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MIGRATION TIME!

As you know, I'm moving off of LiveJournal because of the homophobic policies of its Russian owners. They have every right to say anything they want in their Terms, but I'm headed out.

My regular blog is at underpope.com, and it's now cross-posting to underpope2.dreamwidth.org.

The Writing Life

This is just a brief post. Its purpose is to let you know what I'm working on, writing-wise, right now, so that you can help keep me accountable. It's also meant to help me clarify exactly what I'm working on and my self-imposed deadlines. So here goes.

NovelsPadma. I plan on finishing up the first draft by September so that I can throw it at some beta and sensitivity readers.

Stories:

  • "The B.I.M." This is the story I promised Jennifer for her birthday. I was planning on having it finished by her birthday, which was May 30, but I missed that deadline. So now I'm planning on finishing it by the 15th of June.

  • "A Pine Romance". I need to make some fundamental changes to this one to clarify the main character's emotional journey. No problem, right? Deadline is the end of July, so I can toss it around to various markets.

  • "How Bubba Handy's Rogue Shithouse Saved the World". This story, which my writers' group really liked, still has some issues: mainly, the action scenes at the end need to be clarified. Target: end of June.


And that's it!




A wee administrative note: This is the very last post that I will be cross-posting to LiveJournal. The Russian owners of that site are well within their rights to set the Terms and Conditions to whatever they want, but their homophobic stance convinces me that I just can't anymore. I'm planning on setting up a DreamWidth account, so you'll be able to follow me there.

 

I Wrote a Mission Statement!

I wrote a mission statement for my fiction writing. And here it is:


Richard writes fiction in which ordinary people are thrown into extraordinary circumstances in order to witness the results. From horror to comedy, his stories and novels seek to entertain, inspire, enlighten, and amuse.


Of course,  as a creative person, I’m supposed to eschew mission statements at every possible opportunity. Too corporate. Too business. Too stifling. Meaningless. Etc.


And yes, it’s true that a poorly-written mission statement can be restrictive and stifling, let alone meaningless and pointless. But I think this is a pretty good one. It sits in front of me and makes me think about the kind of writing I want to do, and reflects the writing I have done so far. I also think it will help me write better fiction.


And I’m not the only writer who’s created a wee mission statement for themselves. Some writers come up with a mission statement for every short story and novel that they write. That seems a bit excessive to me, but if it works for them, then I endorse it.


Thoughts? Feedback? All are welcome.




My idea to write a fiction writing mission statement came about primarily because I’ve been trying to delve into writing non-fiction, particularly science writing, and not having much luck doing so. I’ve been wanting to write articles and stories (and even books!) that are interesting, informative, culturally-relevant, and so on, without being pretentious or  insulting. I want them to be engaging and entertaining and accessible and so on. It seems to me that science is under attack under the current administration, and effective science communication can be a form of resistance.


I figured a mission statement would help me focus, but writing one has been difficult. This is all I what I have so far. It’s inelegant and uninspiring:


I write science stories and articles which are accessible, engaging, and entertaining, which incorporate cultural relevance and history and art and philosophy, as well as respect for the readers’ intelligence. The point is not to disparage or insult misstatements and mistaken ideas, but to engage and enlighten.


I have a phone call this weekend with someone who might be able to help me focus and get me started on this route.




I know that neither of these are “true” mission statements, because they weren’t hashed out by a committee with no connection to the people it affects the most, and I didn’t fight with myself over the font and presentation for most of the long meeting I held writing them.


But… I think they just might help. If not, I’ll just toss ’em.




Things I’m Putting Into My Head

I miss college. For the few who don’t know, I went to UC Davis, where I studied Philosophy. Now, to get your degree in Philosophy, you need to get — at least at the time that I graduated — 80 units total of Philosophy courses. You needed a minimum of 124 units to graduate from the University. And the University sort of forced you to graduate if you accumulated more than 225 units.


I graduated with 96 units in Philosophy, and 224.5 units altogether. This means that the majority of the classes I took in college were all over the board: religious studies, sociology, psychology, oceanography, botany, chemistry, and so on. Really, I had no idea what I was doing. I would just go through the catalog each quarter and sign up for any course that looked interesting with no rhyme or reason, just curiosity. I had no plan, just overall curiosity. Was that a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t know, but I think that curiosity, in general, is a good quality to have.


