Saturday, October 27, 2012

Just Being Batman

When I was 19 years old, I was in a terrible car wreck.  Not terrible in the sense that I was injured.  In fact, I walked away with only a dislocated thumb and a small cut above my left eye.  The accident was terrible because the car was destroyed.  I struck a total of seven trees and a concrete drainage ditch before the car came to rest.  Everyone was amazed that I walked away at all, much less with so few injuries.  It was at that moment that I realized a truth that shaped my foreseeable future:

I’m immortal.

Okay, maybe not immortal.  Just invincible.  I’m talking Bruce Willis Invincible.

I guess everyone thinks that when they’re young.  It’s only in the past few years that I’ve started to realize that maybe (and, realize I mean only JUST maybe) I may not actually be immortal.  I now approach the fun activities of my youth – bungee jumping and whitewater rafting – with the realization that I have grown surprisingly fond of my limbs and I’m not entirely sure I’m ready to part with them.

This mortal sensibility recently crept into my writing.  I wrote “Card Tricks” about a superhero that truly wasn’t; a man who didn’t want the powers he had, nor were they the powers he would have chosen if given a choice.

Everyone thinks about getting superpowers when they’re young.  Everyone wants to be Batman (minus the murdered parents) or Superman (minus the dead parents) or Spiderman (minus the dead parents and murdered uncle).  When confronted with the question of what power they’d have if given the choice, they say “I want to fly” or “I want to be invincible” or “I’m Batman”.

The mortal sensibility in me, however, starts evaluating how truly effective those powers would really be.  It would be great to fly faster than the speed of sound, but unless your power also gave you skin that can handle the wind sheer, you’d wind up as little more than a red mist the second your broke the sound barrier.  Don’t even get me started on how hard it would breathe when wind is driving into your face at 800 miles per hour.

These crazy thoughts are actually driving a future novel of mine, which will examine just how much life sucks when you become a superhero.  If you want to see where it all starts, go read “Card Tricks”.

Until then, I think people should analyze more closely their superpower wishes.  When asked what superpowers you want, be sensible.  Just stick with being Batman.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Jon Messenger, Delivery Boy

This post has nothing to do with writing.  No, really.  I'm not kidding.  I know I'm a writer and this is a writer's blog, but I just don't have anything interesting book-related to say.  No, this blog post is about the endless possibilities of job opportunities that were afforded to a much younger Jon Messenger, and how they never came to fruition (or did they???).

A few months ago, I started a new job in Washington, D.C.  As part of my job, I read and watch the news daily, to see if I can understand the correlation between world events and the impact they might have on the Army Medical Department.

Trust me, it sounds FAR more exciting than it really is.

During one of my union work breaks in front of the television, I watched a news story about Fiona Apple being arrested on the Texas/Mexico border, for possession of marijuana.  At first, I, like many of you, couldn't believe what I was seeing.  Fiona Apple, who once innocently sang about sexually molesting a vulnerable man, also does drugs?  What has the world come to?

It wasn't the story that really interested me, or the subsequent insults thrown back and forth between the Apple camp and the local Sheriff (though I appreciated the Sheriff's reply of, "shut up and sing").  No, what interested me was the title of the story:

"Fiona Apple, singer, arrested for drug possession."

Many of you re-read that sentence a few times, just to see the secret message hidden within.  Let me help you:

"Blah Blah, singer, blah blah blah blah."

When I first saw this story and then, later, read this story online, they repeatedly commented on Fiona Apple, the singer.  Apparently, since she put out "Criminal" in 1997, she's been touring (I have to assume singing only her one song over and over during a 90-minute concert).  She's even, apparently, putting out a new album, which could only be titled after using every letter in the alphabet at least twice.  No joke, here's the title of her new album:

"The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do"

But her only hit and worthwhile album was put out in 1997.  That was 15 years ago!  For the past 15 years, she's done nothing else really worthwhile, but she's been living off the title of "singer", despite not really doing much singing.

15 years ago, I was a dead sexy college freshman hanging out on the beaches of Los Angeles.  When I wasn't in college, I was a delivery boy.  I wasn't exactly proud of being a delivery boy, but I was damn good at it.

