My writing process

I’m grateful to Kevin Ikenberry, who I introduced me to Superstars,  for tagging me in this blog tour on writing process.  To see Kevin’s entry into this blog tour, visit the link above.  You’ll also find links to previous tours on these thought-provoking questions.

And here we go!

What are you working on now?

I have three novels in the works:  a fantasy novel that borrows from Mesoamerican and Polynesian traditions, a noir Chicago mystery, and an alternate-history WW1 science fiction.

This season, my focus is the fantasy novel.  It follows Fike, the son of a prostitute, who leaves home to find a father he hardly knew.  Barely into his journey, he is enslaved and transformed by magic.  Fike is sold into the royal court of a kingdom which is ripping itself apart to control him even as he tries to find a way back to the man he was.

The working title for this novel is “Stop Being Human,” which comes from a lyric in Gotye’s fantastic song Eyes Wide Open.

How does your work differ from others of the genre

I can’t claim that I am the first to want to work in a fantasy realm that is non European.  Saladin Ahmed and Elizabeth Bear and Daniel Abraham have all written wonderful books in this space.

What I hope to bring is intimacy.  I love Epic Fantasy with a capital E, and I love Science Fiction’s often grand sweeping scope, but the stories which captivate me most are smaller, more personal.  My heroes won’t be saving the world.  They’ll be lucky if they save themselves.  Their goals are personal rather than global.  A close, intimate point of view is what I am striving for in my work, and I hope that I can bring a little different perspective to a genre that often fills the pages with endless characters, but never really dives deep with one.

All that said, I agree with Solomon that there is nothing new under the sun.  All of this is simply discovering and putting my own spin on what has come before.

Why do I write what I do?

As a kid, I remember reading books like A Wrinkle in Time, Phantom Tollbooth, and the Hobbit.  Those books captured my sense of wonder, of adventure.  I didn’t always understand them (L’Engle’s tesseracts were quite beyond me, and I admit to occasionally skipping Tolkien’s dwarven songs) but I was drawn in by them.  I’ve since discovered that a book that can recreate that wonder is a rare thing, but it still happens.

I want to write the kind books that my younger self would fall in love with.  I want my readers to disappear into a world and become friends with the characters and be a little sad when the adventure ends.

Science Fiction and Fantasy have great potential to tell stories that explore what it means to be human, by taking us out of the our current reality and putting us somewhere else.  Ultimately, I want to write and read stories that both entertain and move me.

How does my writing process work?

My writing process is, well, in process.

In years past, I would write a chapter and then polish obsessively, make it as good as possible before moving on.  As a result, I have several brilliant chapters and zero finished books.

Today, I am trying my hardest to live out Anne Lamott’s advice.  I am turning off the internal editor, allowing the words to flow, and letting the first draft be a steaming pile of turds which can be fixed once the entire thing is done.  I don’t follow that advice every day, but I’m working towards it.

I always start with an idea, some hook that snags my imagination and carries my brain along.    I develop that, adding notes, generating characters, worldbuilding until I have enough for a rough idea of where the story could go.  Then I create the outline, using scene and sequel to build a plotline.  Each scene or sequel is small, comprised of a specific goal or a problem to react to.  When the outline is done, I prewrite each scene, describing in a few paragraphs what needs to happen.

Then I write.  This is done with chocolate and coffee and occasionally stronger elixirs still.  I’m not sure why the words flow like Niagara some days and like the Jostedalsbreen Glacier on others, but I suspect it has to do with the phase of the moon.

Next up: author Kaylynn Hills 

kaylynn

As my cousin, Kaylynn and I have a shared pool of ridiculous family stories to draw upon.  Kaylynn is a brilliant writer and linguist and I’m quite lucky to be able to bounce around ideas with her.

Kaylynn’s Bio:

A lover of words, syntax, and phonetics, Kaylynn is a linguist at heart, which has a significant impact on her writing.  She is currently a graduate student earning her M.F.A. in Creative Writing, and is boldly determined to weasel her way into the book publishing industry one day.  Her genres of choice are fantasy, realistic fiction, and some science fiction (but she’s picky), as well as a sprinkling of horror and metafiction.  She enjoys writing about people and what she thinks is inside their minds, as well as badass magic things and dragons as pets.

For now, she is a Professional Office Lackey and Administrative Hireling.  When away from her Desk of Stupefaction, she can be found hunting for French pastries, teaching herself the violin, or of course, writing.  She is embarrassed to admit that she likes animals more than most humans, and her biggest fear is anesthesia.

Surprisingly, Kaylynn did not grow up as a ravenous reader, as most writers supposedly do.  While she loved books, she was also an exuberant child, incapable of sitting down or shutting up for too long a period.  When she was 17, she worked the graveyard shift in a haunted book warehouse and was, on several occasions, accosted by a biography of Cary Grant which flew off the shelf.  And so came about the revelation that books are far more interesting that she had previously imagined, as well as the words inside them.  However, it wasn’t until her freshman year of college when she realized her creative potential and made the dubious decision to “become a writer.”  She has not yet regretted it.

You may find Kaylynn online at http://finefrenchfrippery.wordpress.com/

 

The Instant Gratification Monkey and the Dark Playground

Go and read this right now.

Why procrastinators procrastinate.

Now.  this is the best post about procrastination I’ve ever seen, and the follow up post on How to beat it is just as good.

What is so powerful is that the author ruthlessly NAMES the issues and gives you a whole new vocab to use when dealing with your own procrastination.  Highly recommended.