But I do miss learning in some sort of structured environment. So I’ve signed up for some online courses. The courses I’m taking now are:



  1. Getting and Cleaning Data, course three of the Data Science Specialization at Coursera. Why am I taking a Data Science specialization at Coursera? I’m not entirely sure. I’m enjoying it, but I’m finding it a bit overwhelming. The last course focused on the R programming language, which is used to analyze data and statistical information. Statistics was a hard course for me in college.

  2. Question Reality! Science, Philosophy and the Search for Meaning. This is a fascinating class. A lot of the material is stuff that I already know, having taken classes in it in college or just through reading widely in a bunch of different areas, but I’m still learning. I’m enjoying this class. I’m a week behind, so this week I’m trying to catch up, but other than that I’m having fun. I will say, though, that the interface at EdX is clunky and not very easy to use.

  3. Finally, I’m brushing up my Spanish skills using Duolingo. I took Spanish for three years during high school with a great teacher, but since I didn’t use it very much, I got rusty. I would try to use my Spanish from time to time, but never with much luck (one Spanish speaker I was trying to talk to asked me, in English, “What are you trying to say?”). But Duolingo is making me feel a bit more confident in my skill.


That’s a lot to deal with, especially considering that I’m working full-time and also writing regularly. I’m keeping track of it all and also what I’m doing with a combination of Remember the Milk and Habitica. The former keeps me organized, the latter keeps me on track. I am by no means a power user of either tool, but I’m getting the hang of them. Slowly but surely.


Slowly. But. Surely.


On another note, I’ve set myself a schedule of posting to this blog at least once a week. I know I’ve said that before, but this time I really mean it. I’ve even put it down on my Remember the Milk task manager.




I Suppose I Ought to Blog

I have a blog, theoretically, and once in awhile I post to it. I’m going to make a goal of posting at least once a week, but who knows how long that will last. Who knows indeed. I have Thoughts and Things to share, some of which might be of interest to both of my regular readers.


So here we go.


Politics.



  1. The election of Donald Trump as President was unfortunate at best. I don’t think it will end up being apocalyptic for the world at large, by which I mean I doubt we’ll see nuclear war. But for many marginalized groups, things are already getting bad. As as middle-aged, middle class, white, Christian, cis-hetero male, I probably have the least to lose, but I firmly believe that what harms one population in the US harms us all.


Writing.



  1. For NaNoWriMo, I wrote Padma, which I’d had in the planning stages for several years, ever since I wrote a strange little story called “The Flower” back in 2005. This story was called “very sexist” by one editor, but “charmingly engaging” by another. I hope that the novel works out well. We’ll see what happens to the novel version.

  2. My novella The Winds of Patwin County is still for sale, in both Kindle and paperback editions. See the link to the left.

  3. I have a silly little short story called “Tumbleweeds”, which has been called the definitive entry in the carnivorous plant genre by at least one friend of mine, and which at least one professional writer suggested ought to be submitted to the Writers of the Future contest. I’m not thoroughly satisfied with this story. It needs a new ending. But once I have that ending written, I have some markets in mind that I want to send it to.

  4. My next novel-length project will be something called And the Devil will Drag You Under, which I’ve mentioned before. The outline requires a good rewrite, since I’ve decided to switch the point of view character and make some other serious changes to it.


Health.



  1. Asthma. I underwent all three Bronchial Thermoplasty treatments, and my breathing has significantly improved. Now if only the insurance people would get their act together and decide how much I owe for that.

  2. Weight Loss. I went back up over 300 pounds at one point, but then I joined Weight Watchers (since the weight loss plan I tried to make up for myself wasn’t working), so I’ve lost about ten of those pounds. You want them? I’m not taking them back.


Kobolds.



  1. My mental state has been good of late. The Kobolds of Depression haven’t been bothering me much, though every now and then they send out a scout party.


And that’s all I got for now. Enjoy your day. And if you get a chance, listen to some Tom Waits.




A Wee Update, and A Question For You

Since I posted on the 29th, where I weighed in at over 300 pounds, I’ve lost six. I’ve also undergone the first of three Bronchial Thermoplasty procedures. Five days on, I’m still wheezing and short of breath, although the physician who performed the procedure tells me I’m actually doing quite well. It’s still a chore to walk around the block, but each day I’m getting better at it. Saturday, I was wheezing and gasping for breath and desperately reaching for my nebulizer after my walk; today I was pretty good afterwards, and while I still used my nebulizer, I was not gasping. Keep this up, I tell myself.


I’ll talk more about the procedure in my next blog post. It was pretty interesting, I think.




