The Calle Cinco de Mayo Massacre

May 5, 2010
Frank Gattis for Banks Media Productions, Los Angeles

Living in America means taking things for granted. We assume there will always be water to drink, food to eat, and electricity to keep the lights burning. We expect roads to be in good repair, buildings to remain standing, and VNet to keep humming along. But what happens when the foundation upon which we build our lives is shattered by an act of terrorism? What happens when we look to the sky and see planes diving for the ground?

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And This is How I Revise

I don’t know anyone who enjoys revisions like I do. But then, I only know a few authors and they’re all that weird, tight-lipped kind of writer who doesn’t really want to talk about their “process” because either they’re not confident in their process or, more likely, they’re too confident in their process and they don’t want to give away trade secrets to little old me. Yes, this combative stance is why I don’t know more authors. Anyway, the alpha period on Hybrid Mechanics is finally up, so it’s time to get back at it! Here’s where we’ve been and where we’re going.

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I Miss Bitstrips

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I don’t read comics, but I like making them. That is, I like making them when they’re not too much work, and no site made it easier than bitstrips.com. I loved that site. Now it’s gone and I’m sad. But I still have some comics I made about the two things I love most: writing and m’pups. If anyone knows of a replacement comic maker where I don’t have to art, please let me know.

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Maximum Overwrite

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So I’m currently reading Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz. I watched the movie a few weeks ago and really enjoyed the universe Koontz created, so naturally I wanted to read the book and get all those extra details that are typically left out of movies. And though I’ve enjoyed reading, it doesn’t really feel like there is more story here. I have a guess about why that is. If you haven’t read Odd Thomas, head over to Amazon and load up the preview.

This post originally appeared on danielverastiqui.com on May 16, 2014,
but the concept of Maximum Overwrite still applies.

Or, if you’re the I don’t take my orders from blogs type of person, here’s a random excerpt:

“Robertson’s here,” I told her.

“Who?”

“Fungus Man.”

Suddenly he was on the move, walking between the headstones, toward the church.

“We better forget dinner,” I said, drawing Stormy to her feet with the intention of hustling her out of the belfry. “Let’s get down from here.”

Resisting me, she turned to the parapet. “I don’t let anyone intimidate me.”

The entire book (so far) is written in short paragraphs comprised of one or two sentences. It feels like a fast read because you’re constantly flipping pages, but then you get to the end of the chapter and it’s like, did something just happen?

Compare that to:

In the darkness, she dreamed of home, of the shadowy streets of Umbra where tech was a presence you could feel with every breath, bleeding from every jackport, collecting in the street like a river of energy. Wading through it, walking with her steel toes in a sea of people and information, was the only time Cyn felt alive. The people of Umbra were just like her, pursuing the same things in life, yearning for that singular nirvana of total awareness. To be all knowing, to be completely connected: these were the dreams of the populace, fleeting fancy no one truly expected to attain.

She imagined Tate standing at his window again, hands clasped behind his back, his occasionally sharp mind thinking of new and interesting ways to enslave the population with a satiation of the dependency some of them had lived with since birth. In a way, he was the first generation of the coercive feeder, a prototype attempt at controlling people’s lives. He chose the advertising, chose which stories to feed and in what light. If he didn’t think he was manipulating people by constantly running anti-Vinestead propaganda, then he was more of a fool than Benny Coker. It was hard to imagine Tate not seeing the similarities between himself and James Perion, how alike they were in purpose.

If you pull a bunch of books from the shelf at random, you may think sentence length is just a matter of style, that each writer simply falls at a different place on the spectrum between curt and garrulous. While that may be partially true, sentence length is often a conscious choice by the author. A writer who is verbose 95% of the time can increase a sentence’s impact by placing it alone in a new paragraph.

X SAT WITH C in his lap, her arms wrapped around his body. They were on the side of a hill he had recreated from a childhood memory. It had a long gentle slope that ended at the edge of a lake with a Japanese name he couldn’t remember. It was night in the construct, simulated, but dark enough to see the twinkling stars strewn haphazardly across the great expanse of black above them. The rig’s rendering engine struggled to deliver the necessary graphics, such that the reflections of the stars stuttered in the smooth glass of the lake.

