Sunday, November 30, 2008

More on Collaborative Writing

Sometimes a guy's gotta do what a guy's gotta do…

In one of my most recent collaborative posts I wrote something for my character that under ordinary circumstances I would never write. In a somewhat romantic scene between my rather chivalrous historical character John Clum (a very interesting man!) I had him mention the lovely 'violet' eyes of the heroine (a purely fictional Madame with the proverbial heart of gold). Now the reason I wouldn't normally do this is a) most people don't have violet eyes (except Liz Taylor) and b) I feel it's verging on bad writing - ie: "I gazed into her large liquid orbs like pools of…" You get the point.

So, I hear you all chime, why did you do it?

I did it for my writing partner. Writing with someone in a collaborative fiction project should not be all about the quality of the writing all of the time - not if you're doing this as a social recreational thing. See I adore my writing partner in that novel, Tombstone, at Pan Historia. She's been a great friend for years now. We've never met in person but online we share a great history of fun and collaboration. I wrote about her violet eyes because she would enjoy the reference and the deferment to her creative fantasy life. She wants violet eyes! She gets violet eyes! It's her fantasy too, damnit. I wrote it to give her pleasure.

I might be fantasizing about writing the great American novel one day, but she's getting a kick out of being a beautiful woman with a shadowy past, violet eyes, and a heart of gold back in the Wild Wild West. And why the hell not? Let's face it. I get a kick out of role-playing Wyatt Earp in the same role-play collaborative novel. So sometimes it's really good to remember this is not always about serious writing and ART. It's about fun too.

And as the man said: "if it ain't fun, don't do it".

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Rough those Characters Up

There is a tendency, particularly when we 'role-play' our characters we are writing, at a site like Pan Historia to make them a little too good, too bad, or too beautiful. This is perfectly natural, and I cannot make a good argument against it if you're just writing to have fun imagining yourself as your perfect creation. I totally believe in the magic of the imagination. If, however, you are interested in creating characters that fascinate your readers more than yourself you have to let go of some of that perfection. I don't even think the Great Divine All That Is loves perfection because it so seldom, if ever, exists in creation - so if you're writing even a teensy bit for your audience you need to spice it up a bit and use all the paints on the palette (mangling metaphors is my specialty).

Of course if your character is an evil Prince of the Unseelie Court, one of the immortal Elves (in the Tolkien and historical sense, not the Pixie sense, thanks Skyclad - see previous posting and comments), you can get away with a lot more perfection. First of all we love to root for that sexy alluring villain who just seems to have it all, including absolutely no moral barometer at all, because he's very much a fantasy figure for most of us, and we know he gets what he deserves in the end. "Oh if only I could get away with that behavior and be that sexy…" or my favorite Black Widow Spider syndrome: "I could bed him/her but would I be able to get out of bed before she/he bites my head off?" This will not do, on the other hand, for the hero.

Fine, make your hero handsome, but there has to be some character flaws there and their path to victory must never be simple or easy. In other words you have to let that sexy villain have their way with them for a while. Or don't make your hero handsome - he could be a shy slightly over-weight computer programmer that suddenly finds himself in post-apocalyptic Nevada with a girl to protect and an over the top gung-ho Rambo type with a chip on his shoulder as fellow survivor. It's the flaws that make the hero riveting. The hero of my supernatural novel starts out as a cynic, a lost his belief romantic, and a slob. He will have to be slapped around a lot to even understand that he has to BE the hero. Your hero can be fooled, duped, or even lied to. It's ok, he's only human (unless he's not). Your heroine might not have the biggest breasts on the block and she might have to wear glasses to read. She may not know all the ninja arts and also look great in 4 inch heels.

Another thing to remember about real people is that not everyone likes them. Remember to let your writing partners view your character through their character's eyes. In collaborative fiction writing we have a tendency to want to make sure that the other person writes our character 'right'. That's fine - it's important to make sure your character is not acting out of character - but it should not extend to how the other characters view your character. It's ok to be misinterpreted, misconstrued, or even just disliked. That creates tension in the storyline and drama to the plot. Non-player characters are great for giving another point of view on your character so don't forget to use them liberally. I particularly like to portray my character's appearance and demeanor through alternating POVs rather than doing a lot of description from my character's story posts.

