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Sunday afternoon I turned on The Dark Crystal for my annual re-watch, a New Year’s tradition of mine. As I was sorting through old mail and generally cleaning house, something odd happened:
I turned it off midway through.
My feelings about this beautiful, imaginative film have evolved over the past few years. I was deeply invested in this film not too long ago. Yet after my disillusionment with the Henson Company’s prequel writing contest in 2013, I started taking a more critical look at it.
I typically don’t do this to movies. Books, including both prose and graphic novels, I can engage in with some distance, which allows me to tease apart a story more easily. Yet movies have always been visceral, and I’m usually too emotionally involved with the visuals to properly engage them.
But The Dark Crystal meant a lot to me, and I had to figure out why. The writer in me had to know whether it was the storytelling or the production design that drew me to it.
Well, here’s what I found.
Continue reading Jen Grew Up: Moving on from The Dark Crystal
You want more details, dear reader? Well, then, read on.
On my hard drive sits a novel-length manuscript. I wrote the rough draft about four years ago, and subsequently revised, polished, rewrote half of it from scratch, revised and polished yet again, and let it sit while I decided where to take it.
This novel had some similarities to a very popular show on a global video streaming site. I thought I could use that show as a comparable, or comp for short. (Comps are used in pitches to editors and agents: they demonstrate that a story is enough like a successful work that it can be sold.) I would need to differentiate my work from this show, since there were some uncanny similarities, but that could be done through incremental revisions.
However, a new season of this famous show just dropped.
I gave a short talk at my church last Sunday. You can watch below, or read the transcript further down.
Continue reading Covenant before Creed (aka Why Unitarian Universalism?)
I recently re-read When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron, an otherwise excellent book on pursuing Buddhist practice, when I came across a curious statement. To paraphrase, Chodron considers theism an addiction, a desire for “a babysitter” to come in and fix things.
Funny. I never thought God was going to fix anything for me.
Continue reading Why I’m a Theist
There’s been a persistent numbness lately, as if a circuit board in my brain was shorted in a power surge and lies dead and smoldering. So, so many things have happened — are happening — are about to happen — that they cannot be processed. Like logs down a river, my feelings have caught on the banks and jammed.
After my post about Harvey, we Floridians, as well as those in the Caribbean islands, had to deal with Irma. I evacuated with a friend to Tallahassee for several days to wait out the storm, worried about family and friends who stayed behind. After two weeks of gas shortages, empty grocery stores, and awful traffic, I made it home, my apartment just as I had left it.
And then there was a family crisis.
And then we had to worry about Maria, on the heels of Irma and Jose.
And now TrumpCare is back.
I feel beyond tired. All I want to do is sleep for a week. I know that it’s compassion fatigue, that it’s probably lingering sleep deprivation, that it could be a depressive episode. 2017 hasn’t been a cake walk by any stretch, but it feels like this past month has been the worst. And there are three months left this year.
I need to stay focused. I need to be there for my family, for work, for my writer friends and for my church community. I need to be here for someone I’ve just begun to know. My stories still need me to write them.
So I’m “writing my way out,” one day at a time.
In the meantime, here are some ways you can help after hurricane Irma.. We were largely spared in Tampa, but other places weren’t, and are getting hit yet again, this time by Maria. Please give if you can.
My heart aches for Houston. The arrival of hurricane Harvey over the weekend has dumped trillions of gallons of water onto the city and much of the gulf coast of Texas, turning highways into rivers.
I’ve lived through a hurricane. I was seven when Andrew swept through Florida. My family evacuated to a motel in Fort Myers, thankfully on the other coast of the peninsula, away from the hard-hit Miami area. I was recovering from surgery. As I tried to peel off my bandages, I watched as streetlights and palm trees swayed and bent in the wind and rain.
Continue reading Weathering the Storm: Environmentalism, Harvey, and Climate Change
I’m a highly-sensitive person.
I used to think that I was on the autism spectrum. While that’s still possible, HSP is a more likely diagnosis. The highly-sensitive person experiences senses and emotions more intensely than others and can be easily overwhelmed. HSPs are often, though not always, introverted. They are also very empathetic. (More on this later.)
Growing up, I was a sensitive, shy kid who cried a lot, preferred playing indoors to rough-and-tumble sports, and only had a few friends at any given time. I was ill-socialized, behind my peers for much of my adolescence (another factor that led me to think I might be on the spectrum). A friend once said that, when I was 16 years old, I was mentally 20 but emotionally 9.
Someone, either a parent or another family member, called me spoiled because I cried so much. I was mocked for it. Later, I was spanked.
I stopped crying. I stopped complaining. I tried hard to avoid showing any emotion at all, as time and time again, I was told that my feelings weren’t wanted.
Continue reading Cry-Baby: HSPs, Toxic Masculinity, and Reclaiming Being a Sensitive Man
I’ve written two stories in the past six months, and everything about them is different.
The first followed my typical writing process, albeit shortened to meet a crucial workshop deadline. It’s emotionally honest (something I ranted about the other day on Twitter), about a subject with which I have personal ties. It’s longish for a short story, probably with too much character nuance and plot-contrivance to make it salable. The character arc came first, and the worldbuilding details were shrinkwrapped around it. Somewhere along the way, with a good bunch of help from my workshop cohort, I reverse-engineered a three-act structure out of it.
The second I wrote this past month for (dear God, why?) another, undisclosed deadline. This one I wrote much like my posts on The Daily WTF: I started with the core conceit (an observation borne out of my life experience, married to a particular obsession) and built a plot around it, baking in the act breaks from the start, and adding character later. I had to outline every scene, as I just didn’t have the time to “write my way through” the story. I discovered my character arcs through the constraints of the plot: rather than figuring out what a character would do next, I had to figure out why a character would do this particular thing, and change them accordingly.
This second approach (plot-forward) has always felt artificial, almost like paint-by-numbers, or just photocopying the screenwriting book Save the Cat. I don’t write for plot; I write for character moments and worldbulding, because those are the things I look for most in stories I read.
However, and I may eat some unholy weight of crow for saying this, but the stories I write “plot-forward” just work better. My “character-forward” stories are my darlings, but no one buys them. Every story on The Daily WTF, with the flimsiest, tissue-paper-thin characterization needed to make it work, finds its audience. (Hell, the “Mercy the Mercenary” series could make a decent novella, which is how I intended it.)
Changing your process sucks. Change sucks. But you have to know when it’s time. If I’m going to continue writing for the SF market, I have to write more plausible scenarios with precision-timed emotional beats, not meandering revelations. To achieve this, plot must be the skeleton, and characterization and worldbuilding the muscle and skin, respectively. (We’ll say theme is the brain of this whole thing, and the Oxford comma the fingernails.)
That first story could sell — I wouldn’t be submitting it otherwise — but how the second one turns out will determine if my process changes. Although I think it’s better, my critique group may have other ideas! But I’m willing to change if I have to.
How about you? When have you ever had to overhaul your writing process? Let me know!