Hell, I’ve had hangovers that lasted longer than that…

Four months, however, is a long time when you’re at “adult summer camp”. It’s more than long enough to get to know people, and to form attachments. it sure as hell is long enough to make it hard to say goodbye.

IMG_0149But, in one of those inevitabilities of adulthood, sometimes you have to say goodbye.

On a personal level, I don’t do nostalgia. Hell, I barely manage sentimentality, let alone anything more. In my world, emotions like that are for writing, not for showing.

Saying goodbye to the Taiwanese kids, however, really did challenge that little gem of sarcastic, cynical “wisdom”.

I know people all over the world…I’ve said more goodbyes than I can count, some (obviously) more permanent than others.

Shut up, Oz.

Ahem.

Anyway: goodbyes.

These kids earned my respect very, very quickly. With only a couple of exceptions, they worked their asses off. I would hire any of them in a second. I’m not sure a reference from an American ex-sales & marketing-monkey means much in Taiwan, but I would give one in a heartbeat.

More than that, though, they became people I genuinely liked…and that, given my usual “I Hate Humans” Mondays, is more rare than I should probably admit. One of these kids is, in fact, the sweetest human ever born*. I didn’t start to cry when I hugged her goodbye…nope, no way. I just got something in my eye.

Crap, if I keep up like this, I’m gonna ruin my reputation for misanthropy.

*She also drank a lot of the Americans under the table – I should’ve married her!

Okay, to turn this topic back to writing – and, yes, I should at least try to make these posts at least somewhat writing-centric – one of the challenges of mood and tone is in writing those more subtle emotions.

Anger? Joy? Love? Frustration? Honestly, those are easy to write. They are basic, primal feelings that are instantly identifiable to both writer and reader. There’s a reason why they are some of the first emotions we, as humans, experience. The more subtle, more nuanced emotions? Those are a great deal harder.

Think about it, think about explaining the bittersweet mix that comes with a heartfelt goodbye. About the blend of sorrow and joy that comes with nostalgia and memory {there’s a line from a song that captures that particular one: The price of a memory / Is the memory of the sorrow it brings}.

To capture those, to make make your character (and your reader) honestly & realistically feel those, can be one of the real challenges in writing. But when you nail it…

But when you nail it, it becomes one of those days…one of the days that make it all worth it.

I’ve said before: in many ways, I write this blog for others…for the readers. But the stories, the stories I write for me.

In Silence, that means how Connor finally says goodbye to Oz, finally comes to terms with his death, has a great deal to do with how I’ve come to terms – or, at least, am still coming to terms – with the suicides in my own life.

It also means that the bittersweet that remains when loss becomes memory, is very real and very personal. And, yes, I’m writing this because the other day was one of those days: I nailed it. I cried like a baby, but I nailed it.

I love this job.

Video Games As Art

Sooo…I’m trying to convince this raven that, even though I’m not at the top of the food chain up here, I’m higher than he is.

It ain’t working.

Damn this bird. He’s reminding me just how little control I have over the critters around here…

At any rate, as you can guess from the late posting today, I have once again failed to go with my “Yellowstone Practical” theme.

Nope, not gonna do it today, either. Ah well, so goeth most of my plans…

I was watching podcasts last night with a friend of mine, and I got to thinking. As a general rule, “getting to thinking” is dangerous for me.  I should probably add, these were video game podcasts…and, yes, my friend (Billy) and I are very much nerds-of-a-feather.

Two things I miss up here, more than just about anything else: cooking and games. I love to cook…I live for cooking…and yet I have to eat three meals a day prepared by other people. I already have about three weeks worth of meals planned for when I get back…

Just below cooking, however, comes video games. I miss playing games…especially good games.

