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Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

I’ve heard that actors like to play villains, because it really lets them get into a part and play it to the hilt. Besides, an enjoyable villain is rarer than an enjoyable hero. But there are some villains you enjoy not because they are so bad, but because they are so annoying you just want to slap them. So I’m running a poll: Who do you most want to slap? Or is there someone else in genre films/TV you think deserves it more?

  • Walter Peck (William Atherton), Ghostbusters (1986). You remember, the mayor’s flunky who wants our heroes locked up?
  • Professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton), Real Genius (1985). No, this is not going to be a William Atherton marathon. He just plays these jerks so well. (We could include Die Hard, but I’m trying to limit it to genre films.)
  • Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), The Force Awakens (2015). Seriously, even if you don’t hate the movie, you have to agree that somebody should spank this kid!
  • Syndrome (Jason Lee), The Incredibles (2004). I know he’s supposed to be annoying, but he’s Kylo Ren with money, so he qualifies. And it’s so satisfying to see him get what he deserves.
  • Dr. Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris), Lost in Space (1965-1968). There were many reasons this show fell far short of what it could have been (and was at the beginning), but in my mind Dr. Smith was no. 1.

So please give me your responses in the comments section. Does anyone on this list really make you want to say, “Oh, grow up, already!”?

 

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This is a departure for this blog. I usually talk about writing-related subjects, or literature, and even then I try to bring in a writing angle. It may be narrow, but writing is what I do, and you’re supposed to write about what you know. Which is why this time I’m writing about being grateful for being alive.

About an hour ago, I was heading out to buy a burrito for dinner. (And no, that’s not why I almost died.) En route is a four-way stop where I need to make a left turn to get to the shopping center. I have seen people slide through that stop when no one is waiting many times, which makes me wary, and today was no exception. So when I saw a guy barely slow down as I approached the intersection, it made me even more cautious. I stopped, and when I started to make my turn, I paid close attention to the oncoming traffic. Except instead on “oncoming,” it was more like “incoming.”

An SUV was headed for me at 35 miles per hour, and it wasn’t stopping. I slammed on my brakes, and she did too, which didn’t keep her from skidding to a halt in the middle of the intersection in front of me, where had I kept going she would have neatly bisected my car. And as she gave a little wave of apology, I saw her phone in her hand.

If you don’t live in California, you should know that using a cellphone while driving is a major traffic violation.* You should also know that I have twice been struck (in another car) by drivers who ran red lights–while on the phone.

This is the moral I wish to draw from these occurrences: If you use your phone while you drive, you are going to kill someone.

Had I been paying less attention, you would have killed me.

 

*No, I wasn’t able to get her license.

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With the onset of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is no longer quite so embarrassing to admit that one was reading comic books all through one’s youth and beyond.* I quit about 20 (!) years ago now, but I still follow the genre (and watch the movies). So it’s not surprising that my mind still goes down those roads on occasion (okay, all the time). And that has lead to the following question:

In that world, with superpowers, mutants, AIs, self-contained battle suits, aliens, time travel, superweapons,  and everything, how does anyone write science fiction? SF consists of stories that extrapolate from known science, or at least scientific theory. But if you know that mutants and superweapons and aliens exist because you can see them fly by your window, what is there to extrapolate? By definition, everything you’re writing is simply “fiction.”**

Does that mean that writers like me would be in Fiction & Literature at your local Barnes & Noble? Would there be a reason for a SFWA to exist–and would I not have to regret the fact that I’m not at Nebula weekend right now?

And what about the liability issues? What if some hulking green guy comes up to you and says you’re defaming him in your latest story–which just happens to have a large, green character? What if he claims you’re appropriating his image? And if you write a story about the Skrulls invading the Earth, will the real Skrulls take umbrage and actually invade the Earth out of pique?

Even if you started with the concept that none of the above existed, and then created an SF story, would anyone read it? Science fiction isn’t supposed to be about a world more boring than your own. The only choice left would be alternate history, and that field would get crowded fast.

What would happen, I think, is that all those writers would migrate to another genre, like romance, or mystery. Mystery would be a fertile field in that world, with questions like: What’s with those capes, anyway? How do those young sidekicks explain all those bruises without social services investigating? And why are there so many super-powered people in the world, anyway? How did they get that way?

