Summertime, and the living is…restless?

It’s been a while since I’ve put in an appearance here. Why? Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been getting really sick of opinions. Not just everyone else’s, but my own, too. The internet is a geyser of opinion and there are many a day that silence seems the only appropriate response.

Good news! The Full Lazenby, a short of mine that was published in last year’s Unidentified Funny Objects 3, will appear again, this time in Imaginarium 4 the annual compilation of best Canadian speculative fiction. And who is writing the introduction? Margaret <frickin’> Atwood. Jesus, I can’t wait to hold it.

I’ve been performing 3-4 times/month with Oakville Improv both in the family-friendly venues and over at the Moonshine Cafe. The group has really become quite fun and funny–not always the case in improv. Check us out if you’re local.

In real life, the last few months have been really tough. We’ve lost a parent and are worried about another family member who has become quite ill. We moved again, this time for permanence. Work, as always, is challenging in every conceivable manner. My health is good. My daughters are lovely. I’m learning to meditate.

And then there’s writing. I’ve come to accept that my process (as it currently stands) is that when I have an idea that I’m obsessed about and that if, on my death bed, I had not seen complete would be heartbroken over, I set to work. Now frequently, the various drafts and/or rejections kill the death bed regret and the project stalls. But I’ve been spending the last two months reading biographies, Italian history and literature as research for a ridiculously ambitious project. We’ll see just how far I get, but the outline is almost complete and it feels pretty cracking.

I can spin it two ways: What if there was a physics of the mind? or, more pithily, Freud and Einstein solve mysteries. Is your jaw off the floor yet? Are you losing your <frickin’> mind? Good. I am too.

Funny stuff

Unidentified Funny Objects 3 launched early–it’s available in e-formats and paperback. It’s now a major fetish object on my bookshelf, and I am very pleased with the reception to date. Check it out!

Also, I am very pleased to report a new sale to Nature: Futures. A Brief History of Human Intelligence will appear in Nature Physics. I’m making my way through their recently released second collection and there’s some great stuff, also worth checking out!

Unidentified Funny Objects 3

UFO-3-cover

The Table of Contents for Alex Shvartsman’s sci-fi humor anthology UFO 3 was revealed today, and it includes a story of mine “The Full Lazenby.” It’s a riff on identity and fandom and celebrity culture.

Being included in this volume is especially exciting for me because…

…it’s a story I started working on for the original UFO. I’m glad that after two years of tinkering it tickled Alex’s fancy.

…I’m a huge Don Quixote fan. This year’s cover exchanges Cervantes’ harmless windmills for an intergalactic threat.

…Piers Anthony is included. Dog-eared paperbacks of his were the currency of my grade school, so basically, he’s a real Author. It’s a thrill to see my work listed next to his.

UFO 3 is available for pre-order (as are the previous great volumes) so be sure to check it out!

It is a pleasure to fail…

Motivation comes from odd places. It’s not uncommon to struggle to find motivation for oneself yet find it easily at the bequest of others. Personal trainers, coaches, teachers, spouses, they exist to not be let down. We project our hopes onto them, make external what is inherently conflicted, and are free to try.

Some years ago, I said that I wanted to write so my daughters would be proud. That mantra felt different somehow, more challenging, more inspiring, than trying to please myself.

Did I mention that my daughters can’t read?

An unexpected byproduct of this quest is the opportunity to fail in their plain view. As a physician they didn’t see the gloom of internship, the doubt of residency, the regret of fellowship. They’re too young to understand (I hope) what the stakes are in my day job.

Writing though, they kind of understand. They get stories. They speak story. They play, breathe, sing, dance, and otherwise subsist on story. They understand someone liking a story and they understand not liking a story. (e.g., five minutes from the end of Disney’s Hercules one turned to me and asked what was happening. I couldn’t blame her).

Weirdly enough, sharing the hopes and disappointments—submission and rejection, an honest BlackList critique, an idea that I can’t make work—is comforting with a four-year-old at my side. I highly recommend one.

Failing and trying are important. Perseverance is an important lesson that’s hard to teach. It’s too coolly handed down as obvious and easy. I’m (kind of) grateful for the opportunity.

