The Secret Grief of Justin Time

If you wish to maintain your positivity and innocence in the face of certain children’s shows, I would warn you to stop reading. I’m about to make one kid’s cartoon very, very sad.

As a father of young children, I watch a lot of children’s cartoons (and by the by, it is interesting that, in this day and age, I must specify). Anywho, one of my daughter’s favorites is Justin Time – a show about a little boy who imagines that he goes back in time to various places around the world and learns lessons while there. On the face of it, the whole thing is pretty tame and basically educational. My primary critique would be that very little effort is made for historical accuracy, unfortunately, but it is clear that such is not the show’s purpose – it uses imaginary environments to teach our protagonist, Justin, lessons about responsibility, honesty, manners, and so on. In that regard, it does a fine job.

Olive, Squidgy, Justin

Olive, Squidgy, Justin

What is curious about the cartoon are the characters. Justin is a stereotypical imaginative little boy living in the suburbs somewhere with his Mom and Dad (who barely feature in the cartoon at all). Justin has an imaginary friend, Squidgy, who is some kind of blanket/shammy that Justin carries around and who takes on various shapes and talks while we adventure in imagination-land. Third, and most perplexing, is Olive – the slightly older girl who lives wherever back in time Justin travels. She acts as guide, friend, and assistant through Justin’s adventures.

What I find peculiar about Olive is how she differs so completely from all of Justin’s other imaginary creatures. Squidgy and the denizens of the imaginary past are all caricatures – silly, one-dimensional, and peripheral to Justin’s struggles. Olive, however, seems like a real person who is engaged in Justin’s conflicts in each episode directly and who, unlike most of the other characters, has a direct emotional impact on Justin’s mood. Justin cares how she feels and always works to help her and she does the same – they are a team. Furthermore, she is everywhere Justin goes while in the past. She is there waiting for him, every time.

So, why would a boy who already has an imaginary friend who travels around with him feel the need to create the same, fully realized, slightly older girl in every historical period he imagines? Why not shake it up? Why is Olive so central to the plot every time?

To answer this, I enjoin you to read this brief article by Ronald Pies PhD on PsychCentral.com. In it, Pies explores the phenomenon of hallucination and delusion as a response to grief. This explains Olive and Justin. Olive is Justin’s older sister. His deceased older sister. What we are watching in this cartoon is more than just a boy’s imaginative adventures through personal development – we are watching one little boy’s dealing with complicated grief.

Now, of course, this could all be just me projecting my own always-simmering grief over the decease of my own brother and I will readily admit that my evidence is entirely circumstantial, but the theory does fit. Consider this: if Olive is, indeed, the image of Justin’s dead sibling, then a lot of other things fall into place, too. Consider her name: Olive, as in Olive Time, as in “All of Time” – the same kind of play on words as her brother. Consider her role: supportive, wise, friendly, very older sister-ly.

Justin’s parents don’t mention or discuss her, true, but this, in fact, may be an indicator of why Justin’s grief has become so complex. The parents, bereaved at the loss of one child due to accident or disease, shelter their other, younger son. They explain Olive has “gone away” and then cannot bear to discuss her further. Justin, imaginative as he is, invents an “away” for his sister to dwell in – a place where he can visit her and be with her without upsetting his parents (whom he must know are upset). So, there we find Olive or, perhaps more accurately, her shade – there in the past, waiting to guide her brother towards maturity, trapped in limbo for all of time – until Justin, at some unknown point in the future, can finally release her.

The Verse in Your Prose

116293Upon Reading Carl Sandburg…

I say to you, fiction writers, that you should read poetry. Of all genres and types of writing, poetry is its base medium. It is the ether through which the constructed orbs of our cosmos spin. Read it, I enjoin you.

But I Don’t Like Poetry!

Nonsense. You call yourself a writer? You claim to tell stories? How can you work in a medium you do not love? The carpenter knows wood – the grain and the shape of it, the taste of the dust on his lips, how it bends and how it cuts. So, too, does the writer know words – how they tumble from lips and collect in ears. How they take root.

