Tag Archives: Writing

Happy Halloween

First off, before I get into a rather lengthy rant about Halloween that transforms into a bit of a rant of political correctness, I want to wish you all a safe and happy Halloween! Be safe, don’t eat already-opened candy, and egg any houses that give you pennies instead of delicious sweet treats. ;)

Halloween has long been one of my favorite holidays. One of my first truly vivid memories is of a Halloween party when I was three or four where my parents dressed me up as Dracula. It was a wonderfully fun time and in the years since (and I’ve dressed up almost every year, save the last couple) I’ve come to appreciate it more and more as a holiday. Not once have I ever seen it as a pagan or satanic type thing. In fact I genuinely feel sorry for kids who have parents that are so hypersensitive about religion as to treat Halloween like some evil, horrible, devil worshiping holiday and thus forbid their children from engaging in the fun.

I don’t really care about the history attached to Halloween (though I’m well aware of it, you can read more about it here), in modern usage Halloween is a time to let your imagination run wild and dress up as the scariest, funniest, craziest, and in some cases raunchiest thing you can imagine. The kids go around and get candy from the rest of the neighborhood (if for no other reason than to foster a sense of community within a neighborhood, I think Halloween trick’or’treating should be encouraged rather than dying out as it seems to be around here), the adults go have drinks with each other while dressed up, etc. The vast majority of people don’t in any serious way link Halloween to Satan as a lot of hardcore Christians try to, it seems.

Not to say I don’t think they have every right to feel uncomfortable with their children participating. They’re the parents, the decision should be theirs. If they’d rather their child attend a (very poorly named) Jesusween event or any of a myriad of “fall festivals” in lieu of celebrating Halloween, more power to them. But don’t attack others as godless heathens because they disagree with you. The free and open exchange of ideas is a cornerstone of this nation, and one I believe in very strongly as a writer. The marketplace of ideas is where I want to make my living, and if that marketplace is choked off by bigotry, incivility, and general hatred then we are all the poorer for it.

Political correctness is, to me, just as dangerous as hate speech. If we’re not allowed to refer to things in any manner but euphemism, we can’t ever really deal with those problems. It genuinely angered me, for example, when there was talk of removing “nigger” from Mark Twain’s works, replacing it with the more innocuous “slave.” Not because I have anything against African-Americans, quite the contrary. If we decide to (forgive the term) whitewash our history and go back and sanitize older works (particularly Twain’s, which were in large part meant to skewer the racist attitudes of the reconstruction-era south), how in the hell are we ever going to learn from our mistakes or see just how far we’ve progressed?

150 years ago black people were considered property in much of the nation and today we have a half-black man as president. That is a wonderful thing, whether you agree with his politics or not. Should we just ignore all the struggles in between that made his rise possible? I don’t think so. Our nation has a pretty ugly history with regard race relations; trying to go back and pretend that never happened by revising classic literature dealing with the issue is, in my opinion, far more offensive to African Americans than the usage of “nigger” in the text of his work. Of course I say this as a white man, so take the statement with a grain of salt I suppose.

And don’t think I’m simply fixating on African Americans. We treated the Native Americans horribly as well, we interred the Japanese during WWII (Jamie Ford can tell you all about that in his wonderful novel), we distrust Hispanics and even go as far as calling them invaders simply because some come here seeking a better life for themselves, and as far as I’m concerned being gay in America today is pretty close to being black in America in the 1950s: tacit acceptance in places, but with a heap of bigotry and intolerance being spewed all over the place. I can’t help but think we NEED those old, “non-PC” texts, even disregarding their vast literary merit, simply as a reminder of our own screwed up past.

But the reason I come back to racism/slavery specifically with regard to African Americans is because of an article making the rounds about hockey player Raffi Torres going to a Halloween party as Jay-Z. There are people calling him intolerant and bigoted. In the article linked a blogger named Thomas Drance went so far as to say such a costume is entirely off-limits. I hate to break it to Mr. Drance, but nothing should be off-limits. When you start making things off-limits, you degrade society and choke off the marketplace of ideas.