They kissed.

Dean Koontz has a way with metaphors, and even with his short paragraphs, he manages to use them skillfully. It makes me wonder what his prose would be like if he wrote longer sentences and simply extended those metaphors into something approaching poetry.

Indecisive Poetry

I’m currently working on a new short story titled House of Nepenthe. This early in the process, I’m mostly cutting out as much as possible. Writing a zero draft is all about overwriting; writing a first draft is about stripping away all of the indecisive writing you produced.

I recommend overwriting to anyone who feels like they don’t know what to write. Overwriting is writing for the sake of putting words on the paper. Overwriting is writing anything and everything.

For example, maybe you aren’t sure which metaphor would best describe a character’s walk:

She spotted me through the crowd and began walking towards me like a queen through her subjects, like Moses through the Red Sea, like a knife slicing through warm butter, like any running back through the defensive line of the Dallas Cowboys.

You get the point. The zero draft is not the time to be making the monumental decision of your final say on this lady walking through the crowd. Just get some ideas down; brainstorm as you go along.

Here’s an example from House of Nepenthe:

What Kenny needed was someone who truly loved him, someone to comfort him in his time of vulnerability. He needed someone to tell him it was going to be alright, that there was a Heaven or somesuch nonsense waiting for him on the other side of death. He deserved more than a woman who could barely stand the sight of him, deserved a woman who wouldn’t throw dirt on his grave with a sense of satisfaction.

Sometimes it feels like I’m just taking notes when I write a zero draft. The above paragraph is where I stopped during my last rewrite; I was too tired to imagine how I could turn those words into something palatable. Still, having something to work with is often easier than staring at a blank page.

Every once in a while, I’ll find a paragraph that is long and flowing and decide not to cut it down to nothing. Every once in a while, you’ll sit there and overwrite and produce something you really love, even if it is verbose. For some moments, verbosity and languid language are the only options.

“You wrote me a poem?” Her eyes lit up.

“I prefer to think of it as a mnemonic cipher, but call it what you will.”

“I can’t wait to hear it.”

X cleared his throat, focused his eyes on C’s. “We will walk through the forest no longer, and no more will we dream of days past. We have pained enough in our lifetimes, let this dying love be our last.”

Slowly, the look of interest faded from C’s face, replaced by the impassive expression of a kitchen appliance. Her arms unfolded, fell lifeless in her lap. X watched her chest rise and fall, slower and slower, until it stopped completely. Around him, the room shaded down a few levels, a frozen background out of focus. Bringing a memory to a dead stop was at the same time a sad and beautiful thing to behold. It was the marker that differentiated the memory from the reality, that reinforced for the hundredth time that the original experience was long dead and even the memory of it could crumble under the weight of a few words.

Oh, I hope you didn’t think I was going to provide you with a personal example of how prose can be poetry. You’ll have to look to much better writers for that.

In Sum

I suppose if this post has to have any kind of point, it is this: do not be discouraged by the succinct final product of Odd Thomas. Don’t think you have to find the perfect set of eight words to make up a particular paragraph the first (or fifth) time through. Just write. Overwrite. Put everything down on the paper.

Play your cards all the way to the river and then make the best hand with what’s on the table.

Turn ’em and burn ’em, and you’ll get through it.

PS. I’ve also started reading Cipher by Kathe Koja, which so far seems devoid of short paragraphs. Check them both out!

Die Antwoord vir Facebook

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I’ve been listening to a lot of Die Antwoord lately because as a late-30s, married Hispanic male who only drives Japanese imports, I’m obviously their target demographic. Like every single one of my friends, I hadn’t heard of Die Antwoord until I saw them in Chappie. Then I checked out their music and got seriously hooked. Now I can’t stop watching their videos and blasting Doos Dronk every time I get the weepies. Wait, no, that doesn’t sound right. It was while listening to Doos Dronk for the 117 thousandth time that I boarded a train of thought that went straight to HateMyself-ville. I’ll explain.

I’ve been falling out of love with Facebook for almost a year now, probably since the run-up to the election. I tried several times to make it work for me by hiding people who posted nothing but gun porn, by only posting haikus, and penultimately (?), by simply withdrawing from posting, commenting, and liking altogether. Then came Cambridge Analytica and several days in a row of logging into Facebook and being presented with what I’d call absolute garbage.

