Resolutions Circa 2014

I’ve never been really big on New Year’s Resolutions, in part because it felt so cliche. Also because I did not believe in the power of the mind as much – more often than not, I heard stories about people breaking their promises to themselves. Almost always about weight. And there’re plenty of reasons for that, but I’m not getting into it here.

Recent years have really put a new perspective on the power of will. I’m not really on board with the Law of Attraction and The Secret, but there is something to be said about carrying positive thoughts and discarding negative thoughts. I like to think this can and does apply to promises. Heck, how likely do you think you’ll hold a resolution – to yourself or otherwise – that you think you can’t hold? Much less than someone who thinks they can, that’s for sure.

So with that in mind, here are my resolutions, my Goals, for the year 2014.

  • 1) Finish the First Book

So I’ve got a novel layout and something of a couple of broken drafts for something I always think fondly of as the Novel Project. For the last couple months, I’ve had the majority of it ready to go, except for that last piece: actually writing it. I keep telling myself “If only I had a few months of free time I could complete it.” That may be true, but the likelihood of me getting that much unstressed time to myself is slim, so I gotta do it like everyone else: bits and pieces, consistently.

So it will be completed this year.

  • 2) Become More Active on Social Media

I’m pretty anti-social. As much of a dog-person as I generally am, I think my behavior is more akin to that of a cat. I’ll go out and be with people but usually when I want to (as opposed to bend to social pressure), and most of the time I’m pretty content with keeping to myself. This doesn’t really do well for anyone claiming to be a creative, especially when trying to cultivate an image and an audience.

Thus I have resolved to become more active and interactive. I’ll gladly answer anything sent my way, I’m not rude, but it’s gotta go both ways.

  • 3) Keep Physical

This last year actually has had me the most physical – consistently – for the first time in my life. A cheap gym membership, some readings on willpower, and an occasional self-kick in the butt (along with that of a friend from time to time) goes a long way. Regrettably, NaNoWriMo really put a stop to a consistent after-work exercise regimen to which I had adhered quite well, and December … the “recovery” month … has been difficult. I blame holidays and NaNoHangover, but now that things are finally calming down, it’s back to the weights on a regular basis. No more of that 1 or 2 times a week crap.

Besides, keeping physical helps restore brain function, and one cannot be expected to remain a creative mind if the body becomes lethargic. Besides, teaching your brain and body to go to the gym every (other) day is the same process it takes to teach one’s self to write every day.

  • 4) Read More

I’ve got a list of books both of my own choosing and as has been recommended by friends. I hardly read as much as I should, though, and as a writer that’s a pretty nasty double-standard. It’s like trying to become a better painter but never looking at what other people have produced with their own brushes. Heresy!

If I can pull these goals off, alongside or in spite of whatever other issues Life will through in my path, chances are 2014 will be a good year.

Tool: Scrivener

Today’s post is a sort of shout out to software I use for writing. Though you wouldn’t believe it from looking at my desktop, I’m actually pretty big on organization. My music library would be utterly unnavigable if I weren’t an organization freak, and the same can easily be said for the mass of stories – from not even started to complete – I keep on file. For that, I have to thank Scrivener, the single most useful writing tool I’ve used to date. Oh know there are other bits of software that are similar to this (like yWriter), but Scrivener has been the best for me. Here’s why.

1) Intuitive Organization

Simple and straight-forward folder organization, within the project file. No more half-dozen actual folders and shortcuts from my desktop or writing directory. I suppose this isn’t particularly unique to Scrivener, but I found the layout and customization to be intuitive.

It’s a bit intimidating at first, but most powerful tools usually are. The tutorial helps quite a bit with getting things started.

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Note each chapter has its own file. The black background and green text is my own design choice, as I find those colors easier on my eyes; you can customize the colors unlike Word.

2) Screenshots and Artwork

Speaking of screenshots, uploading images directly into your .scriv file is very easy. One can do this in Word and most other word processors, to be sure, but having separate, easily accessible files/folders dedicated simply to characters, landscapes, plot settings, locations – anything – and then dropping a photo in there for reference – now that’s cool.

Whether your own hand-drawn character sketches or some images Googled-up (after typing in some search keyword that the NSA would have a fun time trying to understand why), it’s nice to have it all wrapped together in a single project file.

 

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I mostly do pics for character “mug shots,” but sometimes toss in imagery for specific events like landscapes.

