Tag Archives: Rambling

Gutter Magic

Been playing around with an idea lately:

My name is Neville Stevens, and I am a wizard.

Barely.

There are standards you see, if you want to call yourself a wizard.  You have to be able to manipulate the five elemental magics, that’s one.  You have to be able to demonstrate mastery of all seven of the mental disciplines, that’s number two.  You need to be able to travel to all twenty-six of the neighboring planes in astral form, and all six of the overlapping planes, physically, which makes number three.  And last, but by no means least, you absolutely must be able to use your third eye.

The mage who scored me and confirmed my status as a wizard told me afterwards that I had the absolute lowest score a person could possibly get and still make the staff.  Making the staff is what it’s called when you join the order, and please, don’t make any jokes about it, I’ve heard them all and, after a few pints, made up a few more.

In the order, they call me the gutter mage.  At first they just said it behind m back, but eventually it become something of an open joke, and now I can’t get them to stop calling me it.  That’s alright though, being a mage is like being a doctor, once you have the diploma up on your wall, it doesn’t really matter what your actual grades were.

Okay, fine, it matters to all the other doctors, but when someone comes in needing a heart transplant, they don’t ask you how you did on your midterms.

Unfortunately that does mean that I find myself getting hired for jobs that I really nave no business getting involved in.

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Daily Struggles

One of the things that I, as a writer, try to do, is write every single day.  I have a file where I keep track of my daily word count, and I try to make sure that each of my writing sessions is at least four hundred and fifty words long.  Ideally, I’d like them all to be much longer, but… well, you have to put the minimum somewhere, and for the time being I chose 450.

But, inevitably, there are days when I don’t have writing sessions.  Sometimes I’m working on editing something.  Sometimes I’m critiquing stuff for friends.  Sometimes I’m helping someone move.  These things happen, nothing you can do about that.  The problem is that I know myself.  If I let myself get away with really and truly missing a writing session from time to time, then, very slowly, I’m going to start increasing the list of things that are allowable.  So I have a sort of ‘carry over’ rule for myself.  I can have more than one ‘session’ for day, so long as each session is distinct (ie, I can’t just sit down, bang out nine hundred words on a story and call it two sessions), and by the end of the month, I’m all caught up.  Any longer than that and I’m just going to let myself get farther and farther behind until… no list, no accountability, no point.

A habit I’ve found myself getting into lately, when I don’t have the energy to work on one of my serious projects, it to start a story, write  few hundred words, then save it with no intention of ever coming back to it.

Part of me thinks that this is a terrible habit to get into.  I remember when i was just starting as a writer, I couldn’t finish a story.  I had a file just stuffed full of false starts.  So many stories that never went anywhere.

On the other hand, I’m not the novice I once was.  I have, in fact, finished many stories, both short and long.  And sometimes these false starts are useful.  Sometimes they tell us something, give us ideas.  Sometimes they can help us realize the direction our writing should be going in.

Still, there could be problems in the long run if I don’t make myself write with purpose at least part of the time.

Rambling musings

So, one of the thing I find a lot in literature is the association of the north with the cold.  It makes sense, of course.  Most of the books I read were written by people from the U.S., or occasionally Europe, both places where traveling North does mean you’re moving into a colder climate.  Creating and explaining a new set of cardinal directions for a story is rarely worth the trouble, and our audience is mostly going to be people in our own country, so we generally just go with what we’re used to.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

But I find myself wondering if that is going to change.

It’s the internet that makes me wonder.

We’ve been able to ship books to the far corners of the globe for a very long time, true, but on of the unfortunate problems we have had up until now has bee that, while it’s easy for someone in the U.S. who has a book published to get it to almost anywhere on the globe, there have been rather more obstacles to someone from, just for example, Nigeria to get their manuscript submitted to a publisher who can ship it to, I don’t know… Chile.

The internet, however, creates a platform that can change all of that.

And if that happens, does that mean that our cultural norms, whether they are based on geography or not, will be more thoroughly examined and more open to dismissal or interpretation?

Also, I made some nachos today, which included slicing up some fresh peppers.  later I touched my face and now my face burns.  Now I want to make a tribe in my post-apocalyptic universe who make peppers into a paste to scar themselves in cool patterns.  I’m sure someone else has done that at some point, but now I want to do it.

Annoyed by a theme

I’ve been watching the AMC series Humans, and, for the most part, I’m enjoying it a great deal.  There are a few things that I wish that they would do differently, and a few things which see to come up quite often in this genre that kind of annoy me.

So one of the big things that seems to come up in stories like these is that the creation of things that look convincingly human is associated with the creation of things that are essentially self aware.  This bothers me for a number of reasons, the most pressing of which is that the two are completely unrelated.  I understand that this is something being explored in the series in question.  But what bothers me is how common this is.  Somebody makes a lifelike machine, which acts like people do, and suddenly it starts thinking for itself.  It’s like people think that behavior precedes reason, and once it matches its behavior to us, inevitably its mind will start to be shaped by that.

