The Spaces They Inhabit

Was it overly ambitious for me to set the goal of writing, finishing, and editing a science fictional yarn for the Clarion West Write-a-thon this year?

Probably. I’m spending July 3 – July 15 travelling across the country, and before that I packed my entire house into a relocation cube and shipped it off the rural Massachusetts, where I’ll be spending the next few months. Despite all this, or perhaps because of all this, I’ve actually been doing a quite a bit of writing. I have a 6,782 word skeletal draft of “Man of War”. It will probably get longer before it’s done, and then shorter as I edit it down.

I’ve never had much of an interest in writing hard science fiction, though I recently read Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy and loved it to pieces. Usually, though, I like it when things get weird.

I like the Kirby sort of cosmic. As I visualize the people and places and things in this story I’m writing, I’m finding myself drawn repeatedly to animation and comics. Kirby, yes, but I’ve also been really enjoying the contemporary Prophet and Saga. I’m revisiting shows about sad kids in giant robots and machine ladies.

The nice thing about immersing myself in other mediums, as opposed to focusing on prose fiction, is that I don’t have to worry so much about voice creep. I also find that studying the visual language of comics is very helpful to me as a writer of prose. Good comics are lessons in economy: a single issue can convey reams of information in 20-30 pages. They build worlds, fantastic or otherwise, with incredible efficiency. Comics also remind me to think about physicality more often. What are people doing as they spit dialogue back and forth? Where are they in the spaces they inhabit? What are their bodies communicating that their words aren’t?

Comics are also great about zooming in about mundanities of the fantastic in a way that completely knocks my socks off. X-men has always been as much about interpersonal drama as it is about punching bad guys. Chadwick’s Concrete is certainly the most realistic story about an invulnerable rock man ever written. It always impresses me when a story manages to balance space aliens  and ray guns with unrequited crushes and empty afternoons. I like big ideas, but I like my big ideas mixed with small moments that tell me who these people are and why I’m supposed to care about them.

Anyway, I should really get back to working on this thing. Maybe I’ll just read a few issues of Before the Incal first?

Clarion West Write-a-thon

Thanks to the power of peer pressure, I’ve signed up for the Clarion West Write-a-thon. You can find my terrible author page here. If you like, you can donate some money to Clarion West and help keep this very wonderful workshop alive and kicking.

The Write-a-thon runs from June 18th to July 27th. My modest goal for the ‘thon is to finish and polish my current short fiction project, a story based on this short from my February Flash Fiction Fight to the Death. It’s my attempt at writing more tightly plotted science fiction, because that’s what the editors I’ve been in contact with lately have been asking for.

I’ll try to post updates, and perhaps excerpts, here. Maybe even some drafts, once I have one of those.

I hope you like squid ships, because you’re going to be hearing a lot about them over the next six weeks.

Notebook: Man of War

Once in a while a story grabs hold of me and doesn’t let go. I’ve been writing stories that are more explicitly science fictional this year, finally shrugging off the “genre fiction can’t be serious fiction” complex battered into me during my 16 years of schooling. It’s been nice. I’m writing a lot more than I used to, because I’m no longer worrying about whether or not I’m writing the right kind of thing. I’m just writing.

I’ve been trying for a while to figure out how to work this pilot and her absurd spacefaring vessel into a story. Originally developed during my frantic Flash Fiction Fight to the Death, this concept has been pulling at me. What is it like to be a ship? How can this character be part of a functional story embryo? How do you force a ship out of its comfort zone?

A few days ago I figured it out, wrote for a heady five hours after getting home from work, and now I have a skeletal rough draft. This is one of the longer things I’ve tried recently, and it’s also the most plot-heavy. The story propels itself. It’s been an interesting piece to work with.

In the tradition of the process posts I wrote while thesising, I thought it might be interesting to post a list of the disparate things I’m absorbing and thinking about as I write this.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go write some gratuitous space battles.


I’ve started taking notes on new (or to-be-rewritten) stories for the first time in quite a while.  I spent most of last year channelling my energy into editing and polishing old pieces.  The stress and system shock of moving, however, has jarred something loose in me.  I’m making things up again.

