Archive for December, 2009

Dec 31 2009

End of year summary (plus, a story!)

This year has been full of grief, change, healing, recovery, and much more. I know 2009 has been a year of upheaval for many of you out there reading, as well. Hopefully as the calendar year closes, more of you than not are seeing the light around the bend before the end of the tunnel, at the very least. We’ve got a few more rocky months ahead before our own smooth sailing here, but we’re an awesome family with wonderful friends, which makes the turbulent journey easier.

As I mentioned, it’s been a long, slow, recovery year, which has meant a fairly lean year for new words written. Still, I’m 3 chapters into the novel’s new draft, and the work is still going on that, enough that I have hope someday (perhaps even in 2010!) it will grow into a finished draft. I missed being in this year’s Arse Elektronika as planned due to the double whammy of major health issues and a crashed computer with lost files. However, I still managed to get two short stories written in 2009. One is still out circulating, looking for a published home. (That would be “The Entirely Explainable Expiration of Elmer the Cat”.)

The second is actually co-authored, and contained below in the remainder of this post for your viewing pleasure. This is actually still in its second draft, as I’m waiting to hear back from my co-author on which parts need to change to suit his vision. He was the idea-man on this particular story, and probably the only other relevant piece of info to help you understand this story is that my idea-man is coming up on his 12th birthday in April. It was certainly a writerly challenge to fit all the various pieces of ideas into a semi-coherent narrative. (I strongly suspect we’ve “borrowed” from several recent movie and videogame plots for many of these ideas, given my idea-guy’s preference for large amounts of television.) I think it turned into a fun story, though perhaps one that may borrow a bit too heavily from others to be publishable elsewhere… (Note: Neither author had seen “Shaun of the Dead” when the story was written, but I understand there are some similar plot points there as well.)

Anyway, I hope you enjoy our collaborative effort as you enter into 2010 — may it be a better year for all of us than 2009 was.

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Dec 21 2009

Writing procrastination link

Published by under follow the link chain,Writing

Here’s another good one from Storytellers Unplugged, this time from Justine Musk.

5 hints for creative procrastinators

I noticed none of you took up my NaNoWriMo challenge, to give some kind of report on how it went for you, what you learned, and what you’d do differently next time. If you don’t want to put it in your own blog, why not in a comment here? I’m still interested!

I finished my holiday story rough draft, co authored with an 11-year-old idea man. It has zombies. And aliens. And robots, but it’s mostly about the zombies. After he and I look it over I’ll likely share it here for your amusement, but I doubt we’ll get to it until sometime after Christmas. What are you writing?

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Dec 12 2009

Writing news that affects non-writers too

Published by under are you activist or enabler?

For those of you who haven’t heard this yet, a Canadian writer (Peter Watts) was assaulted and detained by American border guards as he was leaving the US to return home. For those of you who aren’t near enough to a border to have the experience: you are often searched when entering or re-entering (if US citizen) the US from traveling abroad. It’s historically much more unusual for them to conduct exit searches, though these days the frequency is rising. Setting aside questions of what exactly happened and who was provoked when, as there’s already enough unpleasant debate engaging elsewhere on those topics…

Why should you, average (or not so) citizen, be concerned about this? Hasn’t that crap already been happening for a while now? Well, sure. But how, exactly, do you think fascist states get formed? You don’t wake up one morning and suddenly the cattle cars are rolling down your street to cart off dissidents when everything was fine before. It’s much more the “how to boil a live frog” concept. Those in power who want more of it encroach on our rights and liberties a little at a time, and for quite a while it’s in areas the Average Citizen will never encounter or notice. A few years ago, en route to a protest at the capital about the suspension of habeus corpus, I encountered a Good Citizen — middle aged mother and white-collar wage earner, member of her community. This person in complete seriousness tried to argue us out of going, by stating that after all, if you followed all the rules, that suspension only applied to terrorists and communists and Bad People. And she really, truly believed in that, you could tell in her arguments. She did not understand why we were concerned unless we had something to hide.

