Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Further to The Sleep Eaters, in which four "increasingly disturbed" creatives have volunteered to be locked up. surveilled, and deprived of sleep, the "protocol" is now live.
The subjects have been inside the controlled environment for 4 days now, and it's starting to get interesting. It's quite obvious at this point that they have lost all sense of what time or day it is, and the effects of the accumulating sleep debt are becoming more apparent. The project blog makes fascinating reading. The Subjects will be appearing during Adelaide Writers' Week which is sure to be entertaining.
Having my own very special relationship with sleep deprivation, I'm following along with great interest. I'm waiting to see if any of the subjects reach that point where dreams become untethered from their moorings, and start seeping into waking consciousness. It opens a very different kind of space in your creative process. Only last week, one of my dreams grew primitive legs and wriggled its way into my waking consciousness, where it has burrowed and started to metamorphose into a brilliantly detailed and intriguing story world.
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Do you recall, from your childhood on, how very much this life of yours has longed for greatness? I see it now, how from the vantage point of greatness it longs for even greater greatness. That is why it does not let up being difficult, but that is also why it will not cease to grow.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
(cited by Summer Pierre in The artist in the office)
Saturday, October 13, 2012
Recently I found this intriguing little snippet:
Writers and artists are experts at imagining and creating the lives and worlds of others – but what happens when the tables are turned and they themselves become The Subjects?Three writers/artists will join acclaimed, multi‐award winning author, Sean Williams, in a seven‐day experiment investigating the impact of disruptive sleep patterns on creativity.Yes. It’s an invitation for a week confined to a controlled environment, without sleep. With Sean Williams and a couple of other brave creatives for company in your sleep-deprived delirium.
I already have some experience in the crazy disembodied haze that is severe sleep deprivation, thanks to some very bad months with a constantly waking baby. When the world starts to morph and twist around the edges on a daily basis, you know you need sleep. This trippy experience awakened in me an ongoing curiosity about sleep, lack of sleep, and especially the twilight zones in between these states of consciousness.
I was very, very tempted to go along to the information session to find out more.
There’s only one problem: I already have enough trouble being asleep when it’s time to be asleep and awake when it’s time to open my eyes. It leads to some pretty interesting dreams on the fringes of both of those states, which, creatively, isn’t a bad thing. But I’m not sure I could withstand another episode of severe sleep deprivation. It might break my internal snooze-button permanently.
I am, nonetheless, intensely curious about the project that Sean Williams has initiated. Is he participating for personal or creative interest, or has he concocted the whole experiment, mad scientist-style, purely to observe the tripped-out paranoia of his co-participants as grist for his next dystopian novel?*
I can think of a number of fictional scenarios that might rob the protagonists of their slumber, with harrowing consequences. Did you know that it’s possible to die from lack of sleep alone? There is a rare condition called Fatal Familial Insomnia, in which a person becomes increasingly unable to sleep, at all provoking phobias and panic attacks. Over months, these worsen into hallucinations, delirium, and eventually death. Horrible.**
(There’s a story idea in all of this. The words “Sleep Eaters” spring to mind).
If you’re fascinated by the sound of this experiment, as I am, bad luck. Applications have closed.
For those of us who prefer to keep our circadian sensibilities intact, there will be a project website with a blog, and a panel presentation during AdelaideWriters’ Week next year. Keep an eye open for it.
|The Laser Optometrist by Capt Gorgeous @ Flickr|
*OK, so my imagination might be getting away from me there. When you check the project overview, it’s actually about storytelling in extreme environments. Sounds benign enough. It’s inviting applications … oh wait… from people who are interested in “… themes of panopticon, loss of control, consent and ethics, surveillance and authoritarianism.” Yummy. Deliciously creepy. Dr Evil, eat your heart out.
**Technically speaking, the not-sleeping is a symptom of the disease, not the cause of death. But in the spirit of sci-fi, let's not allow a fact to get in the way of the story, shall we?
Saturday, September 29, 2012
3,500. No, this isn’t the title of an upcoming sci-fi series on telly. It’s not the number of days until Armageddon (though, I suppose, it could be). It’s not even how much I charge per hour to be my own fabulous self, although that would be nice.
It is, however a magic number.
For starters, it’s divisible by seven, which is a sure sign of magickness if your favourite number is seven. But that’s not the reason it’s magical. I’ll explain why.
