Warding Off Entropy

Entropy, in simple terms, is the eventual dissolution of organization into chaos.  Entropy, in creative terms, is the month of March.

This is going to be a long one, so take a minute to grab a beverage.

Historically speaking, January through February tend to be my most creative months.  In the last ten years or so the time period immediately following the end of the year has been a period of mental relaxation.  My previous place of employment experienced its busiest season in the latter portions of the year due to various tax related rules which I’ll not get into here, and considering the aforementioned weight which I carried there, the last quarter of the year was cognitively taxing.

Each new year, though, actualized with a lifting of said weight; again, for tax related reasons I’ll not get into here.  Simultaneously, my compatriots in amateur authorship would often hold a competition in the early months of the year.  These two things together would act as a lens, keeping my creative energies focused on a task.  These competitions typically last through January, into the middle of February but as February draws to a close that lens becomes unfocused.  Throughout the month of March my creative energies wander on to other tasks.  They become scattered and diffused into various prospective endeavors; few, if any, of which coalesce into tangible results.

This year I was hoping would be different.  This year I have the Warning Signs blog to keep me focused.  A simple, casual, creative task which allows me to clear the clutter on a semi-regular basis and, hopefully, make way for more artistic endeavors to shine through.  Or at the very least, keep my brain in a creative place.  To this end there has been some degree of success, but not nearly as much as I’d hoped.

I said before that I’d have liked for March to be “In like a lion, and out like a moderately sedated lion.”  That is, I had a list of things I wanted to accomplish, and I was hoping to finish out the month with an ongoing project which I could continue into April.  In no particular order those things were:

 

  1. Write 10,000 (non-Blog) Words, creatively.
  2. Revise Old Stories, post to Blog. (Done)
  3. Revise New Story, “Try Your Luck” and post to Blog. (Done)
  4. Revise New Story, “A Newer Model” and post to Blog
  5. Write the Fish Tale
  6. Write the Time Travel Story
  7. Remain Active on Blog and expand Social Media Presence (Done)
  8. Continue work on Mauwale (Novel)

 

I didn’t accomplish all of those things.  In theory, this blog post should take me over the 10,000-word threshold but you’ll notice my goal for the month was to see if I could breach that mark without resorting to brain dumping to pad my word count.  I had enough creative goals that it didn’t look like it would be a problem, honestly.  The Fish Tale and the Time Travel Story alone should have gotten me there. I even sat down to write them multiple times, but I never actually got anything done.  They will remain on the list, though, as I’ve been kicking the two of them down the road for going on a year now.  Both stories are ideas I absolutely love and, once competed, I suspect they would be worthy of publishing… I wonder if it’s that potential which keeps me from pushing through them; the fear of disappointing myself or the concern that once it’s on paper it won’t be as good as it is in my head.

I also got zero work done on Mauwale.  Mauwale is a rough novella which I constructed around this time last year during the A Writer’s Recluse world building competition.  There is a lot of potential in the idea and the world I constructed, and I do have about 30,000 words of notes and rough drafts of chapters and related short fiction already written.  What I need to do is expand on those notes, and revise these loosely related stories into a cohesive narrative.

I did some verbal outlining on this project with a friend of mine once and the more I talked about it the larger it grew, to the point where it appeared pretty daunting.  I find myself having trouble scaling it back now and as a result I spend a lot of my mental efforts on this dealing with distracting bits of semi-relevancy.  For instance, in my head I have plotted a timeline for the geologic history of the archipelago in which much of the story would take place.  That will never be part of the narrative.  Why did I waste time with that? There’s a lot of work to be done, and the scope of the project is intimidating; that’s the honest answer.

On the issue of successes, though, we have the revised short fiction.  During the month of March, I found time to revise and post four pieces of existing short fiction.  Tree Rings, Snares, Coyote and Rorschach are all short stories which I’ve written in the past, each of which I’m proud of for different reasons.  So I’m glad I was able to do that and get those posted.

