Monthly Archives: June 2009

Happy Endings

One of my goals for the rest of this year is to work on endings. One of the nice and not so nice aspects of collaborative fiction is often a lacking of endings. I’ve nearly perfected the technique, made famous by M*A*S*H, of stretching a scenario out over multiple installments – much like the Korean War which last but three years in reality but spanned eleven years on television and 251 episodes. But even M*A*S*H had to end and its season finale was one of the most watched TV finales in history. Ah, if only I should be so lucky.

This year may be half way through, but that means it’s a perfect time to search for some endings to some of my tales and some of my characters. I had already made the decision to actually wrap up my modern fairy tale The Midnight People with the help of my fellow writers. It’s a fantasy tale of dark versus light with lots of grey areas in between and it just naturally begs to have a grand finale like when Aragorn claims his throne and saves Gondor with an army of ghosts against the Dark Lord Sauron. It’s good stuff and the meat of the fantasy genre. My story, however, has stalled and waits me to lead it to the crashing crescendo of gore, valor, and dénouement. What causes me to pause in this plunge to the end?

I often wonder if just the thought that the story is to end makes it seem less worth while? I’m not sure if my ambivalent feelings towards reaching the natural climax of a story is something that other writers experience. Is my reluctance to take up the reins of a story that I know will then be finished and done with akin to the feelings that the writers of M*A*S*H felt as they reached the end of their tenure: a mixture of relief to be done and sorrow to have no more to do?

Since I have had such trouble orchestrating the ending of my tale of Elves and Men I have decided to work on some lesser endings. In my modern zombie apocalypse collaborative novel FLESH I have taken several story threads as far as they can interestingly go and still be a zombie story. With all the zombies nearly gone it’s time to wrap it up. Again there is a bittersweet feeling about it as these include several of my favorite characters. But therein lies the rub: no character can go on forever. When it’s time to throw in the towel and call it a night, like poor old Clyde Alden in the 1987 film version of The Witches of Eastwick putting his wife Felicia to her eternal rest, you know it. There is a feeling of ennui around the character or a feeling that you’re forcing things, desperate to find yet one more scenario to throw them into.

Better to take that poker and end their existence with some pride still intact.

Slice of Life

Wyatt’s Day:

  1. Coffee.
  2. Catch up on email, Pan message boards, staff work groups, exchange morning pleasantries with friends online at Pan and Twitter.
  3. Write blog post.
  4. More coffee.
  5. Kiss lady goodbye as she heads off to work.
  6. Post fiction to fiction blog.
  7. Find out why toilet keeps running.
  8. Make some breakfast (eggs and breakfast links)
  9. Write fiction for collaborative role-play novels: Turnskin (werewolves), FLESH (zombies).
  10. Make a chili con carne for the slow cooker.
  11. Root some plant cuttings.
  12. Contribute to reference and zone discussions at Pan like Fleur-de-lis on my most recent gardening adventures, or the Zone : Westerns on some western fun.
  13. Call the mechanic about making an appointment to have the car done.
  14. Laundry.
  15. Put together some shelves bought at Staples so the last of the books from the move can be put away.
  16. Deactivate CS3 on my old computer so it can be activated on the new one.
  17. Clean the apartment.
  18. Pick up best mate from the airport for week long visit.
  19. Eat chili con carne.
  20. Pass out.

I might just jump ahead to the ‘pass out’ part right now just from reading this list. And this doesn’t even include a million and one other little jobs for Pan Historia or my Bardic Web client that needs to be done. I went off to make my second pot of coffee and kiss my lady goodbye between writing the last line and this one and had to add line 7 to the list. Variables could throw a spanner in the whole awesome plan. I might need to be prepared to throw any number of items off the list – but the one thing that is NOT going to be eliminated is writing the fiction.

It’s been a whole week since I have found the time to write fiction. Regardless of life’s fusillade of distractions I will practice what I preach.

Research and Socializing at Pan Historia

One of the distinctive features at the Pan Historia collaborative writing site that I haven’t covered too much in my blogs is the section that we like to call the ‘Reference Library’. Back when Pan was created the theme was definitely of a library. We even used a color scheme that was vellum for interior pages and a green leather background for dust jacket style pages. Eventually the theme loosened up due to the way that the members used the site, but there are still many remnants of the library scheme remaining – like the ‘reference books’ that populate the reference section of Pan.

Reference books are a collection of bulletin boards similar in design to our ‘novels’ but devoted to the discussion of various topics, as well as the dissemination of links, books, and ideas from around the internet. They are a place to kick back with friends and talk about some of the stuff that fascinates you. For instance I am a member of Black & Blue for the discussion of true crime, crime drama, and forensics because I like to write my cop character Red King. I’m also a member of Wild West for the discussion of western history. This book is very handy. When I’m looking for info for one of my posts I might pop over there, but I often find myself posting to share something I have found that I figure will be of interest to other writers. Of course writers can also find more than just reference. We have The Writer’s Block and The Tenth Muse for discussing writing and for poetry respectively.

I recently joined in our Fleur-de-lis reference book to talk about my adventures in gardening. Theoretically I can see that on occasion, as a fiction writer, I might want to find out about a garden plant, but honestly I just joined so I could talk about my plants and hang out with other people in the community that like to garden. There are other books to talk about movies or music, or various periods in history. Our reference books round out the activities on Pan Historia in a very meaningful way: from the purely social to the scholarly, to just being a handy tool for fleshing out your fiction writing.

