Weird

Several years ago, the ex-husband of a friend of mine, let’s just call him X, mentioned that he hung out once with The Enigma. You may have seen him referenced as The Human Jigsaw. I’d seen images of The Enigma before so I knew who X was describing. For those that were not aware, X explained the detail of The Enigma’s tattoos as well as the various body modifications he has had. My only comment was, “that’s weird.” 

I can’t say exactly why, but X was inclined to defend The Enigma and stated how he was a real nice and interesting guy, as if “weird” were a negative adjective. For some, maybe it is, but not for me.

Let’s set some groundwork before I continue. The Enigma is weird. The Merrian-Webster dictionary (online edition) defines weird as “of strange or extraordinary character : odd, fantastic.” There are other definitions, but this is the one that I think is most used in American culture and certainly my intent when describing The Enigma. To this day I think the description is spot on. I mean his appearance and the lengths he went to achieve them are certainly “odd” and possess “strange or extraordinary character.”

So The Enigma is weird.

But I don’t count weird as a pejorative. It may not be as neutral as “tall” or “red,” but without going into how even those simple adjectives could be described as insulting by some, I group weird as a part of a set of word that are not negative in connotation. After all, I count myself as weird (though not as weird as The Enigma).

I grew up in a small town in North Mississippi. I was a Roman Catholic born in Ohio. So I spoke funny, looked a little funny (due to my Portuguese heritage and squinty eyes), was the wrong religion, didn’t like or follow sports or hunting, and was apparently from a family of carpetbaggers. I started off weird. My natural shyness didn’t help, nor did my gregarious dual nature once I was comfortable with a group. Then add on top of that my love of all thing monsters, and I just got weirder. THEN add on top of that my later discovery and love of all things magical … and well let’s just say I really didn’t fit in. I was weird. I didn’t look terribly weird – assuming I wasn’t wearing bell bottom jeans, or sweat pants pulled up to my chest, or really, really big hair. OK, maybe I looked a little out of place too.

Eventually I just got used to being different, then I came to embrace it. Weird is cool. Weird is good. Weird is individual, unique, and different. Weird people do things that other people don’t even imagine doing until years later. Weird people create art and games. Weird people design things that set other people to scratching their heads in wonder. Weird people are awesome.

If I ever call you or someone you know as weird, just know it isn’t a pejorative. It isn’t an insult. Hell if anything it’s a complement. Now if I call you normal …

© 2015, Joseph K Little. All rights reserved.

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NaNoWriMo and Booze (or How I Write When Buzzed)

NOTE/EDIT: I’m posting this a month after I wrote it because I like the post and I’m not very good at following through with things. So shame on me.

I haven’t posted since my dismay at the Hugos. Let me say, if it was unclear, that I’m not disappointed that the Hugos did or did not allow the Sad Puppies and other ne’er-do-wells to have their day, rather I’m disappointed that these people would act so childishly concerning the entire situation. In my opinion they should have done one of two things: 1) openly acknowledge what happened this past year and what it entailed, how the voting turned out, and why the organization did or did not think this was a good idea or 2) simply performed the ceremony as it was without the inside jokes, without the snide digs, and without the exuberant glorification at shutting down those that think differently than they. Basically I expected that regardless the outcome of the night, they would have acted like adults. I was disappointed at the results.

I do admit that I am more “Sad Puppie” aligned than not, but I’m trying to remain neutral as I only recently started to become familiar with the publishing world and the movers and shakers within. I say that so that you might know me more fully for who I am. I hope that you will accept me for who I am rather for what you think I would be considering what I have admitted, because I can guaran-damn-tee you that I am NOT what you think I am. I refuse to allow anyone to put me into a single categorization other than “Joe” – assuming the Joe you are categorizing me with is me.

With that out of the way I have to announce that IT’S NANOWRIMO TIME YA’LL!

That means that for thousands of people across the country in all age categories will be attempting to write a novel in the month of November. How anyone can do this while also juggling their everyday lives is beyond me. There are even some that are attempting to grow a fabulous mustache this month as well in the attempt to bring some awareness of prostate cancer and funding to research a cure for such because unless you are the most die hard lesbian, we can all appreciate a nice solid erection.