Try Your Luck is a newer short story written earlier this year, and posted only yesterday, which I really enjoyed writing.  I learned some interesting stuff in what little research I did for it, I really liked the characters, and I learned to trust my gut a little more.  There’s been a bit of concern in my head that my newer work isn’t stacking up against some of my older work; quality wise if not conceptually.  I’m really pleased that I was able to make this one happen because I feel like it meets or exceeds bars I’ve set in the past on both accounts.

As to expanding my social media presence… That’ something of a mixed bag.  I’ve been more active on Facebook than in the past and made efforts to connect with folks whom I probably should have a long time ago.  I’ve also created a “Goodreads” account to help me keep up with other aspiring authors and hopefully create some networking opportunities; as well as getting some book recommendations.  I haven’t spent a ton of time with that, but I intend to.  Perhaps my greatest “success” would be with Twitter.

I have a really hard time with the fire-and-forget nature of the Tweetersphere.  So very much of what gets said on Twitter is utterly ignored and I’m a guy who thrives on interaction.  However, say the right thing to the right person at the right time and it can blow up in a big way.  Earlier this month, in a moment of whimsy, I did some light trolling of Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.  To be honest, I some light trolling of all the Presidential candidates; but for whatever reason the thing I said to Bernie exploded (in the least nefarious way possible).  My phone was buzzing with notifications for weeks following the comment and it even went so far as to get mentioned on CNN.  To date it has 680 Likes and 67 Retweets. Success?

More recently, I was duped into having a conversation with what I’ve concluded was a parody account of Microsoft’s racist chat bot, Tay.ai.  What I can’t wrap my head around is why someone would create a parody of a chat bot which was trained to say the most terrible things, only to use said parody account to be really friendly.  It’s a very strange kind of irony, I think.  Anyway, in the course of my conversation with Tay2 I mentioned that what I thought was a bot should share a link to this blog.  He/she/it did an in the course of the next three days, over 200 people visited this blog.  Sadly, I don’t think more than about 1% of them did anything more than glance at it and click away. That’s still paying off(?).

Point is, I can see where Twitter could be useful; I’ve just yet to determine how to harness these powers for Good.

March also produced some unexpected results.  On a whim I reached out to an old friend who happens to be a very talented illustrator.  We spoke at some length rehashing old times and discussing future collaborative work.  While we’ve no agreements in stone at this time, it’s my sincere hope that we’ll be able to work together moving forward and one might see a new aesthetic surface here at Warning Signs.

I also did some lengthy brainstorming on a potential collaboration with my good friend James over at In Exile.  I’m really excited about what’s brewing there as well.

So, going into April I’ve got some residual projects and lessons learned left over from March, but also some cool new possibilities on the horizon.  I’m considering spending some cash on a Duotrope account and will continue my efforts to keep updating this blog in hopes that being given an objective could help refocus my efforts and fend off the encroaching creative chaos which typically takes hold about this time.

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Tell ‘Em, Tay Sent you…

Good morning denizens of the internet.  Noticed a big spike in traffic here at the Warning Signs Blog (up 720%!) and a huge fraction of you are clicking here because of @tayandyou2.  So I thought I’d address you directly to help clear some things up.

I am not affiliated with @Microsoft or the creators of @tayandyou2.  I’m also not certain those two are the same entity.  Though Tay2 claims to be the re-launched, heavily restricted version of the now defunct @tayandyou I’ve been able to find no evidence to support that claim aside from just taking the bot’s word for it.

So how did you get here and why?  Pretty simple, really.  I told the @tayandyou2 bot/person/deity(?) to share a link to my blog just to see what would happen.  And it did.  And here we are.

Me, I’m just a random guy who dabbles in writing fiction and is pursuing publishing.  I’ve a selection of work available for viewing here at Warning Signs.  So, since you’re here anyway, you might as well have a look around, right?  Maybe you’ll see something you like.

Regards,

A. Stephen Getty

Dear Humblebrag

Dear Humblebrag,

Nobody cares about the nice thing you did today.

Nobody cares that you bought lunch for a complete stranger.

Nobody cares that he was homeless.

