You are viewing alecaustin

Aspettate e Odiate [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Alec Austin

[ userinfo | livejournal userinfo ]
[ archive | journal archive ]

Links
[Links:| Brief Interviews With Therianthropes, in Daily Science Fiction ]

Writing Process Blog Tour [Apr. 14th, 2014|11:22 pm]
[Tags|, , ]

So several of my friends (most proximately mrissa) have been blogging about their current projects and writing process as a part of a Writing Process Blog Tour. The questions in the prompt were interesting enough that I figured it wouldn't be bad to join in. (You can find Marissa's post here.)

1) What am I working on?

My current project has the working title of Coup de Grace. It's a military science fiction novel set in a North America wracked by demographic transitions, climate change, and the after-effects of a coup that turned New York City and Washington DC into radioactive craters, triggered a continent-spanning civil war, and has led to the decades-long military occupation of much of the American South.

Carl Olson and his classmates are cadets at a military academy in Minneapolis which trains the security forces of the Pan-Columbian Republic (a state formed by the union of the US, Mexico, and Canada). They're sworn to defend the Constitution of the PCR-- which has been suspended as long as they've been alive-- against all enemies, foreign and domestic. But when the Commandant of the Academy has them rescue a dead Senator's heir from Separatist guerillas, it becomes clear to Carl and his friends that the line between patriotism and treason is a blurry one, and that hard-liners in the the Army and Senate regard them and their instructors as enemies of the state.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

The impetus that prompted me to write Coup de Grace was what I perceived as the cookie-cutter template of many dystopias. Take an oppressive central government, add in one or more young people who, through inclination or circumstance, are primed to rebel, and give them an external group of freedom fighters to join. Don't get me wrong: there are books which use that template that I've enjoyed. But it made me wonder what a differently-biased dystopia, which actually tried to address the complexities of politics and political violence, would look like.

As such, the Pan-Columbian Republic is more like present-day China or Russia than the Districts of the Hunger Games. The rebels fighting to overthrow it aren't noble freedom fighters-- they're largely neo-Confederates, Dominionists, and other reactionaries who feel they would be justified in killing large swaths of the (majority-Hispanic) population. Meanwhile, our protagonists are a part of the system, and have reasons to love their country as well as an acute awareness of its flaws and internal divisions.

While Coup isn't near-future SF, the PCR's long war and censorship regime have both slowed and maintained technology to the point where the tech permeating everyday life is recognizable, rather than being in decay, or so advanced it might as well be magic. Carl and his friends play for the Academy e-sports team, and wear headsets which function as cell phones and computers (as well as heads-up-displays in combat). People still drive cars, though they're all hybrid or electric, but everyone except cops, truckers, and the military takes buses and light rail to get places. The future is unevenly distributed, and it's left much of the PCR behind.

I'm also doing my best to take the military dimensions of the novel seriously, without letting the jargon and command structure overwhelm everything. Because Carl and his friends are both soldiers and cadets, they have to do PT, take classes, and have to practice and qualify with their weapons. They swear a lot, in both Spanish and English. They have a chain of command, rules of engagement, and have to follow orders. They practice muzzle and trigger discipline.

They also kill a lot of people, and have to live with the consequences.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I tend to joke about how upbeat and cheery my work is, but I don't set out to be dark. It's just that I'm hyper-aware of the conventions of (modern, popular, English language) narrative and how they tend to produce a very constrained range of content, characters, and points of sympathy. One of several ways I respond to these constraints is to twist things around; to interrogate the conventions that annoy me and follow through on the implications of what I find. (For example: the Braveheart trope, or all freedom fighters are good! Or raw jingoism, where anything Our Boys do is good! Yeah. About that...)

