‘Suck’ Comes Before ‘Succeed’

So without further ado, here’s a digital painting that I’ve been working on for a couple of weeks. Working on this while finishing Mesh, it’s teaching me that universal truth: Unlike the dictionary, ‘Suck’ Comes Before ‘Succeed’ in the process of creativity. Enjoy the painting and see below for some notes.

Even though I’m not super happy with the final product, I need to move on. Watching Bob Ross (because, Bob Ross) I realized that I wanted to paint, too. So I started working on something that I was interested in and if you’re one of my Beta Readers, you know that this is a scene from ‘Mesh.’

It took me around twenty hours to do this. Learned a lot about how to paint digitally using Photoshop and my digital drawing tablet along the way. I wish the project came out better, but I also remember that quote from Jake the Dog in Adventure Time: “Suckin’ at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.”

So here’s me and the painting I made. Yes, I know it sucks, but that’s how I get better. You can see some of the progress pics below in this Imgur gallery:

 

Finished this digital painting today … 

Formative Scifi is the Only Scifi

Re-reading a thread on Reddit about Iron Giant makes me realize how many lives that story touched. I’ll write a love letter to Brad Bird and The Iron Giant someday, but that isn’t what I want to talk about. Rather, I want to talk about formative scifi, because it’s the only scifi that matters. Therefore, Mesh must be formative scifi and that’s where my calories will really be burned.

Let me explain. “Formative experience is the everyday life we lived growing up and the know-how we develop as a result,” by this definition. “More often than not, the know-how develops beyond our awareness. We simply react or do the things we do, based on a familiarity, having seen or experienced something like it before.” As children, those formative moments become the pillars we stand on, or the rocks that crush us, for the rest of our lives. Further, for most of us, we’re trying to turn those rocks into pillars because, self-actualization and stuff.

Scifi always played a formative role in my life, and for many others. Iron Giant was clearly a formative experience for many, and it’s one of the reasons Brad Bird is such a talented storyteller. Contrast Iron Giant with a movie like Titan A.E.: one is a timeless story about love, loss, and acceptance … the other is, well, Titan A.E. You can enjoy both for what they are, but only one of them really worked to resonate on a human level. If I want readers to love Mesh as much as I do, I have to make sure the human connection is there.

But beyond Mesh, the only science fiction worth having in 2019 is formative scifi. Just as Tor points out, scifi books help us fight for a better world. That’s what we need right now. Regardless of where we come from, where we’re going is a dark and desperate place unless humanity can step back from the brink.

So, I want Mesh to be a part of that solution. I want my stories to be formative for someone, and therefore, Mesh has to resonate. If you believe in stories that matter, I want to know you. I want to tell a story that matters to you.

 

Thriller Novels and Spaghetti

Writing a thriller is like cooking spaghetti. Your reader doesn’t really care which noodle goes where, they just want the noodles to taste good together. The sheer level of effort required to make this last chunk of Mesh, to make the rest of the story come together in a neat, elegant order, is much higher than I first expected. I’m discovering new respect for authors like Frederick Forsyth, John Le Carré, and Tom Clancy. As your story builds to a climax, you can’t have a voice in the back of your head going “Yeah, that doesn’t fit together.”

At first, I thought at first I could write through the voice. Keep grinding, the answers will come. Some plots can afford that level of flexibility, but not a thriller. No, a thriller plot – which is what Mesh is, a YA scifi thriller – has to come together in that last act with no loose ends. Not only that, the loose end you tie up in Act Three can’t unravel four loose ends in Act Two. It’s somewhere between creativity and craftiness, productivity and puzzleology. In short, yeah it’s a lot of work.

I thought diagramming the story would prevent this from happening. Turns out, it works for the major chunks but not for the nitty-gritty details. Those are the details, IMHO, that separate stories like ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ from ‘The DaVinci Code.’ Fixing this, making Mesh the best story I can tell, is where I’m at right now.

Does this mean I should quit? Of course not. These are simply the problems I need to solve if I plan on being a good writer. Craft must be honed, you have to love the process of practice. I recall a Reddit post by a professional pianist that I think applies directly to my growth as a writer. “I think you have to have a growth mindset,” he says. “You have to enjoy the grind itself.”

So this is me, enjoying the grind. I’m not complaining. Yeah, I want to do this. Yeah, it’s going to take a lot of work. However, if it means a reader goes ‘Wow!’ at the end of Mesh, then it’ll all be worth it.

Back to the book!