Now, I know what you're thinking: she's techinically still singing, so she gets to keep the title of Fiona Apple, singer.  Well, technically I still pick up food for the family on the way home from work.  Therefore, I get to keep my title:

Jon Messenger, Delivery Boy.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Evolution of Man

About three months ago, I took all my notes for my most recent science fiction book, RAGE, and started turning it into a true novel.  At that time, names like Jonas Vega, Eli MacKenzie, and Victoria Donovan were just names.  They were the ones that survived the culling, when I trashed all the rest of the possible names that, to me, sounded like absolute rubbish.

Despite spending quite a bit of time on outlines and character development before working on the novel, the characters were nothing more than names on a list.  There was a picture of their faces in my mind, but they had yet to speak their first word on the page.

Then I started writing.

How is it that characters that had never lived until a few months ago suddenly have their own voices?  How is it that characters that were just names on a list three months ago are suddenly telling me how to write their next dialogue?

I recently finished RAGE and finally did a review of the book, cover to cover.  I was amazed how many times I stopped reading, furrowed my brow, rubbed my chin with concern, and said to myself, “He’d never say that!”

I firmly believe that books evolve, rather than “get written” or “are created”.  I do an outline for every book I write, but so rarely do they take the same path as I intend.  It’s not because I’m fickle (though I am), it’s because the characters take me places I would never have guessed even months before.  As they evolved in the story, they told me what should come next.  I had to cast aside my preconceived notions about the characters and listen to what they had to say. 

It’s amazing how much insight they had into themselves!

I’m very glad that RAGE is done and I hope my beta reader and editor appreciate the work.  I’m also glad I managed to shut up and listen to my characters.  I often think they’re way smarter than I am.

And yes, I managed to turn this blog about writing a book into an argument about “evolution” vs. “creationism”.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Working an Atrophied Muscle

I recently read that writing is a muscle like any other.  You have to exercise it like any other.

Two months ago, I might have looked at that person like they were crazy.  Writing is a skill that you develop over time.  If you've followed any of my blog so far, you know that my skill set has improved drastically from college until now.  It's not a muscle that atrophies if unused.  It's a skill like riding a bike.  You never forget how to ride a bike.

Have you ever tried riding a bike after not doing so for a few years?

Go buy yourself a helmet, you're going to need it.

I wrote the Brink of Distinction series during a deployment from 2007 - 2009.  Since then, I've worked on a lot of outlines and developed story ideas, but haven't written more than a few paragraphs for any actual novel in the past three years.  I had tons of great story ideas, but that was a large part of the problem.  Every time I thought it was time to start a book, I couldn't focus on JUST ONE IDEA!  My flights of fancy meant that I was thinking about Fantasy while writing Science Fiction.  It just didn't flow.

That all changed early this year, when I finally settled on a single book idea.  Having seen a large upturn of cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in Soldiers who had redeployed from either Iraq or Afghanistan, I realized that the story "Rage" needed to be told.  Despite the futuristic turns, the issues are very realistic.  Anyone who's ever worked with a charity realizes that any publicity is good publicity, even when it comes in the form of futuristic PTSD.

When I started writing, I realized that writing, to my dismay, really was a muscle.  I'm not a brain surgeon (if I was, I sure as hell wouldn't be worried about sales on my latest novel), but there is certainly a part of the brain associated with writing ability.  And my poor part of the brain had shrunk.  The good ideas still existed, but the writing felt awkward and heavy.  Well, heavy handed... it's supposed to be a 1960's slang "heavy" topic.

Forcing myself to write the chapters, however, quickly also made me realize that like any muscle in the body, you have muscle memory.  If I don't run for a few months, running sucks.  But do it a few times, and your body starts to remember the motions on how it's supposed to go.  Writing was the same way.  Write for a couple weeks, and suddenly my mind remembered how to build sentence structure and formulate dialogue.

Now, I am proud to announce that "Rage" is only 12 chapters away from being completed.  That may seem like a lot, especially in a 49-chapter book, but considering I'm writing two chapters a day, it means I'll be done by next weekend.  Then the book goes to the editor and I can breathe a sigh of relief.

