Tags: nanowrimo

something from the work-in-progress

dragonfruitA passage from the work-in-progress. A few people might recognize the situation of it from when I posted a whole bunch of the story's "Part One" on this journal some time back. But this is from Part Two. Part Three is close. And that's the last part. So hopefully it will be out of my system yet this year.


A-R passed much of the day fiddling about with his Dune site, Bene Tleilax. A large number of new (and mostly ridiculous) fiction postings had accumulated and they needed cataloguing. He sorted them slowly into their scores of categories—hurt/comfort, Chapterhouse Era, Jihad Era, many dozens of permutations of slash-fic, Duncan this-and-that, Harkonnens, et cetera—and added the appropriate tags, rejected a few that were not complete enough entries. He answered a few emails and social media posts, mostly related to the suicide panic of a few weeks previously. He explained again that the infamous “The End?” pic was not a suicide note, that he would not himself commit suicide, that he discouraged people generally from committing suicide. Enough now with suicide, said he to all.
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Dream Journal: The Serling/Faulkner TV show that should have been

Early this morning I had a dream that I discovered on Netlfix a 1950s-era TV series produced by Rod Serling and based on William Faulkner's work. This was so cool that I had to write it down, but instead of just recounting the dream, I decided to splice it into the work-in-progress (my still-ongoing NaNoWriMo project). A new excerpt from it:

...but after this release, A-R did not return to the book. Instead he turned on the TV, selected his Netflix queue. He’d become rather interested in an old TV series called Yoknapatawpha County. It was a creepy Southern Gothic soap opera of sorts, with a lot of horror elements. Rod Serling had produced it (same guy who also made The Twilight Zone) with teleplays penned mostly by William Faulkner, and it had run on TV in the late 1950s. It had been quite popular despite its opaque plotlines and densely written scripts and its often-macabre subject matter. But evidently it also had been heavily censored during its original run, many of its episodes bowdlerized in the cutting room or never aired at all in order to protect the sensitivities of 1950s TV viewers from moral offense. But the show’s current studio owner had recently undertaken to restore it to the TV show that Serling and Faulkner had intended it to be. Never-aired episodes were unearthed. Scenes were restored to other episodes. The whole thing was meticulously re-mastered, its black-and-white imagery newly crisp and mesmerizing on a hi-def screen, its shades of grey rendered into a glistening plasma of strangeness from another era, its soundtrack music once again like a transfixing Circe-call.

        The show was built around a series of story arcs centered upon the rivalry between two decayed families of the series’ eponymous fictional county, the Snopes and the Compsons, the former being relatively low-brow newcomers to the county and the latter being the remnants of an antebellum aristocracy. Interspersed among these ongoing storylines were many stand-alone episodes about various incidents of mystery, horror and evil chicanery. One of the “lost” episodes that had run afoul of 1950s censors focused on one of the Compson boys—a “mental defective” named Benjy—who tried to sexually assault a girl and was then castrated for it. The story was unspooled almost languidly by way of Faulkner’s ornate language, and filtered through camerawork that made the whole thing look like something seen through shifting black-and-white stained glass. But the result was a thing both stunningly frank and surprisingly graphic. A-R wondered if it would meet broadcast standards even now, and he was not at all surprised that it’d been suppressed back in 1959. Another episode uncovered a group of social outliers—some frightful white trash, relatives of the county’s Klan-involved sheriff—who were processing dead humans, some murdered and some grave-robbed, into smoked sausage and decorating their unspeakably filthy pine woods hovel with desiccated and tanned human remains. Some of the series’ horror even ventured fully into the supernatural, with acknowledgements of vampires, specters and voodoo zombies afoot in the county, these made even creepier by the way the characters never seemed to regard any of these goings-on as things outside their ordinary experience.

         A-R had thought about that a lot lately: weird goings-on that weren’t regarded as anything outside the humdrum of day-to-day life on Earth. He’d observed that the “heat bubble” phenomenon that had been blanketing Wisconsin—where Chris persisted in staying for far too long—was generally commented upon as being rather unexpected, but also that no one was particularly concerned with explaining it. Indeed, the only media attention he’d seen devoted to its basic weirdness was on a single broadcast of NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show when Rehm and a climate scientist discussed the topic, the scientist wearily dismissing the whole thing as just another symptom of the world winding down and suggesting that humanity ought to just lie back and accept its obvious impotence over the natural affairs of the universe.

         One multi-episode arc of Yoknapatawpha County’s second season featured in its background a steady rainstorm that had persisted for months without a break. The eeriness of the phenomenon laid not so much with the bare fact of it but rather the characters’ complete nonchalance about it. It was a detail that impinged only incidentally on the events of the main storyline. A truck tire might be mired in mud because of it, or a woman’s hair might be soaked when otherwise it might not have been. But that was all. This reminded A-R of Wisconsin, the heat bubble, and now the temporal disconnect between Wisconsin and the rest of the planet. No one seemed to care about it. It was in front of no one’s attention.

