Tag Archives: Writing

Son of my Father: Part Five

Back inside The Slumberer, everyone had moved away from the bar and were occupying tables tucked away in corners of the cavernous bar room. As Scott approached the bar itself, he once again noticed the door marked “Staf olny” and a bell rang in his head.

You’re Gemma, aren’t you?” He asked the young woman who had first startled, then puzzled him so much a moment before. She turned to him, her eyes wide in amazement.

I am. How did you know that?” He almost told her he was psychic, but was worried she might actually believe him.

Billy mentioned you. He described you perfectly.” Gemma smiled brightly, apparently pleased at being recognised. Scott thought it best not to repeat Billy’s description of her.

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Son of my Father: Part Four

Downstairs things had livened up a little, there now being half a dozen people in the bar area. Scott took a look at the locals and struggled to keep the shocked expression from his face. Ingleton had obviously been isolated for some time, judging by the very familial look about the people clustered around the bar. There was a tendency towards that same toad-like roundness as Alice from the shop, and more facial warts gathered in one place than the witches table at a Macbeth convention. He sincerely hoped they were all from one family rather than a random selection of locals. This seemed increasingly like Deliverance country and he had no desire whatsoever to end up as a reconstruction on Crimewatch. He wandered over to the bar and dredged his mind for something to say to the Toad-People. “Aren’t sheep a pain in the fucking arse?” wasn’t going to cut it, while “Has anyone seen the Wicker Man?” was probably going to give them ideas. Luckily the tallest of the locals saved him the trouble.

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Son of My Father: Part Three

Inside the pub light flooded from the fluorescent bulb overhead, making for a surprisingly bright and airy atmosphere for a place so far out in the country. The bar was at the very back of the room, facing the entrance, while the room itself was one large, open space with no kind of partition or dividing wall to separate a bar from a saloon or lounge area. There was no carpet, just slightly sticky beige linoleum that sucked a little at his trainers with each step, before releasing them with a small, but audible, squelch. Above the bar, the wall was covered with a huge collection of beer mats, some of them quite racy, advertising beers of all descriptions. The cheery look that the beer mats lent the place was offset nicely by the barman. A short, wiry looking bloke with a crew cut and tattoos, who glared at Scott’s every step of progress as if Scott owed him money. He was also devoting a lot of attention to Scott’s crotch, to the point where Scott was wondering what kind of pub he had wandered into. Then he remembered why his crotch might be the centre of attention. He pointed at the offending damp patch.

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Son of My Father: Part Two

Scott slowed down considerably as he entered the village, scanning the buildings as he went for some sign of a shop or other business were he could get directions to Carlisle, Penrith or somewhere else that he could find a motorway from. In the back of his mind was the thought that perhaps there was a bed and breakfast or a hostel in the village, somewhere that he could get a meal, a hot bath and sleep off the remains of an almighty hangover. Not far into Ingleton he spotted a small shop, obviously open for business judging by the lights and the grandmotherly shape behind the counter.

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Son of my Father: Part One

Creative Commons License
Son of my Father by Daniel Brown is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://waffleandwrite.wordpress.com/2009/08/30/administrative-notes-about-the-license-my-work-is-attributed-under/.

It was a grey and miserable afternoon. It suited his mood perfectly. Scott had been driving his dad’s old estate car all day, trying to find a lake or reservoir to fish in without success. Two weeks after the funeral he had gone on a massive bender, waking up 48 hours later, inside his sleeping bag in the back of the Volvo, somewhere in the Scottish borders as it later turned out. After spending several minutes thanking God, Buddha, Allah, Gitche Manitou and any other deity he could think of, that he hadn’t killed anyone or been arrested, he looked around the car and besides empty beer cans he could find only his old fishing rod and a bottle of Glenlivet. The same rod his dad had bought him for his twenty-first birthday, and a bottle of the old man’s favourite tipple. Realization dawned, harsh and cold.

Dad was dead.

