Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Closing Time

This was a postal substation until 15 years ago or so. It's
difficult to turn left out of here, but it's really a pretty
convenient location. If you're in town, go and buy
something, willya?
My local Half Price Bookstore is closing in June. This makes me extraordinarily sad.

The debate over whether or not it's appropriate for books (and movies and music and board games and magazines, etc...) to be resold in a nationwide ultimate garage sale-type setting doesn't really bother me that much. I want creators to get paid, but I think most writers want to be read no matter what. So, really, what makes me sad is that another bookstore is going away from my town.

When I was growing up there were two Town Crier bookstores (both had tobacco shops in the back), two used bookstores on the same street but four blocks apart, an independent bookseller on the developing south side of town, another two or three in the downtown, one at the University, another at a shopping center at a major intersection and I'm sure more scattered across the city that I wasn't aware of. Oh yeah and there was Quantrill's Flea Market where there were books and comics and records and all sorts of things in little niches under an ancient building downtown. It was a treasure cavern in there, to be sure.

The two used bookstores were J. Hood Bookseller and Dean's. I got the majority of my Bantam Doc Savages at J. Hood and I got a lot of old comics from Dean's, too. The one that got away there was a pristine copy of The Super-Hero Women and Marvel's Greatest Super-Hero Battles for $20 total. Yeah, I kick myself for leaving those on the shelf. Sigh.

About twenty years ago, Hastings came to town and drove one of the independent booksellers out of business by opening up in a vacant Safeway two doors down. Hatch's was a good store for me. I bought a good deal of science fiction there. It was huge and fun to shop. Sigh.

Adventure A Bookstore went away shortly after that. They were downtown and couldn't compete with the prices Hastings was charging (or not charging). The really sucky part for Adventure and Hatch's was that Hastings also sold CDs (and tapes but they went away pretty quickly if I remember) and rented movies. VHS back then, but still. Hastings was a major chain store that had a lot of stuff and people flocked there and forgot about Hatch's and Adventure.

Then about ten or twelve years ago, Borders moved into downtown and that killed all but one of the booksellers in the business district. The Raven - again just about two doors down from Borders - managed to not only compete with Borders but survive. It's still there even though Borders is gone now for over a year. They specialized in catering to locals who were loyal. I went there when I couldn't get what I wanted at Borders and when Hastings let me down with their (in)ability to order titles I wanted. To be truthful, I didn't go there often enough.

Over the last four or five years I've ordered more and more off the internet: Alibris, abebooks, halfdotcom, Amazon. You know the drill.

Why did I do this? When Borders closed we were down to the Raven, Hastings, Half Price Books, and another used place - The Dusty Bookshelf. And the very much weakened University bookstore. That's it. In a town that had less than 50,000 residents (when University was not in session) we had at least half a dozen bookstores of various stripes. That was the 70s and 80s. As the town's grown we've lost bookstores.

So when I went looking for a title like Hitchcock by Truffaut, I had to look on the internet. And that's not the only title, I promise.

But I always looked around locally, first. If I could find the book in a store in town I would (usually) buy it in town. If the price locally was significantly more than the cheapest price plus shipping I would buy off the 'net. If it was close, I'd buy locally. If it was new, I'd buy local.  More often than not.

And that's why the HPB is going away. Because I (and a lot of other people) chose to be impatient and order from the internet rather than give people in our community who needed jobs the opportunity to do them.

I feel a little guilty.

I could rail against the unfairness of a corporation that's dressed up a used bookstore failing to recognize that there's a core group of customers who go to our local HPB often, but that won't accomplish anything. It comes down to numbers. I understand numbers. Not enough locals bought often enough. That's why the store's closing. That's why my local comic shop closed. That's why my favorite record store closed. That's why everything closes.

This is why Amazon and iTunes and all the others are thriving. Because they have things we want with minimal fuss. And for an ultra-cheap price. Also, you can buy things without wearing pants.

At the cost of locals who could have been working at half a dozen bookstores and record stores and other retail outlets. Ah, dammit. Ultimately it's my fault and the fault of the rest of the city that once was a town. The 'buy local mantra' didn't make a dent and likely won't, even after this.

I spent my formative years going from one local bookstore to another after school and on Saturdays. My mom always took us to bookstores and we always spent at least half an hour there. Then we'd go to the library.

