Science Affliction Dept.

I call my work SF because I gotta call it something.


My problem with science fiction, if it can rightfully be called a problem, is that I got spoiled too quickly on it.

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Tags: Clifford Simak genres James Tiptree Jr. Kurt Vonnegut Philip K. Dick science fiction Stanisław Lem Theodore Sturgeon writing


Alternativity Dept.

Every picture tells (me) a story.


Once again, let me turn from the blighted face of the times to something a little more affirmative.

When I posted before about the secret influences behind Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunnedone source I mentioned was The Matrix, but not because I wanted to take ideas from that story. Rather, it was because I'd seen the trailer for the film — which did a very good job of concealing its secrets but sparking interest in it all the same — and from that had drawn completely incorrect conclusions about the movie's premise. Then I saw the movie itself, and while I really liked what I saw, I kept thinking back to the unused premise in question. It more or less sat around, waiting for me to find a home for it, until I started writing the project early last year.

I don't have a name for this phenomenon yet, but it's worth digging into further — this sense of getting the "wrong" idea about some other creative work, and then using that as its own inspiration.

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Tags: Always Outnumbered Never Outgunned creativity creators imagery imagination


The Firstest Or The Bestest Dept.

It doesn't matter who does something first. It matters who does something best. Or who does something most theirs.


A conversation with a friend turned up the following gem of an insight: It doesn't matter who did something first; it matters who does something best.

My original version of this insight revolved around information technology. Xerox PARC may have invented many of the things we associate with modern GUIs, but it was Apple that made them into a consumer product by way of the Macintosh.

But this applies to most everything else as well, creative work included. If you have a Great Idea for a story, and someone else has a Great Idea for a story, your implementation of that idea is always going to be different from his, even if they look superficially similar. You're always going to emphasize the things that are important to you, and draw different conclusions. To that end, doing it "best" may be more about doing it your way, and for your reasons.

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Tags: Always Outnumbered Never Outgunned Brainstorm creativity Strange Days writers writing


Welcome to the Fold: The First Peek Dept.

My novel 'Welcome to the Fold' is now finally going public. A little at a time.


I kept promising I would do this, but now it's time to make good on my promises. The first public glimpse of my new (well, new since I finished it last year) book Welcome To The Fold is now available on the book-networking site Inkshares.

My plan is to upload chapters — sections, really — from the first third or so of the book, about one per week, and then see how much attention I can drum up on Inkshares that way. If it turns out to be a dud, I'll drop back to Plan B: Kindle and Amazon CreateSpace, with some promotion by way of a few services I've been introduced to in the past couple of months.

I really don't know what people are going to think about this one. Even I thought it was strange. In a good way, that is. If you don't like it, don't worry — there's another book on the way that is as unlike this one as this one was unlike anything else I've done!


Tags: Inkshares Welcome to the Fold writing


Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned: Lipstick Traces Dept.

'Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned' and its hidden influences.


One of the chief influences on Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned has been the movie Strange Days, easily one of my favorite films of all time, and still not available in anything like a decent home video edition. I ended up dropping some Amazon points to order the German import Blu-ray Disc — it looks terrific — but anyone who doesn't have a multiregion BD player is either going to have to buy one or just suck their thumbs, since inexplicably there are no plans to issue it domestically. Hey, Fox, not to state the crashingly obvious here, but given that you're sitting on a stone cold cult classic that is even more relevant than ever, how about doing us a solid with it?

That said, having the movie back in hand made me think again about all the different influences that have converged in this project.

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Tags: Always Outnumbered Never Outgunned influences Strange Days writers writing


Mudballs And Fear Factors Dept.

How not to be intimidated by your own creative process.


I spent most of an evening pawing through the mess of notes I’d accumulated for the outline to the last third or so of Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned, and tried to pull it together into something like an actual outline instead of just pages and pages of freeform rambling. This is the drawback to using a wiki as an organizational system: if you don’t rigorously impose your own discipline upon the results, you will end up with that most dreaded of design patterns, the Big Ball of Mud.

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Tags: creativity creators


Guidance Is Internal Dept.

My thoughts have become less in the vein of, "What is the wisdom to be sought?" and more in the vein of, "How is this wisdom to be germinated in each of us?" (Warning: Late-night blather-y.)


[Written late at night:]

It's late, so I may not be coherent. But here I am all the same.

My thoughts have become less in the vein of, "What is the wisdom to be sought?" and more in the vein of, "How is this wisdom to be germinated in each of us?"

Pass on the wisdom, like so much advice on housekeeping or cooking or the best way to wash one's car, and you run two risks. The risk of hearing: you risk turning the whole thing into mere advice — words which are nice to say and nice to hear and remain unlived, unearned. The risk of speaking: you risk becoming nothing more than a mouthpiece, someone whose self-appointed job is to push wisdom into the ear of another and cross one's fingers.

