Kij Johnson on Good Ideas

13 05 2022




More Thoughts On WIP and Magick

11 05 2022

Currently figuring out the big climax. All the characters are in one location. I realized I could resolve the Doppelgänger character by having the protagonist realize her core personal conflict. But I’ve got unwieldy cursed tumors and a near-immortal antagonist. How do I deal with them? Rather than be overwhelmed, I waited. I gave myself space and took a couple of days off.

A random listening to the “Psycho Analysis” podcast about Frankenstein gave me an idea — maybe THE idea as to how to resolve them to gruesome satisfaction.

I’m starting to look at publishers and I’m feeling my chest clench again. So, one step at a time. Get it finished first.

It’s worth mentioning that when I began this novel, and was writing from Alecsis’s perspective, I was doom- scrolling seven websites every day, several times a day. My spiritual concerns were limited to “what version of Christianity will keep me out of Hell?” I gnawed at decades-old regrets. My mind had a constant drumbeat of “must do”, “get done”, and “be more”.

At the same time, I was painfully aware that I had only one life, maybe only one opportunity at anything, and I should NOT SCREW UP. Which made mistakes and learning curves difficult.

Now, writing from Olivia’s POV, I am down to doom-scrolling only political Twitter, still several times a day, but a vast improvement. I am accepting that I do not understand myself. I relax more in the moment and do more of what I enjoy. I am comfortable that each person is their own solitary religion, picking through everything that came before. I am a more comfortable and accepting person, and am trying to forgive my mistakes and misunderstandings.

Olivia quested after meaningful goals, while Alecsi worked toward redeeming a mistake that couldn’t be undone. Olivia and Alecsi had both killed Thomas, and both had pledged to improve the world to atone. But in time, Olivia settled into accepting what they had done and making the best of her situation. Alecsi still wanted to be perfect.

I wouldn’t have tried Olivia’s POV if it weren’t for my friends in Noble Fusion Eastern Court. Life dictates Art which guides Life.

Many people I know needed to change their lives so dramatically, they changed their names to allow for that radical growth. Patty put her traumatic childhood behind her by embracing her nickname Bunny. Al put his past behind him by using his middle name Randy. Pseudonyms allow exploration of personas uncomfortable for the artist. Artists performing under their own names talk about their “stage persona”, sometimes referring to that persona as a separate being. Performers talk about how the audience expectations shape their performances, even their performing styles.

This is all kind of Jungian. The story is outside and inside, waiting. It may not be an ingenious work, but it must be told for you to grow.





Is Writing Magick?

3 05 2022

As mentioned before, I am nearing the end of my first-ish draft of “Saints of Flesh”. My primary writing group Noble Fusion Eastern Court have been impressed at how I’ve kept a lot of plates spinning in the plot. The problem now is bringing the plates together while still spinning, stacking them together, then lowering them to the floor to rest in a satisfying manner.

Some days I look at descriptions of other books and think “damn, my stuff is a bit goofy”. Then I look at other books and think “maybe my book is supposed to be a little over the tops like these guys”. I can’t honestly say that I’m writing a book that I’d want to read. I am writing the book that is there in me right now.

There are so many small press publishers out there. I am encouraged by this because having read many small press through Kindle Unlimited, I know I have a solid book. We all know the trick with small press; get a publisher with a good track record. I had been interested in one publisher with a good track record, but then they published something controversial and now have gone to ground. I passed on going to the writers’ fest in Williamsburg VA because I have nothing to market quite yet and I have a reflexive aversion to try to work into existing social groups.

The good thing here is that I do enjoy writing every day. It’s becoming easier to focus on that. Writing has been fun lo these many years, but lately I’m wondering if my subject matter is harming my outlook.

I am anxious and depressed, less so than I used to be, but still it’s something I work on. I had quite an interest in writing humor. Over the years, though, as I discovered that good writing comes from the heart, I lost a lot of my mirth. Jokes still come when I talk with people, but not so much when I write.

Jokes were my way of distracting myself and being endearing to others. Placing a distancing TV frame around everything helped my anxiety. That frame is my earliest childhood memory. So I realized that joking was not so much a choice as a compulsion. Did I choose to daydream all the time? Did I choose to create? Maybe I did.

Humor has disappointed me in these past years. My stabs at sketch comedy and movie production lost their momentum when I needed to risk my ego by going to the next level. I could go on about how comedy in the U.S. relies way too much on improvisation, and how Lorne Michaels is killing creativity, and that I don’t laugh at movies because I can see the stitching in the fabric. I’m still sussing out how I feel, but it just may be that no one makes anything quite to my taste.

