Tag Archives: fiction

Panopeia Begins

I’m pretty excited about the latest developments at my collaborative writing site Pan Historia.  Traditionally Pan has always maintained a high level of privacy for its membership – it’s a place to feel safe in the maelstrom of the internet where you don’t know who is reading, who is watching, and who might make off with your most prized piece of prose.  It’s also allowed people to feel free to experiment with personas and characters that they might not otherwise feel if using their own names on a site freely available to be viewed by all. While this has always fostered a deeper sense of community with our writers and role players, as well as safety and trust, it has made it a lot harder for people new to the site to see what we’re doing and to feel like they’re welcome joining in.

A few weeks ago we decided it was simply time to open up our community daily postings to the general public (i.e. it is not necessary to be logged in or registered to the site to read these posts) to better give possible newcomers a chance to savor the flavor of the site.  Of course this led to our wonderful volunteer administrators to discuss the best ways to increase the activity on the dailies and how to make them more representative of the site as a whole.  This led to the creation of Panopeia, a new collaborative story play that happens outside the context of the rest of Pan’s novels (collaborative story lines that can include anything from two to a hundred writers working together on one theme/story), that allows people to use their creativity and their current characters.  It’s also totally open to newcomers to the site.  Of course it’s possible to read without joining Pan, but if you want to write you will have to register.

Some of our admin, staff as we call them at Pan, are portraying characters that are holding the keys to the mystery of Panopeia, which is currently taking place in an strange and supernatural hotel, in order to help guide the story, and keep all the elements straight, but otherwise the possibilities are pretty wide open.  This is a great way to get an introduction to what we do at Pan, and from there I am genuinely hopeful that people will find their way deeper into the site to enjoy all our other features and stories.  One of the greatest pleasures I have at Pan, as I stretch my writing muscles over dozens of stories, is finding new writers to interact with.  Instead of writing being a solitary lonely business at Pan it is a social one, where new lifelong friends have been made (and a few marriages too!).

As Panopeia grows and develops I’ll report more on this social experiment in writing and its impact on Pan.


My Writing Apprenticeship at Pan Historia

I earned my writing chops at Pan Historia.  Day in and day out, for more than ten years, I have logged in to my alternate self.  In the halcyon early days I am quite sure that I was averaging probably a thousand words a day easy, some days more, some days less.  The stories were numerous and varied.  I like a lot of different genres, and sometimes I found that what I liked to read was different from what I like to write.

I wrote historical fiction set in Ancient Egypt, the American West, and sometimes Rome.  I wrote science fiction, particularly beloved was the now sadly lost in time and space, “Forever is Far Too Long” (please forgive me if I slaughtered the title).  Forever was the brain child of one of my closest friends, a writer of amazing imagination and craft.  It was a real challenge not only to occupy a world created by her, but to occupy a character created by her.  I hope I rose to the occasion.  I know I surely learned a great deal.  I feel like it was a sort of apprenticeship.  I also wrote noir detective fiction with a fun bunch in our grand “Marlowe Detective Agency“.  That was an idea of brilliance, if I say so myself.  When I look at the way that people’s attention spans have shortened, even in the last ten years, it’s probably impossible to do now, but basically each episode was a complete mystery.  One person wrote the detective, and it was the detective’s job to actually solve the mystery the other writers crafted for him. Later on I moved to horror. I have never been a big fan of horror movies, but I have always enjoyed horror fiction from Edgar Allan Poe to Shirley Jackson to Stephen King.  I found great joy in crafting tales of dripping ickiness to disturb and creep out my readers.  I discovered I have something of an ability in creating villains that people love to hate.

For a long time I was so involved in my exploration of the American West through the eyes of Wyatt Earp and his brothers that I had great, and rather grandiose, plans for writing a fictional autobiography of his long life that was going to be so historically precise, and so magically astute as to his psychic and emotional landscape that it was going to be the final word on the subject.  The desire to take what I had learned from my near daily collaborative and role-play writing to a novel has always seemed to be a natural progression to me.  But for a long time I couldn’t get started. It seemed like I had this great idea, enough passion for the project, and yet I continued to divert myself with the small episodic posts in the collaborative environment.  The good was that I was writing everyday; the bad was that I wasn’t moving forward on my long term goal.