For the record, here is a picture of the “offending” costume:

I’m sorry, but I don’t see that as anything approaching the Vaudevillian “black face” that triggered such hubbub and stands as a throwback example of racism. If you want to see REAL “black face” in a Halloween costume, take a look at this picture of my own family from 39 Halloweens ago. It was Savannah, GA and a different time so I can’t take them to task too harshly for it, though I did tell my mother–who isn’t one of the two children in black face here and, indeed, based on her facial expression it looks like she wasn’t having the best of times (she’s the tallest one in the picture)–how terribly inappropriate that costume was when I found the picture.

That is inappropriate. That is offensive. That is in bad taste. But even that shouldn’t be OFF-LIMITS. If someone chooses to do something like that, they should simply face the consequences of their action. Scorn them, tell them they’re ignorant, but don’t try to deny them their right of free choice. Because as soon as you tell one person it is illegal to have a certain opinion or dress up a certain way, you open up a Pandora’s box that cannot be closed.

And ultimately as a writer, I think the most important thing we have is the ability to express ourselves freely without worry of legal backlash. We can be sued for the things we write, sure, but we should never be censored or banned (the fact that book bans are still so prevalent in our supposedly free nation drives me up a wall, but that is a topic for another day). The good and righteous ideas will rise to the top, the hate-filled and ignorant ones will fall to the bottom.

Enforcing a schedule

I was talking to my best friend this afternoon, trying to help him work through some self-esteem issues and generally get him back on his feet, when a piece of advice I threw out to him actually resonated quite well with me. Sometimes I surprise myself with such things; I pull things out of seemingly nowhere that actually make sense and are helpful. The collective subconscious? Something I’d heard once, filed away, and forgotten about until I need it? Who knows, I’m just glad that I can impart kernels of wisdom every now and then (at least I think they’re wisdom, could just be a bunch of drivel I suppose).

My advice to him today was that he needs to set a schedule for himself and stick to it. He’s been working on creating daily task lists for himself but hasn’t really been putting himself into a position to complete those task lists. Time management is his biggest issue and mine as well, so it was a subject that hit pretty close to home in our conversation. So I told him that, rather than simply give himself a task like “look for a job on Monster,” he should add a timeframe for that. Either a certain number of hours spent doing that, or a certain SET of hours within the day (i.e., “look for a job on Monster from 2pm to 4pm”). No matter what he does or doesn’t find in that timeframe, at least he spent it doing a task on his list.

Partition off every task like that, and before you know it you’ve got a full day where you’re actually DOING something rather than just sitting around wondering what to do next or how long the next task on your list will take you. Even as I write this blog I think I’m beginning to coalesce in my mind where the advice was pulled from:  I’ve been hearing for years now that in order to write successfully one must actually dedicate time to writing. Some people set specific wordcount goals for a day, other people simply set a specific amount of time aside to write, and yet others do some kind of mixture.

I’ve tried to apply that to my own writing habits with varying degrees of success. I will say that I definitely agree with the sentiment, as I said in my earlier blog on procrastination if I don’t write every day (or nearly every day) I tend to lose touch with the story I’m working on and find myself having trouble maintaining a consistent voice throughout. Having realized this, I’ve gone on to endeavor to write 1,500 words a day or for two hours, whichever comes LAST (i.e., if I hit 1,500 words in an hour I keep going until I get to two hours, or if I’ve  hit two hours and only have 800 words I soldier on until I hit 1,500).

In that same spirit of time management I’ve decided to enforce a schedule for myself on this blog too. A month into it now and, as you can see looking over the calendar to the right, I’ve been admittedly a bit scattered in my blog updates. As I try to move from “writer,” aka guy who likes writing stories, to “author,” aka guy who likes writing stories then makes a business of selling them, I’ve been reading tips on building a social network. One of the things I’ve seen over and over regarding blogging is that a consistent posting schedule, combined with worthwhile content of course, is a major key to having success in this vast and varied blogosphere.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to enforce a posting schedule for myself. With the exception of any spectacular news I just can’t wait to share with you, dear readers, from now on I’ll be posting four times a week.

