I Sound A Bit Hipster Here

Top Hat for Some ReasonI don’t have very much to say this week. I’m in a top-brain sort of mood. That’s what I call it when my brain refuses to function on a creative level and instead adopts a distant thoughtfulness about everything. As if I exist only to process the parts of the world I happen to encounter and then file it away somewhere.

It’s like my thoughts are only coming from the crown of my head. Not the front, like when I’m problem solving. And not the back of my brain, that chunk of my head at the base of my cranium that flares bright when I’m envisioning a new scene, or character, or dialogue.

Nope. It’s a top-of-head sort of week. Little spark. Lots of contemplating.

There was a death in my family recently and I was in New Jersey for the wake and funeral last week. That’s why I didn’t post anything. The death was natural and expected, so it wasn’t a hugely traumatic thing. And it has been weeks now since the actual news came, the weather pushed back the services. But it is definitely possible that I am still meditative over that.

Or maybe it’s because we had a weekend of sun and warm temperatures and now it’s dipping below freezing and multiple snow storms are expected. It’s hard to describe how nice it is to walk around this city and realize that it is waking up from the icy rings that are choking off every block. The sun was up, everything was dripping, you could hear melting all around. The side-walks were opening up and the streets were two lanes again and it was like Spring might actually be on its way. It was nice. But now: freezing cold and more snow predicted. That puts a halt to a lot of my thoughts.

It’s possible my brain is just resting. Or pausing. Like it’s intermission or something. It thinks the curtain has dropped for the time being and I can stop acting like someone I’m not, stop entertaining, stop trying to solve problems and just take a load off and stare into space.

It’s possible it’s all of these things or none of these things, but I’m just in a very still mood inside my head this week.

And, thus, not much exists to write about.

Zombies, Genre, and Marketing

Zombies, Genre, and MarketingThe Walking Dead returned to TV this past Sunday and I have found myself with zombies on the brain yet again.

Actually, it’s not zombies I’ve been thinking about, it’s how a zombie is defined and what genres you can fit them into.

A few months ago I brought in some outside help to do a little marketing for me, and these people have been throwing ads up on Facebook using images such as this one:

Gross ZombieThe outside marketing help didn’t really bother to look at my writing, they just heard the word zombie and ran with it. Most fans who have seen these ads have mentioned that they didn’t picture Hector, Nyx, Gary, or the others to look like the fellow shown above. And I agree. That, quite frankly, is not my kind of zombie.

The rotted things in my books are capable of thought, well some of them are, and while they are rotted, they lack the squishiness of a corpse. I never got the feeling that Lun-Yis’s face was oozing goo. My bad guys have more of a leathery feel to them, possibly an offshoot of how old they are.

On the other hand, the ad with the above fellow in it is doing very well, assuming that the goal is to acquire Likes on Facebook (whether that makes sense as a goal is another discussion).

But following on the heels of all these new Facebook Likes comes worry, something I always feel when I use the zombie angle to market my books. Are my zombies real zombies? Oddly the premise of my books is, in some ways, the complete inverse of this question. My enigmatic undead have been around forever, since the dawn of sentient thought, and it’s been mentioned that humans catching glimpses of my characters is what gave rise to zombie stories in the first place.

And yet, these characters aren’t walking corpses. They’re entities of pure energy capable of taking on physical form, and some of them have rotted away for various reasons. Am I allowed to market them as zombies?

I don’t know. And for the most part I don’t care. Once I reach that point in my head I take a deep breath and remind myself that the marketing is not the story. The poster is not the movie. The cover is not the book.

When I think about storytelling, I think about an old wizened person holding sway over a crowd of people. Maybe before bed by a campfire. Maybe to pass the time while the winter lumbers on outside. Maybe to keep a royal court entertained.

I don’t think about genre or marketing. I don’t go on to imagine one of the people around the campfire raising their hand and telling the wizened elder that they aren’t allowed to have fast zombies.

I just imagine the storyteller doing their job of riveting everyone’s attention, and the crowd doing their part by investing in the story, and everyone just being thankful that they aren’t outside in a blizzard. It is from that mental place that I do my best storytelling, and for that reason I often put the brakes on when I begin to mull too much about genre.

Still…I look at that picture from the ad up above and all I can think is, “That’s not my kind of zombie.”

 

Writing Poorly on Purpose

Writing Wrong on PurposeMost writers I know spend a lot of time worrying about the quality of their work. Will it resonate with readers? Does it get across the proper emotions? Is it as good as other writing I’ve read?