Not all the people that are drawn to Pan Historia as a community are fiction writers. The Reference Library is a way for them to read and discussion things that interest them, along with the games and general chit chat that is often a signature of the site’s central hub pages. It’s not really a surprise considering how many people first start browsing the internet and using it for more than email by researching a question they have or a topic they are fascinated with. The community at Pan Historia gives them a social aspect to their interests.

Top it all off with an instant messaging system and you’ll never be alone or lacking in things to do or read at Pan Historia. Of course no site is ever perfect and Pan Historia is not excluded from that rule. It’s an ongoing work of social media art as far as I’m concerned and one of the things I would like to see happen is MORE in the Reference Library. Pan also has a blog section but after several years of seeing it in action I realize that blogs, being sort of solitary, are not really the most effective method of interactive at Pan. One of the things I used to include in my blog there was my gardening adventures, but it was sort of static, and static is not what I sign on to Pan for so I moved my focus to the Fleur-de-lis reference book and I’m already have more fun because I’m getting into discussions about my passions.

Why I Love What I Do

Several times I have hit on the topic of the isolation of the writer. After all it’s pretty much just you and your word processor (or for the Luddites amongst us: typewriters or yellow lined pads and a Number 2 pencil). Of course the cliché of the lonely writer pounding on his keyboard is a myth created around the lives of previous writers. Reading an article in the recent New Yorker issue about the teaching of Creative Writing in America breaks through that stereotype to how many writers have learned as part of a group. Self-taught writers might go to local community college workshops or join a writing group on or off line. On Sundays writers join in #writechat on Twitter. The internet has, for many writers, stripped away the isolation and allows for writers to enjoy relationships with their peers and their readers directly.

While I regret the need for writers to be their own publicist these days I don’t regret the moves towards uniting writers with other like-minded people or allowing writers to bridge the gap from written word to the person that is reading that word.

Last night I was logged into my community site Pan Historia and I got a wonderful example of one of the myriad reasons that I love to be involved in a collaborative writing community. One of the members came to me to ask me about whether or not I thought that women during the 19th Century in the Old West would bathe naked or whether they would wear their undergarments. I don’t believe this is a question that could be answered definitively because of the nature of the record from the Victorian Era, but the interaction was fun as we tried to determine what would make a believable historical scene. The person that instant messaged me got immediate feedback and help on what they were writing right in that moment.

When I write a fiction post for one of my collaborative role-play novels there I can get instant feedback – which I hugely enjoy. It’s not always critical feedback, but that’s ok. As writers we need to expand and grow, hone our skills, but more often than not we just want to know that other people are enjoying the tales we spin. By writing and publishing at an online community with like-minded people, both readers and writers of tales, I can interact with my readers and with my fellow writers in one fell swoop. I can get advice, I can find research sources (more on that in a later blog), and I just plain jump up and down to announce my latest effort.

Besides the feedback I get my other pleasure on the site is giving feedback to others. The excitement of logging onto Pan Historia to find a post by one of my writing partners in one of my favorite collaborative novels is akin to seeing the latest book by your favorite author showing up at the local bookstore. With some people it’s just about the pleasure of reading their stuff, but I might enjoy a more critique based relationship with other trusted writers so that we might comment on each other’s work. Another added benefit is that I might get a fresh eye to catch those typos and other errors that slipped by me even though I edit all my work before posting it online.

I know a lot of this sounds like an ad for my own site (and yes, there is an element of shameless plug here) but it’s also probably true for other writing sites that you might have heard of or be involved in. I really think that the potential that resides in the internet is all about social media, interaction, and networking, and not about static information. I actually believe that all this interaction has allowed me to be a writer in a way that I don’t think I could have managed before it. I am far too social an animal to write alone. Having my peers and readers right here at my fingertips, whether on Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, or at Pan Historia, actually liberates and inspires me to write, and to write better.

#WriteChat on Twitter

Right now I’m participating in #writechat – which is a rather cool Twitter phenomena. Every Sunday writers form a free-wheeling chat group in the Twitter stream that weaves in and out of other conversations. Topics are about writing: inspiration, mood, tips, techniques, publishing, etc. For those new or unfamiliar with Twitter, the chat/microblogging platform, hashtags are used to separate out topics and make them easily searchable. If you have software like the Tweetdeck on your computer you can actually create a ‘group’ for any topic you want to follow and it separates them out for you, regardless of whether you follow that person or not.

One of the recurring topics on #writechat is often how such conversations help inspire writing or writers. I don’t really find that to be true. Actually I tend to think of such activities as a bit of procrastination from the act of writing itself. After all if you’re reading a bunch of ‘tweets’ about writing and then jumping in yourself you can hardly be busy at work.

That said I still think it’s a very valuable tool. One of the reasons I’m a big fan of collaborative writing is that I’m a social animal. Traditionally writing has tended to be a lonely business with its fair share of misanthropes in its austere and often dusty ranks. Activities like #writechat connect up different writers to each other and shake out the cobwebs. So even though it doesn’t always lead me to more or better writing, I would be the last one to deny the benefits of just hanging out and getting to know other writers.

And for those that argue that they can see no point in Twitter it’s definitely one of the better uses of the application. It is an excellent Petri dish for meeting and breeding new writers and just one of the examples of how Twitter can be used in a good way to increase connections between people, rather than magnify the modern malaise of alienation, as many detractors of social media claim.