I don’t have a desk yet.  I don’t even have my own computer.  But I’m working.

Lately I’ve been asking myself questions like…

Are werewolves gluten-intolerant?

Is social anxiety partially caused by a hyper-awareness of social hierarchies?

Would a completely digitized public library bother to maintain any kind of physical branch space?

How do agoraphobes feel about underground spaces?

Do robots make good pets?

What’s a good A.V. setup for someone who almost never leaves a studio apartment?

And so on, and so on.

Working, Working

Is This The End?

I’ve been unusually together lately.  In addition to writing, writing, writing, I’ve been sleeping, cooking, reading, and skiing in place at the gym.  Occasionally I go out and about and get lost.  Getting lost is good for the writing, I think.   I even updated my long neglected  cooking blog, Knives Out.

I have two half-completed drafts that I’m working on right now.  Both are in the first person and involve male protagonists.  Both are linked closely to the other stories I’ve written this semester.  This allows me to continue working with characters and locations I’m fond of while branching out in voice.  It’s fun.  I’m so excited about things that I scribble longhand in a notebook while I’m away from my computer.  My wrist cramps up.  It’s pretty terrible.

One draft is titled “Satellites”.  It’s a road story that finally allows me to explore the St. Christopher / Laika connection I’ve thought about for a while.  You’ll have to trust me when I say it makes sense in context.

The other story is tentatively titled “Gainful Employment”.  It’s another unreal crime story that brings back the dynamic duo of Serhiy/Serge Klychko and Rivka Balshemennikov.  It involves a lot of language tension and language humor and the pitfalls of communication.  I hope it will be as funny to other people as it is to me.

I should have a draft of one or the other done by Monday.  I’m not quite sure which one to focus on, though.  So if you have a preference about which one you’d like to see first, dear reader, let me know and I’ll try to oblige you.

Also, Happy Halloween!  Don’t forget to go out and get in trouble.

Collaboration and Creative Cross-Pollination

Pinky out!

Pinky out, for the classy kind of groping.

One of the many nice things about WordPress is that it allows me to follow the popular search terms used to find this blog.  Most of the time it’s easy to tell that people came here by accident.  “Halloween costume”, for example, seems to be a common one.

But here’s the weird thing.  Lately, it seems that people are actively looking for the story “Goodbye, Invisible Man“.  There are search terms like “invisible man bicycle packages drugs” and “gloria stuart bandages bar” and “the invisible man doesn’t have much of a face when I first meet him”.  It’s as if someone else told them about the story and they wanted to go find it.  Or they read it, vaguely remembered it, and wanted to find it again.

I find this fantastic and mildly unsettling.  “Goodbye, Invisible Man”: the terrible sensation that’s sweeping the nation.

Dear reader, this might be as good a time as any to discuss collaboration and creative cross-pollination.

The doodle above was drawn by my highly talented friend, Sarah J.  (She drew it before she actually read the story, hence the cheeriness.)  You can read Sarah’s science news portfolio blog thing here.  Sarah J. and I like to draw together.  I cartoon as a way of fixing fictional people, places, and things in my mind.  Sarah J. draws to draw, and she’s much better at it than I am.

Sometimes she draws my concepts.  And sometimes her drawings actually change the concepts I thought I had.  It’s an amazing process.  Working creatively with other human beings gives my mopey muse a swift kick in the ass.

Sometimes people ask me if I’d like to help them write something, usually a short film.  The answer is tricky.  “I’d love to, but I don’t have the time.”  Right now I don’t have time to do much besides attend class, write stories for my thesis, and occasionally get out into Portland proper to have a beer.

That doesn’t mean I’m anti-collaboration, though.  Do you want to make a short film based on one of my existing stories?  Draw a comic book?  Write a song?  Wonderful.  Just ask me about it first.  I’ll probably say yes as long as you agree to credit me and send me a copy of your finished product.