Finally I realized it was the project itself that was bogging me down.  My scheme was too research laden, too definitive, and too constrained by my own expectations and the structure of history.  My character, Wyatt Earp, couldn’t breathe. I simply knew too much about him, and yet too little at the same time.  My version of Wyatt Earp, the one I have now been writing for ten years, is not the same as the historical.  He’s grown into a very complex, and intelligent man, with a gift for the gab – which the real Earp never had.  I realized that I didn’t have to finish this project just because I had decided on it years before. In fact, after finally writing a version of the shootout at the OK Corral for my collaborative version on Pan, I realized that I had already written volumes on the man, and that my legacy to him was there – on the boards.

I was free to pick a different project.  Now I’m fifteen chapters and over 30,000 words into that novel, and I feel great about it.  My writing is solid (but there is always room for improvement!).  My ability to structure the novel and plot it has been aided by ten years of collaborative writing, but I’m missing the collaborative element.  With that in mind I am considering a coauthor, someone that has worked with me on this story as it existed on Pan Historia.  I’m hoping that another set of eyes will rectify the mistakes, point out the inconsistencies, and increase the liveliness.  What better way to build upon the many positive foundations that Pan Historia has provided me with?


Discerning Between Your Inner Critic and Your Inner Low Self-Esteem

From Wikipedia:

The critic is considered to be the dialectic of genius. This insight was formulated early by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing as “not every critic is a genius, but every genius is born a critic…genius has the proof of all rules within itself.” Kant scholar Jane Kneller has read this to indicate that, as opposed to the externally oriented and culturally dependent critic, “genius demonstrates its autonomy not by ignoring all rules, but by deriving the rules from itself”.

Derivation:

The word critic comes from Greek κριτικός (kritikós), “able to discern”, which is a Greek derivation from the word κριτής (krités), meaning a person who offers reasoned judgment or analysis, value judgment, interpretation, or observation.

Every November I get a little queasy and uncomfortable.  That’s because it’s National Novel Writing Month.  It’s not that I’m directly opposed to the concept of writing a 50,000 word novel in a month – after all it can pull you out of writer’s block, or any other self-imposed hurdles that keep you from actually producing a body of work, instead of just talking about it, and it could turn writers into authors.  It’s the emphasis that it puts on just throwing words at the page, seemingly without discrimination or concern for the finished body of work.

I put out a tweet a few days ago stating my concern:

I think one of my main objections to nanowrimo is that writing a novel isn’t just about throwing words at the page. Sometimes you need to take scissors to it.

I got some flack there.  Apparently there is plenty on the nanowrimo forums about it being a draft, etc., but that’s not my point.  My point isn’t that you produce a finished polished work in a month at lightening speed, because that’s rarely possible, unless maybe you’re someone prolific like Stephen King.  My point is that the whole flurry of tweets, posts, blogs, and so forth creates an atmosphere that seems to negate the self-critic.  It doesn’t focus attention on the hard work that needs to be done to create a book, ready for public consumption.  It’s part of the whole, to me disturbing, lack of discrimination that I see, as if producing art was easy, something anyone can do anytime, and that it doesn’t take dedication, commitment, and a hard long apprenticeship.

I remember I was teaching drawing some years back at a college, and I had a difficult student.  She was sullen, reluctant, and didn’t want to do the work.  The quality was poor, even though she was coming to class and doing the homework.  I asked her what the problem was, and she replied that she was a painter, and she was forced to take drawing, but there was simply no point to it!  I feel the same about the writer that only emphasizes self-experience and getting the words out at the cost of actually honing the craft, learning what works and what doesn’t.

That is where I listen to my lovely self-critic.  The muse may inspire, but the critic gets out the scissors.  I love my critic.  He walks with me every step of the way.  Sometimes I override him, but we have a good collaborative relationship, so he doesn’t take it hard, or say “told you so” when it all goes wrong.  Sadly, all too often, the critic gets the boot from people’s writing practice because he gets blamed for that which he is not responsible for: the nagging negative voice of low self-esteem.  The critic believes you can do it, but just wants to help you do it better.  Low self-esteem doesn’t even want you to try.  Critic will tell you off for wasting time playing mindless games, always pushing you to achieve your goals, reminding you that time is finite (don’t kid yourself it’s not), and that the best time to get your dreams accomplished is now.  Low self-esteem is always telling you that a game is better, or cleaning, or laundry, or you can do it tomorrow.

