Tag Archives: short stories

An Unexpected Kickstart

A friend of mine is working on a game project that looks quite fun, but was suspended in need of some writing. I, meanwhile, was suspended in my own dead space, colliding with blocks and depression left and right, till there was nothing left to say or do except to stare the cursor blinking on and off in a white screen. Regardless, hearing him talk about his needs made me – impulsively – offer my services.

We talked about what he wanted, I threw out some ideas I had based on his description of the kind of game and world he wanted to create, and offered suggestions on altering the antagonist’s motivation, create more of a meta-plot to bind together the various groups he was describing, and an overarching narrative rather than distinct stories. He agreed to give me a shot, and I began to pound out words.

The writing had to be very structured due to the nature of the project – there were eleven settings that had to be outlined, within about 450 words each. Each outline was broken down into four segment – a brief overview of an area and then three spots of interest within them. I created more structure by organizing the three spots into a friendly area, the area of the enemy’s strength, and an adventuring node.

I also went through the various geographies and assigned each some kind of setting flavor – whether Arthurian, Arabian, French Military, Medieval, Germanic Fairy Tales – you get the idea. In the end, this didn’t help me very much, as the themes were more muted, but it was a good starting point and it put the right visuals in my mind. To organize this in space, I sketched out a very rough, circular map that helped me arrange things a bit better.

The first draft was laborious, and then my son was born. I took some time off from the project, while I handed it in for notes. When I got back to it a week later, I had some feedback to work off of. The second draft was much cleaner, I revised considerably, and rewrote a few sections entirely.

I tend to overwrite and my word-bloat grows quickly. Here, I was arrested by the structure. Further, the project wasn’t mine – there was no ego involved here, I was writing to please someone else. These factors played a considerable part in allowing me to write quickly and efficiently, and while the writing went a week or two past the deadline, what I turned in was pretty good. It even got me a second project from him, which I’m working on now – taking the various characters and settings and combining them together to form story devices for the players to hook into for their own games.

Even better, the writing finally got me through the years long block I’ve been struggling with, and for the first time in ages, I’m thinking of new ideas. Last week, I finished the first draft of a story, with some nine thousand words that needs to be pared down by a thousand or two words, and right after I finished that first draft, I began another, entirely new story with the opening paragraphs of a third also thrown out during lunch this week.

And I have this contract writing to thank for this renewed energy. Finishing things is such a motivation and inspiration, that it doesn’t matter what it is that you finish – it could be anything, even contract writing. I don’t mean to diminish the writing I did for this game – it’s good, and I enjoyed it, but it’s still not my personal writing, so there’s always a separation there.

I can’t wait to see where this current burst of inspiration takes me.

Nudge the Needle

It’s difficult, starting from zero.

You’re fighting to get the needle to budge, even a little, and that’s the hardest thing of all. Starting from rest – even physics says so. You’re guided by something, maybe an image, or an idea that won’t leave you alone, so you have to get it moving somehow. But the needle is buried at zero, the engine sputters and coughs – that hum of power is long gone – the angle of the hill is too steep, and any number of other circumstantial things will stand up in the way of words.

Or that’s how it feels every time I sit down to write anymore.

Gathering momentum on a moving project is easy, it’s like the thing supplies its own ambition and motivation. The words come faster than I can write – which has its own problems, but I’d rather a torrent of useless words that need hours of editing and pruning, than this labor intensive grind to get the thing moving in the first place.

You start to doubt yourself, every sentence comes under scrutiny, cause and effect swap places, time frame changes, beginnings are re-written a dozen times, and the supporting cast changes names, appearance, number and beliefs like coats in the spring. On, off. On, off.

That’s probably the biggest hurdle in the way of my writing, that start from zero every time I work on a new story. And maybe that’s why all I want to do lately, is work on long projects, that will take me months if not years to do. Meaty, chunky books that I can get lost in for ages, a good 120 thousand word deep pool to dive into, and hide from the light.

But what good is a book, for a writer who hasn’t been published in four years? All the success from the past squandered in years of depression and so we find ourselves starting from zero, over and over. Every time it gets more difficult to get moving. The answer seems obvious, of course, even if it isn’t easy to implement.

Don’t turn the engine off. Let it idle, just a little, every day. Keep the insides lubricated and moving, and slowly, the engine will heal. That hum will come back. For now, if you have to get off and push the damned thing up the hill every day just to be able to ride back down and pop the clutch, and try to get the engine to start, well, sweat it out.