I hope you all take the time to read "Rage" when it officially comes out.  There's a lot of heart and soul in the book.  The whole novel can best be summed up by the story's tagline: "It's hard to civilization when you're no longer civilized."

Look for "Rage" to be released either late October or early November 2012.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cracks in the Mirror

                Everything I’d ever read emphasized that you should write about what you know.  I write military science fiction because a) I love science fiction and b) I’ve been serving in the US Army for 10 years.  I write it, because it’s what I know.
                Now, what I’m starting to worry about, is when you write about what you know it can be incredibly taxing.  Take, for example, my newest novel “Rage”.  “Rage” follows a young conscripted Sergeant who is exposed to a virus that makes him lose control of his anger.  Whenever angry, he becomes a monster with no recollection of his actions.  It’s a modern day take on a Jekyll and Hyde.  The crux of the story, however, is the second half of the book, which follows his return from the war and how he gets reintegrated into society.  He quickly realizes that it’s hard to become a part of civilized society when you’re no longer civilized.
                The story is a futuristic take on a real issue affecting our military: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Our Soldiers have been deploying time and again over the past 11 years.  They’ve experienced gunshots, explosions, ambushes, and death on a scale that the modern civilized society just can’t fathom.  When you consider that only 1% of the US population has ever served in the military, it’s easy to see why an issue like PTSD is not fully understood by the general populace.
                One of the quotes from the book explains many Soldiers’ perceptions of how they’re treated following redeployment:
"Everyone loves a story about a war hero, but no one wants to talk about what happens after they come home from war. We fought, and we died. And those of us that came home were cheered like the conquering heroes we were. They smiled. They threw us parades. They took our picture. They tossed confetti into the streets. But the truth was, we were the confetti all along.  We were a good idea at the time and we took a good picture, but when all was said and done, they left us in the streets like trash.  They left us to clean up our lives and walked away to go live their own.  And you, doc?  You’re their janitor.  Your job is to sweep us under the rug so we don’t bother the nice folks.  Your job is to make sure we’re always remembered as confetti, and no one is reminded that they treat us like garbage.”
Despite having the science fiction flair, the stress factors and his reactions to stressful situations that lead up to his Rage Virus outbursts are realistic.  They’re reactions that I’ve not only seen in others, but recognized in myself.
That’s the painful thing about writing about what you know.  The novel becomes a mirror, exposing your own flaws and making you confront the issues that you knew existed, but chose to ignore.  It becomes an exhausting experience, to write each chapter from the heart, knowing that everyone who reads the book will be reading your faults, your flaws, and your shortcomings.  For once, you notice the cracks in your mirror.  It’s a horrible experience.
The moral of the story?  I’m tired, but proud of the work being done on “Rage”.  I hope you all enjoy the book as well, once it’s finally published.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Grammatical Rage

For those of you who have read the Brink of Distinction trilogy, you’ve seen what continues to cause me minor embarrassment: grammar mistakes.  There are faint mistakes sprinkled throughout, but it’s enough to distract an avid reader who’s trying to get engrossed in the story.  I can’t really defend myself, since it’s my fault there are errors.  I guess if I were a professional instead of a hobbyist, those mistakes wouldn’t appear.  However, I have to make these two comments:

I AM a hobbyist, which is why I can’t afford an editor.

I AM an asshole, which is why I only suffer minor embarrassment.

For book one, Burden of Sisyphus, I hired an editor who was also part of the agency representing the book.  Much like the agency itself (which you have heard mention of before in previous posts), the editor sucked… big.  Not only did he not correct all the faults, he actually added some.  In one instance, he changed “raw power” to “war power”.  The paragraph no longer made sense.  He was the unprofessional editor.

The problem was, the editor, albeit crappy, was expensive.  Even independent editors cost money.  More than I’m making writing thus far, I might add.  Instead, I rely on family and friends to review my books and make corrections.  They’re not professionals, though I respect them more than most people in the industry.  Errors still slip through… it’s something I’ve come to terms with.

