Category Archives: Writing

Entries where I talk about my writing: stories, novels, general creativity.

Once Again, NaNoWriMo Looms Before Us!

As you probably know, having been a dutiful reader of my blog since the very beginning, National Novel Writing Month — NaNoWriMo for short — starts November 1. I used to participate every year, and had done so since 2001, before there was a website with a forum and graphics and all that. I skipped 2002, but did every year from 2003 through 2016. In 2017, I started to write And the Devil Will Drag You Under, but found myself blocked by characterization problems and plot problems, and just didn’t finish. Since then, I’ve started a couple of times, but haven’t gotten very far.

This year, though, I’m gonna do it! Yes indeed! I signed up, set up a project, and all that. The project is The Outer Darkness: Genesis, based on an idea for a role-playing game that three friends of mine and I developed back in the late 90s. I had originally signed up with the intent of writing the first draft of The X of Doom, my pirate novel, but the plot hasn’t really come together yet; I just don’t have a clear idea of how everything comes together. So I’m going to continue to plan for that one as well. Pirates! Yar! The Outer Darkness: Genesis has no pirates in it, despite how many suggestions I’ve been given to base it on a Dungeons and Dragons Spelljammer campaign.

Cover of The Heroine's Journey
A fine book to help authors plot character journeys

The Outer Darkness: Genesis is a space opera with horror elements. I’ve also been reading The Heroine’s Journey by Gail Carriger, which has really solidified some plot ideas for me. This is a great book which outlines for authors some tools to use for plotting out character arcs that aren’t so depending on Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. I’ve known writers who swear by the Hero’s Journey but I’ve never been able to successfully pull it off. And it’s problematic in some ways. It’s not hard to find critiques of Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey, so I won’t list them here.

In other words, if I can avoid getting distracted, this year I will, once again, win National Novel Writing Month by writing 50,000 words of The Outer Darkness: Genesis by November 30.


I wanted to talk here a little bit about creativity and emotional disorders. I’ve never made it a secret that I have bipolar type 2 and generalized anxiety disorder and that I take medications for them. I’ve been in therapy (although my therapist discharged me a few years ago, noting the progress I’d made in regulating my emotions), and I currently see a psychiatrist primarily to make sure I stay on track.

Recently, though, I’ve seen a couple of posts on Instagram and in various blogs stating that medications can dull creativity, or that suffering is necessary to produce great art. Both of these statements are demonstrably untrue. I am far more productive and creative and produce better fiction when I’m on my meds and feeling good about life in general. When my mood is cycling downward, I can’t concentrate on my writing and I’m just not productive.

So if you’re a writer and you’re worried that taking anti-depressants will dull your creative wit, I seriously suggest that you given them a try. Most people I know who take them swear that their creativity skyrockets when they’re feeling good.

That’s just my own experience and anecdotes, though. I am not a doctor, so you should consult with your own physician to make a decision.


In other news, because its a FAQ, I think I’m pretty much done with social media. I still use Facebook Messenger, and I still check my Facebook Memories every day, but I don’t really look at it beyond that. Nor do I post that often, except to post links to my blog updates. Same with Twitter. It’s not that I hate social media, it’s just that I found it was taking up a lot of time that I could have been writing or reading. This might all change in November, when distractions are plentiful and desired. I’ve deleted bookmarks and removed the apps from my phone, and it’s been a few months since I’ve really gone on to either site for more than a few minutes at a time. I get most of my social interaction online through the various Discord servers that I belong to.

I’m still reachable, though. You can reach me via Twitter Direct Messages, Facebook Messenger, email, phone, text, telepathy, or the contact form on my website.

Happy Friday everyone, and if you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, may the odds be ever in your favor.

 

I should blog.

A Manuscript, a Bunch of Pens, and a Spiral Notebook
All printed out and ready to revise!

Here it is, October 4, and I haven’t blogged since early September. Alas! Alack! Aghast! Etc.! I should really blog more often. I mean, I don’t have much to say, I suppose, but sometimes just because you don’t have much to say doesn’t mean you don’t have to say it. Or something.

Since last month, I finally finished the second first draft of And the Devil Will Drag You Under. I say “second first” draft because after feedback on the earlier version I decided to start over from the ground up, and I’m much happier with this version. I printed out the whole thing, grabbed pens of multiple colors, and a spiral notebook for writing down issues; you can see it all in the picture above. I’m all ready to go! My new deadline for completing these revisions is November 10. I should be able to complete that.