So I deleted my Facebook account. And Instagram. Same difference.

Back to Die Antwoord.

I’m sitting there rocking out (every Fok jou by Yolandi makes me smile) and thinking about how since Die Antwoord is a South African group and the company I work for does business in South Africa, there’s an outside chance that I could one day travel there and maybe see Yolandi and Ninja in concert (provided they’re not too big to play SA anymore).

This thought made me happy.

I imagined myself flying over there, helping out a customer during the day, then changing into my J-Crew Punk Outfit to head out to the concert. I thought about the heat and the alcohol and the music and the drugs and the danger.

These thoughts made me happy as well.

But then, I imagined the stage and me getting close to it to snap a selfie. Ooooh, I thought, I can post it on Facebook to show everyone how cool this thing is that I’m doing.

That thought did not make me happy.

I’m currently reading a book about relationships (I do my research), and the author mentions the connection between adoration, admiration, and Facebook, and how social media can create unfair standards for couples to live up to. Adoration and admiration are both emotional needs (See: John Gottman), and the feedback we get from Facebook is so intense (comments and likes) that no one person could possibly compete with it.

Over the last decade, I’ve totally developed a need to entertain because being entertaining garners the most positive attention. Comments and likes are validation. And don’t me started on the laughing emoji or the coveted wow! I’d been off Facebook for only a few days when I read about this idea of unrealistic adoration standards, but it made sense to me. It makes me wonder how it affected my past relationships.

Since deleting my account, I’ve been spending more time interacting with people in person. And also emailing. Not everyone likes that. As my graphic artist Lauren put it: This personal email thing is weird.

And yeah, it’s a little weird because it’s much more personal (intimate minus the sexual connotation), and Facebook has more or less killed intimacy. Everything we do is now out there for the world to see and measure and buy. Conversations about Trump or Die Antwoord are never just between two people anymore; they’re publicly posted on walls for extended acquaintances to comment on.

Personal is good. Intimate is good. In just a week without Facebook, I’ve already rediscovered the joy of interacting directly with people.

I don’t need to know what my 8th grade typing teacher (Hi Mr. P!) thinks of my photos from a Die Antwoord concert. I’d want to know what Dom thinks because I know she would be proud of this socially anxious novelist travelling to South Africa to attend a concert. And really, as my wife, she’s the one who’s committed to giving me the adoration and admiration that I need to be happy.

That’s not to say family and friends can’t provide you with that as well. They absolutely can. Finding Die Antwoord fans among my friends (strange no one has brought it up) is a lot of fun as we discuss which song is the best and which video the most disturbing. But all of that has to happen directly.

Intimately.

I don’t miss Facebook, but I have missed these direct connections. I’m looking forward to reestablishing relationships that can’t be used as data points for advertising and political influence. I’m going to reconnect with my friends and family and fellow JKD students and fellow writers and everyone else who have been just pictures on a website for far too long.

And that thought makes me happy.

An Artist’s Responsibility, IMHO

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Photo by Jerry Kiesewetter on Unsplash

Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to spend the afternoon with a bunch of local writers, directors, and actors and discuss everything from when a child gets their first tooth to when a child takes their first step. It wasn’t lost on me that almost no one talked about their creative work–what they were writing, what they were directing, etc–which I found strange, because as an author, I’m always looking an excuse to talk about my books. I left the event feeling like I had rediscovered a group of people that I’m a part of but that I don’t spend time with. What really struck me, though, was how everyone there, as creatives, had a voice, and later, I realized, a responsibility.

Since my newest book is in alpha testing (hey, I mentioned my newest book!), I’ve been spending time catching up with a novel-in-progress by my writer friend Travis. He and I got to sit down and talk about his book, about the choices he made, the direction he was taking the characters, and so on. Since it’s just his first draft, I didn’t have anything huge to critique him about, except one thing: Trump.

There’s this weird kind of feeling pervading public discourse these days that we can’t be honest about our feelings without worrying we’re going to start a fight. We’re told not to bring up politics with family or at work or in mixed company because you don’t know who you might offend. Facebook, beacon of civilized communication that it is, has become a war zone where the weapons are Snooze, Unfollow, and Block.