      A-R had had reached season three of the show. The sixth item on the episode guide caught his eye, an episode titled “The Cabinet of Cthulhu.” Its summary stated: “A visiting researcher (Robert Culp) befriends Benjy (Billy Gray) and presses Quentin (James Dean) for the secrets of an ancient seaman’s chest and a hidden cult.”

“WTF?” said A-R aloud, sitting upright, fully articulating it as double-you-tee-eff. Just as the blunt depictions of unvarnished racism, social decay, cannibalism and incest from other episodes seemed out of synch with the utopian cultural mindset of the era in which this show had been made, so, too, did a reference to the Cult Cthulhu, a thing you heard about and encountered routinely nowadays but which did not seem like a thing that could even have existed in the made-up halcyon myth age of 1950s America. Like Mormons, he thought. They were certainly around back then, but you didn’t see boys on bicycles wearing ties every single day like you do now. Nor boys with tentacle chains around their necks stocking weird-looking fruit in the grocery store.

    He clicked WATCH.

Thanksgiving NaNoWriMo excerpt

melonThis is some real first-draft unedited business here, just a segment from my NaNoWriMo project that I came up with to tie into Thanksgiving. I submit it here in honor of the holiday, not because I think it was worth writing for any other reason. It is from the middle section of a trio of interconnected novellas, and so will make little to no sense to anyone in this stand-alone way. But it's got to do with dinner.

"Spatchcock"
from The Curve and the Cairn

Lastain claimed never to have had in her entire life an actual Thanksgiving dinner. Her expression soured after she said this. She pursed her lips over the rim of her glass and sipped her drink. A-R told her that this was an absurd assertion: “Everybody in this country has at one time or another had a Thanksgiving dinner—even if it was a really shitty one. It’s embedded in our cultural DNA.”

            But Lastain persisted that her family had never honored the holiday properly, instead doing things like going to movies and eating popcorn, or running through fast food drive-thrus and eating in the car. A-R wondered if, during these times, she had been thankful for anything. Because, if so, then this too could have been a form of Thanksgiving dinner, albeit a shabby one. She said nothing at first, but peered at him darkly, sipping her drink. Then: “You have always been so snobbish about stuff like this, Arthur. Not everybody’s dad was a celebrity chef, you know. Hardly anyone has a kitchen this nice in their house!”

            “I’m not talking about the food.” A-R reddened, felt his ears get hot, and he looked inside the refrigerator. “I am talking about an unavoidable, deeply encoded cultural norm in America.”

            As if to defuse further clashes between A-R and Lastain, Haider interrupted with his assessment of the holiday and its fare: “Turkey, mashed potatoes, Stove Top Stuffing, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole and sweet potatoes with marshmallows on them.”

            “Barbarism,” muttered A-R, still examining the contents of the refrigerator. Lastain sighed loudly behind him.

            “And you watch football on TV.” Haider leaned back, ass on the countertop, satisfied. Case closed, he seemed to say.

            “Whatever.” A-R sighed and reached for a bottle of white wine. “You two are missing the point. Tomorrow night we will have Thanksgiving dinner together and I will show you how it’s properly done.” He looked at Lastain. “No snobbery, I promise!”

            “Arthur. It’s January.” Lastain pushed her glass forward, hopeful of a refill.

            “It doesn’t matter. Thanksgiving can happen any day of the year.”

           

            A-R wrote the menu with a chisel-tipped Sharpie on a sheet-pan sized piece of parchment:

TURKEY IN TWO STYLES w/natural pan gray

CELERIAC SMASHED POTATOES
CREAMED CHARD AND KALE, gratineed yo!

ROASTED WINTER SQUASHES AND RADISHES

OYSTER STUFFING w/pancetta FTW!

MAMA STAMBERG’s CRANBERRY RELISH!! fuck yeah!

PUMPKIN PIE w/whipped sour cream

            Beneath this list, with a fine-point Sharpie, and in much smaller letters, he wrote his grocery list, checking the pantry as he went for items he might already have. When the list was finished, Hurricane jumped atop the steel island and examined it. “Coeurl,” he said. And, “Mew.”

            “Did I remember everything, kiddo?” A-R bent low to accept a nose-kiss from the cat. Hurricane emitted a loud purr, gazed at his human for a moment, and then leapt away, back about his day’s business. A-R added one more item to the list: cat food. Then he took a picture of the list with his iPhone, grabbed keys and left for the store.

            He decided to try the new supermarket that had recently opened on the former site of a desolated strip mall. It was called Circus of Foods, and rainbow flags flew gaudily, gleefully from its concrete ramparts. Having been raised by two dads, A-R could not see a rainbow-anything without thinking GAAAAYYY. But he doubted that this was likely the store’s proprietor’s intent.

