Science Fiction

There’s a reason why I don’t actively try to pursue very many Science Fiction ideas. I’m not a very science-oriented person, and I feel inadequate to the job of creating a believable SF universe without it. Back in the early 1990’s, I wrote more SF stuff. This was before I had regular access to the internet. I soaked up just as many SF stories of all kinds as I did Fantasy novels and stories. I was much more confident in my SF skills, focusing on characters and plot instead of the science—definitely a “soft” SF writer at the time.

Since, I’ve not developed very much interest in science. I follow a notable scientist or few on Twitter, several astronauts, NASA, and I read various articles about science. But nothing really in-depth or detailed. Nothing like research—not the focused kind anyway. I don’t do it for my Fantasy stuff, so why would I do it for SF? As a result, the closest thing to SF I’ve had is Chraest, which is descendants of humans who landed on a planet already occupied by a native intelligence, with magic. Chraest is and always has been as much Fantasy as it is SF.

So it’s rather startling to me to be developing a more SF-focused idea. It started with a prompt on FM’s prompt board. Basically, imagine a drug that gives you the ability to see the future accurately—but it is highly addictive and has debilitating side effects. Would you take this drug? Explore in the point of view of a character of your own.

Original conception of the idea this prompt sparked could have been almost any speculative genre. Almost any kind of Fantasy, or Science Fiction. I may use a variation of it for Fantasy, but this idea became specifically SF. I saw, in my head, planet-hopper ships, companies and organizations recruiting users of this drug, and contemplated the possibility of this drug being based upon some as-yet-undiscovered Element, so I looked up the Periodic Table of Elements and started worldbuilding.

I now have vague notions for a Recruiter character, and a solid concept for a sleuth. I’ve named this SF universe and created a Scrivener file for it. My confidence in pulling off SF isn’t any greater, and it’s complicated by some plans I have for both characters, but I’m determined to see this through. For one, I know little of drug addiction and recovery, and that’s going to be absolutely necessary for me to research.

But I do know I look forward to writing these books. My first SF idea in over 20 years. It’s going to be an adventure.

Inktober 2016: Things Around the House

I’m teaching myself how to draw. My primary lesson course is a text-and-workbook set called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. It’s a course developed to help those who feel not-so-artistically-inclined develop real working artistic skills, focusing on drawing. I’ve completed a number of exercises, but hit a stall due to lack of a certain item I haven’t yet purchased.

In the meantime, I’ve been doing a lot of sketching of things related to my writing. Mostly garment concepts. Some I’ve colored. I’ve drawn one portrait of a character, and a few other items. Odds and ends around the house. But, even with all this, my drawing habit is far from a daily practice.

So, when I started seeing stuff about Inktober on Twitter, I at first brushed it off, but about 3 days before October began, I started to seriously consider participating. In case you’re unaware, Inktober is an art challenge event that takes place over the course of October. Each day of the month, the artist is supposed to create an artwork using ink of some sort. Now this can be anything from painted inks to your standard pens, even markers.

My primary purpose in participating is to try and develop a daily habit with my artwork. Secondary purpose is to challenge myself to find something to draw every day, even if I’m not feeling creative or inspired, or if I happen to be in some sort of creative downswing. After all, I didn’t develop my writing habit and skill by slacking off as much as I have been with the artwork. To be honest, I’ve been half-consciously using the fact I don’t have what I need for the DotRSotB course to slough off developing any sort of habit with my art. And I know better than to do that. Hence, joining in Inktober.

I won’t be posting my artwork on my website; I’d rather use the limited amount of media space available for my website on other images. However, I do have a DeviantArt account, and that’s where I’ll be posting my efforts. The first three drawings (from 1st-3rd) are already up. There’s a link to my DA homepage on the sidebar to the right, beneath the calendar; the link is red, and all by its lonesome ahead of my list of other links. If you scroll down to the “Newest Deviations” box (it’s second box down on the left) and click “Browse Gallery,” which is at the left bottom corner, you’ll be able to find folders of my various works, including an “Inktober” folder. The list is on the left, and you’ll have to scroll down to find my “Inktober” file, but it’s where I’m putting all my Inktober artwork.

Please stop by and leave a comment or two on my art!