Oh. Sorry. I have to note that I’m slightly drunk while posting this. I’ll tag that or something. But I’m likely to say things I wouldn’t normally say. Like ‘erections’.

I tried the whole Movember thing once and determined that only a couple of my friends were concerned with prostate health, and I look ridiculous with a mustache only. I mean look at that link of me. I look like someone I wouldn’t trust around my kids.

So here I am stuck at the beginning of NaNoWriMo and I have written maybe 400 words in 3 days. <sarcasm>What an excellent turn out!</sarcasm> Yeah. I have to admit that I’m in the middle of my story, and I want to be done with it. I’m not really the “see the long project through to the end” kind of guy, and that’s got to change. It has to change for my writing life, and it has to change for my professional life. I want to excel at each and frankly that means focus and determination, what some might call “hard work”.  I haven’t always been the best at working hard, sometimes but not always. In fact my pattern growing up was to be very lazy. I’m simply bored by anything too familiar. I’d really like to overcome that pattern, but it is really hard. I want to say that I simply have to forgive myself when I’m not following through as I expect, but at the same time I have to exercise a level of discipline that I don’t normally hold for very long.

NaNoWriMo is exactly what many people need to help them get through the kind of problems that I have with discipline. My wife won NaNo last year, and I couldn’t be prouder of her. She wrote almost 15,000 words in a week to catch up and win. Way to f’king go! Me? I get 2000 words behind and I’m all, “meh, there’s always next year.” The reality of the situation should rather be “2000 words? I can shit that for breakfast and come home for dinner and do another 2000.” I know I can do it, but something is always holding me back, pulling me down.

One day I’m going to haul up this anchor that holds me down, cut the line, and throw it over the side of the ship of destiny. Then you mother f’kers better watch out because I’m going to be coming for your position on the best sellers lists.

You have been warned.

 

 

© 2015, Joseph K Little. All rights reserved.

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2015 Hugo Awards

The 2015 Hugo Awards have just completed, and I have to say I am a bit dismayed. As a novice writer who hopes to one day be published, I’d really like to think that my work would be given a shot at consideration by people in the publishing world not because of who I am, where I’m from, or what boxes I check on a census form. Rather I’d really like to think that my work would be judged upon its content.

But that’s not what the 2015 Hugo Awards have told me.

The 2015 Hugo Awards have told me that if my work happens to catch the attention of someone that disagrees with or is disagreeable to certain people the content of my work will not be judged by any other merit and will summarily be excluded for consideration.

I am disappointed. I thought I was angry, but I’m not.

The people who voted No Award for entire categories because they didn’t like who suggested the nominees (despite the fact that doing so isn’t against their current rules) basically told those people nominated that their work had less merit than sending a message to basically three guys that pissed them off.

Sorry if you disagree, but I find that classless and juvenile.

I was eager to attend my first WorldCon next year until now. Now I’m not sure I want to breathe the same air as these people. If  the idea to be inclusive means shutting out people like me, congratulations on a job well done.

© 2015, Joseph K Little. All rights reserved.

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Retreat!

Recently I attended the Writers’ League of Texas 2015 Summer Writing Retreat in Alpine, TX. As a newbie writer I have a burdensome number of doubts about my ability and motivation regarding writing. One doubt in particular that I have is in regard to my training in the craft.

Up until the retreat, my training in creative writing has been limited to Brandon Sanderson’s BYU 2013 writing class as observed via video from the website Write About Dragons and some limited reading. When I learned about the Writers’ League retreat, I instantly wanted to join. With the support and encouragement of my wife, I signed up for a class, reserved a hotel room, and waited.

I went to the retreat alone. It was not my choice to go alone because despite being a very gregarious, boisterous, and opinionated individual, I’m quite quiet and meek before making a person’s acquaintance. I love company, I just hate making it. When my wife could not (or perhaps would not) go, I could only hope for the best. Luckily that is exactly what I got.

~*~

The retreat orientation was on a Saturday night with classes starting in earnest of Sunday. I took the class “Focusing Your Fiction: Plot, Character, Setting and Analogy” with Charlotte Gullick because I felt like I know very little about plot. Having led numerous sessions Dungeons and Dragons for years I have learned how to create interesting characters and how to set up interesting scenes, but I’m not particularly good (yet) at “decorating the stage” or stringing scenes together to form a coherent plot with rising and falling action. Practical application of these ideas alludes me. Unfortunately I allow my ignorance (among other things) to distract me from writing.