            He passed through the broad entrance, grabbed a cart and turned left into the large produce section. Assessing it’s vastness and variety, he made a mental note to send Chris here—if Chris ever returned from Wisconsin. Celery, carrots, celeriac, garlic, parsley, chives, A-R said to himself, trying to tick off as much of the vegetal section of his list as possible before resorting to looking at his phone image of it.

            A big bin caught his eye. It was heaped with a large red-purple fruit with bright green and yellow fibers growing wildly from its skin. He had never seen anything like it. He picked one up. It was heavy for its size, fist-sized and cool. “It’s fantastic, isn’t it?” said someone. He looked to his right. A boy in the store’s uniform stood there, moving more of the fruits from a big box into the bin. The kid’s blue shirt collar splayed open to expose a necklace: steel charms in the shape of curvy tentacles hung from a knotted leather strap. Cult Cthulhu, A-R thought. But said, “What are they?”

            “They’re called kudzu fruit,” said the kid. He grinned. “They’re delicious!”

            Not on the menu: A-R took two anyway.

            Chopping an onion:

            Arthur-Rimbaud did it first, shedding its skin, halving it from root to stem, sweeping its ends to the side. He laid one half on its flat cut surface and quickly sliced through it in many close cuts perpendicular to where the root had been. Then he turned the thing slightly widdershins and sliced again, rendering the half to tiny dice. “Like this,” he said to Haider.

            Haider had just asked how properly to dice an onion, professing that he’d attempted it and occasionally seen it on a TV show, but had fallen short in accomplishing the task himself. “I’ll teach you,” A-R said, “by making you do it yourself.”

            Lastain sighed. “Oh Jesus Christ,” she muttered.

            A-R glanced at her, said, “We need a ton of onions anyway.” He pulled from the basket another onion “Here,” he said, setting it upon the board, handing Haider from across the steel prep island the ceramic knife, handle-first. “I will talk you through it.”

            “You did that so fast,” said Haider.

            A-R wondered, “Are you left-handed or right-handed?”

            Haider pursed his lips, nodded slowly. “It kind of depends. I’m kind of bi.”

            Lastain snorted behind A-R.

            “OK,” A-R said, “let’s say you were hacking to death a zombie during combat in Ruhrapenthe, in which hand would you be holding your war ax or machete?”

            “The right,” said Haider, no hesitation. He grabbed the onion.

            “Hold it against the board,” A-R said, “on its side. Yes, like that.” He watched Haider position the knife for the first cut. “Now, cut. One slice. Take off that end.”

            “And again. The other end. As close as you can to that root.”

            Haider did as he was told. Next, A-R showed him how to make a shallow cut through the skin from end to end and then peel away the papery layer.

            “I know how to do that, dude,” Haider said, gazing at his peeled onion. “But what I don’t get is how you get it diced without chopping it all to fuck.”

            “You’re making a big mistake,” Lastain said, rather dryly. “Letting Arthur think that he knows something that you don’t.”

            “Ignore her. Listen to me.” A-R grinned at Haider and was surprised that he smiled back. “Now do what I am doing.” A-R grabbed the remaining intact half from his onion and pretended that he had a knife in his hand. He positioned the end of its imaginary blade against the onion’s white flesh. “You put the tip roughly here, just short of the end of the onion, and make one straight slice downward. And then again, as close as you can to the first cut. And so on, et cetera.”

            Haider paused for a second, considered what he had seen, and then botched it entirely by making his first cut in exactly the wrong direction, making half-rings fall from his onion half.

            “OK. Stop.” A-R stepped around the end of the island to Haider’s side. “Don’t freak out. Because I am going to touch you, bro. Don’t go all PTSD cyborg killer on my ass.”

            Haider gazed down at A-R for a moment, as if deciding how to answer that. He laughed. “It’s cool, dude.”

            “It’s like trying to tie someone else’s tie,” A-R explained. “You pretty much have to be standing behind him.”

            Haider frowned.

            “But,” A-R said, “you are enormous, like a furless Chewbacca. So I can’t reach around you from behind and still see what I’m doing. But I can kind of get beside you.” A-R sidled close to Haider, extended an arm in front on him and grasped his knife hand. He took Haider’s other hand with his own left and moved it into place, fingertips against the onion. “Here is where you make the first cut,” he said, carefully positioning Haider’s right hand with his own. “And now. Slice.” Slowly, they did it together.

            Lastain leaned forward, opposite them. “You boys are so fuckin’ sexy right now,” she said. “If you accidentally start making out, I may just wet myself.”

            “Silence, Satan!” A-R hissed. He and Haider made four more cuts together and then A-R released his grip. “Continue, just like that. Try to make each cut as close as you can to the last.”

            Once the final slice was complete, A-R told him to turn the onion half so that he could slice it again, this time perpendicular to the previous set of cuts. “As if you had sliced a zombie from head to toe and then needed to do it again from shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip, just to make sure it was good and really dead.”

