Sunday, May 24, 2015

My least favorite question

I've mentioned it before, but it bears repeating, my least favorite question isn't the infamous "Where
do you get your ideas?" I like that question, actually, and cannot understand how anyone could move through this world and not end the day with their pockets stuffed full of stories (whether they have the will or the wherewithal to write them down is another matter).

No, my least favorite question is "Which character is you?"

The thing I like about "Where do you get your ideas?" is that it has as its underlying theme a genuine understanding that this writing thing is something I could do if I could just understand how to get started.  The question of which character is me gets at a fundamental misunderstanding of what fiction is, much less how it is done.

I probably didn't help much by writing in character as Dr Deeds on Twitter. That isn't to say that Howard's mad science teacher doesn't have a lot of me in him, but no more or less than Howard, or Old Suit, or Erica for that matter. But none of them are Scott in disguise.

I can't think why I'd want to put on Groucho glasses and a wig and wander into my story. "Nothing to see here, author coming through, carry on, nothing to see..." what a distraction that would be.

Which isn't to say that authors never inject themselves into their stories. "Never" is a dangerous word and almost always the first word of a lie. Some writers do and I find it deeply annoying in much the same way that I've grown to hate the inevitable Stan Lee cameo in every Marvel movie. Let's step out of the story for a moment while we all acknowledge the creator of this fictional narrative we were enjoying before you interrupted it for an inside joke.

It can be done right, and carefully in the correct circumstances (Kilgore Trout springs to mind). But you don't serve your story or your reader by forcing your story to form around an ego trip.

That's the fundamental conceit of fiction that this questioner doesn't understand and a bridge that far too many have trouble crossing. The purpose of storytelling is to let both the reader and the storyteller live lives we'd never be able to live, to experience things we might never encounter, to feel empathy for people we've never met or never could.

All of these kids and mad scientists and government agents and robots and alien creatures are part of me, but none of them are me. We use stories to inject ourselves into other lives, other times, and other situations. To breathe humanity into dry history and to postulate very ordinary human reactions into extraordinary situations. None of it requires me to inject myself into the story as a thinly-veiled character and nothing would be served except my own ego by doing so.

Which character is me? All of them. And none of them.



Next weekend, I will be in Port Townsend, Washington for The Brass Screw Confederacy May 29-31st.  There will be writers panels, radio shows, and other shenanigans.

I hope to see some of my Seattle-area folks there!

Friday, May 1, 2015

My Lovely Blog

The strange thing about writing a book is the number of people MOST OF WHOM I'VE NEVER MET who are reading words that I wrote and hopefully laughing in the right places. My Twitter followers went from 750 to almost 1,000 and quite a few of those new people are actual people. (Which is astonishing if you know anything about Twitter.)

Welcome all of you!

So I feel like I need a "Getting to Know You" post. Handily, I was tagged awhile back by fellow Crooked Cat author Kim Walker for something called the "My Lovely Blog Hop".

The title of which makes me feel like I might need a new author pic...

Why hello, I didn't see you there! Welcome to my lovely blog...

I'm not sure how the thing was named, but who am I to complain about a chance to sit on a park bench under a flowering tree making passers by uncomfortable? Six questions are posed and I shall take them in order and possibly combine a few: First memory, books, libraries/bookshops, what's your passion, learning, writing.

On my first memory...

My first cogent memory is my parents' wedding. It was my mom's second (hence my sister and I) and my dad's first. I was three and being a total squirrel, filling my pockets with cocktail peanuts and those chalky dinner mints that were everywhere back in the 1970's. Dad picked me up and held me on his hip through the ceremony, mostly just to get me to stop screwing around and it cemented in my mind that This Was the Beginning of Something.

On Books, Libraries, and Bookshops...

All my favorite pieces of furniture are all designed for the care and feeding of a book habit.
My dad brought to our family an insatiable love of reading and cars. My sister got the car thing and I started acquiring a library. By this point in my life, "Library" is another word for home.

In 1998 I left my college job with REI for a management gig at Barnes & Noble, followed by a 9+ year stint at Borders before a very weird dinner party where I found myself in a conversation with Mercedes Lackey and Stephen Brust (picks up the dropped names and puts them back in his pockets) convinced me to spend more time writing my own stories even if it meant less time to read other peoples.

I doubt either of them remembers me, but it was the beginning of the end for me at Borders. The company and the store I worked in were changing for the worse and I made my exit. You can read more about that here if you're interested: Beyond Borders -- The Borders bankruptcy as seen by this former bookseller.

I love bookstores but I mostly spend my money at the independents these days, in part because that's all that's left around here. Which is both awesome and strangely sad. Chain or independent, bookstores are the repositories of our cultural aspiration to be well-read and literate. And too many towns lost their independent bookstores in the kerfuffle when Borders and Barnes & Noble were building their megastores in every town on the map at what turned out to be an unsustainable rate. And now the chains are gone and we have... not much really.

Hopefully new stores will arise to take their places.

What's your passion?

You're soaking in it.

On Learning...

I have the peculiar skill set common to writers of absorbing information quickly, retaining it for the duration of a project, and then erasing it to make room for the next thing on my list. Writers are human chalkboards. (Not dry erase boards, mind you, the smell of the markers gives me a headache.)

As I often say: "I can pick a lock or repair a watch. I can conduct surgeries, examine corpses for forensic evidence, bind a book, dress a deer, identify or concoct poisons, and reproduce Lord Nelson's flagship down to the last knot and nail. If necessary, I can also conduct a Latin Mass, reproduce the scripts of Carolingian scribes, shoe a horse, summon Cthulhu, or swear like a WWII soldier. I can walk the streets of forgotten cities in lost kingdoms and navigate the alleys of Calcutta in the year 2010. And I can do it all from the safety and convenience of my writing chair."

Some of these things I can do because I'm weird that way. For the rest of it, I have reference books and a prodigious memory that's good at making the connections that others miss. (Strangely, this did very little to help me in my school days, but it won me a few awards as a journalist and makes my life easier as an author.)

On Writing...

Writing is work. It's a job. Treat it with the respect that you would any job that you love: Show up for work every day. Put in your time. Do the work. Shake the hands and meet the people and hang out at the watercooler once in awhile, but most of all, you have to write to be a writer. "Writers write" is the dumbest thing in the world, not because it isn't true but because it really should go without saying.

The central thesis of this blog (if it has one) that there's no magical path between 'I want to write' and 'I have written' except to sit down and start putting words on a page. If a writer's to-do list, blog, or writing guide cannot be summed up as "Butt in chair, fingers on keys" then ditch it; it's not worth reading.

And on that lovely note... good night, Internet. And well met.

- Scott