Monday, July 30, 2012

The Creative Spark

Hah, this started out as a google+ post, but it exploded into it's own little blog entry. It all started with a video. Go ahead and watch this, I'll wait. It's about twenty minutes long and, essentially, makes the case for offloading creative pressure from an individual to an external source in order to preserve the individual's emotional and mental health.

Back? Awesome. 

This is verrrryyy interesting. The human brain is fascinating and abstraction has been established as a very powerful coping strategy. Blah, blah, Jung, psychotherapy, ghosts vs. schizophrenia, narrative framing, creative reflection and the absence of resonant stories, etc. I'll explain any of those for anyone who asks, but it's only passing relevant to this discussion. What is relevant is that emotions are baffling to start with and creative emotions can get really wonky really swiftly with zero warning. At least for me. More than once I've been asked how my work was going and treated the poor asker with a TMI rant about how I'm horrible forever and will never finish anything and who cares about my work because it's completely devoid of evocative elements and even if I do finish something it will suck because I will never know enough to make it right. So. Yeah. I get the whole 'So Much Pressure' thing. Oh, boy, do I get it. 

I just think this video is fascinating because how she offers this idea that we should throw back to having external creative inspirations as not at all prevalent in professional writing circles. Which is probably true. However, I see this abstraction concept in action on the internet, albeit with a modern spin or twenty. I make no claims that anyone really does have a little daemon sitting on their shoulder and whispering truths, but I do I think she's right about concept of offloading the creative burden onto abstraction as a healthy defense mechanism.  

People talk today online about how their muses are grumpy or require coddling, or their plotbunny is running away and they have to chase it down the rabbit hole. I have my 'Girls in the Back Room'. They embody my subconscious by wearing A-line dresses, cherry red lipstick, and pearls. They operate switchboards wearing those old WWII headsets with the bulky microphones, and they shuffle back and forth between the reference library and the coffee machine before wrangling among themselves around the central conference table about some obscure point or other. I can ask them to come up with something and they'll confer, drinking coffee and telling dirty jokes for a while before they reach a consensus and I find something serendipitous and beautiful coming out of my fingers when I write. 

None of this, of course, takes away from the work anyone does to create. I know mine abstraction doesn't. The Ladies are back there conspiring for me, but I have to sit my ass in my chair and type for anything to come of it. My Ladies aren't real, but they don't have to be for me to feel affection for them. They're useful. They're tools in my toolbox. They're doing their job when my conscious mind is elsewhere. I'm constantly amazed at what pops out of my subconscious when I set it a task and then leave it the fuck alone to do its job. 

I'd love to hear others' thoughts, but at least on the internet I believe that culturally, instinctively, a lot of writers who write for raw pleasure (fanfiction especially) employ this abstraction. It's fun. It's healthy. Anything to get away from the idea of a 'tortured soul' sort of writing. That concept of the tragic writer should not be a goal. It might be a reality, but why warp a perfectly serviceable life in pursuit of this sort of 'burden of glorious purpose'. Writing's my lifeblood if I'm feeling melodramatic, a buoyant chase of an ephemeral Something that needs to be conveyed. I have to write, it's not really an option for me, and being psychologically damaged doing something I have to do just doesn't sound like any fun at all. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Halfway Out of the Dark

This post is brought to you by my brain. I just recently watched 'Christmas Carol', the 2010 Doctor Who Christmas special.

My brain immediately started composing lyrics to a song called 'Halfway out of the Dark.' However, it liberally stole from three other songs rather than making up its own tune. In my head, it starts slow with operatic lyrics from a single female voice - like a candle on a snowy night, Beauty and the Beast metal, or Abigail from the episode - and gradually ramps up into a rock anthem of the likes of 'Raise your Glass' or something by Queen that finishes triumphant to full orchestration. Lots of brass and electric guitar with the end a weird hybrid of jazz and rock.

I am actually rather sad that I have no composition skills and no idea what I'd want the lyrics to be.

For your enjoyment, here is the inspiration for a song called 'Halfway out of the Dark':

'No One Is Alone' from Into the Woods:

'Santorini' by Yanni (Especially the part 1:40 and on. The triumphant swell section):

'Almost There' from Princess and the Frog.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My friend wrote a book!

So, my friend Cheyenne has been working on this book for several years and I've been one of her readers/editors. I must say, it is awesome.
Kama, sky pirate and Rakshasha, is thrown overboard by her own comrades, the privateers of airship The Devil's Mercy. Swimming for her life, she finds herself in the land of her birth, Dharmaghat, which she left behind as a young girl, seeking adventure and freedom.
It is the last place on earth she wishes to be.
Determined to return to the skies and exact revenge, she is caught instead in the intrigues waged in secret against her homeland, where foreign powers plot to colonize it's rich lands and make all her people slaves. Beaten but unbroken, Kama swears to bring about no less than total revolution, force her countrymen to raise their heads in defiance, even if just to have power enough to gain a ship of her own and chase her betrayers down.
In a world on the cusp of industrial revolution, while great empires struggle to divide all the world up between them, where magic is another branch of the natural sciences and steam powers the air fleets of both nations and pirates, adventure beckons the intrepid along a path of riches, romance, and bloody revenge.
So - I suggest reading it. It has shapeshifters (which I love) and holy enforcers and battles and runaway elephants and chai and is set in an alternative universe reminiscent of Victorian-era India. It's lovely. It has a dapper man, a huge tiger who I just want to give a great big hug, and a heroine who is fierce and makes an incredible journey.