            Suddenly confident, Haider did as directed and laid the onion out in fine dice.

           

            The turkey:

            “Doesn’t that turkey,” said Lastain, “take like a thousand hours to bake?”

            “Don't you just stick it in the oven and wait forever?” said Haider.

            “No,” said A-R to Lastain. “Because we’re going to spatchcock it. And no,” he said to Haider, “because we're going to spatchcock it.”

            That’s a preparation, A-R explained, where you cut the bird from throat to ass along its backbone and then pull out the backbone completely, and then flatten the beast for roasting. “But I take it a step further,” he said, tearing through that backbone with a great crunching, once and then again. He cast the long chunk of bony carcass into a steel bowl next to his cutting board. “Because I am also going to completely detach the leg quarters from the breast section.”

            Haider gazed at the bird. Lastain refilled her wine glass.

            “That’s the dark meat,” A-R clarified. “The part that Americans have been conditioned to despise but which is actually the best part, as soon you will learn.” He flipped the breast chunk over, cavity up. “I am also going to knock off these wing tips—” more crunching—“and very carefully take out the rib cage and the entire keel bone.” Haider leaned in closer, more interested.

            “It's like busting down a zombie, isn’t it?”

            “Actually,” Haider said, “it kind of is!” He looked more closely, watching A-R carefully pare the breast meat loose from its bony superstructure. “Except I’d just take that knife and whack the fucker straight through the middle of that sternum or whatever it is.”

            “Perhaps, but in this case I am trying to keep the whole breast-slash-wing section in one piece, just minus most if its skeleton.”

            Lastain wondered why.

            “So that we can still have a brief Norman Rockwell moment,” said A-R, “with something that vaguely looks like a classic intact Thanksgiving turkey out of a vintage Good Housekeeping mag. Before we eat the fuck out of it.”

            This explanation struck everyone as very funny for some reason, and they paused in the food prep for a bout of laughing, followed by a cigarette break. After a few minutes, after Lastain had stubbed out her smoke, she grasped A-R’s shoulder and said, “Though I have been giving you a hard time ever since you suggested this, I think I actually get what you are doing. What you really mean with your cornball spirit of Thanksgiving nonsense.” She leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead. “So, really, thank you for doing this with us today. It is actually, somehow, fun.”

            Gently stunned, Arthur-Rimbaud stepped back. “But we have barely started cooking. And we have not eaten yet.”

            “But that’s not really the point, is it?” she said.

            A-R gazed at Lastain, not sure how to answer.

            Behind him, Haider examined the dissected turkey. “So what’s next?” he said.

Better to NaNo late than not at all

cairnimThough November 12 is a hopelessly late date to start this year's participation in National Novel Writing Month, I've decided to do it anyway. I am going to give myself a whopping 22,000-word head start by incorporating an already-written novella into the plan...but I won't count that toward my 50K to "win." So what's the point of this massive cheat, then, you may wonder? It's to motivate me to finish a much larger story, which I will take to 75K before declaring NaNo victory, assuming I make it to that threshold by end of the month. But if I do not log 50K in new words before the end of the month, then I will not claim my winner badge (but I still did the obligatory fake cover!).

This is the plan: I will put together a triptych of inter-related novellas involving the same characters. The first part of it will be the already-written "Love Me, He Said, and Turned Away Forever," most of which I posted on this journal in 2011. The second section will be titled "Taste the Blood of Lastain" and will focus on the character Arthur-Rimbaud who was only seen in Skype calls during the first section, and it will cover what he was up to while his counterpart in the other section was having bizarre misadventures. And then the third segment, titled "The Cairn and the Curve",  will involve the reunion of the protags from parts one and two and their confrontation with GREAT DRAMA! And HORROR!

This mostly-new work involves a group of characters that I have been tormenting since my 2009 (winner!) NaNo project The Days of the Dust and the Diane Rehm Show, and which I revisited in an alternate universe kind of way in the short story "The Cairn" (published in Library of the Living Dead's 2010 anthology Zombiality: A Queer Bent on the Undead). But in this new tale of their lives, they struggle in yet another vaguely Lovecraftian alternate universe where Cthulhu cultists are as ordinary as Mormon missionaries and climate change isn't any longer a subject of politics because it's become the giant freaky-deaky regular fact of everyday life.

And there will be zeppelins again, because airplanes can't navigate the Dust.



Reflections on my NaNoWriMo Fail 2010

I'm disappointed that I didn't finish NaNoWriMo this year, both because I hate not doing things that I say that I will do, and also because I now fear for the future of my story that I have grown quite fond of. I worry that I will let it sit idle and that any momentum I may have had on it will evaporate. On the other hand, I am still into the story and have added words to it since the NaNo period ended. So if I want to tell this story, I don't really need the NaNo pressure to do it, right? But what went wrong in November?