People aren’t going to change their minds, so why rock the boat, right?

Wrong.

Maybe keeping your opinions to yourself and silently voting every 2-4 years is enough for the everyday Fine Upstanding Citizen, but you, blog reader, are an artist (I assume, anyway). In my humble opinion, I believe artists have a responsibility to own their beliefs and preserve them as best they can.

And I’ll tell you why in a minute.

Last night, as I sat around on the floor with students at Austin Impact Jeet Kune Do (come for the pulse-pounding music, stay for the scintillating aromas), we somehow started discussing Trump, and I got to tell a story that has become well-known to anyone who has asked how my newest book is coming (second mention!).

When Perion Synthetics was in alpha testing, I had a reader come back with some comments about the book’s political content. Consider this paragraph from the first draft:

“Vinestead stock rose again today on speculation its PMC division could be called upon by President Romney to secure our southern border. Many democrats are calling this back alley favors, citing the President’s push ten years ago for the controversial GA bill, which was introduced by the then-governor of Massachusetts. Speaking from the Rose Garden today, the President challenged his critics to suggest a better plan for keeping immigrants from becoming burdens on the backs of hard-working Americans. A statement released by Calle Cinco today calls the President’s remarks irresponsible and racist. No threat of terrorism was made with the statement.”

In the alternate Vinestead reality, Mitt Romney would have won the election. Having a Republican win elections is pretty much standard for any dystopia, but that’s another post. My reader’s feedback was to remove the reference to Romney and replace it with a generic name. And why?

Because taking sides in politics in a novel would alienate half of my readers.

This reader is a smart person, and you know me, always looking for more ways to expand my audience, so I changed Romney to Hadden and went on my way. It made little difference to the story itself, none actually, but to me personally, I felt strange about it. Why was I censoring myself? To potentially sell a few more books?

The advice I gave to Travis, and which I’m following in Hybrid Mechanics (third mention!), is to embrace your political view. Don’t make veiled references to a “part-time white supremacist,” call that minority-hating son of a bitch out by name. My reasoning is based on a very popular quote: history is written by the victors.

After the Sinclair / Big Brother fiasco of last week, it should be clear to everyone that the media can’t be trusted to remember history the same way those of us who lived it do. Therefore, it is my contention that history must be preserved by artists. Whether you hate Trump or love Trump (what the hell is wrong with you, honestly?), it is an artist’s responsibility to capture these moments for future generations.

Before El Matador was born, my wife and I used to make little videos chronicling his growth, telling him about the world and what we were doing in the months before he was born. And yes, the morning after the election, we recorded a video that I began with I wanted you to know how it felt the morning after Donald Trump was elected. And we told him how disappointing and scary it was.

The hope is that when El Matador is older, he can watch that video and know how his parents (just two normal middle class Hispanic Americans) felt the day after a pussy-grabbing racist dullard was elected President of the United States. No matter what the media says, no matter what the history books say, he’ll hear our feelings from our mouths.

And that I think is what is so important for artists to preserve: the feeling in America in 2017. They need to preserve it because someday in the future, the history of 2017 (and these following years) will be rewritten or forgotten or otherwise skewed. There are pure human emotions at play and enough mental gymnastics to fuel a thousand Olympics(es?). We need to capture it, keep it safe.

I tell the story about Perion Synthetics because in Hybrid Mechanics (that’s four), the entire premise of my book is based on the idea that the only possible way it makes sense that Donald Trump is the President of the United States is if we’re all living in a computer simulation that has gone way off the fucking rails. The characters live in a simulation (our reality) and they wake up to their real reality (the Vinestead universe). It’s an underhanded way of implying that our world is seriously messed up, but who can really argue otherwise?

I don’t know what my politically sensitive reader is going to say about the characters calling Trump out by name, and it doesn’t really matter. It’s staying in there. If the name of the President didn’t matter, if it were the same old Dem v Repub argument that has gone on since forever, I probably would soften it a little. But this is not a normal situation, and at some point, you have to take a stand.

Do a little. Do a lot. But do something.