Anyone have good tips on making your character more real?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Character Creation in Collaborative Writing

I have decided to write a series of posts how collaborative writing and how I do it. Of course I'm only speaking of my own experiences of collaborative fiction writing over the course of the last ten years, which means there are other ways to do it, but I hope this series will be informative and maybe entertaining.

In the case of the sites I have worked at CHARACTER comes first. Story is important but most of the writers at web sites like PanHistoria, AncientWorlds, and BardicWeb have usually started with a character concept first, or if they found a story the were attracted to write in the next step was figuring out their character in the story. I think that is the one defining characteristic of sites like Pan. We come into our multiverse as a character, and so we tend to think in terms of characters.

Even if you have a science fiction scenario rolling around in your brain - by the very fact that you must choose to 'be' a character for it (much like role-play) collaborative fiction writers at Pan will start thinking about and being that character pretty much first thing, often before requesting their new group.

This is an interesting approach and a site designed for 'role-playing' collaborative writing (no dice, but stepping into the character to write your POV) gives you some tools that as a writer, normally, you might not employ. First of all there are the visual components. Once you have named and then created your character you are giving a home page and profile for that character. This gives the writer a chance to flesh out the character in a lot of different ways even before tapping out those first few characters of action or dialogue. I used to spend a lot more time on the home creation process when I was new to writing because it really helped me to get to know a character before I jumped into writing the story. There is the choosing of the avatar, an image that represents what the character's appearance is, and then finding the graphics and style of the home page. The profile page is designed, particularly, for those that like to use their characters in more than one story - I find this a great way for getting to know my characters even better.

Let me explain this a little more. Generally, if I were to write a novel about my character Nick Capra, for example (I googled that name once and found out there is a porn star by that name - totally unintentional and totally a coincidence but one I find amusing), he would only have one history, one set of related adventures. But by role-playing him in different scenarios I get to see what he would do given a whole different set of probabilities. My character Itet, born in Ancient Egypt, is always a charming serpent-like sociopath with sadistic tendencies - though he's had to adapt to new surroundings on a couple occasions as he's moved from story to story. Right now he's an Elven Prince on the verge of annihilating the world; not a small job, but someone had to do it.

Ok, so we have built up a nice little home for our character, some people like to list traditional statistics or such, I prefer not, and then we have done a little outline in our profile of our role in the story (novel as it is called in Pan) and we're ready to rock n' roll.

Or are we? Another interesting way to build up our concept of our character at Pan is through instant messaging with other characters. Some people actually will role-play their characters using the message system - or some will discuss plot with their fellow writers, or some will do both. I used to role-play more but now I tend to discuss plot and shoot ideas back and forth with my writing partners.

NEXT TIME: Making convincing 'human' characters even if they are a power hungry elf.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Young Writers

I'm in the middle of doing a survey at my collaborative fiction community site Pan Historia and I found out that I have a number of teen users. Pan has always been friendly to young writers - for instance we have a collaborative novel centered around the world of Harry Potter, for example - but I was surprised at the number and the types of answers Pan teens gave to my questions. For instance most of them did not frequent tons of other sites and all answered that they loved to read and write, fiction and sometimes non-fiction too. Yes, they used MySpace or Facebook, but in general they came off as more studious types than the stereotypical teen (or my offspring when he was their age for that matter!).

Interestingly right into my Twitter feed came news of this study today: New Study Shows Time Online Important for Teen Development. In reading the PDF link from their web page I was interested to read this paragraph:

A smaller number of youth use the online world to explore interests and find information that goes beyond what they have access to at school or in their local community. Online groups enable youth to connect to peers who share specialized and niche interests of various kinds, whether that is online gaming, creative writing, video editing, or other artistic endeavors. In these interest-driven networks, youth may find new peers outside boundaries of their local communities. They can also find opportunities to publicize and distribute their work to online audiences and to gain new forms of visibility and acceptance.

The study concludes that teens can actually benefit and develop valuable social and practical skills by this online interaction. In our case I think that their interaction with adults also provides valuable example and learning experiences for our young writers - many of home have 'grown up' on Pan. I know of several of our longer term members who originally joined Pan Historia as young teen writers and now have the opportunity to help other youth develop their social and writing skills.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Limit of Art Cannot Be Attained

I have felt the need to share some of my Pan Historia fiction here - but rather that copy and paste I decided to share a link. There is a little history to this selection, and not all the writing is my own.

