Monday, December 17, 2007

Night Haiku #5

The more I learn of
   speech, meaning making and thought,
parrots teach funny.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Dedicated

I wish I could say that holiday-related events have been keeping me busy and mind occupied, but that's not it. It comes down to:

+ Moping about being a graduate student widow and trying to spend as much time as possible, passively and actively with the wife

+ Focus tons of mental and physical energy to the bachelors project and writing

+ Working

Now that I think about it, though, I don't feel guilty or ashamed. I wish I could throw exercising and keeping in shape on there, to prevent joint soreness now and in my old age. Otherwise, though, that looks like a good list of things to do to keep my attention.

If I can't manage my time well, I might as well use that time to do and dwell on important stuff.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Die, Mad Consumption Cycle, Die!

To add a little more color to your knowledge about consumerism destroying the human quality of life, check out:

The Story of Stuff

Thank you to the friend that sent me the link for it. She sent it to me a couple days ago, and I only got the chance to watch it this Saturday afternoon, right after I woke up.

Nonetheless, we started in on a good conversation around the topic simply because I mentioned that I rarely check out these video things. For the same reason that I don't click on many links (someone else told me that I should check out The Zeitgeist Movie because it will blow my mind about society) nor do plenty of fun, educational or activist things, I have so many things taking away my attention that I can't make many more partitions, even short term ones for 20 minutes or an hour, except for maybe a movie or spending time with friends once or twice a week.

The last comment/question I made really sparked the conversation, though: "What's it like to have free time?" Sadly, the fried said that she nor any of her friends knew what it's like, the lack of time is a part of the mad consumption cycle in which we live, which was an awesome response. . .especially since I had a recent reaction to someone who wanted to find happiness through some degree of consumption but didn't necessarily contribute their labor to it. I went off on a rant about my reaction to people who don't feel a calling, a dream or simply want to provide/help other people and find meaning in a relationship in the society/culture around them by trying to improve it or their lives.

Not only have we started a really cool e-mail conversation about the topic, but it has provided my mind, subconscious and conscious, to mull over for my bachelor's project/novel. There's an argument out there that corporations outsourcing into 3rd world countries is a good thing because it provides poor people and families with a means to provide themselves. It may not provide them with as good of conditions as if they had executive positions or the positions or anything, but they don't have marketable skills, so it's better than nothing. What that argument fails to take into account, though, is that the corporations and Western civilization have done a fair amount to create those bad conditions in the first place. Maybe if that's not totally true, though, and it's the vice of their own country people that have made things hard, there's plenty that could be done instead of trying to help them with sweatshops.

The video brought up another issue that I've contemplated but never in the terms that it presented. Whereas I thought about literature and culture enriching people and the importance of it but feeling guilty because I'm coming from an ivory tower, the video argued that people consume to such a degree that they then have to labor and work to the point of exhaustion to support their physical quality of life while probably allowing their emotional, mental and spiritual lives suffer (my note: just look at all the debt issues in the United States alone -- good way to keep a country stable when people could pin all types of vice on things: allow them to consume then worry about how to pay off the costs of that consumption). And to bandage the suffering of their minds, emotions and souls, they go out and buy more. A lot easier and less time and labor consuming than actually trying to develop these facilities.

All the above really helps to bolster the foundation to my novel, a society that provides salvation through consumption, consumption, consumption, identifying with an image, trying to transcend themselves to embody that image only for that effort to get mutated into losing your soul. And crap. . .I hate revealing my interpretation of my own work, but I'm just way too excited right now about this topic to stop myself.

I feel like I can apply to my current paper this information and its relation to the theory I'm using for my project. My mind is mulling over how to do it, but it's kind of difficult since the paper is on a utopian community back in the mid-19th century, roundabout when mass consumption was in its primordial stages. In many ways, I think some of the people back then sensed the issues at hand, but it will take a fair amount of work and research to translate the current argument to that much in the past. Maybe some of the identification and transference ideas that I'm trying to use the novel will help. . ..

But dangit, I've got to clean up around the house, maintain the family's conspicuous consumption and address some holiday consumerism.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Computers Can Really Suck Sometimes

I haven't been writing or really keeping up with anyone else's blogs or doing any writing or, frankly, getting anything worthwhile done over the last week or so. Most of the time, I spent trying to fix my computer because of various bugs, virus, trojans and spyware issues that had been installed on it.

Not fun, not fun, at all.

But, for now, everything that is evident has been addressed. As long as nothing rears its ugly face again, I plan on trying to actually do some real work on the novel and thesis.

At least socializing and getting to know some new people occurred this weekend. That was fun.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Weighing Entertainment Value, The Message and Realism in Novel Writing

The Chicago Speculative Fiction Writing Workshop had something of a negative reaction to my recent submission. Understandable, considering that I wrote it years ago and see that I will have to go back to do some major revisions at some point later.

One part of the negative reaction they gave me, however, strikes at the heart of an intentional effect I aimed for. I left the connotation and denotation of a word, used relatively regularly and even redundantly, vague in an attempt to make a point in the realm of social psychology. My fellow workshoppers cited the redundancy and lack of definition often, and my guess is that they feel that it takes away from the piece.

Dealing with this critique certainly puts me into an interesting scenario. In one sense, it creates tension between entertaining the audience and trying to transfer some important message, which can take away from the entertainment side. If not handled well, having the important message become heavier than the entertainment can lead down a slippery slide of "what's the point of trying to impart an important message when someone doesn't read the piece in the first place?"

The workshoppers, on the other hand, either had their first exposure to this story through this submission or haven't read previous submissions in months. Such phenomena is the drawback of trying to have a novel workshopped in a very informal workshop that can cancel individual workshops on a moments notice. The people familiar with the story hadn't even recognized a major character, mainly because they hadn't kept up with the story for months. Not really a big deal for me, at the moment. I'm not ready for the story to face serious, major critiquing, anyway.

Weighing these two factors really makes for an interesting exercise, especially when also trying to consider aspects of realism. It's a science fiction (I consider it a bit of fantasy, at times), but the characters in it should be acting like real human beings with their pasts and in their situations. Scary or surprising (well, maybe not as surprising, if you know me), the realistic part has proven very difficult for me and the novel. . .especially since, at times, I have tried too hard to write realistically. . .for a piece of science fiction.

My first reaction to the consistent critique of at least 2 or 3 people on the redundancy of a term without proper definition was resistance. I want to entertain the audience, sure, but I also want to get that message across. These people might be something of a subset of people, too, who have certain tastes that may not represent a lot of people. I don't want the novel to get committeed to death by trying to please everyone. At some point, an author has to put their foot down and ignore some critiques. . .even though there might be a special except for a publisher that says "do this or the book dies."

The context aspect comes into the debate at this point. Do these critiques come from not having read the previous excerpts ever or recently? Or what if after reading a chapter later or by the end of the novel, a reader would go "Oh, that really does work for the novel! At first, I didn't think it did, but it did. It couldn't have been any other way." That aspect, I really can't know until I've finished the novel, and people have read the entirety of it to provide feedback. Working with this in mind, however, falls back on the dependence on committee.

Before the novel gets submitted to a publisher and hopefully once it gets released to the market, it should come down to the novelist's intuition meeting that of an editor's intuition. Market research shouldn't enter into the equation. With anywhere between 6 million to 6 billion people to fill such a market, the tastes of the market would tug a novel in so many directions that in the attempt to please everyone, it wouldn't frustrate them all and please no one. Yes, try to write for as many people as possible, but trying to please EVERYONE is a fool's errand.

I think the reason I have contention with my fellow workshoppers giving me the critique they did is because they're critiquing something I did intentionally. If they saw something that I didn't in my own piece, I would just write down the issue and weigh the pros and cons of it without any internal conflict. Since I meant to do what I've done and it made the critiquers uncomfortable, like the situation would do to me in real life (and I think does happen a fair amount of time), I think the effect has been accomplished, but not to a good extent that it could reach.

Elements of realism enter the equation at this point, and it becomes a useful tool. I believe that I can pull off a useful effect in the novel without compromising the entertainment of my audience. The critiquers will get what they want. At least, depending on the critquer, they'll get part of what they want. I don't plan on denoting the vagueness for the words used by this character. Plenty of connotations will be presented, but nothing completely and utterly clear will be given. Such denotations get made in academic and scientific spheres and for the law, but even then, the denotations change in adaptations to reality.

