Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Experience Of Change

I had a staggeringly productive last week, with things to put up on the wiki that haven't been, because I haven't taken any time for it. Overall, I was most pleased to work on a number of illusionist spells, weapons, some notes for combat rules, the treasure system and the weather systems I did post (both needed a tweak and the existing files need replacing), plus bits and pieces here and there for future projects. Someone should pay me a lot of money so I can take every week off. A bit more money and I can hire someone to do the grunt work. Ah, fantasies.

So I'm content with the content I've been providing lately. I worry, occasionally, that this blog gets to be too much about my random thoughts and not enough about the nuts and bolts of the game ... but after a week of both, I feel content to stretch out a bit and even to talk about something other than D&D.

I took some time off my new book, Act of God. This is a story about a terrorist who threatens to release a pestilence-causing toxin into a heavily populated river system with the intent of killing millions of people, and goes into the whys and the callous brutality of making a decision like that. The theme is in part about the manner we dismiss the deaths of people we don't know ... such as learning that 200,000 people died of famine in a country of which most have never heard.

I conceived the story a long time ago, back in 1994, and after several failed attempts to complete the project I finally worked continuously in a burst late in 1998, after finally pulling all the threads together. Afterwards I worked now and then on the 2nd draft while taking part in other ventures, and a 3rd draft which I finished in early 2000. I began shipping it around to publishers - and as it happened, even secured myself an agent for a time. That, unfortunately, led to three further rewrites (to satisfy the agency), a misplaced loyalty on my part and much prevarication on theirs, ending in my being dropped because they were representing "too many thriller titles" that year. This I saw as an obvious proof that I had written a bad book, and for a time I plunged into a depression where it came to writing. People told me the book was good, but I did not believe them ... I never believe the opininon of anyone who knows me where it comes to my writing.

The depression lifted when I fell into a number of magazine contracts in 2002, followed by a newsmagazine where I joined the staff in 2004, and I began to feel better. I worked at various projects for a time, began rebuilding my D&D world along the map-making structure that this blog has talked about ... overall, since I was being paid by people who told me the writing was good (and that the word they were getting from the street was very positive), I began to feel better about my talent. Money always has that effect.

Pete's Garage began as a project for the 2008 November Novel Writing Challenge, and I did end in writing the entire novel, virtually with all the plot-lines the book now possesses, in 33 days (I didn't get it in under the time of the month, but it was 63,000 words at the end, 13,000 more than the NoNo expectation). I left it for awhile after that, to get some distance on it, and began working on the 2nd draft in March of '09. Then the magazine I worked for went under (many publications were, that was the 08/09 financial crash) because it turned out one of the partners had been embezzling 40K a year - without advertising coming in, that shit hit the fan and all the partners lost thousands and thousands of dollars. I was lucky I was merely an employee.

A lot of 2009 was hard. My writing of this blog dropped, the right work proved hard to find and as anyone will tell you, living on employment insurance is not encouraging to one's creativity. So Pete's Garage languished until 2010, when I got work and began to get my life back in order. I finished off the second draft, then proceeded to work hard on the first three chapters, once again intending to beat the bushes for a publisher.

That didn't work out, as was evident by the end of 2011. It was at that point that my daughter, her friends, my D&D players and my life partner sat me down and gave me shit for being a stubborn, unrealistic throwback to a publishing world that didn't exist any more. They pushed me into vanity publishing, pushed me into rewriting my wife's book Poor Michael and my book Pete's Garage ... which has been a difficult, frustrating road, as I learn how difficult it is to edit and fix the errors of work one is too familiar with. There have been those who have willfully sought to help me find errors and improve the book, and to them I am very grateful.

This encouraged me in the spring of this year to get started on a How To DM book ... of which I wrote 15,000 words (some of which are here. As I worked on that book, I began to conceive how important it needed to be - how it needed to rise above the mere carping that makes a blog post, and how it had to rise above a simple how-to document. That book needs to grasp in its covers the whole conception of the roleplay experience ... and I knew for certain after the wallowing around I did that I simply did not have the right mindset yet. I needed to get some distance, think about it, puzzle out the necessary themes and establish one crystal clear theme on which to write. I'm doing so now, returning to some classic texts for inspiration and writing nothing more than a few notes here and there.

Having put down that task, knowing only that I would eventually pick it up again, it seemed the best thing to do in the meanwhile would be to apply myself to something else. That something else was the book that had been a disaster ending in 2002 - Act of God.

So here I am, 23,000 words into the book, learning how truly terrible was the writing I had done 15 years ago. Structurally, the book is sound ... but bloody blue buffalo, I am such a better writer today than I was when I wrote and rewrote this book before.

There's a number of reasons, I believe. I've written literally a million of words of blog since then; I've written a quarter of a million words for publication on a wide variety of researched topics, including upwards of 75 humour articles. Day in, day out, I have written, written, written ... but more than that, I must acknowledge the change the internet has had on me.

These last eight years particularly, where documentaries seen twenty years ago, that I felt sure I'd never see again, turned up on youtube. Where ten thousand films became available through a wide variety of sources, not just ordinary American content, but every kind of content from every part of the world. I have watched more new movies these past five years than I had watched in the previous 25, for the most part being dependent on broadcast television. Add to this the option of lost television programming, songs heard on the radio forty years ago that would never be played again on 'popular' radio, independent music, independent art ... and by the love of puddle-jumping podunks, goddamn Wikipedia.

What I mean is that not only have I been able to educate myself in a manner never before possible, even with the best of university libraries, I have had the benefit of watching thousands of other artists educating themselves and tackling the same thematic and deconstructionalist art that appeals to me. I have been astounded to see things that I would never see, if I were dependent upon this myopic culture in which I live to get around to showing me. Unlike the whole rest of my life, I'm not living IN this culture ... I'm living in a culture without boundaries, without preconceptions and without rules of legitimate human behavior or artistic expression.

Thank you World.

So however bad a writer I was all those years ago, I know how to fix everything. And as each book I produce going forward, that I lay up on web with the will to sell myself, the books will get better as I get better. From what I hear all around, the latest book is pretty damn good.

I can't comprehend why anyone would want to live in any time that has come before this one.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this post! Thanks for sharing some details about your writing journey.

Michael Julius said...

No kidding. I'm making a little site for ESL teachers and I would rather sell them your book.
<a href="http://d20.mjulius.com/p/resources.html>d20 English: Resources</a>

JB said...

It's always good to take stock of where you are and how far you've come every now and then...sometimes we're so caught up in the business of producing that we forget to acknowledge just what we've accomplished. Not that this gives us grounds to rest upon our laurels or anything...

My own writing appears to have improved from "execrable" to "fairly bad," maybe even "trite." Since I never set my sights on being a writer (even one for vanity) this is a marked improvement, and I certainly credit the pages and pages of writing I've churned out (in blogs and publications) that wouldn't have been possible save for magic of the internet (however, I'm still not quite willing to try my hand at fiction!).

Good luck with the new book!