My lodestars for drafting

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Second editing pass though my next novel, I’ve got a new Post-It on the bottom of my monitor: three  points to steer by as I hack, slash, and burn my way through the undergrowth.

1. Err on the side of the reader’s intelligence.

Aside from the fact my latest isn’t a YA novel, I’m writing to a capable, nuanced audience who, while new to my particular story, is familiar with the genre as well as Life’s genuine struggles and victories. I will not talk to them like they’re pets or three-year olds.

2. Don’t BS the reader.

See above. The reader has been gracious and given me of their time and money. I don’t want either to be a waste. Of course the story has themes and the author has opinions and values, but the reader can smell an agenda a mile off. There may be types or tropes that function as fiction shorthand, but they cannot devolve into cliches that cheapen or interrupt the story.

3. Less is more.

There’s a fine line (and a yawing chasm) between poetic and verbose. This is the ‘right word versus almost the right word’ dilemma. I will not fall in love with my prose and will cut what doesn’t best serve the scene, regardless of how clever the turn of phrase. I’m not padding my word count. Make it lean and precise, not bloated or boggy.  Remember the Failure Mode of ‘Clever’ is ‘Asshole’.

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Time to hone the machete, top off the flamethrower, and get back to work.

Have an excellent day.

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Altered Carbon, Common Humanity

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Binged ‘Altered Carbon’ this weekend, Netflix’ latest and reportedly most expensive series to date. ($6-7 million per episode? whoa) A 10-part cyberpunk/noir piece based on Richard K. Morgan’s book of the same name, it’s a bloody, sensual, cynical look at the future. Designer clone bodies, digitized consciousness, virtual imprisonment and torture, galaxy-spanning Spec Ops/Secret Police, obscene wealth disparity, functional immortality… the future’s so dark, you gotta wear NODs.

A solid Sci Fi show with a gritty story and great effects, but if ‘Altered Carbon’ says anything about the future, it’s that science is really secondary; humanity’s progress is not and never will be linked to technology. The bottom line is we never advance beyond our morality. Period.

In fact push it as far as you want, technology remains just another function of old-fashioned human cruelty, conceit, greed, lust, and rage. Dub, sample, and remix – it’s still the same old song all over again. Hide behind chrome and smart glass and mirror-shades, dress it up in gene-spliced, supermodel customized sexiness with neurachem lethality, package it in alien alloys and complex algorithms, our depravity still shows.

When the end credits rolled on episode 10, I was brought full circle back to 2009 and the fundamental conviction I had when I decided to try and write a SF novel as a Christian: only a spiritual ethic that upholds life as sacred can restrain humanity from becoming inhumane. Lose the preciousness of life and you open the door to contempt and cruelty; commodify people and you end up committing atrocities.

That’s not to say I want my fiction to be sermonizing. No, I aim for entertainment, escapism, and action. Most of my stories have loads of firepower and a high body count. But I want to build the work on a solid foundation. I want substance, themes, meaning in there as well.

Despite the cool visuals, wicked action scenes, and great acting, I was disappointed when Altered Carbon was over. Not that it had ended but at the sordid sameness of it all. It was almost a relief. What was meant to be action-packed cyberpunk coolness and world-weary wisdom was just so uninspired, so sad.

There was a smack upside the head afterwards too: a call to confront the question of faith in spec-fiction once again. To respect the conventions of genre, the demands of the medium, and the expectations of the audience  and aim for quality, and yet somehow portray spiritual realities organically in the plot, characters and fictional world.

Guess I’d better start praying about that again, eh?

Thanks and have a great day.

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BTW, that first novel, RUNNING BLACK, and the sequel SHIFT TENSE are available at Amazon. HERE and HERE

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New fiction on the radar.

MEDEVAC crew trains for emergency response

From the upcoming Mil-SF novella “Enemy of my Enemy”

***

I glanced around at my team, the scientists, Bozan and al-Asiri, the wounded… The chill in the air seemed to drop another ten degrees. “Sahito, where are you?”

“On the Hephaestus, Captain Dante. Where else would I be?”

I let out an exasperated sigh. “Fine. Where is the Fleet?”

“Fast-burning to the Kepler System Fold-Space Transition Point beyond K-186F orbit.”

Approaching the planet’s moon, two-hundred and forty thousand miles away… Sahito gave the answer so casually, at first I thought Zombie Six’s tactical A.I. had just made a joke. The next two seconds were dead silent as I waited for the punch line.

It didn’t come.

“How long to Fold-Space transition?” I asked. I sensed I wasn’t going to like the answer.

“Four minutes and 27 seconds. The jump engines are spooled up,” the A.I. reported crisply.

My reaction split me quicker than atoms in a tactical nuke: white-hot rage in my head and icy despair in my gut. Zombie Six had not just been reported as dead; we’d been left behind.

Writing in a time of funk and strange.

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Writing-wise, 2017 was lackluster – to use a generous term.