To accomplish this goal satisfactorily for the audience, I'm going to have to do a fair amount of research and experimentation. I will have to push my brain to its limits and beyond. Already, I have touched upon the topic and even crtiqued one or two other people's works based on this research, but I still have a fair amount to do. Some ideas are form in my mind, but trial and error will have to occur to see if the novel will accept it or some kind of immune response will try to reject it. Something good will come out of all this, though, and hopefully moreso than just satisfactory.

I will have to face a lot of work and frustration. That's what's fun about writing a novel and taking on these big projects, though. The work, the frustration, the engagement and, in the end, the accomplishments. Unfortunately, I would be happy with admiring my accomplishments of a finished novel and project at the moment. Oh well, at least there's something to look forward to.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Birthing and Marrying Relatives, Views on Education and Absurd Speculations on the Sincerity of Memoir

On June 30, I gained a nephew and niece through marriage. I'll be getting my first niece by blood relation at some point in the next couple days. Strangely shocking but very neat.

Cool as that news is, it doesn't really help the word count for this entry.

I've been thinking about memoirs for the last couple days, inspired by a late night discussion that I had with the wife and someone considering going to grad school for creative nonfiction. The conversation, itself, really harked back to the days of late night undergrad discussions. . .which I didn't actually experience. Most of my crazy non-assignment-related late nights in undergrad were spent doing silly fun things with the fascist fun party or cursing myself for having insomnia.

A disclaimer in regards to my view on grad school or any college experience for that matter: a lot of it is about putting qualifications down on a resume. Seriously, anyone driven enough can teach themselves or find ways to learn about a subject or topic without paying tons of money for the education. . .in regards to a liberal arts, creative or artistic direction.

Maybe the undergrad degree isn't so bad, since it really provides a fast track to learning a lot of stuff and for honing the mind for thinking without the distractions of the real world. A grad degree and non-accredited classes, however, in my opinion, can pretty much suck away money and time that could be better used making money or focusing attention on a particular project, which can then be sold as a product at some later date. For those who need to put something on a resume or have certain experience to achieve a certain goal, grad school may just be a good option.

Let's move away from my disclaimer that could turn into a long long tangent, though.

Apparently, as I gathered from the seminar about getting a literary agent that I attended with the wife a few weeks ago, memoirs are the latest raging trend for reading material. Chick lit was the trend a few years ago. The memoir trend worries me at a gut level.

Some introspection and light research has led me to believe that the trend causes me a bit of anxiety for two reasons: (1) As an aspiring novelist, I fear my market share will be stolen away from me and (2) a career memoirist strikes me as something of an inauthentic vocation. I won't dignify the first reaction with any further attention, since it comes from the gut and probably doesn't have much grounding in reality.

The authenticity angle intrigues me, though, especially since many people, including Plato, have made remarks about fiction being a lie, which could thus lead to an accusation of inauthenticity. Why do I feel comfortable with writing fiction but see memoir as something that could spawn insincerity?

In full disclosure and at the risk of sparking the wrath of the wife, I don't have an issue with memoirs, in themselves, especially if they have a novel angle, have the ability to edify a reader (how aristocratic is that?) and, to some degree, the writing of the memoir is incidental to the experience that provides the content and inspiration. It's the mass production then commodification of human experience, similar to reality TV (and explore in the novel that I'm writing), for the entertainment of an audience that gets me in the craw.

Memoirs written after an out of the ordinary experience or even everyday life with a novel spin on it that would have happened anyway strikes me as a noble thing to do. It could affect someone else to look at the world differently and have a real connection. As I've heard writers talk about how they have their memoir and plan on writing more in a way that novelists talk about their book and wanting to get it published that punches me in the metaphorical gut.

To me, discussing it this way gives me the impression that someone plans on writing another memoir afterward, another one after that and another one then one more and so on and son. Addressing the memoir in this way makes me thinking of someone thinking to themselves, "OK, I've marketed that memoir to all hell, and I've made a good deal of money off of it. . .now what kind of interesting experience can I have now to provide the content for my next memoir, which an audience would want to read and will buy! What kind of experience will I have to have?"

Does a memoirist even need to write another one once they've become a celebrity from it? Why not hang out with Brad and Angelina? Or how about party it up with Brittany and Lindsay? Hell, the memoirist could probably just do a reality TV show to ween other memoirists, "America's Next Memoirist!" Or how about star in an effects-laden horror or science fiction movie? Guest star all over the TV. Record an album that your producer could perfect until the memoirist isn't even really there, just their face. Do a whole bunch of advertisements on TV. . ..

Would the memoirist even need good looks or an amiable personality? That could even add to the mystery of the memoirist's celebrity status. How could such a cantankerous ass get all this attention? Everyone's paying attention to the windbag, though, so I better keep an eye on them to see what they're doing next, so I can talk about it at the water cooler.

Um. . .yeah, I lost track of my thoughts there, got carried away with the limits of absurdity there. Let's leave it at that, though. Maybe someday I'll return to it with some real thoughts (isn't writing a blog with the intention of attracting attention just as bad as being a career memoirist?). . .the idea of comparing memoir to fiction sounds like an interesting challenge. Maybe I'll have to take it up someday.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Libraries are so Coooooooool

More particularly, the Chicago Public Library, Harold Washington branch really really rocks! They even have half or a whole bookcase dedicated to utopianism.

7 or 8 stories filled with books and other media of information and literature contributes a bit, too. The mandatory computers that provide access to the World-Wide Web do a good job of providing knowledge and entertainment.

In so many ways, though, the Harold Washington branch embodies the image of a library that I have in my mind. Roman columns, fountains here and there, shelves everywhere, tables and chairs, very wide open rooms, high ceilings. . .and I wish I had more focus right now to write a better description of it. I just feel that it was missing people walking around in togas and white robes.

I plan on going there on a regular basis. Already, I have gotten myself a library card and took out a book that I had thought wasn't released yet. While looking through Amazon, I made the mistake of thinking the book was going to be released in a month or two, but instead, it was released back in 1997. Yay!

But it's very convenient and quite inexpensive to have all these books available. It's also just across the street from an "L" stop. After work, I can walk a couple blocks to the train then ride the train a half hour to the library. Since the wife works and goes to school downtown, we can meet down there, do some studying then go out for drinks, dinner or whatever else downtown has to offer.

This convenience along with the vast amount of "free" access (at least my tax dollars are going to something worthwhile) to information in books and media comes as something very new to me. Growing up in a relatively small town and going to a very small liberal arts college doesn't really lead to thinking of a library as somewhere to find vast amounts and of sometimes esoteric knowledge.

Even when I got onto a college van for a ride to a much larger library at a larger school, I didn't really take advantage of the opportunity. Now, though, I'm really excited to have this resource available to me. It's so cool, especially considering that I have a whole lot more of research to do for my current paper.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Everyone Else is Blogging About the WGA Strike

Other bloggers are either ranting about how much they think the WGA writers are acting like spoiled brats or are posting support and news about the strikes going on. I'm on the side of the latter, but I don't want to post any news, arguments or whatever about the strike itself.

You can find that type of stuff easily elsewhere, like at Dead Things on Sticks, Uninflected Images Juxtaposed or Complications Ensue. There's probably plenty of of American blogs and websites focusing on the WGA strikes, too. How lame is it that I get my TV news from Canadian blogs?

Me? I'm kind of sick of taking part in the incestual blogging, as in posting links and providing my own angle on something. Maybe it's more of a matter that I'm really just kind of burnt out on my real life activities that I don't have the time to do the usual blog thing and try to get as many hits as possible.

Right now, I want to be the primary source of news if I post anything newsworthy here.

Something more unique that stands out from the herd would probably do a better job at getting The Lextopia out there better. In many ways, it's unfortunate that main interests and activities lately have such an esoteric edge to them and that I'm not famous and cool, so people take an interest in what I say just because of who I am.

Someday I'm hoping that happens. I'm OK if it happens after I die. Frankly, that idea always struck me as a Romantic idea that I could accomplish. I wanted fulfill that goal ever since I read but couldn't understand Henry David Thoreau's Cape Cod. I still treasure that feeling and Thoreau, even though I now would get sickened by Thoreau's and Ralph Waldo Emerson's ultra-individualism.

