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The not-entirely-random thoughts of Chris Brecheen about writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Shill

I'm going to shill another post of mine today on all the social media but for those who follow on RSS feeds or directly through Google, I thought today would be a good day to reblog Why Others' Stories Matter.

I live in Oakland, so last night instead of writing, I watched the protests. I don't mean I watched them on television either. I just looked out my window.  (At one point I had live coverage playing in the background and I heard a siren out my window and on my computer at the same time with that weird distortion effect--like when someone is talking to you on the phone from the same room. That's when I realized they were basically HERE.) Dozens of cop cars parked on my block and riot police jumped in and out of white vans to form lines as the Ferguson protests came within a couple of blocks. The Walgreens you may have seen with the smashed in door is a place I go once or twice a week. I often throw my sandwich wrapper from Genova's Deli into the trash can you saw on fire. The protestors set a trash fire on MLK (which local residents put out). I could see that from my writing room. I spent most of my writing time either watching the police form phalanxes and shift their fleet of cars or glancing at the baby and wondering if the feeling somewhere between helpless anxiety and wondering what the best makeshift weapon in the house might be.

There might be a Ferguson post in me, but I would just end up making a lot of the same points I've made recently about listening and empathy and not getting to tell people who feel betrayed by a system to sit down and shut up and love it. So I don't know. But I teach on Wednesday night and I spent last night hoping for the better angels of our nature to win among a people who have every right to be enraged enough to burn it down

So this rambling bumble is the best I can do today.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

On Our Last Episode....

I left a story dangling off a cliffhanger after life exploded (twice) but I never forgot that you all needed to know what happened.

Well, buckle up because the exciting conclusion is coming.

See shortly after someone asked a question about my process a couple of months ago, I realized that I was spending a lot less time working on my fiction than I wanted to because of all the time and energy I was putting into Writing About Writing. Naturally, this caused one of my enemies to inhabit the body of a sexy looking woman, grab a shard of the Mirrorshield, pretend to be the person who asked the question, and flash it at me so that I would be paralyzed while my nemesis (ChronoTron) destroyed me.

Like you do.

Wrecking Ball showed up and there was a brief altercation, and it looked like I was going to get my ass saved , but actually the thing is that Wrecking Ball also has a nemesis named Harbinger. And Harbinger had come to the party just to finish what he left undone before. And ChronoTron had perfected a time dilation field that made him immune to Wrecking Ball's attacks.

With me paralyzed, my nemesis about to suck all the time from me, and Wrecking Ball fighting the one person who has kicked his ass definitively in the last five years (and who only didn't finish the job because W.B. looked dead and needed months of traction), things are not looking good for our intrepid heroes.



Monday, November 24, 2014

Bizzaro Blog

The update schedule around here is going to be Bizzaro World for the next couple of weeks. Today, for example, will be taking the place of Wednesday's jazz hands. Wednesday will be the post I would normally put up on Thursday, and on Thursday I will do the Mailbox for this week (in which I will attempt to explain what avant guarde really means).

The Contrarian's grandmother is coming into town, and The Brain has been pulling double and triple patrols so that the streets are cleaned up enough to spend a little time with family during Thanksgiving, and I've been picking up a lot of extra slack. Once Uberdude's mom actually gets here, I will probably have more time to write than normal. Even though her crime fighting days are behind her, she is more than willing to watch the baby--even one with contradictory psychic powers, extraordinary ability to drool, and a burgeoning power to pick up every cold and flu bug in a five block radius that has us seriously considering renaming him The Petri Dish..

So bear with me. The end result of a little bit of jazz hands should be a spectacular fortnight of updates.

Unless of course something goes wrong.

But nothing ever goes wrong when a one year old's child care is concerned.

Nah.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

I Am the Night...or Something

Listed as free to use with attribution.
http://3dstage.deviantart.com/art/Blue-Vampire-Lips-152516114
Last night I did something I haven't done in over a decade.

I played a Vampire LARP*.

I'll let the few of you who have some sort of negative image of LARPing from the underground Youtube of the dude throwing hacky sacks and saying "Fireball!" think whatever you want. Frankly, there are some smart and funny people dressed in their sexiest ensembles, and I wouldn't want you to crowd in and crimp my style.

However, I suspect that what it might mean is that the fourth Sunday in the month might have a high concentration of reflections on the insight that LARPing provides to writing. Sort of like I've done about the one shot LARPS of gaming conventions. I already know that I'm almost certainly going to get sucked into this game (get it? SUCKED IN? never mind) and that it's going to be on my mind come the next day. I might as well exploit it shamelessly, and keep trying for that ever elusive groupie threesome.

Besides, this is probably going to be like the closest thing I will actually have to a life.

I can't pour out secrets of the characters--not even my own (lest the players who are a little less able to keep knowledge their characters should not know be too tempted to use it in game) or be too explicit about most details in an ongoing chronicle the way I would about a completed one-shot, but I'm sure I can still vaguefy the stories and eke out some wisdom. Cause I'm really ekey when it comes down to it.