In September I submitted eight manuscripts and received four rejections. No acceptances; all those leftover submissions are still waiting for responses. My submission stats for the year so far:

SUBMISSIONS: 80

REJECTIONS: 67

ACCEPTANCES: 2

I’m planning on submitting another twenty manuscripts before the year is out for a total of 100. Just like last year. I had better get cracking on getting some new short stories written!

I didn’t do much editing in September, though I did some minor revisions on “Meep” before submitting it (no response yet), and completely revised “Gorgo’s Redemption Arc” (now entitled “An Ending Worthy of the Bards”) and submitted that as well (no response yet). I haven’t worked on my android rights story because I realized the premise itself could be deeply problematic and needs fixing. I’ll fix it.

And, of course, November is National Novel Writing Month! This year I’ll be writing the first draft of The X of Doom, the first in a planned trilogy of pirate novels tentatively entitled Oceanbound. I know the titles of the next two novels; I also know how the second novel ends. Beyond that, not much.

I have friends who are planning on blogging daily throughout October. I am not one of those souls. I do plan on blogging weekly from here on out. Let’s see if that happens.

Happy October, my friends! Excelsior!

 

Holy Cow, it’s September Already!

Why is my computer smoking?

September 2022, and I haven’t posted for nearly a full month. I mean, it’s not as though I have anything to say, but I still feel like I ought to say it. And, as always these days, it’s probably not very interesting, because it’s all about writing.

First, the novel. I had hoped to finish this draft of And the Devil Will Drag You Under by the end of August, but even though I’ve been averaging 500-800 words per day, I haven’t reached the end. I think I have another 5,000 words at least to go. This puts my plan to have the story ready for submission to my writers’ group in October in jeopardy. Ah well. Maybe in the new year. I’ve been working on this revision for over a year, and I’m looking forward to working on something else. I’ve still got pirates on the brain.

Second, the short stories. I’ve finished “Meep” and a flash fiction piece about a failed redemption arc in a fantasy setting, and am awaiting feedback on them. I’ve gotten plenty on the flash fiction piece, and may start revising and sending it out. I’ve also started a new science fiction piece, “Just a Little Bit Human”, which presented itself to me a few days ago as a full-fledged idea. It’s part Se7en, part Silence of the Lambs, and part Bladerunner. So I will need to do some research into police procedure (or, at least, crime scene investigation), and so on. One of the major characters in the story is trans, so I’ll need to hire a sensitivity reader as well. This is definitely a fun story to write, and addresses some deeper themes that I’ve been thinking about for some time.

Third, this blog. Well… you know. I haven’t been updating it as much as I’d like to.

In other news, it’s hot. Crazy hot. We’re in the midst of a heat wave in the valley, with temps hitting 107 at least, breaking a record set in 1988. The whole country has been, except for those parts of the country which are suffering from massive floods. I feel like we’re living in an episode of The Twilight Zone, “The Midnight Sun”, where the characters are dealing with the fact that the Earth has drifted out of its orbit and is headed directly at the sun. It’s a good episode — check it out if you can — and the twist is magnificent.

So anyway. Thank you climate change. And to all the politicians who ignored it and all the corporations who profited off of it and to everyone who dismisses the dangers of it, a hearty fuck you. Sort of like the covid-19 pandemic, I feel like we could have gotten a handle on it if people had just made some minor sacrifices and listened to the scientists. It’s a little late to address the covid-19 pandemic and turn it around, but we’ve still got time to address and possibly prevent the very worst of climate change. Katherine Hayhoe’s book Saving Us is a great one. I highly recommend it to everyone who is concerned but doesn’t quite know what to do about it.

Anyway, that’s what’s on my mind lately. How about you?

Writing Update Number… uh…

Writer with dragon
Me, writing, under close supervision from a dragon

I have no idea how many of these writing updates I’ve done on my blog, and I’m too lazy to count, and besides, I’ve probably embedded writing updates in other topics too, so… Well. You know.

But here’s a writing update!

Work on And the Devil Will Drag You Under continues apace. I hope to have this draft finished by September so I can do a quick polish for my writers group in October. We’ll see. I’ve been very optimistic about this draft — which is a complete, bottom-up rework of my previous draft — for some time.

I also wrote a couple of stories recently, one of which I’ve sent to a few different people for feedback, and one of which I’m letting simmer for a bit before revision. But I’m pretty happy with both of them. If you’re interested in reading them to provide feedback, please let me know!

So far, this year’s submission stats:

Stories submitted: 64

Rejections: 56

Acceptances: 2

One of the accepted stories, “Blank”, has already been published. The other one is still awaiting a contract, but once that’s signed and everything’s ready to go, I will definitely share here.


