My wife and I recently took a trip to Hawaii and on the last day we found this amazing work of beauty. It is the same size as the conch shell it emulates, made by Emily Thomas. She is a native born Hawaiian and calls herself a glass artist. This is just one example of the beautiful pieces she creates. You can see more at her website: Emily’s Art Glass
This is from April 2011. I had been on a writing hiatus here for some reason. I noticed a big slowdown in posting here as well. I have learned a lot since I wrote this, and realize that relying on the muse is not something a professional writer can afford. When things aren’t sparking and you have a deadline you still have to write. There is where understanding how the craft of writing comes into play. The are no hard fast rules for writing, but understanding structure and story design are a must.
Writing regularly does spark ideas. Think of it as a lubricant. It does create a more fruitful mind for creativity.
Not writing has been a weird place for me. I think about the act of writing during most of my free time now, but my muse has been strangely silent. I think about the fact that I am close to finishing and know I have a few scenes left to put together, but there is no spark. This leads me to believe that writing, the actual act of putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard actually sparks the muse and keeps the creative juices flowing. The more you write the more these creative pathways open up and tap into that right side of the brain and free the little fireflies of imagination.
I have often heard people ask writers where they get their ideas. I’ve had people ask me that very question, but from everything I’ve read or every time I talk to other writers they all say the same thing, ideas are the easy part. Writing seems to snap into place a cable in your mind that lets the creative side of your brain be heard over all the stuff the left side of the brain is dealing with on a daily basis, trying to get you through your work day. (unless you are an artist of some sort of course).
The answer to where do the ideas come from is, they come from the writer’s brain. It’s almost like a muscle though, it needs to be exercised. You need to read…a lot! You need to actually write, not just think about writing or talk about writing. You need to actually do it! World building is fun and is a nice creative outlet, but don’t stop there. Create some characters and give them a problem to solve and write some scenes. You will be surprised what your mind will come up with if you give it a chance. The more you do this the more other ideas will pop into your head, stuff you never dreamed of. Then you get to connect the dots or rearrange the puzzle pieces to make a story outline. It’s really that easy to get started.
This is our rescue. He was born feral and hit by a car. Some kind person brought him to the vet where my daughter was interning. We took him home after all his surgeries. He is an awesome boy! He has been with us for about 5 years now.
I made the mistake of downloading World of Warcraft Classic late last week. My boys started playing, then my wife got an invite from an old friend that was in our original raiding guild, that they were putting the band back together. It was enough to draw me in.
I had great intentions this weekend of putting the finishing touches on a piece that I had received feedback on. I had plans to write a bunch of post for the blog.
None of that happened.
I played WoW Classic all weekend. Pretty much nonstop. I think we will be doing our first raid either tonight or tomorrow.
In order to finish my first novel I gave up playing these types of games. I didn’t play during my MFA program either. It is a time sink.
I will say that going back to classic reminded me of why I played it. It is fun. You earn everything you get and there is something intrinsically good for the endorphins you release. I am going to have to step back from it . . . well, maybe not today. But at some point, if I ever want to get any more writing done . . .
Anyway, it was nice seeing you all again, I have some ears to collect.
This goes back to March 2011. I was pretty tough on my own skill. I have improved. I can write a nice scene, even a descriptive scene. They don’t come naturally to me, but there is this thing called craft. I am working on trying to write descriptive snippets, in the style of William Gibson. Snippets are fine. They are good in my humble opinion, but there is a point when the description goes overboard. I have seen wonderful writers, whose work I admire, go off the rails. Well, you can read this for yourself.
You know, I have a lot of respect for authors that can write wonderful prose. I know I’m not one of them, but not for a lack of trying. I think they have a gift for using picturesque words and putting them together just the right way to evoke an image in your mind. The really good ones make it so it’s hardly like reading at all, more like experiencing the story. Then there are those that have a great gift for creating imaginative and off the wall ideas that mere mortals just shake their heads at in wonder and amazement. Some are actually gifted with both and they are the great ones we all admire.
I just finished reading a book by one of my favorite new authors and he has a gift for dialogue. He has some amazing ideas for setting and his characters are layered, complex and interesting. His plots are full of twists and turns too, he is really very talented but I have a nit to pick. Way too much description! I mean WAY TOO MUCH. Paragraphs of detailed minutia. I actually skipped entire sections because I just didn’t care. I started in, but the things he was describing were so complex that I wasn’t able to see it clearly in my mind’s eye. After a while I just quit trying. If he started off on another wave of informative adjectives I just escaped to the next paragraph, and then the next one often times. They were superfluous to the story, but he apparently felt I needed to understand how many great ideas he had that he was compelled to share with me. I understand this desire. Authors fall in love with the worlds they create and the more different from normal they are, the more the desire to describe increases.