I say to you: You already love poetry. You must. It is the purest form of words. There would be no engineers without Euclid and Pythagoras; there would be no writers without Homer.

Reading and Understanding Poetry is Difficult!

How is it a writer can fear challenge and yet still write? Where are the laurels for you to rest on, novelist? Few and far between, I say – a poor bed. You do not rest – you strive. You face rejection and heartache with every sunrise, yet still you go on. Can you tell me you quail at verse? Verse is as life is – a challenge, filled with rejection and heartache. Do not tell me that you fear it; I know that you do not. I have seen your grim resolve in the dark of night, pecking at a keyboard, singing in your head far away.

Poetry Doesn’t Do Anything For Me – I Like Things To Be Concrete!

Concrescence does not fall from the sky in lumps, God’s gift to writers. Stories congeal – a word here, a phrase there, a character’s face in a dream. How does this happen save in the subconscious? Are we not plumbers of dreams? I say this: in verse you will find your images unshakeable, defiant of story, for you to tame and shape. In verse we can be dreaming awake; we can note in the margins of nightmares.

I Only Like Poetry That Rhymes!

Philistine. Luddite. Fool. Do you still read Beverly Cleary? Are you enamored always with Hungry Caterpillars? Do you mark your days with bars of Twinkle Twinkle? There was a time when you thought the people in the television were real, when monsters would chase you in the basement, when Santa Claus watched. As we grow, our vision broadens. We learn. We taste the variety of the world. You would deny this opportunity to poetry, and why?

Fear, I say. Cowardice. Ignorance. Expect more from yourself.

I Don’t Know Anything About Poetry!

Education is the seed of all things. Go forth and read. Let the poets sing to you, let them curse you, let them bore you and chide you. Grow. There is no storyteller that didn’t go exploring in spite of fear. Swallow it down, and let the verse crash upon you.

Read poetry.

 

Will My Stories Be My Legacy?

aahabershaw:

Wonderful article about the legacy of world-building.

Originally posted on ElvesWriter:

This post is dedicated to a dear friend and poet, Al Levinson, who just passed away after a long struggle with cancer, refusing to compromise on his retirement dream as he traveled around America in his old RV. Al was a constant source of encouragement and support for many, myself included. His belief in my vision provided a consistent source of strength when my proverbial quill went dry or my doubts threatened to drown me.

——————– 

I wonder if the ‘Old Professor’ looks down from his study in the skies as people continue to fall in love with Middle Earth, with his elves and dwarves, his noble humans, and of course, his brave and lovable hobbits. What does he think as he puffs on his pipe and stares from the heavens at the people who annually watch his trilogy of Lord of the Rings, and who attend conventions to argue nuances of hobbit…

View original 648 more words

Fee, Fie, Foe, Fum…

400px-Monster_glacius_largeGiants don’t get enough play. With the minor exception of Jack the Giant Slayer and some giant-related themes in the Thor movies, they are on the short list of mythical beasts who no longer get much attention. This is disappointing, since I think giants are really, really interesting (or can be). The sound of their heavy footsteps echoing through the dark of the forest, the feeling as every tremor it creates shakes your guts, their booming laughter echoing from the hillsides – that’s drama, people!

Giants are ancient concepts, originating in Indo-European myth – giant humanoids, often at odds with or related to the gods, but who nevertheless were victims of human vice. Giants eat big, play hard, drink oceans dry, and have a temper that makes the mountains quake. In Greek mythology, the Titans were the foes of the gods and one of their number, Atlas, held aloft the sky. In Norse mythology, the Giants were likewise foes of the gods, and were often warring with Asgard. In English folklore, giants were always trying to eat people and terrorizing the countryside. In all mythical instances, giants are taken down by heroes much smaller than themselves. David-and-Goliath is our go-to for the underdog story, and Goliath is literally portrayed as a giant in the Old Testament.