Critic is willing to tell you the hard truths: that page is crap – do it again.  Low self-esteem will say: that page is crap – just toss it out and go back to bed.  If you are truly listening to your inner critic, and now your low self-esteem, a lot of time the news is good: this idea rocks; you are doing great; don’t listen to that agent that doesn’t think your work will sell; wow, didn’t you write a lot today.  Critic misses you when you’re not writing, and tries to remind you to do it.  Low self-esteem just tells you you’re a loser for not writing.

Discerning the difference can be tough, but it’s worth the challenge.  One needs to be ignored, overridden, and combated.  The other needs to be taken on as a partner in the endeavor, for he has many words of wisdom to impart.

Back to nanowrimo – it’s fine idea, as long as you take your critic along for the ride.


I Have Never Shot a Gun…

“Write what you know.”

Boy, that’s getting to be the old chestnut of writing advice.  It’s also hugely misleading.  The kernel of truth in it is that whatever you writing should have authenticity.  Don’t let people catch you out in ignorance.  It trips up the reader when they totally figure out that the author has no idea what they are talking about.

This advice is not about, however, only writing from personal experience.  If we all did that the fictional landscape would be one helluva a boring place.  The whole point of fiction is to take you someplace you <b>don’t</b> know.  At least it is for me and probably the majority of readers.  Very few people pick up a book to escape into a reality so like theirs it is indistinguishable.  What they want to do is be able to relate to the characters in the book, but not meet any old regular joe.  They want to go to the far reaches of the galaxy, or to ride the Pacific Union Railroad with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid waiting for them around the bend to blow up the safe.

Even if you’re reading something that is contemporary you want to peek into the mind and heart, or maybe the madness, of someone you don’t know.  You might be able to relate, but you aren’t them, and they aren’t exactly anyone you know either.

The real key to writing what you know is to research and make sure you get the details right, even if it is pure and utter fantasy, and then inject your personal experience into the story to render it authentic.  You might not have been born in the 1900s but you can relate to something so tight fitting it makes it hard to breathe, you understand what riding a train is like, and you know the fear that the threat of violence brings.

Every character should be a little bit of an autobiography because you’re reaching inside yourself to imagine something completely, but that doesn’t mean you know what’s like to be a serial killer, or vampire, or a space cowboy 400 light years from home.  Every character is also a little bit of biography because you’re grabbing stuff from people you know.  Even the most ordinary friend has a bit of the extraordinary you can pilfer to bring your characters to life.

Always authenticity is key, so really the old chestnut should read: “write from the heart, and then even what you don’t know will come to life for your readers”.


Procrastination Bites!

You know the score. You’re supposed to be writing. Instead you find your eyelids drooping and a powerful urge to sleep coming on. Or you start clicking those stupid little games in FaceBook or you open your version of Spider Solitaire. Just a few games… honest. Then you’ll get back to writing. Or maybe you’re the type that will start cleaning the house or doing the laundry… oh shit, hold on, I just have to put the wash in the dryer now, be right back…

Ok, now where was I? Oh yes, procrastination – the bugbear of the would-be writer. Or maybe even the nemesis of all writers? Possibly so. Wait? Do I hear the siren call of a completely different writing project all my name? You know, something like a blog, or maybe even a new collaborative writing project at your favorite online writing community? Whatever it is – something is always keeping you from finishing your novel, that is, if you are at all like me.

So what are your favorite distractions? What’s your laundry list of things that suddenly need doing urgently every time you sit down to write and how the heck do you conquer those distractions and interruptions?

Games? Close the program. Delete the software. Social networking? Turn off the Twitter. Other writing projects? Perhaps time management is required. Too tired? What do you need to eliminate from your day that is a waste of your time so you’ll be able to find the time, space, and energy to write?

I want to hear from YOU.