 

3) Music Notes

Some of you may recall the importance I place on sound and my use of music notes. It’s nothing special to insert a hyperlink into a document or blog post that will lead to another page – in fact this is possible in Scrivener, as are footnotes and mouse-over comments and the like, but copying an mp3 from on file will actually make a nice little hyperlink shortcut of its own. I use this for character themes, mood setting for locations, and even plot/setting events.

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Clicking on the mp3 hyperlink will simply open the file with whatever media playing software you’ve got going. (I prefer foobar2000, for those who care, as it’s light and effective, though MediaMonkey is pretty good if you’ve got larger libraries.) A small feature that may only apply to some writers I imagine, but for yours truly, it was awesome.

I have used yWriter5, Microsoft Word, Write Monkey, Write or Die!, and a handful of other obscure ones whose names I cannot remember, but srsly, Scrivener has been a great experience. I’ve been using it for over a year and the features I mentioned are merely things that I found fun and useful – there are tons of things I simply skipped over or haven’t learned yet. But hey, with at 30-day trial, and a 30-minute tutorial, anyone can learn.

Concept: Genetic Memory

So I’ve been reading Children of Dune lately, as per the recommendation of a comrade. I thoroughly enjoyed Frank Herbert’s Dune, but had reservations after reading Dune Messiah (2nd Book). I was told that Children of Dune gets better; though it seems that popular reception is that the series actually gets worse as more books are read. If this is true, I believe Children will be the last for me. We shall see.

Things in the ‘Duniverse’ are wide and varied, and no single blog post can do the book justice, let alone the series. Today I’m merely going to address one of the many themes that Frank Herbert illustrated in his work: genetic memory.

As it stands now, the concept of genetic memory is still a theory – one that doesn’t hold much water in fact, on account of it being unprovable. Pesky rules of science and all that. However, this does not stop it from appearing in fiction! But what is genetic memory? Here’s the opening line from wikipedia:

“In psychology, genetic memory is a memory present at birth that exists in the absence of sensory experience, and is incorporated into the genome over long spans of time.”

We see this in Dune, and described in as great a detail as I’ve ever encountered. Personally, I think any mortal human would lose their mind if given the ancestral memories of 10,000 years of generations, but I suppose as far as story writing and science fiction go, it could be argued that the pooled strength of these memories and consciousnesses could help the living descendant cope with the process anyway. The point is, characters in Dune have access to the sum of experience of their ancestors, up until conception of the next generation. It makes sense that the memories would not include how the previous forebear died (unless it was witnessed by a younger one).

Now if the genetic memory was a continues stream of life-experience after life-experience, we’re getting awfully close to a single, unified intelligence. We’re getting close to what is, arguably, immortality.

Not bad, Mister Herbert.

There are other examples of genetic memory in popular media, some either being the main plot or a scapegoat. The Assassin’s Creed games come to mind, in which a descendant of said assassin utilizes a machine called an Animus, which decodes the ‘archival history’ in their DNA and projecting the information onto a three dimensional feed; thus allowing players to relive the “memories” of their ancestors. Better than time travel, in my opinion, for creating a game set in various points of history – apparently going back far back into prehistory.

Now this is fun. There’ll be another post about this topic alone.

More often than not, genetic memory is a theme of science fiction, but it’s around. Ripley 8 from Alien Resurrection, who got her mixed genetic memories as a result of her human/xenomorph cloning process. But, one work that I thoroughly enjoyed, and wasn’t science fiction, was Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel, wherein…

“…Neanderthals were portrayed as having racial memories, which was supposed to both make up for their lack of verbal skills and imagination and keep them socially and “technologically” stagnant.” [Borrowed from T.V. Tropes.org, who phrased it better than I could.]

Now, as we can see, using genetic memory can either open a lot of doors for story telling, or it can come off as a cheap cop-out for why certain actors get to play the same character hundreds of years after they died. Or in the case of The 6th Day, well, seconds.

But then, that’s how it is with most concepts in science fiction.

Happy writing!

Inspire: The Power of Sound, Ep. 1

Sound plays an important role in my life. This post is about how it is important for everyone.