*So true story: I'm headed out to this game (which will be my first Vampire LARP in over a decade) and I'm getting ready to go to the character's first Vampire court where my sire is going to present me for acknowledgement. I turned on my iPod, set it to shuffle all, and the first song that came up was "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns and Roses.

That'll do iPod. That'll do.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Updated Bio

Today's entry isn't more than the changes I've made to Writing About Writing's bio page.

I made a few tweaks throughout, but the major difference is that I can no longer say I'm making no money and merely writing for the love of it. (Now I'm only MOSTLY writing for the love of it.) And while it's disappointing that making less than half of minimum wage probably sets me ahead of most writers, I can't go on pretending I'm not getting any benefit but love alone.

Bio

So maybe you’re asking yourself “Who is this whackadoodle, anyway?”

He posts about writing, but is there some reason I should read this blog? This one, out of the hundreds of other blogs with better cookie recipes and the tens of gagiligillion of other blogs of random, unsuccessful writers.

Why should I read THIS guy?

He's never gotten a book deal.

He’s not famous.

He doesn’t drop the f-bomb so many times that he makes uninspired ideas and cliché opinions sound edgy and chic. But he also doesn't avoid it enough that I would feel comfortable admitting sharing his articles on a Facebook post my Nana could see. It's like that perfect mushy sweet spot of horrible between edgy and classy.

He’s not even going to publish a good recipe for crab cakes.

Seriously, what the hell am I doing here?

So here’s the thing. I didn’t sit around for my first thirty-coughsomething years accumulating cookie recipes and dreaming of someday finding a place where I could share them one at a time, but I haven’t just been watching Nyan Cat that whole time either.*

What I CAN tell you for sure is I’ve been writing an average of two hours a day for nearly thirty years, and about four hours a day for the last decade, (recently, it’s gone up again—now it’s more like five or six hours a day on average), I will make up to 49% more pop culture references to MMORPG’s, sci-fi media, and generally “cool shit” than your average MFA graduate, and I’m totally not afraid to make up bullshit statistics right on the fly.

All this and my personal guarantee that I actually got the “Ethan Frome damage” joke from Grosse Point Blanke.

Really.

This is like UBERwhite fiction.It's the Wonder Bread of fiction.

I’ve logged in my “ten thousand hours” writing, and at this point I’ve clocked in a second ten thousand just to be on the safe side. I think I'm working on about my fourth or fifth set, honestly. That doesn't mean I'm perfect. I’m not above error. My first drafts are shitty. I use myriad as a noun.  I will use the wrong your if I'm not paying attention. But it’s pretty safe to assume I know what I’m doing when I start stringing words together.

I have a degree in Creative Writing. I graduated Summa Cum Laude from SFSU's fairly well-respected undergraduate CW program this Spring (2012). Technically that’s a “lit heavy” English degree “with emphasis in Creative Writing," which means I wrote my share of literary criticism when I wasn’t writing creatively. I know some people take Creative Writing for an easy degree, but I looked for the professors who demanded excellence and had a reputation for eating undergrads. When I found them, I took everything they taught. I didn’t get a 3.94 because I was coasting. I also didn’t take 18 more CW units than I needed to for my major because I just wanted to slam out a degree and bug out. I went back to school in my thirties to hone my craft and I decided to suck the marrow from the bones of every class I took. I even got some administrative side eye for how many non-essential classes I was taking on a Pell grant. The point is, I picked up a couple of things while I was there.

I’ve been a managing editor of a literary magazine. It wasn't the happiest time of my life, and I'm pretty sure my EIC was actively trying to make me cry, but I learned a lot, especially about how and why things get picked for publication.

I teach ESL and Developmental English. Teaching it has been the most liberating experience on the technical end of my writing that I could have imagined, and it’s brought a lot of cultural and linguistic nuance into my world and into my writing.

Age ten. Fourth grade. Halloween prompt. We got a paragraph start and it was up to us to end it. I wrote twenty-one college ruled pages (college ruled, mind you, not that wide ruled crap, and certainly not the handwriting practice paper with the big space on the top half for crayon pictures; I’m talking the real deal here mofos). It was the best feeling I’d ever had. (At ten, I’d never had a smoking hot threesome, you understand.) I knew then what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be a writer. I never looked back. Every decision between then and now has been engineered with being a writer in mind. Not a lot of people I know, even the incredibly talented and successful artists among them, knew the score so soon. I’ve been writing ever since.

Badly.

So very, very badly.

But I have been writing. And maybe a little tiny bit better than before.

I tried to be Stephen King when I was 12, writing stories of self-willed big rigs chasing little kids all over pastoral New England towns. It was crap of course, but if you've met the Creative Writing program at SFSU, you would know that it is actually a MAJOR boon as a writer that I have gotten the "I'm going to be Stephen King" phase out of my system.