Horror became a means of being outrageous with catharsis.

I’ve realized that horror reinforces my anxious view of the world. Someone said somewhere that Horror is Fantasy for atheists, and I agree with that. Is writing horror bad for my health?

A last thing I have noticed: writing is cathartic, but it also helps to process problems at a less-than-aware level. Concentrating on Alecsi in “The Flesh Sutra” reinforced a doomed romanticist perspective. In this book, Olivia is more proactive and does a mind-bending amount of personal examination and growth. These reflect my states of mind during their creation. I would like to experiment with writing a Marty Lou for the purposes of hacking my own psyche, much like Grant Morrisson did with King Mob.





Nearing The End of Draft One, Here Is How My Supernatural Stuff Works

26 04 2022

I’m at 41K words into “Saints of Flesh”, a sequel novel to “The Flesh Sutra”. As I write, I’ve developed a working theory for superhuman capabilities, how they may be achieved, and how societies have appropriated stories of these abilities to support established religions. Join me, won’t you?

The Science of “The Flesh”

  1. Supernatural Ability Latent Within Humanity

Supernatural capabilities seem more created by discipline than by virtue. While discipline does encourage virtue, the powers of the holy seem prevalent among only a select few within those adhering to the discipline. Not all nuns come back as visions.

Superhuman capabilities can be learned. It follows that those predisposed to ability can have the ability enhanced through discipline.

Supernatural or numinous experiences can be provoked by specific stimuli. Magnetic fields, infrasonic sound, strobe light, extremes of exhaustion and pain, concentrated repetition of any type, etc. Religions use resonant spaces, patterns of color, group invocations, and other stimuli to create numinous experiences. These create changes in the brain.

Resistance to cold, heat, fire, fatigue, suffocation are well documented, as well as physical abnormality and genetic mutations that enhance these abilities.

Learned abilities and traits can be inherited genetically.

Generations studying an ability will create generations for whom that ability will be second nature or even enhanced beyond normal capability.

Genes can become latent or regressive.

The human record encompasses over forty generations.

Stories of the paranormal abilities have considerable consistencies that span cultures.

Stories telling of abilities outside these consistencies can be attributed to cultural propaganda.

An ability does not have to be understood by science for that ability to be valid.

Given these statements, we can assume humanity is capable of these abilities: survival of severe mutilation; resistance to fire, cold, suffocation, and electricity; precognition; post-cognition; generation of illusions; influence over people and animals; speaking with spirits; banishment of spirits; remote viewing; astral projection; levitation; bilocation; teleportation; communication with the dead; regeneration even of dead tissue; the curing of illness; revivification of the dead; reincarnation.

Many abilities did not make the cut: telekinesis, telepathy, pyrokinesis, walking on water, control of weather, invocation of earthquakes, creation of matter. These abilities are not generally found throughout the world’s folklore.

Note also there is a difference between a human exhibiting these abilities versus the invocation of an outside force; Moses (who may have not existed and may be propaganda) did not part the Red Sea, but invoked God to do the work.

This is not to say that humanity cannot learn new abilities. That happens in this novel.

This is where writing has led me so far. I’m half-persuaded that this is the truth.

2. How Is It Cultivated?

Supernatural abilities are most often associated with those engaged in sacred rituals or working in sacred spaces. What do these rituals and abilities have in common?

Sensory discipline: the deprivation or over saturation of sound, sight, or activity. Monasteries deprive acolytes of stimulation and force repetition to subsume the ego. Cathedrals and mosques subsume the ego by overwhelming the ego with resonant sound, colorful patterns, and ritual. I have tiny knowledge of shamanisms and other religions, but can make a case the use of drugs or frenzied activity redirecting consciousness.

Inspirations: being told that others have achieved the desired abilities.

3. Conclusions

By distilling the most effective sounds and color patterns, an “ur-sainthood” could unlock latent abilities.

4. But Godhood? And Reincarnation?

Just as science can be mistaken for magic, this ur-sainthood would be mistaken for a supernaturally empowered superiority.

Gods, devils, angels, demons throughout history and all over the world behave like really dopey people. Because these beings are really dopey people who have achieved this ur-sainthood. Religions are attempts to understand these unwieldy, even dangerous beings.

Reincarnation beliefs around the world implies a spiritual realm similar to the Akashic Field or an astral plane, that is a nil-space of pure consciousness. Religions are attempts to understand this realm.

