Coming up — Four Years of Inspiration for SF Writers

It’s hard to believe that this country’s most significant and dangerous step into the future is only a day and a half away. The writer in me rejoices, not that I’ve been lacking for ideas. But the humanist in me shakes with dread. Will it be a never-ending nightmare in which the future is the blackest of black comedies, or a black comedy that makes every day a nightmare?

Humans, as a species, aren’t good at facing reality, and the next four years may be the ultimate proof of this failing. Global climate is, in a way, the metaphor that illustrates what such blindness will cost. It is proof that when faced with an unacceptable reality, humans are perfectly capable of rejecting what they see with their own eyes and experience with their own bodies, and retreating into a fantasy world in which bad things simply don’t happen. There is factual, real-life evidence, from every part of the world, that processes we can’t stop are already underway, and that they are proceeding at a much faster rate than scientists were willing to admit until very recently.

There is no shortage of rose-colored visions of a future that won’t be as bad as the worriers and Cassandras predict. Wishful optimism fits both climate change and the upcoming administration. The belief that raising buildings a few feet will defeat the incoming waters, or that the man moving into the White House will, sooner or later, start acting more “presidential,” are dangerous delusions. What will happen, sooner or later, is that the wearers of rose-colored glasses will be the first to scream, “Why didn’t you tell us sooner?” And they will be looking for someone to blame.

January 15 Weekend Odds – Blogs and Cats

I’ve pretty much pulled out of the post-election slump, so things are picking up. Life goes on, though I think I will be spending the next four years in a state of outrage and disbelief.

I did, finally, start a blog about Asperger’s and the autism spectrum. Spent a good deal of time mulling it over, and defining exactly what I want to accomplish and whether I can keep it up long enough to be of use. Two posts and an About, so far. I’ll probably post only about once a week because I’m determined that it isn’t going to be another straw on my shoulders. Anyway, it’s Disorderly Minds, if anyone is interested. Sidebar and other stuff to be developed as I have time and inspiration.

For the first time since I started writing Bentham’s Dream I feel that I have a good grasp on it. Changing to first person was what did it, and giving the protagonist a distinct point of view that reveals more about him than what I originally intended.

I just began the sign-up with Apple’s iBooks so I can publish there. Gad, what a process. You’d think they were making sure of the nation’s security. For some reason, they couldn’t verify my additional information after I registered, so I have to wait, possibly for days, to find out what information they’re talking about and what to do if it’s giving them a problem.

On the home and hearth side, I’ve been pondering, almost since I moved, whether to get a cat. My Lizzie died a few years before the move, so this is probably my longest period in years without a fur ball. Several things have been standing in the way — carting cat litter home (though I can either order from Amazon or get son #2 to do it for me) and the usual litter box hassles. And my age. If I get a young cat, she’ll undoubtedly outlive me and son #2 will have to adopt. He’s been bugging me about it, threatening to find a cat and drop it off at my door. I’m hoping to find an older cat that would like a nice quiet home.

One of the thrift stores we went to the other day was the one the Humane Society runs, and they just happened to have cat dishes and other goodies, and a nice litter box, very cheap. Guess what? I’m now the proud owner of a litter box. It’s a start. I’ll get the rest of the necessities, but won’t pick out my fur ball until next month. It’s a big investment — $80.00, but that includes worming, vaccination and spaying. Much cheaper than paying a vet for all that. Even looked up dangerous plants for cats, and now have to figure out how to keep my two peace lilies out of paws’ reach.

So it goes.

Camp Expendable is Published

And about time, too. It took the best part of the day to wrestle Scrivener’s Compile to the ground and fix a couple of problems, then Amazon found misspellings that needed to be corrected (only two of the four were actually misspelled, the others just aren’t part of KDP’s vocabulary.)