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Handwavium

So, in order to distract myself from the fact that my wife is in the hospital right now, I’ve been thinking really hard about whether or not I’ve got it in me to write a science fiction story. An old fashioned space opera kind of a thing. The thing is, once you get beyond basic Newton, Browning and Kelvin, as taught in high school, my brain struggles to comprehend anything not presented in a very basic and easy to swallow “Lie to Children”, such as those people like Michio Kaku or anyone who gives a lecture at TED put out there. Not the actual truth, but a close enough lie that laypeople can pretend they understand it. With that in mind, I’ve been asking myself the question “How much is it possible to hand wave in a sci-fi, space opera style of story?” I even invented a molecule of strange matter against future plot convenient technologies , named in the title of this post.

Taking into account the Fermi Paradox it is more than reasonable to ignore the possibility of alien races, and even alien biological systems in general by taking the idea of terra-forming to its full conclusion; the problem comes when trying to hand wave the technology. While it is a plausible solution to ignore the problem altogether it won’t make for a very satisfactory story to even a mildly experienced
reader of science fiction. The problem isn’t that the character doesn’t know how things work, it’s that I don’t know how they work.

Sometimes I think to myself that in a story set in the contemporary world, I don’t have to explain how a microwave oven works to allow the protagonist to have an instant pizza. Then I realize that this is because I know what a microwave oven is and how it works- sort of. (electro-wave thingies jiggle the food molecules and they get angry about it, hence the heat. Sometimes groups of Zen Buddhist molecules group together and reject their brethren’s anger, leaving cold spots. See, easy.) I can also assume that any potential readers of my potential work have a rough grasp of what a microwave oven is and does, hence the brilliant and incisive technical data above isn’t necessary to the story.

I can probably trick a relatively lazy reader, such as myself, with a phrase along the lines of “The I.S.S. Cauto Star was powered by a mark VII sub-light Orion drive*, fitted with series nine inertial dampeners and equipped with fully functional Grav simulators throughout the inner hull.” The problems come from more technically minded readers, who would take in the above passage and immediately wonder how all that fancy-schmantzy gear actually works (theoretically) and promptly fire off e-mails asking me how it works, the only possible answer to which would be “Buggered if I know, have you tried reading Asimov instead? That bloke knows his techno shit!” and a reader is lost to me forever, just because they guessed, correctly, that I am an idiot.

Does this mean that techno dummies of a faintly scientific bent like I am should keep off the sci-fi grass, so to speak? I certainly hope not, since the fringes of a space faring society are a truly exciting place to set a work a work of fiction after all. Does the average science fiction reader worry overly much about the technical aspects of any given story that they might read, so long as the fictional technology is employed consistently throughout the story and follows the implied rules of the fictional universe? I know that I don’t, but then I don’t know that I constitute a reasonable model of an average sci-fi reader. Unless your survey is very small, with very hazy questions. (Survey all of the people in my front room called Daniel, then ask them if they think too hard about the tech stuff mentioned in any sci-fi they might read.)

* By the way Wikipedia carries a pretty good article about the theory behind the Orion Drive, or Nuclear Pulse Propulsion.  Look it up. As for inertial dampeners and Gravity simulators? Buggered if I know, have you tried reading Asimov instead? That bloke knows his techno shit!

On the matter of asking favours from the professionals

Over on his blog Whatever, John Scalzi has brought up the matter of asking established writers for favours in these three posts. I think the whole issue has been dealt with pretty comprehensively in John’s posts and the ensuing comments. I think everything he said was perfectly fair and reasonable. Speaking as an unpublished writer, I find the idea of asking a person I don’t know to invest large amounts of their time and/or personal credibility into me or my work to be presumptuous to say the least. Even asking someone I do know to do that strikes me as more than a little bit off, if that person does it for a living. It’s one thing to ask a friend who you know well to look over your work. If you know them well enough, the pair of you trust each other not to overreact to any discourse on the matter and you know that asking your friend this isn’t too big an imposition on their time, then fine. However asking someone who you don’t know/barely know/exchanged a few comments with on a blog or twitter is so far beyond the realms of normal behaviour it verges on ridiculous.