For the past year or so, I have been writing short pieces, mostly for my monthly writers’ group. The criteria there is that they must be readable within about 5 minutes. So I’ve nigh-on perfected squeezing my stories onto a single piece of paper, printed front and back. This typically means that these short short stories, or flash fictions, are around 700-800 words in length. If I manipulate the page margins, flout the time limit and read really quickly, I’ve topped out at 1,100. (Naughty, yes. But it was a particularly strong piece). Which is still a very short story in a genre that requires spaciousness for interesting details and imagined realities.
The result of this is that I have a burgeoning collection of short pieces, which are now arriving at a very polished point. But I’ve no clue where or how to find a home for them.
All of this changed recently when I went along to a Writing fantasy, horror and science fiction workshop with Lisa L Hannett.
Lisa said that 3,500 words is the magic number for short stories in the speculative fiction paradigm. It’s the peak word count for publication, and very attractive in competitions.
Neat. Desirable. Magic, even.
I suspect this magic number was buried somewhere deep in my consciousness, because I had one of those zinging moments of recognition. Did I read this somewhere? Did I learn it at TAFE 10 years ago? Or did a parallel self hear it in a writing workshop in an alternative universe?
Who knows? All I know is that it was an epiphany.
This single number awakened in me a way forward. It is time to break out of the short form, and start moving towards longer pieces with greater complexity. In her feedback, Lisa gave me some useful tips on how to build on existing pieces to move them towards this goal. Build the central scene, add another scene on either side of it, layer some nuances into the plot, and voila! 3,500 words.
To someone else, this might not be a big deal, but my toes are bruised from long dancing past an elephant, so a way forward is worth its weight in steel-capped boots.
And now, for all the magic number enthusiasts out there, here are some more:
|Magic Square by chrisinplymouth @ Flickr|
AND I SHOULD ADD:
Besides the illumination, Lisa also provided some suggestions for markets for the very short pieces that I already have. Apparently it is not an easy thing to do, to contain a whole story within a small word count, and publications that want short pieces are always on the look out for good ones. Stay tuned...
Sunday, September 23, 2012
I seized an opportunity recently, and I’m glad I did.
I chose to drag myself out of bed on a Saturday morning (which is just as difficult for me as it is for Neil Gaiman) and schlep all the way into town, to enclose myself in a room with strangers for several hours, while the first decent sun in months shone brilliantly outside without me.
Why? Because it was a workshop about writing fantasy, horror and science fiction short stories. And that’s what I do. Or at least, it’s what I’ve started to do, and very much the direction this Denouement gig is taking me.
The workshop was presented by Lisa Hannett, who is particularly deft with short stories of a speculative ilk, and I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if I throw in some words like dark, imaginative and bent to describe them. Lisa is fabulous enough to have gone along to Clarion South (pause for a moment of envy) back when Clarion South was still a thing. Of late she been picking up handfuls of shiny awards and nominations for other shiny awards, and she also happens to reside in our fair city.
Besides all of that (and once my Saturday morning cappuccino had kicked in), Lisa gives a cracking workshop.
The first session covered ways to stimulate story ideas and develop plots. Lisa emphasised the need to focus on the “single element” in a short story. You may catch glimpses of the larger imagined reality, but the job of the short is to explore a single idea with depth, in a readily digestible chunk. There’s an elegance needed to include what needs to be there and omit what belongs to the larger picture, offstage. The art of the strong beginning was demonstrated, along with succinctness of description and avoiding the dreaded info-dump.
Lisa came armed with stimulating exercises and thoughtful handouts. Throughout, she referred to esteemed writers (Sean Williams got a mention), and backed up all of her points with examples of excellent writing within the genre. Finally, she issued a challenge – to submit a draft for workshopping by a small group in the second session, along with a critique by Lisa herself.
I went away filled with enthusiasm and ideas, which must be the best recommendation possible, right? Not only did I add to my knowledge base, but the convergence of creativity and cleverness in the room stimulated my own imaginative energies.
I even had an epiphany.
This was one of those workshops that will stay with me and continue to inform my thinking and writing for a while yet. Definitely worth peeling my eyelids open early on the weekend for.
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Yes. I admit I sometimes struggle on the time-management front. What writer doesn’t, given the time demands of our craft in our already-full lives?
