Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I'm Writing a Novel, and Editing is a Bitch

Hello Reader!  I'm blogging here again, ready to take on the world and all of its challenges.  I left for a long time so I could dig in and really get my other blog going, the one about Muslims and me being one of them.  If you're an avid reader of that one, I hope you'll enjoy this one!

To begin with, I should probably tell everyone the novel's title.  It's called The Proxy Wars: Dramatis Personae.  The novel is set on the island country of Atlantis, where Prince Briok Cwartel is born into an era of uneasy peace.  With an absent father and a mother possessed of an iron-will, Briok grows up to become petulant, brave and ambitious.  On the day of his father's funeral Briok is taken aside by Amar, his father's most trusted advisor, and told that he is the last Magna Beast, the final heir to the throne of the alien Mags.

From the broken and barren planet Meliosa, the Mags and Howlas had let their holy war spill onto the surface of the Earth, terrorizing humanity and killing millions.  Now in a detente the Mags and the Howlas, with their king the Howlamega, find themselves patiently circling each other, waiting for the moment to strike.  With the help of Amar, Briok must take advantage of this lull in the bloodshed to learn the art of war.  But his journey does not take him far from home, forcing him into a liminal space between history homework and sword handling lessons - often in the same weekend.  It is here where Briok meets eight friends who change him, and whose lives are changed by him.

Meanwhile, in the dark alleys and seedy bars of Atlantis the mafia underworld is in turmoil.  Tory Cross, largest mob boss in Eastern Atlantis, has begun a war against his former mentor that is dividing the country and costing hundreds of lives.  Accusing his mentor of being a slave to the whims of the Howlamega, Tory seeks to create a new class of Howlas, separated from the politics and religions of the old culture.  But directly in the path of his fury lies Briok Cwartel, whose status as Prince of Atlantis makes him a prime target for all parties.  In the end, Amar must take drastic measures to protect Briok's life and possibly destroy the lives of Briok's friends in the process.

Hopefully that's mildly interesting to you.  As for writing samples, you can check some out here.  Let me know what you think!  Until next time then.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Lovely Tumult

Hello Reader!  How are you?  Good?  I hope so stranger!  It's been too long since I've seen any of you, talked with you, wrote at you.  I miss complaining about my lack of progress, my ineptitude at plotting and the absolute drudgery that is school.  Now I've already mentioned that I was taking a four-week writing workshop course that has really helped me step forward in my writing.  I've never been so halfway inspired by anything.

The reason why I say halfway inspired is actually the theme of this post.  The woman who taught the workshop was called VJ Waks and she's self-published two novels - Tau 4 and Hammerspace.  She's quite the forceful lady, very self-assured and capable, without a shred of doubt about anything.  It's incredible to see this, but it's also troubling.

I guess they know their audience?
She knows she's a good writer.  She believes it whole-heartedly, in fact she speaks about her talent frequently.  During the workshop, not very many - no, I correct myself - zero works from other authors were used by her as an example of good writing.  What did she use?  Her own novels.  I get product placement, and I get the easiness of just picking up your own book, whose contents you know like the back of your hand, and using it to give examples of good writing.  But there's a terrible amount of pride involved, no?

I hope she wasn't completely a creature of hubris, because she is very much like me.  Ms. Waks began as a neuroscience major, eventually getting her master's degree in Neurobiology.  WHAT?  I know right?  How eerie that her journey mirrors the potential path I would like to follow.  Her novels are science fiction, the genre I'll probably be put in should I publish.  She gave up her neuroscience career to write, and she loves it now.  She thoroughly enjoys her life.

This guy wrote Moby Dick.  No one knew that when he was alive.
But she self-published.  Why?  I don't know.  To be honest, I don't care.  Because what troubles me is that I have no clue what makes her different from me.  So what, I'm writing science fiction.  So what I've got a story, sprawling as it is, about a young man troubled and struggling.  SO WHAT.  At the end of the day, there's nothing that makes me different from her.  She's not "struggling" by any means, and when you read reviews of her work there's no denying that she's got quality writing skills.  She's only got one non-five star rating!  Then again, for two books she's got a grand total of 14 reviews.

Why isn't someone this good, with this kind of talent, more popular?  Because all she's got is herself?  Well then why didn't an agent take her on?  What didn't they see?  Marketability?  This begs the question of whether or not I'm writing for money.  Which makes me pause.  Because I'm not really sure what I'm writing for.

I feel like this kid a lot of the time.  'Cept not for coloring.
I've never really articulated the reason.  I just write.  It's just in me and I just want it out.  I want to stop imagining these things as my life, these characters and battles and passions, I want them excised from my mind.  On paper, on my computer, whatever.  I'm not writing for high art, but then again popularity is something I dearly seek.  Neither am I writing for money, but a sustainable job is another thing I crave.  How can I achieve these things if someone far better than me can't make it without resorting to taking odd jobs writing for companies, family members, lawyers etc.