The Devil's Mercy by Cheyenne Cartwright is up on Amazon right now, just for you:

Friday, October 21, 2011

Nanowrimo Approacheth, 2011 Edition.

Last year I even used the very same blog title: Nanowrimo Approacheth. I think I'm predictable.

My nano book from last year has been in constant development for the last 12 months. It's now about about 60k-ish words (I took a few months to contemplate midyear) and has changed dramatically. The fairytale aspect was dumped, the lovecraftian aspects pumped, Red's name changed to Zai, and I figured out my primary theme ('The third path and the trials involved in finding said path'). I managed to keep my roomie's interest through two pages of what I considered kind of boring transitional stuff, so that's a good sign that the whole thing isn't terrible. I am splicing in scenes with backstory (foil-flashbacks, though it remains to be seen if they'll work as intended.), and there are a couple of scenes that feel really good even where the rest feels a bit doughy. Overall, not terrible.

As of now, I won't have to rewrite anything to the extent that Princess needs it, though as I am adding scenes, I am rapidly approaching a weird section. I haven't decided if I want to rip the weird bit outs and put in a couple of flashbacks or to leave it as-is. It's not really a bad section, it's just not the correct section for the book.

Apologies that it's not at the 'send out to people' stage. :) I'm still working on it, though, albeit slowly, so there's that.

AS FOR NANO (ahem). I am using Nanowrimo this year to explore conflict and complex antagonists. My story was prompted by ideas from three of the vignettes I have lurking within my sketchdump of googledocs: Imaginary wings, shapeshifting dragons hiding among humans, and time loops.

The intended goal for the piece itself is to infuse the dark urban fantasy setting with low-grade horror, throw in healthy dose of mind-bending time travel, and have the reader seriously questioning whether or not the good guys SHOULD win by the end of the book. My goal for me-as-a-writer is to attempt higher-stakes external conflict and practice designing a bad guy who I can love to hate.

My three characters (who I am going to try and tight-focus on), are Natasha, Mercury, and Roland. Roland is, of course, the antagonist, because all the most badass characters are named Roland. *grins*

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Narrative Kinks!

Prompted by Sixwing and originating from Seanan-McGuire, I thought this was a really interesting meme-sort-of-thing where everyone is identifying what bits and baubles, story elements and narratives that each reader finds most fascinating.

My Narrative Kinks:

*Reunions - I've read books again just because they have a particularly satisfying reunion between two characters ripped apart at the beginning of the narrative. The whole running across a field of flowers and throwing themselves into each other arms is ever so very satisfying.

*Brothers and Besties - The easy comfort of people who platonically love each other is like catnip for me. It doesn't necessarily make for very interesting stories, but having someone There to Back You Up always makes characters so much more 3d for me. It's just, warm and fuzzy and oh so appreciated.

*Shapeshifters - Reading about act of shifting between one form and another gives me a very visceral sense of enjoyment. Bodies working, limbs moving, and just pure physicality in description.

*In-character decisions - I love it when I know a character well enough to say 'oh, yeah, they could never make a different decision'. Especially when the decision is made without hesitation.

*World consistency - I kink hard on worldbuilding. The more complex, rich and hopefully-coherent a world, the more I love it and the more I crave more.

* Non-gender-conforming characters - My favorite example of this is the Fool from Robin Hobb's books. But I also love characters like Alanna the Lioness, defying gender norms to achieve Knighthood. I like genderless and gender-stereotype-breaking characters. The more it doesn't matter 'what' they are or the more challenge is part of it, the better I like them.

* More-than-two people relationships that appear functional - I have a soft spot for triads and I hate love triangles. Usually the primary romantic conflict is 'you have to pick one!' the only reason for picking one is something stupid like 'because you can't have both'. Why the hell not? Give me one good reason besides convention! I understand if the 'why not' reason is, "Because they live in different dimensions and you are going to be trapped in one of them, but you have to choose so they can close the damn portal before reality breaks down." That's a legitimate reason why you can only pick one. I know that most people don't even think about it, but if a character has to pick one, it needs to be for a REALLY good reason.

* Hard journeys described in detail - I love adventure novels about the grit of the road, or journeys through the center of the earth, of pitching camp and watching the stars, of climbing mountains and hunting for food. I have no idea why, but I think they're awesome.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Writers, Business and Self-Help, etc.

