Inhuman Swill : Writing

ep29cover600x600.jpg My good friend Cesar Torres recently had me on Episode 29 of "The Labyrinth," his fine podcast about the strange and unusual.

We talked about my Mormon upbringing, how I tried to avoid writing a novel, what not to do when you're learning to write, and of course the strangest thing that ever happened to me. If could go back and do it over again, I'd tell myself to slow down and take a breath, but you can listen to my exhausting rush of words here:

Cesar and I are in a writing group called Error of Judgment together. He has also interviewed our fellow workshoppers Eden Robins and Holly McDowell, plus lots of other fascinating people. Check it out.

Some time ago, Halsted M. Bernard tagged me in the Next Big Thing meme that's been going around. The intent is to share details about one's current writing project by answering a canned set of questions, so here goes.

  1. What's the title of your latest story?
  2. I've actually been working on various non-fiction projects lately, big and small, including a new epilogue for my memoir The Accidental Terrorist (which, yes, is still being shopped around). I'll soon be diving into a new short story for the Glitter & Madness anthology project, but that one doesn't have a title yet. So instead I'll talk about the novel I finally finished in November, which is called Waking Vishnu.

  3. Where did the idea for the story come from?
  4. For more than a decade I've been envisioning a fictional universe where physical items can be "magically" manipulated via hand gestures, as if they were blobs in an object-oriented programming system. I'd tried again and again to work out the story of the person who stumbles onto this magic system, but when I finally pictured the protagonist as a teenage girl the whole thing started clicking into place.

  5. What genre does your story fall under?
  6. Young adult science fiction, though it's designed to look a whole lot like urban fantasy at first.

  7. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie?
  8. This one is difficult for me to answer since most of the huge cast of characters are teenagers, and I'm not so familiar these days with what teen actors are out there. I guess my dream cast would include a bunch of young unknowns who all become stars as a result of Waking Vishnu. But I'd love to see the main villain of the novel, Ken "A.A." Sunshine, played by Christoph Waltz, who has the right combination of charm, smarm, and lunacy. I could see Danny DeVito and John Goodman as Lamm and Kray, two of the other important antagonists, and Emma Thompson as Principal Armisted.

  9. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your story?
  10. When an Indian-American girl named Hasta Veeramachaneni discovers she can control objects and people with hand gestures, she and her friends must race to discover the origin of the power while saving the world from destruction.

  11. Will your story be self-published or represented by an agency?
  12. The novel is represented by Joe Monti at Barry Goldblatt Literary.

  13. How long did it take you to write the first draft?
  14. The first draft took me about 18 months and tipped the scales at 175,000 words—way too long for what it was. I've done two more drafts since then and trimmed it down to 120,000 words.

  15. What other stories would you compare it to within your genre?
  16. It's hard to make the most apt comparisons without giving a lot away about the story. If you compared it to something like Fair Coin by E.C. Myers, though, you'd be in the general neighborhood though not quite the same ballpark.

  17. Who or what inspired you to write this story?
  18. Two main factors conspired to inspire me to get started on Waking Vishnu. First and foremost is my wife Laura Chavoen, who works tirelessly to support my writing career. Second is the city of Chicago, which we moved to in 2007. Most of the novel is set in the same Chicago neighborhood where we live. Exploring the streets and alleyways while walking our dog helped me picture and block out a whole lot of the action of the book.

  19. What else about your story might pique a reader's interest?
  20. Again, I don't want to give too much away, but the book dabbles in Hinduism, hacking, and theories of consciousness. There are some awesome fight scenes (if I do say so myself), a helpful dog, an interlude at White Castle, a road trip to Mount Rushmore, killer demons (or are they angels?), a rebuke to God, various possessions, enemies becoming friends (and vice versa), a red Barchetta, and an implicit critique of a certain blockbuster sci-fi flick that I should not mention here (though its makers have a small, secret production facility in my neighborhood). Is that enough?
I'm not going to tag anyone else here, since all the people I was going to tag were tagged by Holly McDowell as I was about to tag them. (Don't worry, Holly. I'll get you back.) But if you want to be tagged, drop me a comment and I'll be happy to oblige you.

Character revolt

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So a few weeks ago I mentioned to an editor I know (let's call her "Editor") that I'd had an interesting conversation with a third party (let's call him "Subject").

"That sounds really fascinating," Editor said. "Would you be interested in writing about it for our blog?"

"If Subject is cool with it, then sure," I said.

I emailed Subject to ask if that would be okay. "That's fine," he responded. "I'd just like to see the piece first to make sure you're not revealing anything too personal."

"Of course," I said. "Our talk certainly wasn't framed as an interview, so I won't include anything you don't want me to."

I spent quite a while trying to figure out the best way to approach the article, then quite a while more actually writing it, which turned out to be quite a bit trickier and more difficult than I'd imagined. I poured a lot of sweat and angst into that final product.

At last I sent my draft of the article off to Editor to see if it was what she was hoping for. (It was.) I also sent a copy to Subject yesterday to make sure I'd stayed within acceptable bounds. I heard back from Subject first.

"I know this goes completely against what I told you before," he said, "but now I'd prefer not to have any of this published."

I gather this happens with some frequency to real journalists, but it was not a pleasant experience for me. I was startled, in fact, at how much it hurt.

"At least he was nice about it," Laura told me.

"Yeah, he was nice," I said, "but it still really hurt. I mean, I've gotten more rejections from editors than I can count. I can deal with that. But this is the first time I've ever been rejected by one of my characters!"