Blogging really can really harken back to Romanticism, in a way. Romanticism is supposedly where the idea of "expression as art" came about, even for the unskilled artist. The individual perspective came to the fore through Romanticism. Stereotypical blogging generally has that level of individual Romantic egotistical expressionist "art."

But I've been going on and on on a tangent there.

The "unique" viewpoint I wanted to bring up is something that a radio DJ on Q101's The Morning Fix had to say. Pretty much, he looked forward to when the scripts would run out, and the networks had reruns to show. Then he could get onto doing some of the others that he meant to do.

I totally agree with that guy. I'm just enjoying way too many TV shows lately, and the TiVo hasn't been helping with manging my time when it comes to putting TV in my schedule. In all, the wife and I have committed to about 13 or 14 hours of TV: How I Met Your Mother, Heroes, Journeyman, Reaper, Bones, Pushing Daisies, Dirty Sexy Money, Scrubs, 30 Rock, Blood Ties, The Soup, Best Week Ever, The Legion of Superheroes, The Batman and Torchwood. And that's not including shows that I haven't committed to or out of season shows (or shows that other people have provided great acclaim but I haven't seen yet). . ..

No wonder the writers have gone on strike. Yeah, sure, they have a valid purpose with the need for electronic residuals. But when was the last time they've had this much pretty good TV? Not only do the writers have a just, virtuous and righteous reason for striking, they also have the demand of the audience and the TV stations' profit margin as leverage.

At the same time, though, this audience member does kind of look forward to a break from all this TV watching!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Joys of Copy & Paste

Writing workshops coupled with the copy & paste function on the word processor make for a good time.

Remember how weeks ago, I ruminated on how my novel would work better if it were more linearly focused around the plot (rather than jumping from one character to the next then to the next then to the next, chapter by chapter)?

With the workshop happening in a couple weeks, I got to play with my submission to it by copying & pasting sections from different chapters into a version that I envision the story in the future. Other than the copy & pasting, I haven't done any drastic. . .but if I get more proactive in the future, I can see myself making more major changes.

I'm interested to see how my fellow workshoppers react to it.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Sleep is Good

Last week, I averaged between 4-5 hours a sleep a night. Combine work, chores, minimum socialization and hyperfocusing on research and attempts at coming up with a hypothesis for the last paper, and I lose sleep.

Frankly, it's the hyperfocusing that causes the problems. At the same time, though, it definitely has its advantages. It makes life a little difficult in the short term, day-to-day, but for the project and things require intense concentration, it helps wonders.

If only I had that hypothesis, though, things would go so much smoother. . ..

Friday and Saturday night, however, I got 9 or 10 hours of sleep, and I FEEL GREAT! Even after only getting 4 or 5 hours last night, I still feel good. Hopefully I can average better sleeping hours this week to help on the short term.

I don't know if I should expect better or worse sleeping hours tonight. The wife and I are going to see Tori Amos in concert. I'm not a fan, but since she's one of the big quintessential musicians from my teenage years, I figure I should see her at least once.

Should be interesting to see if I get to bed at a good time or not after a concert that starts at 7:30ish.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Yes, It's a Challenge to Publish for the First Time

If an aspiring writer looking to become a first-time published book-length writer didn't have enough mounted against them, they also have to worry about finding the perfect agent. Maybe not the perfect but at least a good enough agent that will get the writer's book published.

Saturday morning, the wife and I went to a seminar at her school about getting a literary agent. A woman who was once an agent, now a publishing industry consultant for writers gave the seminar. Overall, she did a very good job at providing some examples of good query letters and touching on the marketing aspects that a writer should think about when it comes to writing a marketable piece of non-fiction.

One good aspect she addressed in regards to the marketing aspect came down to having qualifications. As any writer knows or as the myth goes, everyone talks about having their own stories, their own ideas and and their own perspective on something. You should write what you know, after all. The problem is, though, is that everyone has their own stories, their own ideas and their own perspectives on something.

Those stories, those ideas and those perspectives need to be marketable. All those things have to stand out above the crowd, but not only that, they need to add something new to the cultural dialogue. Further, they should know what they're talking about, not just on a conversational level. If a book didn't have some degree of authority, then books would be just as reliable as the Internet and Wikipedia, and we all know just how serious we take those things (yeah, they can work pretty well, but most everyone I know makes that refrain, ". . .but it's Wikipedia, you can only take it so seriously.")

So how do you get around not having qualified authority about a topic but wanting to write about it? You don't have to go back to school to get a degree, you don't have spend years and years in an industry or anything like. Just recruit someone who has already done that as a co-author! They don't have to do any of the writing. Just give them a byline and consult with them, and you're that much closer to selling your idea to an editor.

Writing about the stock market or something financial, get a stock broker or a banker to help. How about family matters, self growth, drug use? Enlist the help of someone in the mental health field. Space, the final frontier? Get a physicist, a cosmologist. . .maybe even a geologist if you're writing about say. . .the geological history of Mars (now that I think about it, I could probably at least try to enlist the help of one person from my past).

So enlisting the help of someone with qualified authority on a topic to co-author a book with you is a good tip. A few people in the seminar took issue with the discussion about working to find an agent, though. I did, at first, too, thinking that I should ask the lecturer what kind of questions to ask agent to evaluate them and so forth. At that point, though, I convinced myself that the lecturer would address it at some point.

Unfortunately, the lecturer didn't address it. . .and one aspect about the writer-agent relationship highlights the anxiety an aspiring writer might feel about this issue. The first agent who gets the contract (whether written or verbal) to represent an author's manuscript generally gains the primary rights to the commission on that manuscript. So if that agent sucks at marketing it and can't sell it to the degree that the author goes to another agent, the new agent and the first agent have to negotiate who gets how much commission and how much more commission gets taken off the top.

Just because a contract has been made, even if the first agent sucks at their job and didn't accomplish anything, the author loses out on that much of their income when the book gets sold. The same goes for the new agent if they work their ass off and successfully sell the manuscript. That sucks!

What makes this whole thing worse is what does an inexperienced author know about negotiating with an agent? What does the novice writer know what's important about the relationship with an agent, about the ability of the agent, the connections of the agent, the agent's track record, etc. etc.? There's probably tons and tons of factors that I don't even know about, being a novice author, myself.

I can understand how other people in the seminar could feel frustrated by the whole thing, especially when the lecturer pretty much stressed the subjectivity of starting such a relationship and it's really about what you feel comfortable with. The reality of it didn't get me down so much, though.

A few years ago before moving to Chicago, the wife and I had aspirations of buying a condo when we moved here. We had contacted buyer's agents and even had one (or was there a few?) agents take us around to look at a range of condos, some amazing and some not so great.

Interviewing and communicating the agents went pretty well until I asked for references, as the Homebuying for Dummies book advised. One of the agents, who we referred to us by a career counselor whose daughter's friend moved to Chicago, even got really angry, indignant and gave me a huge e-mail lecture about how it took a lot of nerve to be referred to her then ask her for references. In my mind, I'm thinking, "Hey, there's a lot of money on the line. I want to make sure that I'm working with the right person."

After talking with a lot of people who had their own thoughts of buying a home, though, they pretty much said that they never asked for references. I learned, from that experience, that it's pretty rude to ask for references from a real estate buyer's agent. I still don't necessarily agree with that bit of etiquette, but it's the way of things, and I'm not about to get worked up and inconvenienced sticking to a dumb bit of principle like this.

But at least if the buyer agent doesn't work well, you can't pretty much end the relationship and find another one. I don't know about a seller's agent, but at least with a buyer's agent, it can be an inconvenience, but not a permanent matter. As an insurance agent, I know that it's pretty much the same there, no matter how much it sucks to be that agent losing a customer. . .even though at times, the customer can lose a little extra when they cancel a policy early.

I'm going off on a tangent, though. In the end, it pretty much sucks to be a newbie author in this situation, especially when a lecturer can only say that it's a subjective matter and it's up to you to figure out whether a relationship with a particular agent will work or not. It takes experience to learn these things, and obviously, a newbie doesn't have the experience.

