"You’re far too self-aware to fall victim to the Brain Eater."

That’s what my therapist told me the other day when I was angsting about watching yet another of my favorite artists fall victim to their own id and swerve deep into unpleasant territory. And what with the Louis CK discourse of the day, this makes me immensely sad and a tiny bit paranoid about dipping my toes back into writing.

The artist was Higi Shou. Shou famously wrote Prism, a shoujo-ai series about high school girls. It’s corny and touching and surprisingly sensitive, the dialogue is amazing, and if it veers off into teenagers having sexy times well, teenagers do that and it’s not actually played up as being titillating for the reader. Shou also got busted because his swipes were a little too photo-realistic; in many cases it seems that he was picking a wham moment out of his Tumblr collection and tracing it, and tracing photographs is a huge prohibition in comic art. He disappeared from the comic scene. The other day, I saw his name on a new series and looked. I wished I hadn’t; Shou is now doing hard-core loli.

Louis CK’s latest comedy set apparently includes an attack on the student activists from Parkland who have taken being shot at and transformed it into activism. They’ve done something, and they’ve earned a kind of moral penumbra that he finds… what? Offensive? Annoying? Trite? He then pivots to complaining about people choosing their own pronouns, and how that annoys him as well, and his audience laughs because it annoys them too.

John Scalzi describes the Brain Eater as a form of envy that ultimately takes over the whole of a person. Scalzi wrote that the Brain Eater happens when a mid-list writer envies what top-list writers have, and start to ascribe their failure to break into the best-seller list as someone else’s fault. "I’m brilliant!" the artist shouts, "So why don’t I get the accolades while JK Rowling owns her own island?" Even great writers fall victim to it, as Alice Walker’s recent downfall reveals.

Envy is the worst of all sins; unlike arrogance, greed, gluttony, lust, anger or sloth, envy has no upside and there is no time when envy can be satisfied. But if we’re going to ascribe envy to Louis CK, or Higi Shou, how would you do it? A lot of felons, at least the ones incarcerated for violent offenses, are narcissistic or sociopathic, and a lot of them believe that everyone is just like them, it’s just that the system is against them, or they just got caught, or dumb luck. Maybe CK and Shou really believe that the majority is just like them, they just haven’t been caught yet.

But what if it isn’t envy? What if it’s arrogance? "Hiding my feelings hasn’t done me any good, so I’m gonna let my freak flag fly!" And part of their feelings is that it’s okay to punch down. They’re both straight males at the top of the food chains in their respective cultures, they’ve been told they’re apex predators, they feel constrained that they’re not allowed to act like one, and there’s no reward anymore for being noble about anything.

For CK, it’s certainly sloth. "Kids these days" is about the laziest comedy trope you can go with. I think part of the problem is that there are only two routes for a man like Louis CK: bitterness or redemption. And redemption requires contrition and repentence. More than that, it takes work. To continue as a comedian, Louis CK has to dig deep into himself and find something funny to say about how being an asshole isn’t funny, and that takes more than one or two rough drafts.

Which brings me back to the beginning: what would I write about? I don’t have many freak flags I haven’t flown yet, which makes me wonder if I’m a bit tapped out. I could pander to the Furry audience, and I do have a couple of stories set aside where Ken & Aaden teach Wish about [redacted], but I like stories with premise and theme to them, and as I said earlier, these days my themes are anger and disgust at a world gone awry, hurtling into the abyss.

I think, if I write much in 2019, I’ll try to write either deeply personal stories about people being nice to each other, or I’ll try to hit the noblebright and hopecore high points instead. (I know people call it ‘hopepunk,’ but I don’t think the -punk suffix works here; maybe I’m just an aging fuddy-duddy and that’s the Brain Eater talking.) The world needs more hope and nobility. Here’s hoping we get it.

I decided to do the Writer’s Thirty Questions!

Is there a specific drink you like to have when you’re writing?

Coffee, hot, with one level teaspoon of sugar and one tablespoon of milk.

What time of day do you think is the best to write?

I used to write best at night, but these days the best writing seems to happen first thing in the morning.

Where do you write best?

Oddly, I write best on a train. Since I take a train into work, that’s where I’ve, er, trained myself to work the best.

Do you do word sprints? If so, for how long do you do them, and what’s your average word count?

My writing time is constrained by my commute. In 35 minutes I can almost do 800 words.

Do you write when you travel? If so, where is the farthest away from home that you’ve written?

I have tried to write when I’m on the road, but it never seems to work. Business travel takes so much energy out of me that I just stare at the screen and can’t convince myself to do more.

Do you share your work before it’s finished?

Not usually.

Which character that you’ve written is most like yourself?

Duh. Shardik literally started as a Mary Sue.

Which character is your favorite to write? Why?

Good question. Obviously, Shardik was my favorite for the long time, but these days I kinda dig trying to get into the heads of other people. I don’t currently have a favorite.

How long is your current work in progress (words or pages)?