This was a collaborative fiction novel with its roots in the old role-play site Ancient Sites. On that site you would join up with a name from some period/place in ancient history and that would define you. At the time Ancient Egypt was my bag and all my early collaborative writing pals hail from this period. There was definitely much more of a role-playing element to the site than there is to Pan Historia - for instance I would log in and BE the Pharaoh of Egypt in many of my online conversations. It was fun while it lasted though I certainly have no talent for that anymore. For a while at that site there was a very unified Ancient Egyptian group but over time schisms developed (all human societies/cultures fragment and evolve, even in the ether), and thus was En Intw Djerew Henet created. En Intw Djerew Henet roughly translates out as "the limit of art shall not be attained" and the writers that participated in recreating an alternate history Ancient Egypt were some of the most talented I worked with; both in capturing the drama of their characters and in the depth of their research for the project. My main characters in this fictional narrative are Tjeti and Itet.

So here it is with all the remaining existing posts by the writers that gave their permission to be reprinted and those that still had copies of their work: En Intw Djerew Henet: The Limit of Art Cannot Be Attained.

And for those among you that love Ancient Egypt here is a link to my old web pages: The Dictionary of Ancient Egyptian Religion. Sadly this project remains incomplete, but it still has tons of very useful information in it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

I Care A Lot

I'd like to say I woke up on fire, burning to write. Rather I grabbed my mug and fired up the PC and got to a stream of tweets on my Twitter channel that had me stewing in depression immediately so I unfollowed the guy. I'm sure he's very bright and all, and I'm sure I should be educated about the terrible things going down in our economy right now, but it was more than I could stomach before a full cup of joe, man.

I know that it's shitty out there - banks crashing, fires burning, wars being waged, and I care, I care a lot*.

However there is only so much I can take before I start to spiral down into grey areas. In my psyche there is just no room for monochrome emotions, and I try to avoid the black pits just as often as I can manage. In fact my favorite flavor of therapy is denial. In fact that's probably why I love my escapist entertainments. I'm an artist, man, I need beauty.

So in a quest for beauty I think I'll trip over to my favorite collaborative fiction site and and write about zombies ripping people up. Oh yeah… biker zombies!


(Speaking of music, who the hell stole my CD of the soundtrack from Grosse Point Blank? Give it back)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

What Makes Pan Historia Unique

I decided to stop and consider what makes Pan Historia such a great site and why, year after year, I continue to pour time, money, and love into it. Recently I have been wandering around the rest of the internet expanding my horizons and trying to learn to like new things. After all I don’t want to be called an old dog! Some of my little adventures I have posted about here already and I’m not going to go into dissing other sites and interfaces – after all I am a bit of a simpleton when it comes to internet technology. I know a bit of PHP, MySQL, and DHTML, but only enough that I can get creative at my web site and achieve the bells and whistles that I think would be fun.

The point here is to get positive. What I love about Pan Historia is the community and the creativity and the fact that it’s fairly simple to use. The bells and whistles are usually all the same platform and so everything loads nice and fast and I don’t hear my computer start to grind the minute I start to load Pan pages (like I do with MySpace or Facebook or Shelfari). Ok, so that’s the tech side. What is it about Pan that truly makes it unique and special?

  • The staff/owners actually participate in the site (yes that’s me mainly but I still like it!)
  • The owners/programmers actually seek the opinions of the membership about what they would like to see (yes again, that’s me, but I was raised with the idea of democracy, fair play, cooperation, or simply a benevolent dictatorship).
  • There is room for all sorts of creativity without lots of technical know how.
    • Such as graphics
    • Writing
    • Story planning
    • Games
    • Contests
    • Collecting badges and awards
    • Learning HTML to create beautiful web pages
    • Creating characters, scenarios, and even new worlds
    • Fanfic
    • Reading all the great stories written by Pan members

As for me I get to work on the site design and construction year after year – tinkering, getting new ideas, making improvements. I get as much joy out of that as I would in constructing a sculpture in my studio. Pan Historia is as much an artwork as anything I have worked on in my life. One of the significant things about this work of art is that it’s alive and interactive and that other people are contributing in significant and unique ways to the whole. It’s not solely my vision, but the collective creativity of an entire community – many of whom have been with Pan Historia since the very beginning in 2000.

I’m still as keen on the site today as when I sat down with the early developers and brainstormed.

Friday, November 14, 2008


Here I sit, sad and un-sated.