If you’re someone who does this, if by some miracle should a writer agree to look over your work, what are the various outcomes you can realistically hope for?

A.) That a writer whose skills you admire says something like “Nice job. Well done. You should submit this for publication.”… This won’t get you an “in” at a publisher. You’ll still have to go through the submission process and chances are that you’ll still get rejected several times from several different publishers. This will make you feel embittered and betrayed because you had your hopes built up after the praise from a pro. This is not a good outcome.

B.) That a writer whose skills you admire says something like “This needs a lot of work before being ready for publication. A professional editor really needs to go over this with you to iron out the problems.”… You still have to go through the submission process like everyone else, only now you’re doing it with a sense of doom and a severe knock to your confidence in your ability. You think editors are going to read it, dismiss it as amateurish hackwork and ignore it. This is not a good outcome.

C.) That a writer whose skills you admire says something like “This sucks. Really badly. It has no redeeming qualities of craftsmanship or artistic merit. It’s not even entertaining pulp. I recommend that you stick with your dayjob and never put pen to paper again, for fear of embarrassing yourself amongst people who actually understand what good writing looks like”… After a blasting like that, who would even consider submitting that work? You’ve just been attacked and demolished by someone who you admired and possibly even looked up to a little. Not only have you put yourself in a situation whereby your confidence will be torn down around your ears, but you’ve probably lost the ability to enjoy the work of a writer you previously admired into the bargain. This is not a good outcome.

If you’re an unpublished writer and you want some feedback on your work then you really have two options. The first one is to join a writing group or creative writing course. This way, once or twice a week you’ll be surrounded by other writerly types who’ll feel a vague obligation to read your work out of a sense of solidarity to the group. The other is to publish your early stuff yourself on the web and hope you attract someone’s attention enough to comment on your work, if not always in a positive way then at least in a constructive manner.

Personally, I chose the second option and for a number of reasons. The problem with a writing group or class is that you’re in a room with someone staring at you with hope in their eyes, silently imploring you to say something nice about the dull and boring piece of dreck they subjected you to after the last workshop/class and now you have to come up with something to say about it that won’t offend them or hurt their feelings. If I’m doing this with them, then of course they’re doing it with me as well. This atmosphere isn’t one that I find conducive to good writing, more towards identikit writing of the Richard and Judy Book Club variety. Unless the group is set up specifically for it, then writers of SF&F and horror will be made to feel like they don’t belong. Not consciously perhaps, but it will happen. That’s a separate issue however and not the point I’m making here.

This isn’t to say that writing for a blog isn’t without it’s problems. One of the fundamental drawbacks of writing stuff for a venue whereby people aren’t obliged to give feedback on anything they’ve read is that very often feedback won’t be given. You can be left feeling that you’re shouting into a void and no-one cares about what you’re doing. So far I’ve been unable to get my wife, my parents, my sister or any of my closest real world friends to look at the blog. I try not think about what this implies…

Poor old pitiful me, boo-hoo-hoo. You know what? Why should they care? This is my hobby I’m indulging while I hope to get good enough to turn it into a job one day, not theirs. I’m sure the majority of wannabe writers find themselves in a similar situation with their blogs and manuscripts. This is the normal procedure. If your favourite writer won’t give you the time of day as regards you begging for their help, get over it, get over yourself and keep writing stuff. Hopefully one day you’ll submit something and get published professionally, but until that day keep your neuroses and desperate need for validation within acceptable boundaries.

N.B. It occurs to me now that my blog is remarkably similar to John Scalzi’s in theme and layout. While imitation (even done unconsciously) may be a form flattery, a redesign may well be forthcoming. The last thing I want to be doing is aping what someone else is already doing very well.

I’m writing erotica. It’s hard.

Which is to say that writing erotica is difficult; not that, um… You know. Anyway, I’m finding the process more difficult than I anticipated. Every time I write something, I imagine my parents, or one of my many nieces and nephews reading it. Then I blush furiously and stop. This is proving to hinder the writing somewhat.