1) I was just too damned busy to do it all. "Not enough time" is a totally lame excuse. It's the absolute number one lame excuse of lames excuses for people say they'd like to write something and then never do it. Writing just plain takes a whole ton of time, and if you want to do it at any length, then there is nothing else you can do other than just make the time by carving it out of other time-using activities that you value less than writing. But I don't feel like a total slacker on this count, because here are some of the things that occupied my November time other than writing: I published two books, released an issue of my magazine, read for and edited another issue of it, tended to the day-to-day chores of my home, lived lovingly with my partner, watched some of the Halloween DVR cache from TCM, tweeted and blogged and Facebooked, drank a bunch of wine, ate dinner nightly, drank a bunch of beer, cooked dinner almost nightly, took periodic showers, ate ice cream, jerked off, hosted a Thanksgiving gathering, cuddled with kitties, and--oh yeah!--worked about 225 hours at my day job and slept about 190 more. And I still did get about 30K done on the story, so I don't think I was a total slouch during that month. But I did over-extend myself, and the way I keep being late on all my M-Brane deadlines is a result of that. 

2) My story was pretty complex. If I had come up with something that could have taken the form of a straightforward linear narrative with just a couple of important characters and a plot that was either fully outlined or reasonably laid out in my mind before November 1, I might have been able to have just banged out the words at full speed and made it to the finish line. But, no,



instead, I came up with Boy, Converged (Mixed Media on Canvas, 2111), which is intended to be a small-scale science-fantasy epic...if that makes sense. What I mean by small-scale "epic" is that the scope of the action and the number of people involved in it is fairly small, but the space in which it plays out and the final outcome of it is possibly quite large and dramatic. So it's not a vast space opera or a sprawling adventure. It's quite narrowly focused on a single character and his strange circumstances which may or may not have wider implications for his world. But it ranges over four different worlds, which can be considered alternate timelines, and the protagonist exists in all of them and is, at some level, aware of his strange existence in four universes. These worlds are a romantic inhabited Mars (plenty of homage to ER Burroughs' Barsoom as well Kim Robinson's realistic Mars), a contemporary 21st century "real" world, a post-Apocalyptic city isolated from the rest of the world (some homage there to Delany and Dhalgren there), and a steampunkish alternate-future London. A series of parallel circumstances in each of this milieus leads the four incarnations of the protagonist into contact with the other main character, with whom he falls in love each time. And in each of these scenarios he encounters the titular piece of artwork which seems to mean something...but what? The answer to that question remains unknown and might be a big part of why I had a lot of trouble progressing on this story through the month. Also, I spent a ton of time on Mars and in the post-apocalypse city, but very little in Steam Age London and very little in the contemporary timeline. So the more I wrote, the bigger the holes that needed backfilling became. I knew it wasn't going to be a truly complete novel at 50K words even if I had made it to that, but now I think it might need something well above 100K to finish it.

Now I wonder if I will continue in earnest and get it done or if it will languish in its spot on the hard drive. I think I will continue with it, but at my own pace. It's fucking December after all. December!

Another NaNo excerpt (perhaps the last before NaNo Fail!)

This one is also from the Mars subplot... 

Dear Arthur-Rimbaud,
I don’t know how soon this letter can reach you. Where are you now? I have no idea. With luck, you are on Earth, but I’ll assume the worst and that you’ve gone to Venus and that a reply is many days away. Do you ever think about what you have done to me, sending me to Mars and into the thrall of Carthoris? I can tell you that the romantic pop-culture Terran notion of the jeddaks and warlords of Mars as being some kind of noble princes sublime in their virtue is wholly ridiculous. Carthoris, at least, is nothing but a fraud, a poseur, a crass party-boy, a liar and perhaps even a monster. He is, at the very least, my personal nemesis at the moment.
Dear A-R, I think I may have fallen in love here in the palace of Kasei Vallis. Not with Carthoris as was intended—and as should have been obvious from my previous letters to you—but with this young cook, Dagen, who works here, the chef of the day-to-day kitchen. He looks like the food he cooks: shimmering, bright, piping with steam; he smells like it, too: sweet, sour, bitter, like half-alien spices gathered in the wilds of Olympos. Carthoris discovered my liaison with this servant, and he, the tyrant Carthoris, who can and does have all the lovers he could possibly ever want, has decided that I may not have any but him. For some bizarre reason, the prince who cares for no one has decided to be jealous of me. He has placed Dagen under arrest. He makes him sit in a disgusting jail cell in a disused wing of the palace. It’s nearly as miserable for the rest of the household as it is for Dagen since the cuisine has suffered horribly in recent days.
I know what you’ll say, A-R, that this whole situation is my own stupid fault. If I had fulfilled my assignment here, gained Carthoris’ confidence as I was expected, and never wandered into the kitchen in the first place then my boy Dagen would never have suffered so (by virtue of having never had the misfortune of having met me). But that’s not why I am writing to you now. I need you to examine the attached image and tell me what in hell it is.
At first glance, it appears to be a painting of a man peering into a pool, reflected in a haze of water or painterly plasma. But then look at it again. Does it look differently now? Is there still a reflection there? Or are there several reflections, images within images? And does the position of the man change? Does he sometimes stand instead of kneel? A strange visual phenomenon surrounds this painting, and it survives even in photos of it and copies of copies of copies of photos. One can even alter these photos electronically, and its weirdness persists. 
A-R, the original of the painting is here in Carthoris’ palace, in his bedroom, in fact. It was created by Dagen, and it consists of layer upon layer of—I think—paints and charcoal and inks and pastels. The jeddak discovered it and brought it to his own quarters (where he lingers in front of it for much of the day) and he demands that I explain it or that I extract an explanation of it from Dagen. He wants me in particular to solve this puzzle because, he says, it is an image of me! Look at it, A-R, and tell me: is this really an image of me? I can’t tell, and it’s hard for me to look at it. I was allowed to speak with Dagen in jail this morning and I asked him. He says he painted it almost a year ago, long before he ever met me. Yet he thinks it could actually be my portrait. He cannot explain how this is possible. I asked him if he could remember why he was inspired to paint it. He says he cannot. I asked him if he can explain its inherent weirdness, why its apparent content shifts and moves from one viewing to the next. He says he has no idea what I am talking about. But Carthoris sees it, too, as does everyone else who has looked at it either in person or in reproduction.
When I look at it, I try not to see myself. I don’t know why, but it fills me with horror. But I do look at it anyway. It’s hard to resist. Sometimes I think the man in the image looks much as I do now in my role as little more than a house-slave of the jeddak of Kasei Vallis. But sometimes I seem to be wearing outré garb, like a character from a Steam-London fantasy novel or a character from an Apocalypse-Then movie. The layers of the image shift somehow and it changes without one being able to actually see the instant of the change.
You have so much science knowledge, A-R. Can you please try to explain this? This is not just to satisfy my curiosity. My own well-being, and Dagen’s more importantly, probably depend upon a resolution to this mystery that will satisfy Carthoris. My god, A-R, could this somehow be an image from real life?

Yours in peril,
J-A
 

NaNoWriMo Update: Failure Ahoy!

I will NOT give up quite yet, but it honestly looks like I could possibly not finish NaNo this year. I really, really want to, but I am so far behind on word count with not even a week to go. Day-jobbery in November has been way intense and time-consuming and I have spent much of the non-day-job time beating down missed deadlines in the M-Brane world. Sigh. Also, my novel-in-process is such a colossal mess of nonsense. I know that one is not supposed to worry about that so much at this stage, but I do anyway because I really love my protagonist and the general gist of my story and I want it to get done somehow and not have it be yet another unfinished file of suck on my computer. I put this excerpt up on Facebook last night, from last night's writing. It's set in the "Mars" thread of the story (there are four very different worlds and interlinked threads that converge at the end, or so I think):

From an overview, for the newcomer, of the singular Kaseian society:
            The first thing a visitor needs to know upon arrival in the capital is that, in Kasei Vallis, the jeddak rules not so much a princedom but an everlasting house party. He is not so much a king as a seductive but quite domineering host. His laws are are more invitations that one ought not refuse. When he drinks, everyone drinks. When he eats, somebody else cooks (but more on that point in a moment).
            The boys of Kasei Vallis—rather more than the girls, it must be said—bear the visible hallmarks of his tastes and obessions: many of their bodies are inked elaborately in livid tattoos—more true of those who were of a certain age when the jeddak was most enthusiastic about skin art. Those younger ones who have fewer tattoos still tend to have their ears and nipples and cocks pierced with rings and bars of tantalum and osmium. What is a fad for the jeddak becomes a lifestyle for the young men of the princedom. When his taste in music shifts, as it frequently does, bands are hastily formed and subsequently disbanded overnight. If he enjoys a TV show, then all Kasei Vallis enjoys it with him. Likewise, new modes conveyance prosper and fail on his whim: it’s motorcars this season, and it will be zeppelins next. Whatever the topic, whatever the detail, currying the jeddak’s favor is always in vogue—except when it’s not. During those seasons, punks coif their hair into outré configurations, adopt a surly manner and profess to give not a damn about the likes and dislikes of their prince. But they come nonetheless to his parlors and party halls when he calls. And soon enough, they again follow his lead. And why do they behave this way? Does the jeddak of Kasei Vallis hold them in thrall by his force of arms, by his authoritarian operation of the levers of the state? No, he does it by sheer force of his charm and beauty, by circuses and bread—more stew than bread, really.
            Which brings me back to the point I was about to make earlier. While Kasei Vallis eats when their jeddak feasts, someone needs to cook that feast. In the deepest warrens of the jeddak’s compound, a kitchen steams and sizzles, its preparation tables heaped with the finest produce of all the Red Planet. If a visitor were to wander into this hidden but fantastic corner of the jeddak’s princely lair, one might find a massive thirteen-eyed stove, blackened by three centuries of nearly continuous use, and standing before it a young man of no particular note other than that it is he who is there and no one else. And when you draw near to that stove and get a closer look at that young man, you will recognize him from as if from a past life that you cannot quite remember having lived. He will not tell you his name, but you will somehow know that it is Dagen and that you have known that name before. This is important: you will seduce him as you suspect he may have seduced you before in another world. When the jeddak eats, it is Dagen who cooks. And now you are in the kitchen of the jeddak, his cook in your large hands.
            So will the jeddak drop dead from poisin in his food? Will you be the slayer of a prince? And if you are, will you remember having done it? Will it be a conscious action, or a  forgotten one, the reason for it lost in the hazel haze of Dagen’s eyes? You will wonder who seduced whom as you step into the throne room, applauded by the Warlords of Mars, feeling vastly powerful yet stripped naked by the cook’s eyes. You will never forget your visit to Kasei Vallis, its sensual delights and horrid excesses, the magnificent and terrible things you did there.