Another factor that motivates a lot of my narrative choices is compassion. I ask myself questions like, "What would drive someone to join the Nazgul?" and try not to stop at the first (read: glib) answer. People mostly aren't cardboard villains or cartoon heroes, and it doesn't add to our stories when we portray them that way. Hayao Miyazaki is one of my favorite creators for this reason. See his depictions of Princess Kushana in Nausicaa, Lady Eboshi and Jigo in Princess Mononoke, and Yubaba in Spirited Away. These are nuanced and comprehensible characters, even when they're being selfish, proud, or opposing the protagonists.

That doesn't mean they're always right, mind you. But how boring stories would be-- and how alien the characters in them would seem-- if they were always right!

4) How does your writing process work?

My writing process, such as it, is often kick-started by coming up with particularly vivid set-pieces. Once I've got one or two set-pieces to drive toward-- a magister who can turn his staff into an powerful electromagnet facing down a hallway full of crossbowmen, for example-- I start poking at the implications and consequences of a world where such things make sense. Often the initial phrase or image that inspired a book or story doesn't survive the development process. That's fine; ideas are cheap.

Once I feel like I have a clear idea of what happens first, I start writing. My process from there involves a lot of sitting around figuring out what needs to happen next. Some people can think on the page, throwing stuff at the wall during their early drafts and seeing what sticks, but that doesn't usually work very well for me. Doing my thinking before I start writing frees me up to improvise within constraints, rather than first being paralyzed by possibilities, and then paralyzed by the conviction that I've taken a wrong turn and won't be able to continue until I figure out how many of the pages I've just written need to be thrown away.

That said, while I often need to pause and think about what comes next (and sometimes research specific topics, like riverboats of the Yangtze, or political philosophy), I usually have a fairly clear notion of where I'm going. Especially with longer works, like books or novelettes-- I've never written a novella, and given how few places are looking to buy them, I don't mean to start-- I tend to have both a bunch of snippets from the end of the story written before I write the middle, and elaborate playlists and mixes made up of songs that will get my head in the right space and remind me of the emotional and dramatic beats I intend to hit. The typical result of this is that writing the middle of any story is the hard part-- by the time I get to the end, I tend to have a lot more clarity, as well as bits of prose that I can incorporate or discard in my wild rush to the finish.

Anyway, that's what I'm working on, and how I think about and do these sorts of things.

The standard way of doing this "tour" seem to have three people lined up to follow you next week, but I don't really like pushing chain letters or posts on my friends. So here is Marissa Lingen's process post (also linked to at the start of this post), and Michael Merriam's. If you feel like continuing things with a post of your own, indicate that in comments.
Link14 comments|Leave a comment

List of proposed 4th Street panels [Mar. 31st, 2014|10:34 pm]
[Tags|, ]

I just posted a list of panels over in the 4th_st_fantasy community, for those who are interested.
Link1 comment|Leave a comment

The Rhetoric of Blood [Feb. 24th, 2014|12:12 am]
[Tags|, , ]

So my guest post for the Book of Apex 4 - The Rhetoric of Blood - is up at Many a True Nerd. In it, I talk about the conflation of "realism" with darkness in fiction, why I write dark stuff, and how some topics are inherently dark while others get depicted that way for other reasons.

If that sounds at all interesting to you, go check it out.
Link5 comments|Leave a comment

Interview @ Many a True Nerd [Feb. 16th, 2014|03:01 pm]
[Tags|, , ]

So as a part of the Book of Apex 4 blog tour, my story "Ironheart" (along with stories by swan_tower and matociquala) got reviewed over at Many a True Nerd.

Lizzie S. from Many a True Nerd also interviewed me about the genesis of "Ironheart", game systems, my writing process, and (indirectly) my fixation on Oda Nobunaga.

Lizzie and Claire will be hosting a guest post written by yours truly in a little less than a week as well, and I'll post a link here when that goes live.
Link2 comments|Leave a comment

Story up at Beneath Ceaseless Skies [Feb. 6th, 2014|08:31 am]
[Tags|, ]

So my story "Atonement" is up on BCS today. It's set in a fantasy Sogdia, and is full of female soldiers, hungry ghosts, eunuch exorcists, Buddhist monks, Zoroastrians, and daevas. Spread the word, if you're so inclined.

