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Eric: Recycling the Meme: On Writing

This is a Meme about writing I contributed to on my Livejournal. It occurs to me that it's a nice essay in and of itself, and probably deserves to be moved over to the "Essays," which is where you're reading these words right now. So, here it is, in all its glory.

I think it both has some truths in it, and some astoundingly crass egotisms. Which is about right for the average writer.

What's the last thing you wrote?
Finished Story? "Automotive Care," which is a short story. Wrote-period? Chapter Seven of my novel Theftworld

Was it any good?
"Automotive Care" is the single finest piece of American Literature ever produced, until such time as Realms of Fantasy rejected it. When it gets back from them, it will be the worst piece of tripe ever committed to paper until I get it sent out again. We already did this riff with Fantasy and Science Fiction. Being able to hold contradictory opinions about your own talent are the only thing that lets you have the ego to send the story out in the first place but not take it personally when it's rejected.

The novel? Yeah, yeah, it's pretty good.

What's the first thing you ever wrote that you still have?
Good question. Hm. I probably have older stuff, but I have a short story I submitted to a competition at 13. It won, but only after I was accused of plagiarizing it. I had to write another short short on the spot to convince the judges I was actually capable of writing the story I wrote.

The next year, I was the only person to enter at my grade level, and much to the chagrin of the head of the competition (who resigned, afterward) my entry was disallowed because it was 20 pages long instead of a maximum of 12 pages. Said head gave me an autographed copy of Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut and a current copy of the Writer's Market, and told me not to waste my talent on idiots.

Was it any good?
The first story? Unmitigated tripe. Which Dragon Magazine told me in no uncertain terms when I sent it to them. On the other hand, I was thirteen.

The second story? Kinda, for a fourteen year old. It was genre (I was still on a fantasy kick) but it was mid-to-low fantasy and was a coming of age story without any violence. Not bad for a D&D player with delusions of talent.

Write poetry?

Angsty poetry?
Dark sometimes, but not generally angsty. I shoot for a New England tradition rather than a Goth tradition. I don't always hit.

Favourite genre of writing?
These days? Science Fiction or Fantasy. I'm tending towards hard in the former, and psychological in the latter.

Most fun character you ever wrote?
Trudy Galloway. She's my sick, twisted inner child.

Most annoying character you ever wrote?
Annoying to write? Probably The Dash -- a parody of superspeedster heroes. She was popular because she was funny, but the hook was writing long run on sentences without spaces between words, and that's a monumental pain in the ass to write with any kind of natural flow. It's equally annoying to eliminate the spaces after the fact. Stupid gimmick writing.

Best plot you ever wrote?
With "Automotive Care" in circulation for publication? I'm giving that the nod.

Coolest plot twist you ever wrote?
Currently available? Probably something in the old Superguy writing. But I have something coming up in Theftworld that I think will rock.

How often do you get writer's block?
Every so often.

How do you fix it?
Force myself to just keep writing. Sometimes random things, to just force the blockage forward.

Write fan fiction?
Now and again. I wrote a Legion fanfic back in college I think didn't suck. And I write In Nomine stuff when it strikes my fancy.

Do you type or write by hand?

Do you save everything you write?
Generally, yeah.

Do you ever go back to an old idea long after you abandoned it?
All the time.

What's your favorite thing that you've written?
Right now? "Automotive Care." (Do you see a trend here?)

Stepping away from the psychout for a second... hm. Probably Theftworld, though I've got a short story or two I enjoy.

What's everyone else's favorite thing that you've written?
Professionally? Sidewinder: Wild West Adventures. We were nominated for an ENnie award for that one, in large part because of the background stuff I wrote 'in character' as Bat Masterson. Who ever thought writing straight western stuff would work for me?

I've gotten the most positive responses for "Nicole: Acts of Justification" and "Antonio: The Calabite's Song," which are two In Nomine fanfics. Behold the power of built in fandom.

My Superguy stuff is generally considered good, too, by those who read it.

Do you even show people your work?

Who's your favourite constructive critic?
My father. He's both brilliant and generally right, and he's not afraid to be stern in his pronouncements.

Do you have a web site for your writings?
I have a Writing Page that's password protected to keep the stuff off the search engines, since I don't want to confuse it with 'electronically published' stuff. Other of my stuff is available here and there.

Did you ever write a novel?
I discovered, after the fact and to my shock, that I wrote five discrete novels when I was active in Superguy, ranging from 50,000 words to 110,000 words apiece. Which makes me an amateur novelist.

Theftworld is the non Superguy novel I've stuck with the longest, and it looks good for finishing it off, hopefully within the next few months.

Have you ever written fantasy, sci-fi, or horror?
Oh yes.

Ever written romance or teen angsty drama?
Not yet, but I won't rule any writing out. Hell, I've considered writing porn just for the cash payments they make. There's a fine tradition in Speculative Fiction of writing garbage to support art.

What's your favorite setting for your characters?
Coffee shops, restaurant tables, bars... any place where there's a simple justification for two people to sit and talk at length. I do lots of the sitting and talking at length.

What's one genre you have never written, and probably never will?
The millisecond I say I'll never write a given genre, my brain will start churning out ideas. So I won't say it. Hell, I never thought I'd write any kind of Western, but Sidewinder was a lot of fun and I'm thinking seriously of pulling a Resnick down the line and writing a Western in space.