 

Why You Need Mesh

Like all of you, I was horrified to read of the Christchurch shooting. Never been to New Zealand, have no dog in this fight. It’s just another heart-breaking reminder of the boring dystopia we’ve been sliding toward since Ike warned us of the ‘military-industrial complex’ back in 1961. You want another log on the ‘everything sucks’ fire? Not really my wheelhouse – Noam Choamsky has it covered, anyway. What I’d rather do is talk about why the world needs Mesh right now. Even if it doesn’t turn into the shot in the arm I think it is, I think we can all agree that a shot in the arm is needed.

Let me tell you first why *I* need Mesh. Me personally, I’m a mess. I know it. That isn’t changing anytime soon. Writing and social media seem to be the limit for my interaction with the universe. Doctors say my anxiety disorder isn’t getting any better, even with the meds or the therapy, so I should be ‘setting realistic expectations for myself’ when it comes to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I need Mesh, because it’s a story that lets me touch the universe. It’s the film on the bubble separating me from the outside world. Solving problems for Roman and Zeke and the Snow Fox kids (You’ll meet them soon enough) is better than the problems I can’t solve at home. But that’s me, and that’s my trip. Let’s talk about something else. Science fiction needs Mesh, and here’s why: Continue reading

Mesh Update #12: 74K words and Beta Reader Love

Mesh #12: 74K words and Beta Reader Love

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

Happy to say that Mesh passed into the seventy-thousand range. Now at 74,000 words. That’s thing one.

Thing two, is that I got an email from my beta reader yesterday: ‘forgot to email you the other day, but I loved it. keep up the good work, man.‘ He doesn’t know it but messages like these rock author worlds. Too often, we’re hammering away at the keyboard and shouting into the hole. Will anyone respond to what we’re saying? It’s the biggest emotional gamble of our lives.

Encouragement means so much. That’s why I’m working on Mesh, that’s also why I’m working on SFFDI. Look for more updates soon.

Gee, I called it a ‘Neurolink.’

Imagine waking up, coffee in hand, to read the news before you start your writing day. You click on Reddit and you see one of the central components of your scifi novel on the front page. Elon Musk is designing a computer / brain interface. Or he’s started a company to do that. He’s calling it ‘Neuralink,’ and all you can say is ‘Gee, I called it a ‘neurolink.’

That was me five minutes ago. To be clear, I didn’t plan this.

Let’s catch up: I’m writing a near-future scifi novel called ‘Mesh’ and within the story I cover a lot of cool toys and tricks … a YA scifi novel with a vibe somewhere between Back to the Future 2 and Blade Runner. With me so far?

One of the things I talk about are computer/brain interfaces, nothing new there. The kids of Miramar Techncial High (where Mesh takes place) get them installed as part of their work building secret tech projects. A neurolink has a low-level AI, interfaces to the Internet, and more.

So I’m sure you can understand how weird and cool it is to hear that Elon Musk is talking about doing the same thing. He wants to make a chip that gives you ‘the digital intelligence needed to progress beyond the limits of our biological intelligence. This would mean a full incorporation of artificial intelligence into our bodies and minds.’ I read the article going “check, check, and check.”

So this blog post is part ‘hey, that’s neat,’ and part ‘don’t call me a rip-off.’ I’ve been talking about this since the beginning, just ask my Beta Readers. Does that mean I think E.M. is ripping me off? Of course not. We’ve been discussing neural network interfaces as a species for decades now. I want to talk about what a neurolink might do to society in the future, but that’s definitely not a central core of Mesh’s plot.

Plus, it’s not like the Neuralink is coming next week. If the hive-mind of Reddit is any indication, neurolinks are a long way from reality. However, the fact that different components of Mesh are popping up on the radar of our existence is pretty cool. It also means I better finish this thing before any other parts of it appear. 🙂

Write on!

Into the Home Stretch

64,000 words into this draft of Mesh. We’re into the home stretch, kids. Our protagonists are about to make the horrible discovery, leading to their moment of truth as they decide to fight the bad guy and save the world. Lots of action and pyrotechnics in the last few chapters. You’re going to love it.

I’m sorry that it’s taken me so long to get here. I wish I could set a Dalton Trumbo-like pace, turning out a hundred pages in three days. For some reason, this is as fast as I can move if I want the story to make any sense at all. Trumbo’s legacy does inspire me: the guy wrote a lot of stuff that got rejected, too. Every writer seems to have two stories inside of him. The first story is what he’s working on. The second story is how he manages to make a buck. Both are equally important.