Many teenagers don’t even know what their parents do all day, let alone how they got there. I like the idea that my daughters might experience vicarious failure through my many rejections, just as I hope to one day experience joy through their successes.

Perhaps as parents we should all fail more.

A Work in Progress…

Here’s a quote from a 2005 writing class student autobiography:

I’m both proud and ashamed to say that I only read fiction. I can’t remember the last non-fiction book I finished but I love novels. It’s not surprising that most of my writing projects take on the form of novels. Unfortunately, over the years I’ve learned that my scope has significantly exceeded my skill and discipline. I have three half-finished novels that take up space on my hard drive. Two of them get picked up every two months and revised or mutated, but rarely added to. They’re both very alive in my head, just not so much on paper.

And so I wrote. I wrote and I wrote. By 2008, I finished the first full draft of a novel and even sent it around. I dreamed of movie deals, and agent interest, and any interest…

Well, I revised. And I did a NaNoWriMo for a new novel. And I kept taking classes. In the spring of 2010, at a college reunion, I said aloud: I want to be a science-fiction writer.

It was a weird thing to say. I read a lot of literary fiction. I’m not a cosplayer, don’t own a lightsaber. Yet, most of my preoccupations were highly speculative (a word I wouldn’t learn for a while to come). 

2010 sticks in my mind because, despite lack of publication, or writing routine, or anything that might possibly justify the title “writer,” I was bombastic enough to proclaim: “I shall be writer.” It was a moment of naive candor and I’d said it to other people. I was on the record with myself. I was accountable.

Time has snuck past me. I’ve be cranking away for somewhere between five and twelve years and it feels like I’ve both come a long way, and that I’ve barely begun. 

Newsflash: 2013 to end soon

It’s December. Seriously. December.

Excellent news, though. Nature Futures will be publishing a short of mine called “No Fury Like a Woman Cold Called”. It’s an homage to PK Dick crossed with a little Douglas Adams and a dash of David Ives. Or something. So that’s super-cool.

I spent this year pursuing higher education in the form of a Certificate in Television Writing from the Writers’ Program at UCLA Extension. Managed to cram that puppy into nine months and have turned out my first spec (Burn Notice so it’s already stale) and a spec pilot Shrinks (I want to go with Mental, but it was the name of a series just four years ago, who knew?). So that’s kept me busy. It’s nearing the launchpad for general acclaim-seeking after a pro critique and a few more drafts.

Yesterday I had inspiration for the novel that’s been gathering viruses on my hard drive. It’s got a killer first 150 pages and a fun but unsatisfying ending. I’ve been stuck on this simple question: how does society unknow something? That’s all I had to figure out. And maybe I have. TBD.

I haven’t been nearly as aggressive with short fiction as I should. Maybe 2014 is a year to do that. I have a YA dystopian thing that keeps clawing its way into being, six years after that market got flooded.

Finally, I have this crazy idea I’m calling mindpunk for the time being. Freud. Einstein. Nineteenth century Vienna. Physics. Repression. History. That one’s a bugger.

Vita brevis, ars longa, occasio praeceps, experimentum periculosum, judicium difficile

The Bad Math of Doctor Who

I’ve been a big Stephen Moffat fan since Coupling. That show was pure brilliance and, to my mind, the most tightly written sitcom ever.

Comedy writers talk about math—the structure of emotional connection. In comedy, that’s laughter. Each show has its own rhythm. Family Guy and 30 Rock play fast and loose with joke set-ups, while a good Seinfeld episode plays four set-ups to their extreme ends for laughs.

Coupling felt like perfection. Which is good and bad. There was resonance between the story-structure and the jokes with perfect call-backs and clever, tight resolution.

The bad thing is that such writing runs the risk of feeling like math. I think of volleyball. Bump-set-spike. Bump-set-spike. Bump-set-spike. A harrowing rhythm to maintain on the court, but a dull spectator sport.

Cleverness is intellectually satisfying, but emotionally neutral.

Moffat is a master of math. Coupling is brilliant. Sherlock is incredible. Doctor Who’s Blink and The Girl in the Fireplace are fantastic. but his run as showrunner is plagued by unsatisfying drama. Things (mostly) fit together intellectually but it’s kind of blah.