On Twitter tonight, I asked the following question:




It’s only fair that I start, I suppose. So here are some of my answers:


Things I Know:



  • How to write compelling fiction;

  • Writing craft and method;

  • How to program in PHP;

  • Linux; and

  • How to create and maintain a website.


Things I Wish I Knew Better:



  • The natural world around us;

  • How to write compelling narrative non-fiction;

  • How to brew beer;

  • How to program in other languages besides PHP; and

  • Hiking, backpacking, and engaging with the natural world.


Pretty decent, though short, lists, I think. What about you?




Tags:

It’s a-comin’

It’s getting close to that time of year. Not Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any of those other holidays (though you should definitely remember my birthday on December 31). No, I’m talking about National Novel Writing Month! It happens in November, when people who are insane enough sign up to write a complete novel of at least 50,000 words in a single month. I’m participating for the fifteenth time (good Lord!); I did it for the first time in 2001, skipped 2002 because I was traveling a lot for work, and have done it every year since. And every year I’ve hit that 50,000 word goal. And, as I have done every year since 2007, I’ll be one of two Municipal Liaisons in the Sacramento area. This means that it’s up to me and my friend Katster to coordinate participants, arrange meetups and parties, and what-not.


nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_municipalliaison


Usually this is the part where I beg for money to send me to the Night of Writing Dangerously, but I’ve decided not to go this year. It’s fun, but I’ve done it for five years now, and now someone else can have the fun.


Anyway. This year I plan on writing a total of 60,000 words instead of just 50,000. That means a minimum of 2,000 words per day of November. It’ll be tricky, what with visiting family over Thanksgiving and all, but I’m sure I’ll make it work.


The novel I’ll be writing is called And the Devil Will Drag You Under. I got the title from the song “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat” from the musical Guys & Dolls. My novel has nothing to do with the musical, or the song, really. I just liked the title. It also has nothing to do with the Jack L. Chalker novel of the same name. And you can’t copyright a novel title, so I’m golden.


Usually I put my novel online as I’m writing it, but I won’t be doing that this time around. I’m too excited about the novel and will hopefully one day clean it up and send it out into the world to be published, and putting it online counts as a form of publication, which might get in the way of my chances to sell first publication rights to anyone. So I won’t be doing that this year.


Here, enjoy the song from Guys & Dolls. It’s a fun song, even if, thematically, it has nothing (or at least, very little) to do with my novel.





Well, then. Wheeze. Pant. Etc.

Next Thursday, I’m going in for the first of three sessions of a procedure known as “bronchial thermoplasty“, meant to improve my asthma, which has been flaring up irresponsibly since I had a respiratory infection about three months ago. When I went to my pulmonologist last week to discuss the procedure, he waggled his finger at me about my weight, explaining that not only is there significant inflammation in my lungs, my weight also prevents my lungs from expanding fully when I inhale.


Turns out he was right to chastise me.


This morning I weighed in at just a hair over 300 pounds.


This… this is unacceptable.


I’ve resolved before to lose weight; I mean, I’ve been overweight since junior high school, when my physician first chided me for it. I’ve never really stuck to it, though. I like food too much. I lead a sedentary lifestyle (mostly in front of the computer or behind a book). And everything else that’s bad for you.


And yet, there are so many things I want to do that require at least a modicum of physical fitness. For example, I would like to:



  • Visit Antarctica;

  • Visit the Galapagos Islands;

  • Go snorkeling;

  • Go SCUBA diving;

  • Go caving (not spelunking, mind you, I have no desire to do that);


…and so on. But right now I’m in a state where I can’t even walk around the block without getting wheezy and short of breath. Not ideal for anything, really, let alone wandering ice floes and saying Hi to penguins.


So here goes. I’m going to launch a personal initiative called “Zero to Hero” (yes I know it’s a song from Disney’s Hercules movie, just bear with me). It’s not much. Just a program of exercise and food intake that will hopefully get me into much better physical condition, hopefully by the time I’m fifty. ‘Cause frankly, I’m tired of where I’m at in this regard.


Ideally, the bronchial thermoplasty treatments will reduce my asthma symptoms to the point where I can walk around the block without wheezing. But they’re not the only thing I need. I need to take a serious look at how I’m conducting my life, and make some changes. The primary issue is I don’t like exercise, and also I like fatty, greasy, carb-rich foods. Preferably fried. So I need to figure out some way to make these changes in a way which makes me happy, which makes, say, running a 5K more enjoyable than sitting and staring at my computer during the same amount of time.