Jerk that Pistol: Firing into the New Year

I was talking with someone the other day about New Year’s resolutions.  The person I was talking to was negative in response – citing their unwillingness to succumb to peer pressure to state unattainable goals.  I made some kind of blithe return that I didn’t necessarily believe in ‘resolutions’ as such, but I did try and set myself some goals.  Here is one right now:  I resolve not to talk out of my ass so much.  The concept of resolutions and making goals are so similar as to be totally interchangeable.

 

Having stated I would make no resolutions (but would have goals, insert eye roll here) I immediately started making resolutions.  This got me curious.  Where does this tradition of New Year’s resolutions come from?  A quick google around the internet revealed that it goes back to Roman times, and involves making promises of good deeds to the Roman god Janus.  Janus is the one with two faces, one looking back and one looking forward.  Ok, I can totally get behind a Roman tradition.  Romans kick ass (please don’t tell my Egyptian characters how much I love Romans).  Of course for hundreds of years New Year’s resolutions were quite attainable: I will a pile of gold to the poor, I will return the chariot I stole from my neighbor, I will marry the girl I knocked up, etc.

 

Somehow, over the years, the resolution came to be some personal goal of self-improvement.  Which is, apparently, the reason that fewer and fewer New Year’s resolutions actually get followed through on, with most people giving up after just a couple months.  Giving a charitable donation is a very achievable goal; becoming a better person is not.  Just think of all the people determining right this minute that they will lose weight, write every day, be nicer to the people they despise, or exercise more?  Are you going to be one of them?

 

I resolve to write a novel this year.  I already started it.  I have the books I need for research.  I’m not going to tell you how many hours a day I plan to write, or any other writerly self-improvement resolutions that I will probably break before I get a week or two into the New Year.  I am simply going to set myself an achievable goal: I will finish my book.

 

There.  Done.

 

What about you?


To Publish, or Not to Publish, That is the Rub…

back cover art for Panthology artwork by Jack KnightHaving spent quite a few months working on the Panthology it’s time to ask myself: what’s next? I’m happy to get back to reading and writing in my collaborative novels at Pan Historia, but ultimately I thrive on goals and projects that can yield tangible achievements. Writing on Pan is the most pleasurable form of exercise I know, but I still consider it exercise. It’s social, it’s fun, it’s interactive, but the end of the day it’s building things that last that I enjoy the most. Tinkering with the structure of Pan is something that gives me great satisfaction and joy as I strive to increase membership and participation by increasing the ease and functionality of the site. Of course I’m only a tinkerer when it comes to site construction but I believe that Pan reflects its users to a large degree. It’s not so much about bells and whistles and high tech apps, but about being a comfortable place to express one’s imagination. Writers just need to write, ultimately.

Perhaps that explains my mild obsession with publishing Pan Press books? I mean the logical conclusion of a writer’s work is to be published. It’s as old as the hills—or as old illuminated manuscripts anyway. To be published is to be real, genuine, accepted, legitimate. Technically it’s considered a form of publishing to post material, such as this blog, on the internet for others to read, but both you and I know it’s not what WE mean, as authors, when we say we are “published.” Even when we boast, as I have done, of my status as a “published” author deep down in my heart I want that book with pages of vellum, binding, rabbit skin glue, and black ink. This is probably why authors, as a group, are the most resistant to the idea of eBooks. It’s not quite… printed… is it? Of course it is, and I would be thrilled to be selling millions of copies of my novel in eBook format, but that will never cure my schoolboy crush on the first object of my desire: the book; either paperback or hardback.

So what is next? Besides going back to work on my own novel, a supernatural/horror adventure, I think I will prepare one of my collaborative novels, FLESH, from Pan for publication. Like the Panthology it will be a collection of writers, but this time we will bring the whole stories. It will be a challenge to edit the pieces together in order to tell each story (it will be a collection of about 4-5 stories set in a post-apocalyptic world where a virus has turned people into zombie-like killing machines). Zombies are hot items, and some of the stories are really very good with some great writers from the site. This is a piece that I feel has merit beyond the site, and can engage a larger audience of readers from hardcore zombie fans to general horror lovers. I would love to see if I can expand beyond members of the community and engage the interest of other readers for our publications. If it’s even mildly successful it opens the door for any number of such projects for any number of genres represented at Pan.

Illustration by Jack Knight