You can keep your opinions to yourself and vote in private, but in your work where emotions drive everything, you can and should tap into how you’re feeling, even if polite society says you shouldn’t talk about such things.

Those are the same people who say you shouldn’t post about politics on a publicly viewable blog because it might hurt your employment chances when someone googles you.

But then, if someone doesn’t want to hire you because you don’t like Trump, doesn’t that imply something about their feelings towards El Presidente Pendejo? And would you really want to work for them?

Anyway, that’s my rant for today. If I offended you because you think Trump has some “really great ideas, the best ideas, everyone says so,” then you’re not going to enjoy my next book, Hybrid Mechanics, a cyberpunkian romp through an erotic dystopia chock full of witty one liners and inexplicable nudity (fifth and final mention!).

An Oral History of the Margate MESH

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The more things change, the faster they change. At no time in our history was that more true than in the years between 2018 and 2026 when America and most of the civilized world was almost brought to a technological standstill by a group of hackers who valued privacy over regulation and freedom over democratically elected control. This is the story of how the Margate MESH brought us to the brink and how the men and women of this great country brought us back.

Those Prying Eyes

LANGDON HUBER (Engineer, Perion Synthetics): I never saw the value in it, if we’re being honest here. Dealing with the telecoms meant encryption, and after the changeover in 2015, we started developing our own secure messaging in-house. Eventually, we were running our own fiber lines from the PC to the west and east coasts. So no, sending our data down AT&T Street or Comcast Avenue was never an issue for us, nor was it something we ever wanted to do.

WADE VUNAK (CEO, Nixle Chronos): It was definitely a concern for us heading into the tenth anniversary of OcularAR. Not only was BT inspecting every packet that crossed their network, they were taking their sweet time doing it. We were developing a multiplayer game built around augmented reality that required bandwidth beyond what BT was providing to the average user. With OcularAR already costing hundreds of dollars, we couldn’t very well ask the user to shell out hundreds more each month for the so-called Internet Fast Lanes. We needed another solution.

RAUL GARZA (SciTech Contributor, HowItDo): Oh yes, the Margate MESH. Uppercase M, E, S, H, like it’s some kind of acronym for something bigger. It’s not. It’s just a word held over from the early days of networking, a wild idea that maybe communications didn’t have to be centralized. I’ll tell you where it started: P2P. Kids looking to trade software they couldn’t afford who stopped leeching from servers on the Net after they started getting sued. And yeah, that was a big nuisance on its own, but it made everyone realize something: they were being watched. Not by the SysOps, but by Time Warner and Verizon. Every bit they sent down the line was being intercepted and cataloged, even those that weren’t expressly illegal.

TANZY (I.C.E-1): No, anyone with a basic education could find the tools to secure their data, whatever that data was. We knew the telecoms were listening in, we knew they were telling on us to the NSA, FBI, and local law, but we didn’t worry about that shit. If you were dumb enough to let someone listen in on your private conversation, you deserved to get busted. No, what really turned it around were the fucking moles. Media companies had been leaning on the telecoms for years, sending takedown notices and subpoenas to every file sharer they encountered. After we got smart, and the telecoms told them their hands were tied, they started flooding the scene with bogus files. Sometimes they were harmless, other times they had viral payloads. You couldn’t call them on it without admitting guilt, so the whole thing just stalemated.

This is an A-B conversation

GARZA: The collective attitude towards security and privacy hit a tipping point in 2016. Do-gooder companies like Miranda Enterprises and BreezeNet spent their advertising revenue on end-to-end encryption programs with ciphers strong enough to keep all but the best hackers out. Plexadigm launched their own satellite late in the year to provide an alternative network; it was slow, but it was supposedly free from inspection. You still had to worry about what happened when the data left Plexadigm’s network though. Whatever people tried, they kept running into the same walls. That’s when distributed computing really began to gain traction.

TANZY: We’d been using distributed comms for a while before we came up with the MESH. Our phones had apps that spoke directly to each other through NFC. Our slivers had limited broadcast capability that allowed us to trade small bursts of data with nearby users. It was a good start, but a truly robust wireless mesh required hardware far beyond a simple phone. Besides, developing for those platforms meant planting seeds in someone else’s garden. One of our earliest requirements for MESH was that it couldn’t be dependent on Motorola or Samsung hardware. We had always planned to release MESH as open source, so we knew we needed an open source platform.

