New Years Resolutions 2012

A few years now, I’ve been posting my new year’s resolutions on my livejournal, and since that’s all but dead at this point, ditched for my website blog, I’ll post them here.

First, last year’s results:

– I’m through with surviving. This year I want to live. – I’m calling this a success.

– Remain happily married another year (this one stays the same.) – Still married. Still happy. Still same man, even.

– Stop being so hard on myself for not spending more time sewing, not playing my guitar, not writing enough short fiction, or not doing anything that doesn’t matter that much to me. I love writing, and novels is what I’m good at. – I didn’t write anything, or draw anything, sew anything, or play my guitar at all this last year, and screw it, I got a ton of writing done, and I’m quite proud of my accomplishments.

– Keep a tidier house – it can always get better. – marginal improvement on last year.

– Get out of debt. – fail.

– Eat better/sleep more. (shouldn’t be hard with the new job.) – Success – even more so than I expected, since the DH and I started a new nutrition plan, and he’s lost 30 lbs, and I’ve lost 10.  I wasn’t quite overweight, but another three or four lbs from where I started before the diet, and I would technically have been. The DH is nearly down to a healthy weight, and the lifestyle changes that have got us there are sustainable.

– Get The Eyelet Dove to at least second draft. – I’m going to give myself this one, even through it’s not really at second draft. I’m most of the way through Holly Lisle’s “How To Revise Your Novel” course, and it’s been an awesome help with streamlining a tough revision. Promising a review of the course once I’m done. But the reason I’m giving myself this one, is because normally I would do a third and a fourth draft most likely, and with this course, it should be at final draft at the end, and the amount of work I’ve put in at this point is about what I had, last January, expected to put into a second draft.

– Finish NaNoWriMo again, for a third time. – Success.

– Finish a first draft of my Handless Maiden story idea. – I don’t think I can wait for that to be my 2011 nano novel, so theoretically I should have 2 first drafts by the end of the year, and lots of editing to do in 2012. – Almost. I’m about 3/4 through.

– In the event that I get “the call”, drop all of the previous three, and do whatever Sheila Gilbert wants me to. – No word on my submission to Sheila Gilbert, but I did get a bite from an agent that was super exciting, even though it was a no at the end. And now, after taking this course, I’m pretty sure I can make the novel I’d submitted better, so I’m not going to fuss about it until I have revised it one more time.

So – last year I was kind of over-ambitious with my writing goals. I know that I’m not someone who has issues with starting a million things and never finishing anything, so I wasn’t worried about starting a bunch of new projects. I got a lot done, just didn’t quite finish some of them. In any case, 2012 is going to be a year for finishing things, so it’s going to be mostly writing goals:

– Read more female authors. The male authors tend to be more hyped up and I end up reading them first, before the female authors on my TBR list. I have plenty of books to get me through the year if I resolve to read only female authors until 2013.

– Get The Eyelet Dove to final draft.

– Write a query letter and Synopsis for The Eyelet Dove, and submit it to agents.

– Finish the first draft of Handless.

– Win NaNoWriMo for a fourth time running.

– Come up with a better ending for, and finish revising “Codliver Oil”.

With that, I should have a short story and a novel to start submitting, and that will be exciting.  I’m posting a teaser for The Eyelet Dove shortly in the new year – I’m quite happy with my opening chapter now, so keep your eye out for it.

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Why I write Fantasy and Science Fiction

I have an in person critiquing group that I get out to when I can, and there’s one member I’ve often got together with for coffee or drinks after the meeting. We chat about the craft because the other members of the group tend focus on word choice and phrasing and not to be interested in delving into the more structural aspects of writing.

He has often asked me, in as polite a way as he can, but it’s still pretty obvious that he looks down his nose at genre fiction, if I’ve considered writing mainstream fiction, set in the real world.

I have, it just doesn’t hold my interest. I tried to explain that I don’t go to sit down and write something – the story comes to me, and I write the story that comes.

But I’ve thought about that, and that’s not a complete explanation, because I’ve often had plots come, but not come with settings. I could slap any setting on that plot and run with it.

Only I couldn’t. There is a definite certain type of story that comes to me, and the stories that come to me are big stories. I mean, stories where the characters are influencing the outcomes of wars, revolutions, etc. Things that are big enough that I can’t just set it in the real world because it’s too big to fit. There was never a revolution that went down the way it did in The Eyelet Dove, and the characters are not the little people you can hide in a big event. The plot requires them to be major players, and in history, no such characters and situations existed, and they’re too big to force in without the audience saying, hey, there was never such a character in such and such a time, that could never happen.

There’s just no way to take such plots and tell the story without changing something major in the setting. Which brings you into the realm of alternate universe, futuristic settings, and my personal favourite, secondary world settings. Which is necessarily, the realms of science fiction and fantasy.

I think that may be part of the appeal of science fiction and fantasy to many readers, especially the many lovers of epic fantasy. Perhaps the people who read sci-fi and fantasy just think bigger than people who enjoy mainstream fiction, and want to read about people who make real change in the world. In times where free agency dwindles and people have less and less control over their own fates and ability to make a living, and a sense of free agency is a major psychological factor in satisfaction with one’s life, they want to read about characters who take on huge challenges and save their world. People who have the power do something.

Not all Science Fiction and Fantasy is like that, but the stuff I like most is.

Utopias part 2 – Culture

Back to this;

Culture is what makes a society work – it is the society working. From how we settle differences to how we celebrate happiness – the way we do the things that humans need to do in order to live together.

There’s two poles of culture types – introverted, and extroverted. Introverted cultures value the individual, whereas extroverted cultures value the group, and conformity to the group. Western cultures are typically introverted, and Eastern, extroverted. It seems that an extroverted culture would be a more sustainable model, but does the demand for conformity stand in the way of the happiness that makes a utopia a utopia?

So whatever cultural elements go into the utopia, is there a combination – a system, that can satisfy both the need for individuals to be able to follow their dreams and be themselves, without that interfering with the sustainability of the system?

In Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn, the main character says that our system, capitalism, communism, monarchy, what not, would work, if only humans would be better than they have ever been in their entire existence. And it’s true – if everyone was just nice to one another, and the people in power had the interests of their people at heart, rather than taking advantage of those below them, nearly any system in use right now would work.

Where to look for a model that would work?

Well, anthropologists have looked at the question, and they’ve surveyed people in different cutures.  If you ask the average person in western society if they’re happy with their lives, the average person will laugh at you. But, anthropologists asked this same question of people living in tribal settings, and overall, they answer yes, they are happy with their lives.

These are people in villages that often don’t have anything resembling modern luxuries; but anyone who’s thought about it knows that it’s not luxuries that make people happy. The truth is that humans have many needs, and these tribal cultures have evolved organically over hundreds and thousands of years, in the same way Darwin’s finches evolved specialized beak shapes. It’s not something that can be imposed on a people, the way a king’s law can be, and this natural evolution can only happen when people themselves have a say in how they live.

Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups, they say. Well, tribal societies were not large groups – not by today’s standards. A typical tribe’s population was far less than the average person’s facebook friends list. While one voice railing at an injustice in the population of say, a small city, let alone a modern country, doesn’t get heard. But one voice calling for justice and change among the average population of a tribe (about a hundred to a hundred and fifty people – twenty five to thirty families) is a voice that matters.

A tribe’s population is adaptable, it changes with the needs of it’s people. Modern governments are not adaptable. Besides the bureaucratic red tape and corporate manipulation standing in the way of change for the better, there is the fundamental requirement of centralized government that the rules be the same for everyone, regardless of their circumstances or environment, and a rule that works for one community may not work for another, and neither group has any power to change it.

These small, autonomous communities are weak, though, and easily driven off their land and resources. Another tribe moves in, and imposes their laws on the other people, and nations are born. And eventually we come to this, and wonder what went wrong. A utopia of small autonomous tribes would be easily conquered, and that, of course does nothing for sustainability.

I don’t know if it’s possible for such a thing to exist for any length of time, but I’d still like to think it is. In any case, I’m not going to be so arrogant as to claim it’s impossible, just because I can’t see a way myself.

NaNoWriMo Wrap Up

So, I made it again this year. It was a fun book to write, and writing cyberpunk, my computer background put me in good stead, so that instead of making the cyberpunk elements completely akin to magic, with no logical rules on what is and isn’t possible, it follows mostly the logic of internal vs external networks, synchronization, external backups, wireless vs wired, cloud computing, etc.

It’s been a rough month – not sure why. We kept getting together with family, and I was falling behind, even after my week of vacation started. But turtle was over several times through the month, and those were always productive days. For all that it was a stressful month, I finished almost 48 hourse early; which is good – I don’t know how much more November I could have hacked.

Now I have The Eyelet Dove to go back to and finish revising. I’m still passionate about that one, I love the story, and the characters. I think there will probably be a sequel, but I’m not sure how long that will take to come up with. I have a few ideas for characters, but the plot will need time to coalesce before it’s as good a plot as The Eyelet Dove. Nothing else I’ve ever written is as complex. Though, for a sequel, I don’t think I’d re-use any POV characters, I think I’d come up with all new POV characters. Mostly characters from Dove but maybe some new. It’s just, the characters in Dove, they’ve told their stories, and for the level of complexity in the plot that I would hold myself to as a standard, requires years and years of backstory that I couldn’t wedge my old characters into. You can only do so much to a cast of characters, and the new story would deserve new ones. My favourite character, and the one I think readers would really be coming back for, will still be in there though – he was never a viewpoint character.

Not every story’s like that – I have a couple others that, when the sequels are written, will follow the old main characters. This one’s different, and it’s mostly because of the complexity of the plots.

And shortly I will get back to the Utopia posts, since I’ve had more time to think about that.

And once I’m done revising The Eyelet Dove I can give it to beta readers, some of whom have been bugging me for it.