Tried to blog,

But only de-flated.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Shifting Gears - The Author as Geek

Shifting Gears

As a creative artist that seems to have a dual nature (something to do with being a Gemini or on the cusp of Cancer if you're into the whole astrological thing, man), it's often hard for me to shift gears from one activity to another, but I've been learning to do so through the use of arbitrary borders in my day called "hours" or "days". Every Friday (or thereabouts) morning I have been meeting with a fellow artistic type (musician by night) who also shares geeky interests and we have been creating new PHP scripts for my Pan Historia community in my everlasting quest to keep the site fun, usable, and competitive with modern web technology. Sad to say we're probably light years behind, but I find that's ok because a lot of my users are not the super elite web savvy but people like myself that just wanna have fun. It's often just a challenge to get people to click all the handy links.

Anyway the point of this little discourse is that today I start a new, fairly large, project. I'm creating a doppelganger of Pan, or perhaps rather a trimmed sleek brand new version with stripped down functions, for a client. I have done this once before when I created the version of the community, but this is going to be more interesting as I'm customizing a bit. Not so much under the hood but definitely with the fins, hood, and trunk. Whole new paint job. This is being done for the folks at BardicWeb - a very different role-play community from Pan Historia, but one that has much the same origin as our site, birthing from the ashes of the old Ancient Sites community (their direct descendent being AncientWorlds now). I'm sure there are a few other small groups out there that are splinters of that original causality, but I tend to have a narrow focus, staying with Pan Historia because it's mine, I like it, and if I were to spread myself too thin nothing would get done!

Each of these sites has its own unique flavor and I'm sure proponents of each adore theirs best, and for similar reasons that I love Pan best, but I do think it's going to be fun and fruitful working with the BardicWeb people and helping them to realize their dream of a more smoothly functioning interface where they can act out their creativity. I'm truly flattered that they looked around and decided that the Pan Historia model would be one, with customization, that could work for them. It shows I'm doing something right you see.

Now the problem with this project and the subject of this blog (yes, I ramble), is that I often find it difficult when the middle of construction to shift back to the creative writer and participate adequately in my collaborative fiction projects at Pan. I hope that I have learned to correctly prioritize and schedule tasks so that I can easily shift gears from one part of the day to the other and don't allow one activity languish for the sake of the other.

Oh - and tomorrow my friend and I are creating bulletins for Pan.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Time Does Not Fly, It Crunches

I had occasion to speak with another author yesterday about time management and she had an interesting way of scheduling her day. Besides writing down her activities in her calendar she actually scheduled things according to the goals she hoped to achieve for those hours, rather than the precise activity, thus circumventing the "gosh this is my writing time but I'm totally uninspired, I'll just play a few games of solitaire" moments.

She divided work time in the day between things that earned her money, time that was for her own creativity with concern for remuneration, and time that was for promotion - to make sure that the things she made in the world actually found their way into the audience's hands. Of course some of the things that I schedule into my day straddle different categories making the idea of using this kind of division rather more difficult for me to take up. For instance my participation on Pan Historia has a couple of different functions: one to maintain and keep the site vital with my presence and example; two to indulge my own creativity through my writing and participation in our collaborative role-play novels.

I didn't notice if the afore-mentioned author added recreation time to her calendar, but I did notice that she didn't necessarily tie herself down to a particular event - since she failed to turn up for something I invited her to on last Friday. That's not a recrimination. I think it's very important for people to give themselves permission to change their plans and just stay home, especially busy people. There just isn't time in the day anymore for all the things that we have to do, and sometimes you just have to take the knife to a few things to remain sane.

And that's really the crux of my thoughts this morning. How do I manage time for maximum creativity and maximum efficiency and yet remain a spontaneous and energetic person, rather than a stressed out drone that eventually collapses like an old cart horse in the traces? My author friend makes her living writing. I make my living at the workplace where I'm employed and receive wages. Anything else I do is just the cherry on the whipped cream.

I'd enjoy any comments including what you do for time management. If something particularly works for you - let me know here on the blog so we can all learn something new.
One of my online friends, a fellow denizen of Pan Historia, tweeted at me yesterday, in response to something, I forget, to work better - not harder. Easy to say - so how is it done?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Wyatt's Voyages of Exploration

I feel like an explorer these days, but instead of an explorer that comes from the big civilized world, I'm one that has come from the small still undiscovered country, a little island say, that has set out upon the high seas of the internet to discover the huge vast charted oceans and continents without the chart everyone else has so readily to hand.

