Monday, August 3, 2015

Going Up Against Anaïs Nin

Okay, I'm punching way above my weight class here, but I'm annoyed and I'm not at work and the Muse has gotten Inspiration out of hammer space and clobbered me in the head with it,

From the anime Vividred Operation? Sourced here.
so I'm just going to go ahead and do this.

Joe Kawano posted this quote (abridged) on Twitter. It's not his fault I'm pissed off but shout out to him and transmedia.

The quote is from Anaïs Nin, and it's this:
If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don't write, because our culture has no use for it.
Okay. No.

First of all, under no circumstances should you listen to anyone who tells you that you shouldn't fucking write. Believe me, if they are correct, it will not take you long to discover it all by yourself. No one else needs to communicate that information to you! At least on the basis of quality. Go ahead and keep telling the trolls to shut the fuck up and why.

Second, according to Wikipedia Anaïs Nin herself began writing by selling erotica to some guy for a dollar a page as a half-joke, half-desperate-need-for-rent. Which is an avenue I'm exploring myself and I don't see any shame in it. But in total awareness that I'm yelling at a dead woman whose body of work is vastly superior to my own: pot and the fucking kettle!

But what I'm really steamed about is the idea that you need to write in the throws of passion, or some strong emotion, to be doing it properly. Uh uh. I've done it before, and while I've produced some prime words that way it feels like sticking a fucking knife through my heart and leaving it there. And then picking up another knife.

I'd like to point out that Diane Keaton's character was wildly successful for years before she got her heart broken. Sourced here.
Also, those prime words? None of them have been published, either because I don't want to expose certain parts of my soul, or because I ended up with a high-quality scene disconnected from any other narrative. Could I build a story around a scene of passion? Absolutely. But there's a hell of a lot of bloodless, tiring word-churning involved I haven't done yet.

Look, if you're doing something creative for awhile without spectacular, immediate success, you're going to wonder if you should keep doing it. Here's the test. Take stock of your work and ask if you're doing it to meet a requirement, or meet a need.

I'll give you an example. In college I took computer programming classes because I wanted a job I could make good money at while I wrote. (Whether this was a good strategy I leave to posterity to decide.) Happily I got really into programming and thought "Hey! Maybe I can make video games! I love playing video games and I love writing, so making them myself should be ideal!"

So I read a book on graphics programming and learned the skills. And then I read another one. And another one. I spent hundreds of dollars on stupidly expensive programming books, trying to catch the right inspiration to make that killer game I wanted to make. But after years of this, I realized that I never went very far beyond doing the exercises in those books. I wasn't making anything I wanted to make, I was just doing wrote exercises over and over again. I was meeting the requirement these books set for me, then tossing them aside and moving on to the next book. I don't buy game programming books anymore.

With writing I don't have this problem. I can't meet a word count target to save my life, but I've got scads of notes and ideas and scraps and scenes and entire fucking novels in my trunk. A lot of this shit might never get published, and I may never do well enough writing to pay my bills or make a full-time career out of it. But I can't stop. I tried! And all I did was waste money on game programming books. I write to meet a need I have to express myself.

In short, if writing or painting or music or programming meets an inner desire, if it fulfills you, go to it as hard as you can. But if you're only doing it to meet an external demand, well, maybe try something else for awhile. The worst that happens is you come back to what you were doing in the first place, with a few new experiences to play with.

Now, I will encourage you to let emotion take you while you're writing. If you're pissed off, or crying, or laughing while you write a scene, that's a very good thing! But it's not a guarantor of quality (you still gotta polish that nacre into a pearl, fella), and it sure as hell isn't the litmus test for whether your writing is worthwhile. And now I feel obligated to purchase something by Anaïs Nin, so if anyone cares to make a suggestion, I'm all ears. Er, eyes.

*opens Amazon*

Wow, her stuff is not Kindle-friendly, is it...

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

It All Makes Sense

Fact: Batman doesn't kill.

Fact: Gotham's super criminals kill their own henchmen all the time.

So how do guys like Joker keep getting employees? And how is any criminal in Gotham still scared of the Batman?

Simple: the henchmen are blaming Batman for all the other dead henchmen. Because you can't go telling your buddies that your boss is killing off your coworkers, or he might decide to kill you for being mouthy. And nobody's going to question that the crazy guy in the bat costume is also a murderer. Sure the cops swear Batman's never killed anybody, but they would, wouldn't they...