Link1 comment|Leave a comment

2013 in review [Jan. 3rd, 2014|08:41 pm]
[Tags|, , ]

...or parts of it, at any rate.

2013 was split pretty much exactly in half for me - before July 1st, when I was unemployed and looking for work, and after July 1st, when I started working at my current employer. Before July, I was reading and writing fairly prolifically, but was also a bit of an emotional wreck. Long-term unemployment, it turns out, is no cakewalk, especially when you're on your second unemployment extension, your benefit checks have shrunk because of the sequester, and you're starting to wonder whether you're secretly really bad at your job, because if you weren't, wouldn't someone have hired you already? So yeah. Fun times.

After I got my offer letter, I set my start date, went to 4th Street, and then came home and immediately plunged back into making games. The combination of work + commute means that if I leave home at ~8 AM, I'll usually get home at... 8 PM. Financial security and a steady paycheck are wonderful, but as a result, my reading and writing time took a pretty big hit in the second half of the year.

From what I can make of my notes, I finished 4 stories in collaboration with mrissa and 3 stories on my own last year. I sold 2 stories at the end of January, and another in September, while 4 of my stories saw print:

Novelette

"Matron Saint of Murder", in Crowded #1. (iOS only)

Short Stories

"Blood Remembers", in Beneath Ceaseless Skies #117.

"Milk Run" (written with mrissa), in Analog, July/August 2013.

"On the Weaponization of Flora and Fauna" (written with mrissa), in Beneath Ceaseless Skies #129.


"Weaponization..." was the one of the stories that sold in January.

My final sale percentage for the year was 2.75% (3 acceptances, 106 rejections). I also managed to write ~30,000 words towards a draft of a novel. (The working title is Coup de Grace. Dystopian SF about a military/secret police academy. Probably not marketable as YA.)

Books read from June-December 2013Collapse )

On top of everything else, I was sick as a dog through the holidays, which meant I basically did nothing but watch anime on Crunchyroll. While most of it wasn't from the last year, it led me to suspect that the reviewer who wrote Tor.com's "Ten best shows of 2013" and I don't see eye-to-eye on very much.

Anime shows finished in the last week and a halfCollapse )
Link2 comments|Leave a comment

Farthing Party con report: III [Oct. 19th, 2013|12:05 pm]
[Tags|, ]

Been completely smashed by work. Wrote this earlier in the week but never got around to posting it due to the tired.

9/28 - 3:30 - John M. Ford
papersky moderating

This ended up being more a memorial panel than a discussion panel. As mrissa noted in her Con Report, this was probably inevitable - there is a great deal of chewy stuff that one could dig into in any given Mike Ford novel, and they are sufficiently different from each other that it would be challenging to generalize except at a very high level.

Relevant Points:

* JMF changed the rules of every form he worked in. For example, in Original Series Star Trek novels, Kirk & Spock must now appear as non-infants, and before page 120 or so.

* He had a horror of being obvious. If he had a fault as a writer, it was in the opposite direction. His work does not resemble itself particularly, and came out during a time period when this was more or less career suicide. These days, editors can tell their marketing staff things like, "Don't sweat that every one of her books is in a different subgenre - she's Gene Wolfe." This was not a viable option at the time.

* Mike did amazing work in gaming as well as SFF. He wrote the award-winning Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues for Paranoia, as well as GURPS Time Travel, in which he explained time travel's possibilities in depth for basically nothing. (That's a 100+ page sourcebook for ~$2,000. Writing RPG books is just not worth it economically unless you're writing for WotC, as I have grounds to know)

* Mike had a very strong moral sensibility - not the censorious kind, but the genuinely humane sort - both in private life and in his work. On hearing a story about foster children getting up from table before dessert and explaining it by saying "Ice cream is for your real children," his response was, "There's more of human evil in that than in all of Hannibal Lecter."

