Losing the Plot

A few months ago I had a really great conversation with Leo on the Losing the Plot podcast.

An aptly named podcast for the times in which we live.

It was a really fun conversation and we talked about all sorts of things including how no one asked us to be writers and how we probably shouldn’t be in politics.

Have a listen if you fancy.

Someone always says it better…

After my post yesterday I got some of my favourite regular e-mail this year – my monthly writing exercise from Matt Bell (If you haven’t signed up you’re missing out.)

This month he wrote about Choice and Complicity.

It was a fascinating read and the subject matter, though difficult to fully execute in prose, is something I’ve already started considering how to utilize.

Essentially, he’s talking about power structures. The ones in which we operate in and how we make choices within those power structures.

These are not always (perhaps, importantly so) the Perfect Choice but rather the Best Choice We Can Make Given the Situation.

All of these systems and power structures can and should and will be resisted, but at the same time many people have no choice but to live within them, with someone always benefitting even as others are injured, and of course I know that standing up against one power structure doesn’t automatically mean being able or willing to do the same against another. We all make choices from inside these systems, and for me, [Octavia] Butler’s novels are some of the best examples I know of how to depict those choices in fiction.

Matt Bell

It’s something I’m already interested in, generally, but I’d never considered how it could be applied to fiction writing.

Elsewhere in the newsletter he links to Charlie Jane Anders ‘s ongoing essay-series/book Never Say You Can’t Survive. I’ve only just started reading the first few entries but I think I’ll be reading the whole thing.

The following is an excerpt from the chapter, How to Get Through Hard Times by Making Up Stories.

“And escapism is resistance. People sometimes talk about escapist storytelling as a kind of dereliction of duty, as if we’re just running away from the fight. That’s some bullshit right there. In her 1979 essay collection The Language of the Night, Ursula K. Le Guin paraphrases Tolkien thusly: “If a soldier is captured by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape? …. If we value the freedom of the mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape and to take as many people with us as we can.”

So yeah, escapist fiction is about liberation, and imagining a happier, more just world is a direct assault on the forces that are trying to break your heart. As Le Guin says, the most powerful thing you can do is imagine what if things could be different…

What if?”

Charlie Jane Anders, Never Say You Can’t Survive

Like I said, someone always says it better…

What are you adding to the conversation?

Is writing anything in this day and age stupid?

As I’m working through my current WIP and working on shorter things I’m plagued by this question:

What’s the point really?

It feels like every day there’s a new piece of bad news. It feels like every day another writer (usually, but not always, a white cis man, like myself) is outed as being a creep or a literal cartoon villain.

And I’m not normally one to give into despair – my actual day-to-day life is pretty great – but, still…

Last weekend I took part in an online class with Benjamin Percy on the writing of comics. He talked about the structure and “story math” of comics and how they can be applied to writing novels, short stories, and even memoir.

The whole four-hour class was a blast and I learned a lot and have revisited my extensive notes again and again over the past few days. He’s got a lot to impart to writers because he can do the genre thing but also the “literary” thing. The kind of shuffle I wish I could pull off.

However, one thing he said towards the end caught my attention.

“What do you have to add to the conversation?”

It’s such a simple question but one I’ve probably only briefly considered: Why me? Why now?

He said he’d been asking himself in recent months, what, if anything, was his art bringing to the table? Is it just a mirror regurgitation of things he consumed and enjoyed?

I realised that it resonated with me because I’ve been wondering the same thing.

Three months ago, I said on here that I was going to make my work as personal and strange as can be. That I wanted to burrow into what, hopefully, makes my worldview unique. And then I have to spotlight my work and say, is that what I’m doing?

Now is a good time as any to remind myself that I should be working harder to do that.

It’s still in an early drafting stage so everything can change but I want to write things that feel true and that genuinely interest me.

So here’s me re-upping on that promise, mostly to myself.

Related, but maybe not, I keep having this image in my head…

An empty town. Burnt out cars. Windowless buildings. Cobalt sky with streaks of white. Warm, sickly winds that taste… wrong. Here and there, flickering lights of small communities huddled together.