It's too bad that doesn't happen now. Because we are impatient. Because we don't know how to wait.

If you live in the same town as me, hell even if you don't, click on the link to my local HPB and like 'em on Facebook or give 'em a +1 on Google. Please. It probably won't make a lick of difference but maybe, just maybe...

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Steel Seraglio by Mike Carey, Linda Carey, and Louise Carey

This book.

Wow.

This book is amazing.

I was transported - completely - to the world of the story.

Here's the description from the publisher's website:

The sultan Bokhari Al-Bokhari of Bessa has 365 concubines—until a violent coup puts the city in the hands of the religious zealot Hakkim Mehdad. Hakkim has no use for the pleasures of the flesh: he condemns the women first to exile and then to death. Cast into the desert, the concubines must rely on themselves and each other to escape from the new sultan’s fanatical pursuit. But their goals go beyond mere survival: with the aid of the champions who emerge from among them, they intend to topple the usurper and retake Bessa from the repressive power that now controls it. The assassin, Zuleika, whose hands are weapons. The seer, Rem, whose tears are ink. The wise Gursoon, who was the dead sultan’s canniest advisor. The camel-thief, Anwar Das, who offers his lying tongue to the concubines’ cause. Together, they must forge the women of the harem into an army, a seraglio of steel, and use it to conquer a city. But even if they succeed, their troubles will just be beginning—because their most dangerous enemy is within their own number . . . .

Like Mike Carey's rather brilliant The Unwritten (for DC/Vertigo - you should be reading this if you aren't already) The Steel Seraglio is a story about stories. Points of view are shifted as different narrators take over to tell the reader what happened. Each of the main characters has depth, is well-formed, and changes along the way. The two semi-significant male characters are less defined in comparison to the women and that's fine because it serves the story.

The villains are also male and reprehensible because they cannot believe that women could actually pose them any threat. Their superiority is what fuels them though one is driven more by belief than any real sexism.

And now we come to what may be the biggest issue for some (at least according to some critics on the internet): it's not set in Western culture. After all, how can Western writers really understand the Eastern mind and tell stories that are meaningful? How can we, as Western readers, want to read those sorts of stories? What's our way in?

Well, obviously - maybe only to me, it's the story itself.

I picked up the book because I've read a lot of Mike Carey's other work and all (I think) of his novels. I've especially enjoyed his off-beat comics like Crossing Midnight and the Felix Castor novels which reminded me of his Hellblazer run. As I read the back cover copy of Seraglio I was not just intrigued, but enthralled with the idea of exploring the possibility of 365 concubines taking on the males of their world.

While I was reading, the Careys use language in ways that are intriguing and so unfamiliar to me that it reenforced the world of the story and the time of its setting. I can't confirm that they've invented new words or terms but it certainly seemed like it. Additionally, the fact that the voices change with the narrators is an enhancement rather than a detriment. They've done an excellent job in keeping their voices out of it in favor of letting the characters take over. I can't tell you which parts were written by Mike and which weren't. It didn't matter, anyway. I was swept completely into the story.

And, having finished it, I had a helluva lot of fun reading. The religion is never mentioned by name and I suspect that a good many of the cities named in the book are invented as is the name of the god of the story: the Increate. (If I'm wrong about this, my apologies. However when I searched, 'increate' came up as a word, not a concept or deity. It means "not yet created" which added a level to the story. Either way, I'm interested to know if the term is invented or in use somewhere. Let me know.)

This book is very sharp, reads quickly, and took me into a world that I hadn't spent a lot of time in. After all, the desert peoples of the world are fascinating as evidenced by stories like Lawrence of Arabia and Hidalgo. And the reason I mention this book concurrent to those to films is that The Steel Seraglio would make an excellent film. Not only because it's a terribly entertaining read but because it would be good for Americans in particular and the Western world overall, to see a vibrant story about strong, smart, determined women who don't look like they stepped out of Vogue.

I can't recommend this book any more highly. It's a terrific fantasy that's not only well-written but engrossing, intriguing, thought-provoking and ultimately, about how stories are told. As a writer, I can't ask for anything more from any book.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Go Visit

While you're over there, check out all my friends' work
at the Cafe. I couldn't ask for a better group of folks to
be associated with. They're awesome.
I'm taking today off here to point you to my post at The Confabulator Cafe where I'm writing about how I critique other writers.

