Continuity and Anxiety

I was solicited by an editor of a forthcoming fiction anthology and wound up writing a story using Myra, the jaded artist from To Another Abyss. It was a fun writing experience, I enjoyed giving her more voice and agency than she got to have in the (intentionally limited to a rather dim guy’s POV) book, but… well, you’re lacking a major tool in the authorial shed if you don’t dwell on things that are tangentially-related to your activities and interests.

The next Jay and Silent Bob movie was being filmed in the area where I work for a couple days over the summer.* What little nostalgic affection I have for Kevin Smith fades further any time he does something newsworthy, or whenever I remember something else from Clerks that doesn’t hold up, but I’ve always found it a little sad how he seemed like he was actually trying to go and do different things for a little while, wasn’t that successful, and ran screaming back to the same characters and tired freshman-profundity-with-fart-jokes shtick.

I know two tie-in short stories isn’t enough to make someone an unimaginative hack, but it has to make you consider where the line gets drawn.

And I say that as a diehard fan of some ongoing series — I’d sell plasma to pre-order a new book in Steph Swainston’s Fourland series or Hal Duncan’s scruffian chapbooks if I had to. But I don’t think either of them are developmentally-stunted for using the same characters across multiple works. They’re both more stylish than the Clerks expanded universe, populated with more dynamic characters than [insert recent Marvel property]. So it’s not simply the re-use of familiar characters that makes work hacky. Maybe it’s the failure to do anything substantially different from the last time we saw them.

I dunno. I’m not planning to do a bunch of To Another Abyss sequels that are just retreads of the first book with maybe some shmaltzy phoned-in father issues like Guardians of the Galaxy 2. But I’m not averse to dusting off old characters if I think there’s actually somewhere new that it’d be natural for them to go. Everybody who was enough of a character to warrant an arc has had it wrapped up by now, except for Ian because I’m never going to stop dragging movie people. In conclusion, read some of my old stuff until the new stuff gets here.

*He also tried getting a bunch of local artists to work FOR EXPOSURE as if that phrase hasn’t been totally exposed for what it is in twenty frickin’ nineteen.

Alright what the hell I’m writing stuff again

A poem of mine was just published in Paintbucket, who’ve swiftly became my favorite aggressive lefty poetry zine after I stumbled upon them a couple months back. The title is a reference to one of my favorite places in New Orleans. Ms Mae’s is a 24-hour dive bar across the street from both a church and a library, and has a reputation for being the cheapest bar in the city. It actually sold $1 well drinks until 2014 or so.

Trying to write about New Orleans has been a minor fear of mine for a while. There’s a blog called Fleur de Leaving which collects the overwrought goodbye letters entitled transplants write after the city didn’t roll out a red carpet for their derivative business ideas. They get printed every now and then in papers or local culture rags, always framing their personal failings as the city’s fault.

The city has its faults, but most of them are things that people in positions of power (landlords, technocrat grifters, lapdog politicians) inflict on the average resident. Not surprising to anybody with an ounce of class analysis under their belt, but eh, we aren’t going to get a lot of training in that with a completely privatized school system! Hopefully the piece reads like the frustration and despondency of living under exploitative systems, rather than the petulant carpetbagger who couldn’t manage to weasel their way into them.

Also hopefully I’ll be using this blog again now that I have a few things in the pipeline.

Read-Alikes: Mad at Game of Thrones edition

So you’re mad online about whatever Game of Thrones did last episode. I don’t watch the show but it’s all over my timeline right now, and from what I can tell there seem to be three or four major complaints you have about this show that you keep watching only to complain about.

Here’s a quick little list to help you find something that might be more to your taste. So which bolded statement did you tweet out on Sunday?

Characters are doing things that make no sense. Hunger Makes the Wolf, by Alex Wells.
Instead of people doing things just to make a plot happen, why not read a scifi/fantasy novel where they act on very familiar motivations: class struggle? Wells’ novel follows a backwater mining world trying to fight off the megacorp who’re exploiting its people. Yes there’s a badass fire-witch, but she knows no amount of magic can help her stand up to corporate bureaucracy without a union backing her.

It apparently doesn’t take time for characters to travel anywhere now?  The Year of Our War series, by Steph Swainston.
One of the major plot points of the second book is that characters are stuck for literally months on a ship traveling overseas while there’s civil wars and insect invasions they can’t lend a hand with. Outside of this refreshing nod to realism, Swainston’s series has battle scenes that are equally brutal to ASoIaF’s while criticizing its own government and heroes with gleeful abandon. I read the first book nearly ten years ago and can’t get over how relatably hateable Jant is.

I can’t say “slay kween” as a compliment anymore. Winterglass, by Benjanun Sriduangkaew.
You probably shouldn’t have been using that phrase in the first place? But regardless, there are better-developed, better-fighting female protagonists you can read about. Nuawa is a gladiator intent on assassinating the Winter Queen who’s conquered and oppressed her homeland. Kind of the opposite of Daenerys, and with all the heinously problematic elements replaced with evocative prose and a deft approach to worldbuilding.

This was supposed to be subversive but it’s ultimately just retreading the same tired fantasy ground while posturing about it. Viriconium, by M John Harrison. Or The Etched City, by KJ Bishop. Or The Narrator by Michael Cisco. Or or or…
Authors have been subverting all that stuff for about forty years. It’s not hard to find if you look beyond pop culture.

Drawing Plots

A plot is simultaneously the most necessary and the least interesting part of a book. As a reader I’m far more easily hooked by character/voice/description, and if those are solid then the linear events that happen while those are being shown off isn’t a large concern. But as a writer, you completely need that line of events in order to have a short story or novel instead of a reeeally long and ungood prose-poem. What if you could just… delegate the plotting to someone else and free your mind to focus a little more on the parts you’re really in to? You can: your plotting intern’s name is William Wallace Cook.

Plotto, created by Cook in 1928, is a workbook for figuring out plots for novels and short stories. You begin by choosing three broad clauses from the lists at the front; the A clause describes your protagonist, the B clause provides the source of the conflict, and the C clause provides the resolution. There are thousands of sub-clauses you can look through and string together if you like the method, but I’d say the book’s first chapter is least worth experimenting with for any writer.

The clauses are all worded broadly enough that you can fit any existing novel into this system. If I were using Plotto while brainstorming my first novel, I would have gone with clauses A8, B22, and C10: “A person influenced by an obligation, following a wrong course through mistaken judgment, meets with an experience whereby their error is corrected.” That’s an accurate summary, but it does miss some important details. Why doesn’t it tell you the main character should be a gullible rich kid? Where are the warring factions of dirtbag leftists and self-absorbed indie films? Cook doesn’t provide those because he knew whoever’s reading it would have different approaches to stories than he would.

Plotto‘s basic plots are vague because it trusts that you’ll fill in those gaps in a way that’s wholly unique to you. My example plot up there leaves plenty of room to choose the particular kind of character you want to write, the story’s tone, the precise nature and details of their situation — you would write a completely different book from mine using that same basic plot because you’re a different writer. Plotto urges its readers to spackle their unique style and approach onto its plot-frames rather than trying to force you in to hard and trite formulas like Save the Cat. This is a book to help you figure out what to write, trusting that you either have the how under control or are canny enough to figure that out in short order. As someone who’d been in a bit of a rut trying to figure out what to write next, I’ve found it really helpful for generating ideas to build on.

Whether you’ve just got a character you’re enamored with but have no idea what they should be doing, sitting down for daily writing sessions and need somewhere to start, or just want your outlines to feel slightly more like filling out a Shadowrun character sheet, give Plotto a try.