Economic and environmental collapse has turned the United States into a nation of refugees. The solution is every conspiracy theorist’s nightmare — internment camps. When Casey Thompson loses his family, his job, and any reason for living, he goes on the drift. Then he’s scooped up to become one of 300 homeless single men locked behind the razor wire of Camp Midway, a repurposed Army base halfway between “somewhere and nowhere.” Even Lieutenant Capra, the young officer in charge of Midway, doesn’t know if their imprisonment will ever end. Only Casey’s friendship with Jake, an old man nearing the end of his own life, is keeping him going. But violence and death stalk the camp and Casey takes more losses. Sooner or later, he must make a decision: accept a life with no hope and no future, or find a way out and make a new life for himself.

Just in case anyone would like to buy, it’s $3.99, and to be found at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MT85TZB

Those identifiers are getting longer and longer, I see.

Now I’m back to Bentham’s Dream and have finally, after I don’t know how many false starts as to POV, settled on first person. A major chance in voice, also. My books are always the better for taking so long to germinate, so this one stands a chance of being closer to my hope for it than any in the past.

Weekend odds — All About Books

I finally found the perfect expression of the difference between serious writers and those scriveners who write purely for money. So maybe now I can stop sounding like a grumpy old elitist and let everyone do their own thing. I started reading John Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist, last night and found his unashamedly elitist statement of what I’d call value.

I write (meaning this book) for those who desire, not publication at any cost, but publication one can be proud of–serious, honest fiction, the kind of novel that readers will find they enjoy reading more than once, the kind of fiction likely to survive.

A little later on:

This book is for the beginning novelist who has already figured out that it is far more satisfying to write well than simply to write well enough to get published.

I’m also reading Dying for Ireland: The Prison Memoirs of Roger Casement. It’s a fictionalization of the last years of an extraordinary man who was hung for treason as a participant in the Irish Easter uprising, one of the many martyrs of British imperialism. It’s a well-written book that makes me want to read more about Casement. Incidentally, I looked up the book on Amazon to learn more about the author and found that the subtitle has been changed to The Last Years of Roger Casement.

It might be coincidental that I have on my Amazon wish list a book about the horrors that took place in the Congo under the reign of King Leopold of Belgium, horrors that Casement tried to expose. King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa. As usual, I’m eager to read it, but I’ve already bought five books this month, and have dozens waiting to be read, so it will have to wait.

The most recent purchase, just this morning, is The Public Burning, by Robert Coover, a wild political satire from the 70s. After reading the review in The Daily Beast, I just had to have it.

The book diet that I planned to go on last month probably didn’t last more than a week or so. Total damage: ten books from Amazon, and goodness only knows how many from the Salvation Army.

 

Money on Their Minds

One of the big forums for writers is a never-ending source of revelations about the “art” of making money by writing. If you read this forum regularly, you’d have to come to the conclusion that no one becomes a writer for any reason except to make money — preferably big money. How to write to market, which trends are on the upswing, how much to spend on advertising — it goes on and on, with craft entering the discussions so seldom that it seems like an actual intrusion.

If you can’t churn out a novel every month or two, as this “industry” requires, why not try short stories? If you’ve obviously never read any short stories and have to ask how to go about it, what’s involved in writing them, and even how to find ideas for stories, why that’s just a sensible approach. At least in the anything-for-a-buck mentality. Learning on the job is a natural part of becoming a writer, but somehow, this willingness to jump into something you know nothing about for no better reason than to fill in the gap between your written-to-market novels is particularly specious.

Despair for the Human Race

Close observation of human behavior can lead to severe depression, but it’s also a never-exhausted source of inspiration for stories if you can keep yourself from giving up on everything, including writing. The same psychological patterns repeat themselves on all scales, from the behavior that leads to wars to discussions on the internet. I wish I were smart enough to illustrate this in a novel or short story, but I’m not.

A ubiquitous pattern, maybe the most important one that keeps people at arm’s length from each other and provides a basis for hatred of the other and justification for wars, is the emotional response to topics that desperately need to be met with reason. A comparatively harmless example of this is currently underway on a forum for writers, in a thread that is now 10 pages long and still going, and becoming ever more acrimonious.