NaNoWriMo again

I'm not sure how I figure I have time for National Novel Writing Month this November, when I am struggling with a number of looming M-Brane Press deadlines (and my whole "real" life, too), but I am determined to try anyway. I had such a good experience with my first attempt at it last year, during which I produced work that I am still not totally embarrassed by, that I think it's worth another go (it also helped stave off the onset of seasonal depression). The set schedule of it, the specific word-count goal, the built-in peer pressure, and the self-imposed need to make good on my own boasting seemed to make just the right working conditions for me to bust out more than 50K words in a month. 

A few posts back, I mulled over some possible ideas for this year's story. As it happens, I won't be picking any of those. Instead, I am going with an entirely new idea that derives from a dream that I had the other night. The novel will be composed of a number of parallel stories all starring the same protagonist, but in different worlds. I picture a more or less contemporary 21st-century world, a post-apocalyptic world, a planetary romance world, and a steam era-style world in alternate realities with somewhat congruent events taking place. The protagonist exists in all of these, but he is probably not just alternate universe versions of someone, but literally the same person who has been somehow spread over these very different but parallel paths. There is a reason for this, and a plan. And a revelation. What any of this is about remains to be seen. I have no idea, and won't probably have any idea until mid-November when I am deeply into it. Oh, and there is a piece of artwork that figures prominently in the story. It is by an unknown artist, and it shows up in a gallery tagged as "Boy, Converged (Mixed Media on Canvas, 2111)." These words are directly from the dream, and they are the title of the novel. That's all I know so far.

Considering NaNo 2010 project

It's only August, but that means that there is only September and October between me and National Novel Writing Month, and it might not be too soon to consider which project I might undertake. This year, I'd like to go into it with more of a plan in hopes that I can write a bit more of a complete manuscript than last year's effort. While I made it past the 50K goal, and while I still think my story was pretty respectable, it was probably at least 25K words short of being a truly complete first draft of a novel because, in my race to reach the end of the story, I left a lot of gaping holes in the middle of it.

Last year I picked the story that I did because the kernel of it had been in my head for a long time but I had written none of it, and I decided that the NaNo project was a good time to try to get it out. So I think that this year I should also go with something that might never get written otherwise. I am considering several idea:

1) A sequel to last year's story. Though it ended in a way that didn't really demand a sequel, I am considering a second story where the "Dust" phenomenon that plagued the world in the first story gets worse and the protagonist rejoins his friend aboard the zeppelin and they have an epic adventure with great implications for the whole world. What those implications are will be determined about November 25 when I am entering the final sequence of the story.



2) A novel-length story set in the Aether Age milieu. The Aether Age itself should be available by then, and it might be fun to write an AeA story and perhaps post it as I go as another way to promote the real book.  The problem with this idea is that I don't really have an idea yet for a new AeA story. I'm considering revisiting some of the characters and situations of the short story that I wrote for the anthology, but their tale might be too small-scale to go on for tens of thousands of words about it. So if I go with AeA as the universe for it, I'll probably pick a different situation and time period entirely. By the way, since AeA is a Creative Commons universe, anyone can write AeA NaNo novels, and it would be cool if someone else did. Who knows? We might even consider publishing it if it's good (I could see a short-ish AeA novel being half of an M-Brane Double sometime next year). 

