Ever since I quit smoking I’ve been lethargic… you’d think it would be the other way around, and indeed, for most people quitting smoking means an up sweep of energy… For whatever reason this was not the case with me… and let me tell you: that lethargy has been profound. For example, I spaced on the blog which, even though I have only as many followers as I can count on one hand, I feel it’s an obligation to myself to maintain my schedule and post every Friday like I said I was going to unless some extenuating circumstance should arise. I didn’t do that… and that made me fall deeper in to my blues. Another example, I totally spaced out on the second episode of Patrick Rothfuss’ StoryBoard and would’ve spaced out on the third episode had I not listened to the little voice in the back of my head which said I’d missed something, and which prompted me to investigate what that “something” might be. Again, I’m under no obligation to anyone but myself here, so what I’m getting to here is that I largely failed myself in these respects. Sure, the overarching purpose was more noble: trying to stop myself from poisoning myself to death is a pretty important undertaking in the interest of one’s longevity, however, I gave my word on the other stuff and I failed to keep my word and that was bullshit… for me… What can I say, accountability is important to me.
Here is a link to YouTube where you can find the first three episodes of Patrick Rothfuss’ StoryBoard: LINKEY-LINK; if you are serious about writing, doesn’t matter if you’re not interested in writing genre fiction, I suggest you watch these. Why? Well hell, I’m glad you asked: you know how Writer’s Digest offers those writing webinars and panels on fiction and they charge you upwards of $100 to access them… well, Patrick Rothfuss’ StoryBoard is a lot like those but for free, and I don’t know about you… but “free” is in my price range. Granted you are not getting targeted, one-on-one assistance or attention with Rothfuss’ show (they do answer questions at the end, but those are mostly “fanboy” questions); no one is going to look at your manuscript or your proposal and give you advice; no agents are going to tell you the “secret formula” to getting published. What you will see are professional, published, best-selling authors talking about the craft and about the things that get them all riled up, the authors they look to, the elements of a story’s architecture they believe works or doesn’t work. This is inside information presented in a fun, informal, and informational way without the fleecing of your pocketbook. Seriously, no one can guarantee success in writing, and there is no “secret formula;” it all boils down to your motivations for doing it, and the satisfaction you feel out of crafting a story, or breathing life into a character, or setting a perfect tone/atmosphere, or ripping some sweet dialog… Brother/sister, if you’re doing this to get rich and famous, choose again because there are easier ways to accomplish those goals… writing is not one of them; this is an enormous amount of work with little to no immediate pay off.
Mr. G is here to shoot it at you straight, not to be a jerk. Write because it’s a glorious, soul-fulfilling thing to do and not because you want to swim in fame and money… only one percent of one percent of writers ever get there… the rest of us do this and continue to do this out of sheer love, obsession, madness, or because something deep within us compels us to do so. And don’t think for one second that I’m trying to dissuade anyone from writing; write, write to your heart’s contentment… write simple because you can hold a pen and you have something to say… write because passion demands it… Don’t not write because someone was a jealous dick and told you you couldn’t (we’ll get to that bit after this very unplanned digression and the StoryBoard run down). Okay, I’m getting off my soapbox now and putting on the motor board… More after the cut:
StoryBoard episode two was about character, and Pat Rothfuss had Brad Beaulieu (pronounced: bowl-yur), Amber Benson (*swoon*), and Mary Robinette Kowal as his guests. The panel talked about the things that make characters successful and unsuccessful, they talked about the necessity for readers to like the character, and they talked about whether or not it’s possible to have a good story without good character(s). I recently read Amber Benson’s Death’s Daughter because she didn’t say much during the panel; I mean she interjected some good thoughts, but she seemed a bit reserved and I wondered why Pat had selected her (Amber Benson is, of course, best known for playing Tara, Willow’s girlfriend, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) — she’s an actor, director, producer, and (yes) writer. I’d never read Benson’s Calliope Reaper-Jones series of books and the first thing that struck me about the narrative was that I didn’t like the spoiled, airhead whose brain I was in for the ride… after three chapters I was ready to give up, and then it hit me. True, I didn’t like the self-absorbed fashionista but that’s exactly the trick: Benson remained true to the character even though the character wasn’t exactly anyone to look up to… not yet anyway. The character arc of her book was such that Calliope still isn’t a paragon by the end of the story, but you grow to sympathize with her even if she’s still a whiny brat. In that sense, Amber Benson proved exactly what Pat and his other guests talked about in that second episode: a likable character is not necessary to make a good story, but the readers to need to be able to identify and sympathize with the character… at least be able to understand his/her motivations.