I also am frustrated by the fact that in so many of these stories, once they start to think for themselves and reason for themselves, they become so very much like us.  It’s true, in trying to create an artificial consciousness we will inevitably base its reasoning patterns on our own, but given the fact that it is, on a fundamental level, not the same as us, I think it’s also inevitable that it would not function the same way we do.  Getting angry about the same things that would anger us if we experienced them, and viewing our behavior by the same standards that we use is, I think fundamentally flawed.

I guess what I’m saying is that, someday, I want to write a story where artificial humans are created but have absolutely nothing in their programming which makes them more than utilities, while vast and powerful artificial intelligences are running the world based on guidelines and reasoning that is so foreign to us as to be virtually incomprehensible.  Chances are good that somebody has already written that book, but I haven’t read it yet.

That perfect twist

So, I’m watching this show called ‘Mr. Robot,’ and I’m rather enjoying it so far.  They’re doing some interesting things with the characters and the story arc… anyhow, about halfway through episode two I get this feeling in my head that they’re pulling a fight club on me.  I think that the main character of the show, who has mental problems and is on drugs half the time, is also at least one other character, the guy Christian Slater is playing.  He might be even more.  It popped into my head about halfway through episode two, so I kind of need to re-watch up to this point to see if there are any more indicators.  The biggest thing that makes me think that, however, is the style of the show.  There’s this helpless rage at the corporate machine, a sort of mind bending narration combined with self doubt.  The character is reaching out, trying to find something, trying to change who he is, or how the world work.  It reminds me so much of fight club that I can’t help but wonder.

Anyhow, that got me thinking about movie twists.  And whenever I think about twists in stories, I inevitably think of the twilight zone.  Not the recent reboot, but the original, with Rod Serling.  I used to love watching twilight zone marathons.  The thing was, once you’d seen a couple, you could pretty much guess the twists on the rest of them.  Well, not always, some were too random to really be guessed at.  The box of damaged toys being donated to charity?  Really?  That’s just a couple of writers getting drunk on the weekend going ‘what haven’t we done yet?  come on, there’s gotta be something.’

The thing is, the best twists, the most excellent, most interesting ones, aren’t the ones that come out of left field, they’re the ones that you should have seen coming but didn’t.  My favorite movies and television shows (twist-wise) are the ones where when you watch it the second time, it seems so obvious.

But there’s a delicate balance in there, I think.  It’s a dance between the writer and the reader, or viewer, or whatever.  Making a story where the ending is too obvious isn’t any fun, but you have to give enough clues that your audience can play the game, which means that some of them will see it coming.  A good writer of epic stories will set up a number of red herrings, each of which is possible, so that the conclusion they’re heading for is possible, but only one of several paths they can go down.  It keeps people guessing.

I think it’s a little harder in movies and television shows.  In books you have infinite time and space to work with… well, not infinite, but a lot.  In books and movies, every second needs to accomplish something.  Everything you do needs to have meaning.

My favorite twists to write are not the twist endings.  I mean, I like those from time to time, especially when I’m working on a short story, a little change of pace, a sudden shift in perspective, something that changes the meaning of everything that came before, it’s cool.  But in long stories, in a series, the things that interest me are less about the way things end and more about the way they began.  Sometimes the biggest twist is not where we’re going, but how we got here to start with.

And the some of the most satisfying twists are the ones that you make the reader wait for.  I’m reading the Dresden files a lot these days, and one of the things I’ve come to admire about Butcher’s work is how patient he is at doling out the payoffs.  He had his main character suffering debilitating headaches for several books before finally we discovered why.  And I’m convinced that Dresden will, at some point, journey through time… that he will be the one who fixed the problem with ‘little chicago’ in his basement all those years ago, that he is the person who he hears shouting ‘fuego’ in the battle at chichan itza… that he has had a hand in guiding his own life. All these things which have been set up over years and years, both in the story and out of it.  That’s what I’d like to pull off with some of my own writing.  I have some things set up for that with the Corpse-Eater Saga, but I’m not sure I”m as adept at that as I’d like to be.

Psycho-hypochondria

So I’m sure that there’s already a name for it.  I have no doubt that somewhere in some medical journal there is already an established and accepted term for a person who becomes convinced that they have every single psychological condition that they find out exists.

But somehow I think the process of going through the medical journal in question to find the appropriate name would do me more harm than good.

I’ve gotten better over the years.  Now, after my initial gut reaction that, yes obviously I must have multi-personality disassociative anti-tourettes misassociation disorder, I do take a moment, calm myself down, and take a few seconds to consider whether I’ve really experienced those symptoms, or if I’m just searching my memory for one or two moments that have some vague similarity to what I’ve just been hearing about.

I’m not entirely certain why I am immediately inclined to think that anything that could be wrong with my brain, is wrong with it.  I have a few vague theories, but they’re mostly just wild guesses.  Sometimes I think it’s because i want to believe that I’m more interesting than I really am.  Other times I’m convinced that the problem is that our list of mental illnesses is just a very human attempt to fit people who aren’t normal into boxes, and that many of the things that we call mental illnesses are just mild exaggerations of traits found in all of us.

Mostly, though, I think it’s my attempt to take parts of my personality that I don’t love, lop them off, and label them as something foreign to me.  Why am I obsessing?  Is it something that I need to work on?  No, it’s my disease, what I really need is a pill to take the problem away.

Ah, the madness, it is an all consuming thing.