* Mike died intestate, which led to huge issues due to his (hostile) family getting the rights to his work and denying publication. If you're a writer, make a will that addresses your literary estate. (Also, get used - or new, where available - copies of Mike Ford's books and pass them around. They're brilliant.)

* Mike's unfinished novel, Aspects, will be released by Tor relatively soon. It's scaled-up continental fantasy w/ Trains, and Tooth & Claw was written in conversation with it. Multiple panelists felt strongly that it should have been a key part of the fantasy genre's conversation with itself for the last decade or so.

Good Quotes:

* (To JMF) "Mike, you've lost me here, and if you've lost me, then you've lost a lot of other people."

* "Mike was better at leaving me confused and being okay with it than anyone else."

* "Mike had this weird tendency to get bad copy edits, for some reason."

* JMF quote in response to copy edits: "I think someone is being stupid here and I don't think it's me."

* (Paraphrased) "Mike's work was proof that excellence is possible. It's right there, look!"
Link5 comments|Leave a comment

Farthing Party con report: II [Oct. 6th, 2013|09:29 pm]
[Tags|, ]

So the density of my notes trailed off a bit as the con went on, based on whether I was on the panel or not, and a variety of other factors. Later installments will probably be shorter.

9/28 - 12 PM - Black Wine
papersky moderating.

This panel was a discussion of Candas Jane Dorsey's Black Wine, which won multiple awards (The Tiptree, the Prix Aurora, and the Crawford) when it was released in 1996 and sank without a trace commercially. It's just been reprinted by Five Rivers Press.

Candas was one of my Clarion West instructors, way back in 2000, and I read the Hawaii State Library's copy of Black Wine before going to Clarion. I recall finding it disturbing and unsettling on several fronts, though apparently not as intense as some of the panelists and other audience members did.

Black Wine can be argued to be either SF or Fantasy because it never explains itself, and doesn't provide the reader clear cues as to how it should be read. In fact, large swaths of the setting aren't described in any detail, forcing the reader to fill in the other details for themselves. It's pretty clear that this was a deliberate choice; Black Wine absolutely doesn't straddle genres by accident. The gothic and horror elements contrast with the SFnal and fantastic ones in ways that refuse the reader clarity as to what sort of book they're reading.

The original Tor cover was black-on-black, minimalist, and a clear marketing failure. Of the people in the panel and in the audience who hadn't had the book recommended to them, a good number of them picked it up by mistake. (I read it because I wanted to read at least one thing by each of my instructors, a goal which I signally failed to meet. I also managed to read The Deep, which was possibly the least representative John Crowley novel I could've read.) Many thought it would be a classical or modern gothic novel - and, to be fair, it has a fairly gothic sensibility - but the consensus was that Black Wine undermines the Gothic's conventions by having the things behind the tapestry be *truly horrible*, and not providing last-minute saves for its POV characters.

Despite all this, the pacing of revelation in Black Wine is slow, and the narrative threads join up at a leisurely pace. This leaves readers with lots of room to try to piece together its world. 7 languages are mentioned, and the inability to express ideas in a particular language is used for character development. Differences in technology and resources across cultures cut in several ways; there are cultures of airship sailors and sea-bound merchanters who don't really like each other and have different traditions. The book is full of different cultures, spread across a wide variety of climactic zones - it's a whole planet. Men can have kids together; Women too; and who knows how it works? Not the reader. Lots of things like that are mentioned and left unexplained.

The perspective on slavery in Black Wine is much closer, more intimate, and less fetishized than (say) Sanderson's Mistborn, where the darkness is both abstracted and seen through the male gaze. Comparable works mentioned included the Le Guin's Voices and Gifts, and Carla Speed McNeill's Finder, less for the slavery and awfulness and more for the sense of a rich world with real cultural barriers dividing its people.

