I tend to be the sort of writer who responds to the ubiquitous advice to “write what you know” with “yes, but”. Mostly because a lot of people use it a bit too literally, and I like writing science fiction and fantasy. But despite the caveats, it is good advice. I would find it difficult at best to write a story focusing on the specific and personal experience of being a parent, and setting it in a Colorado town all but identical to the one I live in now wouldn’t really help. But on the same token, I could write a story set in the strangest and most far flung world I can imagine, dealing with themes of trust and friendship, and I think it could be a really good story.
So maybe that’s why, when something happens and I find myself in a situation that is… less than ideal, I’ve comforted myself more than once with the thought that I can channel the experience into some future story. Bed bugs in a cheap hotel? I bet there’s some kind of pest on that distant, crumbling space station. Made a mistake at work and can’t stop beating myself up about it? Maybe if I can get a character to work through their own mistakes I can borrow some of the tricks that worked for them. If I do it right, it should all help my writing be that much better. And that means even the hard things in life just give me a bigger pool of experience to draw from.
Sometimes, it’s hard to rest. Perversely, this is most often the case when we need it most. It’s one thing to find yourself easily distracted and to have trouble focusing on the tasks at hand– but those breaks aren’t rest. Not really. It’s something entirely different to take a purposeful step back and say ‘now is not the time for work’.
There’s a reason one of the ten commandments is the one about keeping the sabbath.
So, here’s to rest. And taking the time to recover, to refocus, to accept our human weakness before getting back to it. Because sometimes that’s what we really need.
It’s an interesting exercise to take a character from the setting they originally existed in and to insert them into one that’s entirely new and different. By which I don’t mean just taking Aragorn, son of Arathorn and putting him on the bridge of the starship Enterprise (which… actually, no. That would be terrible. I think he’d fare better on Tatooine instead.) But rather, imagining what he would be like if the character that is Aragorn had always existed in some other world.
The move isn’t always smooth. In good writing as in real life, the setting informs the characters and makes them who they are. And moving a character that started their life as (more or less) a Redwall fan character, turning them human, and dropping them into a world that is not ruled by constant skirmishes between woodlander and vermin means that you have to find the core of their character and figure out a way to keep it intact while changing everything else.
Some characters come out on the other side better than others.
But if it does nothing else, it will absolutely force you to look at them from another angle. And maybe that’s enough to knock loose some of the tropes and cliches you’ve been relying on without thinking about them, and if it can do that, then maybe you’ll find out something new about them and, in the process, discover a way to make them an even better character. Either way, it has the potential to be a very enjoyable process.
When it comes to reading, I can count on one hand the books (fiction, specifically) that I’ve started and left unfinished. And one of those wasn’t so much abandoned intentionally as forgotten about when a new school semester started. There’s a part of me that is, admittedly, kinda proud of this. But that being said, I’ve been wondering lately if I might not be better served by being more willing to make the call that a book isn’t working for me and letting it go to the Did-Not-Finish pile.
Of course, a part of this is that I don’t generally start books I don’t have a good chance of liking. Fair enough– I don’t think there’s many people who would pick up a book to read with the assumption that they’ll hate it. And a large majority of my reading list is made up of books recommended to me by friends who generally have a good feeling for what I’ll like and what I probably won’t. Which, maybe, explains why the two books in recent memory that I was tempted to put down (but didn’t/haven’t) were both ones I picked up on the recommendation of strangers and stuck with on the Principle Of The Thing.
Or, in other words, because I was too stubborn to put them down and switch to something else.
And to some extent, I think that stubbornness serves me well. Sometimes a book takes a little while to get going, and then something click into place and you can’t put the darn thing down because you find that it’s the most engaging thing you’ve read in months. But sometimes it’s just not going to happen, no matter how much of the story you slog through. And that’s where I run into trouble, because I will force myself to finish a book for the sake of finishing it, when perhaps it would be wiser to put it down and, if I care enough, look up the ending on Wikipedia.
So, the next time I run into a book that I just don’t find myself enjoying, maybe I’ll try putting it down and accepting that it’s not for me.
It’s March! And here in Colorado, it’s apparently still winter, judging by the snow falling outside my window right now. Not that I’m complaining; I’ve been in dire need of real seasons for years and it’s so nice to see the world change around me as the days pass.