The class was excellent. Charlotte provided several examples of meaningful stories for the class to read prior to class. We then discussed in class the aspects of the story that she wanted to illustrate to us. Principle among the things she taught that I fail at was to ensure every scene had a goal and a “disaster.” The disaster in a scene was explained as an element of the scene that narrows the character’s possibilities. My scenes often lack this narrowing of options.

Additionally I attended an afternoon critique group that consisted of about half the class. In this group, we each read ten pages from each other writer and provided our own insights on the submitted pages. From this experience I learned so much I fear I would fail in an attempt to repeat or quantify it all. But I can stick to the highlights.

  • When I write a flawed character, I tend to go so far overboard that the character instantly becomes incapable of redemption. I need to add something to said characters to allow the reader to relate to him or her. Even if I’m going to kill the character later. Which I totally am going to do.
  • The devil is in the details. I finally learned the meaning of “verisimilitude”, because my ten pages lacked it. My small town lower middle class upbringing failed to provide me the sense to know that fancy 1980’s New York auction houses probably used photographic images on glossy stock paper for high-end buying guides, and what might be a lot of money to me isn’t going to be a lot of money to some rich socialite’s charity.
  • What is obvious to the writer, may not be so obvious to the reader. I knew this one already, but it came into focus during the critique portion of the class.

On the second day of the class, I got two compliments from the teacher. I’ve forgotten the first one, but I remember the second. After reading a rather long sentence (or two) about something she had us write from a prompt, she said “That’s beautiful. Is all your writing like that?” Which I had to admit, no, just some bits here and there. BUT SHE SAID “BEAUTIFUL!” I know no one was keeping score (and they shouldn’t have been if they were), but that day I felt like I was winning. 🙂

Three people from each class were selected to read a section of work for everyone else in attendance on the third day. Charlotte asked the class who was interested in doing this, and there were only five of us. She then asked who had never read before an audience before, and two of the people lowered their hands. We had our three, of which I was one. Now I have read before other people before, but it was to a panel of editors at GenCon and not to a public audience. There were at that event maybe ten writers and four editors. I didn’t really count that as “public” since spectators were not allowed. I volunteered for the retreat reading for the same reason I volunteered for the GenCon reading. The idea scared the crap out of me.

Charlotte helped the readers from her class pick out about a page and a half of material to read. I chose the portion of my untitled short story where my heroine seals her doom by raising her eyes and seeing for the first time her future employers. Charlotte read my piece last. Her eyes went wide and her mouth dropped as she read. If her reaction was honest (I have no reason to feel otherwise), then I feel I chose the right bit.

I was not nervous at all about reading until the day of when Charlotte allowed each of us to practice in front of the class. I shook slightly as I read. My words provoked a few “ewwws” and gasps as I read. I smiled inwardly even as I trembled. I don’t know if I would call what I wrote “good” or not, but I managed to evoke a reaction. That night, when we read for the entire retreat, I trembled even more. When I finished there was applause and a “Good job, Joe” from one of the organizers. A firm handshake and a smile from a new friend helped put me at ease, but I didn’t stop trembling for at least thirty minutes. I was and am happy that I was able to experience that.

Finally, I have to mention that before the retreat I had no contact with other active writers, but I now feel like I’ve made several new friendships and several more associations with other writers. This would not have happened, or would have been much less likely to have happened, if I had taken my wife.

The first night I ate alone a the bar of the small garage turned bar and grill. From the bar I could hear people at other tables talking about their writing and just being so close to such a gathering made me smile a bit. On the second night I returned to the same bar and grill. Two of my classmates were already there and seeing that I was alone, they invited me to their table. I didn’t eat dinner alone after that night and our little group of three became six by the end of the week. I would not have made those connections, those friendships had I had my wife, my refuge with me.

~*~

Up until I actually went to the retreat, I constantly wondered if I was doing the right thing with writing and investing so much into it. The retreat cost me time and money. Yet after the first day and each of the following days of the retreat, I felt that the investment I made was worth just that individual day alone.