In most myth, giants can be considered symbolic of injustice and despotic rule. They are placed at odds with the ruling hierarchy (the gods) and in contest with them and, ultimately, they lose to the just and noble heroes that face them. When they fall, the world breathes a sigh of relief (once the earthquakes cease, at any rate). They were an exterior force exerting their influence on an unwilling populace. Today, similarly, the giant creatures our modern heroes face are usually alien in origin – Godzilla, Kaiju, or even in Jack the Giant Slayer or Thor, they are presented as beings from another world. The difference, most notably, is how deliberately inhuman these giants are made to appear. They are not really large people as much as they are really large things.

Today, however, I feel the symbolic potential for the anthropomorphic giant is greater than ever. We are, quite literally, being devoured by giants in our society. Granted, these individuals aren’t physically huge, but they are financially huge. We are left to barely make ends meet while a tiny proportion of our society eats and drinks and enjoys a disproportionate amount of the resources. We are being consumed, but are far too small to do anything about it by ourselves. Instead, we focus on staying out from beneath their heavy feet, eyes down, scouring the countryside for whatever scraps they happen to leave behind. That’s a recipe for a giant story, folks. All it needs is some little guy who is no longer willing to be stepped on to speak up and play the hero. There’s a lot of mileage there – everybody loves a good David and Goliath story. I, myself, have more than a few ideas.

Stay tuned.

A Full Count for the Elevator Pitcher

Arghhh!

Arghhh!

Attempt #1

My book is called The Oldest Trick. It’s about Tyvian Reldamar, criminal mastermind, who is betrayed by his partner and then has this ring put on his finger that makes him do only good things. Then he needs to get revenge doing only good things.

God, that’s awful – nobody will think I’m a competent writer with a mealy pile of words like that. Try again.

Attempt #2

The Oldest Trick is about Tyvian Reldamar, criminal mastermind and smuggler of the arcane. He’s been betrayed  by his partner and afflicted with a magic ring that won’t let him misbehave. Now he wants revenge, but how do you get revenge without misbehavior?

Not bad, I guess. Too long, though. I’ve lost my theoretical ‘standing in an elevator making small talk’ audience. Of course, one wonders how someone with so sharply curtailed an attention span is going to read a book serialized into two parts, anyway. Hrmmm…

Attempt #3

The Oldest Trick is about a criminal mastermind, Tyvian Reldamar, and his quest for revenge while being cursed by a magic ring that only lets him do good things.

Meh. It’s okay. Succinct, anyway. Straightforward.

It occurs to me that I haven’t mentioned the genre. Dammit.

Attempt #4

The Oldest Trick is an epic fantasy about criminal mastermind Tyvian Reldamar and his quest to secure revenge against his former partner all while under the curse of a magic ring that won’t let him do bad things.

Yeah, that’s not bad. Wait…isn’t there other stuff I need to mention here? Like the publisher and the release date and stuff? Dammit!

Attempt #5

My debut novel, The Oldest Trick, is an epic fantasy about Tyvian Reldamar, criminal mastermind, and his quest for revenge while afflicted with a magic ring that won’t let him do bad things. It will be released in February 2015 from Harper Voyager.

Hmmmm…that’s pretty good. Still, I can streamline a bit.

Attempt #6

My debut novel, The Oldest Trick, is an epic fantasy about criminal mastermind Tyvian Reldamar and his quest for revenge while cursed with a magic ring that won’t let him do bad things. It will be released in February 2015 from Harper Voyager.

Yeah…yeah, I like it. Not too bad. Now I just need to memorize this thing for the next time somebody asks what my book is about. What I usually do is sputter for a while about how it’s fantasy but not like Game of Thrones except kind of only not really.

And let’s not even get into the part where I try to explain how the first book is serialized into two volumes (Part 1 to be released in February, Part 2 to be released in June 2015) but is really a single story and that it’s true sequel (All That Glitters) is scheduled for release sometime in Fall 2015.