Rebirth of a Defunct Project

I think most writers who write for any length of time ends up with a collection of story ideas and starts that go nowhere. The Rose’s Thorn, a single scene I wrote some years ago was one of those for me. The premise was good, I thought. Girl with no relation to nobility ends up in the royal/imperial court and is the instigator of change. It goes on from there, with a vague idea of a sequel somewhere in the distance, but I had a solid concept for the first book, which opens with the MC having a roadside chat with the incoming imperial bride.

And that’s all I had. I forget when I wrote the initial scene. I’d have to hunt out its original logsheet or the 5″x8″ index card I started the log on, whichever it was. I can’t remember any more, and I have no idea where to find it even if I did. The project had no “place”—was just a random bit of fluff that I wrote off the top of my head without any sort of anchoring world to put it on. I had a hint of culture (bound feet), and a vague notion of the surrounding territory (forestland). Written in first person, it started and stopped with that “First Scene.”

Every so often over the past few years, since coming out of the gay romance fugue, I’ve revisited The Rose’s Thorn. Every time, I considered the first person pov as unalterable and tried to think of the next scene from that point. The thing with my writing, and I think I’ve mentioned this before, is that my scenes build upon each other to some extent. One flows, in my mind, into the next, and then the one after, and so on, until I have a complete story. This wasn’t happening with this story. I had the “First Scene” and notions of what I wanted to do with the rest of the story, and that was it. No next scene.

For years.

A few nights ago, I thought I figured out where this story belongs—the world it belongs to. Doesn’t actually fit there, because I’m getting inklings of a magical system I don’t have the impression “fits” on the world I put it, but I’m leaving it there for the present because it’s in Scrivener, and it needs to have a place to go or I can’t write on it—and I’m not going to write it in Open Office because I need a place where I can put the story’s accompanying notes I develop on it with the story file for easy transfer to another Scrivener file (plus having more than one Open Office file open at a time bugs the crap out of me unless I’m constantly clicking between them for some reason).

Anyway, I’d thought I figured out where this story belonged and happily transfered a copy of it to Scrivener. Then, because I’d had some better notions about the society and the MC and the imperial bride, I rewrote it. In first person. And there the story stopped again. This was frustrating, to say the least, but I decided to go with the flow, certain I wouldn’t have been driven to work on it at all if my creative mind wasn’t working on a way for me to get past the block.

And, that night, an idea hit. Scene Two. The next scene. But! It was in third person pov. I didn’t like the idea that I should switch povs like that. I didn’t think it would work very well for the story, and, furthermore, the notion felt, uncomfortable to me. No, switching between first person and third person wasn’t the right way to go with this story. So, that left me switching the first scene to third person. This didn’t feel precisely comfortable to me, but I had no other choice.

So, the next day, I got up and wrote the first scene for a third time, this time in third point of view. I had to do some other things, then later, I wrote the second scene. Then the third scene. Started off pantsing this thing, apparently. But it’s flowing well, even though I have no idea what the point of the story is.

My Year In Writing, Thus Far

Since 2012, I’ve been highly conscious of how my writing goes over the course of the year. I keep an eye on when I write, and how much I write, and how long I take to write it. Recently, I even went so far as to create a logsheet for my blog posts, which I should have been logging long before now. I use my logsheets to monitor just how my writing’s going.

Normally, my writing fluctuates wildly. I’ve discussed this fluctuation here before, I think. I’ll go through periods where I’m writing daily, or nearly so, and I’m racking up tons of words. Then I’ll have times where I don’t write at all, do very little creatively, and generally wail about my lack of creative urges with regards to my writing.

So far, this year has been different. Things haven’t been quite as dramatically different as before, and I’m not quite sure just what to make of it.

My creative urges have been more consistent. I say creative urges because it’s more than just adding new words to projects that I’ve had going. Generally speaking this year, on days when I haven’t written, I’ve done other things with regards to my writing. I’ve worked on character sketches, or brainstormed for different stories. Or I’ve drawn sketches of different aspects of the story, usually clothing concepts, as I’ve taken up drawing. No matter what I’ve done, I’ve done something creative on the days when I don’t add new words to some writing project.

And it’s been nice. I’ve enjoyed this steady flow of creativity. I don’t get as frustrated about not writing when I’m doing other things related to the writing. Sure, I’d like to add new words to some project or another, but it doesn’t dig into me and drive me batty no to do so. It seems that as long as I’m doing something to express myself creatively, no matter what that thing is, I feel content with my creativity.