One of the most interesting points brought up by the book and the panel: You can run away from the place you're raised, but how much of your terrible culture are you going to carry with you?

9/28 - 1 PM - Lunch

We went and got lunch at a lovely little waffle and crepe place over on Saint-Denis. The operator put fruit into the waffle batter, and I had two! Mmm. Strawberry and appple.

9/28 - 2:30 PM - Maybe it's Sunspots
papersky moderating.

Lots of people, including papersky, mrissa, and autopope (not present) have been having unusually productive time writing of late, for values of "productive" that verge on compulsion. The discussion was on process, and what sorts of things seem correlated to this outpouring of words.

Notable Conversation threads:

* papersky wrote Farthing in 19 days. But when she went back to look, she wrote her other books in not too many more days of work (20-30 odd) - they were just spread out over months and years.

* Another panelist noted that you can grind & grind & grind for years, and then you can't cross the street without bits of books hailing down and waving flaming swords at you. Wrote a novella on an iPad in the middle of her mother's disassembled house.

* Hypothesis: Story can get backed up, but will often find its way out. Happiness (or at least the lack of pain/emotional distractions) is a causal factor, rather than the result of productivity.

* It can often be difficult to talk about this kind of productivity (Mike Ford called it "Finding the Spigot") in ways that won't produce hostility/envy from other writers, even though it's far from an unalloyed good thing. mrissa's rules for surviving this period:

1) No ruining her hands.
2) No ruining her health.
3) No ruining her relationships.

All three are real risks.

* Other things go by the wayside when a writer is in a compulsive high-productivity state. Reading, watching TV, other social or writing obligations, drinking tea, cooking dinner. While reading and researching can support your writing, *needing* to do so can derail this sort of thing.

* Music (especially when you get earwormed) can be either a spur to creativity or a huge impediment to it. Buying lots of food can make keeping up momentum easier. Having food stored up, the right word processor, and/or music for the story or book you're working on are all just different ways of greasing the skids.

* mrissa had never before finished a novel and then done other things and written a flash piece the same night. Upon papersky finishing Among Others, she stopped writing for months, and had to ask herself, "What do I do when I'm not writing?"

* mrissa described writing short stories as trying to fill shotglasses from a tap one after another, while writing novels was more like filling a barrel. Writing lots of short stories all at once is potentially a liability, not just because you have to scramble for new stories to finish, but because the limited # of publications spots most markets have means you end up competing with yourself.

* Intermittent reinforcement can drive animals to superstition - superstitious pigeons! Many writers are superstitious pigeons about writing, clinging to things that worked for them last time. Some writers get their bad habits linked to their writing; it's a good idea to making sure not to link your writing to that sort of thing, or to using a particular word processor, or a particular kind of stationery.

* mrissa is a superstitious pigeon the other way; taking Sunday off is insurance. She's also trunked more stories than usual lately, because when there's not enough story there even with the spigot on...

Good or memorable lines:

* mrissa, quoting me: "The hard part of writing is the thinking."

* "If all you care about is word count, no one is more productive than Mike Resnick."

* "Strawberries, Creme Fraiche, and Brown Sugar. Eat this, young writers!"

* papersky (paraphrased) - "I resent the Romantic notion of urgency in art."

More anon.
Link1 comment|Leave a comment

Farthing Party con report: I [Oct. 6th, 2013|01:12 pm]
[Tags|, ]

So last weekend was (the last) Farthing Party. Farthing is always a lovely time, and as some of our dear friends couldn't make it this year, I have extricated myself from uffish slumber in order to recount some of the discussions that were had. Food will probably get discussed also, though not in any great detail, since most of the time I would be making repetitive contented noises.

Any exclamation points and/or unnecessary capitalization in panel titles are my responsibility/fault, as are parenthetical comments.

9/28 - 10 AM - A Good Read

Slept through this one, alas.

9/28 - 11 AM - Mad SCIENCE!
mrissa moderating.