My small island is, of course, Pan Historia. It is a land small but full of rich history and brilliant antecedents with a culture uniquely its own. I have spent so long governing this tiny island country in a distant corner of the internet that its quaint culture, unique history, and wondrous ideals are all that I knew of the world - until I boldly decided to stray on its behalf and become an ambassador to the world at large.

My first landfalls outside of my little world (which did include, always, email,,, and news channels) were Facebook and MySpace. I cannot really talk to the culture I found at Facebook. It was so alien to me in its constraints on my ability to interact in ways that I was familiar with (personalization, seeking out new friends) that I quickly abandoned my hut there. MySpace, born after Pan Historian (which is at least eight years old), was more familiar territory, more allowing of personal freedom and expression. I spent many hours with hammer and nails building up my little domicile and making lots of new and strange friends with the natives. I believe I even was able to get a few of them to make their first trips to my strange little island home. But ultimately MySpace is a frustrating experience for me - I hate it when I have to head over there and listen to the gears inside my tower start to grind as approximately 5 million useless applications start to kick into life. I can't even imagine how many diseases I pick up each time either. Please don't get me wrong - it's not the people, I have met some lovely MySpace denizens, but you have to go through a ton of chaff to get to the sweet kernel there. It's a big crazy indiscriminate place, a great hub where many kinds of cultures intermingle and mix.

Next, after a brief hiatus from my Marco Polo travels, I was directed to the world of blogs and of Twitter. Now I was on sturdier more engaging ground in both cases. Twitter might not be for everyone but it's less like a land of its own and more like a unifying communication net that can straddle all the different regions of the web. I have found myself pulled to all sorts of interesting and different places to find gems and pearls that I can bring back to my own land. My mind and curiosity has been engaged. A word of warning, however, to other travelers: you must choose your channels carefully. It's no good to just 'follow' everyone until your channel becomes cluttered with white noise. Follow those you like and those which interest you and engage when it's appropriate. I have no idea yet if my forays into Twitterdom has yielded visits to my own island kingdom, but it's early days yet. If you find me interesting I invite you to follow me.

Blogging is something different. I have come to blogging relatively late. It's not like I didn't know it was out there. I was isolated, but not deaf, dumb, and blind. It's just that I write fiction and I didn't understand to what possible use I could put a blog to. I even fashioned rudimentary blog boards for my Pan Historia people and watched them be a sort of uneven success at Pan. I understood them as sort of electronic journals or diaries and I was never very good at being a diarist, no matter how often I tried. Even my commitment to dream journals wavers over and over again. My forays into different regions of the more populated web, however, were done with a very definite purpose and that was/is to spread the word of Pan. It became clearer and clearer that I should try this blogging. The challenge was topics.

A strange thing happened on the way to the forum…

As I started to write on various topics, both personal and not so personal, I found that I had plenty of ideas of things to write and it was only a matter of actually remembering what they were when I sat down to the computer!

So in my quest to spread the news about Pan Historia (a unique community for collaborative writers and imaginative people), I have finally become a member of the greater social networking community.

Hello there, World.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Wyatt Tries Second Life

Ok, I've started a little essay in frustration. I clearly have no time for new projects or frivolity (what, Pan, frivolous? Never!), but I have just joined Second Life to figure what the buzz is about and compare the experience to my virtual life on As a writer I definitely prefer my familiar worlds of Pan Historia with its low tech forums, home pages, and instant messages where I create my visions and worlds with text and mainly static graphics. I feel in control of my universe and it's entirely crafted in a collaborative way by me and my co-writers.

Stumbling around Second Life as I am now as Itet Prax (they create all the last names for you apparently - or certainly at this stage of the game) it is a major learning curve just to walk around the rather crude 3D landscape. Of course people have added little bits of pointless bits and pieces to it, and it's only the introductory phase so I'm sure it gets way more fascinating, but right now I feel like I have been taken out of my wonderful fluidly working mind and body and dumped in a badly automated simulacrum. Give it time, Wyatt, give it time. It must be great because so many people love it. It's just the writer in me that's so frustrated with such a largely animated and game-like environment.