There’s a little Creative Commons license in the sidebar of this blog.  It means you can copy and distribute any of my existing works as much as you want, as long as you don’t alter it and you make sure to give me credit.  Including my name is perfect, and additionally including a link back to this site is even better.  You want to paper a bathroom with pages from “Nova“?  Go right ahead.  You want to make little booklets of “Goodbye, Invisible Man” and distribute them to friends and jilted lovers?  I think they’d make lovely Christmas gifts.  You don’t have to ask me before embarking on any sort of distribution project, but I’d love to see what you end up doing with it.  So feel free to drop me a line.

You can contact me through this site, or at  And not just about collaborations.  Give me private feedback.  Ask me what my favorite animal is.  It’s really up to you.

No draft this week, because “Win” just keeps getting longer and longer.  I’ll be working, working.  Maybe I’ll post the opening page to whet your appetite.  Though at this point it’s going to be hard to live up to “Goodbye, Invisible Man”.

Feedback And Other Forms Of Static

I’ve been getting a lot of responses to the “Goodbye, Invisible Man” draft I posted last weekend.  A lot.  On this site, via e-mail, and in person.  They’ve been overwhelmingly positive.  I’ve actually been quite touched by the intensity of people’s reaction to the piece.  If the feedback I’ve gotten is any indication, this may be the strongest thing I’ve ever written.

I know who’s to thank.  You were a muse and a half, boy-o.

This semester will consist of much more writing than editing.  So the polished forms of most of these drafts won’t be done until the spring.  In the meantime, though, I’m producing a lot of new material.

I’m working on “Win”, a nasty little story that’s a sister to “Goodbye, Invisible Man”.  It also involves love, failure, sex, and killing the past, but it treats these subjects very differently.  There is nothing fantastic in “Win”, there are only people.  I won’t have a new draft ready by this weekend, but I will probably post an older story that hasn’t seen the light of the internet yet.  It’s called “Knock Down Drag Out”.

Here’s some homework for you if you have any interest in writing and/or Dostoevsky.  Go get a book called The Cambridge Companion to Dostoevskii.  Skip to the last chapter.  Read Gary Saul Morson’s “Reading Dostoevskii”.  Start with the discussion of presentness versus structure, stick around for the stuff about process writing and intentionality.  Brilliant.  It hit on all the fiction/non-fiction tension I’ve been feeling lately.

Thank you, you’ve been a lovely audience.  Here, have a functional index.

There Is A Thing Called A Process

Actually, it's because David Lynch told me to.

Actually, it's because David Lynch told me to.

Pete Rock asked me to take notes on my process.  So that’s what I’m doing.

I’ve been meeting with Whitney Otto once a week, turning in drafts and batting around ideas.  Yesterday I talked about how I wanted to be funny.  Or, at least, funnier.  She recommended Lorrie Moore, which brought me back to “How To Be A Writer” for the first time in years.  It’s still good.  I’m also reading the David Foster Wallace collection Girl with Curious Hair.  It gives me the creeps and I love it.

We’ve been talking about structure.  Even when I try to write discrete stories, I end up leaving little trails of breadcrumbs between them.  Familiar phrases and faces turn up again whether I want them to or not.  The overall collection will be loosely threaded together, but certain stories will hang together in particular little clusters.  The theoretical little clusters have the following working titles: “The Desperate Man Appreciation Society”, “Low Country”, and “Satellites”.

I’ve been a good little worker, pounding out a few pages a week.  Soon I’ll have my first complete story draft. I feel almost hyper-productive, driven by bottomless cups of coffee and the pursuit of impossible objects.  These sorts of muses probably aren’t great for me in the long run, but they’re sure making me write.  I like to think that they build character.

I’m working mostly on “Goodbye, Invisible Man” and a little on its sister story, “Win”.  They are both about love and the lack of it.  Some of the characters are a little monstrous.  (The female of the species is more dangerous than the male.)  “Goodbye, Invisible Man” started out horribly true and then became more and more fictitious as I continued to write it.  “Win” started out entirely fictional and later came true.

Life is strange like that.