The Trappings of Power and How to Write It

Power and IntriguePower. Its trappings ruin people, love of it corrupts them, attempts to seize it destroy them.

And yet I don’t seem capable of writing about it without sounding like a moron.

The undead characters in my current urban fantasy series have a ruling council of sorts. And it has come time for me to explore this idea more fully…which as me pretty flummoxed.

See, power has to come from somewhere. You have to have some way of holding sway over or influencing people: you can have a persuasive personality, you can have access to something that someone else needs, you can have the ability to threaten someone, you can be able to pay someone a sum large enough to make them do what you want, and so on.

The thing is, in my world of zombies and angels, there aren’t really any needs or wants. Testers don’t go hungry due to a resource being limited. People are their source of energy and there are plenty of people for all the testers to get by. Testers don’t get cold, they don’t get tired, they don’t have any use for jewelry or luxury. Yes, occasionally these things effect them, but it never becomes a problem that isn’t easily fixed. Hell, there are desk jobs on the top of Mount Everest in my world.

So the sorts of things that might be used to dictate power among my society of testers get a little muddy. No one is collecting taxes because there is no state. There are no roads to maintain, no lines of communication to keep up, no armies to raise. Well…at least not originally.

There is no need for law as nothing can be stolen and up until recently it was questionable if one tester could even injure another.

Without the need to dispense justice, without anything to fight over, without any way to actually enforce a ruling, it doesn’t seem like there would be much of a reason for a governing body to exist. Which, in fact, has been the case. So far in these books there have been hints about how, at the time the Council was formed, a brief display of power followed. But then it is strongly intimated that the Council’s power fizzled out, possibly due to actions taken by Epp, and since then it has been a lame duck.

Recently it has become important again, I actually credit Mary with that, but it is its formation that I am pondering today.

Would a society with no bodies and no needs have any need for a governing body?

The answer is yes…because I said it did back in book one.

Now I just have to piece together why.

I, Robot Voyeur

RobotLate last week my computer began to have some major malfunctions. I would turn it on and it would tell me that it had to configure the latest Windows updates and to wait. Then it would tell me that it had to restart to let the updates go through. Then it would shut down, restart, and tell me that the updates had failed, so it had to roll back to previous system settings. Then it would shut down, and restart, supposedly to be all better only it would then try to download the newest Windows updates. Then it would shut down. Then it would restart. Then it would revert back and on and on and on.

It got pretty weird after awhile. My computer was just sitting there announcing things to me that made no sense while it turned itself off and on over and over again. I don’t know how to describe it. It felt like my computer was staring me down while it masturbated.

I managed to get a hold of the reins at one point and I did a complete factory reset. This took about 63,ooo years. Seriously. I am sending you this message from the future. Invest in Bitcoins.

And it wasn’t the resetting that took so long, it was getting things back to the way they were before my computer lost its mind. Well, actually that process is still taking place. There are programs to load and folders to copy and settings to manage.

There are also various wonders to behold. Because I’m actually paying attention to what photos I sync or what’s being scanned by Picasa or what I put in my music library, I’m finding all sorts of weird shit.

Like this photo:

Biddle_104

What the fuck is that?

I think it’s the bad guy from a game, but the hell if I know how it got taken.

This isn’t too odd, as the “Screenshot” button for a lot of games sometimes gets mashed while I’m playing, but this photo is titled “Biddle” and was saved in a folder named “Story.”

Did I have a story idea about this? Is this Biddle? Is this Biddle’s nemesis? What the fuck was I thinking?

I also went to do my cardio for yesterday and without thinking I put in my earplugs and queued up my “Top 100 Played Songs” playlist from iTunes.

Then something by Chopin played, then a voice memo I had clearly recorded drunk one night, then some dialogue from Pulp Fiction…aaaaaand then I realized that my iTunes is a blank slate now and it has no idea what I play most often.

I don’t even want to get into the apps that started showing up on my phone or how it’s deciding what it will sync and what it won’t. My computer and my phone are just making these decisions without me. I’m a little scared to get too involved in that process as I don’t want another accidental trip into binary voyeurism to occur.

I thought reformatting my hard drive would be a technological affair where I would have to download programs and remember things from a purely functional perspective.

But it turns out that my relationship with my computer is nearly symbiotic at this point. Changes to it cause weird reactions deep in other parts of my life.

The future is now, people. And it is kind of confusing.

In Which I Freak Out a Bit

Writing a Book is CrazyI’ve written a lot about writing on here. And I’ve written a lot about the dangers of holding too fast to one type of writing. Now, in general, I do think that a slow and steady stream of words is the best way to go. Writing every day, for a moderate amount of words, is vastly superior than trying to force out a huge amount of words when you possibly have time later.

This is just a plain psychological truth. It’s very easy to say, “Ah, I have to write 500 words today, but I’ll do that on Saturday.” In your head you’ve mentally checked that box off; it’s done as you’ve allocated it to a forward date. But then Saturday rolls around and suddenly all of the words you’ve postponed are due and you have 5,000 words to get through. You fail, and the negating of all of that week’s work is crushing. Very few minds would come out of that experience thinking, “Well, I wrote X number of words on Saturday, and that is good.” Most would say, “I owed 5,000 words and I only wrote X. I have failed.” And frankly that sucks.