Obscurity is what I fear, and what I'm writing against.  God damn it, I don't want to fade into obscurity.  I don't want to end up has some has-been science fiction writer teaching workshops with only two or three people attending in some tucked away part of a university with an all-html website with nothing but 14 reviews to my name. I'm making no progress in this blogpost so instead of a satisfactory denouement, I'll leave you with these last few desperate words.  Obscurity terrifies me.  And the business of my life keeps pulling me into that black hole of fear and doubt.

So I guess the workshop did great things for my book, but few good things for my ego.  Until next time then.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What I Saw in the Black

Hello Reader!  Yes, I know, I haven't posted in a while.  I'm well aware of that.  I took some time off to find my bearings and get my life straight.  It isn't quite adjusted yet, in fact it's barely gotten better.  But that little smidgen of relief is all I really needed in the first place.  After all my problems aren't that big.

What a beard.

That's an interesting thought, isn't it?  Ernest Hemingway once said, "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”  Isn't that depressing?  But it's kind of telling.  A lot of "great" writers and great artists in general have channeled their immense pain into their work.  This is what has made their literature powerful, timeless, evocative.  Some would even argue that the channeling of such pain is the only way to achieve the heights that authors like Hemingway have soared to.  Usually my contrarian self would say "Screw that" and argue against such an idea.  But I cannot disagree with the notion.  For it is my own pain that drives me towards making Briok's imaginary wanderings real.  

Sure sure, I get it, I'm only 20.  How much pain could I possibly experience?  And to be completely honest, I haven't seen much pain inflicted upon me.  I have a stable home, my mother and father are both still married and I have a loving sister.  I've got great friends, a second family really, and there aren't too many dire economic strains on my lifestyle.  I'm not crippled by some physical handicap, nor do I experience judgement, prejudice and hate everyday.  I'm verily blessed in so many departments.

To me, that's the look of true suffering.

But no one escapes pain, least of all an Afghan.  Pain is drawn to us as the tides are drawn to the shore, an incessant waxing and waning.  Sometimes these waves of pain are harsher than before, sometimes they are softer but always they are constant.  I think it may be due to my sensitivity.  I feel differently, not drastically, but just differently.  I can get butthurt over random things, and easily take shit for other stuff that people would think is off-limits.  

So where does this pain come from, if I've pretty much got it made?  Several things.  My own perceived inadequacy, a perception I do not want to argue about, my inability to handle my own imperfection and mistakes, things I have said and done and still-raw feelings over friendships severed.  I can't believe that these things still haunt my skull, but in the back of my head do they remain like slow-moving wraiths.  

Least gory way to show bleeding that I could find.

Channeling these hurt feelings and painful memories into words is not as easy as bleeding however.  Because the raucous contrarian inside of me refuses to accept this emo bullshit.  I will not succumb to some dumbass ideology that bitches and whines itself into literature, morphing my novel into a pity party.  I am a man damn it, I've got regrets but they can go to Hell.  I did what I did and I apologize, so why in the world should I be weighed down by the guilt?

I once spoke about regret in heroes.  I postulated that this regret, this interminable feeling of remorse, is not what makes our heroes so enjoyable.  It is their constant rebellion against these feelings, no matter how persistent or powerful they may be, that makes them heroes worthy of our fervor.  What else would?  And so too does Briok's story go.  

Whatever pain I feel, whatever I witnessed in the midst of my hurt, will not define my work.  The rebellion against such feelings is what will define it.  That is what will be Briok's journey, a constant series of reactions to a constant crashing of sorrow upon the shores of his human heart.  And hopefully, one day, just as he will eventually build a levee against such incessant waves I too will build a wall against the crippling woe.  

That's me, overlooking the daunting task ahead.

This is a short post, because this was really just a fleeting thought in my head.  I just wanted it put down somewhere that I refuse to allow my work to be defined by my sorrow, despite my willingness to pour such feelings into the novel.  Plus, I'm working hard on doing well in my Writer's Workshop that I am attending.  That's right!  UCLA is offering a four-week, two hour a week workshop on writing given by a self-published author of science fiction novels who has her master's degree in Neurophysiology.  It's like the university plucked from my hopes and aspirations the perfect program.

Maybe that's where the whole post can come together.  I learned in the first workshop about something called progression.  It seems like a simple idea, a common tool that any writer would need.  But it's actually very elusive.  Moving a plot forward, moving characterization forward without packing in too many details or new characters or outlandish events is excruciating.  That second one is important.  Characterization is very hard to do realistically.  Even the best characters can come off as fake sometimes.