I’m open to suggestions.


In the meantime, though, please enjoy this video of an otter learning how to use an inhaler.





In case you hadn’t heard…

…My novella The Winds of Patwin County is now available in paperback through Amazon! For the low, low price of $5.99! So if you haven’t read it yet because you were waiting for the paperback edition, read it now!


That’s it for now. Soon I will have more updates on ongoing projects and other future stuff. But now my break’s over and work calls. Sigh.




Cthulhu


Time was, Cthulhu, the monstrous entity pictured to the left, was the most frightening thing imaginable. Not only was he a giant creature at least a mile in height, who lay dead yet somehow still dreaming in his sunken city of R’yleh, somewhere in the Atlantic… Not only could his dreams affect people in the waking world and control cults and sects throughout millennia… Not only could he rise up at any time and scour the Earth and lay it to waste… No, he’s just a harbinger of even worse things to come! He’s a priest of the old gods, entities that make Cthulhu himself look like a child’s plaything.


Yes, Cthulhu was, at one time, the most frightening thing imaginable for certain groups of people.


On Sunday at WesterCon I attended a panel entitled “Cosmic Horror in the Mainstream Media”. It was an interesting panel which, as is pretty much always the case when the term “cosmic horror” comes up, focused primarily H. P. Lovecraft and his influence not just on the horror genre but on culture at large. There was some debate about what the term “cosmic horror” means, and the panel agreed that it had to do with giant monsters, sanity-blasting, ancient magics, hidden knowledge, and so on.


I disagree.


To me, “cosmic horror” means a genre of horror entertainment which emphasizes the fact that nothing benevolent exists out there. It’s about nihilism, about the nothingness in the universe that doesn’t care a single whit about human beings. Sure, Cthulhu might incite a few cultists with his dead/not-dead dream state, but, really, Cthulhu probably doesn’t give a damn about human beings at all, aside from how tasty we might be.


There’s more to it than that, of course. Cosmic horror, to me, also implies “deepness”: Lovecraft’s horrors (and Lovecraft is still, for all his flaws, the undisputed master of cosmic horror) exist in deep space, in deep time, and in deep consciousness. It’s the intentional seeking out of these entities and cosmic nothingness and universal indifference that drives the poor Lovecraftian characters mad. What happens when you see Hastur and Azathoth palling around with each other at the chaotic miasma which is at the center of the cosmos? You lose all your sanity, that’s what.


But I think this sort of horror goes beyond just the Lovecraftian. While one might be hard-pressed to find examples in popular, mainstream culture, it’s definitely out there. I offered up AMC’s The Walking Dead as an example of this sort of nihilistic horror; and while even I have to admit this is a bit of a stretch, the cosmic nothingness, the idea that nothing benevolent exists, is still part of that show’s milieu.


This cosmic nihilism, I think, has always been with us. Some of the Greek philosophers expounded on it, but I think the ball really got rolling with Nietzsche in the 19th century. It began to pick up speed during the First World War, picked up some more momentum with the Second, and, during the Cold War, it ran rampant all over everything. I grew up in the 80s, and I remember the existential horror of knowing that Reagan or Khruschev could at any moment decide that they’d had enough and would press that red button.


So what do you do when you’re faced with this kind of horror? You can embrace it and write more Lovecraftian-style horror, or even apply some of that nihilism to your own horror or science fiction (Alien is cosmic horror whether you like it or not). You can also ignore it.


But you can also “cuteify” it. Indeed, a whole industry has grown up around making plush Cthulhu toys, silly songs about the Mythos, and so on. This is aplushcthulhu way of coping with Cthulhu and the empty, uncaring cosmos that he represents.


I personally have nothing against a cute Cthulhu. Heck, we have a plush Cthluhu that we put atop our Christmas tree every year. Plush Cthulhu is fun, goofy, and a neat way of coming to terms with the nihilism existential horror that is our daily existence.


I do know, though, that the cuteification of Cthulhu causes some problems for some people. That’s fine and understandable. They don’t like their cosmic, nihilistic, existential horror messed with.


So, the takeaway here is that cuteifying a horror is one way of coping with it. In my own fiction, I often take a comedic approach to Hastur, Cthulhu, Azathoth, and others. Does this mean that I’m also participating in the cuteification of Cthulhu?


I’ll leave the answer to that as an exercise for the reader.




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