So, at any rate, Billy and I got to talking about games…and especially about games that mattered, games that had something to say. And, to those of you that scoff, I’ll reissue a challenge I gave a year or so ago: go play This War of Mine. Better yet, go play That Dragon Cancer. Only after that can you try and tell me that games don’t have anything to say. The first of those made me well-and-truly uncomfortable (in the best literary sense of that word), while the second made me cry like a broken-hearted six-year-old.

Now, look…I know that most games are mindless trash. I know that most games have no message beyond, “Me mash button…me kill…rawr!”  But – and this is the important bit – not ALL games are that way. In fact, as a writer, I have to admit that there are things a game can do that a written story cannot.

There is an immersion to games that no book, no matter how good, can match. With a book, you (the reader) are simply too far removed from the circumstances. In a game – err, in a well-made game – it is very much a personal, intimate thing. Think about it: as writers, we use dialogue and action to carry and move the story. Hell, most of the time, we use them for exposition and set-up just as much as we do for action.

In a game, however, you can use many, many other things to carry that message. Lighting, “set” design, color scheme, character design…

“But, but, movies!” I hear you scream. Nope, not the same. Think about it: in a movie, we need movement and action and dialogue in order to create tension.

Try this exercise: imagine a scene with one single, lone character walking down a dark hall. Pretty simple, when you get right down to it. In a book, I would need to have certain things happening in order to create tension. Whether those things were internal, like flashbacks or internal thoughts/monologue, or external like noises or movement, it would be something that was NOT integral to the scene itself, something “beyond” the dark hall.

In a movie, that problem gets nothing but worse. I would have to have a great deal of “external” stimuli in order to maintain the audience’s interest. Whether those stimuli were music, or dialogue with an off-screen companion, or sound effects, it would have to be (like the book) something external to the dark hall.

But in a game…but in a game…but in a game, I could put you walking down a dark hall and, if the perspective and set-up were right, do nothing else. With the intimacy and immediacy of the player experience, the simple tension of walking down a dark, unknown hall can make the experience terrifying.

I have, I should add, written for video games in the past, so I am not completely objective in this discussion. I love long-form writing. I love, especially, novels. Shit, you all know enough about me, by now, to know that I’m a wordy bastard, so novels are about the only way I can really sink my teeth into writing a story. But, and this is a big but, the options and imagination that game-writing opened for me were some of the best training I have ever had.

Apologies to all of my professors from college (err, both colleges), but I learned more about writing from those times I wrote for games than I did over all the years it took me to earn two liberal arts degrees.

Got paid better, too.

And, yep…if you haven’t guessed…we’re well into real-time, drunk-bloggin’ at this point. Just deal with it. I haven’t done one of these in a loooong time, and I needed the outlet. Returning to the the real world is right around the corner, and I’m pretty fucking sure I’m not ready.

Seriousness and business and work? Paying attention to shit over which I have no control?

I would much rather be heading off for one of my solo, off-trail hikes. When I’m off-trail, I own everything. Which, in the end, really just comes to the most simple of facts: if I survive, I did it right. If I die, I fucked up.

When you get right down to it, that’s what life is all about…isn’t it?

Go Where The Story Takes You

IMG_0163It’s IWSG day again – yay!

If you haven’t guessed by now, this blog is pretty much a free-form flow of rambling thoughts. I have, of course, always planned to completely avoid stream-of-consciousness posts…and generally failed at that.

Oh well.

But…but, at least IWSG-day gives me ONE day a month where I can be planned and structured!

Err…well…sometimes…

Hey, what can I say? I’m sitting in the Yellowstone sun after a relaxing hike (just eight miles), with a beer in hand and my iPad open and ready for the words…

Life doesn’t suck right now, and fully planned & structured posts ain’t really at the top of my mind.

Okay, with that in mind, it’s time for the post itself: Has writing ever surprised you?

Every time.

No, really…every single damned time.

Honestly, it would be better to say that if my writing ever stops surprising me, it’s time to burn all the pages and hang up my pen.

My writing is my characters, and my characters have voices and minds of their own. They are – as I’ve mentioned before – the little ghosts fluttering around the back of my mind, always talking, always telling their stories to me.