Monday, Wednesday, and Friday will be my weekday posting schedule. These blogs will be on a fairly wide variety of subjects, though primarily writing, food, or hockey related (go Stars!), or some combination thereof. Starting tomorrow I’ll be using Saturdays to post up Science Saturday: a weekly compiling of links to various science/science fiction articles I’ve read and found interesting during the preceding week. Some Saturdays it will only be one or two things, others it might be a dozen or more; it all depends on what happens in science during that particular week.

An added benefit of this Science Saturday concept is the fact that it will force me to keep up with scientific knowledge. Given that my desire is to write more or less hard sci-fi, I think it will be a good use of my time even though some of it may not be directly related to writing.

I look forward to pushing forward with this blog in a more consistent and interesting fashion, I hope you’ll enjoy the ride as well.

Shameless promotion

When she isn’t reading food labels to dodge gluten and lactose, my girlfriend has been spending her time creating some wonderful crochet hats, scarves, and other fluffy, fuzzy things. I don’t really intend to use this blog to promote products or services or anything like that, but I figured with winter coming some of you (note: I have no idea how many readers I have/will have and have no intention of checking; obsessing over blog viewership is a waste of time) might be interested in some handmade products.

So here’s a bit of shameless promotion. ;)

Custom Crochet Scarf, cruelty free & cozy

Custom Crochet Scarf, cruelty free & cozy

On a more writerly note, I did indeed manage to pound through chapter four last night and now I’m sitting at about 9,100 words on first draft 2.0. After chapter four in first draft 1.0 my word count was a hair under 5,000, so the added description (and a bit more character fleshing out, since I know them better now) has really helped slow down the pacing to a more “novely” rate. Before it was definitely veering toward novella length, not that there is anything wrong with novellas. I’m just trying to write a novel right now, not a novella. ;)

Dinner and more

So as I said at the start of the blog, my girlfriend was recently diagnosed with celiac. We’ve been on a gluten free diet the entire month thus far (well, I’ll be honest, since *I* don’t have celiac I’ve strayed from it a few times, but a surprisingly small number of cheat meals have been taken).

Today for lunch she made (another) awesome chicken and bean soup (that we used, with a little more cooking down, as a sauce over some quinoa pasta this evening), pictured here. So much flavor! If these are the kind of meals I’m going to get, I think  I can deal with being gluten free. Even though I don’t have any gluten sensitivity as far as I’m aware, having been on the paleo diet before I’m keenly aware of the fact that gluten heavy foods tend to be great for keeping/putting on weight. So I’m looking forward to getting a little weight loss out of the whole thing, at the very least.

Last night I made the decision to quasi-junk my sci-fi manuscript. I’m keeping all my planning and simply starting anew. I’ve learned a lot about the characters through the first ~25,000 or so words and reading back through the first several chapters it just didn’t work with the later ones. So I decided to go back and make use of my more developed understanding of my characters to start again from the beginning.

I think it’s been a smart choice. The writing is coming more easily and I’m doing a far better job pacing the story so far. Let’s just say my setting descriptions were sparse-to-nonexistent in the earliest chapters of the first draft. Juggling story and description has always been my biggest challenge, I either end up with way too much description and no story, or a ton of story happening very rapidly against what might as well be a white backdrop. First draft 2.0 (I refuse to call it a second draft, since I didn’t complete the other one) is striking a much better balance, and I’m over 7,000 words into it on only the second day, so the writing seems to be coming with more ease as well.

I’ve finally decided to make use of my twitter account, as well. I don’t know how often I’ll update it or what I’ll use it for mainly right now, but I will be using it (unlike my old twitter account, which has been sitting untouched for well over a year. Perhaps longer.). So if you have any interest in my singular tweet so far, head on over and check it out at http://twitter.com/jsjoyn.