Twelve months on, I have one short story released at the last minute, birthed in a spasm of inspiration, and two larger projects stalled 20% from the finish line. So yeah. Not so hot.

Why? (that perennial question) Between real life, studio work, a persistent, low-grade funk, a national pandemic of strangeness and acrimony,  I confess it was a battle to sit down and slog through. Like pulling teeth. Now none of those are valid excuses – I’m responsible to do the work – but they are/were real. And if that was a battle, some kind of test of my creative mettle, I’m afraid I failed.

Maybe there’s something in the air. Maybe this malaise, this inertia is the accretion of my own naiveté and inconsistency. A consequence of laziness and immaturity. It could be put down to what Steven Pressfield termed “Resistance”, or perhaps I’ve hit what Seth Godin calls “The Dip” – that place in the process, the venture, where the initial inspiration and enthusiasm has worn off and the going gets tough. The Dip is re-evaluation time – a prolonged moment to assess whether to push on or be brutally honest and prune a branch that’s taking valuable time and energy that could otherwise be invested in some other, more fruitful way.

I hope it’s just a Dip I can get past, but right now, I honestly don’t know which it is.

That said, I do know that the passing of a year is an occasion to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. I also know I want to be a man of my word; I started those projects and I’m determined to finish them.

item4Now I won’t call this commitment a New Year’s Resolution. Gym memberships soar in Jan/Feb and fall back to regular levels by March. I’m too old and been at this too long to trick myself with slogans and effervescent, self-help sleight-of-hand. Resolutions only work if I’m willing and determined to chop away at them every day after Jan 2nd. However, by God’s grace I’m going to type ‘The End’ on both of those pieces in 2018. Then I’ll take it from there.

 

Here’s wishing you a happy and healthy new year.

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No reason for this picture. It was just too weird to not add.

 

A slice of Flash Fiction

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BEASTS AND WILD ANGELS

Scariest thing on the planet is a stoned 11-year old with a Kalashnikov.

His parents are dead, most likely murdered right in front of him. He’s never been to school, can’t read or write or count past twenty, but the little fucker can field-strip and reassemble his AK74 in under ninety seconds, then put three center mass at a hundred yards.

His troop is his family now, his father figure some teen who has survived four or five years in this corner of hell already, who instead of killing him that first day, gave him a hit of heroin and showed him which end was the noisy bit of a gun.

He goes by a war-name – Li’le Piff, Baby 9, TNT, Chop Chop – given after his first kill or rape or village-razing. The one his Mother gave him has long since withered from neglect.

He’s not a rarity either. Some tragic exception. The country is thick with them, roaming in packs like feral dogs, savaging whatever, whoever gets between them and any whim that pops into their little drug-addled minds.

This is where you work. A place with a name you can’t pronounce that’s a bad joke disguised as 21st century nation. The currency is worth less than the paper it’s printed on. The government doesn’t deserve the title. There is no Police, no Fire or Paramedic Emergency Services. The only hospital within a hundred kilometer radius was shelled two years ago by rebels – or the army – and it hasn’t been rebuilt. Not that it matters because all the doctors fled or were rounded up. It’s a place so foreign, so far from normal civilization with 5G WiFi Hot Spot sushi bars and Prime Two-Day Delivery, it might as well be another planet. This is the ‘Mad Max meets Clockwork Orange’ world that you’re stuck in until your contract expires.

Or you do.

Three Quick Thoughts on Writing

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It’s work. No getting around this. I get flowing with inspiration but most of the time you’ve got to take a deep breath, dive in and trust inspiration to follow. Writing begets writing. Anything worth doing is worth the time and effort to do well. Step back. Take a breather, fine. But don’t give up. Keep your butt in the chair.

The field is overwhelmingly crowded. It’s up to what, a million books published per year in the US now? 2/3rds of those are indie/self published. So 8,760 hours in a year, that’s 114 books per hour.  There is a flood of new titles every time I log onto Amazon. All of them best sellers, each the latest hotness, fulled with explosive action/steamy romance/engaging plot lines ripped from tomorrow’s headlines/spine-chilling horror… Many of them with double, triple, even four times the number of reviews of established classics in their genres. Any writer with a lick of self-awareness can’t help but wonder how their work can stand on its own, let alone get noticed. But that’s the playing field now. And yes, it’s even more work piled on top of the actual writing work.  

I can’t not write. We’ve all been ready to throw up our hands in despair. If you haven’t, you’re either a colossal self-deluded egotist, or you’ve got to give it more time. That said, if story-telling is in your bones, you’ve got to keep going for your own sanity’s sake. I wish you massive commercial success: foreign language rights, weeks on the best seller list, movie rights… but for many of us, the real pay off is not going to be the silver we get in our bank, but the iron we get in our souls by persevering in the creative process. What, you really going to give up and watch TV?

Have a good day. You’re going to make it.

Need a kick in the butt? Read THE WAR OF ART