Really, all this would be easier if I could just hand people a USB drive with a five minute powerpoint presentation on it. Or themed buttons. Or business cards with all of this printed in very, very small type.

Deep breaths, Auston. Deep breaths.

 

Making Friends and Meeting People

I must confess something: I’m not much of a networker. Honestly, were it not for the existence of Facebook, I’d barely converse with anyone my own age. If Facebook crashes and burns, the thought of having to move to some other social networking site seems like a lot of trouble. I probably won’t unless forced (which is how I wound up on Facebook – my wife signed me up). I lose contact with people easily. I really don’t work very hard to keep in touch.

Your challenge: talk to these people without really having a conversation. Go.

Your challenge: talk to these people without really having a conversation. Go.

It isn’t that I don’t like people – I like them just fine – but I don’t especially need people to feel fine. I can go literal days and even weeks without speaking to another human being. I did it in college during Spring Break my senior year – I stayed at school and just sat at my desk and wrote for the whole week. I barely went out. I barely saw anybody. I don’t think I had a conversation with anybody that lasted more than five seconds. At the end of it, I felt fine. In fact, I felt more than fine – it was then that I finished the first draft of my first novel (no, you won’t be reading it. It was terrible).

I would say that I’m an introvert, but that’s not precisely true. I have no trouble talking to people, I just don’t need to talk to people. In fact, unless there is a reason to speak to someone, I usually don’t. I don’t do small talk, for instance – either we are having a conversation about something or we are not talking. I find meet-and-greet events tedious and troublesome, since usually it involves me having to strike up conversation with people who don’t actually want to have a conversation – they want to talk about the weather and ask banal questions about each other’s professions. God forbid you actually engage in a real answer to a question, like when somebody asks me “how are you” and I give them an honest answer about my health. Suddenly I’m the weirdo for some reason, when they are the person who asked. Sheesh.

But I digress.

As my novel, The Oldest Trick (Part 1), nears its deadline and eventual release, I’m starting to worry that no one will buy it. Well, maybe not no one, but barely anybody, anyway. Not enough people for me to finish out the series, not enough people to put it on anybody’s radar, and not enough people for it to allow me to nab myself an agent. I have, therefore, gradually begun expanding my ‘social media presence’. You can find me on Twitter (which is sort of like the small talk Olympics, so I feel like a camel in the Congo there) and I have set up profiles on Goodreads and Amazon. There’s this place, too, for what it’s worth. I should probably get around to setting up an Author page on Facebook, which is the only social media platform I use with any regularity. I’m also a recent winner of the Writers of the Future Contest, which is a networking advantage all its own, and I’ve maintained some contacts among other up-and-coming scifi and fantasy authors. These are all good things.

Even still, I feel disconnected, aloof. I’ve never been a guy for diving into the crowd. I like parties and I like talking to people, but I generally prefer to do it with fewer people as opposed to more (since, in the former case, I can actually speak with and be heard by others in comfort). There is no earthy way anybody is getting me to go to a bar, and especially not if the bar is playing music loudly. Give me a couch, a dozen friends, and a good meal. All that, though, is sort of the antithesis of what an author wants or needs to build his “brand.” I need to inspire the masses, somehow. I need to make a connection with hundreds or (ideally) thousands of people so that they like me and want to buy my books and follow my every step. Frankly, I have no idea how to do that. I could be doing it right now and I’d have no idea.

Anyway, the point of this post is that I’ll be fiddling with the layout of this blog over the next few weeks, trying to make it a more efficient portal to access my work (evidently, nobody seems to see the “where you can find my stuff” category on the sidebar, despite what I feel is its very, very direct title). Wish me luck, folks. Oh, and if you have any tips on how to be better at networking, be sure to pass them along.

And if you’re an agent looking for a talented fantasy writer, well, I could really use your help. I think. That’s just it – I have no idea.

The Exotic and the Mundane

The only good story here is one that renders this normal place somehow new and interesting.

The only good story here is one that renders this normal place somehow new and interesting.