I wish Pat Rothfuss could have gotten John Scalzi for this discussion on character because in my opinion no one handles character like Scalzi — if Rothfuss is the lyrical poet of Fantasy, Scalzi is the master of character and seemingly effortless dialog. Pat did have a walk-on special guest who brought some serious experience to the table: Terry Brooks, author of the long-running Shannara series and a demigod to people who were elf-obsessed nerds growing up… people like me. Brooks’ name is spoken by some in the same reverent tone as Tolkien (although Brooks will tell you he has more in common with Faulkner than Tolkien…), and despite the fact that I was watching the archived episode and not the live G+ Hangout, I still got a bit thrilled when Rothfuss gave up his seat to Brooks. The episode is worth watching for a number of reasons, but Brooks’ authorial wisdom is the icing on the cake. The man’s written twenty-five books and he’s still going; you’ve got to figure he’s got some constructive shit to say about being an author.
It’s a good thing Brooks was one of the featured guests on the third episode of StoryBoard because his coming on for the last thirty minutes of the second episode was just not enough time. The third episode had some heavy hitters from the Fantasy world: Brandon Sanderson, Cherie Priest, and Terry Brooks; the topic of discussion was structure, and that was just a bit of a nebulous subject… it wound up being a discussion of plot and theme, which was absolutely fine. There were a lot of technical difficulties with this episode, and that made it kind of a rough watch. It’s totally worth staying in there for it though because Rothfuss and the other really explode the structure of a story and talk about the bits that make it tick. I think the word “tome” best describes the variety of books, at least the physical aspect, these authors create… Rothfuss’ Name of the Wind comes in at 672 pages in paperback, Sanderson’s Mistborn also comes in a 672 pages in paperback, Priest’s Boneshaker seems almost modest at 416 pages in trade paperback, and Brooks’ The Sword of Shannara (book one of his epic series) is 736 pages in paperback. My point is this: if you’re going to write something this long you’d better know a thing or two about structure.
To hold aloft a story of any of the aforementioned lengths the under-structure of that story has to be exceptionally sound; my humble manuscript of what would lay out to 320-ish pages if published in paperback format was a hell of a juggling act for me as it was… Sanderson and Brooks really deliver the goods as the two most experienced members of the panel; Rothfuss really defers to them, and unfortunately technical glitches kept Cherie Priest on the sidelines for a fair amount of the episode. Listening to the conversation though you get a sense of what the inner workings of a novel are and you can’t really feel bad about that. Shit… I think I should have broken this posting into two parts. Oh well. I don’t do spoilers, and I really think that if you’re interested in what these authors have to say you should watch the episodes; they answer a lot of questions for me, perhaps they can do the same for you.
On to unrelated topics:
I have really, as of late, absorbed into my personal philosophy a magnificent little nugget of day-to-day living proposed by Wil Wheaton… really, I’ve felt this for many, many years but Wheaton just put it in such a way that it coalesced for me and became extremely concrete during an outing to the Austin City Limits Music Festival last week in which my wife and I encountered numerous living examples. Y’all remember Wil Wheaton, right? Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Gordie Lachance in Stand By Me, occasional guest star (as an evil version of himself) on The Big Bang Theory? Wheaton has been a blogger since the internet was young and impressionable, back in the early 90s before the dark times; he’s a published author, host of a Geek & Sundry show titled Tabletop, a voice actor, micro-brewer/beer enthusiast, and an audio book narrator. It just so happens that Wheaton and I are the same age; his birthday is July 29th and mine is May 20th of the same year. Wheaton, naturally, has significantly more clout than I do and I’m not jealous in any way except that for his birthday this year he got serenaded by Debbie Gibson and I didn’t. Trust me, if you were a kid in the same era during which Wheaton and I were kids*, all activity would cease (even if you’d just rolled an 18 Dexterity for your half-elf thief) when Debbie Gibson’s video played on MTV. Hahahahaha! Sorry that was a huge digression, but you got to get used to it if you’re gonna ride with me.