It’s simply not enough for me to say “I love music.” Lots of people love music, and I’m not downplaying that. For me, though, it’s more than finding a certain genre endearing or nostalgic, and something far different from the need to create music. I’m no musician, and certainly don’t claim to be any sort of expert on the matter, I am just someone who cares and pays a lot of attention. Most people I meet tend to be, well, normal. As in, they have their likes and dislikes, but view music as a sort occasional enjoyment.

I can’t live without the stuff. Like a sort of requirement for living.

There is an excellent article from Lifehacker.org which essentially outlines a TED Talk by Julian Treasure on the subject. They speak of our sound affects us physiologically, psychologically, cognitively, and behaviorally. Lots of adverbs. Sound is a powerful thing indeed, and Treasure describes music as the most powerful sound there is – seeing as we respond to it so powerfully.

Now when it comes to writing, music is just as essential for me as something to write with and something to write on. At times it can almost be a crutch – or a distraction – unable to put down words unless I’m hearing the right tune. Or sometimes the right tone. It varies. And I admit there are times when writing I’ll be so in the zone that I’ll actually be unaware of the silence when my playlist runs out, but to really get the creative juices flowing, nothing works better than mood-setting music for a scene, setting, character or even concept.

There will be subsequent posts on this matter, primarily concerning inspiring music and the like. I am on a near-constant quest for finding new sounds to hear and create to, and a sort of geeky side-project of mine is assembling a soundtrack for my written works. That being said, the majority of music I happen to find the most inspiring was that from film scores and video game soundtracks; I’ve heard of people who write while listening to heavy metal or pop. While I respect it, I don’t get it. I always end up writing the words that go into my brain from my ear holes.

Sometimes, a story can be stumped and left unfinished on account of not having the right music available. I’ve found at times that FLASHES of insight will come most unexpectedly (usually while driving, in fact, with music playing), that either fill the gap between ideas, or are completely new ideas altogether. My life is an alchemical mixture of sounds; the right music wakes me up, the right tones put me to sleep, and the right tunes get me thinking and creating.

Let me leave you, dear readers, with a track from a game known as Sanctum 2. Having not yet played the game, I can be no judge of the content, but one track stands out above the rest, and is responsible for a variety of powerful creative impulses I’ve been feeling for the last week.

Something regarding the fate of a certain man who is transformed into the living embodiment of a vehement crystal, effectively becoming an energy being for a short time before being banished from the material plane – but not before feeling utter serenity as he obliterates his hated rival.

Happy writing, lovelies.

Podcast: Drabblecast

Anyone who’s read more than a handful of my posts knows that I’m really into listening to stuff in my ear holes. Today’s post is a a shout-out to another of my writing-related favorite podcasts: The Drabblecast.

Plagiarized from their site, the Drabblecast is an award-winning fiction magazine featuring short stories in the genres of science fiction, horror, fantasy, “and everything in between.” The host and primary reader-out-louder is one Norm Sherman, whose distinct voice and witty banter make for excellent listening while I’m at The Place Where They Think I Work. All their episodes can be found free to download on the Drabblecast website.

Aside from short stories though, which can range anywhere between 5 to 20 minutes in length, each episode of the podcast is also prefixed with a drabble – a short bit of fiction consisting of 100 words or less. Often the episode ends with a twabble – a short story consisting of 100 characters or less. Gods, people are imaginative with such restrictions.

Not sure where to start? Here are a few favorites from recent episodes:

Episode #298Flying On My Hatred of My Neighbor’s Dog, by Shaenon Garrity. This is a hysterical take on a revolutionary alternative fuel being discovered that not only succeeds in saving the nation, but promises to extend the limits of human exploration…

Episode #302The Next Logical Step by Ben Bova. I adored this; the story itself has a very good hook about a War Game simulator – and an ending that honest-to-Zeus gave me goosebumps.

Episode #305:  Testimony Before an Emergency Session of The Naval Cephalopod Command by Seth Dickinson. This story taught me a new word and concept (solipsistic). Multiple characters are interviewed in this excellent piece about a trained, weaponized giant squid during the Cold War.

Here’s to Norm, a man doing great work out there on the interwebz. Toss ’em a donation if you’re so inclined. No they didn’t ask me to mention that – and yes I did donate. Ha!

Concept: Illness in Fantasy

If you are reading this, chances are you or anyone you know has probably not faced death due to what we, in our cushioned twentieth century scopes, would call a common illness. Things like influenza, stomach viruses, and diarrhea can, have, and do kill people, but sometimes it is easy to forget that.

Anyone who has read medieval fantasy has likely encountered an illness as viewed from “medieval eyes,” as well as the “cures” needed to ameliorate the sickness. Looking back on history and considering what we as humans have invented, it is a wonder we survived at all. When I was growing up, I remember thinking  things like “Boy, was I born in the wrong era. I would have loved to live in medieval times.” No, young Jesse, no you wouldn’t have. Chances are you would have died young.

After all, without the simplest of antibiotics, we could succumb to common infections. A deep cut in the woods could actually be fatal. What solutions might your characters have in your world to simple problems like this?

I mean, heck, check out the concept of having bad humors or miasma. Seeing as this came before germ theory (theory!!) well, I’m just glad I have soap and sanitizer around. But then there’s the argument of super bugs

Anyway.

Inventing diseases (and their arguably effective remedies) can be a good thing for your fiction, fantasy or otherwise. Some miserable epidemic like the Red Death, an invention of Edgar Allan Poe, or some strain of undead plague as can be encountered in countless fantasies, or even some of the “common illnesses” I mentioned a moment ago — any of these can be used to paint a more rounded picture of a culture and  the people in it. The disease need not even be integral to the plot, but catching a glimpse of any given culture’s healing practices is an excellent chance to really give people an idea of what your people are like.

Are the illnesses magical in origin, and by extension can they be cured only by magical means? Can they be cured at all? Or is the common cold known as the Blue Cough in your world, and only a ritual of running around the house with a mouthful of salt the only sound measure against it?

Now, do not think me overly morbid, but I in fact have a favorite fantastic disease, though by itself it is not particularly imaginative; the setting around it is perhaps what makes it work for me.

The Thran was a book set in the Magic: The Gathering universe – one of the older books, set in “a time before there were colors of magic.” Well, on that world anyway. The disease was known simply as phthisis (which happens to be the real-world name for tuberculosis, an excellent choice – if sometimes overdone – for any dramatic disease in a story if you ask me. In that world, however, phthisis is a Thran word for “continual degradation.”), and was the result of extensive powerstone radiation exposure.

It’s basically a nasty disease with a long list of symptoms, developed from over-use of an (ancient yet) advanced civilization’s dependence on it’s fantastical technology. Whether or not the writer was trying to make a statement about cell phone radiation or electromagnetic fields that emanate from all over the place, well, I couldn’t be sure. But I love the idea.

Have any favorite fantasy diseases?

Concept: Labyrinths

A labyrinth, simply as an idea, is a strange thing. It is a structure designed to confuse, deter, test and maybe in some cases even kill. Only a few come to mind at the mention of the word, but in truth there are a handful to be found out there, both ancient and modern. And according to this site, a labyrinth is not to be confused with a maze.

Essentially, the difference is that a maze offers a choice of direction; forks in the path and the like. A labyrinth, however, does not offer choice, and supposedly leads inexorably from the entrance to the goal. If this is the case, then one of the most iconic labyrinths in popular (fantasy) culture is downright wrong.

Sorry David — err, I mean Mr. Goblin King — turns out your realm is surrounded by a maze after all.

 

Which brings us back to what we think about when hearing the term labyrinth. The 1986 movie aside, what comes to mind for you? Chances are, one or both of two other examples present themselves.

Though Pan’s Labyrinth did not particularly feature a labyrinth, it did feature Pan quite nicely and you will hear almost no criticisms of this movie from me. But Pan, stands hoof-to-hoof with another creature of popular myth, the Minotaur of Crete. After all, the Cretan Labyrinth is from where we derive both the words labyrinth and Minotaur. Kudos to you, Daedalus, we need more designers like you.

Don’t recognize the name? Daedalus was the father of Icarus, who lost his wings after flying too close to the sun during their attempted escape from Crete. King Minos, you see, after having his labyrinth designed and built, did not want Daedalus to let slip his knowledge of the design, so he shut him up in a tower.

Anyway.

Recently it was brought to my attention, from someone I met via a chance encounter, that but a car’s drive from our familiar neighborhoods there exists something known as the Lexington Labyrinth. It has the smell of urban legend about it, but apparently the area in which it resides is sort of believable locale for this sort of thing. I will post more information when I learn more, but suffice it to say that this intrigues me enough to consider conducting interviews with real people. Maybe even visit real places.

Imagine that.