Great teachers have always stood back and let understanding kindle itself. Seymour Papert, the inventor of the LOGO language for making math and computer science accessible to children, once saw a ten-year-old girl in his class creating an elegant abstract pattern. "The math for that must be really something," said an adult bystander to the girl. "I hate math," the girl declared, and went on learning it without knowing she was. Papert saw no reason to disabuse her of her feelings.

Fires within us are not lit from the outside. Good circumstances should be provided instead: the matches, the dry space, the kindling, the pit in which the fire is to be lit and burned gaily. The marshmallows. The sticks for same. The griddle or the grill. Never the fire itself. We light that ourselves or not at all.

On some level, I suspect we know all this. What has always bothered me is how we sabotage it. We do know what needs to be done; it's never been all that complicated or confusing. But we confuse and complicate things all too readily. Worst of all, we turn what should be discovery and an inner voyage into a matter of pleasing others. How many people donning a cross are genuine examples of Christian morality? Few enough that I suspect such a thing exists in spite of all the doctrine in the world, not thanks to it. But this is not about God-bashing; this is about how we foolishly believe the road to such things can be made ... efficient.

(Digression. Zen argues that such an efficient road exists; you just have to dispense with all likes and dislikes and take things exactly as they are, minus your silly ideas about them. Yourself included. But the efficiency I speak of here is not Zen; it is the pretentious attitude exhibited by the psychoanalyst who told John Cage he could fix him so that he could produce even more music than ever.)

Good reasons exist to want efficiency and certainty in life. Not starving to death, not being obliterated by a meteor, not being shot by your own people and hung in the streets are all worthy motives. But what's inside of each of us isn't amenable to a program, where one puts in God and gets out grace. NASA recordings will sometimes feature the phrase: Guidance is internal. The entire inner-space program, as it were, can only be piloted by internal guidance, a program you can only run on your own and in private. All anyone can do for you is give you the development kit.

And what a shame it is that nobody wants to hear this! The last thing most people want to be told is that it really is up to them, that spiritual matters are not things they can be educated into the way we teach people how to write good C++ programs. We are addicted to the idea that the only way we can make people good is by beating some sense into them, because we all know left to their own devices they accomplish nothing. And likewise, we are addicted to the idea that someone can come along and upload such things into us — that all we have to do is find the right authority to take the work out of our hands.

Again, a grain of truth: leave people as we know them now on their own, and many will accomplish nothing. But first let us see how we can make it so that we can have people who are not uncomfortable with being entirely on their own, with seeing themselves as a process and not an endpoint. That always seems to be the goal, isn't it? To give rise to a kind of person is not insecure when alone and not crushed down when with others.

[On reading all this back: Not very coherent, I'll admit. But worth keeping all the same. One can always save the pieces.]


Tags: philosophy spirituality


Truthiness-ness Dept.

Being a skeptic or a freethinker is more than just about a label.


My friend Steven Savage has a longish, but highly worthwhile, post where he talks about truth as being a matter of connection.

Something is True (or at least “truer” than other things) because it can be explained in multiple ways, because its validity is confirmed multiple ways, and the “true thing” relates to other data, concepts, and experiences. ... Truth is a web of connections. Truth does not exist outside of context.

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Tags: philosophy psychology


Arguments With Myselves Dept.

How a static plot outline becomes a living thing by way of self-dialogue.


I spent most of the vacation break and the following week bashing on a revamped outline for the final third of Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned. Hence my protracted silence. Once again, what was meant to be something fun and free-spirited has turned into a Mission with a capital M. Do I regret it? Nah. Besides, wrestling with it helped codify a way of working on these things that didn't previously have a explicit methodology: the "self-dialogue."

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Tags: Always Outnumbered Never Outgunned creativity plotting writers writing


Music: No Tacos For Saddam (Andrei Codrescu)

NPR commentator, author, and sardonic voice of the disgusted put some of his best material to wax in this collection that is regrettably out of print.



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The words "NPR commentator" fill some people with dread and loathing, and the reaction is not entirely undeserved. Andrei Codrescu is not among those who deserves such a brush-off, though — he comes equipped with the kind of grim, cutting wit that only seems possible for a direct-line descendant of H.L. Mencken — or, in his case, a Romanian emigre who's disgusted enough for any three lifetimes but somehow retains enough wonder for a dozen of them. No Tacos For Saddam compiles a number of monologues and essays from his NPR days, many of which were featured in print in his book Zombificationand the best praise I have for it is that while it inspired a lot of laughter, it was all with him and not at him, and some of it was more that I might not cry.

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Tags: Andrei Codrescu review spoken word


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