However, a possible new character in my current urban fantasy series has reminded me of a writing exercise that takes the complete opposite stance and allows writers to relax about their craft and breathe a little.

See, I’m toying with the idea of having a character who is both a prolific writer and a terrible one. They would be the author of many emails, or whatever passes for emails in my world of the undead, and yet be quite awful at composing said emails.

And if I put these emails in front of my characters, actually write them out onto the pages of my book, that means that I would get the opportunity to write poorly on purpose.

This, I can assure you, is a writing exercise that will turn your brain inside out. As I’ve mentioned, so much energy and worry gets put into whether or not you are writing well. But taking the opposite approach and trying to write poorly can provide a healthy change of pace, because you have to write poorly, but do it well.

Get it?

I mean you can’t just slap away at the keyboard and be done with it because the result would be a completely unbelievable string of writing. Oh no, you have to think about what you know concerning the art of writing and, more to the point, what this character doesn’t know about writing. You have to figure out where he or she is lacking because a complete lack of readability would just be dismissed as uninteresting or unbelievable. This writing has to be bad but think its good. It has to be read but not be loved. It has to get processed but still make you cringe.

You have to figure out where this character goes wrongs. Do they use clunky phrasing? Awful metaphors? Too too too many adverbs? Do they sound dumb? If so, in what way? Trouble getting to the point? Bad sense of humor? Inflated view of themselves? Over-reliance on one writing trick?

The exercise at once allows you to relax, after all the goal is to write poorly, while also requiring you to focus in on your strengths as a writer and what good writing means to you so that you can effectively subvert all of that and produce bad writing.

In the end, as a matter of fact, writing poorly can turn out to be one of the most challenging things a writer can do.

I told you it would turn your brain inside out.

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!

Balance in Writing

Balance in WritingI’m sitting here in my apartment and I’ve got balance on my mind.

This is partly to do with my current project of writing an Urban Fantasy series, and partly to do with the temperature in my building.

See, in New York, most apartments take advantage of radiator heating. With so many apartments crammed together it’s cheap and efficient. Also most apartment buildings are pretty old, especially where I live, and they sort of got stuck in the olden times in some odd ways. For example, I don’t have any outlets in my bathroom. Or take The Dakota. It’s one of the premier residential addresses in the world, an apartment building that has been used in movies, houses celebrities, and was the site of John Lennon’s tragic shooting. It’s one of my dream places to live. And yet it was built in 1884 so you have this landmark building where absurdly elite people live, but there’s no central air. They can’t exactly tear the thing apart to install something like that so everyone has window units. Not that that’s the end of the world, but it’s quirky.

Anyway, in my apartment the radiator has been going full blast for about a month now. I have no say in the matter. The building’s heat is either on or it’s off. I’m supposed to have some sort of control with a knob next to the radiator or something but that never works. I moderate the temperature in my place by opening and closing the window.

But the temperature isn’t the issue. The real issue is the drying effect. When the air itself is dry like in a New York City winter and you’ve got a radiator ticking away…well my mouth is dry and my skin is dry and my eyes are dry and I feel like a package of desiccate.

Or that’s how I did feel until I broke out my defensive measures. Every year when the radiators start coming on, people all over the city break out their humidifiers. To stay warm you need the radiator (once every few years the pilot light goes out on the boiler in my building and I get to experience a few hours without heat…it a cold that defies description) but then the air gets scorched so to counteract the radiator you need a humidifier. It’s a fun game of cause and effect.

And so I sit here, listening to the radiator hiss and watching the moisture billow out of my humidifier and I find myself thinking about writing. At this juncture I’m unsure of whether to press on with writing the aforementioned Urban Fantasy series and see what shakes loose through sheer pressure, or to step back and let everything coalesce in my head and examine it from afar and see if my past choices dictate a clear path. And I am struck by how much of this process is about finding a balance instead of learning a set method.

It’s just like my apartment. If I decide that my radiator can go to hell and crank my humidifier full blast, my clothes will literally be damp in a few hours and I’ll be miserable. If I say to hell with the humidity and let my radiator reign, I’ll be unable to swallow and inevitably get sick about eight times this winter.

It occurs to me that it isn’t about either device being “correct.” Neither one is right, but neither can be ignored. It’s about utilizing both of these tools in order to create a balance that makes my apartment comfortable.