On the writing front, I’d like to point out that 11:45pm on February 28 is still, technically, February, and so that still counts as posting up a story– or part of one, more on that below– every month. Maybe I’m grasping at straws. But! It’s more writing than I posted up last year, and certainly it’s more regular than last year too. Correspond (I) is actually the story I was working on for January before running out of time, and I suppose it’s fair to say I ran out of time in February, too. And, technically, it’s not done. The first part is, and that’s what’s posted. The second (and… third?) parts will actually be going up in the next weeks. I could lie through my teeth and say that I planned to post it up that way from the start (I didn’t) because I thought it would be cool to build in a delay that interacts in an interesting way with the story itself (I do), but clearly that cat has escaped the bag. Plus, what I ended up with when I finished Part 1 doesn’t quiiiiite line up the way I’d hoped. That being said, I really like some of the ideas I was playing with and I enjoyed writing it. And, of course, I hope you enjoy reading it and the parts to come.
As for reading, I did a little less of it last month compared to January, but still managed to finish several books, including Brandon Sanderson’s The Lost Metal and Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel. For the former, it’s everything I’ve come to expect from a Sanderson conclusion (high stakes, wild adventure, poignant moments) mixed in with a huge dose of Cosmere lore. Which I’m actually a little divided about. On the one hand, it’s super interesting and I’ve read enough Sanderson to really enjoy the cameos and the throwbacks. On the other, I think it stole some thunder from Wax and Wayne and the gang. The characters, though, and their growth and their arcs were fantastic, probably his best so far.
And then Sea of Tranquility. Fairly short, very beautiful. Without giving things away, I’d say it reminds me a bit of Connie Willis’ Oxford Time Travel stories, just a smidge more dystopian in the overarching setting. But just a smidge, and not oppressively so. It can be a fairly quick read, but I took my time with it, and enjoyed it the better for it.
Anyway! Keep an eye out for further parts of Correspond, as well as more writing/reading/life related rambling. And enjoy the end of winter! It’s coming!
For a moment she was a ghost: cold, half-numb, and detached. Then the fog broke, the ice cracked, and she remembered who she was. Where she was.Her chest tightened. A voice, artificial tones familiar yet not quite comforting, gave an announcements, instructions, warnings. Things she needed to know. Things that couldn’t be that urgent, because the lights of Coldbay 1 were a low and steady blue and and nothing was flashing red, and only one or two were amber. Things that could wait until she extricated herself from the coldpod and replaced this pink and paper-thin gown with something more substantial. Things that the Twins, one bay over, were just as capable of taking care of too.
She grunted as her bare feet hit the panel floor and an aching panic jolted through her legs, her hips, her back as the muscles remembered how to work. Or maybe it was just the effect of cold metal on unprotected skin.
In the background, the artificial voice garbled on.
“… can be found in the shelving…
… you or any member of your team are…
… Earth mean date and time is calculated at…”
There were other noises, too. She hadn’t noticed them at first but they were there, and they were comforting. Low hums. Rhythmic thrumming. All the sounds a ship should make, an electric, mechanical heartbeat against a backdrop of complete and perfect silence.
And the silence beyond was perfect. Or at least it was complete.
Clarity returned in fits and starts, bringing more of memory with it. Her chest tightened again. It wasn’t that she had forgotten: not any of it. Not the ship. Not the mission. Not how irrevocably vast the distance was that they had traveled. It was just that her brain, fogged with coldsleep and a thousand clamoring physical needs, had neglected to remember. It remembered now.
Strange how remembering brought both relief and renewed dread. Relief that the nanites had worked, that she was here, alive, awake. She’d never gone under cold before, and the primal fear that raged in the back of the brain could only be quieted so much by the knowledge of all the thousands who had done it an lived.
Dread of… everything else.
It would probably be better if she didn’t give herself the time to think. Not until the Twins were up and around and chattering on the comms.
A tension she wished she could ignore screwed her shoulders to her ears. A chill not entirely the fault of the cold air and her bare skin whispered down her spine. The ship’s systems should have triggered the wakeup for the Twins the same time it sent hers; the fact that she couldn’t already hear them laughing through the bulkheads—
—might not mean a thing. The Twins could be just as awake as she was, and their uncharacteristic quiet could be a symptom of the post-freeze lag.
That was the logical response. But there was logic, and there was her gut. And when the two came back with different answers, it only ever meant that logic was working with old information.