Between here and the Cafe I'm blogging about 2000+ words a week and not writing nearly enough. True, I can crank out a week's worth of posts on a good day and I need to get focused on some fiction things. (By the way, my post next week at the Cafe is a fun one, Conned - Based on a True Story. Watch for it.)

Also, digging out from the snowstorm. Check out my Twitter feed for pictures if you missed them yesterday.

And re-writing a draft of a new novelette that had some serious problems and one giant gaping plot issue that bothered me almost from the beginning. It was just too heavy-handed. With any luck I'll be able to knock that out pretty quickly.

See you Monday. Or on Twitter.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Self-Publishing on My Mind

You all remember Narcissus, don't you?
Oh, NPR, how I love you.

A while back there were some articles on the publishing industry. This one ran on Monday, this one on Tuesday.

For years I've been extolling the virtues of self-publishing. I've self-published. I've even blogged on the subject for the Confabulator Cafe. My grandfather self-published a book of stories that he'd been telling the family for years and years. Well, vanity-published.

That's different, isn't it?

Back in '41 when my grandfather was a wee lad... Hold on. That's not how this should start.

Vanity publishing goes back to about 1941 (or earlier) according to this here article on Wikipedia. Pretty much what it comes down to is that anyone who charges an author a fee to 'publish' a book is a vanity press. But doesn't Amazon charge a fee to host or 'publish' your book? Sure they do. But they take it out of the sale of each individual book rather than charging the author up front.

When you see it like that, it kind of sounds like vanity publishing, doesn't it?

Well. Regardless.

No, hang on. That does sound like vanity publishing repackaged. The explosion in self-publishing fired by Amazon's hosting service for ebooks that they touted and that the big New York publishers refuse to deal on in terms of pricing is a prettified vanity press. (Maybe. I'm hyperbolizing here for effect. It's my soapbox here and you can do what you want on your own blog. Deal with it.)

Go on. Read that article on self-publishing that I linked to. Here, in case you don't want to scroll up. Want proof? How much risk does Amazon assume in 'accepting' your book for 'publication'? Hm? I guess they're selective to a degree, but in general just about anyone can publish anything on Amazon, right? Do you disagree? (Let's not get into a bunch of semantics here, either.)

Do you see what I'm getting at?

Even publishing with Amazon, you pay a fee, they aren't all that picky about what you write, and they incur minimal (if any) real financial risk.

I'm not saying you shouldn't self-publish. You should if you want to. But make it truly self-published. Do the work yourself. Don't depend on Amazon's name to 'sell' your book for you. Sell a high-quality, DRM-free PDF of your book. Your Kindle app will import it just fine. Spend some money on a cover. Spend money on an editor. Give artist and editor credit in the book and in the way you describe it. Then find a distributor.

That's not Amazon. Or any other platform that takes a fee out of every sale you make. If they're printing it, fine, paper and labor need to be paid for. But for ebooks? Come on. You can do it better yourself.

That said, here's my Amazon author profile. (He said with chagrin.)

Look, just think about it. You can sell just as many copies through your own website as through Amazon.

If you want to.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Energy

I don't know if it looks like this in my brain when I get
a new project, but it certainly captures the elegance of
the process.
I tend to get energy, that is get pumped up, when I conceive an idea or when I start a project. A lot of people do. Further, that energy translates into the task at hand once I've initiated it.

All the energy I get, I push back into the task which must be accomplished.

This explains why I was so high on my novel while I was writing it AND why I get so jazzed when I go back to it. The idea was so compelling, to me and I hope ultimately to a publisher, that I couldn't walk away from it. I could see things so crystal clear, like it was high-def in the best way.

Ever heard the saying "can't see the forest for the trees"? I can see the trees, all right in this case, it's the fact that they make up a forest that's eluding me.

All these disparate elements - characters, plotlines, intrigues - are what I'm anxious about. These are the parts I tell people who ask about the book. I think this is why I had such a difficult time in outlining the damn thing.

When I opened up a novelette I wrote in 2011 and revised in 2012 just recently, I saw a lot of mistakes I'd made. Things that were unnecessarily clunky and muddy, turns of phrase that could have been better, points of view that weren't the main character's. All of them had to be fixed. I thought I would just turn this around in a week and get it gone again, off to be published.