This one started out with a series of jokes about an attendee's 'one velociraptor per child program' T-shirt. No velociraptor left behind! A velociraptor in every pot, and pot in every velociraptor! Alas, it was made clear in sonorous tones that no mainstream candidate was likely to endorse any variation on this platform. (Apparently velociraptors are the 4th rail of politics.)

Notable conversation threads:

* Real science has human studies boards and lots of paperwork. One of the appeals of mad science these days is saying "screw the paperwork!" (though mrissa has a story about the credibility of planet-destroying threats sans experimental data...), but if you do that these days, people go "they're mad!" Dr. Chromedome in The Tick is a good example here - "The Mad Scientist does not wear the 'Hello My Name Is' badge! Warm fuzzy nice nice! What is the point of science if no one gets hurt?"

* Modern depictions of mad science often have sexual overtones. See Girl Genius's spark collaborations, Young Frankenstein, and the like.

* Wernher Von Braun as Gary Stu/ultimate 'fictional' mad scientist, despite being real. Apparently the Tom Lehrer song made Von Braun angry because he actually *was* learning Chinese.

* Dr. Frankenstein was an undergraduate, both in age and temperament. Not only do particular forms of hubris manifest themselves most often in young people (who imagine they can overthrow all previous knowledge), but undergrads tend to make bad parents as well.

* Cyteen has lots of parallels to Frankenstein. Ariane Emory was a terrible mom.

* Dr. Frankenstein was also a mad alchemist, of the sort that had to flee from city to city and inflate their claims massively in order to get patronage and funding. Part-time alchemists mostly concluded that alchemy was crap and didn't work.

* Mad science is visually striking, which is why it showed up so often in early film and (more recently) in comics, where the special effects budget isn't as much of a limiting factor as in film.

* We may not recognize mad science because the scale is wrong. Cell phones in your pocket aren't ginormous death rays. Counterpoint: Supercolliders and the National Ignition Facility aren't small in scale. (Counter-counterpoint: But how many nations have we ignited recently?)

* Mad Science narratives don't cope well with corporate science and teamwork. Single scientist narratives don't work well these days, even though no one person at Google understands the entirety of how Google Search works in detail.

* Also, corporations doing things tend to seem more normal and "sane", even when what they're doing would be psychopathic on a personal level. See fracking tainting water supplies, and the same crew of liars from Merchants of Doubt being the ones defending both the Tobacco industry and denying Global Warming.

* Geoengineering is deeply mad science. See people seeding the Pacific ocean with iron because "we've got to do something!" Also covered in Kim Stanley Robinson's 40 Signs of Rain and Tobias Buckell's Arctic Rising.

* Stalinist science was plenty mad. See Lysenkoism, and the plans to build a dam across the Bering Straight to melt the Arctic. Which the US was cool with, apparently. (Man, the Cold War was nuts.)

Good or groan-worthy lines:

* "Crows have 5 primary flight feathers, while ravens have 4. The difference between these birds is literally a matter of a pinion."

* "I'm not a mad scientist, I'm a mildly deranged technologist."

* "Too mad scientists, not enough hunchbacks." (Apparently a saying at Tor.)

* All models are wrong, but some are useful. Computer modeling is not magic; believing the model is mad.

* "We’ve been good. We deserve to have pygmy mammoths."
Link3 comments|Leave a comment

Weaponized for your Delectation [Sep. 5th, 2013|08:44 am]
[Tags|]

So it's been a while, huh? I have like 3 months of reading to write up, but this post is not that.

No! This post is to notify you that mrissa and I have a new story up at BCS: On The Weaponization of Flora and Fauna. It is full of naturalism and botany and things! (Often things that have pretty feathers and/or can turn people to stone/vibrate metal apart with their cries...)

Anyway. Story. Please go read it, if that prospect pleases you.

Link4 comments|Leave a comment

navigation
[ viewing | most recent entries ]
[ go | earlier ]