She swore, softly and to herself, and forced her tingling legs to carry her across the room to the big medscanner. If something had gone wrong, panic wouldn’t fix it. She would. Carefully and in the correct order. That meant taking care of herself first. And the first step for that was making sure coldsleep hadn’t left her any ticking time-bombs. Complications were rare, the docs had assured her, and easily fixed if caught early. The scanner would do both.
It was too bad that knowledge didn’t make the crawling minutes pass any faster. Or make the white and sterile bed feel any less exposed beneath the scanner’s probing lights.
And when the great, impersonal thing finally finished its work and spat its results onto the nearby screen with a quiet ping, it couldn’t offer her any comfort as she read them.
<Circulatory function… GOOD>
<Respiratory function… GOOD>
<Neurological function… GOOD>
<Nanite interface… ABNORMAL… SEE REPORT FOR FURTHER DETAILS>
The words didn’t even display frantic red. Just amber. Nagging amber. Stubborn amber. The color of mild concern, but she was the only one there to feel it.
Despite herself, her best intentions, her years of careful discipline, she lost control. Her blood drummed at her ears. Her pores leaked sweat, and the chilly room grew chillier still. And then she breathed. In, out. One deep breath. And another. And then a third, coaxing focus back. Bribing her pulse down from its fluttering heights.
Because panic wouldn’t fix it.
She retrieved her uniform and pulled it on before she opened the report. Perhaps it was a concession to her frail humanity, but that was alright. It was alright to take what comfort she could find, even if that comfort was just the weight of the fabric on her shoulders and the familiar contours of the well-worn, well-loved boots on her feet. If it helped, who was she to argue?
Then, because there was nothing else to do, because the only way past was through, she tapped the amber words with the tip of a finger and opened herself to the worst. And found it anticlimactic. There was no cascading failure. There was no spreading corruption. There was only an error message, all but useless in its lack of specific information.
>>> Nanite interface ABNORMAL…
Communication failure… attempting reboot in 30 minutes…
Coldsleep NOT advised
She should have felt relieved, or at least warily hopeful. It could have been so much worse. The nanites coursing through her veins, a new type—or they were when they had injected them ten years ago—could have met with every kind of failure. Instead, they were just… glitching a little. Probably. Maybe.
She should have felt relieved, she told herself, but all she really felt was the weight of silence. Because the coldpod would have registered that error before it brought her out, and the only reason it had done so anyway was because they had removed that particular failsafe.
Because she had told them to. Because she’d said she was willing to take the risk. Because the mission was more important. Because she’d thought a few days, weeks, months of terrible isolation was a price she was willing to pay if it meant their colony had a lifeline back to Earth.
The mission psychs had disagreed. Some more vehemently than others. It had taken months of argument to secure their agreement, and then only with caveats. Three of them had to be woken, and she and the Twins had volunteered. And they had to be able to go back into coldsleep after a few days. Hence the new tech.
The new tech that, despite extensive testing and spotless results, was now malfunctioning.
The thrumming of the ship seemed small and pitiful now, standing against a fathomless void and loneliness. It was all in her head, she told herself. That was where all the worst monsters lived, she replied.
For a split second something teetered at the edge of her mind, goaded by a thousand ifs. If the Twins’ nanites had malfunctioned. If the reset didn’t work. If she couldn’t fall back into coldsleep.
She might have screamed. She might have stood, paralyzed and silent. She didn’t know. She didn’t care. She wasn’t sure it mattered.
She wasn’t even sure what finally got her moving once again. Habit, maybe. Or her old friends, duty and discipline, reasserting themselves. All she knew was that she found herself, minutes later, standing in Coldbay 2 and finding that her fears were confirmed. The computer had attempted to wake the Twins. And it had failed.
And she was alone here after all, floating in this void between the stars. The certainty should have clawed away her remaining sanity. It would eventually, she was sure. But for now, it was a strange relief. Hope, whatever shreds of it remained, was far enough away that she could ignore it. And while she could move, she had work to do.
And, in honesty, there are plenty of situations in which I really don’t like it. Like when there’s no real need to talk, and we’re just trying to fill the silence. Or when it’s being used to avoid having a deeper conversation.
But sometimes, there’s a comfort in it. Because for all the claims that small talk is shallow and meaningless, it’s not always. Sometimes, talking with a stranger on the bus about the weather is just the kind of human connection that can turn your day around. It’s a glimpse into someone else’s life, someone else’s thoughts. It’s a window into another view of the world, and it’s so very interesting.
Or maybe that’s just my writer’s fascination with other people.