The newest WIP has about 50,000 words in it. I say “about” because there are several chapters that are redundant.

Do you have a specific philosophy that you go by when you write?

You don’t know what the story’s about until you reach the end. Then you know the premise of the story. Once you know the premise of the story, you have to figure out how you can promise that to your reader. Once you know that, you can figure out how to deliver on that promise. Then you re-write, knowing that this time keeping the promise of the premise solves the muddle in the middle.

What were your favorite books as a child?

All the SF classics: Asimov, Clarke, Niven at first, then Heinlein.

Do you read while writing, or try to split it up?

I split them up, and audiobooks in the car have been a huge bonus.

Which authors or styles do you try to emulate in your writing?

I think there are TV writers who have an ear for dialogue that blows my mind. Dick Wolf (Law & Order), JM Straczynski (Babylon Five), and so forth really nail it, and I read my work aloud to make sure the conversations crackle the ways they do in those shows.

Would you want your books to be made into a TV show or movie? Why or why not?

No, not usually.

How do you plan your writing?

Usually I just come up with two characters, a problem, and maybe a solution. I sit down and write the rough draft, then go back and re-write it with a more clean plan about what the story is trying to say and do.

Do you write on a computer or on paper? What program, or what type or paper/pen?

I use a boring text editor, one that doesn’t let me play with fonts or bold or anything like that, in complete full-screen mode so I can’t see the other OS menus, and with almost all notifications disabled. (The one I allow is “Hey, your battery’s about to die.”)

Is there a specific category or genre your writings generally fall into? Which?

Science Fiction & Fantasy, Erotica.

Would any characters from one of your works go well with your others?

Probably.

Do you write multiple works at the same time?

Yes! If I get stuck, I often switch to a different story, trying hard to make progress in at least one of them. It takes me a few “stuck” moments before I realize the story isn’t working.

What color scheme is your current work in progress?

What color scheme? Black, I suspect.

Do you create aesthetics for your writing, ie. on pinterest or tumblr? If so, what’s the board or tag?

Nah.

Do you listen to music when you write?

Usually. Mostly soundtracks, stuff without words.

Do you make playlists for your works in progress, characters, or scenes?

No.

Do you prefer first or third person? Why?

Hmm. I used to prefer first person, but third person has been working for me a lot recently.

How do you defeat writers’ block?

Usually by starting something new. Sigh

How often do you write?

Every weekday, usually.

Have you ever done NaNoWriMo?

Not in a few years.

What’s your inspiration for writing?

“I can do better than that.”

Which style/era of writing do you most fit in with?

1980s science fiction.

What’s your favorite part about writing?

Fan mail.

I’ve decided to trunk another story.

After Star Kingdom, which at 95,962 words is among the longest things I’ve ever written, I was a little burned out on writing in general. I’ve been a little burned out on life, for that matter; I took a sabbatical from work and I’ve been doing very little with writing.

But the fans of Star Kingdom keep asking for more. That story generated more fan mail in one year that the Journal Entries have in a decade of writing, which only shows that the classic problem with having OCs is that it takes work to relate to OCs and most people aren’t willing to do that work. A pre-made assumption about characters makes for a more digestible story, and often the "twist" of fanfic is watching the characters do, erm, things that aren’t normally shown in the original.

The thing is, Star Kingdom had a lot of interesting things to say outside of the whole "Huh huh huh watch Disney princesses bang" thing that was the trope I hung the story around. The story literally started as a rant I wrote about how stupid the economics are in the "Napoleonic Wars In Space" genre of military SF, and how writers like Weber and Bujold, for all their gifts, have to do weird and stupid things with economics and science to create "impoverished colonies." An ice world like Komarr doesn’t need a massive, billion-dollar, irreplacable soletta made with the latest technology; it needs hundreds of small, cheap, disposable solettas that can be built with off-the-shelf components available today.

Along the way, Star Kingdom also had something to say about the differences in the way straight people and queer people interact, about how experienced couples and inexperienced couples do negotiation, and, yes, in the end we do indeed get to watch fairy tale princesses bang.

Since it was so popular, I decided to explore alternatives. What else could I say about, say, Star Wars? Star Trek? The Culture? Warhammer 30K? Cyberpunk? Sense8?

The cyberpunk story is actually mostly fleshed out and, curiously, is turning into something of a trilogy about posthumanism, and three different variants of posthumanism (robotic uploads, artificial genomes, and wholly artificial indibiomes). The Sense8 story has an interesting opening but not much more.

It was the Star Wars story that bugged me. I enjoyed earlier novels of the Clone Wars, like the Medstar series or The Cestus Deception, and wondered if I could write something in that vein…

… but I have nothing to say to Star Wars. Or about it. There’s very little sex in the Star Wars universe, and none of it anywhere remotely on-screen, but that’s just a given of the universe. It’s not a cultural touch-stone for me anymore, it’s just another franchise about which I care only when it’s in the theaters.