For me to write a story, I have to believe in my characters. They have to be real, they have to have their own needs and demands. The creative process is very much a tug-of-war between me and them. What they want is not always what I want, or what I had planned.

And sometimes they win.

I suppose the best way to illustrate that point is to go back to my planning & preparation steps. After I’ve come up with the characters themselves, and the basic plot outline, comes the single biggest prep item in terms of time and effort: I write a summary of the entire story from each and every significant character’s POV.

Keep in mind, these ain’t little 300-word synopses, these are 3,000-5,000-word detailed summaries. In a lot of ways, they are stories in and of themselves. To do that, I have to put myself into all of my characters’ heads. And that, very often, surprises me.

I’ve said before that Oz (from Wrath & Tears) is my favorite character, bar none. Well, his (never shared) POV document is the most heart-breakingly painful thing I’ve ever read (let alone written)….it also completely changed the story I had planned.

Not only is that the best example I can think of for why I do what I do, it is also a very good example of why a writer should always look for surprise, and always be open to change: before I wrote that bit, Wrath was Connor’s story, it was the story – both upfront and in subtext – of a simple street kid trying to fight his way out.

But after?

But after…the story became real, and it became very much Oz’s story. Yes, my protagonist was the same…yes, my plot was the same…but after that, all of the subtext became (or was supposed to become) about the despair and self-destruction that led my favorite character to commit suicide.

And that surprised me. Suicide has always been far too personal, and far too real, for me to ever write about.

Until Oz made me.

I could write about the other surprises in my work: I could write about how creating Silence’s final scene first made me go back and rewrite the entire fucking story…I could write about how, every time I sat down to write the conspiracy theory story, the words that came out were for another story entirely…I could write about how planning and structuring in too much detail ruined the first two novels I ever wrote, and how letting go of my inhibitions made all the difference…

But, in the end, it comes down to one thing for me: if your writing does not surprise you, if it does not make you want to keep writing just to see what the hell happens, why bother?

The Halfway Mark

I’m currently watching a toddler stagger around the plaza in front of the store, bottle in hand and legs shaky and unsteady. Weaving a course in and out of people and falling down every once in a while.

Hmm…I seem to recall being in that condition once or twice…

Trying to think about tone today, and the various tricks of voice, characterization and description we use to create the mood and feeling of a story. I’m thinking about it because I have to sit down and do some planning and rework of the outline for the rest of the current story. No big deal – I would only worry if I didn’t have to make changes at this point!

At any rate, I’m halfway through Silence, and that is a damned nice milestone for me…in spite of being badly behind schedule*.

*Hey, YOU put in a full day of writing when you’ve got mountains and valleys and meadows – not mention bears and bison – calling your name!

But with all of that said, the changes I have to make are pretty big. I like, at least in concept, the changes I have in mind, but I am concerned at the change in tone, as well. I’m already struggling to maintain the bitter, jaded and angry tone that characterized the first book, and anything that makes that harder is something I have to be careful about.

I might be in a better frame of mind as I write this book, and Connor may be in a better situation than he was as a dockside ikiryo, but that only changes the circumstances, not the reality. He is still bitter and angry, he is still abandoned and alone, and in the end he is still a broken, hurting kid. That is what I can’t lose sight of, that is the heart of the character and of the story.

How do you do that with a kid who is, essentially, living “under cover” as a yuppie?

Well, the glimpses into music and the dive bar in which Connor plays are part of it, but also the booze and the drugs still come in to play. I’ve been told the drinking and drug use in Wrath make Connor and Oz less likable than they otherwise would be. But, to that I can only reply that clean and nice aren’t who they are. It’s not what the stories are. It’s not, honestly, who I am.

Go to the downtown area in any moderate-to-large city and find yourself some streetkids. Just how many of those are clean and nice? Just how many of those are stone-cold sober?