This attitude is not only common, it’s encouraged by those same folks attempting to take power. They want you to not notice what is going on and changing behind the scenes until your ability to effective stop them has been neutralized. They want you to make their arguments for them as your civil rights trickle away. So up until recently, most of the increasingly concerning signs of what’s happening in our country have been limited to the less enfranchised: the poor, the prisoners, the foreign guests and business folk and travelers that have to come here or choose to come here. (Though America is also suffering a marked decrease in incoming foreign tourist dollars since about, oh, when Dubya went into office. None of our foreign “allies” seem to believe that Obama is any different in action or making this country safer to visit; just a prettier face on the Same Old Shit.)

When Steve and I were in Ciudad Juarez last year, we were shepherded around by a delightfully charming married couple, Irena and Sergio. On the long, slow wait to get back across the border from Mexico into the US, they told us an incredibly unpleasant story about increased issues with the US border. Sergio had, a couple of years previously, been working in El Paso and crossing the border daily for several months. One morning, he entered the US normally and worked a full day. On his return (again, while trying to leave the US and re-enter his native country), he was arrested and detained without legal representation or notice to his family. Irena, five months pregnant at the time, spent several days tracking down what had happened to him, to finally find where he was and learn that his name had matched one of the names on the most recent list of “suspected terrorists and dissidents” that all border guards receive regularly, and they arrested him without any further checking to see if, perhaps, there might be more than one person with that name. He was held for two months with no lawyer, no trial, no other reasons given, and no legal rights. The only reason he isn’t still there today is near serendipity. Sergio was a former mariachi singer and had been in a classical mariachi band for many years. They had toured in the US, and the governor of Arizona had been particularly fond of their performance. Irena contacted the Arizona governor with a request for help, and he was willing to write a letter stating that he had met Sergio and was confident he was not a terrorist. Irena and Sergio assured me that theirs was in no way an isolated case. At that point (last year), nearly every family they knew in Juarez had had conflict or family members detained or personal property stolen by the US border guards and on and on the stories go. Nearly all of them have much fewer resources than Irena and Sergio did to get some semblance of their normal life back. They told us this story as we were passing by Bush’s Folly, the half-finished wall being built between the Mexican and US borders. My fellow US citizens: a wall that is designed to keep people out is also quite well situated to keep people in.

Peter Watts is a writer. If your goal is more fascism, after you’ve cowed the lowest rungs and the foreigners, you start moving your influence further out. Writers, artists, political activists, and other iconoclastic categories that might have a chance to spread the awareness of what is happening around us to large groups of people — these are usually the next prime targets. This is worth my notice and attention, and yours, because it’s one more sign in an already-ongoing and concerning trend. You know how these things keep going, we’ve seen it before. Silence perpetuates injustice. Looking the other way perpetuates injustice. An “it can’t/won’t happen to me” attitude perpetuates injustice.

I’ve seen a lot of people quoting the “first they came for the Jews” famous poem. As Steve pointed out, perhaps the most sad and telling bit of this is, that is an incorrect quote. The actual quote begins, “First they came for the communists…” and so anyone who misquotes it has already committed the first step, unconsciously, in this overall pattern of deciding that there are some groups that it’s ok to treat this way and some it isn’t.

This is Not OK. For anyone. No more silence, No more inaction. All of you reading this: if you are not speaking and acting on the injustices you encounter when you encounter them, you are part of the problem. I’m not trying to tell you how to do those things, as I think that’s dependent on the individual. Some people can speak out publicly like this, some can’t. But all of us can speak up in various ways in our daily lives, when we encounter people spreading ignorance, and help present and spread a different point of view. I think the era of protest marches is dead (possibly a discussion for another post), but I also think that there are still ways you can be more activist within your community or beyond it. For those of you financially flush, don’t forget to donate to good political, activist, and humanitarian causes — but for gods’ sake, do at least a little research to make sure your money is going where it should, before you hand it over.

Peter Watts’ own account of the event is here. It’s also being discussed on Boing Boing, Making Light, and many other places around the ‘Net if you wish to educate yourself further.