The more I think about it, the more I believe that all storytelling is simply negotiating the narrative tension between the exotic and the mundane. Read a book on storytelling or writing or screenwriting, and odds are you’re going to hear something along the lines of “all stories start the day something changes”. What that means, essentially, is your main character is going along with their daily business when something knocks them out of their regular routine and forces them to adapt to new circumstances. Joseph Campbell outlines this famously as the “Hero’s Journey” – the hero begins in the normal or mundane world, the Call to Adventure is answered, they enter the Special or Magical World, and their adventure begins. I think there’s more to it than simply that, though. See, just because you run Campbell by the numbers doesn’t mean you have a good story. Furthermore, as important as the plot is to a story, there’s a lot more at play there, too – theme, setting, style, and so on. I think that all of these things are also caught up in that dichotomy, between the exotic and mundane.

If you are writing in the real, mundane world, that story won’t be interesting unless that normalcy is made somehow exotic. The exotic – another way of describing the new and novel – is what gives a story purchase. It’s what draws us in. We are not interested in a patent clerk. We are interested in the patent clerk who is the brilliant physicist. We are not interested in a high school, but we are interested in a high school Saturday detention session that changes the lives of several young people. Without some aspect of the novel or new or strange, we don’t actually have a story.

Likewise, this needs some grounding in the real to allow us to understand and sympathize with the plot.

Likewise, this needs some grounding in the real to allow us to understand and sympathize with the plot.

It works both ways, though. The exotic cannot maintain our interest without some element of the mundane. This comes up a lot in science fiction and fantasy, actually; the mundane is used as a way to allow the audience to identify or sympathize with characters in a bizarre environment. The further a story drifts from what is identifiable, the less potent the story becomes. Why? Well, the audience has no emotional hand-holds by which to come to grips with the action. If I write you an epic war among single-celled organisms, I’d need to do certain things to make you engage with the story. If I don’t, it’s just a bunch of goo going at it in a petri dish. To use a real-world example, consider Dune, which is about as exotic as you get. Amid the Bene Gesserit and the Gom Jabbar, we have Paul and his mother. We have Paul taking a test. We have Paul in pain. These things we understand, and these things allow us to connect with Paul early on. They carry us through a story that would, otherwise, be an unidentifiable alien landscape. The exotic is tempered by the mundane so that we can access it intellectually and emotionally.

The more I think about it, every story has this balance to strike. Now, the precise nature of the balance is very wide, but it is nevertheless there. Our normal world needs the new and unusual to keep our interest, just as alien worlds need some aspect of the normal to do the same. This strikes me as something very fundamental to storytelling and, while I’m certain somebody else has put it into words better than I have here, I honestly haven’t seen this idea explored. It probably warrants some explanation.

 

Burning Down the Forest

There’s a running joke/metaphor in my RPG group: anytime the players are faced with a complex problem, somebody will quip “why don’t we just burn down the forest?” I know it isn’t funny at first glance and, indeed, it might not be funny at all, but I find myself thinking of this metaphor a lot lately. It’s origins date back to junior high school. I was DMing a Dungeons and Dragons campaign for my friends and they were lost in a swampy rainforest infested with lizardmen who kept ambushing them (or it might have been a temperate forest and they were ambushed by hobgoblins – it hardly matters now). They couldn’t successfully track the lizardmen, so attacking their camp was impractical. Still, the lizardmen attacks needed to stop – they were running out of healing potions. Their solution?

“Hey guys,” one player said, “let’s burn down the whole forest!”

Hmmm...our situation has strangely not improved.

Hmmm…our situation has strangely not improved.

They had the magic and the equipment to do so, and flushing all the lizardmen out into the open seemed like a great idea, so they set about burning the place down. As you can imagine, it did not go well. In the first place, not only did it flush out the Lizardmen, but also everything else, meaning they had to fight hundreds of angry creatures all at once. It also rendered the forest impassable, and since their objective was to get through the forest, their plans were ruined. It also lost them a large number of allies – the elves that lived in the forest, the people of nearby towns, the ranger’s friends, the cleric’s god, and so on. Basically, the whole thing, while seemingly obvious and simple on its face, made everything much, much worse.