These ideas aren’t new. How do they fulfill the needs of the story?

Two tropes in fantasy fiction bother me greatly. The first is “achieving ability without sacrifice”. Gandalf seems pretty well adjusted to wielding Godhood, which he wields by being born into power. Hogwarts students study books and wave their wands, which works because they were born into it.

IMO, this is bunk. It implies that by luck of birth, the reader too could be supernaturally enabled. It implies that such an enabled person could become well-adjusted within a “Third Age Muggle” world.

It is bunk because in reality, anyone who excels sacrifices anything resembling a normal life. Olympic athletes socially stunt themselves, become exposed to abusers, become the focus of mania and vitriol. Garth Ennis’ “The Boys” better reflects how Gandalf and Hogwarts would be treated in reality.

Related to that, supernatural “sacrifice” is always some variation of something the average bookish person would really want. Gandalf is a loner? Hogwarts keeps to themselves? How are these sacrifices? I cannot speak to other magic systems from other authors, but even if a magician is cutting off body parts to empower themselves, these pains are all voluntary. Did he really need that finger compared to rearranging reality itself?

The second trope that bothers me is “Devastation, Oh Well”. How much carnage have we seen in superhero movies, in both Stars Trek and Wars, in even the Potterverse, and dang no one seems traumatized or shunned. The best example to me is “Supernatural” where as the seasons progress the writers have to up the ante of shock by killing families, then filled diners, then hospitals, then entire towns. But to create pathos, the writers ran out of ideas except for killing every woman character (until the fans got po’d and the two sheriffs were spared).

My preference is for power beyond reason, my characters should suffer beyond reason. For the story to remain plausible, everything should be so small and personal that the world will not notice.

I did that with “The Flesh Sutra” and I’m truly enjoying doing that with “Saints of Flesh”.





At 32K On WIP and A Step Closer To Understanding My Purpose In Life

1 02 2022

Hi guys,

At this point, I’m working on the first fight between protagonists and the Big Bad (who is also a Big Reveal and even a Big Protagonist Insight, lotsa layers here). The protagonist will come out the worse for wear, as you do. I had no idea how to set up the Big Final Fight, which had to happen on the Protagonist’s turf for it to be meaningful and use these neato set pieces I am itching to use. It took a few minutes mulling while making dinner for the answer to appear: Big Protagonist Insight is that Protagonist and Big Bad want the same things, so yeah, Big Bad will want to seize Protagonist’s turf. With a little goading and insulting, Big Bad would charge in recklessly. A little trite, but it works.

Am I being too abstract?

The take-away here is by giving clear goals to your characters can fulfill plot needs more easily. “Motivation” is a basic detail, granted, but giving characters relatable motivations is more satisfying and provides more opportunity. The Big Bad could just be Evil and destroy just for the heck of it, but that would be lame. My Big Bad wants because it is a second-tier replacement for the Protagonist, and the BB knows that. Best to eradicate the Protagonist, be saved that painful reminder, and become a step closer to being the optimum replacement.

As in all things in life, what does this have to do with me?

When I started personal counseling (this phase of it), my counsellor stated the goal was to get me back to creating things the way I had as a child, scrawling stuff in the corner just to enjoy it. My past couple of years had brought me to realize my perception of the world was warped, my goals were warped by my perception of the world, and I daydreamed-imagined-created to avoid the world.

My perception was warped. I wanted relationships, experiences, growth, and I self-sabotaged because I thought the world barren of compassion. Knowing this, shouldn’t I push myself into new experiences? Aren’t my existing goals inherently flawed?

I grew up entertaining myself. It may have been a coping mechanism, but is entertaining yourself bad? Does I need a relationship? I’ve met only a few people in almost sixty years who “got me” and who “I got”. I’ve been sitting in Panera Bread and writing for almost ten years now. Have I been wasting my life?

I feel myself becoming more comfortable with my cloistered little self. I think that’s a good thing. Maybe it will help lead to other experiences.





Writers: “Start Small, Then You Build”

4 09 2016

 

Here’s a feller who invokes Pixar and Hugh Howey to let you know:

  1. Enovels don’t need to be all that big no matter the genre
  2. Take your time with your ideas
  3. Redraft and redraft. There are award-winning professionals who start with neat ideas, but do not put the work in on polishing.
  4. Will I say any names? If I get annoyed enough one day I just might.




Make Yourself A Whole New You Then Unleash It On The World: A Disquieting Pause

17 07 2016

Your New Self Green Road Sign Over Dramatic Clouds and Sky.