I never want the reader saying, "Well, why didn't he just do blahdiddy blah blah?"  I want them to understand intrinsically the motives behind each action my characters take.  So what's more understandable than rebelling against pain?  We all strive to do it, we all want to do it.  I don't think anyone here would like for their pain to consume them.  And that's the progression.  Briok has to first learn what pain is.  Then become consumed by it.  Then fight it, and finally conquer it.  Or he could remain consumed by it and become a monster.  It'd be interesting wouldn't it?  Anyways, this writer's workshop has definitely been a massive help and I've only been to one session! Until next time then.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A New Experiment

Hello Reader!  I'm going to test out something new.  I'll be writing a passage "from my book" and posting it up here for all of you to read and critique.  The reason for the quotations is that this passage I am posting is not necessarily in my novel already.  I am writing it right now.  Or rather, after this sentence is done.

Actually I should probably preface this excerpt.  Antfortas Bersules is the older brother of Ablendan Bersules.  Their relationship is rocky, mainly due to their father's constant absence and their mother's fragility.  Dimo Bersules is a police captain in Atlantia, the capital city of Atlantis - the country in which the story is set.  Their mother is Miranda Bersules, a stay-at-home mom with traumatic memories from the family's original home in Sudan.  They arrived as immigrants by the good grace of the Magna Beast, who was in Sudan years before the present story on a mission.  Dimo Bersules helped him in that mission, and was rewarded with a way out of the war-torn country.  The whole family becomes embroiled in the war between Mags and Howlas because Ablendan ends up becoming friends with Briok, and coerced into joining the war.  The excerpt deals with the relationship between Antfortas and his father, Dimo.

Monday, January 03, 2011

What I Did in the Dead of Winter

Hello Reader!  So I've been awfully busy the last few weeks.  Legitimately!  Stop laughing!  Anyways, I've been working hard on clearing my mind so I can continue writing on my novel.  Wait a minute, you just said you'd been working hard!  Shut up and listen, I'm getting there!

Schizophrenia aside, I really have been diligently pressing forward on a side-project of mine that I've taken quite a bit of pride in.  The culmination of my anger at M. Night Shyamalan coupled with my love for the series Avatar: The Last Airbender has resulted in a completed, 118 page script for a film!  Yes, it's a hefty and slightly arrogant task to undertake.  I've never taken a screenwriting class, what do I know of the intricacies involved in crafting a well-done movie?  But that's not the point of this exercise.

The point was to see if I could.  To see if I could finish the damn thing the way I wanted to finish it, to envision the first season of Avatar the way I feel it could be represented best.  It was quite a challenge, and through its travails I understand why Shyamalan failed.  Condensing one season of a television show requires more than just cutting out certain episodes and including others.  In fact, this condensation shouldn't even occur.  What should happen instead is an elevation of the plot's strongest points, the character's most powerful emotions and the story's most transcendent heights.

With Avatar, this is all rather easy.  You just had to pay attention and rewatch each episode religiously.  From Aang's emergence in the first episode to the awkward and rushed ending of the last, each thread of story is so clearly outlined and full developed by the show's creaters Bryan Konietzko and Michael DiMartino that any missed beat is solely the fault of the writer.

Take for example Aang's love for Katara.  Several times in the show this love is clearly articulated.  The Cave of Two Lovers episode, The Play episode of Season 3, even the very first episode of the series depicts Aang's infatuation with Katara in crystalline brushstrokes.  But those are only a few episodes at a time.  What truly illustrated Aang and Katara's mutual feelings was the blushing, awkward glances, brave attempts at flirting and even daring rescues that occurred without lines being spoken.  It's these subtleties in acting, performance, cinematography and direction that Night left out of his film and that the creators of Avatar utilized extensively.

So what did I have to do to elevate the show?  Cut out several episodes, steal lines from one episode and insert those tidbits of information into scenes and places they did not exist beforehand.  I had to, several times, steal from future seasons and write-in events that would happen later in the series.  For example, King Bumi makes an appearance in the first season.  While the episode he appears in is derivative filler, the character himself is incredibly important.  He is part of the White Lotus!  A group of men that becomes so ludicrously important in the latter half of season two and final episodes of season three that shoving each of the main members' introductions into the second or third movies will demean their incredible importance.

It is crucial to introduce Bumi in the first film of three, give him time to be imprisoned in the second film, and then bring him back during the third.  Because in the second film, you have the introduction of the White Lotus itself, laying down railroad tracks the viewer cannot see the destination of but whose very construction intrigues them enough to come and see the Avatar world a third time.  And Hell, there's so much going on in the second season that using precious minutes of film time to introduce and give backstory to a rather kooky character right after Aang, Katara and Sokka have fought the battle of their lives and lost those that they loved seems to be a drastic and sadistic treatment of tone.