Like with other things in life that depend on experience, it pretty much means that the aspiring writer has to suck it up and take a chance. And in the end, it probably shouldn't matter a huge amount. Sure, there's a few people who have broken out of the gates running and sell tons of their first books, but really. . .how often does that happen? If it is that good of a book and does sell that many copies, you've got to be one idiot to lose out on a lot because of the commission of a first agent that turned out bad. Really, do you plan on paying a fee, paying large amounts for unreasonable expenses or making a deal with someone who wants a huge commission?

I'm not expecting grandeur with my first ever published novel. If it happens, cool, but it's very much unlikely. Doesn't mean I'll hold back on making it good. Even if I miss out on some amount of money here and there, that first published novel or book really should, for someone who wants to be a professional writer, be more of a marketing piece.

It's kind of like taking a crap job where you get treated like shit to get experience and learn stuff. The first and maybe even the second and third books are about getting your name out there and getting the experience of working in the industry. If you continue losing out on the business relationships, then you really need to consult with other people in the industry and compare your own experiences with their's, especially if they're successful in the industry.

Really, like many other things in life, you just gotta be smart, take the hits of inexperience and learn from them. If you do and persist, you're bound to make it.

At least. . .that's what I keep telling myself.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Time to Study Evil

My studying will take the form of reading Roy F. Baumeister's Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty.

Even though it sounds kind of cool to say it, I'm not entirely looking forward to studying evil. Baumeister makes a point, in his preface, of saying that he has taken on the job of "converting" the reader, so they could understand evil, then having to, at the right moment, pull the reader out of the conversion to evil. He will make the reader understand evil then remind the reader the importance of morality.

I'm scared, but it's important to my intellectual curiosity, my need for intellectual coherence and also for the bachelors project. If it is in our biological programming to feel compassion and desire connections with other human beings, I need to understand how people can reach the point of evil. How can a person reach the point of Hitler? How can a person reach the point of Stalin? How can a person reach the point of Hussein? How can a person reach the point of bin Laden? How can a person reach the point of the Hutus of Darfur?

I don't know, but I guess I'll find out by going through some heinous darkness.

In other project news, I'm fairly overwhelmed by information and inspiration to really do much but research more. . .ugh.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

One Good Reason for Solid, Paper Books

Man! I've been reading Thomas Carlyle's Past and Present online and have discovered a good reason to prefer a paper book over an ebook.

Written in the 19th century, it has some difficult language and stretches on for quite a bit. Sitting erect with good posture, reading this book can induce some tight muscles and sore shoulders. Being able to lie down on the couch or on the bed would certainly make for a more relaxing read as I try to comprehend what this guy talks about and what he's trying to satire.

And dang! Not having a good understanding of a culture and the sentiments of a time certainly make it difficult to understand a satire. Working for coherent understanding, especially when it's a compulsion, makes for some long, drawn out and difficult work.

Ugh.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Taking the "Radiohead Revolution" to the Publishing Industry

So Radiohead has apparently started a revolution in the music industry by releasing their next album on the Internet for free. They're requesting that their audience make donations, essentially, as appropriately as they're worth. Sometime in the future they'll be releasing an expensive edition of the album on two CDs and on vinyl then later, they'll release a single CD, I believe. I haven't kept completely up to date on it.

Sounds like the Freeware or Shareware models for the music industry. To some degree, Radiohead has embodied one possibility that I had dreamed up for the music industry, using recordings as promotional tools then try making the money at concerts through ticket sales and merchandise.

Check out some conversation on the Radiohead side of things going on at Uninflected Images Juxtaposed and The Duct Tape Marketing Blog.

At least two other artists have taken their own business actions that could be considered based on the Radiohead move. Nine Inch Nails has quit their record label. Madonna has also left her record label (I believe) but has signed some kind of deal with a concert promoter.

The guy at The Duct Tape Marketing Blog has asked his audience if they had ever pulled off anything huge and revolutionary like this for their industry.

Me, I want to know if anyone can come up with some kind of viable model that could distribute printed content like how Radiohead is releasing their new album. . .and have it distributed in a way that wouldn't screw the content producer. I don't really want to get too deep into how people prefer to read their content (I'm majorly a proponent for reading books rather than reading on the Internet but after reading a book that had been previously published but is no longer copyrighted, I'd be interested in looking for other options, like reading on a Palm Pilot or something bigger for ease of reading that wouldn't heat up like a laptop), but if that really does enter into the equation of content distribution, don't hesitate to bring it up.

So who's up to the challenge on this one?

Monday, October 15, 2007

I'm Supposed to do the Patronizing, Rhapsody

Saturday night, the wife and I had dinner at one of the restaurants established by our wedding caterer, Blue Plate Catering. The restaurant is Rhapsody Chicago at 65 E Adams St., down in the loop.

The food was OK without many options for the moderate near-vegan like me who doesn't like making a fuss or forcing my views onto people. It didn't even compare to the food Blue Plate had at our wedding, but it was pretty good for probably the upper crust, aristocrats who probably eat there. In other words, it was catered more toward the common American omnivore with higher end tastes.

They had pretty much one option for every course that I could easily order with minimal modification (mostly "Hold the cheese, please"), which I didn't mind. I had an aragula salad, a vegetable taster and a three scoop sorbet taster. Once again, all very good food for what it was, but something more hearty with the vegetables, like some kind of lima bean side or some almonds, sunflower seeds or something would have topped off the dish perfectly. On top of that, the side of hearty fare would have fended off that soluble fiber bubbly stomach ickiness.

Basically, everything about this place was pretty bearable for the moderate non-fussy near vegan. Everything, that is, except for our patronizing waitress. She was a nice girl and everything, but if there's anything that annoys a moderate non-fussy near vegan, it's when a serving person tries to create the illusion that the near vegan has a choice beyond what is on the menu. . .especially when the person who made the original reservation disclosed that there's a near vegan in party.

Instead of listing off the ONLY things on the menu amenable to the near vegan then asking, "Is that OK," please provide some other options or let the patron know that the chef enjoys mixing things up a little. When I go out to eat, I don't want to have to put extra thought into what's getting put in front of me. If I wanted to put thought into it, I would have just stayed home and made a romantic dinner for the wife and me.

I repeat, waitress, don't be patronizing to the moderate and try to create the illusion of choice when there is none. You never, know, you might make a moderate vegan fussy and a hassle for other restaurants, servers and chefs. If there's more choices and they're not on the menu, tell your guests. Otherwise, apologize for there being such a small amount of options, write down the order and leave it at that. Show some manners.

How Do I Wake Up Early?

Sunday morning, the wife and I were supposed to go on a biking and kayaking trip, put together by some group, so we had to be there at a scheduled time. I, unfortunately, screwed up and couldn't fight my morning lethargy enough to get up early enough to make it to the meet up place in time.

I feel really dumb, too, because we were supposed to get out of the house later than I normally leave for work.

So anyone have any good tips on fighting morning lethargy when there's no good reason for having it? After all, I had gotten something like 7 or 8 hours of sleep. What's up with that?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Gears of Progress and Change

Thanks go out to Dawn Xiana Moon for giving me the tip to work at a cafe every once in lieu of working at home.

It certainly helped me to relax and not let the weight of responsibility distract and irritate me. Nothing like having compulsions to wash dishes, vacuum the floor, take out the trash, etc. etc. . . or feeling the weight of emotional energy leftover in my mind while in the space at home.

Anyway, I realized last night that I have to change gears on the project at the moment. I had been so focused on producing material that it had become a habit. Not attending to it made me feel guilty or as if I wasn't getting anything done.

That attitude makes for a problem in my current stage, though. Sure, I could transcribe what I've written for the novel and produce stuff on paper. I'm at a point where I want to feel conceptual progress, though, not "administrative" progress. This is probably one of those tasks that I would love to give to an intern or something.

I have, while reading material about Brook Farm over the last couple months or so, been trying to write up an outline of the paper on the community. With the abstract theory down about the utopian psychology that we all probably have for the communities in which we live (ie, the desire to feel integrated, the importance of meaning, the need for transcendence of our current existential state when it has grown old and the contributions of other people and our work and acts to our sense of meaning and feeling of integration), I figured I could make up the outline and adjust it as I advanced in my research. At some point, the research would end when the outline finished coherently.