How many writing projects are you working on right now?
Two novels, two short stories, two RPGs.

Do you want to write for a living?
I do write for a living. I just suck at getting paid, so I need to have a second job.

Seriously. The acid test for whether you're a writer or not is if you decide you're a writer. You prove it with your first paycheck, and I've gotten a few of those now.

Do I want writing to be my sole means of support? Sure, but not enough to force myself to write everything that comes available to ensure that I'm always writing and making my money off it. When people say they want to 'write for a living,' what they mean nine times out of ten is they'd like the stuff they want to write to become so popular that they can quit their job and devote themselves to it. That's amazingly rare. There are only so many Stephen Kings and J.K. Rowlings out there. The workday professional writers -- the ones who don't make millions but also write pretty much all the time -- are constantly writing, and not always the stuff they want to. They're placing articles in In-flight magazines and Woodworking magazines. They're scouring markets, figuring out what's currently selling, researching and writing it. They're turning out Penthouse Forum letters and how-to guides on constructing gliders and essays on all topics you can imagine, and they're tersely sending letters demanding payment promised months before.

That's what it means to 'make a living as a writer' if you don't hit it big. And that doesn't even touch on benefits. It's a lot of hard work and if you have a bad month, you have no comp or promise you can get back to it.

For my desired life and lifestyle, it's better to be a systems administrator who sits in cafes after hours and works on the stuff I love, because I love writing it and I enjoy the process, and then try to sell it afterward, but never be scared that I won't have a home.

Have you ever written something for a magazine or newspaper?

Have you ever won an award for your writing?

Ever written something in script or play format?
Yes. I've also used transcript form as a literary device.

What are your five favorite words?
Zeugma. Figurehead. Blinked. Kidding. Said.

Do you ever parody?

What's your favorite thing to parody?
Something I love the concept of, but hate the execution of.

Do you actually like that thing, or are you spitefully making fun of it?
If I don't like it, it's hard to write good parody about it. You have to embrace Nancy before you can destroy Nancy. It's like the Grok principle from Stranger in a Strange Land. Only after you drink something in, learn it from all sides, cherish it and love it can you hate it so much that you eliminate it. Or in this case write about blue haired men from planet Helium.

Do you ever write based on yourself?

What character that you've written most resembles yourself?
Physically? Not counting Superguy stuff, I'd say Everett Markham from Conversations with Cat and "Automotive Care." But I draw a lot on myself in most of my characters, so sooner or later I see similarities in almost all of them.

Where do you get ideas for your other characters?
The International House of Pancakes.

Do you ever write based on your dreams?
Sure. Though only elements. Nine times out of ten, written dreams don't resemble dreams at all. Take the 'dream sequence' in a recent episode of Enterprise. It was utterly linear and prosaic, without any of the mild, if ignored surrealisms that constantly surround a dream. It was just another scene, except it let Trip talk to a dead girl.

Do you favor happy endings, sad endings, or cliff-hangers?
I love happy endings, and almost never write them. The characters at the end of the story are rarely the ones at the beginning, and change is traumatic. It's safe to say I'm a bastard to my characters, and so there's an element of recovery involved in surviving one of my stories.

I try my best to write satisfying conclusions, however.

Have you ever written based on an artwork you've seen?
Yes. Including one of my published poems.

Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?

Ever write something entirely in chatspeak? (How r u?)

Entirely in L337?
Dear Christ, no.

Was that question completely appalling and un-writer like?
Nope. I can't imagine it ever happening, but wondering if it could be done is a very writerly thing to do.

Does music help you write?

Do you have a weblog or livejournal?
How does one contribute to a Meme like this without having a weblog or livejournal?

Are people surprised and confused when they find out you write well?
People from my day job are. I blew the mind of a student, once. He had me pigeonholed in his mind, only to have that preconception blown apart.

Quote something you've written. The first thing to pop into your mind.
Walking through the labyrinth,
Feeling the cracks within the wall, I turn,
Turning and making my way, I hear,
Hearing and fearing as the sound grows near...
Unwinding the string measure by measure,
As though you were singing, measures all
The cord that leads back as I move forward,
Left turns all the way, just as you say, told
In a whisper, the secret of the labyrinth.
But I am done with secrets -- I bear a sword
And a cord that I unwind, and step closer
And closer
To the minotaur that lurks. The secret
Of the labyrinth. The death contained within.
But I will slay it. Slay it with the sword
You gave me, because you love me.
Slay it with the sword, then follow the cord
Woven from your loom and passed to me
To unravel as I walk, and find my way home
To you.

The secret of the labyrinth will die by your love.
The mystery of the labyrinth will live on.
And the children of Athens will come home
Once more, no more tribute.
And I will stand by your side, hold your hand
Look within your eyes
And know I have emerged.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at August 2, 2004 12:54 PM


Comment from: Dave Van Domelen posted at February 15, 2005 10:11 AM

That's kinda big to catch on as either sort of meme (the real deal, or "things people copy to their blog"). :)

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at February 15, 2005 10:24 AM

Well, it was back in August, so I'd say you're right. ;)

Comment from: Wednesday posted at March 5, 2005 10:46 PM

The acid test for whether you're a writer or not is if you decide you're a writer. You prove it with your first paycheck

Oh, sod.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at March 5, 2005 11:43 PM

That first paycheck buys you the best tasting happy meal of your life.

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