There are certain errors that will not appear in my books if I can help it.  We’ll call it Grammatical Rage.  When I see these mistakes (most commonly seen in the comments section of a CNN article), my world goes red and I want to choke the public education system in America.  I don’t care that the public education system in America (PESA) is a vague machine made up of hundreds of underpaid and mostly uncaring individuals.  I don’t care that PESA is not supported financially by the government.  I don’t care that PESA is best personified in a joke by comedian Louis Black, when he explained that the 49th ranked state in the US showed students pictures of microscopes, since they couldn’t afford the real thing.  And yes, there was a state worse than that.

My fury is with the basics:
To, Two, Too
Their, They’re, There
Your, You’re
Anything that involves text lingo (to include, but not limited to: h8r, sk8r, rofl, u, r, ur, luv, and lol except when referencing cats)

I didn’t grow up in the US.  My formative years were spent abroad, learning proper English from international schools.  It saddens me that while I was learning English, Japanese, and Thai simultaneously, we have people born in the US who act like English is their second language, although they don’t have a first.

All I ask is that people utilize they’re language properly.  It’s not two difficult.  Take pride in you’re language.  Take pride in yourself.  Realize that there’s no such thing as urself.  Lol.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Writer's Isolation

I recently (see: still in the middle of it) took a vacation for the sole purpose of writing.  The idea was simple: take a trip to a familiar location where I wouldn’t be distracted by the urge to sight see or enjoy the outdoors, take only my laptop loaded with music and Microsoft Word, and complete as much of my new novel “Rage” as possible.

It wasn’t a popular idea.  To my wife, who I have to defend by saying that I left her with an 11-month old son to care for by herself, she just couldn’t understand why I didn’t stay at home and write there.  My family couldn’t understand why I wanted to stay at a hotel, cut off from society.  Only fellow writers, of whom I only have a few that I consider more than passing acquaintances, understood what I was doing.

I was, for the first time since finishing my science fiction trilogy, Brink of Distinction, dedicating myself to my craft.

Being in the Army, there have been numerous times that I’ve been required to stay late to complete projects or, more often than not, just to get yelled at for something I did or failed to do.  I would leave for work at 5:30 am and not get home until after 11:00 pm (2300 for my European and military friends).  Although that frustrated my family and friends, they understood, since the Army is my occupation of choice.  When dealing with your job, it’s expected that sometimes you’ll just have to work some overtime to get a project completed.

Why is that different when it comes to writing?

I’ve read numerous articles about the “process of writing”.  Nearly every one gives the same advice, which is “force yourself to write at least 30 minutes every day”.  I’ve tried, but what I’ve found happens if I do that is that my work is complete rubbish.  I FEEL like I’m “forcing” myself to write, which lowers the quality of the product that I produce.  I think the original trilogy came out as well as it did because I was completely passionate about damn near every word I put on the page.  If I lack that passion and write a novel just because it’s being “forced”, how can I honestly expect the quality to match my expectations?

Though my writer’s vacation has not been popular, I will say that it’s been highly productive and, in my eyes, beneficial.  I found my optimal writing time (2200 – 0200, unfortunately), and have completed nearly 100 pages in the novel over only three days.  At this pace, I will have “Rage” done shortly after I return to the Seattle area.

And, since “Rage” represents such a personal topic with me (and you too, Ed), if I’m not passionate about the work, how can I expect these very real issues to be represented as well as possible on the paper?  There’s a whole different blog that I’ll post someday talking about the similarities between my life that those of Jonas Vega, the main character from “Rage”.

The moral of this entire post is this: I consider writing as much an occupation as my job in the Army.  Yes, it is entirely supplemental income and could never sustain me and my family if I did it full time.  Currently, I’m up to an astounding $3,000 US annually in royalties off all three books.  However, writing was never about making money.  It was about writing and completing something as astounding as a 300-400 page novel from scratch; something that people genuinely are excited about reading.  But if writing is a job for me, then isn’t it understandable that sometimes, like these ten days of my writer’s isolationist vacation, when I’m going to have to do a little overtime?