On the bright side, I’m learning a lot about myself. For starters, I’m learning that I embarrass a lot more easily than I thought. I’m also learning that while doing something may come naturally, writing about it fluently and with skill isn’t something I can force to come quickly. By which I mean, that I’m not a steep learning curve; not that, um… You know. I’m also learning that while a woman may happily indulge you wandering around the house choreographing fight moves so that scenes of violence flow naturally and realistically and may even be willing to throw a mock punch or two in order to help; under other circumstances asking for help with choreography will be met by a withering stare, a sarcastic comment or two, then a facial expression which seems to say “Do you really think I’m falling for that old chestnut?”. By “old chestnut”, I mean a clichéd  request; not, um… You know.

My only option is to keep grinding away until something comes. By which I mean I mean keep writing until I write something good; not um… You know. If I keep going, putting one word after another and trying to ignore my natural tendency to feel embarrassed about the subject matter, then hopefully very soon I’ll have something to submit.

God damn, but this is hard! By which I mean, um… I have an erection.

Interesting developments

I’ve been offline for several days. The reason for this is one I’m really quite chuffed about. I’ve been approached to write something for a website; for money! Yes, actual Sterling currency, that can be used in shops and stuff! There is one snag however… I’ve been asked to write erotica. This came as a surprise to me, since my work posted so far isn’t exactly what you would classify as scintillatingly titillating. However in a spirit of adventure, artistic curiosity and cash hungriness I accepted the offer.

This has led to one or two interesting mental developments. First off; how exactly does one go about writing erotica that doesn’t read as, not to put too fine a point on it, silly? Secondly; should I publish the work under my own by-line? I’ve struggled mightily with the first one for almost a week now, trying to write something that doesn’t make me fall about laughing when I read it aloud. It’s getting better with each re-write, however I’m not going to be an objective judge on that one and will only be able to rely on the editor for final arbitration on whether the story is hauntingly sexy or gut-bustingly silly.

Of more pressing interest to myself, was the question of whether or not to use my own by-line, or take the soft option and use a pseudonym. I was worried about being A.) Sneered at for writing in what is perceived as something of a ghetto so far as fiction is concerned, or B.) Potentially pigeon holed as a writer of erotic stories. My lack of a planet sized ego quickly dispelled the latter worry, about ten people are aware of my body of work, so I doubt I’m going to be pigeon holed into anything anytime soon. The first worry wasn’t so easy to think my way out of.

Eventually I decided to go with my own name, for a couple of reasons. First off, some very good advice from a friend of mine named Wendy, who told me “They’re your words, why be ashamed of them?”, which was excellent advice and something anyone who wants to write professionally should take to heart. The second reason, is that I want to write professionally; with all of the responsibilities that entails, not as an “artist”. If a plumber is offered work fixing a u-bend, the plumber doesn’t carefully consider what kind of u-bend he’s being asked to repair, then accept or decline based on whether or not it was the kind of u-bend he dreamed of repairing when he was a kid. He quotes his hourly rate, then fixes the damned u-bend, he has bills to pay. I figure why should writing be exempt from that kind of reasoning?

My main objective after writing something that I’m satisfied is correct within itself and fulfills it’s given purpose, is that any readers are pleased with the work. This goes double for work that I’ve been specifically asked to write for someone. Personal projects are just that, to please me personally. Work I’ve been commissioned for, even loosely or informally, is work for a specific audience. I want writing to be my trade, not just a way of blathering on at length to please myself and my few chosen readers. In short, I don’t want to be precious or poncy about it.

If I write something, my primary purpose is to entertain any potential readers, not to create art. If I happen to get bracketed as an artist, that’s wonderful and I’d be deeply flattered by the association; but I’d never set out to create art, that would make me at best pretentious and at worst a pontificating idiot.

N.B. Naturally, a commission piece won’t be published as a CC licensed work here, so it won’t be freely available on this site; however should the commissioner be OK with it, if the story is accepted I’ll link to the site where it’s published when it goes up.