From then on “burning down the forest” was our term for a seemingly simple and elegant bad idea.

Beyond the gaming table, I feel this metaphor has relevance to the real world. A lot of relevance – too much, in fact. The world is constantly coming up with really simple, easy to understand wrong answers to complex problems (thanks, HL Menken!). All too often, these solutions come in the form of “throw more bombs at it” or “have more guns!” Then we have the audacity to be aghast as more people get blown up and shot.

Folks, this isn’t rocket science. The long term solution to violence is pretty much never “more violence” – it never has been and never will be. Violence is certainly easier, more satisfying, and a hell of a lot quicker. It even sometimes appears to work for a time (it sure settled WW1, right?) but later on it becomes evident that what you did was just create a new, bigger, and even more difficult problem (World War 2). This is not to say violence is not occasionally or even often necessary in self-defense, but we need to remember that such acts do not, in and of themselves, constitute a solution to anything. The Nazis weren’t destroyed because we blew them up; they were defeated in the long term because of the Marshall Plan, because of how badly they treated their own people, and because of how much those same people wanted to become something different than what Hitler had made them. The war was a big part of that, yeah, but it wasn’t the only factor and wouldn’t have been a lasting one save for what came after.

Now, here we are setting the forest on fire again, and apparently hoping that what grows there afterwards will like us. Call me a cynic, but I say we were better off staying out of the woods in the first place, regardless of how satisfying it might be to watch those hobgoblins burn.

How I Write a Novel (For What It’s Worth)

The Oldest Trick (Part 1), is getting closer and closer to publication. I’m going over my editor’s revision notes, putting on the final rounds of spit and polish, and soon this little dragster of a story is going to hit the road. You know, assuming there are no cataclysmic failures anywhere along the line. Obviously.

Anyway, I’ve had enough people ask me about this in the recent months that I figured I may as well write about it. “Auston”, they ask, “how do you write a novel?” This is a question that probably has as many answers as there are authors, and if you’re going about writing a novel, you’re probably going to do it differently than anybody else. Writing, as everybody and their sister will tell you, is a personal and solitary process and, as such, it is prone to idiosyncrasy.

This, however, doesn’t answer the question to anybody’s satisfaction. I must, therefore, answer it literally: how do I, Auston Habershaw, write a novel. I feel at this juncture it is important for me to note that nobody taught me how to write a novel. Nobody. It’s something I figured out myself, ultimately, and all the novel workshops I attended through my MFA program and before have mostly taught me how to write chapters, which is a very distinct thing from writing a novel at large. This should not mean my teachers were bad at their jobs by any means, but rather reflect upon the limitations of the semester-based education system for teaching somebody how to do something that takes years to perfect. I’ve written about 7 novels to date, some of which will never see the light of day (and rightly so), but each has taught me a lot through painful trial and error.

Anyway, the point is that my process might not work for you, but it is a process that seems to produce results, so here we go.

Part 1: The Rough Draft

There's a story somewhere in there, right?

There’s a story somewhere in there, right?

The first thing I do when writing a novel is to write it. Well, not exactly – I do spend an indeterminate period of time thinking about it and getting the novel into a rough shape in my mind. Main characters, a central conflict, and a beginning/middle/end arc are all loosely defined, and then I start writing. I write the whole thing in one shot. I revise nothing (NOTHING). I don’t so much as fix a comma or proofread a paragraph. I learned early on that, if I did that, I’d get trapped in an endless revision loop of fixing what was, essentially, a tiny part of a large work that might just get cut, anyway. I don’t worry a lot about keeping continuity through the draft – if a character stops working and is messing with the story, I let that character drop and leave myself a footnote explaining why I did it to a future, very skeptical me.