HUBER: It’s no secret anymore that our initial synthetic prototypes were reliant on a centralized system for communication and updates. After what happened, we really didn’t have a choice but to look into distributed systems. A wireless mesh offered a way for our synthetics to talk to each other without having to rely on a third party to translate. Funny enough, the first few iterations we went through worked so well that our synthetics stopped talking to each other verbally for almost a year. It was pretty unsettling not knowing what our products were discussing, and I imagine that’s how the telecoms felt when MESH started taking off.

VUNAK: What we got wrong was relying on the rig architecture to deliver peer to peer communications. We were still dealing with lowest-bidder fabrication companies, and God only knows where the original parts came from, or what government agency had gotten their hands on them before arriving in our warehouse. The rig itself had the horsepower and broadcasting abilities, but we couldn’t trust the security of a system that we didn’t build ourselves. We were in the design phase when MESH popped up. Three months later, we started porting.

Reach out and touch someone

TANZY: We released MESH 0.1 for the Margate biochip on the first of April 2016. It was a full dump: executables, source code, and even some shitty documentation I was volunteered to write. A year later, we were up to version 2.05 and quickly approaching telecom speeds. More and more people made the switch; in one week, we received over two thousand photos of neck scars. Margate biochips were going in as fast as Guardian Angel and Ayudante chips could come out. We had a user base that rivaled FriendSpace and BreezeNet put together, but we wanted more. I can’t tell you who came up with the “killer feature” for version 3.0, but we all signed off on it. We all left the barn door open.

VUNAK: Leave it to a bunch of hackers to promise one thing and deliver another. Tighter integration with other platforms sounded like a great idea, and I admit we were really excited about it. MESH had been a godsend up to that point, but we still had latency between our biochips and the rigs. And yeah, 3.0 changed all that. Life was good. The future was as bright as ever. Then one night I’m closing up shop and I pull a rig off the shelf, one we hadn’t used in weeks. I booted it, and can you guess what greeted me? The Margate MESH. Version 3.0. It infected everything, and our only option was the nuclear one.

HUBER: If you believe I.C.E-1’s story, the MESH was never designed to run on anything besides the Margate Mark 4 and higher. Certainly no one actively ported MESH to the Guardian Angel chip. Something like that would have had to come from inside Vinestead, and they have no interest in people talking amongst themselves. They’d rather we not talk at all than to be cut out of the conversation. Break room gossip says MESH ported itself to the GA chip. I understand how that might be hard for people to believe, but I’ve worked around synthetics long enough to know that sometimes evolution just can’t be stopped.

GARZA: Oh yeah, it’s a total emergent A.I. scene — very sexy, very provocative. No one besides Perion crackpots actually thought MESH was sentient — though who knows, maybe it was — but even I.C.E-1 freely admits that the program’s only goal in life was to spread, to seek out other nodes and expand the MESH. To reach more people, to spread more data, and to do it all at light speed, the MESH needed to be in every biochip and compatible hardware platform throughout the world. In its infancy, it had been stymied by the closed architecture of the Guardian Angel and Ayudante biochips. And then one day… through some security lapse or stroke of luck or grace of God, it found a way.

The Sum of Rewritten Memory

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Ah, the Alpha Reader period, that month-long, self-enforced sabbatical from what is sure to be the next great American Science Fiction novel. Is there anything worse than trying to fill the days when all you want to do is continue working? I submit there is not. Sure, my son said his first word and learned how to climb the side of his crib, and sure there are unopened PS4 games on my shelf, and sure my yard needs attention, and sure I could keep this list going forever, but I want to write, dammit. And write I will, even if it’s something I’ve already written.

The more time that passes since the release of my first book, Xronixle, the more I feel the need (nay, the duty) to go back and rewrite it. I usually don’t get very far because it’s a huge undertaking. We’re talking about a ground-up, word-by-word rewrite in Scrivener, another word-by-word rewrite into Word, alpha reading with people who’ve never read my work before, and then endless months of revisions and editing. All this for a book that has already been written and been on sale for more than a decade. Is it worth it?

I think so.