In other news, if you pay close attention to every page of my site, which I’m sure you do, always, you may have noticed that the link to my science blog, The Penguin Scientific, is gone. That’s because I’ve decided to discontinue it. I posted one last entry, a line from a Sublime song, and that’s it. I realized that my real interest in writing is in writing fiction, so I decided to focus on that instead. Maybe someday I’ll write more nonfiction pieces, but today is not today. I feel fine about this decision, and don’t regret it at all.


Also, my self-imposed exile from Twitter and Facebook continues. I’m noticing that Elon Musk and the Twitter investors are sort of playing Hot Potato with Twitter itself, indicating that no one really wants it, probably because no one’s figured out how to make money off it. If it dies, what will replace it? Personally, I pine for the days of LiveJournal, before it was bought by a Russian company; maybe an LJ clone will replace Twitter and bring back the glory days of the Internet, before it consisted of about four sites, each carrying little but screenshots of the other three (thank Cory Doctorow for that summation).

That’s what’s up for now. As always… How are you?

…And just for fun, here’s a video for “Closing Time”, that song by Sublime that I mentioned. If you lived through the 90s, you probably recognize it.

Various Dribs and Drabs

Not much to report right now.


WRITING

However, I need to let you all know that my creepy short story “Blank” is now up online at Dark Recesses, and you can read it on their webzine here. This represents my second acceptance of the year! I still haven’t signed a contract for the first, so I can’t yet reveal the market that accepted the story, which I also can’t reveal at this time.

In other news, I have been continuing to work on my novel And the Devil Will Drag You Under, adding approximately 500 words per day to this particular revision. This was one of those “tear down and rebuild from the ground up” revisions. I’m hoping future revisions won’t be so drastic, but I’ll have to wait until November when my critique group gets done with it to find out.

I’ve also been working on a new short story, “Meep”. It represents a couple of themes that I’ve been obsessed with for quite awhile. Someday you’ll get to read that one, but first I have to finish it.

And I continue to submit two manuscripts per week to various markets. I admit it’s sort of a buckshot approach, which I think lots of writers employ. Lots of misses, but a few hits.


CATS

Goodness, we’ve got a veritable sickhouse of kitties right now. Our poor resident cat Ruby has an autoimmune disorder which is attacking her red blood cells. Fortunately, this can be controlled with regular cortisone doses. Right now she’s getting a pill a day, but hopefully she’ll be able to get injections every few days soon. She’s a shy little thing, so catching her to pill her can be difficult.

We have a couple of sickly foster kittens right now as well, but they’re hanging in there.


THAT’S ALL

I’ll be at WesterCon in Tonopah, NV, in a couple of weeks. Will any of you be there as well?

 

Just Some Random Ramblings of an Earthling

Cover of Carl Sagan's "Demon-Haunted World"
Should be an all-time bestseller, but isn’t.

Just for kicks, I’m re-reading Carl Sagan’s wonderful book, The Demon-Haunted World. I’m loving it, as I always have every time I’ve read it, which has been every couple of years or so.

One thing that struck me this time around is how much time and space he spends debunking alien abduction stories by putting them into a larger cultural/mythological context. I side with him on the issue: while hundreds of thousands people have reported being abducted by aliens, there is no physical, undeniable proof that it has actually happened. No mysterious “implants” have been analyzed by MIT or other reputable university and found to be made of alien metal, memory is fallible, and so on. But the alien abduction/UFO culture were tied up with conspiracy theories in the 90s involving the government; such conspiracy theories have fallen to the wayside in favor of modern antisemitism, racism, and the bonkers “Q” conspiracy theory, which encompasses them all. If Carl Sagan were around today, he’d be sickened, I’m sure, by what passes for the modern conservative movement.

Ahem.

So this year, for Earth Day, I committed myself to spending a year learning everything I can about this amazing, beautiful, endangered planet that we live on. I haven’t really started that yet because I’m still taking my MLIS degree seriously and thus taking classes for that, and it’s eating my time. But I am reading Sagan’s book, so I’m counting that as a step in the right direction. I’ll keep you all updated on what I learn, and I plan on updating my blog, The Penguin Scientific, with various facts and things.


In other news, my depression and anxiety have been kicking my butt recently, and have convinced me that I’m never going to get anywhere with my writing. I’ve talked back to it but it refuses to listen. Stupid brain. My brain and I are supposed to be on the same side, I don’t know why it won’t cooperate.

But I continue to persist with the writing and submitting anyway. I’m on track to submit 100 manuscripts for the second year in a row. Stats so far:

Submissions: 32

Rejections: 29

Waiting on: 8

I haven’t quite worked out how those numbers work out, but I’m not worrying about that.


That’s all for now. What are you learning?

