Investigative Draft 02/05/21

Years ago I picked up a “how to write” book by David Morrell, who is famous for creating Rambo. In the book, Morrell describes his “outlining” process, in which he opens up a document and begins to talk to himself. Through that therapy-style technique, he eventually figures out what he’s trying to write.

That’s how my first drafts tend to look, as well. There are instances where I don’t need to do this. If I’m working on Tomahawk, which is a Black Gum and A Minor Storm follow-up, I know the world well enough to hop right in. For Dying World, I needed to figure out what exactly I was trying to say, how the world would work.

I’ve been working on DW for about five years. You wouldn’t know it from the size of the draft. Basically, I would start writing it, hit a wall, stop, then start over again. It was a tedious process. I knew that if I was ever going to get the dozen or so books floating around in my head onto paper, I needed a new process.

Plot outlining didn’t really work for me. Maybe I get bored, or maybe I’m just not really a “plot” kind of guy. Character sheets don’t really work either, because figuring out who a character is tends to be an organic process.

I needed something similar to the Morrell method.

So here’s my process, cut down and simplified. I’ll expand on it more at some other time.

  1. I boil down the core idea of the book. In Dying World, it was about an older brother trying to save his younger brother from insanity. That warped into two friends rather than brothers.
  2. Once I have that concept, I do David Lynch’s “fishing” method, where I sit as still as I can, turn off my phone, and look for ideas. Snatches of conversations will come to me, in different places (diners and bars, usually), and I’ll write those down.
  3. Scenes will usually follow after that. I write them as fast as I can, using a lot of shorthand.
  4. After the scenes come, The Big Idea will finally surface. This is the thing that I’ve been trying to get at the whole time. Sometimes, as in the case of DW, it changes the whole book. But I continue on as though nothing has changed.
  5. Repeat the process until you reach an end.

What you end up with is an “Investigative Draft.” It’s not an outline, it’s not linear. It’s impressionistic and fragmented, but it has all the raw materials you’ll need.

The “investigative draft” is the psychic equivalent of turning a box upside down and dumping its contents onto the bed. You had a junk drawer, now you have all the junk in front of you. And look! There are some pencils. You can neatly arrange those on your desk. And…a sock? Better put that in the wash. Loose papers? Time to shred them!

Utilizing Jordan Harper’s “mood board” method, it might be good to include snippets of your own thoughts into this first draft. What tone are you going for? Maybe you want to feel the way you felt when you first watched Mulholland Drive. You’d include that.

Something like:

“The tone here needs to feel the way you felt when you saw them open the blue box. The tiny old people skittering at the feet of the dumpster monster. The way, when the movie was over, you felt like you’d really felt something. You couldn’t touch it and that made it something more. You participated in its creation. You weren’t a viewer, you were a co-creator. Leave that room. Get that feeling.”

This will be interspersed with capsule ideas for scenes, snippets of dialogue, and lines that come into your head.

You’ve got it, now. You’ve got your tools all splayed out in front of you. You’ve made the clay.

Now you go back and start to smooth it out.

Bad Reviews 02/04/21

I went on Goodreads to change my author profile pic, and while I was there I figured “eh, what can it hurt? I’m gonna look at my reviews.”

The ratings on my English-language books are mostly the same. A few five stars, a few one stars, a few “best books ever” and a few “complete trash.” I’ve come to expect this.

Then I scrolled down to the French translation of Low Down Death Right Easy (called “Que la mort vienne sur moi”) and noticed something…disheartening.

That’s right, folks. I am tracking a measly three reviews…and they’re all one star.

I suppose I didn’t exactly light the Francophone world on fire with this one.

I remember, about five years ago, when Rivages Noir flew me to France for a literary conference. I was feeling great about the whole thing. Who wouldn’t? I’d gotten a nice advance, and I was getting a free trip to France out of it.

I landed in Charles de Gaulle and took a plane to Montpelier, where I stayed for the evening. Then it was on to Sêt and eventually Frontignan, a small town right on the Mediterranean Sea. I watched gondola jousts in Sêt, wandered the cafés, and sat on the beach with old French editors and watched the water.

Those are good memories. The people were so gracious and nice. However, I will always remember something. I was sitting at a signing table next to Francois Guerif, a legend in French publishing. He published Ellroy, Westlake, literally all my heroes. And this was the guy who’d decided to publish my little book. At one point, he leaned over to me and said, “You know, no matter what happens with this novel, I always believe in the books that I publish. You wrote a good one.”