This is a lesson many of us need to heed. We just spent an enormous amount of time building that world with all kinds of cool environments that nobody has ever thought of before and we are just dying to share them with you. But the only description we should be sharing with you is stuff that is germane to the story and the character that is carrying the perspective. Some description is of course necessary, but the trick is not going overboard with long paragraphs of stuff that will have no impact on the character or affect the flow of the story. If anything I tend to be too sparse with my descriptions, so it really bothers me when someone goes the opposite way and loads up on the description. Where do you fall on the description scale? I know I’m way on the side that has very little.
Photo by Anna Tukhfatullina Food Photographer/Stylist on Pexels.com
Something I’ve been working hard at in my writing is getting rid of filter words. Filtering is using words that put space between the reader and the protagonist to remove you a step from the point of view. Think of words that are basically internal sensations or ways that you would connect to the external world, words like thought, felt, saw, heard or realized. They may keep the reader from connecting with your protagonist.
Not a big deal to include these in your first draft, but you need to look for them on the editing phases.
They should only be used when they are critical to understanding the sentence. Notice I used “should.” There are no hard, fast rules when it comes to writing, but you take a risk of pushing your reader back a step or slowing down and possibly even pulling them out of the text so it feels more like reading instead of experiencing the story. It might be that you want to add in a few syllables for pace or poetic use, but you need to understand the risk you are taking. Sometimes you can simply move the offending word into dialogue.
Tom had the impression that it was reaching out for them.
It seemed to reach out to Tom.
Or with dialogue: “Is that thing reaching out to us?”
Hopefully that gives you the idea. It can be quite insidious. I find myself doing it all the time. See? I did it right there.
William Gibson’s debut novel, Neuromancer, was the first novel to win the Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Hugo Award. This first book in his Sprawl trilogy is at once jarring and groundbreaking and different from everything else that was coming out at the time in 1984. There is rampant drug use and body modification in almost every character. It is a psychedelic trip through the underbelly of one segment of the criminal world in Japan and the eastern seaboard of the US in Gibson’s vision of a future world, with cowboy hackers and genetically enhanced killers.
The thing that makes this work remarkable is that the internet did not exist yet. It was the ARPAnet and TELNETs that you could dial into with a modem. Hackers and Phone Phreakers had been around for a little more than twenty years, give or take, but there was a sense that things were changing with the advent of the personal computer. My college roommate had just bought an Apple IIe, with monochrome monitor in amber. It was fairly close to cutting edge in 1984. I bought the first PC with a hard drive in 1988. And was still using a 2400 baud modem then to dial into bulletin boards or the newcomer America Online. The Artificial Intelligence (AI) Deep Blue won’t beat Gary Kasparov at chess for another 12 years in 1984. It predates the common use of the term Virtual Reality (VR.)
All of these things Gibson smashed together in his gritty new view of the future to coin the genre of cyberpunk. VR became quite the rage after Neuromancer’s release and we all thought it would only be a few years before it would be commonplace. It is only now that we have the bandwidth to really start doing something with it. There are a few things that stick out, like using cassette tapes for a memory construct and early disks for memory, but overall it still holds up pretty well today.
In the story, Henry Dorsett Case was a joeboy for the greatest hackers in the dystopian underworld of Chiba City, Japan, until he got greedy. Now he is a washed-up cowboy that is hanging on by his fingernails, spending his nights in little more than a coffin, which may be symbolic as well as literal. He will do anything to make a buck. Is it fate or simply luck that he falls under the eye of an AI by the name of Wintermute, which has aspirations of godhood? It has assembled a crack team of killers and technicians from the fringes of society to help it become the master of its own destiny.
Money is no object for this team as they prepare to crack some of the toughest ICE in all the virtual world. The ICE protects AIs. It is their deadly security system that can cause brain death in a hacker brave or foolish enough to tangle with it.