The material, as I have encounter it, though, hasn't yielded to this plan. Maybe I should have felt more humble since it took two or more years to right the first draft of that last paper. . .and a lot of the real core ideas came together in the last couple months, after moving to Chicago.

I guess the extreme change help to jar my set way of thinking and the time freed up by not having a 9-5 job for awhile helped free up the emotional energy to dedicate to wrestling with the subject matter better. And oh yeah, a few revelations (including a freelance writing class that introduced me to the idea of the 'angle' to a piece of writing) during the last couple months back in Boston helped a bit, too.

Suffice to say, having such a rush of inspiration and success after years of frustration left me feeling cocky after finishing that last paper. Of course I could just steamroll into the next paper, start doing some research and write the paper at the same time. I now totally know what I'm doing. . .completely.

Yeah, right! Having my core characterization the psychological experience of utopianism helps a lot. . .a ton, actually. It helps me feel VERY confident about moving forward and trying to wrap my head around Brook Farm.

That doesn't mean I've got things down pat, though. The fun of any kind of project and the devil is in the details. Telling myself this doesn't immediately help deal with my habitual impatience for production, but it certainly humbles me a little bit and helps to remind myself that I need to enjoy the process. After all, when it comes down to feeling frustrated about the process, the culprit is really having to work a day job and not being able to dedicate myself to the project more than eight hours a day, kinda like back in college, when I was supposed to get this damned thing done in the first place.

And ironically, Brook Farm tried to address issues such as this one. They wanted to free up time, through the economy of scale in the communities labor, so that individuals would have more time to enculture themselves and develop their relationship with God (this was back when Unitarians were Christians descended from the Puritan tradition rather than a pluralist spiritual community).

(This entry now comes a little full circle now indirectly since it addresses a little bit of a conversation that Dawn and I had weeks ago about how uncultured Americans are because adults want to protect children from the difficulties of reading Shakespeare or similarly difficult texts and topics or simply from neglect and busyness.)

My problem before had been that I needed to get impressions of how people living in Brook Farm felt about their experience there. I need to know if they like it there or not, how much they get a sense of meaning there, do they feel integrated there, etc. etc. On another level, did Brook Farm help the members feel integrated, especially did it do so by following its original intent (by reconciling the needs of the group and providing the expression of the individual creative spirit)?

I've already mentioned in Some Intellectual History of My Project the need for me to understand the idea that people had back then about the "dignity of labor." While reading up on the primary sources for Brook Farm at home (the book is too fragile to take it with me in transit), I've been read up on the "dignity of labor," which includes comparisons of rational and traditional capitalism (rational looks to grow for the sake of growth and progress while traditional looks to make enough money for your needs and desires, get those needs and desires then stop working) and also the transition of the older household/family centered economy to the more individualcentric economy.

Suffice to say, I haven't come up with any groundbreaking ideas. I need to get those concrete feelings from the Brook Farm members and also get a better understanding of the intent of Brook Farm, the older household centered economy, the major delineations of the psychological and philosophical moorings of labor and the economy that permeated back from the 17th century to the 19th century (let's not even bring up the slavery and American aristocracy. . .Brook Farm was trying to work against those forces) and the transitional force that Brook Farm tried to take at the time it existed.

Having the intent of enculturing members of a community and bettering their relationship with God as probably the central tenet of organizing the labor and economy in a community certainly makes for an interesting investigation, which could address something or another in current the state of the American intellect. Don't know what exactly, but the fun is in working through the details, isn't it?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Random Tidbit Pertaining to Project

Woowee! I've done some total hyperfocusing over the last two or three hours on my project. Transcribed 5 pages of the novel, finished up reading a chapter in Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and revised the introduction to the last paper of the project.

Randomly enough, this paper is turning into something of a debate between some irritation I have with the current state of being forced to work and develop ourselves for the sake of the industries out there. The paper, at the very least, will try to figure out if Brook Farm successfully reconciles "traditional" and "modern" capitalism and the individual creative spirit and the community by making the community something of a voluntary family.

Enough about the specifics of the project, though. You'll have to read it after I'm done, and hopefully publish it.

I want to present another tidbit that I've randomly fell upon. This time, I discovered Breaking Hearts: The Two Sides of Unrequited Love by Roy Baumeister and Sara Wotman because I wanted to understand my own and other people's experiences with unrequited love. Maybe I could even help people come up with good strategies for addressing it.

In addition learning quite a bit about unrequited love, though, I found the following refinement of how meaning and their stories helps people existentially deal with life:

The four basic needs for meaning include finding purpose, creating a sense of efficacy, justifying one's actions in the context of accepted values, and maintaining a degree of self-worth (p. 35 of the Guildford Press (C) 1992 New York, NY edition).

I'm not totally sure how, but this will definitely help me to come up with some good analytical tools for when I go back to rewrite and revise the papers.

And guess what. While looking for a link on the Web for Baumeister and his book, I found another book that will help me a lot with the project, to write better and for understanding the world around me.

Information is power, but it's also VERY plentiful and random.

Go figure.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Some Intellectual History of my Project

So. . .yeah. . .I think the proposition against me writing time travel stories until I'm a master storyteller essay will have to wait.

My research has really started coming together and becoming more coherent. Strangest thing, too, is that bits of the information have come from some obscure sources that don't have a direct connection to my project and even come from mostly random situations. The random situations, however, can touch upon themes that have stayed with me through life.

Having big, important insights come from obscure and random sources scares me. Not so much about the current project, since I'm already working on it and have dedicated myself to finishing it, but more about my future, post-project.

Obscure and random sources can come from anywhere, can take years to find and generally have a small chance of providing good resourceful use of time. Finding it can require reading 300 pages or so just to find one or two sentences. I'm averse to intentionally setting out to find them except at the beginning of a project, but they can be vital to a project.

For instance, following some tangential research to understand the satirical message in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, which really doesn't have the most clear or logical message, I decided to research into the importance of the individual conscience.

Alasdair MacIntyre's book, A Short History of Ethics: A History of Moral Philosophy from the Homeric Age to the Twentieth Century didn't provide much insight into individual conscience. It did, however, provide a good comparison between the Homeric hero and the Socratic/Aristotelean civilized man and some insights I can't remember at the moment (probably not important at the moment).

In addition, however, MacIntyre's highlighted, in a footnote, a book that I had heard about but never thought about checking out: Ian Watt's The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding. Along with Lynn Hunt's Inventing Human Rights: A History that I picked up to supplement MacIntyre's book, I got an okay historical overview of individualism philosophically, literature-wise, historically and politically.

Hunt's description of the later regression of human rights after Napoleon started screwing things up and the rest of Europe's view of human rights probably wouldn't have made much sense to me if I read it alone. Having read plenty of essays from Isaiah Berlin's posthumous collection of essays, The Proper Study of Mankind, though, I had a better understanding of the reactions against human rights and individualism.

Good stuff to know, which also helped me to settle my aggravation over not completely grokking the transmission of the message in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Unfortunately, I still have an essay to write about Brook Farm. Reading some other materials I can't remember and a couple secondary sources about Brook Farm, in combination with all the previous stuff, I came up with a hypothesis about Brook Farm trying to strike the best work-life balance by reconciling the individual creative spirit with the needs of the group/community.

All well and great except the secondary sources addressed the history of Brook Farm rather than ideas of it. One of them provided more detail about the ideas but more as a "this idea from that scholar and that scholar's idea provided a source for this aspect of Brook Farm or George Ripley.

Gathering together a list of sources from the secondary sources and through Amazon.com searches, I found Autobiography of Brook Farm edited by Henry Sams. This book has loads of primary sources. It has provided me with a better understanding of the logic behind Nathaniel Hawthorne leaving the community, but from the first 20 or so sources I've read, there hasn't been much explicit discussion of theory behind Brook Farm except the idea that if you get a bunch of people together to work on a farm, they'll reach their individual peaks and live lives of justice. That doesn't satisfy me.

