Sudden Inspirations

I posted recently about some writer’s block adjacent concerns, wherein I have a chapter that I’m unsatisfied with and consider unfinished but have decided to attempt moving on with the next chapter anyway.

It’s difficult for me to do. What happens is what happens, but only after it happens. Until it happens, it hasn’t happened yet. So if it hasn’t happened, how can I be sure what happens next?

(I am reminded of at least one exchange, somewhere in the massive multimedia catalog of Doctor Who, where a companion — possibly Ace, maybe another of Seven’s companions — discovers the Doctor goes back after an adventure and seeds the arena with helpful things for when he shows up in the future past, and she says “That’s cheating!” and the Doctor points out that when his past self lived through the adventure he is currently tweaking the difficulty settings for, his current self had not yet done so and his past self had no way of knowing that he ever would, and in fact if he had failed in said adventure he might not now be alive to do so.)

So anyway. I tried moving on, even got about 90 words of the next chapter written (honestly closer to 500, but most were deleted and rewritten and redeleted and on and on).

And then I despaired over it for a day or two, and then I woke up in the middle of the night with a sudden burst of inspiration for that broken chapter I tried to skip. And, of course, it does change what would come next, so if I had written that next chapter I’d be faced with the choice of scrapping the written chapter or the new inspiration. Can’t keep both, they’re incompatible.

So. Hurray for the mental process, I guess. It’s a frustrating way to live.

Dreambuilding: Unicycle

I’ve been dreaming about unicycles lately.

But, like, electric motorized ones. People riding them pass by me as I meander city sidewalks in my slumber. The wheels are big, three and a half to four feet in diameter, wide enough for some real stability. The saddle rises up over the middle, with struts attaching it to the non-rotating hub of the wheel – which I imagine also houses the electric motor.

In the dreams in which they appear, the unicycles are ubiquitous. They fill the same niche as the city- or privately-owned bicycles and scooters you find rentable in many urban areas these days. Scan the QR and pay through an app to ride in questionable style for minutes, hours, half a day.

I’m not really sure how the riders steer the damn things, if I’m honest. Nor do I have any solid thoughts on the practicality of such whimsical modes of transit.

But they’ve shown up in several dreams now, and in the way of dreams the mind just sort of accepts it, takes it as a given thing, much the way the mind reacts to those damned scooters. I don’t like the scooters. People always just leave them in the way. The ginormous unicycles, at least, would be harder to manhandle into unsanctioned positions.

Now for the past few days I’ve been contemplating them as items of worldbuilding. What sort of planet invents this contraption? What sort of cityscape welcomes their use? What sort of people scan that QR code and heave themselves upon that saddle?

Eventually, one of two end-states to this idle line of thought will emerge. Either I’ll get nowhere, and the musing will slide into gradual nothingness, after which I’ll forget all about the unicycles. Or answers to the questions of my previous paragraph will form in my mind, and I’ll have the beginnings of a new setting about which to discover stories to tell.

This was a post about the creative process, you see.

Serotonin Overload

I haven’t quite nailed down a title for my cyberpunk novel, but the protagonist’s name is Serotonin Overload. (It’s not her real name, obviously. It’s a handle. A self-chosen sobriquet. A suggestive, not-quite description.)

My original choice was Xanax Shortage, but I feel like maybe I shouldn’t going messing with corporate trademarks in a novel that embraces deeply anti-corporate sentiment. Heh.

Serotonin Overload lives in Capital City, called Cap City by just about everyone who lives there, which is a hell of a lot of people. Millions, crammed into an urban sprawl akin to Night City or Megacity One, a massive future metropolis of megatowers and sky bridges and neon. Oh, the neon. There’s a lot of it.

She wasn’t born there. She comes from this weird little recluse community in the hills outside the City. Her people rejected modernity. They farm and raise livestock and prattle religious nonsense about how screens are the devil. She didn’t stick around, but lit out for the big city with the neon-drenched nights and the thirty-story holograms.

Sera, as her few friends know her, is a mess. She’s got this near-crippling anxiety. That’s the joke of her name, yeah? It’s weird to write panic attacks. Oh, I think I’ve got the details down. I’ve had some gnarly panic attacks of my own. Along with brain zaps, which I’ve decided Sera doesn’t share (she didn’t spend her twenties at the same parties I did).

Anyway, it’s weird to write panic attacks because they feel so … self-indulgent, perhaps, once they’re over. Certainly not in the midst of one. That part is pretty awful. Dramatic, traumatic, and most entirely psychosomatic. Ha. Oh, look, perhaps you can even see how I don’t like talking about it. So imagine what it’s like to try and honestly portray it, the onset, the duration, the quivering aftermath.

Sera takes pills for her anxiety disorder, pills she’s always fumbling for in her pocket or scrambling to grab off the table. She thinks about the pills a lot. Needs them. Or does she?