What was the innocent firecracker that turned into a bomb? Someone asked why the site didn’t have a women’s fiction category for submissions. This is a critiquing site, and like any such site, it can be difficult to find the just-right category for your work. Without going into the gory details, I’ll just say that it took less than a page of responses to turn into a gender war. As a woman with no interest in women’s fiction, either reading it or writing it, I’d appreciate such a label. I don’t have a lot of time for critiquing, and the label would make it unnecessary to read the introductory blurb for something that’s only listed as fiction or short story, and that I’m not interested in reading or critiquing. If categories for children and young adults are acceptable, why not women — or men, for that matter?

But no. Clutching their rigid variety of feminism to their breasts, some women found that disgusting and degrading, and a way of warning off potential male readers. Not to mention that it would serve to stereotype anything written by women. I was among the few who tried to keep the discussion on track. Women’s fiction is a standard publishing category. It’s a tool to help people narrow down their search for reading material. There’s no requirement that a writer use it, or that a reader pays attention to it. It’s purely descriptive, not prescriptive.

But the one thing you can always count on, no matter the topic, or how seemingly uncontroversial, any topic can be blindsided by emotional responses that require all-out defense rather than reasoned argument. An emotional response comes from a place that is highly personal and must therefore be defended as if it were the person themself being attacked. Once emotion takes over, rational discussion is impossible.

We see this on every level — politics, national pride, and religion at the highest, and at the lowest, arguments about who is entitled, or permitted, to do what. There was a brief moment when PC thinking (political correctness) seemed to be on the wane, but it is now in full swing again, running wild in away that’s barely short of insane. What you eat, what you wear, doing yoga, what music you listen to — all are being dragged into the black hole of emotionally based PC.

My last comment on the thread was something that had occurred to me while reading it. People’s lives are no longer under their own control, a frightening fact of life that can’t be tolerated for very long. Attempting to define and limit what others are allowed to do is one way of regaining control, even if it’s only an illusion. But the illusion must be maintained if it is to be effective, thus the emotional responses that are incapable of responding to reason.

Welcome to 2017. It’s a mad, mad world.

Books, Books, Books!

It’s many a year (decade) since I bothered to keep track of my reading — how many books, and which titles. But that subject has popped up so many times lately, including on one of the Scribophile forums, that it’s become an infectious meme. So I’ll give it a try this year. Goodness knows, it would be nice to have one project that I stick to religiously.

I read somewhere between 50 and 100 books in 2016, going from weeks-long binges where I did almost nothing but read, to weeks when I read hardly anything at all. That pattern isn’t much different from my writing, come to think of it, and there’s no reason to think that will change.

When I moved back to Michigan, what was left of my library filled about half of a three-shelf bookcase. That was almost a year and a half ago. Today, that bookcase is overflowing, with books behind the top shelf books, and books stacked on top of the second shelf books. Books are in the amusing niche built for a long-ago telephone and phone book, and beginning to stack up on the bottom shelf of the end table/tacky cart beside my comfy chair.

Blame Amazon. Blame my son for getting into the book business and giving me the opportunity to scour the shelves of Goodwill and the Salvation Army way too often. When books are just a dime, or even as cheap as a nickel in the SA’s desperation to get rid of their overflow, there’s no reason to resist trying out novels that I might not otherwise bother with. Of course, the books I’d like most to replace aren’t likely to be found in thrift stores, so actual replacement is going on at a slower rate. Quite a few are out of print and now unaffordable, unless I have a real need for the information they contain.

The meme that will never infect me is “I’m going to read xxx number of books during the year. So many responses to How many did you read in 2016? indicates that even writer don’t necessarily read a lot, which was fairly surprising. Twenty or thirty books in a whole year? Would that have something to do with the poor quality of so much indie writing?

I guess I’ll go start my new Scrivener project: 2017 Reading List. The first one will be Women From Another Planet?, which I started yesterday (a reread). But I’m not that far into it yet, so it’s legitimately a 2017 read.

Little Random Rants and Notes

I seem to have a thing about headlines. They provoke strange thoughts even if I don’t read the articles they’re trying to lure me into. Like the one on vox.com that I just stumbled over: At What Age do People Stop Shopping at Ikea. That’s just loaded with implications, and I don’t even need the accompanying photo of a deliriously happy young man standing on a scooter outside an Ikea store and waving at me. Ignoring what it’s trying to tell me, probably about millennials, I’ll say: at the same age you should stop shopping at all similar stores, when you’re ready to stop acquiring stuff and are ready to just live.