A Good Man Goes to War? The Wedding of River Song? The Pandorica Opens? Dramatic titles for sure, but where was the drama?

Moffat thrives within the sitcom and mystery structures, but sci-fantasy drama is too flexible. The limitations are variable (especially death) and the characters are moved around like chess pieces. The reasons (barely) make sense but I leave most episodes with a shrug. 

The Day of the Doctor was no different. The morning after I’m excited about what will come next on Gallifrey, enjoyed the banter, but I’m underwhelmed by any of the “big” stakes that were supposed to be present.

I miss Rose, Donna and (especially) Martha. Jack Harkness, even the one-off Lady de Souza. They were characters and not math. They made choices, they won, they lost. 

My Process: States of Being

  • Potentially Awesome. A flash of inspiration. The possible forms it might take are endless—a decalogy, a movie franchise, an epic poem. Laughter, tears, bitter insight into How The World Really Works. It’s all there, and it’s mine to plunder.
  • Awesome. First draft done. From nothing to something. Gold has been mined but not refined. Is it rough? Sure it’s rough, but its beauty shall blind anyone who dares read it! Let it sit briefly, before the world beholds its wonder!
  • Decidedly Not Awesome aka damn, this needs a lot of work. Three weeks after the first draft, doubts have arisen only to be confirmed when the drawer is opened. What was exciting has been muddled and lost. It’s going to take a lot of buffing to polish this turd…
  • Okay. One month later. Re-written, shown around, re-written again. It can no longer be denied that it is a story. Maybe it’s better. After all the work, perhaps it is better than originally hoped, a submission ought to give me the answer…
  • Crap. Absence may make the heart grow fonder but two months in slush limbo only bring its glaring faults to the forefront of my mind. I can’t bear to open the file and confirm the spelling errors, logical inconsistencies and derivative prose. Yet to know that I can neither correct its faults nor protect myself from a reader’s umbrage…shameful.
  • Confirmed Crap. Rejected thrice!!! It doesn’t work. They can’t use it. They may want to see other things, but never again this vile piece of shite! Away it goes, banished to corners of the hard drive saved for tax receipts and college one-acts. Never again will it see the light of day.

Until…Two years later. I click on a document folder whose title I don’t recognize. The story within, well, it’s got a certain whiff of inspiration. Sure, it’s buried by tonal issues and the pacing is flabby, but with a little work…

Repeat.

Psycholinguistix

There is a bias in modern mental health toward pharmacology. A diagnostic term is a lifejacket on the Titanic. Bipolar Disorder is salvation. Schizophrenia? Thank the Lord! Post-traumatic Stress Disorder!?! Hallelujah!

Label implies treatment, implies excision, implies happiness.

Unfortunately, diagnoses portray a level of remission that mental health treatment rarely achieves. Hope turns to disappointment. Disappointment turns to anger…Yoda would have more to say.

When the DSM took over nomenclature and reduced psychiatric diagnoses to an Internet Chinese menu (for better and for worse), human experience and psychiatric labels were placed in conflict.

Examples:

“I have Anger Management issues.”

“I’m totally ADD. Like, totally.”

“My boyfriend tells me I’m Bipolar.”

The language of emotion has been subsumed by the vernacular of diagnosis or treatment as if it’s only pathology. One can’t be angry or inattentive or reactive or vengeful or ambitious without a label, or the popular acceptance of a term.

Anger can be appropriate. Inattention, too. 

Most of my day is spent as a translator; I am Fezzik in The Princess Bride.

Personality is the general term for stable traits. Those that are recurrent, predictable. It is not a derogatory term, it might be everything.

Fiction often captures more about personality than the DSM. Reading a novel, you will learn more about the trajectory of personality, of sadness, of anger than a psychiatric diagnosis.

Inherent in psychiatry are the concepts of. baseline and change. Inherent in fiction are the concepts of flaw and motivationThe goal of psychotherapy is to make the inherent articulated, the inchoate communicated. Fiction celebrates “flaws” as interesting.

Don’t tell me a diagnosis. Tell me what pisses ya off.