Uniquities

Our pottery class for this year is done. While I still plan to make quite a bit more this year, I won’t have direct access to a wheel and kilns any more.

I’ve been feeling less thrilled with my output this year. I have been trying a grand experiment with slipcasting, and been learning through a lot of failures what NOT to do.

But, I came back from the Philippines to some of my final product!

Slipcast cups - Joshua David Bennett

  From left to right – Clear Maroon, Weathered Bronze, Cappuccino Mist, Floating Blue, Bamboo exterior with Toffee interior.

There’s a number of these that I am happy with.   The Cappuccino Mist is very fun, as is the Bamboo.  The Floating Blue cups are probably my favorites, though.   I did a set of five, and though I can see imperfections in each one, as a set they turned out great.

Slipcast tea cups - Joshua David Bennett

Floating Blue tea cups

Finally, there is a whole set of Weathered Bronze cups, all of which broke during firing.  It seems that the glaze shrank much more than the clay in the cups, and caused each cup to crack.

Slipcast cup clay fragments, weathered bronze - Joshua David Bennett

Fragments

But I still have hope.  There is a process called kintsugi that involves repairing ceramics with laquer and gold.  I’m going to order some supplies today and see if I can repair these cups!

An example of Kintsugi / Kintsukuroi.  Not mine, mind you, but I hope mine turn out as well as this.

An example of Kintsugi / Kintsukuroi. Not mine, mind you, but I hope mine turn out as well as this.

 

 

Off to Manila

20130413-064752.jpg

I leave this morning for Manila. The last time I was there, it was during a Typhoon and the water was up to your chest in some areas. I’m praying for calmer weather this week.

I’ll try to post a few pictures and thoughts in the evenings. Be well!

The master book of all plots

Plotto by William Wallace Cook - Image by Joshua David Bennett

“MACHINE GRINDS OUT PLOTS WITHOUT ANY FALSE START!”

That was how the Boston Globe announced the publication of Plotto in 1928. The author, William Wallace Cook, was an astonishingly prolific writer. In his best year, he pushed out 54 dime novels. When he finally retired from writing fiction he turned to real life, clipping directly from the headlines, distilling the stories onto cards. His idea was to write a plot generator so that others could follow his suit, using the seeds of stories in this book to mass manufacture their own works. And people did. Erle Stanley Gardner, the man behind Perry Mason, used Plotto. So did a a young Hitchcock, just starting into his directing career.

I picked up the book a few years ago, and have used it once or twice as the seed to a story. My creative method involves jamming different things together and seeing what sticks, a method I happily steal from Orson Scott Card. When I have two things that will mix well, but I know I need another ingredient, I sometimes pick up Plotto and generate an interesting sequence of events to add to the blend.

What does that look like? Well lets do a Plotto demo. There is a deeper method to this, but I prefer to start at random.

Plotto Demo - Joshua David Bennett

Here’s our setup. Our main character, whom we will call “Alan”* is trying to find his inheritance, which his father has stashed away. And, just like a Choose Your Own Adventure, we pick a number and off we go.

* Plotto always refers to the leading man as “A” and the leading woman as “B.” Yes, William Wallace Cook was a product of the 1800s. Don’t blame me.

Plotto Demo - Image by Joshua David Bennett

Oh no! Alan fell into a ditch! Or a gorge! Or a canyon! What will he find at the bottom? Off to story seed 1409!

Plotto Demo - Image by Joshua David Bennett

Turns out there’s a mysterious locked room at the bottom of the chasm. Who knew?

Plotto Demo - Image by Joshua David Bennett

Uh-oh. Alan takes something from the room which turns out to be contraband!

I suppose we could keep going, but that’s usually enough. I’ve used Plotto twice for a story, and the little “story snippet” that I generate never remains intact. I use this as a prompt, and then ditch most of the details and decide what makes the most sense for the characters and for a good read. If you have trouble with “what comes next?”, maybe Plotto can give you a jumpstart.

Pseudoscience: Today’s books are less emotional

The New York Times is reporting that our books have gotten “less emotional” over the last century.  They quote a study on fiction published since 1900, and summarize:

researchers at three British universities tracked the use of “mood” words sorted into six main categories: anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness and surprise. The researchers identified a “clear decrease” in overall use of mood words over the 20th century, with only words relating to fear increasing in the last several decades.

The study also concludes Brits are less emotional than Americans (yay for stereotypes!) and that fiction overall is in a “sad” period now, and has been since the 1970s.

Right…  Color me not convinced that literature is turning Vulcan.

Owned by CBS Studios

These conclusions are totally bogus.

First, there’s the data.  The researchers used books digitized by Google.  I don’t know the actual numbers, but I suspect that Google’s database is skewed toward the past.  What I mean is that Google likely has 75% of the books published in 1900 digitized, while it might have only 5% of the books from 2000.  Why?  Because the old stuff is largely in the public domain while the new stuff is protected by copyright and lawyers that tell Google to back off.   So, just how many of today’s “gush gush” romances or heart wrenching dramas or satirical fantasies are included in the GoogleMind?  Who knows.

Second, we could just be changing our language when it comes to talking about emotions.  It’s possible (hopefully) that as authors we are getting better at “showing” not “telling.”   In years past, we might have said Jane was “afraid” outright.  Now we might forgo the emotional label and instead show Jane’s tensed muscles, the sweat beading on her forehead, her racing pulse.

I’d be interested in what people think, but my sense is that authors might be more invested now in having an emotional impact on the reader, but that we might be using our words differently…

Star Trek and related characters are owned by CBS Studios Inc., and are used under “fair use” guidelines.