A lovely thing to say. Fills my heart up. Now I’m wondering…did he anticipate it not being well-received? God bless him for giving it a shot, anyway.

This got me thinking about why we write in the first place. I have friends who have done very well in France, and here in the U.S. I’m still working, still moving towards a thing.

When you write a book, you essentially have to have faith in what you do. If everyone is telling you that you suck, that’s a real bummer, but you need a kind of unshakeable confidence in the validity of that art. I remember what my friend Johnny Shaw said about an author we both didn’t care for: “Say what you will…the guy keeps on going.”

That’s the key, right there. Any decision that you make in life is a sacrifice. Time spent creating art is time that you can’t get back. Artmaking in itself is a sacrifice. But you have to keep going, and you have to believe in the importance of your sacrifice.

If this sounds melodramatic, well, maybe it is. But time is time and we only have so much of it. If you spend that time on something, maybe it’s worth treating it seriously.

So I’ll continue on. I finished a draft of my first proper novel in six years last week. I’ll look to put it out independently over the next few months. I believe in the idea, and I refuse to listen to anyone who doesn’t.

You have to be slightly delusional to do this. But it’s worth it.

Unblocking 02/03/21

Sometimes writer’s block just happens. I’m not currently going through it, which means it’s the best time to talk about it.

First, you have to eliminate all distractions to the best of your ability. If you’re already thinking about all the ways you can’t do this, you lose.

Secondly, you have sit in front of the paper or screen and wait. That’s it. You have to wait. If you’re already thinking about all the ways you can’t do this, you lose.

Thirdly, you have to be willing to have fun while you’re shoveling some serious shit. It won’t always be bad, but hey. If you’re already, etc.

BUT: sometimes you do everything right and you still have writer’s block. In my opinion, there’s no reason to force it at this point. Writing comes from the deep and complex things happening within your mind. It is an expression of Creativity.

It helps to think of Creativity as a force, a capitalized word.

If you spent the day stressed out, didn’t get enough sleep, etc, your Creativity will be temporarily inaccessible. The same way if you spend all day stressed out and didn’t get enough sleep, you won’t have the strength to lift that heavy weight. It’s a thing.

The Creativity is there, because it is an essential component of the universe. It’s very likely it’s what everything is made out of. Part of the deal we made when we chose to incarnate as humans is to go through difficulty, to separate ourselves from Creativity (or The Source).

Side note: that’s the point of the crucifixion story. The pain and abandonment of God is the natural condition of humanity. God doesn’t just kill people, he kills himself, abandons himself. It’s easy to connect the dots if you replace God with Creativity (or any other name you choose to give it). Anyway, we all forget this when we’re born, and then we have to spend the rest of our lives remembering.

The best thing we can hope for is to minimize those “completely blocked” days as much as possible. This comes from physical fitness, mental toughness, and nutritional satiety. It also comes from experiencing Creativity (or Love), whether that’s sitting out in nature, laughing with friends, or watching a great movie (reading a book, playing a game, etc.) All of these things fill the tank.

When we can’t make a connection with that Creativity it’s like watching something trapped under ice. It’s frustrating, and all we can do is stare. But we have to wait for the ice to thaw, and for Creativity to rise to the surface.

If you treat yourself well, work towards a goal, and be kind to others, you’ll be writing about werewolf dicks and sexy vampires in no time. I promise.

Memories 02/02/21

There is a mouse in the house. I discovered this recently. I opened up my silverware drawer and found an old packet of Alpha Brain torn open. Upon further inspection, there was mouse poop in the drawer. I went lower and lower into the cabinets, until I hit the space where the little people were getting in. I set up a no-kill trap, but if that doesn’t work, it’s snappy time.

So now I spent the morning tossing out old pots and pans that had been sullied by the creatures, and spraying Simple Green and wiping up poop and urine, and it occurred to me that the cabinets only got that way because I rotate the same five pots and pans and leave the rest just kind of sitting there. In the garbage they go!

Making space and clearing out unused stuff is a mild obsession of mine. It’s truly bizarre how much stuff we manage to accumulate in a short amount of time. When we moved into the new place, my mother-in-law bought us a new set of pots and pans…so you’d think it’d be time to get rid of the old ones…and you’d be wrong.

Anyhow, while I was on my cleaning journey, I listened to this podcast with Orland Bishop. Frequent readers of my blog will remember that I have a lot of time for Eisenstein’s thinking, especially his framing of the war-like structures that we use to approach problems, and their fundamental inefficiency in solving anything.