I think that’s the long and short of it for this evening. Back to writing! My goal is to get through chapter four tonight (chapters 1 and 2 came yesterday, managed to pound out 3 this morning).

I’m not dead yet!

A bit of silence as my internet access has been intermittent the last week or so, and my mother’s birthday was midweek so I spent some time with her. But I’ve been writing, slowly but surely, and the first draft is going pretty well. At the rate I’m going I think it should clock in around 240 pages, maybe a little longer once I go back through and expand a few locale descriptions a bit more that I left intentionally vague before.

Just didn’t want any of you readers to think I’d gone dead. ;)

Procrastination

I’m good at many things. I don’t say that to brag, it’s just honest. Most of those things are completely useless in the real world though, hence why it isn’t bragging I suppose.

For example, I could tell you pretty much anything about the American Revolutionary period. But when was the last time you had a question about Gouverneur Morris or Silas Deane in Trivial Pursuit? Yea, exactly.

One of the things I’m best at is procrastinating. Definitely not a good skill to have. I’m great at putting things off until another day. I’ll be honest, that crippled my first attempt at a novel because I got out of the habit of writing and lost the work’s voice.

Procrastination can kill a novel. I’ve learned that over the years. Short stories you can often sit down and write (but not properly revise as you need a little time and distance from the work to do that) in one sitting. Procrastination doesn’t play into it as much and so it is easier to stay in the story’s “mind-frame.”

Unless you’re superhuman, this is pretty much impossible with a novel. It’s going to take weeks to months to write, maybe even years for some authors and some works.

So the only way to keep procrastination from killing it, at least the only way that I’ve found, is to write every day. Even if it sucks and you delete it the next day (which I advise against, everything seems worse before revision), at least you’re keeping your mind in the story.

They may just be words on a page, but in your head (and if you do it well, in the heads of your readers) it is a living world with living characters. Keep them in your head, don’t let procrastination force them to the background where they fade into nothing more than half-remembered ideas. Write daily!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to stop procrastinating by writing this blog and go work on my novel.

What the…?!

So, fair reader, you might be asking yourself what this blog is. Don’t worry, I’m asking myself the same thing!

With any luck it will become an outlet for my writerly pursuits as I work on completing and revising my first science fiction novel. I’ve written for years and even attempted novels before, but this is my first foray into science fiction and also the first novel I intend to actually shop around to agents in hopes of securing representation.

I’ll be honest, though it is a bit of a case of putting the cart ahead of the horse I already have a short list of agents in mind that I would absolutely love to work with. Since I’ll be querying all of them and more eventually, I’m not going to say who they are. I’d hate to end up with an agent I absolutely love but have them see this blog and feel they were a “second” choice.

But until I become a wildly successful author mentioned alongside Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert Heinlein (read: never), I’ll also be using this blog as an outlet for discussing various and sundry life events.

As such, the last part of this entry will be dedicated to what I had for dinner tonight. That seems rather banal, yes, but my girlfriend was recently diagnosed with celiac disease and thus has had to make a massive shift in her diet. Celiac disease is basically a gluten allergy, and my Italian-American (ow! Sorry! Sicilian-American!) girlfriend is obviously grief stricken at the death of her relationship with pasta.

Being the supportive boyfriend I am, and also a glutton for punishment probably, I’ve decided to join her on her gluten free diet (which is basically just a modified paleo diet, which I had some success with many moons ago and I’m not really sure why I drifted off of it).

Our trip to Sprouts today allayed some of her fears as they have a pretty good selection of gluten free pastas (mostly made from rice), though she didn’t have the guts to try making that tonight. The grief would have been redoubled if she had and found out it was awful.

So instead we had a wonderful chicken and bean soup. Not a bit of gluten or dairy (celiac disease can also cause lactose sensitivity) and absolutely delicious!

Until next time, fair readers!