And just so you all have the correct quote everyone is mangling, from a German pastor speaking out against the inactivity of the German public during Hitler’s time to do what they could to stop the Nazi power takeover (his Wiki article is pretty interesting itself, check it out):

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Martin Niemöller

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Dec 06 2009

NaNoWriMeet wrap-up

Published by under blwio,momentum,NaNoWriMeet,Writing

I realized I forgot to post my final post in this series, so here it is a bit belatedly. For my part, I’m planning to return to a more weekly rate on the about-writing posts instead of maintaining a daily rate, but I hope you enjoyed the extra. Other effects for me were that I really liked the challenge to ramp-up my own writing that I took on mid-month, even with the increasingly comedic series of interferences in that plan. I still got several thousand words written and a MUCH better idea of what I’m doing with my novel. (Still re-writing chapter three, and deleting much of what I copy-and-pasted in, but at least theoretically it’ll make for a better story. I’ll report here when I’ve gotten through all that mess.)

Even on the days I’m not writing about it I’m back to talking about it daily, and I have housemates that are genuinely interested and wanting to help my process so that makes things MUCH easier. In addition, I have an awesome inner circle of friend-fans waiting for the next piece to be finished and encouraging me along in their excitement, which also helps a bunch. It’s refreshing to be around people who are stimulated by rather than threatened by other folks’ creative pursuits. I nearly always find myself inspired to new ideas when I see the beautiful creations of the lovely people I’m blessed to know. If you’ve been struggling with staying the course on your own creative work, consider some of these options if you don’t have them already. Steven Brust thinks that it would benefit every writer to have someone who gazes adoringly at them with the attitude of “wow, you are the Best Writer Ever.” He got a dog, which works quite well for this. If you don’t already have a dog or room for one, try finding a parent, lover, or awesome friend with a similar attitude. Sure, critiques have their place and usefulness, but sometimes the “wow someone thinks I’m totally awesome!” feeling helps more than any constructive criticism.

Another angle to try is to break the writer trope of the solitary artist locked with their computer into a room to scribe Art for the Ages. If you’re repeatedly getting stuck in the word mire on your own routines, take a different path. If you have portable word processing capabilities, try out a variety of different venues for writing in public. The most common places are bookstores and coffee shops; a quiet restaurant that isn’t obsessed with table turn-over might also work. In nicer weather, a park or picnic could be a refreshing and inspiring change of scene. Heck, even try different rooms in your own home, or setting up (in nice weather) in your backyard.

A compatible community of creative folk is another valuable resource. Whether you have a more formal writer’s group, or a more informal collective of artists wanting to support each other in their endeavors, or a full-on collaborative project, the exciting things that can happen when multiple creative minds meet together in the same “space” is exhilarating. Quite often it’s the equivalent for your creative flow of slamming down a four-pack of energy drinks. If you’re isolated enough that all you can do is an online equivalent of this, then try that. I was active for several years in an online writer’s group that is sadly not very active any more, but was quite helpful and enjoyable for a long while. Some of us met in person a couple of times, but it was mostly online and worked really well that way. I would expect that recent interfaces such as Google Wave and the like are quite useful places to try and set up such an endeavor. However, for any of you that can, I’d recommend trying some in-person creative jam sessions as well. I’m not so 20th century as to rant against online community or its usefulness, but I’m realistic enough to note that the benefits one derives online are certainly different in many aspects from those you get with in-person creative brainstorming. I think they’re complimentary, and I’ve noticed it feels better when I perceive myself to have both in-person and online creative support. So ask around, figure out which of your friends you enjoy being around who also want creative support, and form your own “artist’s collective” where you meet up regularly and each work on your own creative projects; or perhaps more focused brainstorming sessions, where you each get some group time to help bash through a stuck spot on whatever project you’re creating at the moment. There are multiple options that work based on the individuals involved; however you decide to, remind yourself that it is work worth doing.

I’m interested to hear about the experiences of those of you who tried NaNoWriMo (or a modified variant of it) this year. It’s so easy, especially if you didn’t make your goal, to just drop the subject and slink back into the not-creating land from whence you arose. So I challenge each of you who tried it, to comment either here or in your own journal, and give a report! Document what worked as well as what didn’t. Note at least three things you learned about yourself and your writing. Look the really hard thing you attempted head-on; not as “I failed”, but “I tried something really big and am not ready yet. How can I get more ready for next time?”

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