I started writing works of 100+ pages in seventh grade. I finished my first real manuscript in eighth grade. I "wrote books" between the ages of ten and fourteen, but they were usually about twenty pages long

Perhaps the best thing that started happening in seventh grade with my longer "books" is that my friends wanted to read them. In high school I was pestered over whether or not I had written any more. In my junior year, I hit another bellwether on this front: a friend of mine read a manuscript I’d written as I was writing it, and when I was done he asked for the whole thing so he could read it...again. "I want to make sure I didn’t miss anything," he said.

I wouldn’t know it for a few more years, but smoking threesomes got nothing—NOTHING—on the feeling of someone reading your work again because they really liked it.

I wasn’t ever just about one art form. In high school I was in band and in choir. (Yeah, I was that guy.) I always loved music, theater, film, and even visual arts in addition to literature. I’ve always pursued arts and humanities with more than just a dilettante interest. (Not that I buy into the bourgeoisie “high art” aesthetic mind…) I find that an eclectic taste in arts has greatly informed my appreciation of literature and my own writing.

I actually am published. Technically. It’s not anything you could pick up at a Barnes and Noble, and most of it (that isn’t blogging) happened before the ubiquity of having an e-version of nearly everything, but it’s out there. It exists in a few dark and hidden corners. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the Rubicon of almighty “publication” can be technically passed with a whimper in a way that feels like it doesn’t “count.”

I won the UCLA Comm. board award for an article I wrote in a student magazine.  The oddball thing about this was that I did this without actually being a UCLA student.  I just submitted to one of their news magazines that my friends worked on. If there was ever a moment I realized maybe I actually could write worth a flip, that was probably it.

I bought into the cultural myth of how to find happiness in my twenties. I took the advice that writing wouldn’t pay the bills and struggled through one “fallback, safety-net” job after another. I married for all the wrong reasons and divorced some years later for at least a couple of the right ones. I played the game by society’s happiness playbook, and it made me miserable.

So in my thirties, I told society's happiness playbook that I was seeing other playbooks and that I’d given it the clap. I let the Jonses pull WAY out ahead and dedicated myself to the things that bring me a whole frikton more meaning in life than trying to keep up with those tools.

I went back to school to improve my craft. I used my summa cum laude degree to become a househusband. Now I’m write for hours a day, and every night I fall into bed with a blissed out smile on my face from the hours of writing I've just done. I describe my life to most people and they scrunch up their faces and wonder what the hell I’m doing with it. I describe it to artists and the smile wistfully and say “that sounds absolutely PERFECT.”

I've been blogging for three years now, and I even publish some of my fiction here. I make money. It's not enough to live on, but it's more money than most writers make in three years (of seriously writing). It's hundreds a month (and I won't be gauche by telling you exactly how many hundreds). The total is more than most writers make in their writing career.

If you’re thinking: “Great. All that and a good Samoas recipe, and I might stick around until tomorrow,” that’s fine. All this sound and fury signifies nothing by way of authority. I probably don’t have any particular bit of knowledge that someone couldn’t figure out (and more) in an hour or two on Google, except maybe for some very esoteric theoretical floatsam about writing or literature I've accumulated by being an obnoxiously attentive student.

I’ve been around the block, but others have been around the block, toured the whole neighborhood, and even know a good shwarma place for lunch (where the lamb kababs are "totes magotes"). I don’t know much more than a Business of Writing class and a couple of day's research worth of information about the publishing industry. I can't tell you how to write a slamming query letter. I have no idea if there's a fast track to scoring an agent that doesn't involve sheer unadulterated nepotism or knee pads and a lobster bib.

But here’s what I do know, and I know it well:

I know how to be an unsuccessful writer.

I know how to not make it.

I know how to write day after day and not make a damned dime. Or to make a pittance.

I know how to keep going for nearly thirty years, and have the temerity to not even consider throwing in the towel.

I know how to write because not writing feels wrong, and that the parts of writing that are cathartic and meaningful and wonderful come in the act of creation not in the acquisition of an agent or the painful negotiation of a book deal. (Not that readers and affirmation and paychecks and fans and groupies and smoking hot groupie threesomes aren’t great, but they aren’t what make the artist YEARN to keep making that art.)

I know how to be artistic and creative for its own sake and to never let the world tell me that I “need” a white picket fence and a sensible car.

 I know how to set up my life to feed my art addiction without dejection over the unfulfilled fantasies of writing the Great American Novel and fat royalty checks and travelling the talk show circuit.

And I know what it means to write when there is no incentive to do so except the sheer love of transforming twenty-six letters and fourteen pieces of punctuation into meaning.

And now I know what it means to work and scrape and write for years, but then finally start to find some small measure of success.

I’m going to keep right on writing. I'm going to do it with forty thousand followers or four and with ten page views or ten million. And as long as I'm at it, I might as well try to make a few dollars along the way. It'll be an interesting journey, and I might learn a few things that I'll happily share. And I welcome you to join me. Perhaps we can even learn from, inspire, motivate, and challenge each other.

That's who this n00b is.



*In fact, I can only claim to have watched Nyan cat for about forty-five minutes at a stretch. Just so you know: I’m not proud of this achievement. The lengths I will go to procrastinate writing a literary criticism paper terrify even me.