See, I think Sera’s a lot tougher than she realizes. The pills are a necessary crutch, sure. They help. They blot down the incipient symptoms, jiggle her brain chemistry around to where the breathing comes a little easier and the heart doesn’t feel all explody and the skin can actually pick one, hot or cold, and not be this prickling, burning, freezing, shivering, sweating blanket wrapped too tightly around her. They perform this very important function, and without them that function wouldn’t be performed, but …

Sera gets through the hairy bits with her brains, and her bull-headed stubbornness. She bullshits her way through until she figures it out, and she’s a whole hell of a lot braver than she thinks she is. Crushed by anxiety, sure. But she doesn’t let it stop her, even when she can’t find her damn pills.

She’d better find them. She’s going to need those pills, along with all her obstinacy and quick-wittedness, because the city’s police are after her, operatives of the world government are interested in her whereabouts, and the solar system’s most notorious and feared terrorist has her in mind for a little job that needs doing…

Rereading Vorkosigan

I’ve been re-reading the Vorkosigan Saga lately.

That’s not wholly accurate. I’d read most of the books before, in ones and twos, all out of order. There are several I’d never gotten to. I happened to find one such in my possession about a month ago and figured I’d go ahead and read it — and then decided, hell, why not go start to finish and read them in order?

Lois McMaster Bujold is a master of the craft. Her prose is delightful, her characters magnificent. I can’t overstate this. There are any number of series I’ve greatly enjoyed over the years, authors I’ll come back to again and again. Rarely, if ever, have I found a series or author whose books I can read straight through, one after another after another, without getting a little … tired. Without starting to crave a little more variation, something different. Not so with Bujold. I’m halfway through the series now and devouring each book as voraciously as the first.

The Vorkosigan books are not easily defined. They’re military sf, or maybe political thrillers, or possibly mystery novels. Oh, there’s at least a couple romances – and a comedy of manners that is one of the more delightful entries. The Saga evolves as it turns, changing while staying the same. It’s a magnificent achievement.

And what one doesn’t get — at least, not fully — when reading them piecemeal and out of order, is how cohesive the background is. There’s this whole epic space opera taking place in the background, with most-common-protagonist Miles only tangentially involved in it. I had certainly missed, the first time through, the connection between some offhand comments in Cetaganda and the later events of Borders of Infinity … but it’s there.

As I said, I’m about halfway through. And in addition to finally reading the series in complete form, I’m also finding there are ones I’d thought I hadn’t read which I actually had — my memory not being what it once was. (I’m almost to Memory, in fact. Heh.)

books are often self-referential, glossing over previous events in ways that relate to the current plot. Potentially mind boggling is the fact Bujold didn’t write them in order, either, so quite a bit of that self-referential backstory was actually written before the stories it’s referencing. Miles’ in vivo injuries sustained in Barrayar are fully explained in The Warrior’s Apprentice, written five years earlier.

Bujold has gone back at times to flesh out these bits of backstory. Re-reading the series now, I’ve noticed at least one fairly major such incident, referenced a handful of times but never fully described. I’d thought Bujold was finished with the series after the most recent novel, but now … I hope I was mistaken.

Anyway: if you’ve not read them, I can’t recommend the Vorkosigan novels highly enough.

Cyberpunk Progress

I’m about halfway through my “standalone” cyberpunk novel, and I think I’m at the most difficult part. So, of course, I’m skipping over it and forging ahead with the plan to come back later.

This is super difficult for me. The way the story unfolds in my head, it’s nigh impossible for me to know what happens later when I don’t know what happens now. That seems a little silly when, really, I’m just adapting a role-playing game my friend and I have already completed. But the adaptation is extensive, and certain elements have to be entirely re-conceived. The events, though, surely the events…

Nope. Alas. The story, which fits into my larger Voidstrider universe, turns largely on the personal choices of the protagonist. The moral dilemma she will face at the end. And that remains unchanged from our game. But how she gets there…

Well, I’ll figure it out. For now, I should be drafting Chapter 15. It’s a sneaky action set piece that starts out as an exciting but ultimately procedural heist scene which … well, spoilers, nevermind. Anyway, that’s what I should be working on. But like I said, it’s hard for me to skip over something and really know what happens in the next chapter without being absolutely certain of what happened in the last. So here I am, procrastinating with blogging. Heh.

Before I run off … my friend from the RPG? I’ve been sending Em the chapters as I get them done, and her feedback has been remarkably … encouraging. Whenever I toil through some painful chapter, doing my best to get the details right, agonizing over what I think is abject failure … she shoots back an email in response to the latest chapter, pointing out some bit of goodness I hadn’t even noticed in my obsession over what I think went wrong.

It’s extremely helpful. Good to have friends out there.

Updating Where to Find Me

Now that Zorg owns what he thinks is the enduring public forum of the future, it once again becomes clear that nothing — popular social media platforms in particular — is forever. Increasingly, I imagine, he will find that particular box is empty.

So, with various migrations and whatnot, it seems prudent to adjust one’s own strategies accordingly. To which end, one might expect to find me posting a bit more often here. I have also added a sign-up form to a nascent newsletter. To be developed.

Yes, this is going to be terrible for me. I am not a highly motivated marketer or prodigiously prompt communicator. Such is life.

For now, there are people in my house who aren’t normally here. With tequila. See ya soon.