3) Neglected Project:  A few years ago, my friend Pat and I mapped out the largest part of a science fiction epic, the premise of which is that there is a race of people who have based their entire civilization around using a technique of "quantum manipulation" to sustain the physical needs of their society. Over centuries they have built this into a religion where "penitents" "meditate" in huge cathedrals and cause things to happen in the objective world. To sustain this system, they have attracted other sentient races to live in their solar system and participate in this way of life, sometimes by literally relocating entire planets into orbit of their own sun. Among these people are the descendants of those humans who survived the destruction of Earth's solar system a millennium earlier. The story was intended to focus on a few of these humans and begins when aliens on another "brane" of the universe breach into our physical realm, causing epic calamity across dozens of worlds. The problem with using this project for NaNo, is that it would kind of be cheating since tens of thousands of words of it already exist in various forms. Also, it's too large-scale. There does exist within it, however, a couple of smaller-scale subplots that I could maybe extract and retool into a reimagined version of this otherwise probably permanently stalled project.

4) An erotic planetary romance. I've been tempted for a while to try to write an item with some of the flavor of an old Burroughs or Carter or Brackett sf/f adventure with things like an inhabited Moon and Martian princes and lots of gorgeous scenery and so on, but jam-packed with lots and lots of sex.  This might be the project that I go with since it's one that I haven't even touched yet and may never get to unless I am "forced" to by NaNo.

5) A small-scale tale focused on a few people and the results of a natural disaster, sort of like Ballard's 1960s novels that Aldiss described as "cozy catastrophes." I'm not sure yet what the catastrophe is yet, but I am imaging a small cadre of purposeless, motiveless characters who gradually find some purpose as they contend with what's going on. This idea came out of a dream where I and others grappled with the fact that a huge section of ocean had opened up in the city, as if a portal had joined here and the Atlantic directly.

I'm sure I'll think of some ideas as the time approaches, but I'd like to actually outline something this year before starting. Not like I've ever outlined anything before.

Seasonal Affective Disorder Progress Report

Now that I've made it into mid-February, it seems like a good time and review where I'm at in relation to some goals and predictions that I laid out for myself in this post back in September. At the time, I was feeling physically ill and I was feeling some depression creeping back in, aided by the crappy weather. Yeah, it's really sucked lately with all the snow and ice that we've had here, but we got cheated out of a large portion of our summer/fall season here, too, so I was already sliding into winter malaise even then. 

I resolved to fight against it by setting myself a long and involved list of interesting projects. I decided to ride out the dark season simply by being too busy to think about it a lot. So how did I do? Well, I claimed that I would occupy myself with the following things between 9/22/09 and 1/1/10:

M-Brane SF: publication of issues #9-#12
Things We Are Not: Promotion and sales of it, due out 10/15
Other M-Brane Activities: continue planning for the Aether Age
Other M-Brane Activities: Two or three "secret projects" to be announced later
Personal writing: Finish first full draft of Shame (October)
Personal writing: Revise three or four short stories that have been needing it
Personal writing: NaNoWriMo all November
Blogging: Maintain my own sites as well as my participation with GreenPunk and Outer Alliance

The first three items can be checked off as DONE. I did indeed publish those four issues of M-Brane and Things We Are Not, and Aether Age ramped up in a pretty serious way with my co-editor Brandon Bell recruiting some other creators to help make it a real multi-media extravaganza. We're about to select stories for it and make it real.

The fourth item happened also. The "secret projects" were the trade paperback version of M-Brane #12 and the books The 12 Burning Wheels (Cesar Torres, due 2/22) and Machina (Derek J. Goodman, due 4/1). More such projects are coming. I can think of three probable ones right now. But they're secret.

Now for some Fail. I did not finish the fifth item. I did do some more work on Shame, but did not really "finish" the draft and am still not quite there. Actually, I'll give myself an "incomplete" rather than an "F" on this one.

I didn't really do the next item (revise short stories) at all. I think I opened the files a couple times but that was about it. Indeed, as I sit here writing this entry, I am supposed to be finishing my attempt at an Aether Age story.

But some more success: I did indeed do NaNoWriMo in November and got my little winner's badge (still proudly displayed on the M-Brane SF blog). This was really good for me. It was a real confidence builder. It was a little bit rough getting moving on it during the first couple days, but once I got started, I really enjoyed it. Best yet, I dig my story. It's not terrible at all. If it were ever to be a "real" novel or if I ever wanted to publish it, then it would need a great deal of revision and some expansion as well (it needs to be closer to 75K words, I think, than 50K) but what came out of November is actually some of my best work ever, rough as it may be.

For the last item, blogging, I'll give myself a grade of "C-." I used this LJ as I needed to (it's here as an emotional safety valve), but I neglected the M-Brane SF blog a bit. I kept it updated on zine-related news, but I was hoping to have more articles of general SF interest on it. I still need to work on getting more and better content there. I've been even more neglectful of the Outer Alliance lately, and have done nothing about GreenPunk in ages (note to self: find out if GreenPunk still exists; if not, resuscitate it). But my lack of attention to the blogs is due largely to being quite busy with the other stuff (not to mention my ridiculous day job and sleeping). I am just one person after all.