Your New Self Is So Immense It Could Not Fit Onto Your Screen.

 

As a passionate advocate of growth, I’m always looking for ways to self-improve. Here are some of my best tips which may help your personal journey. Some of them are simple steps which you can engage in immediately. Some steps are more ambitous, yet more rewarding.

1. Read A Book Every Day.

It’s good for your mind and expands your world.

2. Swab The Inside Of Your Mouth For DNA.

Oral hygnene is key to good health.

3. Learn A New Language.

New languages give you fresh perspectives.

4. Clone Your Flesh.

For the highest quality organs, skin grafts, and for posterity.

5. Learn Computational Bioengineering.

To open up  your potential in a growing job market.

6. Optimize Your Genomes.

Use CRISPR to remove genes getting of the way of your higher self.

7. Build Your Bio-Synthoid Army.

You know how your thoughts affect your behavior, which affects others and their behavior?  Be more proactive. Have your thoughts affect the behavior of your own mutant army of Daleks. Watch how the army affects your world’s behavior and eventually what the world thinks of you.





Writing A Light Comedy For My Old Friends Randy and David

6 07 2016

I got back in touch with two brothers I knew in high school, Randy and David. They’ve been living rich, full lives with careers and families and I’ve been Chasing My Muse Lar De Dar.
Back in high school, my nickname was “Exidore” after the character from “Mork and Mindy”. The nickname was quite apt. I was a very wacky kid. I constantly spouted Monty Python, Steve Martin, Robin Williams, George Carlin, Mel Brooks, and all the other comedians from this time the late ‘70s, which was the friggin’ heyday of comedy. I also rattled off character voices, riffed on anything mentioned, and had quite the fast wit. That was the guy they remembered.
So here they were looking up what I had been writing, and I sent them the link to “The Flesh Sutra” which is a study of a dysfunctional relationship in psycho-sexual body horror. To be frank, High-School-Me would have had a morbid fascination with the novel. But I was not one for being into gruesome stuff and had never talked about sex at all.
“Maybe you could write some comedy” messaged Randy, seconded by David.
“You know,” I thought, “I ought to. I should try to get back in touch with that part of myself.” I missed that zany guy I was. That guy was way funny. Surely I can write something in that voice.
I’d burned out my Brit-wit nerve some years ago, no Pratchett or Douglas Adams for me anymore, but I had lots of old Dungeon and Dragons ideas still to work with. So I started writing.
I’d had an idea that the next time I ran in a D&D game I’d try to feed poison to some evil characters and have a dragon eat them. Pretty urgh thing to do, granted, but antiheroes flourish in comedy as long as the people dying are bigger bastards, it would work.
Hmmm. Good antiheroes. Ah! Harry Flashman of the Flashman series! He did some dastardly things and still amused. He’s self-centered and cowardly. Maybe the poisoning is accidental? Nope. Poisoning the adventurers by accident to accidentally poison the dragon is too convenient.
And Kugel from Jack Vance’s “Dying Earth”! Bastardly guy would probably…team up with the dragon. Say, that’s good!
How could he gain the trust of others? Flashman was a sporty and hale looking guy, okay use that. Maybe he’s real young and everyone underestimates him too. He’s an apprentice to a wizard. Not a wizard he kills, that would take away the suspense of being caught by an authority.
The dragon would have to be young, too. Otherwise someone would have killed it already. Okay.
So young wizard makes what…potions? Young potioner, then, and like Blackadder he hates his job and his boss because he’s smarter and more ambitious. So he’s a teen?
Like Beavis from “Beavis and Butthead”? How would he smart enough to make potions? Clueless cruelty like O’Reilly in “A Confederacy of Dunces”? The dragon uses the dope to lure adventurers? Why would the dope keep feeding the adventurers bad potions of fire resistance or whatever. Can’t see that working. The kid and the dragon have to become conspirators.
So he’s callow enough to be maybe sociopathic. By accident, because accidental criminal plots are funny.
OK. The dragon has to be found by accident the first time, otherwise, again, the dragon would have gotten killed way before the story starts. So who’d be dumb enough to wander into a old mine looking for things?
A bunch of aspiring kid adventurers. Why are these kids aspiring adventurers? Because all of society admires adventuring. These kids are the garage band in a culture that reveres adventurers like media stars. The potioner kid wants to be an adventurer too.
The culture is contemporary-ish and the kid is obnoxious. The kid’s name is now “Dagnoxy”.
After the first adventurers are killed, Dagnoxy has to want to kill the dragon. Raise Stakes Number One.
Comes back and feeds group number two the wrong potions. Dragon confronts Dagnoxy. Raise Stakes Number Two.
Negotiates with dragon to bring in groups and split the spoils. Why would the dragon do this?
Because the dragon ate guys who drank a love potion. The dragon is now in love with Dagnoxy.
And so on…
By the end of the draft, Dagnoxy’s killed off maybe a few dozen callow and rude adventurers. Gotten into a tumultuous relationship with the dragon Jilliatrax (I like that name) which yes, had off-screen sex. She is slain by Dagnoxy’s heroes, who turn out to be friends of his neglectful mentor. Facing an odd emptiness from losing the one being who gave a damn about him (and turned out THE LOVE POTION HAD LONG WORN OFF), he sabotages her corpse so her mentor couldn’t sell it for spell components.
By using Vampire Blood. Which turns Jilliatrax into a vampire dragon. She resurrects, promising to reunite later with her lover at an undetermined date.
Mentor is happy to have Dagnox away (lost the “y” to clarify the character is male) and Dagnox pines for the return of his FWB. END.
My writers’ groups beta read and comment. “Is he a bastard or stupid?” “Needs more magic.” My publisher Barbara noted “Show us the pony scene you referenced – I didn’t see it when I read the story.” She is not talking about horses.
I started out wanting to write Blackadder or Ignatius O’Reilly in under a marketable 4K words. I ended up with a 8500 word story about The Talented Mister Ripley murdering a few dozen people and yearning to bump uglies with a new god of darkness.
The market for this story is quite limited. It’s too daffy for the grimdarks, too dragon for the lit-crowd, too murdery for the dragon crowd at “Shimmer” magazine, and not innovative enough for “F&SF” or even “Drabblecast”.
So David and Randy and the kid I once was, have I failed? Dunno. I like the story and frankly have long given up worrying about the state of my muse.
This stuff just happens, man.