Want to know what the weather is like where I’m working? I found a web cam for the campus a few miles from my house – you can watch life on Planet Jackson as it unfolds. I’m hoping Mesh’s final form is part of the planetary landscape soon enough.

Mesh Update #11: New Free Wallpaper

Just in time for the end of the year, a new free wallpaper for Mesh.  I do concept art digital paintings of my stories – helps me inform my writing. For this piece, I wanted to try something different and focus on the characters of Mesh themselves.

Mesh Update #11: New Free WallpaperSo let’s do that. Tina is one of the ‘Snow Foxes,’ an elite group of techno-geeks that dominate the school and virtual reality. Let’s be clear: She isn’t a ‘damsel in distress,’ or ‘born sexy yesterday.’ I hate tropes that perpetuate mean-spirited stereotypes, so Mesh leaves them by the side of the road where they belong.

Tina isn’t perfect. She on the austistic spectrum. She’s also brilliant, athletic, witty, and brave. She’s a teenage girl who codes, plays basketball and practices jujitsu. She isn’t there to talk about the boys, or be talked about them. She’s there to be herself, like every person should be free to be.

Inside the Station, the massive VR system that contains our fearless geeky kids, you’re allowed to create your own sprites. Tina decided to transform herself into an anime princess as you’ll learn in Mesh:


“She looked up at two sprites that had just come through abusy communicating arch. “Watch it. Incoming nerds.”
“Huh?”
“Kids from the other team,” Tina said, morphing into a taller version of herself, now with red hair instead of blonde, and green eyes instead of blue. Her t-shirt melted into modular white plates, forming armor that belonged in some anime show. In the blink of an eye, she transformed herself into a warrior princess, ready for battle. “For these kids, you want to have your war face on.”

“I think I just fell in love with you,” Zeke mumbled.

“You’re cool, my sweet summer child.” Tina’s smile was somewhere between amused and flattered. Then she turned back to the approaching sprites. “Just remember that we’re friends. That’s all we’re ever going to be.”

Zeke nodded, swallowing so hard that his Adam’s apple bobbed like a yo-yo.

Mesh – Chapter 2.6

With that scene in mind, I started working with Photoshop. I started with a free open-source picture from Unsplash and with the help of some visual references and my trusty digital tablet, put the wallpaper above together to give away for free.

Love it, hate it, it’s still worth it to me. Making one thing in one way helps me make something else in another way. I hope you enjoy ‘Armorgirl,’ and the other free wallpapers I have to share.

Mesh Update #11: Full Spectrum

Today’s Mesh update comes from an email I received this week. My six year-old nephew has been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. He’s a cute kid, looks like the boy on the right. It’s important to me and my stories that characters navigate the full spectrum of modern kids. To honor my nephew, and the 62.2 million other people with ASD, one of Mesh’s main characters will have autism. Let’s talk about what that means.

My personal journey makes me painfully aware of how people treat disability. They usually fall into three buckets: the people who ignore you, the people who make fun of you, and my personal favorite – the Harry Stones. You know what I mean: Harry Stone on Night Court always had to make a big speech where he gives you the moral of the story. Harry Stones have to make a big deal about how your disability isn’t a big deal. It may sound like they’re good people but it’s really them making your circumstances about them. Irritating.

It’s important to remember that differently-abled kids are all around us. There’s no reason to ignore them, or act like their disability is the only thing worth knowing about them. Let’s create a fourth category: the people who go “Yeah, you have autism. So?” I’m doing that with Roman, Mesh’s protag, and his wheelchair. Why not do the same thing with autism?

One thing I realized after getting my sister’s email is this – my nephew is still a great kid. We hang together, as much as I can handle other people, and he’s never acted weird about Uncle Jackson needing to be alone or getting off the phone after a three minute phone call. He’s smart, he’s kind, and he’s generous. He’s still the same person he was yesterday, the only difference is that someone put a label on him? He didn’t change, I did. That realization forced me to go back to the beginning and mentally put myself in the fourth bucket. It’s taking work, but I’m glad I’m doing it.

In a world where the future just is, we can use Mesh to reinforce that fourth bucket. So, no big deals. No ‘very special episodes.’ Just like we can say “Oh yeah, wheelchair,” with Roman, we’re going to say “Autism. Right.” and move on with our day. Just like Roman, that character’s different abilities will impact how they see life but it’s not and never will be the center of the story.