Charlotte asked each of us on our last day to come up with a word that summarized our experience at the retreat. About ten people had gone before me and each of their words seemed significant, but not right. Not for me. When she came to me I didn’t have a word. Then in explaining this dilemma, about how before the retreat I wondered if I should just quit my silly dream, but the retreat taught me so much and allowed me to connect with so many other delightful people that my hopes, my dreams were restored. The whole experience for me was simply … and I found my word.

Special.

© 2015, Joseph K Little. All rights reserved.

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The Well

My well sits on a tall hill.

It is a stupid place for a well, but the water is pure.

It quenches me like nothing else.

Pulling water up the well is strenuous and burns my arms.

My will is Ethereal. Fleeting. Transient.

To live, to really Live, I must drink. I must drink often.

To Live I must first suffer.

So I climb the hill.

I pull up the water.

I drink.

I Live.

© 2015, Joseph K Little. All rights reserved.

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Stupid Gardeners

Well it turns out that I am a Gardener, but not one that works with seed and soil. Rather I am the type of writer that builds a loose latticework frame, plants some seed, and sees what grows into the lattice and what grows wildly out of control.

Mostly right now things tend to grow wildly out of control.

I do have to say I enjoy it however. I *just* paused writing my novel Charlotte because in my attempt to skirt writing chit chat between my heroine and some random children I put in because the halls of her tenement just seemed far too empty all the time, I ended up reintroducing one of my side characters.

Charlotte, my heroine, is smitten with this man. So far there’s not much to him beyond this roguish manner and self confidence, but I’d really rather leave him there, at that. But I need to build him up some so I can use him to tear Charlotte down again in a few more pages. I’ve just realized that he’s going to be really good with the children. They love him, and he honestly loves and cares for them. This creates a problem. The problem is that as I write about him, about how Charlotte sees him, I really start to like him. At least from her point of view.

I fear I might end up liking him too much. If that happens then I can’t use him to tear her down, or if I do I fear I won’t like it at all. Maybe that’s a good thing that I don’t like what his fate is. But if I don’t like it, will the reader?

At least I have an end goal for this character, a destiny he cannot escape without a sizable rewrite. I have another novel that is currently on hold because I don’t know how to proceed with it. In it I have a character, Eric, who’s supposed to be a real asshole. He was going to be zombie zero, and as I wrote him I didn’t want people to like him. He should die because he’s an asshole.

I did a good job with him. Too good. The asshole was interesting. Compelling even. I couldn’t kill him off anymore. His story was too good.

Well shit.

I need to learn to plan a little more. If I take too long to get to my destination, I will have to cut out half of everything on revision.  I want my darlings to mean something so they don’t get cut.

At the same time I need to keep some of my gardening, because I love discovering how the story unfolds. It is part of the fun.

© 2015, Joseph K Little. All rights reserved.

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Wow This is Tough

Writing is hard.

That’s the TL/DR version. The rest of this post is just going to be me complaining.

Writing is hard.

I know I’m being redundant, but I think anyone who writes will agree that if there’s one common truth in writing, is that it is hard. Obviously there are probably those few for whom writing is as easy as breathing, but we’re going to ignore them. Outright. Forever.

Writing is hard.

Don’t get me wrong. There are times when it is brilliant fun. I’m more of a discovery writer, and so there are times when I throw in a random sentence that a moment later becomes a phenomenal way to carry my story forward. For instance I recently wrote a bit where my heroine is pulling apart a wooden slat box. The thing is held together by iron nails and she sets these aside because she has almost no possessions and if she’s going to have to lose her wooden box, she’s going to gain both slats and nails to compensate. A chapter later I’m trying to get my heroine out of her apartment, but her hair is a mess. So she ends up making bobby pins out of the nails. Not the best case scenario. I didn’t plan that, but it was brilliant fun trying to figure out how this young woman might use what meager resources she has to their fullest effect. Never mind that she’s a ghoul in early 19th century France. That part has become blasé to me, but figuring out that she can bend nails into bobby pins was fun!

