A Convoluted Definition

Dystopian fiction is _____. I feel like I’m in grade school having to write a test with ‘fill in the blank’ style questions.

Q: What does the word ‘dystopia’ mean to you?

A: Well, Mrs. Hag, it means a lot of things to me, but since you have only given me one line to write on I’m forced to assume that you don’t want an essay answer here.

I can’t tell you when the last, physical copy of a dictionary left my life. Or a thesaurus, for that matter. Now everything is built-in and STILL people don’t don’t spell check! My wife bought me a Grammar Nazi t-shirt. My wife is correct. When I ask the Great Oracle of Google what the word means, this is what I get:

adjective: dystopian

  1. 1. relating to or denoting an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.

That is rather ambiguous, don’t you think? It leaves a lot of room for personal interpretation. My goal here is to make a distinction between the words dystopia and science fiction. Somewhere inside my mind, these two words have merged and, it’s not a viable offspring for me. I get that a future world will probably have different technology, but Sci-fi enthusiasts seem to have decided that the future technology will be better than what we have now? That chances are, it will be, but for the sake of selfish indulgence, let’s humor my thinking here. What if the technological advances are simply the software, and not really the hardware? Software developing has become a major focus in our society. Things are forever being upgraded and reworked, but the hardware that runs it has fallen far behind in terms of stability.

One of the things I notice the most about life in 2018 is that nothing is built to last anymore. Back in the day, companies took pride in stating that their product would outlive you, and that it would still be working when the cemetery workers were shoveling dirt over your coffin. Your children would be stuck with your ‘still functioning watch’, or the washing machine with the elusive and, completely unnecessary repairman on the company’s payroll. Now everything is made to break. Somehow, the idea that you can make a product that was designed to fail became the driving force behind nearly everything. This is why I swear by my cast iron cookware. Go ahead bitches, break that shit! That handle isn’t going to just drop off because the rivets are worn out. There aren’t any rivets!

Where was I? Oh, dystopia. Ha, that sounds like the beginning of a poem, doesn’t it? O Dystopia, how I long for the sound of your gritty voice– Anyway, my thinking here is that a future dystopian society isn’t necessarily a more advanced one. The biggest problems I see in our society today is that we are dumbing ourselves down in the areas that are really important. I’m talking about survival importance. What good is being able to develop brilliant, 3D animation software if you’re just going to starve to death because you don’t know the first thing about growing food or storing it? Life doesn’t really come from a store. Once upon a time, growing, canning, sewing and other basic skills were necessary to just stay alive. Now our society takes them for granted. We buy food from disreputable companies with disreputable employees who we don’t want to pay proper wages to. We focus on the Next Gen of everything, and we go into massive debt to obtain it. Our world now runs on theoretical money as opposed to actual, touchable commerce. We can’t get a job, or rent an apartment without a decent numerical score that indicates our ability to handle imaginary money. Every single person is now tied to a credit system that makes no sense. And the word credit means debt. Don’t kid yourself. Everything is debt. Your credit rating is really a rating about how you manage your debt. It always was, and it always will be.

To me, dystopia isn’t a society where the government controls every citizen through disreputable means (much like our current state of affairs) but rather a society where the government gives us exactly what we want. It gives us the ways to meet our basic needs, and thrive as a species. But once we have that, our time is no longer an empty string of hours that we can fill up however we wish. Go ask a homesteader how much time he/she has to just sit down and read a book, or watch a program on television. At this point, a lot of people are going to be changing the word in question to Utopia. If this is your ideal, then we have a lot in common, but don’t look me up on Facebook just yet. I’m not done.

Now toss in a single, unlooked for element, say… the government wants one thing in return for granting all your ignorant, selfish wishes. This is where the ‘dys’ part of things comes in. The Almighty Government wants to judge your children and remove the ones it doesn’t like. How do you like your utopia now?

Smashing Pumpkins is on Patreon. When you become a Fan you will be supporting my work, and get to read the story for yourself.

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Holiday Schmoliday

When I was a kid it seemed like Halloween was a single day of the year preceded by a week, maybe ten days of my mother making my costume and really messing up my play time by forcing me to try it on at various stages. Now, right after school starts, the big, round, orange tents of temporary stores starting erupting like asphalt-pox in parking lots everywhere, conveniently located for all my Halloween needs. It’s a sign, folks, pay attention. The fifth dimensional natives are planning a feast of our souls, and they’re taking the time to properly season us with cheap, mass-marketed costumes and glitter. Taking an Uber to an adult Halloween party dressed as a Playboy bunny crossed with a garbage-eating-tarantula-with-a-toothache, and arthritis in two of your eight appendages, might be the last decision you ever make. Your body will return home (also via Uber) but your soul will be absent (having been plucked out the second you downed that last Cement-mixer and crossed the boundaries of our reality) and finely shredded into a deeply fermented, living kimchi, seasoned with the sadness of beings everywhere who were also trying to get their pre-Yule going. Enjoy!