Too often I see authors discussing how they write and it comes across as if they’re picking sides. They either outline or they work in the moment. Go Team Outline! Go Team Spontaneity!

And if one works especially well for you, well, yeah, you should use that one more often.

But it’s not the tool you use that’s important. It’s not the process that matters.

What matters is your work, your final product, your story.

So instead of worrying about how you write, maybe give some thought to what you write. Take a moment to remember your goal and then make your tools subservient to that goal, even if that means using multiple tools to find a balance that works.

Also…please send hot chocolate.

 

My Holiday Guide to New York

Urban Fantasy Author Joseph Devon's Guide to the Holidays in New YorkHi all. You know me as the author of some of your favorite urban fantasy books (available now for your holiday shopping!). But I am also one of the seven stewards of the city of New York, a title I just made up five minutes ago.

This title requires that I occasionally offer up my wisdom concerning this city. Sometimes it’s to reflect upon it as a veteran resident. And sometimes, like now, it’s to offer my wisdom to those newcomers visiting my fair town.

See, over the weekend I tried to go somewhere, anywhere, in the city, and all I found was gridlock and people swarming the sidewalks like the freaking zombies from World War Z.

It became clear to me that it was time to trot out my yearly HOLIDAY GUIDE TO NEW YORK!!!

Enjoy:

I have lived on the island of Manhattan for ten years now and every year there is a massive influx of tourists and visitors and merry-makers during the holidays.  People come for many reasons and to enjoy a wide variety of activities and so I’ve decided to put together some of my thoughts in order to help out all these weary pilgrims who make the journey to my fair city.

1.  STAY THE FUCK AWAY FROM THE TREE:

Seriously.  Please. It’s a tree.  Yes it’s actually quite pretty and yes it’s very large but you don’t understand what you’re doing when you go visit the stupid thing. The foot traffic around Rockefeller Center creates a chain reaction that snarls traffic up in all directions. I don’t want a bus ride across the park to take two hours just because you want to see some lights.

Look.  Here is the location of the tree:

tree-location

Now here is my estimation of the area that becomes affected by congestion due to tree traffic:

tree-traffic

Please don’t go near the tree. I’m sick of telling my cab drivers to take the long way through Nicaragua to avoid traffic when I’m trying to get across town.

2. STAY THE FUCK AWAY FROM CHINATOWN:

Chinatown isn’t known for it’s fast moving foot traffic under the best of circumstances but during this time of year it becomes another thing entirely. Somehow all of humanity stopping and pointing at the little shops that sell weird toys and disgusting fruits manages to bend time or something so that I seriously think the foot traffic actually starts to move backwards. And if you’re in a car just forget about it.

You think I’m kidding?

Here is a shot of Chinatown in June:

Chinatown Dialogue

Just try to imagine it when it’s crowded with holiday traffic. Occasionally I like to go there and get dumplings with family this time of year. Off limits.

3. STAY THE FUCK AWAY FROM ANYWHERE I MIGHT WANT TO GO DRINKING:

There is a bar in Murray Hill called Rolf’s. This is what Rolf’s looks like (this was taken with my phone so sorry for the quality):

rolfs

You’re waiting for a punchline, aren’t you?

There isn’t one. Rolf’s is its own punchline. Around the holidays the owners go completely out of their minds and put up more decorations than, to be honest, the actual tree probably has. Rolf’s is known far and wide as the bar where Christmas goes to projectile vomit then die.

You may go to Rolf’s. The heat from the lights and the general creepiness of the dolls they hang up make it hard to last more than two beers there during the holidays.

Oh. Here are some of the dolls:

rolfs-dolls

One year some of the dolls had mustaches.

Maybe lasting two beers would be stretching it.

Feel free to crowd into this place as, even if I do go there, I won’t be staying long.

Otherwise the rest of the bars are off limits.

4. NOW THAT I THINK ABOUT IT, JUST STAY THE FUCK AWAY FROM NEW YORK ENTIRELY:

Honestly. It’s closed or something. And they built a wall around the tree this year. Here look:

tree-wall

It’s bedlam.

Stay away.

If you want to you can gaze at this picture of the tree. That should satisfy:

the-tree

It really is pretty, isn’t it? And when you catch a glimpse of it as you turn the corner and look down that long alley of evergreens and statues and then walk in close to where the skating rink is and smell the chestnut vendors…

God damn it.

Okay. You can come to see the tree.

Just, you know, try and keep it down while you’re here.