Like with the research for Brave New World and so on, I figured that I needed to get a better idea of the intellectual ideas behind labor back then. That's when I remembered that Ian Watt addressed the Puritans and their work ethic/belief in the dignity of labor as a source for economic individualism in The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (OK. . .so I just finished this book a week or so ago). With George Ripley's, leader of Brook Farm, intellectual tradition and rebellion coming from a Puritan and Unitarian background (which, along with Congregationalism came off as rebellious offshoots of Puritanism in New England), I figured that the dignity of labor was something to look into.

And that's where I am now, finding that the 2 or 3 pages on the topic in The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding unsatisfactory, I did some further research into it. I found Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. I've only just started it, and from my understanding, it doesn't totally gel with the theory and proto-theory of Brook Farm. I think I'll be able to come up with some suppositions or find some source material that makes the connection.

The above logical and not-so-logical (I started with the research to address my dissatisfaction with a novel only to have it bleed into paper on a historical community that existed probably 90 years before it) has taken me about four months to do, a lot of it simply to fill in details to further my understanding. I also did plenty of Internet research to understand some political individualistic distinctions, economic history and the "sociology" of European civilization from Greek times to modern day. Four months, I don't know how much money, the time I needed to spend working a full time job to pay expenses and all the other practical concerns I had to address while doing this work.

Hell yeah, I'm scared of how good I'll be at doing this kind of thing after I graduate from college. One consolation, though, is that this is quite an intense topic, and I didn't have the central conceptual framework and angle for working on it until about a year and a half ago, six years after leaving college and pretty much 2/3 the way through first drafts of the academic side of the project and 1/3 of the way through the first draft of the novel. Still, I'm scare.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Post #500: I'm Lamer Than Ever

Man! I'm spending way too much typing and researching. Time to write in blog, nearly nil.

BTW, the sick was just from allergy detritus collecting in a lymph node. That's pretty lame, too.

Oh wait, I'm spending a good amount of time watching the new season of TV, too. Makes for good narrative research. To check out my opinions on the new season, especially Journeyman, check out my comments on Dead Things on Sticks. Kind of ironic, really, a vegan avidly reading and posting on a blog called Dead Things on Sticks.

Hopefully I'll have a little more time in a couple days to espouse on the dangers of writing time travel stories and how I don't want to write such a story until I get this writing thing down good.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Slow Week

Things have come to a screeching stop after Wednesday night. Since the end of last week, I have had a swollen lymph node or two in my neck, but I charged along forward, thinking it was something that could just go away.

Unfortunately not. Yesterday, I was a lot more tired, sore, etc. etc. than usual. Figured I should take it easy, so I rode the bus to and from work instead of bike riding or walking, caught on a couple episodes of MI-5/Spooks last night and really just have tried to do the bare minimum/little bits of chore/work and getting to bed at a good time. I'll be sleeping in until I wake up tomorrow.

I did a little research on my situation, though, and started eating some food with a particular amino acid and take a supplement for it. So far, it has helped. The lymph nodes have become less swollen an sensitive and not feeling so under the weather. Still plan on pretty much taking it easy for the weekend, though.

The hardest part is accepting that it's OK not to do work. Rather, that it's important that I don't get so hung up on doing work and just rest. I'm not as incapacitated as I have been in the past from getting sick, so I feel well enough to push myself if I wanted. Knowing that I could push myself to incapacitation, though, I'm staring down my hang up, not pushing myself and trying not to feel guilty about it.

I'll just start pushing myself hard again when I get better. Maybe with the amino acid supplement taken on a regular basis, I won't get as run down in the future.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Nitty Gritty of Method

So, after some major geek tomfoolery like reading Sandworms of Dune in less than a day and doing some Wikipedia research on the mechanics of time in Doctor Who
, I finished writing the first draft of Part II (after the Prologue and Part I) of my novel yesterday. Woohoo!

Now, for those of you unfamiliar with my writing method/habits/madness, I handwrite chapters of my novel and papers for my project then transcribe them into a Word document. I transferred about five pages tonight in the midst of all types of domestic affairs.

Transcribing stuff I've written about a year or so ago really provides me with some perspective. Crap! My writing really has improved since then. A lot of it has probably come from reading something like 40 or 50 pages in this textbook about writing fiction that the wife had to buy for a writing class at school.

I really don't have much more to say about it, just damn!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ambiguity in Drafting

Went to the Chicago-SF September writing workshop. On the downside, only someone completely new and me showed up for the workshop. The newbie and I got along pretty well, though, and provided some good insight for each other's stories.

For my novel, it's probably a good thing that only the newbie and I showed up. I've submitted four excerpts from my novel so far to the group, one per month for the last four months, I believe. I submitted them all to the newbie about two or three weeks ago.

Getting a reaction from someone who has sat down to read it in a more compact time then people who've been reading 10 page excerpts every month ago certainly provides for a different perspective. Probably the biggest help is that they haven't had a month to fill up their minds with other things that distract them from the details or lack of detail from excerpt to excerpt.

The newbie provided some great enlightenment into their interpretation of the facts as presented. I don't mean an interpretation as a literary analysis of the facts, what they represent or symbolize or what motifs or themes they create. Rather, the newbie has shown me which facts have been established and which ones remain unclear.

I've never taken part in a fiction/writing workshop that has had the critiquers simply summarize what they have read, as they see the facts established and maybe all that other analytical literary critique stuff, too. In the past, I thought it would come across as a waste of time. "Ok, so this is what you wrote. . .." Being shown that this summarizing process isn't a waste of time really comes as refreshing.

Now that I think about it, though, I think this summarizing practice taps into a general problem that exists with human communication. I remember a long time taking part in this discussion at a young adult group discussion at my local UUA church about communication or some such.

One of the people provided an insight about a good practice to follow when having a sensitive conversation is to relate back your interpretation of what another person just said. Don't repeat back to them verbatim what they said. That could actually be considered rude, especially if said in a certain tone of voice. Since we all have our own individual listening styles, assumptions and belief systems, however, how interpret the words another person speaks can often turn out very differently than the intent behind their words.

Words have a funny way of working like that, not working concisely and clearly with our intended meanings. Linguists have theorized about this topic since linguistics started and philosophers before them. The late ethnobotanist/philosopher/social critic, Terence McKenna, even hypothesized that speech communication requires a limited form of telepathy for communication to work. An interesting theory, but I don't know. . ..

Writing totally fits into the realm of communication, analogous to verbal communication, since they both depend on words. And as spoken communication between two or more people can collide with ambiguity and confusion, so can written communication. I won't get into the stress that we all feel every once when we want to present ourselves in a perfect fashion and impress other people, which can cause us to stumble over our words, thus creating a bad impression, fulfilling a self-fulfilling prophecy.

One big advantage of writing comes from the fact that we can review it and review it before showing it to other people instead of having our mouth run off faster than our brain can work. Like with thinking and working on our spoken communication until the end of time, though, ambiguity can still find its way into a text that you've been working on for hundreds and hundreds of hours.

That's when the people in a fiction writing workshop can help a lot with their summarizing your piece. And the writing workshop this past Wednesday helped a lot for the newbie and me to find the deficiencies of ambiguity in our pieces. Not the parts of intentional ambiguity put in there for purposes of irony or for dramatic suspense, but the mistaken bits of ambiguity that are put in there because the writer has an image of things in their head, which they think that they've sufficiently described and explained on paper. . .but they haven't. We found plenty in each other's pieces.

I wish I could back to fix mine. Doing so would, unfortunately, break the flow of writing the novel. I tried doing so with past versions in the novel in past fiction workshops, and I ended starting over and starting over and starting over. It's not anything to regret, since I have an exponentially better product.

Not necessarily good for quality or perfection, but more product generally means more recognition, accomplishment, money (dare I say it?) and advancement on the career path. There's a balance in there somewhere, I'm sure of it.

As I told someone yesterday, though, it's like I'm in a major research stage doing this first stage writing, developing the product and creating raw material. Once the first draft gets done, then I can sculpt the statue and hone in on addressing the details and ambiguity. Frustrating as this process is, it certainly makes for an interesting path.

Hopefully in the future, though, I learn some good tricks to cut down on the research side of things, hopefully. Until then, I will have to forge ahead and learn what I can.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Keep the Story Linear and Interesting, Stupid, and Other Writers Facing the Problem

Looks like I'm not alone. Other writers have faced the problem that I brought up yesterday. You know, the problem of telling the story of one or many events from more than one point of view and trying to communicate the power of each consciousness as it adds to the meaning of the story. . .all without boring the reader with redundancies.