Didn't work that way.

Instead, the group that's editing it sent it back with more notes. Sigh. Really? I'd missed all these things in three or four tries? I was going to have to revise this book AGAIN?

Well, it was my fault in the first place. That I hadn't adequately plotted/outlined the book I was writing. I thought I had, but it turned out the book I thought I was writing wasn't at all the book that needed to be written. If I showed you the manuscript, you'd be shocked at how many different colors there are on it. It's a rainbow riot.

But it's because I get wrapped up in the excitement of The New, The Now. I figure I'll worry about things Later because I'm so pumped to start writing Now...

Don't let this happen to you.

Take some time to really think what you're doing through. Throw down an outline that you have to follow. Then flow chart it. See where you can make decisions count for more by asking "what if" more often.

Or don't. Then you'll end up endlessly revising and losing your enthusiasm for a project that you loved at the first.

The upside of this is that you may find your love for the project once you get digging back into it. That's what's happened to me. I love this book more now than when I first wrote it. To be truthful, I'm glad it wasn't published the way it was. It is sooooo much better now.

So. On with your day. Find your energy and get enthusiastic about what you're doing.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Writer's Doubt

Everyone feels like they fake it sometimes. Don't
think you're the only one. Illustration from here.
I don't believe there's such a thing as writer's block. Never have, really. Sure every writer struggles with concepts, constructing sentences that are supposed to make sense and come out like a bad Hunter Thompson hallucinations but that's par for the course. It happens to us all.

But where does it come from?

My opinion - because this is my soapbox - is that it's doubt. I've known a lot of creative types, even business types, who think that they're in over their heads. That sinking feeling that really they are a fraud and sooner rather than later they will be found out and excoriated for having dare to pretend they are anything more than anyone else.

There's the cliche of someone looking at an abstract piece of art and saying "My four-year old could do that! How is that art?"

The cliche of the starving artist having to work a crappy job at a fast food restaurant, who talks about making art with friends who don't understand, who say "do you want fries with that?" is common, too.

We are programmed to not reach beyond ourselves unless it's in terms of sport. Women aren't supposed to be as successful in business as men. They aren't supposed to be as smart. (Remember when a talking Barbie once said "Math is hard?") People from lower class circumstances aren't supposed to be smart or pretty or funny or anything that the middle class isn't.

As a society we look down on people who want to create things, or change things, or make things better for others who aren't as fortunate. We belittle, we demean, we make these people and the lower classes they champion feel somehow less for not toeing the line. How dare they want others to have what we have? Why, that's communist!

It's bullshit.

What it creates, when people who are smarter and richer and prettier than you are, is doubt. Of course I can't be better than what I am. I was born into this. I am supposed to be less than them. What was I thinking?

You were thinking that you could be like your hero, your inspiration, your muse.

Maybe you can't be exactly like that person or persons but that doesn't mean you can't try and be your own person who might inspire someone else further down the line. For me, I'll never be a writer like Heinlein or Gaiman or Wyllis Cooper. But I can be a writer who writes and learns and grows as a writer and become my own persona. I can be myself.

It's getting past the crap that we pull down onto ourselves that causes the greatest harm. Don't listen to the detractors, don't let the bastards grind you down. Reach as far as you can and keep on doing it. Exceed your grasp.

When you look back, you'll find you've reached farther than you ever thought you could when you started.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Thanks for the Love

I don't always bring roses home, but I like having
flowers in the house as much as the missus does.
Tomorrow is Valentine's Day and I'll be working like any other day and coming home to my wife like any other day. Like most of you who work away from the house and come home to your spouse (or significant other).

I'll come home with flowers, like I usually do on February 14th, and like I also do several times over the course of the year. My wife and I will probably go out for dinner somewhere nice but not too nice. It's a routine.

But today I want to thank all of you who've taken the time to read the blog here. There's been a significant rise in traffic over the last three months or so. I'm not sure if it's that I've been writing things that you all want to read (I hope that's it) or what, but I'm really and truly grateful for the love you've shown Jason Arnett dot com. There have been retweets of links, more pluses on Google+, comments on Facebook links and shares there, too.