The point of the rough draft is to toss as much junk on the table as possible. The plot usually winds up an ungodly tangle, there are all kinds of pointless tangents, and a lot of things make no sense. That’s okay – the objective is the generation of an entire book’s worth of raw material. It is very hard to tell precisely what will be useful or useless in the future, so I don’t worry too much about it. The point is to get the whole thing done.

Now, I realize there are people out there who extensively outline and, thereby, sort of side-step this. Well, in theory, I guess. Me, I’ve found extensive outlining at this stage hobbles the novel for me – it restricts my ability to improvise and allow the story to grow organically.

Part 2: The Chainsaw Stage

It is dangerous to go alone. Take this!

It is dangerous to go alone. Take this!

The second draft (and sometimes a third draft, too) involves chopping apart that pile of trash until you’ve got a workable plot and have the general pacing of the novel under control. I call this the Chainsaw Stage, as it often involved hacking out big hunks of stuff you wrote. Other people call this the “Killing Your Babies” stage, as it often involves killing things you love for the sake of the whole. It might be a lovely little tumor, but it’s still a tumor – hack it out.

Of course, once you’ve hacked a bunch of stuff out, you need to fill in those gaping holes you left. This involves writing new scenes that shore up and improve all the stuff you’re keeping. This very process – the act of hacking up and pasting back in – is why I can’t revise until I have a complete or essentially complete rough draft: until I see the story in total, I can’t make responsible decisions of what must go and what must stay. The Chainsaw Stage is only as successful as the Rough Draft is.

These two steps comprise, what I feel, is the lion’s share of the work in novel writing. The first part is tons of fun, though the result is disheartening. The second part is enormously difficult and painful, but the result is incredibly satisfactory. These two parts should (for me) solve all the major problems of the novel. After this point, I know what the story is, I have all the character arcs, conflicts, and resolutions roughly in place, and I have a draft that might actually be readable by outsiders (you know, if they forced me).

Part 3: Buff, Wax, and Polish

Look! Passive voice! Hmmm...got it! Moving on...

Look! Passive voice! Hmmm…got it! Moving on…

The last part (well, discounting what your editor wants you to revise and so on) primarily involves buffing out the stuff you’ve already got. Most of the new scene writing is behind you. Yeah, you might insert a little thing here or there, but generally all the bones of the book are firmly in place. This is when I start to actually worry about style and really start proofreading the thing. This is when I start fiddling with particular words or set rules for the spelling of certain specialized terms (I’m a fantasy author, remember?). I rewrite dialogue a lot (I know what I want them to say, but they can always say it better) and revise action sequences (Quoth George Lucas: Faster! More intensely!).

This stage takes a surprisingly long time, since it is very easy to fiddle. I put it off for two or three drafts prior to this, so finally indulging can be cathartic. I strive to keep myself under control, honestly. Stage 4 kills a lot of the point of fiddling sometimes.

Part 4: Professional Editor

By the end of Stage 3, the book should be about as good as I can possibly make it. At some point it becomes clear that all my edits are lateral moves – nothing is getting better, just slightly different. By then, it is time to submit it. If you’re very persistent and very lucky (as I have been), you’ll actually get a professional to look at the thing and tell you what to change. In my (extremely brief) experience, they are almost always right. You fix as directed.

This is the stage I am currently at. I know there are other stages, but all of those are involved in the professional publication end of this spectrum – copy editing, marketing, etc.. By that point, I obviously already have a novel (and have had one for some time), and the question was “how do I write a novel,” not “how does the publishing business work.” As far as that second one is concerned, I have legitimately no idea what I am doing.

Wish me luck!

The Real Starfleet Captain’s Manual

Congratulations on your new command, Captain! Now, before you begin your sojourn through the cosmos, there are some things you need to know that haven’t been covered in your Starfleet manuals and likely haven’t come up prior to this time. Below is the collected wisdom of captains like yourselves, who have experienced the Final Frontier enough to know how it all works. Read carefully – this might save your life someday.