Oh, wait, that veers into science fiction. And then we start all over again.

*The same thing happened to science fiction with Star Wars, and fantasy with Lord of the Rings.

**Fantasy writers would have the same problem.

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Yes, you are “supposed” to write every day. Of all the “rules” (in quotes because the only rule everyone can agree on is that all the rules can be broken), this seems to be the most common. But there are days when you just can’t. Maybe you’re tied up with inescapable family business. Maybe you’re in surgery. And maybe you just can’t muster the time/energy/inspiration to write. Some days it just won’t happen. The only people who deny that writer’s block exists are people who haven’t experienced it.

So how, you ask, can writing be like not-writing? Is this some Zen thing? No, it’s just…well assuming I can come up with enough similarities, you’ll see. If I don’t, you won’t see, which will prove my point.*

  1. It’s frustrating. Writing is frustrating because it’s slow, and difficult to get anywhere. Not writing is frustrating because you’re at a dead stop, which also makes it difficult to get anywhere.
  2. It tends toward futility. If you don’t write, you don’t sell. If you do write, often you still don’t sell, at least not for some time.
  3. It’s time-consuming. Writing a story takes time, then editing takes more time. Not writing a story takes time away from writing, then noodling around on the Internet in the name of “research” takes more time.
  4. It’s hard work. Until you’ve written a story (or a novel!), you don’t know how tough it is. And until you can’t write, you don’t know how tough it is.
  5. It expands your mind. When you write, you open the way to your unconscious and allows you to say things you didn’t know you had in you.** When you don’t write, you open the way to reading sponsored articles for things you didn’t know you cared about. (See my Internet comment in #3.)
  6. It leads to writing. When you write, you write more. You limber up those mental muscles and they become easier to use. When you don’t write, you feel the need to write more. You bounce around trying to loosen up those mental muscles until you come up with a blog post, at least.

So we come down to it. The Secret. It is simple: If you are a writer, you will write. You may write blogs. You may write children’s books. You may write movies. What you write is up to you, but you will have no choice but to write.

Or not to write. It’s all the same.

 

*That may be zen, but I really don’t know. Or do I? Would I know if I did?

**Like how two opposing concepts are the actually the same thing.

#SFWApro

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Generally speaking, the best way to immunize yourself to a disease is to have the disease.  The exceptions to this rule are legion, of course, so we won’t go into that, we’ll just stick to the principle. And apply it to writing, of course.

The disease involved with writing (other than writing itself, which is a mental disease), is called Rejectionitis. It is characterized by a widespread lowering of self-esteem brought on by an editor sending back a story. The more you loved this story, the more you thought it was perfect for the market, and the level of desire you have to break into this market all affect the severity of the symptoms. In a slap in the face of our guiding principle (see above), there is no immunizing yourself to Rejectionitis by actually getting the disease.

You can, however, immunize yourself somewhat by exposing yourself to carriers (i.e., submissions). In the best case scenario, you start out by being laid waste to by the disease, but then you find a magic bullet called Acceptance. (Acceptance has a long latin name which describes its ingredients, but fortunately you never have to suffer through a TV commercial listing its side effects. If Rejectionitis ever becomes a disease suffered by a large number of baby boomers, though, you might.) Acceptance works by propping up your writing immune system to the point where you believe that maybe, just maybe, you have something to offer that people will want to read. If the dose of Acceptance is big enough, and the timing is right, it may carry through your next bout of Rejectionitis. Or it may not. Your results may vary.

There is another, less efficacious treatment, called Submissions. Yes, the same submissions which are carriers of the disease are also a form of defense against it. Since Rejectionitis is a disease of the mind (like writing), you can guard against its worst effects by having a lot going on in your writing career. (“That story came back, but there are eight others out there who have a chance!”) And of course, re-submitting the same story that was just rejected is the best therapy. (“Take that, you illiterate editor of a Nebula-winning magazine!”)

I am currently exercising this latter defense. Lately I have been on a tear, submitting stories like crazy, to where I have only a half-dozen viable candidates sitting on the sidelines, and one of those is just awaiting a submission window to open. I re-submitted a story yesterday that has been rejected three times–in the past week. (There are some fast editors out there.) But I believe in this little piece; it just needs to find the right spot to land. You’ll be hearing about it soon enough.

Of course, none of this will completely or permanently cure Rejectionitis. Even the biggest authors sometimes suffer from it (so they say, but I’ve not seen their medical records). It’s a lifelong struggle. But writing itself is a lifelong struggle. That struggle usually manifests in a syndrome called “Writer’s Block.”

I’d like to go on about Writer’s Block, but I honestly can’t think of a thing to say…

#SFWApro

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I caught myself tonight thinking, “I really hope I get a sale soon!” Because it’s been, you know, four weeks.

Really, self? This is what’s it’s come to? You went (mumbledy-mumbledy) years before you sold a story, then it was every couple of years, and now you get withdrawal symptoms if you don’t sell one every month?

Gee, you’d think you were trying to make a living at this or something. I’ve figured out the problem: Writing stories is compulsive, but selling stories is addictive.

I’m not trying to toot my own horn here. I’m not bragging because I sell half a dozen stories in a year (okay, last year it was ten). There are a lot of people out there who sell a lot more than I do and to better-paying markets, as well. (And I’m not even terribly jealous of all of them. Some of them are my friends. Them I’m only a little jealous of.) It’s just that I find it amusing how quickly one can go from, “Lord, please let me sell one story before I die,” to “For heaven’s sake, I haven’t had one sale since last month!”

So if you’re a pre-published author, let me make two points: (1) I feel you. I remember what it was like, and I hope that you don’t have to work as long as I did to start selling; and (2) Don’t think once you sell it’s all wine and roses. You just trade your problems for new problems. Nicer problems, I’ll grant you…

…but there still isn’t a Hugo on my mantelpiece. And I haven’t made a single sale since I started writing this post.

#SFWApro

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I’m sitting looking at a picture of an original Star Wars movie poster–and when I say Star Wars, I mean Star Wars, not A New Hope. I put the “old” in old-school; I saw Star Wars the night it premiered–because I saw the poster featured on “Antiques Roadshow,” and I thought the appraiser under-valued it, so I looked it up. And now I’m looking at it, and I see three pretty much unknown actors listed, followed by Peter Cushing and Alec Guinness, who were anything but unknown. It follows that George Lucas paid a pretty penny to get them. Which leads to the question:

What did he think he was doing?

I don’t mean that pejoratively, as in, “Was he crazy, spending that kind of money on a space opera?” I mean, really, what did he think he was accomplishing? What do any of us think we’re accomplishing when we write a story or make a movie or paint a painting? And more to the point, should we be proud of what we’ve done?

You look at Star Wars now, and it’s gone way past “global phenomenon.” But back in the day, we didn’t know it would do that. Certainly when that grandiose poster was printed, nobody knew if the darn thing was going make a dime. It could easily have been laughed out of the theater–and would have, if it hadn’t made so much money. So it’s easy to say now, “That’s something George Lucas can be proud of!” But what about before?

You’d hope no creative person would release story or movie  that he wasn’t proud of, but we know that’s not the case. (Where there’s a buck, there’s a way. And someone who is proud of it–proud of making a buck, anyway.) But is that legitimate? Are we allowed to be proud of a story if no one ever publishes it? I mean, seriously, are we allowed to be proud of a story that sucks? Are we allowed to be more proud of it if someone publishes it–and then it wins a Hugo? On the other hand, are we allowed to be proud of writing a story that wins a Hugo–even if we ourselves don’t think it was worthy?

It is said that, “Pride goeth before a fall.” But it’s also said, “Don’t submit a story you wouldn’t want others to read.” So pride is bad, but without it, nobody knows you exist. And in the end, you may be the only person who even thinks you should be proud of what you’ve done–which sounds like a great recipe for a fall to me.

I sent a story yesterday to a major magazine. I had real hopes for it. I was proud of it. I thought this could be my chance to break into a new market. I went to bed happy. Fifteen hours later, it came back. A form letter, not even a personal note. I was proud, now I’m fallen.

But I sent it out again immediately. Because I’m proud of it? No. (Although I am.) I sent it out again because I like it. And that’s even more important. You can be proud of doing a job well even if it’s a job you don’t like. But to do a job well enough that you like it, well, that’s something to be proud of.

#SFWApro

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