For one, it’s a matter of pride. All five of my books take place in the same universe, and though there are no sequels, I tend to think of the timeline as starting with Xronixle, but in 2018, I’m hesitant to suggest people start there. “Start with the latest,” I always say, and then under my breath, “because I need you to be a huge fan before slogging through my first book.”

I have so many issues with Xronixle, including its style, language, mechanics, character depth, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I love the story, but it needs better packaging.

This week, I decided to try, once again, to rewrite the story. I picked a chapter at random and retyped it into Scivener, editing along the way. When that went okay, I jumped back to the beginning of the book and attacked it in earnest.

I thought it was going to be difficult and that I would hate every minute of it. Instead, I found myself enjoying the process and at the end, feeling incredibly happy. It is a joy to reformat paragraphs into units that make actual sense. It’s a joy to rewrite dialogue to not sound like a creepy 15 year old who just discovered sex and now can’t stop describing it in vernacular better found in an episode of Beavis and Butthead.

It’s a relief to put question marks at the end of sentences.

Seriously, that happened.

If I had to choose a single word to sum up my opinion of Xronixle, it would be immature. That would apply to the writing, the characters, the dialogue, the plot… everything. Rewriting it after all this time is like fixing up a dilapidated junker that has been sitting in the backyard on cinder blocks.

I am now excited about this project. Not only will it produce a Second Edition of a book I love, but the reading of that book will be a better experience for everyone. And, it will keep me busy while I anxiously wait for people to send me their feedback about Hybrid Mechanics.

And that is what I’m currently working on, since you asked.

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Love, Angst, and Marriage

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Last week, at the ripe old age of 37, I got married. It was a small affair with family and friends, just west of Dripping Springs, Texas in the Hill Country. The weather had been rainy leading up to the day, but on Friday, the sun was shining and a cool breeze was blowing. Dominique was beautiful, the flowers were beautiful, and everyone we hired to play music and serve food did a great job. We danced the night away with friends and later, listened to stories from drunken family members as we sat around a fire. All of that was expected… what I didn’t expect was that in the course of writing my toast for the reception, I would finally nail down where my writing style came from.

I’ll explain.

As religion fades from popularity, traditional church weddings will surely follow. We were no exception, and through a series of compromises, we settled on a non-denominational ceremony. I was surprised to learn, upon meeting with our officiant, that we could write any ceremony we wanted. What an opportunity! A writer who has written about love all his life with the chance to write his own ceremony? Surely, he would not pass that up, right?

Ha! Wrong.

With El Matador going on 10 months, a book to finish, a wedding to finalize, and so on and so on, there just wasn’t any time. So we compromised again and Frankensteined a new ceremony based off the officiant’s past work. That did not, however, keep us from having to write our own vows, and in my case, a toast.

I went through several iterations before settling on a final version. I kept the political jokes at bay and removed anything vaguely sexual (I’m so glad we decided to wait until marriage, sweetie, as El Matador looks on). Early on in the process, I found myself sitting and thinking about a single question: what is love?

Baby, don’t hurt me.

It dawned on me that I have been trying to understand love since a very young age. I continue to explore the concept in my books, rifling through the variants as if choosing a flavor of ice cream: I’ll have one scoop of unrequited love, a scoop of romantic love, and two scoops of pragmatic love with a cherry of infidelity on top.

One draft of my toast started like this:

I started keeping a diary when I was fifteen. It was in a Word doc that I named dec6.doc and it’s still on my computer. The first line? Fuck the world. I was fifteen. Also, I had started using fiction to help deal with my problems. So I would sit down and write as if my life were a story, and I’d make things out to be bigger than they were, and I’d get my rage and frustration and sadness out that way.

My diary wasn’t about my day-to-day life, and I didn’t write it in more than a couple times per month. What I wrote wasn’t an accurate depiction of my life either, and over time, I realized I’d created a second, fictional Daniel.

What I wrote most about was love, or at least, what I thought love to be. And over the years, I noticed I was constantly redefining what love actually is. This continued to present day in my books. I’m still trying to figure out what makes relationships tick. Relationships… not love. I’m no longer trying to understand love. At 37 years old, I’ve taken a stand on what I think love is.

Love is a choice.