Just turning the key and hearing the engine chug isn’t doing any good. Finish the first one. The others will follow. They must. Because failure isn’t tenable. For now, I’m with all the other writers down here, in the purgatory of mud and muck, hunting for gems in the dusk and gloom.

I wish you luck, if you’re down here with me.

Another Week, Another book

About a year ago, my wife (who’s rather well established as a writer these last two years) wanted to put out an anthology to fund a local New York City charity, and sent out a call for stories. She was kind enough to ask me to contribute something, and I did. The anthology, Urban Harvest, was released last weekend, and here it is.

Urban HarvestIt’s odd to go for such a long dry-spell without exposing any writing, and then to suddenly have two stories in the ether is rather jarring. It feels like a splash of cold water in the face, or being dunked into freezing ice after a hot and sweaty day. Jarring, and exhilarating at once. If you’d be so kind as to pick up a copy, you’ll find in it, a few wonderfully warm (and a couple of particularly chilling) stories and you’ll be benefiting a charity – City Harvest – that feeds the homeless at a difficult time of year.

So much work left to do – with Slipstream City Volume 1 already out and about, we need to being work on Volume 2.  We have a theme, we have an idea, and soon, we’ll put out a call for stories to collect with a rather brief reading period, I imagine. And of course, there is my own writing to get to.

There, that’s about all the promotion I can muster for my own material right now.

The autumn is barely begun, and already the season is full of projects eating away at time. Something about the smell of October that makes me want to paint the grayscale world in bloody shades of red. Best get to writing before the fleeting season escapes with all the muses riding on its patchwork cloak of leaves.

Tick-tock!

Slipstream City

I was talking about finishing things last time, and I followed through on my own advise and finished up a project that has been a long time coming.

My friend, colleague, writer, film-maker, world-traveler and all-around good guy Sean Sakamoto and I had an idea to do a small collection of speculative-fiction stories about New York (where we live). The initial call went out to a few close friends, and we got a handful of stories. We wrote a couple ourselves and put together a small book, and here it is.

Slipstream City Volume 1: True Stories From Other New Yorks

Slipstream City Cover smallIt has taken a while to get here, but I’m glad it’s finally on Amazon, where people can possibly click on it and maybe even buy it, and at last, I hope, read it.

The actual exposing-the-book process has been very liberating, and I want to do more of it and on a larger scale. This is the first time I’m independently putting out my own material. Before, it has always been somebody else holding out an umbrella to shelter my work. This time, it’s just me (and Sean.)

We’re well on our way to working up a call for the second book. I want lots of stories, rich and thematic. But that’s the figure – for now, we are working to get the book more exposure as Volume 1 sails into the rear-view mirror.

On a personal level, this is the first work I have released into the open world since 2010. My short story “Entombed” was a finalist in the Blizzard Worldwide Story Contest and that left me with an incredible high, but shortly thereafter… well, maybe that’s for another day. I’m just glad to be back in the saddle.

See you guys down the trail.

Finishing Things

Anyone can come up with ideas, a few will even try to execute it, but the difference between an idea and a complete work is a vast gulf of effort and pain. Crossing that gulf is what separates the writers from those who can’t. Or don’t. Or won’t.

Or that has been my case, anyway. For years, I struggled with this idea of identity, whether or not I was a writer, for years, I wanted someone to tap my shoulder with a pencil and say, “Yes, now you’re a writer.” When I got stories into magazines, it wasn’t enough. When I had a play in a theater, it wasn’t enough. When I won a singular award from among thousands of stories, it wasn’t enough. And when I told this to someone, they blinked and shook their head. “You’ve arrived,” they said. “This is it.” But I didn’t believe it.

And now, it has been years in this malaise, struggling to self-identify as a writer and being unable to do so. Toying with ideas, making notes, creating elaborate outlines for books that don’t get written. Jotting a sentence or two every few days for ideas that would be brilliant if they were stretched out into stories, but it doesn’t happen. And now, I’m not a writer, I’m someone who thinks about writing, who wants to write, who dreams about it, but does anything but fucking write.

So.

It gives me great pleasure to know that a small anthology I put together with a friend of mine is finished, and is under review with Amazon, and in a few short hours, I will be able to share a link to it. I’m done waiting for other people to tell me that I’m a writer.

If I’m the boss, then I demand a story from me every month, on the dot. Get to work.