I'll keep at it, but I wanted share a list of the most popular posts so far this year. Here it is:

Don't Pirate My Book(s) - because Chuck Wendig told me to say it.
The Truth of the LieOutright lies are just meant to hurt their victims or, at the minimum, cast the teller of the lie in the best possible light.
Pranks - ...a good prank is a good prank and everyone should be able to chortle about it afterwards.
Widespread Panic - ...this post is more about procrastination than about finishing.
Mr. Know-it-All Owns Up - I realize I don't know everything there is to know.
Vampires and Zombies Are Not For Me ...if I were to write a vampire or zombie story, what would be my contribution to the genre? I can't see one yet.

I'll keep trying to keep the blog engaging here, gang. If there's something you want to ask me, don't forget that you can click over to my still-nascent Tumblr and fire away. I forgot to mention in this post that I'm on Goodreads, too. Feel free to follow there.

Hope you all have a happy Valentine's Day or a good Thursday. Whichever works best for you.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Overtweaking

I've been whacking away at trying to be a creative person for a number of years now. Well, all my life, really, but seriously for the last thirteen or fourteen. Well, only seriously for a total of five or six years of the last thirteen or fourteen. You get what I'm saying.

I hope.

Anyway, November of 2011 saw Evolver: Apex Predator hit digital shelves at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Immediately following that book's acceptance by Actionopolis I began working on another for them.

We're about two steps closer to seeing that book come out. There's some cover artwork and the final edits have been turned back in. I'm hoping it's going to be ready sooner than later. Reading the book again before it goes out was weird. I looked at what I'd written and while I think it still tells a good story, I would have approached some things a little differently. As it was, I fixed some clarification things and just some minor housekeeping stuff.

If I were less secure, I could have kept tweaking little things here and there and here and there. Finally I  sighed and decided it was time to let it go. So off it went in an email.

What inspired the re-read and edits was getting to see a preview of the cover.

Those are the little moments that have made me wanting to be a writer worth all the time and energy I've been putting in. Well, that and getting paid for writing the books. I guess that makes me somewhere between an amateur and semi-pro. Doesn't it?

Anyway.

All this led to another email that said go ahead on a third book that I turned in last year. The draft was in need of some attention and now that the other book is in production I'm feeling good about taking care of this one.

Look, I'm sorry to be vague but these are books that will definitely see the light of day. Through the fault of no one, little delays piled up around them and now it appears those have been cleared and we're rolling again. Here's to hoping that 2013 is the year of these books coming out and getting some attention. I'll need your help on that last part, but I'm good with the writing and editing bits.

I promise I'll share covers and announcements when I can. For now, I'm glad that the work is moving forward.

Friday, February 08, 2013

The Confabulator Cafe

I've been kind of lax in reminding you every week to visit my writing group's blog, The Confabulator Cafe. It's a wonderful mix of writers exploring all the things that go into writing. Every week we have a prompt that pushes us to write about some aspect of storytelling. Categories include Writer's Life, Influence, Politics, Mechanics, and more.

What you get at the Cafe is all of us considering the week's question (this week's is Why Do We Need Stories?) and then being able to read ten or eleven or twelve responses, all from unique perspectives. Since we're all at different stages and want different things from being writers, it's often an eclectic mix of opinions and feelings and thoughts. I'm sure there are plenty of blogs by writers about writing all across the Internet (only about a million, I suppose) but this one is a little different. I think it's a little more honest and it's certainly a record of several journeys.

But we don't limit ourselves to only talking about our Processes or the Ephemera that go into writing, and in particular our writing. Every month we throw down and write a story to entertain our readers. Again, it's from a prompt and every story is unique. We don't all write in the same genres, either. We invite you to sample our writing styles and to show off how much fun we're having on this quest of ours. We're even writing in a common universe in the Straeon Manor stories with a bit of crossover in the last round.

What I want you to take away from this post is that while you have a lot of choices to spend your time on the Internet in pursuit of various entertainments or illuminations or just in wasting time, I think you might be taken with some of our bloggers there. I certainly am. I've learned a bit about other's processes and habits and been able to incorporate a bit of some of them here and there.

If for no other reason than we do it because we want to - we're not asking for your money, just a little of your time - come on over and read a bit while you're having your morning coffee. Pop the feed into your reader and keep up with what we're doing. Tell a writer you know about us. Who knows? We might be able to inspire someone to take the leap.

So consider this my honest attempt to entice you to visit The Confabulator Cafe, at least once, to see if there's anything you're interested in. Maybe it's just reading an entertaining post or maybe it's something else. Regardless, if you can all the Confabulators will be appreciative.


Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Don't Pirate My Book(s)

The pirate laughs at my feeble attempt to
appeal to his sense of decency.
Because Chuck Wendig says.

Look, I'm at the very beginning of any kind of writing career, here, and I've only got one book out. Another is on its way and the third one is getting close, too, and that means I've got to say something about piracy.

Yesterday, Wendig did one of his famous 25 Things... lists about pirating books. He mentions things like buying and selling used books, mix-tapes and loaning books and such as examples of 'stealing' and yes, they are. To a degree. Buying used is akin to recycling (he said in the hopes that he didn't sound too desperate to justify a habit) even though it doesn't benefit the author/creator. Used cars? Same thing in my book. I think we should use things until they don't have any more use rather than just trashing them when they're not shiny and cool any more. But that's another post.

Mix-tapes are okay in my book, too, because it's about re-mixing various elements to create a mood. As long as the mix-tape isn't resold, I don't see a problem with it. At that point it becomes a compilation that should be sanctioned by a label and paid for. Re-mixing things to make money off them is stealing and should be avoided. (I'm looking at everyone who's taken a novel in the public domain and put fucking zombies into them. Stop that. Stop ir right now.) That's not clever, that's unimaginative.

Loaning books? Well, I have no issue with loaning things I paid for. Generally whomever I loan things to will return the favor, and both of us have paid for something. That's got to be okay.

I should confess at this point that I've torrented exactly one thing. As it turned out, the thing was freely available and in the public domain, with no copyright claim on it. I've always paid for music (or gotten it from someone who paid for it in return for something I paid for) and downloading things that aren't available yet has always bothered me. I want to wait for the final, approved version to hit the shelves. I don't want to watch something subtitled in Czechoslovakian (try typing that fast, American swine) that looks like it was photographed by a video camera in front of a TV at midnight on a busy street. I don't want to hear cat yowling for food while I'm trying to watch the movie, either.

What I want is for things that are popular to run in America at the same time as they do in England. (That's a Downton Abbey reference for those of you keeping score.) Because the world is so interconnected now, it makes sense for those kinds of things to happen. Sherlock should run at the same time in America as it does in England. That's going to stop all sorts of pirating. At least Doctor Who finally runs, though a few hours later. Ah, I'm wandering again.

Are there pirated copies of my one released book? Yep. I've discovered them out there. Are they virus-carriers? I don't know, I didn't download them. I did let the publisher know. I did what I could.

To be honest, I felt a kind of good when I found the files listed in small European countries. I felt like I'd made it as an author. Sort of. Of course it could be that someone just pirates everything he sees and throws it out for anyone who wants it.

But I don't want you to pirate my book. I want you to read it. Pay for it. Help me make more stories you might want to read by buying it. Help the property develop into other media. "Whoa, this would make a cool movie! They should make one!" If you buy it and get others to buy it, too, that might happen.

I understand pirating. I do. I don't participate in it because I like to support the artists and creators whose work I like. Don't blame them for price points. Don't punish them for a publisher's decision, either.

Finally, don't pirate my books. Please. I appreciate the thought, but it's hurtful. If you must, if you can't stop yourself from doing it, at least find some way to support the work so that I can continue to make more. Or maybe we'll be able to make a movie.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Being Influenced

You should be writing. I will haunt your
dreams.
There are so many people who have contributed to who I am and how I do things today. Many, many of them don't know but some do. If you look closely you may be able to discern for yourself just who's given me what.

This goes back to having read Austin Kleon's rather inspiring book Steal Like An Artist. In that book he challenges that nothing is original, that the sheer act of 'stealing' from multiple sources/influences is what makes a work original. Neil Gaiman's assertions, too, that each of us should "do the work that only you can do" is important. In fact, I think Kleon's book is on a parallel track with Gaiman's ideas.

Did he steal from Gaiman? Or the other way around? Or were they both influenced by the same things?

I can't honestly say. It doesn't matter.

Maybe they're both tapped into a collective unconscious and they hit at the same time. The world, the universe, is filled with the possibility of coincidence, isn't it?

Knowing a little about the vagaries of publishing, I suspect that they were both influenced by something similar and they'd both been thinking about it long enough to come to the same (sort of) conclusions.