I'm in New York City today to hang out with writers, editors, and agents at the annual SFWA Reception for Industry Professionals, so maybe it's an appropriate day to post this radio interview. Gary K. Wolfe and I appeared this past Thursday night on WGN's "Extension 720 with Milt Rosenberg" to talk about science fiction, not to mention the new Library of America collection American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s which Gary edited.

We had a great time talking with Milt Rosenberg. You can listen to WGN's podcast of the interview online at WGNRadio.com, or hear the two segments of the show embedded below. Commercials and news breaks deleted!

10:00 - 11:00 p.m.  (43:59)

11:00 p.m. - midnight  (41:48)

miltrosenberg.jpg Gary K. Wolfe and I will be appearing tonight on "Extension 720 with Milt Rosenberg" on Chicago's WGN Radio 720 AM. We'll be talking about science fiction, of course—and particularly today's release of the Library of America's new collection, American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s, which Gary edited.

Milt Rosenberg's show has run since 1973, during which time he's talked with an intimidating array of world leaders, prominent academics, and entertainment figures. I hope Gary ends up doing most of the talking for us. (Just kidding.)

The program airs live tonight from 10 p.m. to midnight. You can listen online, but I believe the discussion will also be available as a podcast in a few days.

(And for more information about the collection, please visit the American Science Fiction companion site, which Gary curated.)

Telegraph

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This poem was written for Tina Woelke, a donor to the Chicago Writers Conference Kickstarter campaign. One of the reward perks available was an original poem composed by me on a topic of the donor's choosing. Tina chose "reading," and I debuted the poem at a special edition of Tuesday Funk on Friday, September 14, 2012.

The telegraph was not invented in 1836
but three thousand years before Christ,
when the first writer took up a pointed stick
and traced out on papyrus the careful,
casual chain of coded symbols that
transmitted meaning across time and space
directly into a brain equipped to decipher it.

The telephone was not invented in 1876
but over five thousand years ago
when the first writer took up a pointed stick
and scratched out the vibrations in clay
that tickle the tympanic membrane of the heart
with thoughts conceived in days older than dirt.

Telepathy was not invented in 2170
but forty thousand years before Christ
when, by the light of smoky torches,
the first writer poured out his heart
in ochre, hematite, and charcoal,
unable in any other way to express
the experience of stalking a god,
and slaying it with a pointed stick.

A few weeks ago, Andrew Huff of Gapers Block issued me a fascinating challenge: to take a piece of original poster art by Chad Kouri and produce a piece of writing of between 1,500 and 2,500 words to accompany it.

The resulting art/writing combo, along with seven other collaborations between artists and writers, will be on display and on sale at The Coop on May 18th. All the info is below. Hope to see you there.

8x8.png

8 x 8
Friday, May 18, 2012
6:00 pm until 10:00 pm

The COOP | A co-working space in River North
230 W Superior, 2F, Chicago, IL 60654

In the spirit of artistic collaboration, The Coop and Gapers Block teamed up to produce 8x8, an experiment in writing and design. Eight Chicagoland designers were paired with eight local writers to create collaborative works, with text informing and influencing art and vice versa. The results of this experiment are presented in limited edition poster form, with writing and design back to back.

Writers:
Patrick Somerville, Claire Zulkey, Ramsin Canon, Kevin Guilfoile, William Shunn, Veronica Bond, Wendy McClure, Scott Smith

Designers:
Jesse Hora, Andy Luce, Chad Kouri, Ina Weise, Letterform, Ryan Sievert, Paul Octavious, Kyle Fletcher

Proceeds benefit Open Books.

More info: http://blog.coworkchicago.com/post/22148593743/the-coop-presents-8x8
RSVP on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/events/375591619149230/

Writing
Is a lot like
Riding a bicycle

Not because it's so easy
To get back up on

But because
Sometimes
You're
Flying along
And you go farther
Than you intended to go

And you have to
Turn around and take
Yourself home

And it's all uphill
And the wind is in
Your face

The Chicago Writers Conference is Chicago's only homegrown mainstream literary conference focusing on practical business advice for fiction and non-fiction writers alike. The brainchild of Mare Swallow, it will feature such editors, agents, and authors as Chuck Sambuchino, Christine Sneed, Robert K. Elder, and Jennifer Mattson.

But it can only happen with support! The CWC is in the final eight days of its Kickstarter campaign and still needs to raise over $4000 for equipment rental, web development, speakers' travel expenses. There are lots of great incentives remaining for various donation levels, including art, signed books, and query letter or story manuscript critiques from Chuck Sambuchino and, ahem, yours truly.

But here, let Mare tell you more about the conference, and why you should support it:

So please help, and support Chicago's long tradition of literary excellence!

Chicago is getting its own down-home writers conference! The Chicago Writers Conference will take place September 14-16 at Tribune Tower in beautiful downtown Chicago. Speakers and presenters include Chuck Sambuchino, Robert K. Elder, and Cinnamon Cooper, while special readings will be staged by both Essay Fiesta and Tuesday Funk.

But the Chicago Writers Conference can only happen with your help! I'd explain why the conference deserves your support, but there's already a compelling plea from organizer Mare Swallow, Write Club founder Ian Belknap, and yours truly up on Kickstarter. Check us out:

So please kick in a few shekels and help support the Chicago Writers Conference. Several great incentives are still available, including a story critique (up to 10,000 words) from me for a mere $175 pledge. (The custom poem is already gone. Sorry!) Please help, and we'll looking forward to seeing you at Tribune Tower in September!

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