At one point in part 1 (I’m not on to part 2 yet), Eisenstein asks Bishop what happens when we die, to which he replies, “Where does a thought go when you forget it?”

This opens up a wide range of possibilities. Gagliano’s experiments with plants have proven conclusively that plants do think and remember, despite not having brains. The question posed in her Thus Spoke the Plant goes like this: “Where do they store those memories, then?”

It’s a compelling question. Are memories recalled from some sort of cloud? There is perhaps some kind of materialist explanation here, but I’m not sure what it could possibly be.

Where do thoughts go when we forget them? They’re not stored in our brain like gold in a vault.

Food for thought.

XRP 02-01-21

About a year ago, I bought some Ripple (XRP) through Coinbase. My coworkers and I were all buying Bitcoin and Ethereum and a few others. It was a lot of fun. When the SEC lawsuit against Ripple caused Coinbase to halt all buying and selling of XRP, I figured I’d just leave it there, because why not?

So it was with tentative excitement that I watched the recent “pump XRP” meme. Here’s what one of them looks like:

A few things about this bothered me. The first is that Gamestop already happened, so you have a bunch of people who are looking at this and drooling. Big money would realize that the “pump” would actually happen in the days before the scheduled action. They’d get in a week early and actually dump at the proposed pump time.

The hopeful part of me (lol) had fingers crossed that that wouldn’t happen. It would be nice to see XRP get up to $10 or so. I’d make a very large ROI, off something I didn’t have any expectations over. But hey, it didn’t happen (at least not yet). The peak (75 cents) happened about two hours before the proposed mass-buy, and now it’s back to 45 cents.

This all feels like a big game of rock paper scissors, where everyone anticipated the same thing and acted accordingly. At least on my end I didn’t invest a single penny over what I already held. Thanks, instincts.

As it stands, I’ll just keep holding it. I think I bought it at 30 cents or something? I can’t remember. The number “26” keeps popping into my head, maybe it’s that. It can go to zero and I’d be out a hundred bucks that I spent a year ago. I have probably lost ten times that on unused subscription services over the same year.

I’m on the “crypto is the wave of the future” train at the moment. It’s less important to me how much USD this translates into, and how potentially useful it is as an alternative currency in the future. I will steadily put a little money into Bitcoin every month, not in the hopes of one day trading it all in for a mountain of cash, but because in the future a trustless deflationary currency will be massively important to hold. For cricket protein or whatever.

WTO 01/31/21

Short one today. Lots of chores going on at the house. I spent too long playing Sekiro yesterday, so I must pay penance…there will be no video games until Wednesday.

I have to act as my own parent at times.

Check out the second episode of White Trash Occultism, which is actually surprisingly light on occultism, and is mostly three dumbasses shooting the shit. It’s a good hang.

On this one, we talk about the BTS song “On.”

Rethinking Money 01/30/21

I think I’m starting to “get” Bitcoin a bit more, now. I needed the ELI5 description. I started getting into it with Nick Land’s very dense philosophizing, and while I dig reading that kind of stuff as an exercise, I needed some bro podcasts to explain it to me.

The biggest shift in my understanding is that BTC is not something that you want to treat as the stock market. The goal isn’t to invest in BTC and then cash out when it’s worth the most USD. The idea is that it is its own form of currency that can interact with USD (and other cryptocurrencies), and that as the years and decades go by, owning BTC will become more and more important independent of its relationship to USD.

That, more than any understanding of “proof of work” or blockchain tech, is the key to getting how this thing is supposed to work.

Like 90% of the online bros you know, the GameStop thing has made me intensely interested in how money works. When you position money as something that you acquire first for stability, then for increasingly ostentatious purchases (boats, etc.), well, I lose a bit of interest. The stability angle is very important, not so much the loot.

The GME news cycle has made it click for me that money can be used as a tool of social…”revolution” is the wrong word, a word that I kind of refuse to use anymore. Maybe “redistribution”? No, that’s wrong, too.

I’ll explain it impressionistically: money for me used to be this dragon looming large in my mind. Undefeatable, breathing fire, making my life hell. I’m a villager in this metaphor. I’ve recently began to understand dollars, stocks, crypto, trade of physical goods, etc. as an octopus. A dispassionate octopus. Maybe a slightly bored octopus. But each arm can be used for different task at a different time, and it requires you to be as fluid as the money.

“Rhizomatic” is probably the word I’m looking for. Scratch the octopus: it’s a mushroom intelligence, interfacing with its world, influencing it, poisoning and healing, a demigod that requires attention if nothing else.