In completely unrelated news, I’m very glad I stayed home for Christmas and had a completely normal day. Because, looking back, I’m pretty sure that would have led to an unnecessary overload to push me further into my current state of mind-death. I shuddered at the thought of having to interact with five adults, including a guest/stranger, plus two dogs, sitting around for hours with absolutely nothing to do, and waiting for a dinner I wouldn’t have been allowed to help with. Even on days when I know I’m not going to be able to write, that’s a form of torture I don’t need.

At the moment, I’m dithering about whether to go to the drugstore a block away, just to get a little fresh air, and roam the aisles more or less mindlessly. It’s about 32 degrees outside, which makes the decision more difficult than usual, what with having to put on the layers of clothes I’ll need, gather up keys, etc. It reminds me that beneath this dithering and a lifetime of not doing things that need to be done because the preparation seems more complicated than I can deal with, is a failure of executive functioning. That’s just one of the many little quirks of my neurology that goes along with Aspergers. 99% of the time I don’t think about it, or any of the others, but they’re always there, little roadbumps that keep tripping me up. At times like this, when the whole world seems determined to go to hell, they pile up, and come to consciousness in a very ugly way. Theoretically, writing about stuff like that bleeds off the stress, but it rarely does.

If you’d like to read a provocative analysis of one of my current irritants, here’s http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/30/mourning-celebrity-the-public-sphere-of-emotional-surrogacy/

Aspie Writer — Too Much Big Picture

For the last few months, I’ve been scribbling bits and pieces of a story that has been developing slowly, mostly in my mind. I mentioned it in an earlier post: SF somewhat along the lines of Childhood’s End, but very different. Aliens observe earth and have to decide what to do about the danger of humans to the rest of the universe. It will reflect my unashamedly negative view of my species, and the aliens will be, in effect, my mouthpieces for a broad view of what we are doing to ourselves, the earth, and, potentially, any planets we might discover. Although, fortunately, the chance that we will ever travel much further than we already have is decreasing by the year.

There are two, seemingly contradictory, autistic traits that can be the making of a writer. First, is the obsessive way in which you can focus on a topic of interest until you’ve exhausted it. Second, is the tendency to do that with many, many topics. The pattern can be established very early, but may not be recognized until well into maturity.  What you recognize, at some point, is that you have developed a bird’s-eye view, a big picture view of connections between topics that, to most people, seem to have nothing to do with each other.

It’s a slow, cumulative process: acquiring, sometimes in a very casual way, knowledge of topics that gradually reveal their relationships. What does the almost hysterical excess of words about the deaths of a couple of movie and music celebrities have to do with the current political situation in the US? And by extension, with climate change? A neurotypical person (that’s most of you out there) will shake your head. Some of you might see some of the connections, but they won’t capture your attention for more than a few moments. The media parade moves on and you will move with it, victim of your brain’s distractibility and forgetfulness.

It is that characteristic of the typical human being that determines what my aliens will do. It’s that characteristic that supports my writing, and drives me to despair about the future of our species.

Cogitating about Aspergers and Maverick Writer

There’s been plenty of cogitating since I wrote yesterday’s post, and for those of you who notice patterns, you will probably be expecting a few more in this daily run and then an extended silence. The inevitability of the extended silence assured me that starting another blog in order to discuss being a writer with Aspergers would be a very bad idea. There isn’t much energy to spare for the already-existing projects, and I doubt that the subject could be (or should be) dragged out indefinitely.

The solution is a header for Aspergers posts–Aspie Chronicles, maybe?–so readers who aren’t interested can skip right over them. Aspie Writer? Okay, that’s more informative. For new readers unfamiliar with the term Aspie, I’ll probably explain it briefly every now and then. It’s just a nickname that some of us use–and that some of us hate.

Science fiction is very often an interest of people on the autistic spectrum, and since this blog has moved in that direction, expect some more cogitating–about how nontypical thinking might be an advantage to someone who writes science fiction.