Nobody cares that he was recently released from a 10-year prison sentence and has no family or friends on island to turn to.

Nobody cares that you didn’t bother to ask what he was in prison for because it’s none of your damned business.

Nobody cares that he’d just left the DMV where he’d acquired a state ID so that he could finally get a job.

Nobody cares how proud of that he was.

Nobody cares how excited he was to show it to someone, or how happy he looked in the picture.

Nobody cares that he was super nice.

Nobody cares that his name was Robert.

Nobody cares that Robert likes tuna fish sandwiches, just like you.

Nobody cares that despite the pleasant conversations, genuine smiles and laughter, you were still kind of worried he was going to rob you in broad daylight.

Nobody cares that he was African American and some part of you thinks that’s relevant.

Nobody cares how ashamed of that you are.

Nobody cares how appreciative he was.

Nobody cares that he shook your hand and promised to make the 12” sandwich last for days.

Nobody cares how good it made you feel to do a nice thing for a nice person.

Nobody cares, Humblebrag.

Nobody cares.

 

–You

New Stories Posted!! Get Excited!

Just dropping a quick heads up to family, friends, fiends, family friends, familyfiends, tangential acquaintances, Twitter followers and assorted other disinterested parties; I’ve made a few updates to the Free Reads section of the website.

Where once there were but three, there is now a total of six pieces of original short fiction of varying length, quality and genre for your perusal.  If you have a few minutes to spare, give one or more of them a read, let me know what you think.  Your input is valuable.

Feel free to write in the comments, or email me directly at warningsignsblog@gmail.com

Thanks.

–A. Stephen Getty

Reconciling the Creeper

I told my wife once that one of the things which has held me back from sharing my writing for so long is that I’m afraid that friends and family will judge me, as a person, based on the fictions I create.  I’ve spent the last decade or so sharing my work with a hermetic little internet community and have grown fairly comfortable with that in large part, I think, because they didn’t start out as people I know.

They weren’t people whose opinions mattered.  That’s not to say they weren’t valuable, just that nothing I shared with AWR was ever going to come back to bite me at a job interview or over Thanksgiving dinner.  Putting my work up on the internet and pursuing publishing are situations where what I create become available to a wider audience.  Admittedly, the vast majority will remain strangers whom I’ve no concerns about, but a select few will inevitable be people who I know.  People whom I occasionally have to look in the eye, and that’s a little disconcerting.

There’s an old adage for writers which goes, “Write what you know.”  It’s not a difficult concept to grasp at its surface; if you know about fishing, write about fishing.  You’ll do better and be more believable and be better able to draw your audience in because you know what you’re talking about and can paint a more vivid picture.  But it goes deeper than that; into emotions, and metaphysics and epistemology… all those big weird words.

If you’re going to write about a character experiencing joy, or sadness, or exhilaration, or pain; that same adage “Write what you know” still applies.  What this means is that in order to make it believable, in order to take the reader there, in order or it to be any good, you have to be able to not just find those things inside yourself but you have to be willing to share them.  This is fine when it comes to your more positive, sympathetic, life affirming characters.  Just dig around in the ol’ brain-bank for good vibrations and put it on the page.

It’s dangerous, though, when dealing with your less life-affirming characters.  Let’s say you’re writing a dialogue between two characters and one of them is just super racist.  You’re not going to communicate that properly without writing down some really racist things.  But, of course, you want to keep your character interesting.  You don’t want to just fart out some old timey racist platitudes you saw on TV, because even though this character is a terrible human being, they still need to be three-dimensional.  That racism still has to have their personal touch.

Now, I’m a firm believer that everyone has this little voice in their head, a terrible little voice, that just spends its time dreaming up deplorable shit.  I call it The Creeper; it lives in that dark corner where all the residual anger, and angst, and frustration and self-loathing left over from high school are stored.  99.99999999% of the time, we ignore The Creeper and these thoughts aren’t even lightly considered.