More Story Prompts and Resources

29 06 2016

Dan Brown is paying to have one-of-a-kind esoteric volumes digitized for the internet. Click the picture to learn more. Prompt: What the hell is the green crap these guys are eating? Why?

polyglot-bibble_e_tp_c_342mb-copy-e1466606424999

beyond

Wonder what the Koran really says? Wonder about Jainism, Sikhism, Discordianism, Swedenborgism, or the SubGenius Manifesto? Try Sacred-Texts.com. Click the guy giving the moon to the sun. Prompt: Now that he can see beyond, what will this lad do? Why?

newblue

This blue hurts to look at. Friggin’ blue powder, just sitting there being smug. Scientists found this pigment by accident. Prompt: Did it want to be found? What will it do now that it’s going to be used by art school students?

Click this painful bastard and learn what science meddled with this time.

 

 





Famous Writing Advice With My Addendums

21 06 2016

Write what you know. Your life is a great place to start. You have something you are doing that no one else knows about, like a job or location or life challenge. Start there.

Write what you know. Be sure to talk to lots of people so you know more.

Write what you know. So write about monsters you invent, because who’s going to argue?

Monsters shouldn’t glitter unless they kill people with glitter.

Write things that would embarass your mother. This may not work if your mom likes the Kardashians. If your mother has no shame, try for “dismay” or “repulse”.

The best subtext is unintentional. That is, if you write to convey a message, that message will consume everything — characters, plot, and eventually your ability to interest others. Those you wish to persuade will dismiss you for preaching and those who agree with you will think you’re a dilletente and ignore you. Write your story. If you realize, hey, this story is awkward and makes me look nuts, then work with that. Embrace it. There is a market filled with people who are also awkward and nuts.

Remove as much as possible from your story, especially if you’ve seen it before in other stories. That goes double if you are writing a pastiche or a monster that’s been done.

Writing is not theraputic. Speaking with a cleric, health professional, or mature friend is theraputic. Writing can improve you the writer if you write with the idea that you the writer are wrong and have been for many years. That is “cathartic”. You may have a really good story when you’re done, too.

If you wish to inspire with your writing, make sure your conflicts and antogonist are treated with respect.

Everyone disagrees. Even twins disagree. In theory, clones raised in identical circumstances would disagree. Your character has to do impress you and also make you facepalm.

Even locations have character arcs. Game of Thrones wouldn’t have worked in a thriving, newly born empire. If Salem’s Lot had been a vitalized town filling with immigrants or yuppies, Barlow would have been burned before his antique store opened.

 








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