Just read The Business Rusch: Unexpected Gold in Self Help Books and I thought the list of items aimed at women (since Kristine Kathryn Rusch is reading women-and-money self helps books) that she replaced the word 'women' with 'writer' was especially apt. Writers are expected to submit to all sorts of bullshit to get published, and that ends up being interpreted as very deep passivity with respect to the business aspect of publishing.

The list:
•Writers undervalue themselves
•Nice writers don’t get rich (this works better in its original form: Nice girls don’t get rich.  The whole nice girls concept became a book for one smart writer).
•Writers are uninformed about money
•Writers want to be hands-off with money
•Writers are afraid of what other people will think of them
•Writers strive for survival, not wealth
•Writers don’t have financial goals
•Writers don’t know their worth
•Writers don’t play to win
•Writers listen to naysayers
•Writers manage egos not wealth
•Writers trust the wrong people
•Writers give away their time
•Writers fail to negotiate
•Writers don’t get rich because they don’t envision themselves rich
•Writers suffer from learned helplessness
•Writers lack a sense of entitlement
•Writers fear calling attention to themselves
•Writers rarely speak up for themselves
•Writers rarely defend themselves
•Writers expect to be ignored
•Writers give up too easily
•Writers expect to be screwed as a cost of doing business
•Writers refuse to learn when and where they have power
•Writers let emotions get the better of them
•Prince Charming will never ride to the rescue. (In a woman’s world, apparently, Prince Charming is a husband; in a writer’s world, Prince Charming is an agent.)
•Inheriting wealth is not an investment strategy (or in writing world, counting on a bestseller is not an investment strategy).
•Learn to say no.
•Risk is not a synonym for loss
•There are no secrets
•Learning takes time and dedication
Now, there are some where I question how applicable they are. As an exercise, however, I feel re-framing a lot of the 'don't just let them walk all over you' advice from the over-generalizing and oft-sexist self-help books to apply to business-passive writers is very useful. It makes an interesting starting point for a writer exploring their attitudes towards publishing. I am somewhat of a Rusch fangirl, so I'll be watching this series as it develops. If I remember I have a blog, there might even be more posts about it!

(Also, have some hyphens. I appear to be hyphen-crazy tonight.)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Fictional Cities

Begun 1/23/09 - I have no idea why I didn't post this then.

I was listening to someone several months [re:years] ago (Wish I could remember who. Drat!) talking about how the downtown center of St. Louis has been used to film post-apocalyptic features because the city center was developed as an industrial zone. Now that the industrial era has passed the area has run down, leaving buildings and empty streets for film-crews to occupy. The city center is no longer a living section of the city, though it is undoubtedly still occupied. It exists as a geographical relic to a time when the world valued different things. It is, like Detroit and other shrinking cities, a testament to how life can improve in ways that leave what society used to consider important behind.

When I read fantasy novels every book has a castle-in-the-middle system of building a capital. Every. single. city. is built like that. The nobility is on the top of the hill, the poor people are on the outskirts in the slums. There's a regimented sectioning of specific quarters with no bleed-over and every square inch is filled with either homes or artisans. Every once and a while I will read a book where the author takes into account other circumstances and occupations, like industry and river-side living and how agrarian society supports various settlements. All very academic and clean, despite descriptions to the contrary. The city is tiered, perhaps, or simply laid out or compact in some way. None of this is really bad, after all there are many real-life examples of cities that characterize various schools of thought (or lack of thought) utilized as a city grows.

What I really notice, though, is that it's all... present. The past seems to be irrelevant. The history of the city is just that, history. It has no impact on how the city is currently built. There's no, "So this was the old quarter... it's basically ruins." Or "The city grew too fast in this section and shrank again, leaving half-empty tenements." There's no slow trickle in or out that continues. It's either a massive movement in or out and the consequences thereof depending on whether there's a war or aliens or other substantial, direct influence on the population.

Most fantasy I've read is: "This is a living city." or "This is a dead city." Very few have dying cities. Very few have cities that thrive with dead flesh sitting in the very core.

Off the top of my head, I can't think of any cities that take into account the gradual movement of population depending on long-term societal forces. I'm not ridiculously widely read, though, and this is just my observation of what I have read. I would love to hear of any fantasy or science fiction that does take the movement of people from point A to point B into account when it isn't the result of an immediate disaster. (Oh wait... Ankh-Morpork. A slowly growing city with a history full of basements and a present full of social pressures upon population total. Well, that's one. Go Pratchett!)

I'm just thinking of things like gold rushes, factories shutting down or opening up, the Dustbowl, the urbanization of US culture, industrial revolution, colonization and subsequent cultural upheaval and hegemony, the slave trade, etc. Those are all 'influx' mechanisms that I cannot summon up fantasy population-movement examples for. I can recall whole settings, like Clockwork Heart for the industrialization of cities or Unicorn Highway for a treatment of the Great Depression, but the only whole cities I recall with living/dying aspects closer to realistic are cities based on real world places... and only then because the aspect stolen is romantic.

City construction for most fantasy I've read is just too simplistic.

Anyone have any reading suggestions for cities that are living and dying in interesting fashions?