More Piratical Talk

Blackbeard
Edward Teach, a.k.a., Blackbeard the Pirate. Looks friendly, doesn’t he?

A couple of years ago, I posted about the myth that pirates always said “Arr”. Today, I address another myth: that of walking the plank.

Many pirate adventures show us pirates forcing their prisoners to walk a plank out off the boat and into dangerous waters, presumably to drown or be eaten by sea anemones. We are always meant to understand that the plank came from the ship itself, leftover lumber that had gone into the building of the boat.

This cannot be true, though, since pirate ships were built from LOGS, not planks. It’s true! Examine any pirate ship from the Wydah to the Queen Anne’s Revenge to the Beauty (the one in my upcoming Pathfinder game), and you will see that the ship looks more like a log cabin than any naval or merchant vessel. I don’t know the specifics of how they kept these boats together in the oceans or prevented leaks, but the most important question is, Would I lie to you about this sort of thing? The answer is no.

Moving on.

After losing so much work on my writing last month, I decided to take a break from And the Devil Will Drag You Under, then decided not to take a break after consulting with Facebook and Twitter. Friends in both places pointed out to me that, given my frequent bouts of guilt surrounding my writing, I would regret not finishing that novel. And, so, I’m back at it. I’ve rewritten about half of what went missing, and am well on my way to recovering all of what I’d lost. I don’t know if I’ll finish the novel by my self-imposed May 12 deadline, but if I don’t, it won’t be for lack of trying.

I also started revising “Anamet”, a giant monster story, and I started pondering a new short story which does not yet have a title. Usually the title comes early on in the process of writing a story, but so far that hasn’t happened for this one.

Submissions Report:

As of today (April 4), I’ve submitted twenty-six stories in 2022, received twenty-two form rejections, and four personal rejections. Some of these rejections were for stories I’d submitted in 2021 that hadn’t gotten back to me before the new year, so I actually still have five pending submissions. In addition, I actually withdrew two submissions from markets that had held on to them for over three hundred days with no communication from them in spite of requests for updates.

Zero acceptances.

Ah well. Maybe someday.

 

Novels in Recovery

Mind = blown
Mind = Blown

No break-taking for me.

I put it out there on Facebook and Twitter, running a wee little poll asking whether I should get back into working on And the Devil Will Drag You Under, the novel I’d lost two months’ worth of work on (see previous post), or work on something new entirely, coming back to Devil at some point in the future. I’d had a couple of ideas for other things to work on, so I would certainly be busy.

Overwhelmingly, people advised that I should keep up with And the Devil Will Drag You Under, even if it means going back and re-revising the whole thing all over again to get back at the two months’ worth of work that I’d lost. A couple of people pointed out that if I didn’t go back to it, I’d regret it, and that’s probably true. I’ve been working on this novel for a couple of years now. Heck, more than a couple; I’d written part of the first draft for NaNoWriMo in 2017 (the last year that I really participated in NaNoWriMo), but I gave up on that until just before the pandemic hit, and started in on it from scratch. If I don’t finish it, I will be angry with myself for having yet another unfinished project. So… I’m committed. I’ll finish this novel of devils and demons and hapless humans in love, send it to my critique group, and continue revising it, all while working on other projects on the side.

My yet-to-be-named pirate trilogy will just have to wait.

My biggest problem in life in that I tend to regret those things that I don’t finish, and I wind up not finishing a lot of things. So I’m going to finish this novel.

My friends are wise.

 

The Heartbreak of Writing

The Jolly Roger from Peter Pan
Captain Hook’s ship, the Jolly Roger

Writing has plenty of heartbreak, and plenty of hazards. You may be speed-reading a text for research, then slam into a bookmark and go flying across the room. You may find that you’ve written yourself into a corner with your characters planning to do one thing, and you planning on them doing something else. You may end up in love with your main character, Pygmalion-style, and not know what to do with yourself.

Or, if you’re like me, you might suddenly lose two months’ worth of work on your novel.

For years now, I’ve been using a type of version control software called Subversion (usually meant to track software source code) to save backups of all of my desktop files, from stories to novels to homework, on my main Linux desktop as well as on my Windows laptop and my Dropbox account (I used to store a repository on my hosting company’s server too, but for some reason I stopped). This setup has served me very well for most of that time.

Until now.