I hesitate to predict what this means. What I’d like it to mean is that my mind has stabilized to the point where more steady and regular creative expression will happen. That I won’t have any more of those maddening dramatic swings from creativity to non-creativity. I want this to mean I’m returning to the state of mind required for me to write daily. But I hesitate to make that declaration, mainly because I don’t want to get comfortable with this mental state only to, in the next few months or so, fall back into those dramatic swings. This is a plateau. I’m doing my best not to get my hopes up that it means things are “normalizing” for me now.

Though, to be honest, I’d be very happy if this were the new status quo. It’s been wonderful so far.

Dear VHA, An Open Letter

Dear Veterans’ Health Administration,

You know me as one of your patients. I won’t provide my real name, but I will say that I am a Transgender patient, and I have a bone to pick with you.

The VHA's boast

The VHA’s boast.

The picture above is something I’ve seen posted at my local VA Hospital’s outpatient mental health building. They move the sign about; sometimes it’s in the entryway, other times it’s positioned somewhere inside, where we can see it as we enter. I didn’t take a picture of the entire poster, because the only part that concerns me is the portion which I included. Allow me to write it here, just to be clear. Clarity is important here, at least for me.

“Excellent care has no boundaries. VHA is committed to serving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Veterans.”

Now, I know this sign was approved somewhere in the hierarchy of the Veterans’ Administration, so that’s not at issue. What is a problem is the fact that, as of the date of this post, Transgender Veterans, whom you claim to serve without boundaries, do, in fact, have a major boundary in their health care through the VA system.

This boundary?

We have no access to surgical options for our health care. Specifically, Male-to-Female Transgender Veterans cannot have sex reassignment surgery to correct their condition, and Female-to-Male Veterans cannot receive mastectomies and whatever other surgery is available for correcting our condition.

As I said, a big boundary.

Now, I know, I know, this was posted in the outpatient mental health building. That, to me, means nothing, for two reasons. First, because of the claim of “no boundaries.” What about denying surgical options to Transgender Veterans translates to “no boundaries”? That’s like saying, “We care about you, but don’t really accept these specific needs you have.” Why can’t Transgender Veterans have sex reassignment surgery and mastectomies? You gave that option to Active Transgender members of the military a few months ago. When will we Transgender Veterans have this option? Why couldn’t you approve this option for us at the same time you gave the actively-serving members of the military this option?

This is hypocritical of you.

Second, the claim, in the statement, comes from the “VHA.” The Veterans’ Health Administration, not “Veteran’s Mental Health Administration”. That means it comes from the overall service, not just whatever branch there may be which oversees our mental health care, if things are so divided. So that means the VHA is actively denying what can be life-saving health care to Transgender Veterans. I’m pretty easy-going, but not all Transgender individuals can make themselves be as “comfortable” in their birth-bodies as I can make myself be. Add gender dysphoria on top of some other mental dysfunctions, and that’s a recipe for suicide for a Transgender Veteran.

This is hardly “Excellent” care. Truly excellent care would offer us the surgical option many of us require.

In short, I find your commitment to serving we Transgender Veterans to be deeply lacking. I also find it extremely hypocritical for the VHA to brag about the “Excellent care” and its “commitment to serving” us when we do not in fact receive that excellent care or have that commitment.


An Unhappy Transgender Veteran

Making Sense of the Insensible

On Wednesday of last week, I became a little philosophical after quite a number of hours awake (30+). As one afflicted with bipolar disorder, this sometimes happens, though not always with the philosophical turn.

But something had been on my mind since that morning. Once again, my mom had affirmed her belief that “what goes around comes around” and I was struck—again—by how simplistic a view of life this is.

Now I’ve heard about Karma, but “what goes around comes around” seems to be a simplistic view of even that. From my (admittedly limited) understanding, I’ve never gotten the impression that Karma will unfailingly swing around and bite the offender in the butt in this life. My impression of Karma is that, yes, sometimes it takes a direct approach and hits the offender in this life, but that it’s more likely to mean that the offender, in the afterlife or next life will suffer for the offenses they gave in this life, as a way for them to learn the lesson they failed to learn before. I could be wrong, but this is the impression I’ve had of what Karma is for a long time. Since my teen years at least.

When my mom says “I’m a firm believer in what goes around comes around,” she always means, without fail, that she expects that the offender will experience some sort of bad luck or unhappy event in this life. Their comeuppance is on the way. She may not know when, but she’s absolutely certain it will happen.

And that, to me, is a very simplistic view of life.