And beneath an overturned, slightly crushed car, is a figure, silhouetted by a torch rigged to hang from a headrest.

The figure is hunched over, furiously scribbling on something. The hand they’re using to steady the page is wrapped, bandaged, with a discoloured shirt. In their other hand, they clutch an orange crayon and scribble in the margins and faded yellow spaces left on old newspapers and books. Paper, when they can find it. The inside of the car is filled with these scribblings.

But what would worth writing in the midst of a wasteland?

I like to imagine it’s a play.

Something that people could come together perform one day. If the author doesn’t screw it up or ruin the last section. If they don’t run out of paper. If they can only get it just right.

Book Trailers are Cool

Like I said over on Twitter earlier, I really enjoy that book trailers are becoming more of a thing.

A couple of years ago I saw Juliet Escoria post one for some book and thought it was a really avant garde move, and that – if I ever had the chance – I’d do it, too, one day.

This wasn’t the one I remember seeing but the one that popped up by hopping on YouTube for a second. And also that date (in the thumbnail) is my birthday of the first year I started writing… Weird?


They’re becoming more of a thing lately – or maybe I’m only just noticing now – which is great news. Book marketing needed to figure out a way to hurdle over that gap of, ya know, making people read.

Working in marketing, I know all too well that people don’t like reading anything online except bold headlines. Their eyes prefer jumping in Z’s and T’s.

I first noticed the trailers for Josh Malerman’s books, which makes sense really ’cause of how big he is and how theatrical even his book readings are.

Couldn’t find the cool little short trailer he has for Malorie now but it’s cool. Got all these trees and trippy lighting. Nifty.

And here’s two I saw this morning from Stephen Graham Jones and Todd Keisling.

The Only Good Indians – Stephen Graham Jones

Devil’s Creek – Todd Keisling

If you know any cool book trailers, let me know. I’m hoping they just get bigger and better.

61 Days – Have I learned anything?

A small check in to say that I’ve just hit 40k words on my longer project -OPERATION MEZZANINE.

I’ve been aiming to write 300 words every day as a very small and manageable goal to keep me sane as I work from home Monday to Friday.

But, roughly, I’ve managed about 655 words a day on average for 61 days.

Nyaaaatt bad.

Ran (1985) - Akira Kurosawa : CineShots
One of the many cool shots from ‘Ran’

I’d hoped to be a little bit further ahead by now, but no matter, the work is still alive and each day I’m finding something new to excite me about the project and writing, generally.

I’ve also had time to pen a couple of much smaller things and submit them. So it’s been a very productive time.

Here’s a couple of things I’ve learned writing half (I’d guess) of my novel over the last two months, in no particular order…

  • I like rough drafting scenes and then trying to fix them the next day. Fixing sentences and nuances every other day makes me a fan of what I’m actually writing. I feel less like I’m jumping from plot point to plot point and actually crafting a story someone other than me might enjoy reading.
  • Characters need to want something (yes) in every scene (pretty obvious, Johnny) but giving them a reason to not satisfy that desire for something else they hope is far better in the long run makes scenes spring alive. (I assume at this point every writing manual in the world is moaning a prolonged duhhhhhhhhhhhhhh… but shush.)
  • Making characters lie is fun.
  • Being cruel to my characters doesn’t come naturally to me… but the writing is much better when I do.
  • I don’t seem to work well on Thursdays…
  • But Mondays are my JAM!
  • If I don’t read something for more than a day I start to feel sluggish on the page. I can still write and I do but words/ideas/images don’t spring as quickly into my head.
  • If I don’t write for more than 2 days I become incredibly irritable and begin to question what even is the point…
Baltimore, Vol. 1: The Plague Ships by Mike Mignola
  • Every other week I become obsessed with a new writer, director, or musician and they are fuel to me. This past two months, among others I’m sure I’m forgetting, there’s been Denis Johnson, Akira Kurosawa, Mike Mignola, Thundercat, Joe Begos, Marlon James, Michael McDowell, Blake Butler, and this week China Mieville with an emerging appreciation for Jeff VanderMeer.

What any of this means is oblivious to me at the moment. But I’m looking forward to the next 40k or so more words.

Hopefully it won’t take as long.