You know back when I was a spotty youth I played Dungeons & Dragons and then the Arduin Grimoire sort of underground version of the game with its greater complexity of imagined world, and I was really into it for a while, but only because I became a dungeon master right away and created my own worlds and scenarios. I vaguely remember it was subtitled the Gate World because you could teleport from different worlds at various focus points and it had space ships and dragons as well as insectoid warriors. I spent far more time writing the scenarios, drawing the maps, creating characters, and then writing the histories of the various countries as well as creating grimoires and other artifacts than I ever did actually playing the game. In my early thirties, my history of D&D far behind me, I got sucked into playing Vampire, the Masquerade with some very Goth but cool college kids who forgave me my age because of my obvious geekdom. I was very excited by this new gaming because it involved far less game and far more making shit up, and naturally as soon as I learned the rules I ran a campaign because I just had to make up a story and start running with it.

At Pan Historia I have done away with the game element all together and I just imagine my stories and worlds with my friends. And that is of course the difference between writing a novel by myself and writing stories at Pan. It's the wonderful social aspect and the way stories can move in very unexpected creative ways because lots of different creative minds are working together. When it meshes it's great fun and quite addictive.

Ok, so what the hell was I on about? Oh yes, I'm trying to figure out the appeal of Second Life over a writing site like Pan

Oh wait this is kind of cute. I'm having a chat with some stranger called Scarletta. She's got a magenta dress on and is sitting in one of their little fabricated environments. When I type my avatar types… ditto hers. Ok now we're all wandering around like we were abducted by aliens and dropped on an alien world without good motor control and bizarre rules of physics (like we can fly and walk through supposedly solid objects). It's getting all too tiring and arbitrary for me. I need to get away and get back to my nice warm comforting words.

Holy shit… I picked what I thought was the logout command and went bald.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Musings on the Urban Landscape

I live in downtown in a mostly rural area. I used to live way out in the boonies with a long drive but gorgeous scenic views of forest and mountains, farm and fields. Right now I live above the train tracks in the back of big office building - and yet I love the view where I live. Now that the leaves have let go their grip of the trees outside my windows I can see the great wide river, the tracks that run beside it. On the other side is the lumber yard. Last night I walked out my house to the sound of the train whistle, high and echoing from the mountains across the river, deep and low as the train starts to move.

My other view is of Main Street snaking up the hill, church spires, and brick buildings winding in orderly disorder. On wet nights like last night the road glistens black and the lights from the cars are red, green, yellow. This morning the mist rose up from the river and the town was shrouded in the grey with the tops of the mountains disappearing as if deftly rubbed out with a kneaded eraser.

I can think of many other town and cityscapes of equal or greater beauty from London to New York to San Francisco. As I was walking last night, loving the lonely urgent cry of the train on its way somewhere else, I realized how much I truly reveled the human landscape around me. It seems to me, these days, that we are increasingly turning our faces from the beauty we create and looking at nature for inspiration. We view the untouched landscape as more spiritual, more wholesome, and more pure. I am not disputing that. I love the wilderness and our natural world and actively seek to preserve it, but I can't help but marvel at the wonders we have created too.

There is that old chestnut: if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to see it… of course that whole concept is inherently flawed. If no one else the bloody tree is perfectly aware of falling, and later we can go find the stump and rotting carcass with all its lovely burrowing beetles and borers. What I am getting at, however, is the fact of observation. The city is a landscape not only crafted by our needs and desires but constantly observed by us, but in a sense it is almost more invisible to us because of its familiarity.

There are evil urban landscapes - places so blighted by greed or disregard for either the social or natural environment that a bulldozer would be a blessing - but good honest neighborhoods with a mix of uses from shops to dwellings to lumber yards can be deeply rhythmic, throbbing, alive places with startling juxtapositions of chaos and order, all jumbled together to produce something distinctive and indeed… beautiful.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Returning to Fiction

When all else fails write about how busy you are.

Well I won't exactly. I'll just muse a little this morning on the muses and how hard it is to hear them when you are preoccupied with the minutiae of day to day life and how it seems to me to be even more impossible to hear them when you have limitless time stretched before you. Now that the election is done and life will do what life does with or without my vote from now on I can return to the activities that normally absorb all my attention, and that includes setting myself deadlines. I thrive on deadlines. I cannot seem to act at all without them. I have to get out my calendar and write down the date it's due… but more than that there needs to be consequences if I don't get it done, or frankly very little gets done.