The fact is, life is not that simple. Life is by its very nature uncertain. It’s insensible—sense cannot be made from it. Not any real, true, firm and unalterable sense. Sure, we can make sense of some things, but these are all little things, minor things—like, I can make sense of my mom from my own understanding of myself and the choices I’ve made that have brought me to a point where I can see into her a lot more clearly than I think she realizes. But even that doesn’t give me the ability to understand everything about life. I can make some sense of it all, but not complete sense.

And that’s because the world is complicated and uncertain. And I accept that life has those qualities. All I can do is my best to understand what I can. But for people like my mom, those complications and uncertainties are frightening. So she, and they, seek a simple way to understand it.

We all want to understand life. But I’ve realized something about this search for understanding of life. There are two basic ways to “understand” life. One can take either a simplistic view, such as “what goes around comes around,” or one can set out to really work on gaining a deeper understanding of oneself, the world, and life. This requires a number of things, chiefly the willingness to be mindful of oneself.

Now, it’s no secret I write. And I freely admit my writing is, at its core, little more than me seeking understanding of life. I’m trying to make sense of the insensible with my writing. But! It is far more complex than tacking on a simplistic “what goes around comes around” view of life and being satisfied with that. I could never be satisfied with such a simplistic view of life. Life is far more complicated and uncertain than that. Life doesn’t tie things up that neatly, not even when it seems to be offering a neatly-wrapped package tied up with a pretty ribbon.

Life is messy. Life is insensible. No one can make complete and total sense out of life, because it is always uncertain. There are any number of philosophies we can adopt or adhere to in order to try and make sense of life, but the fact is, those philosophies are only the beginning. Clinging to them as the end-all and be-all of Understanding is a dead-end. Yes, it can be comforting to adopt the focused view of life religion and philosophy seem to offer, but if that’s only as far as it goes, it’s not doing much good.

I realized one major difference between myself and my mom on Wednesday. My life philosophy changes day by day. Sometimes only a little, sometimes a great deal. But it’s always in flux. Mom’s life philosophy is, to me, frighteningly static. And, I think it has been most of my life. Where she clings to the mere beginnings of comprehension, I have made efforts, in part because of my mental illness, and in part because I simply want to do so, to push myself away from those beginnings. I started doing this back in 1988, when I wrote my first Star Trek “novel” in a series of pocket folders with prongs, on college ruled notebook paper. Back then, I didn’t realize just what sort of inner journey I was embarking upon; all I knew was that it felt good to write, and I enjoyed it immensely, and it gave me a better escape from the difficulties of my life than even reading had up to that point offered. But it taught me to really look at people, to gain a deeper understanding of their motivations. Through my writing, I’ve gained a far deeper, more complete and complex, and much more nuanced understanding of life than I think my mom has ever had.

And even with that, I still can’t make sense of it. But that’s okay. I don’t need life to make sense in order to be comfortable with it. All I need to do is keep doing my best to learn, and I don’t intend to ever stop doing that.

Using Scapple

I bought the Scapple application pretty much as soon as it came out. I needed more help with organizing my outlining process, because up until this point, I was writing random plot points in a text file in Scrivener, which wasn’t doing much to help me. I’ve discovered that seeing my plot points in a text file tends to drive up my anxiety. So, when Scapple came out, I eagerly purchased the program to help me with my outlining process.

When I first got Scapple, I developed a pretty simplistic method of organizing the plot points. Simplistic, but ultimately more complicated. Now, Scapple is mindmapping software, but I use it to organize the plot points I type up. Usually, I do this by determining all the pov characters and assigning a specific note design to each of them, then I proceed to go through and make plot points related to specific characters, tying them to each other with the connecting options available in Scapple (click on Mots example below for a larger image). What I end up is two to five columns of plot points that end up being a total mess.

MOTS plotpoint image

But that method wouldn’t work for a project like my first Jodalur Investigative Division project, which is a mystery. This meant I had to develop a different method of entering the plot points. Ultimately, what I decided on was a more linear format. I follow the main plot instead of individual characters (click on JID1 example below for a larger image). These main plot points are connected by a solid line with an arrow on it, while the subpoints, which reveal information about the scene are connected by dotted lines without arrows.

JID1_Masks plotpoint image-001

This method has turned out to be much easier for me to keep track of. I like that I have everything I need for a particular plot point all in one spot. I think I’ll be using this method of mapping out my stories for all my projects.