On the flip-side, Happy New Year!

Wait, what?

The actual New Year is definitely open to interpretation, but for me, Samhain (Halloween) is the eve of my New Year. It just makes sense to me. October is the month where the weather really changes, taking us from the dog days of Summer into the true Autumn of an ending cycle. The veil between this world and that of those who have passed on is at its thinnest, and many cultures are making a point to honor this by putting out offerings to their ancestors. Here in the US our sense of culture is exceptionally fractured, making our spiritual holidays questionable to many, but regardless of what practice you follow, or even if you follow no practice at all, the passage of time is something we all feel and acknowledge. Starting now, we are all switching to our internal mode, looking at our Winter projects with a planning eye, and checking what’s due to come out on Netflix for the next few months. I don’t know about the rest of you, but the new season of Doctor Who starts this Sunday and I’m looking forward to that. I’ve got my popcorn ready and the lapghan I’ve been working on for three years all set to get its next rows. Maybe this will be the season I finish it, eh? I’m also gathering candy for the masses because I truly love Halloween!

The steady stream of costumed people ringing my door-bell, begging for treats is the highlight of my year. This is when I get to really fly my Freak Flag and greet them with a blood-stained bowl of candy and a screaming, flaming cat while blasting Werewolves of London through my computer speakers. I’ve got my audio clips all set up and ready to go. Screamers, check! Howlers, check! Creaking doors, check! Thunder and lightening, check! Growling monsters… (Hey! Git yer scaley asses back into the line-up! Nobody gets out until Yule!)… CHECK!

Oh yeah, and the sign Children Left Unattended Will Be Tasted. That goes on the door. See? Perfect! I can’t think of a better way to ring in the New Year than this. I might have to grab a bottle of Butterbeer and celebrate.

While you’re deciding how you want to celebrate the upcoming holidays, don’t forget to slide on over to my Patreon and consider becoming a Fan. It would mean so much to me.

Happy Halloween!

Patreon Launch Day!

Wow, I stayed up late working on things and I still feel like there’s so much to do.  I’m pretty sure I’m going to always feel this way until Smashing Pumpkins is fully done, but that knowledge doesn’t make the sense of urgency go away.  To be honest, I think I like the feeling a bit.  It means I’ve got things to do and that I’ll stay busy.  Immobility is really the biggest crime in the long run, right?

Here’s the link I’ve been promising: Smashing Pumpkins – Patreon

Chapter One is posted along with all of the current benefits.  My goal is to get the first three chapters up today, so I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me.  The formatting completely vanishes as soon as I copy and paste.  I have to go through everything and redo stuff so it doesn’t look wonky.  Don’t be afraid to stop over and have a look.  As I get more comfortable with things I’ll be setting up some teaser material for folks to read.  Sneak peeks can be fun!

Enjoy your week.  Devil’s Night is coming!

Details, we need them.

How many passes through a scene does it take for you to get all the details in? For me, it’s around… many. That first draft is really just about plunking down the ideas, and focusing on the characters as a whole. I don’t have too much trouble generating dialog, so my initial drafts always have a lot of it when there are things to be said. My brain seems to effortlessly generate sarcasm and bland expressions which can easily overwhelm a scene. Normally I have to go back through it all with a more critical eye and decide if it actually serves the scene, or just my love for the sound of my own ass-hattery. Sometimes the answer will be both. (happy dance!)

Once I’ve picked over all the dialog and tuned it to the exact frequency I like, then I just sit around being proud of myself for awhile. Ideally I should walk away from it here, because the scene is nowhere near finished, but I can never seem to remember that until after I’ve embarrassed myself by showing it to someone. Then I’ll sit in front of my computer for a while poking at the problems that are now completely visible and making me regret my excitement. (insert heavy, self-judgmental sigh)

Now that I’ve reached the stage of realistic I can start putting in details. This includes everything from hair, clothing, furniture and facial tics to weather, time and background noise. It’s really a lot like building a world for your Sims. There are always things that need to be accounted for in every scene or your reader isn’t going to be able to appreciate the world you are creating. The main things I tend to overlook are weather and surroundings. What does the room look like? Is there furniture? What about décor? What’s the character’s kitchen scheme reflect? Is it glitzy and showy, or practical? Is there a toaster? Does she use it? If she doesn’t use it, then why does she have it? Maybe I should change it to a coffee maker.