The very recently late Robert Jordan had a similar self-criticism with his book Crossroads of Twilight. As written in his blog:

The only thing that I wish I hadn’t done was use the structure that I did for CoT, with major sections beginning on the same day. Mind, I still think the book works as it is, but I believe it would have been better had I taken a more linear approach. When you try something different, sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Apparently, Samuel Richardson had a similar problem in his book, Clarissa: Or the History of a Young Lady. Ian Watt, in his book The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Field, writes:
The use of two parallel series of letters, then, has great advantage, but it presents considerable difficulties; not only because many of the actions have to be recounted separately and therefore repetitively, but because there is a danger of dispersing the reader's attention between two different sets of letters and replies.

As I write in the novel, especially from the perspective of the one character who has surveillance capabilities, I find myself just re-writing a lot of previous scenes, just a lot more straight, succinctly and with this character's reactions to them. . .which really aren't much of any reaction. It doesn't feel like I'm writing anything particularly original for this character, and he can't just be cut. He's pretty important for many reasons. . ..

I had mostly just been thinking about the audience's attention and how they might find it annoying to dredge through descriptions of things that they've already read about.

Not much had entered my mind about having their attentions dispersed amongst the different characters. I really only have a set of four, kind of five, main characters, and they all interconnect and become part of a large, overall plot. Honestly, I think the ways in which they're connected might become pretty obvious half way through the second chapter. OK, OK. . .maybe there's up to six main characters, since the city-society really is a character, in itself.

I guess there is a fair amount of stuff going on, though. There's probably enough between all the characters that having repetitive parts of the story and having the time element out of whack might cause the reader to spend too much time trying to figure out where the other characters are while this one character is doing this or that.

Writing the novel with the idea of having the story coming across as linear will probably help to keep things straight for the reader. There will be a lot of jumping around and probably some confusion during those hops, but I think that temporary confusion will be a lot easier to handle than the cognitive load of having to think, "OK, character A is here while character B is there and C is all the way over there and character D is planning to slap character A upside the head and yell at character B, but character A doesn't know what the problem is. C is on the other side of the world, though, providing the original cause that makes these other characters react this way."

In the long run, it's a pretty straight forward story. The main problem just comes from the fact that the power of the story mainly comes from the characters having realistic personalities that the readers get to know, love and/or hate and how they all interact with each other. I guess something similar could come across if the story just gets told by one character, but I don't think it would be as powerful. . .so I'm writing it the way I am now.

Oh. . .how very modern.

Why have I gone and written these complicated stories when I'm just starting out as an aspiring writer? What am I thinking?

BTW, today was one of those annoying days where I just wanted to get home and write, but when I got home, I procrastinated because I had all this pent up resentment built up about the things holding me back from writing. So annoying. . ..

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Finding My Beat and Chugging Along

Yesterday really was a big, good day.

I wrote two pages in the novel, read a bit in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance, wrote a couple pages in the novel and found a bunch of interesting books for the project on Amazon.

FINDING GOOD SOURCES AT
AMAZON.COM AND WRESTLING WITH RESEARCH


Amazon surprised me with the selection of sources for Brook Farm. I had feared that I would have had to go back to Boston or compensate a friend to get sources from the Boston Public Library since a lot of stuff in bibliographies are from out of print journals and magazines (including the the Boston Public Library Quarterly and New England Quartlerly), letters and legal documents.

Lucky for me, though, on Amazon has at least one book of compiled letters from community members. That could be just about all I need to write this paper. Right now, I've got something of an idea of what I want to write about, as I've read enough about the "big picture" and philosophical underpinnings for Brook Farm. Now I just need to get concrete experiences, reactions and reflections to figure out how well they accomplished their goal and/or embodied the main characteristic of utopia, existential integration (if that's really the right term).

I'm not so sure how much patience I'll have doing the more concrete research with primary sources. For awhile during the last couple months, I had retreated to reading more abstract stuff, like philosophy, psychology and the history of ideas. Yeah, I've read here and there into history, but more interpretations of history or larger sweeping overviews of it, nothing focusing on day-to-day matters or actual writing by people going through it.

I just feel like there will be a lot of details to weed through and organize. It's rather intimidating, especially since I've had a fair amount of trouble dealing with the last two historical papers I wrote, where I had one source (which was both primary and secondary) for one and two primary sources for another. I had to refer to other sources for theory and such, but I had a fair amount of trouble going through just a few things, compared to this paper which will require me to go through a whole bunch.

Those other paper's sources, however, already had a fair amount interpretation in them already. Maybe it'll be different when I deal with just primary sources with a much less "qualified" and objective interpretation. I'll be the one who gets to be objective and theoretical about it.

Now I just worry about reading secondary sources and finding out that someone else has written what I'm intending to write. The question here is: should I read those other sources that look like they're saying the same thing and try to adjust my theory or writing style, or should I ignore those until afterward. I remember reading somewhere that bachelors literature professors often don't want the student to read secondary sources so that they won't be stymied writing and can flex their lit crit muscles.

Guess I'll just have to develop my approach as I encounter things. Such is life.

NOVEL WRITING

So I feel great about actually getting myself to sit down and churn two pages out. Those two pages feel a little weird, though. They were mostly retelling of parts in the story that the reader would have already read, just with a different characters reaction to it.

I can't really get that much deeper into it without possibly giving things away, but it involves changing points of view and video surveillance, with this one character mostly experiencing the story through the surveillance. Throughout most of the story, he will see what all the characters are doing as they do it.

This approach with this character really creates some difficulty. I don't want to bore the audience, but he's a very important character who has important reactions to the things that happen.

After I'm done with the rough draft, I will have to do some major rewriting and re-mapping. And as I've said in the past, having this knowledge and the ideas floating to the top while I'm writing makes writing in the current style somewhat difficult. I need to draft it this way, though, so I can have a good idea of who will be where when and how and why. I feel somewhat like a journalist, except that the drafting is my research for the story and the real story can't come out in a simple outline or something.

Right now, the story has been coming out somewhat linear in a traditional fashion, at least from four characters' point of view. I'm starting to think instead of having a linear storytelling from each of the point of views, the story, itself, will get the linear treatment (as much as possible).

In other words, instead of dedicating one chapter to a respective point of view, I'll probably float between the points of view more freely, to cut down on storytelling redundancy but possibly increase some reader confusion. Not to worry, though, I think the confusion will probably be kept to a minimum.

This won't reach the level of Faulkner. If anything, it'll be like if the island in LOST with the occasional forays into other character's consciousness or even just Heroes with tighter storytelling and no mutant superpowers.

THE PERSONAL STUFF

The cable tech came about 15 minutes after 1, with my service blocking being between 1 and 5. I was right, the wire going from the outdoors into the bedroom was broken.

I had to sharply tell the tech that he didn't have to go downstairs to check the building's central box, he just need to look at the particular wire. He did, and the wire came apart with a stern tug. Apparently, some animal had been chewing on it and/or wear and tear just wore through it.

Now that saga's done. It's kind of sad that our relationship was ruptured because of the whole thing, but at least it's over.

Today, pretty much taking it easy with the wife and doing some chores. If I do anything writing-wise, it's this blog and doing a second read on someone else's submission to the writing workshop.

Maybe I'll purchase a couple books for bachelor's project source material, too, on Amazon. If I do, I'll go through the "Amazon portal" at WBUR.org the website for the Boston University-based NPR station. Amazon will give a portion of my sale to WBUR.org.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Must. . .Focus. . .On. . .Writing!

Maybe Claire, a girl that went to Marlboro College for a semester or two during my freshman and has just recently moved assumedly down the street (but I haven't seen for 11 years) here in Chicago, has it right. Maybe the best way to actually write and get a novel or project done is to quit the job and write everyday.

Unfortunately, that wouldn't work for me. Too much research to do, which costs money, and the whole sustaining a quality of life makes it hard to give up a steady stream of income. I have already decided that side of things, so. . .unless I save up $1 million dollars or a couple years of saved up cash or get some kind of freelance writing career going, I'll keep selling insurance, assisting someone sell insurance and help around an office. Ah well.