So, yeah, writing a bit every day is usually for the best. Plus, a lot of stories will come out like that. You won’t know exactly what to write every day. Not at all. But a few days, maybe a couple of weeks of floundering will occur, and then suddenly you understand what you’re trying to say. You can see the story there, you’ve been writing the wrong scenes or focusing on the wrong place, but you get it, and you get it because you pushed through for those days when you had no real idea what you were writing.

But you know what? Some stories DO NOT come out like that. They come out in pieces and chips and you only see shadows of what you need and instead of characters you hear theme songs and its a complete clusterfuck. Shit starts popping up at random intervals and you have zero idea how it fits together and it’s just…woah.

My current book is like that, and I’ve been trying to be a good little writer and get my words in every day. But I’m at a point where, frankly, I’m willing to say fuck that shit.

There’s a piece of advice that is always floating around along the lines of: “A writer writes…always.”

Or: “A writer writes every day.”

I hate that advice. I hate hearing it and I hate when people say it to me like it means something. And keep in mind that I just went over the undeniable value of keeping to a disciplined writing schedule.

But ugh.

You know who writes every day? Sociopaths.

I mean Jesus. Who the fuck writes stories every day? And why would you want to be one of those people? After awhile, I mean after a few decades of writing every day, doesn’t it start to look less like diligent writing and more like a pathological need to make up stories so that you can impose your will on some part of the world?

Plus what is “writing?”

I text lots of people every day. Is that writing? I journal most days and I always scribble some story idea down somewhere. Is that writing? I do that every day. Do I have to have an internal impulse to shut out the world on a daily basis and visit my fantasies or else it doesn’t count?

So fuck it.

I’m writing this book however this book needs to be written. I’m writing with music on really really loudly and in pen for some parts and I’ll write the beginning six times because who cares and this thing isn’t following any maps.

We’re going all the way to eleven.

I hate rules.

I hate guidelines.

Sometimes structure is a platform to build upon, but sometimes it’s just a cage.

Amen and hallelujah.

That is all.

Zombies and the Undead Throughout History

A Brief History of ZombiesWhen writing books about zombies and stories containing all kinds of monsters, I often find it valuable to go back and read about the original forms of the creatures I’ve become obsessed with. Too often I find myself wanting to write a zombie just by using the freshest version in my head, which usually comes from recent movies or TV shows like The Walking Dead.

This is a shame, because there is so much more to your average monster than what’s popular today. Plus, I get the feeling that a lot of creators, when putting a zombie in a scene, would answer the question: “Why is this scary?” with “Because it’s a zombie.”

This can result in zombies that are only dangerous because the writers assume that they are, not because we, the audience, have been shown that they are dangerous. And this can result in scenes where the monsters are confusingly inept and impotent. You probably know the scenes I’m talking about. Scenes where the big bad monster is attacking and in the back of your head you’re thinking, “Couldn’t the good guys just (insert very obvious and simple solution) and this would all be over?”

Things aren’t scary unless we invest them with that quality. I mean, we’re pretty hard-wired to see bared teeth as a sign of danger, but there are only so many snarls you can use before your audience wonders if your bad guy is all snarls and no bite. A zombie in and of itself is not scary. A zombie is scary because of the peril they can put your characters into, and you as a writer have to work to show that.

At any rate, looking into the history of walking corpses produced some astounding stuff. From Icelandic draugar, to contemporary juju slaves, to Middle English revenants, there are walking dead everywhere and all throughout history. And these undead often possess traits that I, personally, would never think to attribute to a zombie, simply because I’ve never experienced those traits in the stories I’ve read.

If you look through what history has to offer, the undead have done things such as drink blood until they swelled up like leeches, guard their gold, been jealous of human emotions, and appear as a cat that sits on a sleeping victim’s chest and grows larger and larger until the unlucky human in question suffocates.

That last one sounds like the worst death ever.

It’s fun to play with new ideas for old monsters. After all, who’s to say there are any rules except the ones internal to your story? And all too often we assume a set of rules for our world because those are the rules we’ve been hearing in tale after tale during our lives.

But looking over the world of the undead, from ancient Greek’s slipping objects into a corpse’s mouth to prevent them from feeding to Aztecs celebrating with their dead one day a year, can help shake up what your brain has labeled as “right” and “wrong” and help you find some fresh ideas for your spawns of evil.

Just…please no one effectively use that ballooning cat idea. That would scare the crap out of me.

New Year; Old Thoughts

Sunset on the old yearI’m not entirely sure what to write here. A pause to reflect upon the holiday season and the start of a new year seems in order. Although something overly sentimental and corny sounding that’s really mostly filler also seems in order.

It is currently New Year’s Eve Day Morning and my feet are sore from all the walking about New York I’ve been doing with my family. Nieces and nephews apparently run on some sort of nuclear reactor that gives them the energy to bounce around while walking while asking questions while hanging on your arm while complaining while telling you stories. The holidays are always hectic for me and they are becoming more so as my nieces and nephews get older.

It’s still awesome, but it’s an awful lot of awesome is my point.

Anyway, as I said, I don’t have a real idea for a post but obviously something needed to be written. A recounting of the year. Or a tallying of thanks. Or a reckoning with my enemies.

That sort of thing.

I wound up giving a fair number of gifts out this year, and a lot of those gifts were sent off to people I know only through the internet. And while I was packaging up these various goodies I decided that the ability to ignore geography when choosing new friends has been my favorite gift this year.

I guess what I’m saying is that, while I’ll be off celebrating with family today, I’m glad for all of you and the fact that we live in the future and can beam our thoughts and feelings to one another via glass cables and copper wire.

Buon natale!