Hey - I might have hit on why my novel never gets written - there is no deadline for the sodding thing. Now there is a circular train of excuses if ever I found one. I can't write my novel because I haven't got a publisher, I haven't gotten a publisher because I haven't written enough of my novel to attract an agent, I can't write enough of my novel because I don't have a deadline to goad me.

Man, I want out of that loop. I need a freakin' deadline with consequences. I'll have to put on the thinking cap my Pan Historia friends made me and work my way out of this dilemma because I hate circular excuses that result in lack of progress. I hate the sound of my voice uttering such excuses and more I am my own most vicious taskmaster.

Speaking of which it is time to get back to fiction writing in general. I have pretty much been laid off since my marathon writing session on Oct 26th. First I was exhausted and my hands hurt, but then the election has consumed me with tension and general anxiety. I speak no further about it because the web must be festooned with juicy little flies bursting with all and sundries various takes on that momentous night. I said my little piece and now I turn my face back to my creative endeavors. Where were we?

Oh yes - fiction. So I have to write a little horror and zombie madness. I got into horror through writing, I was not a huge fan of reading or watching, but now I really relish the genre, love to take a big bite out of a graphic portrayal of a zombie attack, or spend some time building up suspense in my other horror novel at Pan: 666 West End Avenue. 666 has been sorely neglected of late, and needs my doubting paranormal investigator and his computer geek sidekick to get back into action. We're just starting to scratch the surface of what lurks behind the peeling wall paper and the water stained tiles. Actually speaking of that original role play novel I could do a whole post on that one and some of the interesting history and coincidences over the years.

But right now I think I better actually go write some of that fiction I threaten…

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Weight of the World

Two years ago a friend of mine from Illinois said she was rooting for senator by the odd name of Barack Obama to run as president. Curious, inclined towards the Democrats but not satisfied by Hilary Clinton, I took a look at the politician my friend said was "like a rock star". I took one look and I scoffed. I have to apologize to my friend this day - but what happened last night was a miracle. What I said to my friend as I turned away from her candidate was "this America would sooner elect a woman to the White House than a black man with the name of Barack Obama". I'm proud to be completely wrong today. I'm loving eating crow.

Today I have woken up to a world with new hope and possibility, and an America that seems to finally be a little more united regardless of race. I have renewed confidence that the rest of the world will not bomb us into oblivion for our arrogance and hypocrisy. I have renewed faith in the democratic process - can I tell you that last night I dared not rejoice when other Democrats did for fear our election would be once again stolen away? I had to actually see the concession speech of John McCain before I would believe; a speech, by the way, that was intelligent and graceful.

And I'm not alone in my hope. But consider carefully just what a terrific burden in on the shoulders of President Elect Barack Obama? It's not only that he's inherited the biggest mess of any president, but he has the weight of the hopes and expectations of African Americans, America, and the rest of the world. He has many coats to put on and many faces he must wear and all the time sitting on the biggest rocket in the world. From the New York Times online this morning:

Francis Nyamnjoh, a Cameroonian novelist and social scientist, said he saw Mr. Obama less as a black man than "as a successful negotiator of identity margins."
His ability to inhabit so many categories mirrors the African experience. Mr. Nyamnjoh said that for America to choose as its citizen in chief such a skillful straddler of global identities could not help but transform the nation's image, making it once again the screen upon which the hopes and ambitions of the world are projected.

And from Germany:

"We have so many hopes and wishes that he will never be able to fulfill them," said Susanne Grieshaber, 40, an art adviser in Berlin who was one of 200,000 Germans to attend a speech by Mr. Obama there in July. She cited action to protect the environment, reducing the use of force and helping the less fortunate. In essence, she wants Mr. Obama to make his country more like hers. But she is sober. "I'm preparing myself for the fact that peace and happiness are not going to suddenly break out," she said.

Only time will tell what kind of president Obama will make, but the very fact of his election stirs the imagination. I can't even imagine what feelings must move in the hearts of African Americans today, but it must be something huge and overwhelming. As a liberal who wishes to be proud of my country, today I am proud. Listening to Obama speak last night I heard a man who was collected in the midst of chaos, gracious, intelligent, and inclusive. He seemed presidential.


Monday, November 3, 2008

That Great American Novel Stowed Under the Bed

I was tidying up this morning (shocking but true) and I came across my copy of the Gary Robert's biography of Doc Holliday - which I had been reading last month, the month before? Anyway it reminded me that not too long ago I had been back in deep with my idea of writing the Great American Novel (i.e. the unfinished manuscript). I try not to talk about writing the book too often for the very reason that I keep putting it off, getting distracted, and just generally pissing about and not doing it. As an artist, as a writer, I know those people that are always talking about wanting to be something, but they never just DO IT.