Other times can be very frustrating however. I have a road map for my story, and I did pretty good following my outline for about six chapters. Maybe four. On about chapter five, I had my heroine meet a merchant who openly rips her off. She settles for his deal because no one else will help her. Then because he is the only person that she feels comfortable dealing with who will actually deal with her, she returns a few more times. Each time she sells more of her meager possessions. On her final trip to see the merchant, he reveals that he knew her father and would like to help her out. They say lots of words, there are a few tears, a couple cups of coffee, some exposition, and finally my heroine has a refuge … which will eventually vanish in flame and blood. This fits my road map nicely, but I didn’t like the pacing of the chapter. It all seemed to happen too quickly. I (stupidly during the first draft) asked myself things like, “where did Charlotte go between paragraph five and paragraph six?” “what is she spending her money on?” and similarly horrible questions for a discovery writer. So I set the chapter aside and started to (stupidly) answer the questions. The answers were brilliant (to me at least), but now I’m ten chapters into explaining where she was and what she was doing between paragraphs five and six and I’m still maybe a chapter or three away from getting back to paragraph six. And all of it has to stay because nothing makes sense without the chapter before.

What. The. Hell? How long is this thing going to be? I’m shooting for a single novel at around 100,000 words, but at this pace who knows how long this thing is going to be. Am I actually going to be able to sit down when I do the 2nd draft and cut a lot of this? I’ve never done that before. Is that actually humanly possible?

Writing is hard.

My heroine is going to be raped. Well not really. Some young men are drunkenly going to try. But remember she’s a ghoul. She’s got powers and she’s been learning how to use them. At this point she’s hurt and exceptionally hungry. She’s been trying to just live her life as normally as possible and resisting the urge to eat anyone. So while she has an incredible willpower, she’s at a tipping point. Something needs to happen to push her over the edge to embrace the monster and this seemed natural because it is so personal. An attack by a common thief or murderer seemed too distant to potentially permanently push Charlotte over the edge toward embracing the monster she is. She needs to fall. HARD. She needs to fall so hard that clawing her way back to some sort of normalcy is almost impossible. Then I plan on pushing her down again. Anyway, while my alpha readers (80% female) have nothing against this story line, I’ve read and heard things from professionals that seem to suggest that this is a giant no-no. It’s lazy. (I have no argument here). It’s distasteful. (Well sure it is, but my heroine eats people to live. That’s pretty distasteful too). Ungh. I’ve done too much of the ground work to turn around so I’m just going to write the story as I know to write it. If it ever sells, it sells. If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t. I just have to strive toward the goal of finishing first. Lessons will be applied to book two and beyond.

Writing is hard.

Is this process like this for everyone? At least at first? At least for some writers? One guy that actually has published something? I don’t think my story rambles. In fact it seems pretty interesting to me. My Alpha-readers seem to like the story a LOT, but what do they know? Honestly I’m asking because I don’t know. They are voracious readers, but they are also family and friends. I expect them to be generous with their praise and slow to critique – though I MUST admit that I have gotten some very good feedback both on my original short story and portions of my novel to date. So I find myself unsure. Reticent to continue but pull inexorably forward.

Writing is hard.

They say a good writing group can help with a lot of these issues. There’s a few public writing groups in the greater San Antonio area, but all of them are far to “normal” for what I’m doing. Plus I kinda feel like they aren’t exactly “pro-beginner”. I really want to find a small group of writers that is willing to accept my writing as being valid and who are constructive toward building each other’s skills. I write about ghouls so I guess I should be open to unicorns too.  There are some online sources for getting peer reviews, but there’s always SOMETHING in the way. Unghhh. Sucks to suck.

Writing is hard.

I spend a lot of time away from family and friends holed up in my bedroom like a hermit connected to the world by twitter and brass door knob, both of which are supposed to remain untouched. I mean I see that little blue bird tab just RIGHT there. I should click it and just see why the tab is glowing . Someone probably posted something witty about something relevant. And by probably I mean that there’s maybe a 10% chance. There’s an 80% chance that I couldn’t care less what it says except for the fact that I don’t know. 10% is a huge percentage compared to the lottery. People win the lottery you know? Thirty minutes later I remember the only reason I even saw that little blue bird beckon was because I was looking up another French surname online. Stupid research. I could have spent that time on the XBox with my friends. Oh yeah, or writing my novel.

Writing is hard.

Damn hard.

Whelp. I guess I’ll get back to it.

© 2015, Joseph K Little. All rights reserved.

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