In the meantime, I need to cut out distractions and get to the writing. Every once in awhile, I should probably network and socialize, though. Thankfully, the whole Comcast controversy should come to a close soon.

The AT&T DSL has been set up nicely in the apartment. This Saturday, a Comcast tech will be coming by to fix the wire, and I will make sure he replaces it or does some major surgery on it. If that doesn't fix the problem, I may just have to switch the cable over to AT&T, too. Hopefully, the tech also takes away the cable modem. The most recent Comcast bill came in with the Internet charges. . .I do not want to pay for it, and I intend on fighting against it. Hopefully that doesn't create too much distraction.

So, yeah, I need to get focused. While waiting around for the cable tech on Saturday, I intend on writing and researching. If anything good comes out of that day, hopefully that will. Last time, I was able to finish writing up a list of sources to spreadsheet, organize and check out. Having that block of time scheduled should help to get a good start on focusing on the writing. . ..

Now let's just hope that unlike tonight, when the computer took up a good amount of time processing information, I actually get my ass into gear and do the writing.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

My Scheme to get the Rights Back to the Consumer vs. Comcast & Other Service Companies

So, get this. I call Comcast last night to schedule for a tech to come out and repair the faulty wire. The tech support person asks me if I want to purchase a maintenance program for something like $1.32 a month. Now, really, check this out: this $1.32 a month goes to waiving a service fee if they send out a tech, and the problem had arisen because of the configuration that affects the signal between the cable box and the TV (aka, ignorance of the owner who doesn't know how to configure their consumer electronics or doesn't know to contact their electronic equipment specialist before calling Comcast).

And this is after I basically had to yell at the tech that I know it's not my configuration, it's a stupid wire put there by them, Comcast. My configuration is OK, it has worked for the last year. Things started going wrong because the recent storms and high winds buffeted the wire in question. When I fool around with the wire, the reception changes and the modem could work every once in awhile then cuts out because the signal to it goes haywire.

Here's another clue: Comcast Sherlock, before I canceled the high-speed internet, the modem they installed was going haywire. Can you guess why? Right! Because of the broken wire! And that broken wire is in the realm of Comcast's responsibility.

As I basically keep telling them, they're responsible for fixing it, and they should fix it ASAP if they want to keep a customer and keep them happy. Also, by the way, as soon as possible is Friday of last week. No, wait. . .As Soon As Possible is three weeks ago when they sent the first technician to check on the whole issue, even if it would have inconvenienced us, the customer. Making sure their product works, and it works reliability, should be their #1 goal before they think about the comfort level of their customers.

So after spending hours on the phone, hours waiting around for their techs and hours watching their techs do stuff and not getting stuff fixed reliably, I think I should start charging them for my time they waste. I wonder what would be the going rate. . .maybe the future income I expect to make when I get my writing career going (since they waste my time getting there) or maybe my current wage. Who knows? Whatever it is, it needs to make clear that they're disrupting my life, my leisure, my future career and my current domestic/love life.

I don't think this should stand, if not just for me, but also for all their other customers. Imagine how the world of cable internet could change if we made our voices heard to Comcast, our overlord! So. . .anyone with me?

Maybe I could even charge them for the four days of pain and suffering in my wrists from screwing and unscrewing the connections between the wires, with pliers! Those things are damn tight. . .with a good reason, but something they should really do, not me if it causes me that much pain. . .and their service doesn't work reliably.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Dissatisfied with Comcast

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about my travails with the reliability of my Comcast service in the entry titled More Competent than the Comcast Trained.

I ended my relationship with them when it comes to my high speed internet on Friday because the problem hadn't been completely fixed by my tinkering. The strong winds buffeted the wire again and no amount of connecting and reconnecting the wire wouldn't fix it. In conclusion, the wire going from outside, through the wall of my building to the inside was close to dead.

Simple solution: have a Comcast tech come and replace that wire. Maybe they could even just fix it in the long term by eliminating that connection and having the more "main" wire enter my apartment through the wall.

Unfortunately, getting a tech out from Comcast to do it in a timely fashion (as in, Friday, the next day when I called during the night) is not feasible. On top of that, the wife and I would be out of town for the weekend, and we wanted the TiVo to record some shows.

So, by the end of the day, I cancelled the high speed internet with them and signed up with AT&T Yahoo DSL. At least our internet will be reliable in the future, since our telephones have never gone out because of strong winds.

If things get bad with preparing that wire in a less timely fashion, however, we may just have to switch our cable TV over to AT&T, though.

Unfortunately, that means that the wife and I will only have internet access at work and public gateways, like at cafes, libraries and community centers. Entries here will probably not likely be posted until the end of the week and outside of business hours, e-mail and other internet activity will probably occur intermittingly.

Thank you for understanding.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Fear of Obselescence

Last night, I think I got a bit too tangential. Yeah, I dislike not having time to do personal things that create meaning and value those things, but the thing that I really wanted to focus on that made me afraid is:

THE FEAR OF BECOMING OBSOLETE.

Just take a look at this article:

Girl Power: No rich relatives? No professional mentors? No problem. Ashley Qualls, 17, has built a million-dollar web site. She's LOL all the way to the bank.

When I first read the article, I thought that this girl was missing out on an education and the benefits of one. I still think there's a benefit to a higher education and an "innocent" childhood, but really, were those reactions just guarding me from thinking that I'm becoming obsolete?

This girl isn't really doing anything BEYOND me. Sure, I probably wouldn't design MySpace pages like her (crap, I haven't even touched the design of my MySpace page. Not making the time is one thing for not working on my design or doing something like this girl. Until reading this article, though, I hadn't even thought of doing that type of thing.

The article got me to thinking who's coming to my blog. I've been kind of annoyed with my content lately, much less the lack of entries. Most of the entries lately have felt more like complaining that I don't have the time to write or analyzing reasons why I'm not writing here rather than providing any useful content. And now I'm sounding like the typical blog. . .which I didn't feel like awhile ago when I had been writing reviews and on actual topics rather than complaining about life. . .which is something that I probably need to do, but I want to make content that interests people.

Damn. . .I feel so obsolete and like I can't make the time to get over it. Ugh.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Can't Buy Back Time

My two biggest fears can be summed up in the fear of not getting the full value of my time.

Frankly, I'm in somewhat of an inefficient time in my life. I work one official full time job and when possible, I squeeze in the unofficial job of working on my bachelor's project or some other forms of writing. The official full time job of working at an insurance agency combined with doing dishes, emptying the litter box, doing laundry and other chores around the house feel like massive amounts of maintenance work that keeps my quality of life going but doesn't advance me toward the career goal that I want. In a major sense, that upkeep stuff simply doesn't feel productive.

I sometimes, sadly, think of a social life, family life, pet life and vacation life in the same manner as the maintenance aspects in my life. This characteristic of mine really pisses me off because these are the things, I feel, that I should be feeling joy analogous to working on my bachelor's project.

Much of the time, though, I'm thinking to myself, "If I could just work on the project and get it done, I can make more time for these other aspects of life." They both feel like they should be activities that provide me with meaning, which should help me feel integrated with the world while engaged in them.

Things work differently in my mind, though. It probably has to do with having to dedicate the majority of my waking life to working at the official job and other maintenance activities. If I had the writing career I wanted, I believe things would be different. I could set aside time for the career life then ideally make time in the evening for family, pets, friends, etc. etc. I could probably also just let loose on vacation and enjoy the experience of something new. It doesn't happen often, though.

And the socializing, networking and marketing could totally be a career, productive and growth activity. . .along with researching and keeping up to date on technology, science and current events. Not engaging in these activities has really become something of a fear to me.

Focusing so much on the abstract bachelor's project and the novel really has started to feel like something of a detriment. I've been working on this thing for something like 7 to 9 years now. I get a sense of pride when I explain something about it to people and they understand it. I feel like I'm accomplishing something.

Nonetheless, I've been spending so much time on it at the expense of other immensely useful activities. I fear that once I finish this project and try to start a writing career, whether it be creative or freelance creative writing, I'll have a lot of practical and knowledge bases to catch up on before I have a real productive career, one in which I can enjoy those other meaning making activities that I aim to do along with my writing some day.

Even finding the time to write in this blog has become difficult. . .and I really like doing it.

Ugh.