That happens to me and it's probably happened to you, too. I will admit here that I've been influenced by conversations amongst the members of my writer's group, by my friends in other parts of the entertainment industry, and by people at work. I have been influenced by reading, seeing films, listening to music and watching TV. Haven't we all?

Kleon, in his book, exhorts me (not me, in particular, but the readers) to embrace all the diversity that filters into my consciousness, write it down and save it for a time when I'm open to the ideas, when I can use them the best. Frankly, I've been doing that for a lot of years now but it's never been said quite so convincingly that I'm on the right track by doing this. I've gotten the idea from reading about the processes of other writers to keep a notebook - or at least scraps of paper - and a pen mostly handy. I've got dozens upon dozens of sticky notes with cryptic sentences or quotes or a song lyric or a movie title on them in my bag. Periodically I sort them out, transfer them to my idea dump and toss 'em.

When I'm looking for an idea to pursue in writing a story or a blog post, even, I will open the idea dump and peruse. Once I've used the idea, I cross it off without deleting it. There have been times when I've used the same idea in a different way because something else has come along and a new insight has been achieved.

So that's what influence is really about: making original work with the ideas of others having run through filters and being combined in ways original to me.

That's the most important part. My perceptions are what make my work MY work. I'm pretty sure everyone understands that. It's like seeing John Romita's Spider-Man next to Steve Ditko's Spider-Man next to Todd McFarlane's Spider-Man: the character is recognizable but definitely not drawn in the same way.

The act of writing this post has inspired me, in fact, to think about why plagiarism isn't a bigger deal; why the threat of lawsuits keeps writers and other creatives from helping more people for fear of being sued for 'stealing' someone's idea.

I suppose it's simple jealousy. It couldn't possibly be the collective unconscious reaching out to two separate people having somehow experienced the same things.

Can it?

Friday, February 01, 2013

The Future in My Head

This is the kind of abstract work that causes me to see things
differently and to wonder about what comes next.
Giacomo BallaAbstract Speed + Sound, 1913–1914.
Borrowed from the Wikipedia entry on futurism.
In preparing to write this post, I did some minimal research into 'futurism' and being a 'futurist'. Enough to know that I've been using those words incorrectly to this point. 'Futurism' is about the Italian movement that focused on speed, technology, youth, violence. I am not exactly a 'futurist', either, because I'm not necessarily trying to predict the future but rather trying to see myself in it.

I've played music, made art, speculated about any number of things in my writing. Maybe that makes me forward-thinking, but a futurist? Not by strict definition because I'm not a scientist. I admire the paintings and architectural designs of The Futurists. They inspire me. More, they inspired the Art-Deco movement which really speaks to me.

By wanting to be and then consciously pursuing being a writer of science fiction I'm landing in a camp that's been well-established. Those who've gone before are giants in the field. There are a lot of folks who have set up their tents in this camp who were wildly successful in predicting all sorts of things (Jules Verne being the best example of 'wildly successful', I suppose) and dozens upon dozens more. But this isn't about them.

How did they do it? What flights of fancy or bolts of inspiration caused them to think ahead like they did?

Obviously they were readers. They were thinkers on what they read, and I suspect that many of them (like Verne) sought out thinkers and scientists and engaged them in conversation. Picked their brains and then began the process of extrapolation.

This is what I try to do, thinking about the fields of my own interests and how they intersect with my daily life. My job is in college foodservice and has been for half my life. I've got stories that don't necessarily involve working in food but that have been inspired by what I've experienced there. It's a way for me to relate to the work I'm doing during the day to the things I think about when I'm not doing that (or really anything else).

I daydream stories. What if? What then? What next?

My admiration for people who can work across different aspects of the arts (visual, performing, literary, gastronomic, 'mathematical') is greater than anything. Of the seven 'arts' I've tried my hand at four with varying degrees of success. If you add in the eighth and ninth, I've worked at (to some degree) six of them.

But I'm always looking at the horizon, trying to see which path leads me to the next thing, the next idea. I doubt that makes me a futurist but it does mean I'm thinking AT the Future. Trying to grasp something that has meaning.

It means I'll keep trying until something sticks. Indulge me in a prediction that I'll continue to expound here and wherever anyone will have me. I'll be the guy in the coffee shop or the bar with a book in hand, trying to figure out what's next.