I’ve never “come out” as an aspie, except on a couple of autism/aspergers forums which quickly grew too boring to hold my attention. In all my years on the internet, no one has ever asked me if I’m on the spectrum or suggested that I might be. It hasn’t really mattered, as far as I can tell. I keep my private life to myself, and generally don’t identify as either male or female on the web. Some people respond to my writing as if it’s by a male, so maybe it does make some difference. I don’t know whether that’s due to voice or my preference for analysis and logic.

When they’re relevant to my writing, I’ll mention or discuss some of my personal quirks and peculiarities, but there won’t be an Aspergers biography. My readers won’t be subjected to yet another confessional. I don’t do confessionals. I don’t even read them, as a general rule. For one thing, most of them vary only in the details, otherwise being typically human and thus, eventually, predictable and boring. I suspect that isn’t a normal response since autobiographies and confessionals never seem to fade in popularity.

 

Thinking about Aspergers

As usual, a jumble of apparently unrelated topics has been weaving itself together in my racing brain. And, as happens now and then, even though I think I’m through with the topic, it comes down to Aspergers. Because, yes, I’m on the autistic spectrum — specifically at the high-functioning end of what used to be called, officially, Aspergers Syndrome. With a swipe of its powerful arm, the latest incarnation of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) shuffled all us aspies off this mortal coil and decreed that henceforth we are merely autistic.

I say merely, not because autism is somehow a more shameful or disgraceful condition than Aspergers, but because so many aspies believe it makes differentiating between the functional and less functional members of the autistic spectrum that much more difficult. Practically, there is no solution to this dilemma, which has become highly politicized, and I choose to stay out of it.

However, there are good reasons for me to be slightly more concerned about adults with Aspergers than with other age groups or levels of neurodiversity, as the whole ball of wax has come to be called. After all, I’m a member of that group and have been affected by it on many levels all my life, even before I knew there was such a condition. Because of the way that a new insight about my brain and its functioning dropped on me recently, I am once again considering whether to start a blog about elderly aspies (having given up on it a couple of times) or just talk about it here when it’s relevant to writing and creativity.

What led me into this post was thinking about early influences on writers and remembering that I scoured the fairy tales and folk tales section of my junior high library, reading every single book in the collection. Before I was finished I had already recognized that the stories, no matter what country or part of the world they come from, fell into a number of patterns. It wasn’t a particularly meaningful insight at the time, but it was interesting enough to stick in my memory for all these years, available to be brought to awareness with the right trigger.

I won’t pursue that further right now, except to say that I reached a point in my life when I understood that pattern recognition had always been an important part of my thinking. Later on, I learned that it was also one of the “symptoms” of Aspergers.

And there I’ll live it for now, to ponder further.

The Gratitude Attitude

There’s one thing that I can truly appreciate about Christmas: the day before, the day, and the day after, and how real life comes to a screeching halt. If I have anything that I seriously want to attend to during that period, there’s little to distract me. Most of my life is spent in front of my computer and on the internet, so when the web quiets down and removes the temptation to surf instead of work, that’s something to be grateful for. And I am.

I’ll be staying home tomorrow, as I usually do, working on one of my major WIPs, Bentham’s Dream. I don’t know how long my mind will stay free of the paralysis that’s gripped it ever since November 8, but I don’t plan to let the opportunity slip, if I can help it. I just finished a read-through of the first-draft 25,000 pages, to refresh my memory, and it’s easy to see what needs work. It’s very rough, of course, but not so bad that I’ll have to throw away much material.

I’ve had plenty of time over the last few months, to work out plot points, and how to revise what  needs to be revised. The story only has two characters, so it’s very much a talking heads kind of thing. How to liven it up, and what POV to use have been the major problems. I think I have them licked, so I hope I can now say “full speed ahead.”

I still intend for it to be the anchor in a story collection, so whatever plans I have for expanding it, I want it to remain no longer than novella length. Considering that I originally saw it as a short story, that’s quite a change.

It would be nice to have two pieces ready to publish early next year, Bentham’s Dream and Camp Expendable, but that depends on how long my ambitious mood holds out. My fingers are crossed.