And what about the weather? The sun is always somewhere, even if somewhere is the other side of the planet. Is the wind blowing? Rain? How about a storm? What time of day is it? The beginning of Smashing Pumpkins starts with a wind storm, and I found myself forgetting that in spots as I worked on other characters. Everyone is existing in the same place during the same time frame. This means they all have the same weather. Some of them will undoubtedly be talking about it because that’s what people do. We talk about the weather.

Personality quirks are another thing to think about. Where did they come from? Why does that guy always twitch and look hungry when someone says the word camel? That didn’t just happen, it started somewhere. So figure it out. Even if you never tell your reader that the man once crossed a desert with only a small, black button for a companion, the fact that you know it will go a long way toward helping you make that character three dimensional.

After all of that thinking and discovering, there are times when I’ll go back and rework a scene days, weeks or even months after I thought it was finished. You really never know what detail you might have missed, or may have to add, until you reach the actual end. My appreciation for detail has really grown in this past year, and I know my work reflects. Detail has slowed down my production, but really, I was going to fast anyway. I needed the bumps in the road to show me the problems with my car. I can still draft at full speed, but my consciousness of detail has changed the feel of the final product.

If you want to join me on Patreon for the final push of Smashing Pumpkins I’ll drop the link on you next Monday. Launch day is September 24th! A single dollar will get you access to the finished chapters as they roll out, and I could really use your support.

As always, I wish you the best of your inspirations and hope you are living your dream.

Dystopia or Bust!

Dystopian themes are about the authors view of what the world would look like if a certain set of variables are changed. For some of us, the catalyst could be something as simple as a jack-o-lantern contest where the losers are executed Shirley Jackson style. This is exactly what happened here. My wife made a comment to the effect of “What if…” and my brain exploded. For me to create a world where this could happen, I needed to change a lot of things. I haven’t actually split the atom here, but there are definite differences. For the most part I have left the world itself alone and dealt only with the U.S. of A. As with many authors who tackle projects like this, I have taken the politics of my time, and the opinions of the hundreds of people I’ve encountered and had conversations with, and built a country that matches what I envision. My point of view is very Spartan-esque, slicing away a lot of frill and general garbage. I’m a firm believer in doing for yourself as opposed to buying your way to happiness. My own world, the one I see when I look out the window of my apartment is very small and troubled. People are confused and struggling, and the reasons that stand out to me the most are corporate greed, and the desensitized inaction of a dying government. What if that all went away? What if a livable wage was not an issue, and people everywhere could have fresh food without having to micro-manage their accounts, or beg? What if you could go anywhere in the country for free? What if all debt was erased? What if violent crime was erased? What if, in exchange for all of that, you had to give the government the right to assess your children during their early school years and remove the ones they didn’t like?

Smashing Pumpkins focuses mainly on the lives of four people who are all affected by the same rules. We’ve all got histories and lives that shape how we react to things, so I’ve really dug into the backgrounds of my characters and tried to show the connections that make them who they are in the story. Overlaying it all is the political practices and opinions that will always insert themselves into a group’s dynamics. Seems like a lot to manage in a single novel, right?

Well, the Patreon ball will be rolling soon and everyone who wants to will have the opportunity to give their opinion. If you want to join the community, just follow the link I’ll post here at launch. The current projection is September 24, as in next Monday.  In the meantime, happy writing!

Moving to Patreon

I’m obviously not writing shorts or scenes or anything anymore, I’m just working on the book and… well… working.  The whole of the story has become really large and intricate, more than I ever thought it would, and my need for feedback has become a tangible thing.  Patreon seems like a good place to finish this out.  I’ll be posting a link here at launch for any of you who would be interested in joining in.  There are some nice rewards in the tiers and I would love to hear your thoughts on the characters and the world I’ve built.  September 24 is the set date, and there is still so much to get ready.  I’m even sucking up my camera shyness and recording a short intro video.  I’ve never done one before so I’m really nervous about it.

NaNoWriMo is just around the corner!  I won’t be joining in this year, but I would love to support those of you that are taking up the challenge.  It was really a great experience for me.  I intend to do it again after Smashing Pumpkins is finally finished and in print.  I’ve got two more books in the wings, waiting for their chance to be in the NaNoWriMo spotlight.  If you decide to participate please do drop me a comment and I will happily cheer you on.  And don’t forget the Word Sprints.  I absolutely LOVED those!  If you don’t have a Twitter account then go get one and follow the Word Sprints.  It really added to the sense of community for me as well as giving me a competitive focus.

Power forward my friends!