It is a reckless weave of plot, moving them all over the globe in search of the parts they will need to succeed, that ultimately that has them end up in the orbital habitat Freeside, in a Lagrange point between the Earth and the Moon. Tessier-Ashpool SA, the twisted, incestuous family that controls the empire that birthed the AIs Wintermute and Rio, better known as Neuromancer, are the target. Villa Straylight, their home in the spindle of an orbital, is a maze of ancient bric-a-brac and houses a deadly ninja at the beck and call of the lone remaining sane member of the T-A family, Lady 3Jane Marie-France Tessier-Ashpool.
The use of Rastafarians seemed like a stretch to me, and the creepiness of the Villa Straylight offset the high-tech undertones. There isn’t anyone we meet in the book that is completely sane. But somehow it all works. It moves fairly quickly, and he has a real knack for turning a phrase. Gibson’s use of description is lean but highly effective and he drops these beautiful prose in here and there to really showcase his talent as a writer. Here is a small sample:
Straylight reminded Case of deserted early morning shopping centers he’d known as a teenager, low-density places where the small hours brought a fitful stillness, a kind of numb expectancy, a tension that left you watching insects swarm around caged light bulbs above the entrance of darkened shops. Fringe places, just past the boarders of the Sprawl, too far from the all-night click and shudder of the hot core. There was that same sense of being surrounded by the sleeping inhabitants of a waking world he had no interest in visiting or knowing, of dull business temporarily suspended, of futility and repetition soon to wake again.
I enjoyed the reread immensely. It was as good as I remembered and everything that made it cool and remarkable is still significant now. Maybe it doesn’t have the same punch, because we are much more familiar with the tropes these days, but I can still give it my highest endorsement.
I listen to a lot of music. My taste is all over the map. I generally lean in favor of heavy guitar, but if you look at this list there are several bands here that don’t feature the guitar. I like melodic stuff. If it doesn’t have a good melody I probably won’t care for it. There are exceptions, like some Beastie Boys or some Clash stuff, but overall, I have to have a good melody. I like Classical, Rock, a little bit of Country, and a lot of Alternative Rock. I enjoy the Blues and a dabble of Reggae and Pop, as well.
When I went to make this list it, on the first blush I noticed something. My first list covered a period of almost 50 years. I decided to go with it and it works out like this:
Early 70s – Bread – They are probably the band you don’t know, but if you heard one of their songs you would immediately recognize it. I absolutely love David Gates. His melodic pop songs are what made this band a hit back in the early 70s.
Their top ten songs are all fantastic:
Everything I Own Make it with you
Guitar Man If
Diary Baby – I’m a want you
Aubrey Lost Without Your Love
It Doesn’t Matter to Me Sweet Surrender
Go find them online. I think they will surprise you.
Late 70s to early 80s – The Police – They are legendary. The made great music for only 5 years, from 78-83. Sting has had a long career afterward, but they made an indelible mark on the music scene and then stopped when they were on top. They were my favorite band when I was in high school.
Early 80s to 90s – U2 – I can still remember the first time I heard one of their songs. I was a freshman in college and was in a dance club in Denver when the video for Sunday Bloody Sunday appeared on the huge wall display over the dance floor. I went back and found all of their albums and then followed them through the years with each release. They made a big switch when I was in pilot training with The Joshua Tree, and initially I didn’t like it, but after listening to it more I began to appreciate it. Under a Blood Red Sky is bittersweet for me, as I had tickets to that concert and ended up not being able to go. I did catch them live in the late 80s and it was epic. Of course, they are still making music, but the early stuff is the stuff I really love.
00s – Alter Bridge – I was sad when it looked like Creed was done. But the lead guitarist, Mark Tremonti is a workhorse and a prolific songwriter and took the original lineup from Creed and found a new lead singer, Miles Kennedy from the Mayfield Four. Much to Tremonti’s surprise, Kennedy was also a world class guitarist. Their stuff is serious rock and on the heavy side. Their ballads are fantastic, too. My favorite album is Blackbird, there is not a bad song on this album. I can put their stuff on endless loop and listen all day. They have a new album coming out in October for my birthday!
10s – Wolf Alice – I think I was listening to the alternative rock station on my cable television My Choice, when I first heard them. I went immediately to the internet and started searching for them. They are very young and fresh and the talk of the British rock scene. They have an eclectic rock vibe and a very distinctive sound. Ellie Roswell and Joff Oddie started as an acoustic duo then added a bassist and drummer and went electric and found their sound. Visions of Life won the Mercury Prize last year for best British Album. It is cool and breezy and wonderful. It also will rock your ass off. Here is one of my favorites: Mona Lisa Smile