At that point, as I started to meander towards describing love versus attraction, I abandoned this thread. I didn’t need to tell a room full of people what love was. They either knew or they didn’t. And regardless, my opinion on the matter shouldn’t really hold any water for them.

Also, worse, love is a choice just sounds kinda shitty. Too pragmatic. It implies that we choose to love someone but that we aren’t compelled to love them. That sounds a little more like codependency to me, not love. You may be compelled to love someone, to feel a connection you can’t explain nor would ever want to, but you choose to be with them, you choose to work on that love and make it into a relationship.

My early novels are blatantly focused on the idea of love, but there’s no discussion of how that love came to be. In Xronixle, X loves his high school sweetheart C, so he makes a copy of her in virtual reality after she breaks up with him. But why does he love her? Even if it is simple puberty-fueled, high school love, it should be addressed and investigated. Having lived and written the book, and having come out the other side, I know, as the author, that what X felt wasn’t love… but how do I express that in a story?

I didn’t. 24 year old Daniel didn’t even try to explore it. Shame on you, young Daniel.

I feel like I did a better job of questioning love in my latest book, Por Vida. There is love between Sepideh and Natasha, but it’s because they fill holes in each other’s lives. There’s love between Doyle and Vida, but it’s revealed to be more obsession than anything else.

And spoiler alert for my newest book, but there are two characters, a male and female, who by all rules of storytelling, should fall in love. But they don’t. The story, the situation, and the characters themselves don’t allow it.

There always has to be a reason people love each other. There has to be a reason people choose love.

Last night, Dominique wanted to watch the first episode of Altered Carbon, which I certainly didn’t mind seeing again. After it was over, I asked her thoughts and she said it was interesting. We talked briefly about Science Fiction in general; she’s not a big fan of the violence and futuristic technology.

To which I replied:

That’s the thing about Science Fiction. You have to look past the technology and the guns and the gratuitous nudity, because at its core, it’s just a story about people, and relationships, and love. The story is always about humanity.

And that’s how I write my books. Technology, both real and fictional, allows us to look at our humanity in ways never thought possible. Eternal re-sleeving. Memory modification. Virtual reality. Augmented reality. Instant communication. I mean, look what social media has done to us in just the last few years…

Lastly…

I think love, relationships, and humanity are at the core of every good Science Fiction novel (and other genres as well). Books like Replay by Ken Grimwood and The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger come to mind.

Hell, even 1984, with its bleak dystopian setting and eerily prescient system of government, comes down to one single, simple, devastating act of betrayal between two humans. That’s it. Do it to her. The reader feels something in that moment, and I’ve always wondered if that was the one true emotion George Orwell wanted to communicate to people, so much so that he built an entire world just to support it. Who did he betray in his lifetime? Or who betrayed him?

Anyway, choose love, my fellow writers. Choose relationships and humanity. You can still have your mechs and your spaceships and your vorpal swords, but if there aren’t any people in your story… what’s the point?

The Vinestead Anthology

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Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

Today, I’m trying to understand what psychology of the series tag. You know, that whole template every budding indie writer seems to be following these days: The Novel Title (The Series Name, Book X). I understand why people who write series would want to tag their books so readers get them in the right order, but what if you write interconnected books that don’t go in any order? Can you still use the series tag? Does it add value, or will it ultimately hurt more than it helps?

Consider the change I made yesterday to the listing of Por Vida on Amazon:

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Say you’re a new reader to my books (fat chance, I know you’ve got ’em all on your Kindle), if you saw the above on Amazon, would you:

  • See the word anthology and think unordered series of books taking place in the same universe?
  • Feel like you should seek out Book 1 and start there? (assuming the other books were properly labeled)
  • Not want to get invested because the series is already four books long (I felt this with the Dark Tower series)
  • Close the tab and go browse Reddit for a while

I’m torn between wanting to let people know these books are all connected (based on how excited I get when Stephen King mentions Derry in one of his books) and not wanting them to think its a true series that never finds an ending or that it needs to be read in a certain order.

So I ask you, fellow authors: If you were trying to market standalone novels that shared the same universe, would you use the series tag? Why / why not?

I’d ask my agent, but she lives in Canada. You wouldn’t know her.