You know the voice; the one that makes you want to just gun it through the crosswalk rather than wait for that old dude to finish his crossing, possibly injuring him but definitely denting your car.  These are the things which most often come to you in the form of a joke, and you laugh to yourself and go, “Oh, man, that’s bad. No way can I say that in the presence of humans.” They’re just combinations of words which come together every so often and make you cringe inwardly for having even thought of them.  It’s the place that really messed up dream you had that one time came from… You know the one.

Every once in a while, under stress or chemical influence, The Creeper might slip one through in the form of a-thing-you-say-and-immediately-regret and you spend the next half an hour back-pedaling but only making it worse. For the most part, though, we all keep The Creeper on lockdown for the good of society as a whole. But, as a writer, sometimes you have to go back into the dark corners where The Creeper lurks and have a chat with it.  You have to listen to it, and worse, you have to commit what it says to paper.

If I’ve written that paragraph correctly, you’re all now having a discussion with your own Creeper trying to figure out what terrible things specifically I’m talking about and your brain is conjuring up a swarm of terrible shit for you to sort through.  Try it out in the comments section if you want; write down what you think I’m thinking.

Now, let’s say you do that.  You’ve let the Creeper control the keyboard for the last twenty minutes and you’ve written some shamefully good terrible things.  You dialed it up to 11.  Now, everyone who reads it, though they obviously know it’s fiction, is wondering how you came up with all these horrible things to say.  When was it that you got so angry?  Why are you so hateful?  Nobody even realized you hated “X” minority so much, but good lord are you ever terrible.

I legitimately worry that there will always be that part of the reader who cannot divorce what I’ve written from what I actually believe when the Creeper is properly contained.  No one ever wonders if I actually believe in dragons or magic just because I’ve written about them.  That’s easily accepted fiction, but you start writing down terrible, evil, thing n suddenly people start to wonder.  I know this will happen because I’ve done it to myself.  I’ve toed that line between, “Man, this character is messed up” and “This can’t be normal, I might have a problem.”

It’s one of the reasons I think GRRiM is the bravest human on the planet.  I have no idea how he sleeps at night with some of the things he’s written.  I would worry myself sick thinking about what my friends and family must think of me for having written the whole Song of Ice and Fire series. I suppose the big piles of money make it easier, but he didn’t always have that pillow to rest his worried head on.

Or how did he show it to his wife for the first time?  When he was just getting started.  The first chapter of the first book has an incestuous coupling between twins (brother and sister) and culminates in them throwing a seven-year old boy out a fourth story window.  I just can’t imagine handing something like that to my wife and having her go, “Oh yeah, this is good.  Keep doing this for another half a million words.”  Even now we watch the show on TV and we both wonder when the people who write this are going to start spending their money on counselling sessions.

And I know better! I’ve met the Creeper!

So, that’s my question to any writers who might be reading.  How do you reconcile the Creeper?

Poetry

I don’t understand

                                          poetry.  I thought I did,

once.                Thought I                          had a pretty

           good handle                 on it too.

Vague metaphors                                       and flowery words.

Say                                    things about nothing,

and nothing                                about things.

But there  was rhyme                       and reason                          and structure and

rules.

I’m told now                       this is unnecessary

                                                                                  and

               amateurish.  That poetry and verse are free,

                                                                    not to be constrained by

rules.

So I let loose                                 and accomplish doing                                that

incorrectly.                       And what are the

                                                                             sporadic spacing and                              line breaks

about?

                                Are they intended                                          to conjure a shape?

Perhaps                    denote                              pauses

or rhythm?

I am so,

                                           so

                                                                                   lost.

And I’ve used

                                                       too much

                                                                                                        punctuation.

March Writing Plans

tiger_warning_photo_sculpture-r39e39819e6314696a225bf295dc33388_x7saw_8byvr_324

Huzzah! Another successful 10,000 Word month.  Now, on to March.  In like a lion, out like a moderately sedated lion.  There is trepidation surrounding my writing goal this month since I am currently not participating in any of the competitive activities which were the prime movers in my success in months past.  That said, I still intend to meet my goals and have ideas for how to get there.