Yeah, I couldn’t find any, either, when I was doing research for the books.

I did try to change the scenes I’ve been told are problematic, but those scenes are there for a reason. Hell, I do remember saying once that I don’t care if you like Connor and Oz as “people”, so long as you feel for them. And I still hold to that. These ain’t American high school kids, these are guys whose youth hides scars the rest of the universe can barely comprehend. These are guys who have seen the worst the universe has to offer…if their worst sin is to drink too much, and pop the occasional pill, then they’re doin’ pretty damned good, I’d say.

WARNING! WARNING! DANGER! COMPLETELY STREAM-OF-CONSCIOUSNESS WRITING AHEAD!!

I’ve already hiked-out a pair of boots. No, really: I bought brand new Timberlands last October, and I noticed today just how destroyed and falling-apart they have become.

I’d make some joke about things not being made like they used to be, but let’s be honest…I’ve put those boots through a metric ass-ton of abuse over the last three months. There are A LOT of pretty hard miles on them…

The more hours I spend in the backcountry, the harder it gets to think of Connor and his world. I find myself thinking more and more about the two or three fantasy stories/series I have floating around the back of my mind. Hell, I’ve written six or seven snippets for those stories, if only to explore the main characters, and their world/society.

It’s amazing just how much your surroundings impact the work…hell, how much they impact the vision and imagination. When I’m “home”, working on sci-fi isn’t all that hard: I can see and feel Connor and his world. Okay, so, in all honesty, I’ll admit that I don’t exactly write hard-sci-fi. My college physics experience was most definitely proof that C’s do, indeed, get degrees…I couldn’t write hard-sci-fi if you held a gun to my head. My stuff is as soft-sci-fi as it gets…and as character-centric: Connor’s bitter, cynical world of contrast and strife is fairly easy to come to when I’m surrounded by people and concrete.

But what happens when those give way to trees and dirt? Different story. No, literally: I have a completely different story in my head. Different tone, different meaning, different message. When I’m bushwhacking through spaces that haven’t seen a human in years – if not decades – I can’t help but imagine what life must have been like a millennia ago.

Hell, hiking-out those boots illustrates to me one of those concepts that has really changed over time: that of distance. 8 miles is nothing to us, it’s a trip to the convenience store for beer and munchies at midnight. 8 miles is also, however, about the maximum that your basic, out-of-shape tourist can walk in a single day. Put Betty the Cubicle-Dweller on the trail, and after 8 miles she is completely done.

Hell, even I struggle to do much more than twenty miles in a day, and I hike more in a month than most people do in several years.

Just to offer a contrast: the Roman legions marched thirty miles a day, rain or shine, road or no road, just outside of Rome or in hostile territory. Then they built a fortified camp at the end of that march. Every single night.

THAT is the concept we have lost: just what a day’s walk really is.

You think London and Canterbury are the same place? Walk them. No, honestly: get out and walk the road…your understanding of distance will change rapidly. And, no, horses don’t really change the math. Sure they can run, trot or jog much faster than us…but only for short distances. For a long-haul journey, it’s time to walk, and a horse walks only about one mile an hour faster than a human.

Okay, that’s enough of this entire digression…

Maybe I should point out that I, literally, just got back from my hike. Instead of laying down for a nap, I decided to try and pound out a post (since I didn’t have one ready for this morning). That may have been a mistake…

On the other hand, I have another huge load of pictures for later this week. Yay!

The Bellowing Of Horny Males

The bison are horny. No, really…the rut is starting early this season, and the bison are starting to gather in a couple of the larger valleys for what can only be described as a giant (in every sense of the word) orgy.

Picture a shaggy-furred, two-thousand-pound Austin Powers and you start to get an idea about an adult male about this time of year. They start making this loud, strange almost-but-not-quite-bellowing sound while they follow the fertile females around like lovestruck teenagers.