It’s been just over six months since moving to Colorado, and the mountains still take me by surprise. They’re beautiful. So beautiful. Right now it’s usually right around sunrise when I drive in to work in the morning, and with all the snow that has fallen this winter the taller peaks are all still white with snow, and they turn a brilliant pink when the early sunlight hits them. Some mornings there’s towering clouds just beyond them, either penned in or held at bay. On others they’re half hidden in mist.
I can’t quite see them from the house; we’re just low enough, just tucked enough into the hills to hide them. Until I make that first turn onto one of the bigger east-west roads. Then they’re there, huge and impressive, so stunning they take my breath away.
When I lived in Santa Barbara, I felt almost the same way about the ocean. There’s this one big hill in particular where the road runs up it long and steep and curving, and when you crest it the Pacific is suddenly there, immense and beautiful, the waves a slightly different shade of blue and green every single day.
But I think, if I had to choose, I love the mountains more.
News from the Writer’s Den
As I mentioned at the beginning of this month, life went unexpected right at the end of January and is only slowly returning to normal finding a rhythm again, which took just as much of a toll on my still shaky writing habit as you’d expect. That being said, the good news is that I’m gearing right back up again and should be posting up the (much longer!) story I’d meant for January by the end of this month as well as making more progress on Tanner and Miranda’s various adventures. Ambitious? Maybe. But also doable. Either way, I’ll see you all next week with another new blog.
While talking with a friend recently about writing, I realized that my characters haven’t been taking their stories into their own hands and running off with them as much as they have in the past. On the one hand, this does make it easier to get them to do things. On the other, some of my favorite scenes have been completely unplanned and entirely outside of what I would have written had I stuck with what I thought needed to happen, and in angstier moments, I catch myself wondering if I’m structuring my writing into predictable scenes and stilted conflict.
It’s not so bad as that, fortunately.
In fact, the more I’m thinking about it, it’s not so much that my characters aren’t flying off to do their own at all, and more that the whole story will twist on itself and zip off somewhere I didn’t expect. Is it still possible that my characters aren’t as fully rounded as I want them to be, and/or that I just don’t know them well enough to have my subconscious take the reins? Oh, absolutely. And that’s something I’ll have to work on, I have no doubt. But fortunately, I don’t think it’s evidence that I’ve regressed in my writing ability. Despite what I try to tell myself on a bad writing day.
I’m quite certain I’m not the only one feeling a bit astounded that we’ve already chewed our way through the first month of 2023. It’s been fairly productive out here in my corner of the universe, both on the reading/writing side of things and just for life in general, though I’ve a sneaking suspicion that February might take a hit on that front, despite my best intentions. We’ll see!
It’s kinda fudging it to say that I read four books in January– though only just. Because while I finished reading Brandon Sanderson’s new book Tress of the Emerald Sea today, I read most of it last month. So I’m going to say that counts. For those of you who haven’t read it yet, I can say I thoroughly enjoyed it, from the vaguely fairy tale feel to the fantastic worldbuilding to the whimsical snarkiness throughout.
Other completed books were The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (Stuart Turton), Harrow the Ninth, and Nona the Ninth (books two and three of Tamsyn Muir’s Locked Tomb series). I already posted up a blog (rant) regarding my thoughts about The 7 1/2 Deaths, so I won’t rehash that here. As for Harrow and Nona, I’m thoroughly enjoying those and have joined the ranks of those waiting in eager anticipation for the upcoming release of book four. It’s probably the… weirdest series I’ve read in quite a while, and it’s definitely not going to be everyone’s cup of tea (bowl of soup?), but I’m well and truly hooked.
Writing, while going at a slower pace than reading, is still falling back into more of a rhythm than I’ve had in quite a while, which is really nice. So far it’s mostly been on smaller projects as I knock the rust off of the skills needed to actually structure a story, but writing is writing, and it’s happening more often. As evidenced in part by the short story that posted up yesterday! Ha!
Technically, The Path wasn’t the story I planned on posting up last month. But life went a little unexpected this last week, and the story I was diligently chipping away at… didn’t get finished. And was going well enough that it deserved far more than a rushed ending that couldn’t do it any kind of justice. So, the plan is to finish that and post it up for February. The plan is also to keep working at various Tanner and Miranda stories, but those will likely take longer to see on the blog.
Anyway! That’s it for updates from the last month. Check in next week for more rambling nonsense and writing related musings!