Take it from me - I became a giant bug!

Take it from me – I became a giant bug!

Directive One: Have a Safe Word

One you become captain, at some point you are going to be replaced by an impostor. Just get used to the idea – it’s gonna happen. The hyper-intelligent gas cloud, alien hologram, or curious Q or whatever will likely be very familiar with your mannerisms and will pull off a charade just convincing enough to prevent being removed from command immediately.

To prevent this kind of thing, just verbally inform your crew of a password (like “potato salad with crotons”) to be uttered to confirm your identity. Make no record of this password in any manual, message, or database. If you have an android on board, don’t tell them. This way, the only way you (or one of your senior staff) can be replaced is by those creatures that can read minds and assimilate memories. This ought to cut down on the rate of impostors by a good 65%.

Directive Two: Screw the Holodeck

I know, I know – crew morale. We’ve all been there, believe me. Take it from us, though: it just isn’t worth it. You should see the reports on this stuff. On simply ships called ‘Enterprise’ alone, there have been dozens of nearly catastrophic incidents related to the holodeck. It takes over the ship regularly, it threatens crew-member’s lives, and it can lock up senior staff for hours on end while they have to figure out the Murder on the Orient Express for the billionth time.

Just get rid of the thing and install a rec room. A pool table, some Ping-Pong, a bunch of board games, and so on. Keep a replicator around to make any and all recreational objects whatever alien needs for his/her/its version of alien foosball, but that’s it. No ship in the history of the Federation has ever been threatened by a Foosball table.

Directive Three: Every Energy Field is Super Important

If your engineer or security chief or Ops officer or whoever mentions to you that they’re getting some ‘odd energy readings’ or ‘a minor systems fluctuation’, we recommend immediately going to yellow alert. Why? Well, probably because an energy alien has just sneaked aboard your ship, or one of your crewmembers has become a robot, or you just entered an alternate timeline, or whatever. It’s always bad, but it wouldn’t be as bad if you guys didn’t spend the next three hours sitting around on your beige couches staring at the view-screen. Get ahead of that shit!

Directive Four: Always Believe Time Travelers

If you meet a future version of yourself, a future version of your ship, or a person who is clearly from the future, believe what they say. Why? Because they’re from the damned future, that’s why! If you went back in time and told some idiot in the 20th century to avoid buying a Pinto, wouldn’t you think he was an idiot for not believing you and getting his face burned off? I mean, why do you even think they’re back here, anyway? Tourism?

Directive Five: Just Play Along With Q

It isn't like you're going to argue him into *not* being a giant douchebag.

It isn’t like you’re going to argue him into *not* being a giant douchebag.

The primary reason the omnipotent Q shows up to bother us is because he thinks we’re interesting. You know why he thinks we’re interesting? Because we always struggle and fight and argue with him. If he shows up and said ‘we are going to play checkers for the fate of the Earth’s Moon’, just say “s’cool – what time?” Watch him get bored and leave. Isn’t that better than spending all that time yelling at a god? I know, right?

Directive Six: Don’t Believe Utopian Societies

They are never utopias. Not ever. They either have some kind of weird disease and are going to steal your children or they’re indentured to some giant evil computer or they don’t know that people can die and will throw your young ensigns off cliffs for fun or whatever else. Repeat after me: I am from utopia, and everywhere else sucks. Again: I am from utopia, and everywhere else sucks. Earth is where it’s at, and keep that in mind when being offered to “join in the love ritual” with some stupendous busty redhead. Don’t buy it. It never works out.

Directive Seven: When You Go On Vacation, Bring a Phaser

Seriously, you should see the logs. Pretty much every time somebody goes on leave, they get kidnapped or attacked. Every. Single. Time. Go armed, at least with one of those little dinky phasers you can slip up your sleeve. You’ll thank us later.

Well, that’s about it. Good luck out there, Captain. Oh, and if you happen to meet the Borg, make certain your crew has practiced running. Seriously, Borg drones are awfully slow.

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