The employee dorms are not, it must be said, a whole lot different. From bellowing to following around to, well, orgies, it’s pretty much the same the thing.

Both are funny as hell.

Ever watch a twenty-eight year old man make a complete ass of himself over a nineteen year old girl who has zero interest in him? It’s pretty damned entertaining…not to mention reaching entirely new levels of pathetic.

Now, I do happen to have a hard and fast rule against fishing off the company pier, so I get to remain purely a member of the audience. Sitting around and watching this all, however, is far from boring. Heckling and mocking all these proceedings happens to be one of my favorite non-hiking activities right now.

Hell, even the handful of gay couples have added their own drama and spin. If I ever decide to turn to writing romance, I’ve got enough for a five book series after just three months of this!

All I know is that by then end of this summer, there will be exactly zero new marriages…and zero divorces. Pretty much everyone will go out the way they come in, and there’s something right about that. The married folks are still married…the single folks are still single…and the desperate are still desperate.

Yep, the universe is still chugging right along. Now, if we happened to get as many “Yellowstone babies” as the bison will, things might be a bit different…

At any rate, this ersatz-Saturnalia does get me to thinking about love interests, and about romance. Especially about how those two things need to be organic to the work. One thing I cannot stand, as a reader, are those stories where a “beautiful and spunky” love interest is shoe-horned in just because someone decided that every story has to have one.

Spare me.

More than ever, I keep falling back on (what is to me) Rule #1: do what is right for your story, and for your characters. Don’t put a damned romance in if it doesn’t belong. Don’t saddle your protagonist with a love interest that, well, wouldn’t interest him/her in other circumstances.

Honestly, the best love story is the one that makes sense. Then again…not a single one of the ever-changing, ever-humorous relationships I’m watching develop and disintegrate in the dorms makes any real sense either.

Crap, now I want to write a protagonist who is brave, brilliant, supremely capable…and is a complete cheap-slut.

On Revival

Redemption and revitalization are two of the most common themes in writing. Hell, those two concepts underlie just about every plot and story out there. Okay, so that’s it for the Lit 101 recap…why am I talking about this now?

It has something to do with recovering my own energy and focus, yes, but it has more to do with what my current surroundings have to teach.

I was hiking through an area burned out just a couple of years ago…and I mean completely nuked.

It was eerie: the trunks of many dead trees still standing tall, blackened and burned and ready to be blown down by the next strong wind. All around was complete silence, and that strange feeling you get walking through a graveyard.  Like disturbing something that is none of your business.

But…but in spite of the quiet, in spite the sense of death and destruction, there was something more, something quite different. The ground was anything but death and destruction. It was a carpet of deep blues and purples, the cool of those colors broken by the occasional contrasting slashes of reds and yellows. And below it all, the bright greens of young, vibrant plants just beginning to really grow.

Wildflowers. Millions of ‘em.

It took the death of thousands of trees to open the space for the sun to shine through. It took the renewal of the soil that comes with burning off the old and cluttered to make way for the new and strong. It took revitalization. It took drastic and irreversible change.

That is what I’ve been thinking about. That is the force I can see and feel in my own life right now, and the force I need to see and feel in what I write.

I’ve said before that I’m not a plot-centric writer. I’m a character guy – my characters are the life and heart of any/every story. They have to see and feel, taste and touch, the realities of life quite as much as do I.

Writing Wrath & Tears resonated with me because it was a story, at the heart of it all, about the suicide of a friend. It was personal to me, it was real. Silence is about – again, at the heart of it all – the recovery and revitalization of a kid hopeless and broken. About not just surviving, but overcoming, the disasters of life.

Just like every story I write – whether novel-length or short-story – is captured and defined by its final image, the themes I’m addressing (or trying to address, at least) are captured by that one image* I described above…by the forest of the dead being reborn in a riot of color and vibrant chaos.

*And, no – I did not get pictures while I was in that forest. I do promise to try and get back there for some shots, but I have no idea when that will happen.