Really the doing is the key. Back in art school I remember one of my professors disparaging 'talent'. Now I'm a firm believer in talent, but what he said really sank in that day. In his years of teaching he'd seen lots of talented students that never made the grade as artists; they'd just piss it all away in ego and laziness. It was determination and discipline that made the artist. It was the one that worked at it - no matter the starting point - that achieved success. I've been judging myself by that standard, and frankly I flop as a novel writer. I piss about and I don't actually write the damned thing.

Yet I'm different from other wannabe writers. Why? Because I actually write at least a page a day, and often much more than that. Every day I log into Pan Historia and participate in the writing there - perhaps it's not a fictional piece that I write, maybe it's this blog, or maybe it's instructions on how to participate in some contest, or it's my email correspondence, or even it's just the conversations I have with people online via our instant messaging system. As an aside on my counting online chat as writing I have to elucidate: I never use emoticons, I always spell the entire word out, and I endeavor, always, to use correct grammar and punctuation. When I describe something I'm aware of the words I choose, always.

I do value the writing I do at Pan Historia - like the re-enactment I talked about in my recent blogging - but deep down I feel like all this practice should be going towards the 'real deal'. What is holding me back? Is it fear of failure? Ultimately I do hesitate to claim 'writer' status for myself. I happen to know some incredible writers personally and I cringe to suggest I can do what they can do, no matter how I strive to learn the art of word craft, but I don't think that's really what stops me. After all I keep painting even though I know I'm no Picasso.

It's more like I'm a glutton and I need to be more single-minded. I grab hold of so many things, pulling them towards me, my mind always searching for the new and interesting. I have to read The New Yorker on the john because I have two novels on the go (and that biography of Doc Holliday), and then when I'm the computer I'm working on Pan Historia or learning my Adobe Suite programs, or talking fiction, art, history, or god knows what. Even when I paint I have sitters and we talk and I can only manage a couple hours at most and there are numerous other projects too numerous to mention.

I have no point of stillness.

To truly write is to hear the story in my head and just follow it, hour upon hour. Even if that is an hour set apart in a day it needs to be one still hour. I'm not even doing that now. While I type this blog post I'm holding a conversation with three people at Pan via instant messaging and I have my Twitter going. In fact I was just 'gone' for ten minutes as I posted at Pan regarding our Halloween Home Contest, left a message for someone about their prize, and generally futzed around - and did I tell you that my feet are cold and I need to get some socks on?

Good thing I don't believe in Attention Deficit Disorder. I would be on drugs now. Wait… I am on drugs, but just painkillers folks, no need to call the cops.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Tooth Ache

I've been mildly debilitated lately by a small but not unusual event - I bit down hard on a piece of bone in my ground beef. The result was not to have not cracked the tooth, dislodged a filling, or anything fixable, but rather to have bruised the periodontal ligament. You probably, like me, didn't know you had ligaments holding your teeth in place to your jaw, but of course we do. I never thought about it because it just never figured in my day to day before, even though I am, by nature, a curious and inquisitive fellow. It turns out this is not something my dentist is going to do anything about so I have merely been told to rinse with salt water and take plenty of painkillers.

The result of this bruising, however, has been excoriating moments of throbbing toothache from hell that, as they occur, literally leave me weak in the knees. As the waves of pain build up, like a wall of sound, I find myself leaving the world outside myself and retreating inside. Once the pain finally releases me it's like coming up for air from a deep dive where the only input is a murky sense of light coming from above. I would like to say that this whole episode will be over soon but I have been assured that I have weeks of this, made all the worse by the fact I grind my teeth at night and thus aggravate the bruised tissue further.

The interesting thing about it is the accompanying dip in creativity. I have no idea how people with chronic conditions, or even who just douse themselves with drugs and alcohol and mental anguish actually function as artists. I'm pushing ahead, doing my daily chores, planning out my stories for Pan Historia, even going to the studio, but part of the excitement is gone - replaced instead by the dread of that moment when the pain starts tapping on the roots of my teeth, spreading through the bone of my jaw, and then seizing me in a grip so tight I'm not sure I don't forget to breathe.