I also have nothing to say about Star Trek. It was an important show once upon a time, but now it’s just repeating itself. It’s always been a politically and culturally progressive show. (I learned the other day that Shatner went out of his way to act badly for the studio re-written kiss scenes from "Plato’s Stepchildren" so that the studio would have to use the interracial kiss between Shatner and Nichols.)

So both the Star Wars and Star Trek fanfics go into the trunk. There’s not a whole lot there to talk about. And right now, to be honest, there’s not much reason for me to write at all. I’m angry at how the world is going (which means I’m failing Robert Anton Wilson’s "Intelligence Test," and I hate when that happes), I’m getting older myself, and I’ve started to cocoon against the coming shitstorms.

My stories have themes and premises. And for the Star Trek and Star Wars fanfic crossover stories, I just couldn’t find any. Into the trunk they go.

So, Honest Impulses has reached those two most blessed words: THE END. I’m struggling to figure out what to do next. I think I first mentioned Honest Impulses on March 13th, 2013, which makes it one of the shorter-lived WIPs in my collection, but certainly one of the most tortured. There are so many revisions and changes that made its way into the work, plotting out Shandy & Linia’s character arcs, the way they intersected with Mertum, Gazelle, and Misuko’s. There were last-minute revisions that I think made the story stronger (Cal had a much bigger part before I pushed him off to the side), and re-reading it I can see there’s a lot of residue of earlier revisions, things that characters mention that are a bit out-of-place because the supporting backstory is no longer there.

On the other hand, there are plot lines missing that I’m definitely glad are missing. There’s already one Conspiracy around Shandy; she doesn’t need to get sucked into another one. The meeting between Shandy and a local priest was awkward and didn’t do much that Shandy couldn’t communicate by just talking to Linia. Shandy’s religion is still a factor in her life, and I wanted it to be more present. Another scene that disappeared, and I regret it, is Linia’s motorcycle ride out to the biohazard facility where they were growing Isabelle’s new body. Again, it didn’t forward the plot; the conversation she has with Jinny there got rolled into the conversation in Chapter 8.

And the picnic! Oy, The Picnic!. According to my document tracking, I re-wrote that entire scene from scratch eleven times. It’s supposed to be the scene where Shandy’s world comes apart, and it does, and it does so rather well. It sets up the scene, slowly breaks its way into Shandy’s heart, and then at the end shatters her expectations in the worst possible way. It’s some of my best work. But it’s still not the best I could write.

All in all, I’m satisfied with the qualities of Honest Impulses as both a Journal Entry and as a novel. It was a good exercise in points-of-view, plot threading, and sustaining interest through the muddle-in-the-middle.

I hope someone else read and enjoyed it. It was too much fun.

The Queen of Ieflaria by Effie Calvin is definitely in my wheelhouse: casual fantasy setting, quick read, adorable same-sex romance. Very PG, but still I liked it for much the same reasons I liked Lady of Thornes: the romance felt natural. The characters felt real.

The premise is simple: Princess Esofi of Rho Diane has been bethrothed to Albion of Ieflaria, but when she arrives at the Ieflarian palace she learns that Albion is dead and she’s instead to marry the Princess Adale. Except Adale doesn’t want to get married. As “the spare,” she never bent her attention to her repsonsibilies and feels woefully unprepared to be co-ruler. Esofi brings with her “Battlemages” and magic, which Ieflaria has very little of, and which Ieflaria needs to stave off waves of attacks by dragons.

The best part of the book is watching Adale try to get a grip on Esofi. Esofi is a pro-magic bigot who seems to be all ruffles and lace and feminine, queenly purpose, whereas Adale, as a horsewoman and huntress, imagines herself at least capable of handling herself in a fight. And then Esofi does something that completely knocks Adale’s understanding, and the courtship begins in earnest.

The part of the book that didn’t work for me is the used furniture covered in layers of anachronisms. The whole world has ten primary gods, who apparently show up often enough that nobody doubts they exist. The God of Healing is somewhat unreliable, and Ieflaria is experimenting with the heresies known as “disinfectants” and “food inspections,” which upsets Esofi greatly and presents a conflict that Calvin doesn’t use very effectively. Calvin uses modern and anachronistic terms which don’t quite add up in the context and setting. Calvin also presents a fantasyland of “this is the sort of past liberals want”: everyone is a little bisexual, there’s a spell that lets you change sex for a time and “everyone” tries it out at least once, some people are just born androgynous or enby or “neutroi” and nobody blinks an eye at it, and the only question about two princesses marrying is will either one be able to use the sex-change spell and hold onto a male body long enough to do the deed and produce an heir?

It was a fun read, and I suspect I’ll read the sequel. The characterizations are excellent, even for secondary characters like Esofi’s ladies-in-waiting and Adale’s extended family, and that’s mostly what I come to a book for: to see people of goodwill but different premises struggling to figure out how to work together and maybe fall in love in the process.

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