For his birthday, this past July 29th, Wil Wheaton made one simple request, declared one simple thing, and that simple thing has become a maxim by which I will abide because I believe in it with all my heart: Don’t Be a Dick! Believe me when I say that this is one of those things that shouldn’t wait to be observed only on July 29th, this should be an everyday thing. If not being a dick means showing consideration and respect to the other humans which surround you, than I’m all for it — everyday, all the time. I, personally, think this is something that could be a movement; something that should spread like wild fire; and, not to wax nostalgic but, something that we’ve lost and need to get back. It’s too easy to be a dick, and it seems like this manner of comportment has become a social mask necessary to prove to the other humans that one is not willing to take anyone’s shit… but c’mon… seriously? Do we, at this stage in our social evolution, still need to piss on the tree to demonstrate ownership? Do we? How and when did being a dick become the acceptable manner of social interaction? I’d like to blame it on the Jersey Shore, but I’m sure it started before then. The dick used to be the bad guy, ala Steff (James Spader) in Pretty in Pink; that dude was a dick, and that seems to have become the acceptable way to be…
The point is Don’t Be a Dick, seriously it’s not necessary. Grow up, evolve, get your stupid self-absorbed head out of your ass, and realize that the other folks around you don’t need or want the grief. Drop the shit, for real; if you happen to think everyone is beneath you, get over it and try us out… drink a beer with us; you’re probably an okay dude deep down inside. Oh, and lose the aviator shades… nothing says douche bag like mirrored aviator shades at night. Really, it’s not complicated.
Other thoughts… I’m really pleased with my decision to migrate a significant portion of my personally owned technology to a pure Android experience. I’m particularly impressed with my phone, a Samsung Galaxy Nexus, a model which is getting a bit long in the tooth as far as phones go… almost a year old! It doesn’t have the high end quad core processor that the Galaxy SIII has, nor is it the top most model, but I like it just fine and it serves my purposes perfectly. My Galaxy Nexus compliments my Nexus 7 perfectly, and I might look into acquiring a Chromebook in the near future.
NaNoWriMo is coming up in a couple of weeks and I’m participating again this year. I’ll start my novel on Thursday, November 1 and go, go, go until I finish it… hopefully this year sans shingles. I have to open a wide lead initially because my wife and I are celebrating our anniversary in Marble Falls this year, and I’ll be out of tap for a few days because of this (it’s not her fault NaNoWriMo is in November, and she gets priority…). And then, of course, there’s Thanksgiving at the end of the month. We’re not traveling for Thanksgiving this year, but I’m also not writing during this holiday; hopefully, I’ll be wrapped up by then anyway. I’m going to post a link in the near future for sponsorship: the Office of Letters and Light (OLL) supports creative writing programs in communities that don’t have them or can’t afford them, they run NaNoWriMo, and it’s a groovy thing to put some cash behind. I’m pledging a donation and I hope that anyone who reads the blog, follows me on Twitter, or is a fiend (yes, fiend… not friend… heh!) on Facebook will lay down some lettuce for a pretty good cause. Consider it good karma, and what the hell would you be using to the money for otherwise: more Starbuck’s? Another McMuffin? A six-pack of beer? (Mmm, beer!) You know what I’m saying? I’ll get that set up ASAP, and I hope you’ll feel compelled to put at least a few scheckles in the hat.
I’m obviously late to the party with this, but it’s all kinds of awesome and I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share:
I’ll be running around dancing “gangnam style” at people until they pay me money to go away… it just seems like an exceptionally fun thing to do… Hey, I can throw the proceeds from my petty annoyance of others into the OLL basket… and I’m off!
*BTW: I don’t know Wil Wheaton, and I’m not trying to make is sound like I do. He seems like a pretty alright fellow though, and I’d most definitely drink a beer with him. It happens that he and I grew up in the same era (me in El Paso, Texas and Wil in sunny Southern California), so when I read his blog I get nostalgic for some of the things I experienced but forgot and to which he refers. If you want a real treat, track down a copy of Ernie Cline’s Ready Player One in audio book… it’s read by Wil Wheaton… you want to talk nostalgia… that book is “nerd-o-palooza!” and that’s a damn fine thing.