Some people deal with this by getting up, monastically, at 4am and forcibly shoving an extra couple of hours into their lives that way, but that ain’t gonna happen. I am not a morning person. Neither is Neil Gaiman, as famously homaged by Diana Wynne Jones in Deep Secret, so I’ll just take that as a literary sanction for sleeping in.
So, without adopting the schedule of a cloistered nun, there are a number of other tools we can use to improve our time use. Some of them address big-picture issues, like goal setting, getting your house/desk/psyche organised, or prioritising by using some kind of box/list/diagram/mnemonic with daily, religious fervour.
But there’s another simpler one:
Eat that frog.
No, not the chocolate variety, although they are good too. (Especially the sublime, velvety goodness of a Haigh’s chocolate frog). There must be some special compound in good quality chocolate that stimulates creative thought, right? However, to date this strategy is evidenced more by my splendid physique than by my impressive publishing record.
No, the idea of Eat that frog is to do the one thing you’re most dreading first. Get it done at the start of the day when your energy is high. Once it’s done, you will have freed up all the time and energy you might have spent avoiding it – and the whole day will be more productive.
This is not a new concept. Maggie Stiefvater, a YA author that I admire enormously, has talked about time management and the work ethic that allows her to combine writing, painting, and all the other things involved in being an all-round creative genius and a mother. At the top of her list is Work first, then play. Which, if you think about it, is a variant on the frog eating.
This is a really good writing tool – especially when you’re circling around a hard bit, something that you’re avoiding, something that is starting to look like writer’s block. Jump on in, eat that frog. The worst thing that can happen is that you will write a terrible first draft - and aren’t all first drafts awful? Now that the frog is no longer glowering at you, you can go back and revisit and refine what you need to. The best thing that can happen – and it may surprise you – is that you release a whole new wave of ideas and energy.
Note to self: this post is not about frogs, or time, or even about writing. It’s about resistance. It’s about the inexplicable obstacles we place in our own paths. Especially when we’re about to push through to a whole new level of understanding or achievement. Why do we do this? Who knows?** All I know is that the times when the resistance is strongest, and the pressure is greatest, are the times when we are closest to breaking through to the place that we most want to be in.
That’s worth eating a frog for.
And here's a nice cautionary tale about what happens when you don't:
|I kissed it but it just got bigger |
by Cpt<HUN> @ Flickr
**Actually, Stephen Pressfield might know. He has written a whole book about this, The War of Art. I haven’t read it but it comes highly recommended by a fellow writer whose entire being lit up when he was describing its value to his writing practice.
Monday, August 6, 2012
Illegal bookmaking is currently camping in my consciousness, since it’s a tidy little earner for Cassel Sharpe, the central character in Holly Black’s excellent YA trilogy, The Curseworkers. After devouring White Cat recently, I’m now enjoying Red Glove. It’s a great left-of-centre story that will keep you guessing. It involves magic but not as we know it, and is told from a unique perspective. Holly skilfully imbues her character with a fascinating level of tension around the moral ambiguities that he lives with, along with the usual teen angst over finding his way in the world, and love (of course)! It has piqued my interest to read more of Holly’s work, and especially her short fiction, which promises to be twisted, in every good way.
And now for the big question.
Readers might recognise Holly’s name from her earlier work, The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), and the Modern Tale of Faerie series (beginning with Tithe). Speaking of Holly Black’s name, isn’t that a suspiciously good moniker for someone who writes in the fantasy genre? 'Holly' evokes all the mystique of ye olde worlde when evergreens were revered for their magickal properties and bowls of cream were left out for the good folke as insurance against your children growing up a bit …funny. 'Black' hints at the spooky-wooky, the shadow element that gives fantasy its depth and psychological realism. Surely that must be a nom de plume?
No, it’s not (if Wikipedia can be believed). It turns out that she was born Holly Riggenbach (a great name, but not nearly so evocative). Then she married her high school sweetheart, Theo Black, simultaneously landing herself an accomplished illustrator for a husband AND a kick-goblin-ass publishing name.
I’m not sure if this is fortune favouring the bold, or just evidence that granting the faerie folk their due respect can pay off. I’m not sure you could create a better pen name than that if you tried. Definitely some seelie fortune going on there. I, on the other hand, also married my young sweetheart, but his surname rhymes with belch and squelch. I’m sticking with Gascoigne.
|The Dark Path by crowolf @ Flickr|