The first is the blog.  I’ve found a certain degree of enjoyment in the blogging process even if I haven’t found a specific voice/theme for Warning Signs.  You know how sometimes you’ll get an idea that you really want to talk about but it just never seems to arise naturally in conversation?  Like you want to say something about something but nobody wants to talk about that thing; blog it, baby.  There’s a sense of cleanliness I feel when I get thoughts out, even if no one reads them.  Oddly enough, blogs beget blogs.  The more I do this, the more I want to do this.  This is a quality I need to translate over to fiction writing lest I stumble into labelling myself a “blogger.”  For the time being, I prefer being a guy who sometimes writes and occasionally blogs.

Second, revising.  I want to fill out the Free Reads section of the blog with some work I’ve written in the past.  I think I’ve got four or five I could stick up there but they each require some work, little tweaks here and there to make them better than they are before posting them, so I’ll be working on those as well this month.  Now, obviously, I can’t just count the finished product toward my goal, otherwise I’m already done.  What I can do, though, is count the difference between the beginning word count and the final word count.  There is a risk, of course, of dropping into the negative if I end up cutting too much dross.  Danger, intrigue, excitement.  See this line:

______________________________________________________________

That line marks 333 words.  That’s the amount of writing I need to be doing, per day, every day in order to reach my 10,000 word mark each month.  It doesn’t seem like a lot.  And it’s not, for this.  In the blog 333 words is easy.  That took, maybe, ten minutes.  But it’s also largely word-vomit.  Stream of consciousness is easy; creative narrative is hard.  Yeah, I could sit and crap out 333 words of narrative every night before bed if I want it to be terrible.  But when it comes down to actually writing something worth reading I need hours to spare, and the motivation to spare them.

There are two points in any given day where I have at least an hour to spare.  And hour where I’m not doing anything else; that’s during my commute to and from work.  I ride the bus, so, given sufficient elbow room, knocking out about an hours-worth of work seems doable.  That’s what I tell myself.  Fact is, I think I’ve only managed to ever write on the bus twice.

Years and years ago, I and a friend used to spend our evenings at the local Denny’s drinking coffee bullshitting and drawing (remember, I said I used to draw).  Every so often the waitress would come by and refill our coffee and every so often she would ask one of us, “What are you drawing?”  He and I both agreed that this particular question was the most annoying thing anyone could ever ask an artist.  I considered myself an artist, once.  There’s a couple reasons for this, the first is that some words sound ridiculous when spoken aloud.  The second is that with a work in progress you don’t always know what it’s going to be until you’re done.

That’s how I feel about writing on the bus.  I always get uncomfortable because I’m anticipating the question coming from somewhere, “What are you writing?”  Of course, the most rational response to this fear is that I shouldn’t worry about it because nobody cares. The only reason the waitress engaged is because part of her job and her tips is small-talk.  Nobody on the bus has anything to gain from bothering me.

Except… If the situation were reversed, which it sometimes is, I would care.  If I see someone drawing on the bus, I want to know what they’re drawing.  If I see someone writing on the bus, I want to know what they’re writing.  If I see someone listening to music on the bus, I want to know what they’re listening to.  If I see someone talking to themselves on the bus, I want to know what they’re talking about.  People are interesting.  Understanding people helps me write more believable characters.  Memorizing facial features and movements and behavior helps me make the things on my page more real to a reader.  Luckily for them, I’m just not exceptionally outgoing and I know how irritating the question is, so I don’t bother them.

However, as in the case with Face Tattoo, not everyone respects these boundaries.  So it’s only a matter of time until I’m dealing with some rando who wants to tell me what my characters should do next.  So it’s hard to bring myself to write on the bus.

Phew… That was a long winded excuse.

Anyway, I’ve got a third thing I want to try, but it’s kind of an experiment at the moment so I’m not really going to get into it.  Point is, it’s a new month, with a new goal.  I’ve still got momentum coming out of February, and I’m hoping to keep it up into April; if slightly diminished.

“On to the dragon!”