Anyway, sorry for the lack of updates. I've been busy with life (and death), but I should be reaching a new equilibrium soon and getting back to my... complete lack of a schedule.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Artificial Scarcity (or: Damn You Konami)

I didn't want to buy a PlayStation 4 today. Yet as I type this, my new PlayStation 4 is downloading a game demo called P.T. that, as of tomorrow, will no longer exist.

I blame Konami. Also publishers' failure to come to grips with an increasingly post-scarcity world for intellectual property. But mostly Konami.

Back up a bit. When I was a young lad I came across a book by David Peters (who is Peter David's secret identity) called Psi-Man: Main Street D.O.A. It was book three in a series starring a telekinetic Aikido-master Quaker and his telepathic German Shepard. It was, frankly, awesome: funny, action-packed, sexy, and skewering the living hell out of Walt Disney.

When I got older I looked around for the rest of the series, but it was out of print when I found it and things hadn't improved. I ended up asking Peter David himself if it would ever come out as an eBook, and he explained that 1. it was a work-for-hire series he had no control over (that something like Psi-Man was work for hire is still bizarre to me) and 2. that it was out of print for a reason and unlikely to be revived again. I still haven't read the complete series.

Some years later, I got heavily into Warhammer 40,000 and Black Library, and found out that a limited edition book called Xenology existed which detailed the biology of a bunch of their alien critters, including a mysterious ratlike race called the Hrud. I like Skaven (their swords and sorcery mysterious ratlike race) and hunted for a copy. Sadly the book was out of print and could only be had for heavily inflated prices from eBay resellers (now Amazon - currently starting at $92).

I'll admit it, I sinned. I located a PDF of the book online, struggled through five pages, and then gave up and deleted it. (Pirates are not known for quality. I'm lucky I didn't get a virus.) I've kept an eye out, but despite the publisher's print on demand experiments the book is still not available, and I still haven't read it.

Flash forward. Some time ago video game publisher Konami released a game demo called P.T., or Playable Teaser. It turned out to be the announcement for a revival of the classic horror franchise Silent Hill, now Silent Hills, created by the legendary Hideo Kojima in cooperation with the brilliant Guillermo del Toro and starring white-hot actor Norman Reedus. And fans squeed with delight.

Then last week, after a strange and half-public breakup between Konami and Kojima, del Toro confirmed that the game was no longer happening, at least with Kojima. Then Norman Reedus tweeted that it was flat-out canceled. And this past weekend, Konami announced the demo was going to be pulled from the PlayStation store entirely, never to return.

I'd been looking forward to playing Silent Hills when it came out. It was one game that sold me on the PlayStation 4 over the XBox One. (Persona 5 was the real seller. The Last of Us and Bloodborne haven't hurt either.) But I wasn't planning to go out and buy the console for another year, when more of the games were out and I had time to actually play them.

But... hell, I was weak. And I couldn't let the chance to play P.T. go by. It was already a unique and masterful piece of marketing and horror game design, and by the end of the week it'll be a video game legend.

The thing is, there's no real reason this should happen. Yes, the game P.T. is trying to sell no longer exists, but the demo alone was a critical hit and as far as I know, it costs Konami nothing to keep it on the store. But for whatever reasons the game is being consigned to the dustbin. Within a decade it'll be gone forever, beyond recovery.

Similarly, we've entered an age of ready access to digital books, where there are no physical reasons for anything to go out of print. You don't get charged to maintain a book on Amazon, even if it doesn't sell. But scads of back catalog material will never be uploaded, never be made available again.

Sometimes there are good reasons for this: it costs money to make a decent quality eBook and publishers have limited resources. And sometimes there are bad reasons for this, such as when game companies use copyright law to prevent fans from even doing the minimal updates needed to keep abandoned games playable

But either way it's a shame, and it feels so unnecessary to lose works of art this way. We've got enough to worry about with file format lock out, hardware obsolescence, and the damn DCMA without self-inflicting more wounds to society's collective store of knowledge.

Now if you'll excuse me, P.T. has finished downloading and I need to go scare myself shitless before Solid Snake breaks into my house and wipes the hard drive.

Update: I played P.T. For like five minutes. That's when I got too scared playing it alone in the dark to continue. Seriously, if you have or can get a PlayStation 4, download this demo. If you have a PSN account but no PS4, order the demo and hope you can redownload it later. If you're out of luck entirely, pray for a fan port.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Baltimore

I was planning a different post tonight, but with everything going on in Baltimore I can't do it. My mother is receiving care in the city - not where the violence is, up until now, and I'm praying it stays that way. But a massive fire just appeared on my television and I don't know what's burning and I'm scared. I'm scared it's going to get worse before it gets better.