Money is wild, but fascinating.

GameStop 01/29/21

Well, the internet just became fun again. For those of you keeping up with the $GME saga (or lurking on r/wsb, as I am now doing), it is the single most inspiring thing that I have seen in quite some time.

Long story short (heh), these guys bought a stock that was shorted, and through meme magic made it go to the moon, which fucked over billionaire hedge funds. They’ve been pulling out all the stops to make sure they cover their asses, but so long as the “autists” (as they call themselves) hold, there’s nothing they can do about it.

I’ve seen people make $20 million dollars, lose half of it, but refuse to sell. It is simply remarkable. This isn’t a pump and dump scheme. These people are not going anywhere, because the money is beside the point.

It’s about revenge for 2008.

I’m not sure where all of this is going. Unfortunately, I don’t have any GameStop stock (or even dogecoin, which is going nuts right now), as I keep my investments to what I consider safe bets (like bitcoin, for example).

But man oh man is this amazing to watch. Tell me this doesn’t bring a smile to your face.

Stack 01/28/21

Supplement hack: I was feeling a little sleepy at the beginning of the week. I have a bad habit now of staying up late writing (about 11pm), and having to wake up at 6:30am to take Rios to work. That’s about a half-hour shy of the minimum eight hours of sleep for optimal performance. I’d fix it, but it’s only going to get tougher as the months go on. So I’m steeling myself.

I started taking 1/2 tsp of Stamets 7 mushroom blend, which has cordyceps, lion’s mane, and five other shrooms. I mix it with some maca powder and shoot it. It’s gross. But! I have been wide awake all day, all the way through til it’s time to go to bed. And I have only had a few sips of Monster Hydro along the way.

Caffeine doesn’t agree with my system. It makes me jittery, exacerbates my OCD, and leaves me crashing at about 3pm. This new blend is caffeine-free. It feels cleaner.

Those late nights writing have made significant breakthroughs. I’m excited about writing again. I couldn’t get the words out during the Trump presidency, which is weird because I didn’t suffer any of the other symptoms of Trump Derangement Syndrome that most of my colleagues went through (I hope you’re feeling better now, btw).

I had several conversations with pals over that time, and everyone felt the same way. It seemed pointless. Perhaps too much Twitter is to blame. Anyway, I got back into it, and I’m about halfway through two different sci-fi books. That’s right! Sci-fi. The environment is the same, the characters are largely the same (Oklahoma, Okies), but I needed some of that PKD influence to really get my gears firing again.

More info as I finish more stuff.

Be well. Eat shrooms.

Audience 01/27/21

I started Broken River just before the door closed. The initial launch of books performed well, mainly because I was still able to get the message out on Facebook. I’d type up a post and hundreds of people would see it and interact with it. Around that time, about seven years ago, the site started implementing advertising, and all of a sudden anything you posted that included a link, or keywords to buy something, became throttled. You could see it happen right before your eyes. Cat picture: 155 likes. Book announcement: 234 likes. Announcement that book is on sale: 5 likes.

Over time that throttling became more explicit, and reached into the discourse itself. Facebook began privileging posts that used keywords (“congratulations,” etc.) in order to drive “positive engagement.” The wild west of the internet, at that point, was officially dead.

Once political discourse took over and the left and right formed their own reality tunnels, that window shrank even further, encouraging authors to shout their book every day AND become political pundits. If you were driven enough to get your work out there, you’d adapt to this.

I couldn’t, really. The whole thing felt gross to me. I’ve had a difficult time my whole life with pretending to agree with something that I just don’t. Combine that with a healthy paranoia and distrust of authority, and most narratives on either side struck me as missing key elements.

But that’s neither here nor there. This post doesn’t have a point, per se, other than I was thinking about those days when I could find something like Bizarro completely randomly, on a messageboard, by following a link. I could find artists by going down MySpace rabbit holes. I could post a thought on Facebook and get actual engagement from people, not just the same fifty “friends” FB decided constituted my “audience.”

I wonder often about how to break out of this ever-constricting medium. You’ll notice, every few months there’s some new crisis, and with it comes some new update that makes SM worse, makes them throttle you more.

I think once c*vid is over and everyone is safely vaxxed, it’ll have to be a face-to-face thing. We’ll have to go back to traveling around with our books, putting on live shows that are interesting, and putting in the legwork. We were promised an easier route to an audience, but it was brief. But that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world! It just means we have to keep searching.