Last night, I launched Scrivener and put in a few words on And the Devil Will Drag You Under for the first time in a couple of weeks (I’ve been busy with work and school), and then went to save my work. Then I used TortoiseSVN (a Windows version of the Subversion software) to add my new files and check them in to my “everything Richard has written” repository on my laptop. I got an error telling me that it couldn’t do the update because the files needed to be cleaned up or something. I ran the cleanup script, mindlessly checking all the options — which included deleting all “unversioned files”. And since I hadn’t actually committed any of my work to the repository for a couple of months (I know, that’s bad practice on my part), TortoiseSVN merrily deleted two months’ worth of work on that novel, representing approximately 10,000 words, two critical scenes, character sketches, and plot point outlines. I also lost some homework (fortunately I’d already turned it in), the latest version of my resume, and three short stories that I’d drafted earlier this year.

If I’d been saving my files properly, adding and committing them to the repository, or even just saving them on Dropbox regularly, this wouldn’t have happened, so really I have no one to blame but myself and my bad file management practices. I was able to recover some of the work because I upgraded my Dropbox account and now I have access to their “Rewind” feature, but I’m still out a lot of work.

The resume, homework, and short stories… Meh. They can all be found elsewhere or rewritten (honestly, the stories were begging for rewrites anyway), but the novel… Yeah, I’m bummed. I’m honestly not sure I have the energy right now to rewrite those critical scenes as well as the revisions to earlier chapters I’d done in order to make room for the scenes.

So, I’m going to take a break.

Not from writing. Heavens no. The last time I took a long break from writing I ended up a quivering mess on the floor, begging for a word processor or a Scrivener license. No, I’m just taking a break from Devil, and moving on to another project. I think I shall draft The X of Doom, the first novel in my vaguely-outlined pirate trilogy. I have characters, I know the name of the ship, I have plenty of notes and plenty of research material. I’m also planning on running a Pathfinder game which will act as a sort of prequel to the trilogy (though the Pathfinder game will likely feature more elves and whatnot than there actually were during the Golden Age of Piracy).

I’m happy I’m not on a deadline for And the Devil Will Drag You Under. That’s one of the joys of being a terminally unpublished writer: You can write whatever you want, whenever you want. There’s no contract stipulating that you must have the manuscript in by a certain date, and no language saying that you have to return your advance if you don’t finish the work at all. If I did have a publishing contract, I’d have to suck it up and get to work anyway. I’d ask the agent/editor/publisher for an extension to the deadline, and all that, and that could get messy.

I’m not happy that I’ve lost the work.

So off I go. I’ll read various books about piracy and the high seas, and go from there.

So how’s your day?

2022 so far…

Writer with dragon
Me, writing, under close supervision from a dragon

It’s February 1st. It’s the Lunar New Year, the Year of the Tiger, and it’s the first day of Black History Month. And so far, aside from Rupert dying, it’s been a decent year so far.

A writing update follows.

I’ve written 3.5 short stories (.5 because “Meep” will be a two-parter) so far, and I’ve managed to write 500 words per day for 29 days on And the Devil Will Drag You Under, which means I’m on track to finish this draft before I have to turn it in to my writing group on March 10. Go me! I also had a wee anxiety attack about my writing career, but I won’t go into that here.

My next writing project, after Devil, is to revise one of my oldest projects, The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster (formerly Fred Again). I’ve set myself a goal of June 9 for that one.

But I also want to work on my pirate novel, which is demanding to be a trilogy. It’s tentatively called The X of Doom, for various reasons, and I have titles for the second and third books in the trilogy, as well as paragraph-long outlines for them. I’ve done a lot of research about the so-called Golden Age of Piracy. Wikipedia has been  a good resource (all hail Wikipedia, as long as you don’t cite them as a source in your academic papers!), but I’ve also read some actual books. Here’s a pile of the ones I’ve gotten, that I’ve either read or will read:

Pile of Pirate Books

(Click to embiggen.)

A word about a couple of them. The Republic of Pirates, by Colin Woodard, is a brief history of piracy, focusing primarily on the so-called “pirate republic” in Nassau in the 1700s. This topic is fascinating, so I am glad to have found this book.

Fast Ships, Black Sails, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, is a collection of modern pirate stories. That is to say, a story about pirates that have all been written recently, and not stories about modern pirates.

The bottom two books — The Pirate Ship 1660-1730 and The Visual Dictionary of Ships and Sailing — are just schematics of various ships and boats the pirates and others used throughout history.

School has also started! I had to record an actual introductory video of myself for the class I’m taking, and that was pretty stressful. Unfortunately, there’s going to be a lot of that happening in this class, which is about teaching information literacy in a library setting. Information literacy is something of a passion for me, so I’m looking forward to this class, despite my stage fright.

One last thing: If you know my writing at all through stories and novels I’ve written, how would you describe my writing style? What are the things I shine in? I’m curious, and would love to get some feedback. Feel free to send me an email or to comment on this post. Thanks!

Excelsior!