If you're in Baltimore tonight, stay safe, and stay inside if you can.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

And The First Law Shall Be RTFM


I got a new phone last week. Apple this time, not Android. I hear Scrivener is coming for iPhone this year, which was a factor. So were the better games. So were the numerous glitches my Droid RAZR developed over the last year after one too many OS updates.

Changing your phone's operating system is a chore. Not a huge one, since Google is ubiquitous and the cloud has its pseudopods into everything. But getting used to a new interface, and a new level of responsiveness, can be a pain. So can dealing with the tiny little wrinkles you didn't expect. Like Bluetooth not working.

My old phone paired to my car and just worked. My new phone paired to my car, then unpaired. Then refused to pair again. In Maryland it's illegal to be caught diddling your phone on the highway, so I kinda needed the Bluetooth to work.

I turn the phone off and on again, same thing happens. Google tells me this is a known bug in iOS 8, but a patch is due out this very day. I apply the patch and nothing changes. I try out about ten home remedies from various Mac forums and nothing changes.

I end up sitting in my car at 10 p.m. with a flashlight and a Subaru owner's manual before I realize that I've been pairing my phone as an audio device, and not a phone. "But a phone is an audio device," you say. "Yes," I say, "but Subaru made some less than intuitive design choices in their dashboard computers."

I pair the phone as a phone. It works. Sweet Home Alabama returns to plague me for the millionth time. I realize that every complaint I had about Apple's Bluetooth was Subaru's fault. But really, my fault.

I forgot to RTFM.

Or, "Read The Fucking Manual", for the uninitiated. It's a sysadmin solution for a user problem that wouldn't be a problem if the user had deigned to read the documentation on his shiny new toy, covered in blinkenlichten.

It's generally not polite to actually say this, of course. Nor is it wise to list PEBKAC* in a trouble ticket. But RTFM is the Truth and the Way, and you shall be rewarded if you abide by its tenets in all walks of life. The most successful criminals know the law inside and out. So do the most successful businesses. This is not a coincidence. They have RTFM and it has given them power.

If you drive a car, you want to know what all the levers, knobs and buttons on your dash do. You want to know how to open the gas tank, adjust the steering wheel, and put the rear seats down so you can fit that Vegas billboard in your cargo area. So you read your owner's manual. If you're on the road you want to know what the speed limit is, what the rules are to pass a bicyclist, and what side of the road you should be driving on in the first place. So you take a class and learn the traffic laws.

If you make money, you'll want to read up on the basics of paying taxes. That goes double if you're self-employed because you won't have a company figuring any of the numbers out for you. If you're planning for retirement, you want to know how IRAs and mutual funds work. If you're planning your estate, you want to know how wills and powers of attorney work. Because you can pay an accountant or an attorney to know all this stuff for you, but they'll do a much better job if you know the right questions to ask.

(I took an estate planning course recently and it's like I read five fucking manuals. Protip: if you own a spouse with your house... Jesus, did I really just type that? I can't believe it. I'm leaving it in as evidence.

If you own a house with your spouse, and she slips into a coma and you need to sell it to pay for her care, you can't do that unless you have a valid Power of Attorney. Same for your spouse's car. And in Maryland, the statutory, standard, fill-in-the-blank Power of Attorney form will only cover the house, not the car. Your lawyer will not explain this to you for free, so if you live in Maryland I've just done you a favor. A non-binding favor that should not be considered expert legal advice. Feel free to send money.)

And if you are a writer, you've heard that you must know the rules of grammar, punctuation and spelling before you can break them. The same holds true for character, story structure, pacing, you name it. Hell, maybe you want to publish your book in literal blood. Isn't it best if you know the right blood-to-ink ratio to prevent flaking? Or what type of blood to use to prevent the CDC from stomping your ass?

I could talk about James Joyce,  or E. E. Cummings (sorry, e. e. cummings), but my personal favorite example is: you're not supposed to write books in second person. First person or third person, fine; second person, you're on drugs, or drafting a sourcebook for a role playing game. Nevertheless, Charles Stross did it twice, in Halting State and its sequel Rule 34, and because he knew what he was doing (aping the style of a game) and why he was doing it (because he was writing about a heist set in a game world), they were awesome books.

RTFM. Know the rules. Know how things work. Then go forth and conquer, in the full knowledge of how far you should go and how far you can go.

*Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair