samuel x. brase likes to write

The Questions

Posted in novel planning, second novel, third project by Sam X. on 5 February 2011

There’s an interesting lecture that Philip K. Dick once gave, where he muses on the overarching questions his writing inevitably probes. These questions are “What is reality?” and “What constitutes the authentic human being?” The lecture itself devolves into a very loquacious defense of his idea that we live in the time of the Bible.

I don’t know, I skimmed that part.

But the opening third of the lecture is fascinating. I have, for many years, been a fan of PKD. He’s one of the best sci-fi writers I can think of; he doesn’t write sci-fi because spaceships are fun, he writes sci-fi to allow himself the necessary room to explore his two questions. He wants to understand the world better, like most artists; he was channeling his uncertainty about reality. Instead of channeling emotional pain through the magic of piano music, he channeled cosmic wonder into sci-fi unreality yarns.

Naturally, I thought about myself while reading this. I thought about what my questions were; what am I probing through my art? Certainly, he had more to look back on and draw parallels when he made explicit his dominant themes. Maybe doing it at this stage is premature. But I don’t think it hurts.

My writing largely has to do with rebellion; power dynamics. But those aren’t the questions I’m asking. Whereas PKD asked “What is reality?” I am asking “What is society?” The reason for this being, reality beyond human understanding is largely irrelevant to human life. I’m less concerned with reality as we don’t know it, and more concerned with reality as we create it; that is, society.

Do I have a second question? Sure. I’ve been trying to think about how to phrase it. Like Dick’s, the second question is intertwined with the first. I’m not sure I can put it exactly into words right now.

It has to do with sovereignty; with control over others, conceded by those others. The ruler is granted sovereign control over a community by election (ideally, I suppose)–but to what point does his mandate override the will of the people? As we saw in Tunisia, the will of the people outlasted the mandate of the autocrat. But in other states, for example Iran a couple of years ago and Egypt now (so Mubarak hopes), the autocrat comes out on top–by exerting the power of the state over the electorate (so-called electorate in both of those states, for reasons of election fraud).

Where does authority’s mandate end, and society’s right to revolt begin?

(Update from March 13) As Gaddafi is making clear in Libya with each passing hour, the right to revolt is only part of the issue; that draws international recognition. The other half of the issue is the ability to carry it through.


Posted in second novel, third project by Sam X. on 30 December 2010

A follow-up to my post at the beginning of 2010 which laid out some basic ideas of what I wanted to accomplish in 2010. Let’s look back for a moment.

In 2010, I wanted to…

  • Edit EE by end of February; query agents upon finishing. This mostly happened, although it was by the end of March. I did query some agents but quickly became disillusioned with the quality of the manuscript, even after editing. I think making this a saleable book would require much, much more work, which I’m not prepared to enter yet. Maybe in 2012….
  • Write sequel to EE, beginning in April. I quickly abandoned this plan, as I ceded to the advice Never write a sequel to an unpublished book. Thus, work on HR began instead, which I have written approximately half of to date.
  • Write five more substantial short stories (~20 pages) and five shorter pieces (~10 pages); continue to send catalog to markets. I entered the post-EE period by writing a number of flashes, a few which graduated to substantial short stories. I didn’t do five, but I think four happened. Numerous flashes were written, although I don’t think many ~10 pagers were written, if at all.
  • Read a book every two weeks. I realize this is a lowly amount to some of you, yet it will represent a vast improvement from a couple of years ago. This breakneck pace–26 books–was not attained, although that can at least be partially attributed to my four-month siege on Ulysses.

So, overall, not very successful. I made progress on all fronts but not enough. I did start a job this year, which certainly played into how much I accomplished, but I won’t get anywhere chucking up excuses. No excuses, play like a champion. I’ll do better in 2011. I’m going to make a similar list; a little loftier, and with one new item….

  • Finish HR (novel #2) by the end of March. Perhaps edit in the fall, although project #3 will hamper that.
  • Similarly, I need to finish reading Ulysses by the end of March, so I’m good to go on project #3.
  • Begin and continue project #3, the serial. First issue by end of May. This will constitute the vast majority of my writing in 2011.
  • Read a book every two weeks! For real this time. Once out of the Ulysses woods, that is. Project #3 will require avid reading of indie sci-fi books, but those are shorter than your average paperback (~200 pages), so I don’t expect much trouble. I also want to keep up with my nonfiction reading, which is primarily current events at this point.

2010 provided a good basis, a good rhythm of what I need to do in order to get where I want to be (a well-informed sci-fi writer on sociopolitical issues). I’m excited for 2011, especially project #3. But I have to stay focused, one day at a time, and get novel #2 down on paper first. I promised myself back in 2009 that I wouldn’t leave novels unfinished and I’m not breaking that promise this early.

Repeat: If only for the experience, writing a second full novel is good for you. If only for the experience….

Tagged with: , ,


Posted in second novel, third project by Sam X. on 20 November 2010

Not a lot to say right now, trying to hammer out chapter 8 before Thanksgiving.

It’s gonna need a good rewrite unfortunately; it’s told in a different voice than the rest of the novel, and I haven’t quite set it apart yet, tone-wise. It needs a different energy, different style. But if I can get the whole thing down on paper, I can spend free time on break restructuring it and playing around with the style.

Updates on Project Three.

So, the original idea was to put critical reviews of indie sci-fi on the blog, and provide ebook/DIY paper versions of a serialized story. In a moment of realization, I figured: why not combine the two? Make the whole thing a monthly zine of sorts for indie sci-fi. It can have a short news section, a couple critical reviews, and then ~20 pages of original fiction written by yours truly. Like a lit version of Cahiers du Cinema or Touch and Go.

Those are going to be my influences for this project, so I ordered about 8 to 9 different punk zines yesterday. They should be showing up next week. I’m really excited to pour through them and see what different DIY publishing people are doing. One of them has a bunch of interviews with editors of punk zines, that should be especially informative.

I’ll also probably have to check out some current sci-fi lit journals, to see what everyone is talking about, but their aesthetic is not what I’m shooting for.

Every day I get a little more excited about this. It’s going to look so xeroxed and cheap but hopefully the quality of the content will be exciting. And I’m certainly open to changing the format, making it more professional looking etc., if any interest in garnered.

I’m thinking about conducting a guerrilla advertising approach; mailing it to indie sci-fi writers and publishers, university lit departments. Not sure about that, but it’s… an idea.

Anyhow, back to the novel.

In the Year 2011

Posted in second novel, third project by Sam X. on 17 November 2010

Yes, I’m still working on my novel.

But its time to let the future project gestate.

Since this project will be an experiment in pursuing DIY standards close to my heart, it only makes sense that the content of such a project would be close to my heart. It has to be fun, to keep myself and the audience interested. It has to be episodic with a larger arc, perhaps 8 to 10 episodes, each anywhere from 30 to 50 pages. I’ll be honest: I’m thinking about a space rebel mimic of Che Guevara. Something like that.

I had this odd moment, listening to the new Girl Talk album. A couple minutes into track 4, he mashes up Skee-Lo’s “I Wish” and the Talking Heads’ “Take Me to the River.” Now, the Skee-Lo song is a fun, basic song where Skee-Lo spends the chorus reviewing various ways his life would be better (most of them revolve around his non-existent girlfriend). But backed by the Talking Heads, the song assumes emotional impact beyond his physical desires. The grafted melody adds import, creating a sense of yearning that reaches deeper into the stomach–by the time he raps, “I wish I was a little bit taller,” man, so do you.

The trick, as in most of Girl Talk, is cross-applying hip hop materialism / physicality to rock ‘n’ roll passion. The styles find common ground in rhythm, but that’s neither here nor there. Some days, that combined physicality and passion is all that will do; neither rock alone nor rap alone will fill a specific void that is only satisfied by their merging.

Writing chapter 8 of my current novel, and thinking ahead to the climax, it becomes clear that a lot of what I’m trying to do is in a way a literary mash-up. It’s stream of consciousness science fiction; it’s mainstream revolutionism; and, very literally a mashup. Because of the advanced stage of the technology involved, the environments in which the characters move are not restricted to one static image, but rather, a mashup of available environs. I’m not sure how far I can / should push this in the current novel, but it’s something to think about as a possible stylistic calling card.

I may try and adapt this into next year’s project, because I think it holds such potential.

David and His Final Decision

Posted in novel planning, second novel by Sam X. on 1 October 2010

The climax of my current novel is less in the action (though there will be action) and more in the final decision of the protagonist, to either support the status quo or resist it. For an accounting of his reasoning, I turn to analysis of Ulysses. First, Joyce.

It was revealed to me that those things are good which yet are corrupted which neither if they were supremely good nor unless they were good could be corrupted.

And now, Blamires (who wrote the Ulysses guide I am using).

‘Those things’–the Irish homeland, the Irish tradition, culture, revolution–are indeed good. It is because they are good that they can be corrupted. It is also because they are not the supremely and absolutely good that they can be corrupted. It is right to be drawn by them. It is also right to resist their attractiveness; though resistance is costly. Vocation always is.

David comes to his decision, allows concensus, and then walks away–as a final act of resistance. Much as George Washington walked away from the presidency, much as Sulla resigned his dictatorship, he will put a final plan into place and say no more; disappear into pages of history.

Government is good–but not supremely good, and can be corrupted. It is also because government is not supremely good that revolution is likewise good–but also not supremely good, and thus can be corrupted. My novel simply posits: what does a man do when both have become corrupted? What does this same man do when his memory is missing?

I felt unsure of the ending for a long time, but Joyce has convinced me it is the right–the only–thing David can do.

The Work that Goes On

Posted in second novel by Sam X. on 13 September 2010

The problem with writing a novel is that while the end result is fucking awesome, it takes a lot of time to get from point A (zero pages) to point B (300 well edited pages). This is in comparison to a short story, say, of zero to 20 pages. You can take a week to plan the short, write it in a week, give it a couple weeks distance and edit it after. Five weeks work for what’s probably a fun, tight short story.

I don’t mind either of those situations, except that for the duration of the novel, I have no new short stories to add to my roster of material that can make the submission rounds. Subsequently, I now have a bunch of stories that have either been accepted or rejected 15 times and nothing new to get out. I feel out of touch when I’m not submitting stories.

Nothing to be done for that, I suppose. I could take a break from the novel and write a short but–then I’d delay finishing my novel by at least 2-3 weeks. That doesn’t sound very attractive. So I suck it up and press on.

The novel itself goes well. Even in rough draft, I feel much more energized by the language in it than in my previous novel. My personal style, slowly crystallizing since junior year of college (2004), continues to develop. Reading Ulysses is slow going (I frequently fantasize about reading something else) but extremely worthwhile; it is, in fact, less like reading a book and more like reading a manual that rewires your brain, demolishes your previous views of language and then rebuilds in its own likeness.

I’m not saying I want to write like James Joyce; I’m not saying I ever could. I don’t want to, because while its possibly the most beautiful writing on the planet, it also keeps its ideas enigmatic. I’d rather be less confusing. But still, occasionally I write a sentence and think to myself, “Goddammit, too much Joyce in that one.” Usually, I let it slide.

Time to Write

Posted in novel planning, second novel by Sam X. on 1 July 2010

The problem is that media and media sources–BBC CNN Fox MSNBC NPR Al Jazeera Politico–television newspaper blogs websites videos radio–have decentered the political discourse by exposing parallel and contradictory points seemingly at random, creating incoherent white noise.

This isn’t a bad thing. Being decentered requires a new focus on the dialogue, an attempt to become recentered.

The fragmentation of the discourse hopefully proves that there is no single narrative of the world. We are always functioning above a precipice, and any one misstep could plunge us into the chasm of a third world war.

Instead, there are multiple conversations occurring within the world discourse, being framed by the hegemonic powers like the United States, Russia, and China, and then being reframed by the states vying for importance and relevance, like Israel, Pakistan, and Kyrgyzstan.

My second novel aims to recreate this decentering. First writ large, as the character moves through an attempted revolution. The dialogue surrounding the revolution is perpetually changing, as the government first ridicules and then condemns it; as the revolution first demands change and then insists on being that change; as more people come to the cause and change it from sporadic, targeted violence to all out mayhem; and as the main character uncovers the driving factors behind the revolution.

But this isn’t enough. A handful of dichotomies would be enough for a smart protagonist to sort out in a novel. To take it a step further, the environment is also in flux. Every action sequence will be a fantastical journey through warped scenes, no wall or passageway staying in place or remaining whole.

Our main protagonist also undergoes personal decentering. By having the last few years of his memory wiped, he’s unsure of what’s true about himself. He can’t figure out which side of the revolution he stood before he lost his memory, and he can’t figure out which woman he had committed to (Theresa or Racine) before he lost his memory. There is compelling evidence for all options.

The deciding factors are the experiences he undergoes within the story. The decentering requires a new focus on the dialogue, and stripped of distractions, he can apply that focus. Through his experiences, he comes to a new decision. Not one borne of his old hang ups, but one borne of the current situation and circumstances.

Consider this the mission statement for my second novel. It’s a love letter to confused modernity, to embracing the disjointed dialogue. It’s a manual to guide you through a rapidly approaching future where technology informs and separates, divides and conquers. It’s about living with the world we’ve created, and making the most of your time here.

So, you know, it gets a little cheesy at the end.

Tagged with: , , , ,

Response: The Collapse of Identity

Posted in pop theory, second novel by Sam X. on 10 May 2010

What if history is not cyclical and slow moving but arrhythmic — at times almost stationary, but also capable of accelerating suddenly, like a sports car? What if collapse does not arrive over a number of centuries but comes suddenly, like a thief in the night? -Niall Ferguson

From the Mar/Apr 2010 issue of Foreign Affairs, Ferguson looks at some common denominators when it comes to the collapse of an empire. The thesis of the paper, expressed rather informally above, is that complex systems don’t degrade for long periods of time; they remain stable-yet-in-flux, every on the precipice, on “the edge of chaos.” They are resilient, too, beating back many opportunities for collapse.

Yet all it takes is the right antagonism and whoosh, off the cliff it goes, descent into chaos and extinction.

Similarly, in The Bourne Identity, it seems that the main character, Jason Bourne, in the three years leading up to his memory loss, had been operating on the edge of chaos. He had assumed the identity of an invented man and lived a lie every waking minute; all it took was the right push, or in this case a number of slugs to the back, and he crashed off the cliff.

My second novel will study the collapse of social identity. My main character, bereft of his own identity, will move through a world descending into chaos. He will be one step behind those thrusting it into chaos, such that he will forever be in a mad world, uncertainty and insanity the order of the day.

What can save my character? Bourne was saved by meeting D’Anjou, an old comrade who could reveal a good number of his past secrets. I’m considering having my character only lose part of his memory, a la Paycheck, so that I can gloss over the time spent recouperating. Bourne spends six months in the beginning of the novel relearning basic things and establishing a starting point for himself. I don’t know if my character can afford six months, caught in a revolution as he will be.

If he has less memory loss, of course, he needs less saving. In fact, his own personal identity is clearly just half the story; the other half of the story is the nature of the revolution and future of society’s identity.

As for Bourne Identity, I found it a little unfulfilling. There was substantially less action than I had hoped, but the intricacy of the clues was interesting to unfurl. The only message I can take away from the story is how a large, centralized government almost ruined Bourne’s life. Indeed, intelligence operations had overreached their foundational resources, and putting Bourne out on such a limb was a risky proposition. What I did find quite successful was the fluidity of identity that Bourne experienced.

In one chapter, he was sure he had been an assassin. The next, a patzy. The next, a combination of the two. A, B, AB, C, AC, BC, ABC, D, AD, etc. By the end, he referred to himself as a ‘shell,’ and focused entirely on the one solid thought he could remember: Kill Carlos. Bourne lived out beyond the breakers, shifting from one belief to another, never assured of one belief, a new gamechanging fact just two pages away. That was when the story was its most inspired, when it acknowledged how tenuous Bourne’s understanding of himself was. I’ll be lucky if I replicate a fraction of that.

The Second Weekend

Posted in novel planning, second novel by Sam X. on 23 March 2010

At the moment when language, as spoken and scattered words, becomes an object of know­ledge, we see it reappearing in a strictly opposite modality: a silent, cautious deposition of the word upon the whiteness of a piece of paper, where it can possess neither sound nor interlocutor, where it has nothing to say but itself, nothing to do but shine in the brightness of its being. — Michel Foucault, The Order of Things

I have sworn to myself that I will finish editing EE by March 28–this Sunday. I must finish it now because, well, I am very close to finishing it. I am excited to query agents. And ideas for novel two bubble within me, ready to leap out. I had a frantic brainstorming session last night, as various theories and plot ideas coalesced. I must finished editing EE because I am ready to move on.

Long have I wanted to write a story in the vein of The Bourne Identity, XIII, and Paycheck: a story about a man on the run, suffering from amnesia. I’m not sure why, but that set up attracts me. A lot. The problem with that kind of a story is that the character is not a character–they have no backstory. The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana deals with this kind of person, but the character isn’t on the run, he’s struggling to understand his life. Through cultural cues and familial anecdotes. Queen Loana is the story of a person being imbued with character. Bourne Identity and XIII also imbue their protagonists with character, as they study spies struggling to learn why they were almost killed. Their status as ‘spy’ is affirmed through this struggle.

Thus, the struggle is to write a story about an amnesiac, yet somehow make that character interesting for the reader, to keep them reading. Bourne and XIII are interesting because they are forceful–they are trained spies, some of the fittest and most intelligent men on the planet. They are, of course, products of their situation. A writer like myself won’t find himself with four bullets in his back, memory-less, off the coast of Italy (or will I? Story idea! Story idea!).

The character in Paycheck, Jennings, is interesting because only a couple of years have been wiped–beyond that, he has a personality. Plus he’s caught up in action, and thus story. The man in Queen Loana, Yambo, is interesting if you like Umberto Eco. Eco constructs this man through books and receipts and memories and it’s fascinating if you dig that sort of thing, but most won’t. But, like the spies and the scientist, his identity is constructed by his past profession. He was a librarian, thus he learns about himself through the books he possesses, the notes he took.

So I want to kind of merge Bourne and Paycheck; someone on the run from nefarious agencies, set in the future, not a spy. My main concern in this novel is the impact of technology on society, and thus, perhaps the obvious choice of employment for my character is that of technician. The four stories I am drawing on for inspiration construct their characters through a previously chosen profession–a profession they chose before the amnesia, when their sense of self was intact.

These characters, including mine perhaps, fly too close to the ‘truth’ and are rewarded with a memory-wipe. Thus, they have to return to the truth, fly close once again–but this time, maybe not quite as close. Or simply keep themselves safe. I will have to think on this more….

To Your Strengths

Posted in second novel by Sam X. on 15 March 2010

I have four chapters left to edit and then I’m putting EE to bed, for now.

I am excited for a number of reasons. With the completion, I get to query agents. That’s amazing in and of itself. But I also get to begin a new project; a project yet unknown, barely felt, unimagined.

I love EE, but there are things I want to abandon. I want to abandon the children, I want to abandon the soft sci-fi, and I want to abandon Earth. All three of those things were necessary for the novel, to make it accessible, and to help define the borders it straddled, but I want to write something more… futuristic.

EE was about some basic themes that I wanted to explore at the time. Themes I still want to explore, although they are taking a backseat to other themes. Themes I would play up in the rest of the EE series, should it get published. But until then, I’ll apply them to a new book of a different series.

Is it time for DS?

Not yet. Not yet. I don’t want to attempt DS until I have at least two novels under my belt. EE proved to myself that I can complete a novel, that I am a writer–this sequel will prove that I’m in it for the long haul. With two edited novels complete, and the lessons learned from them, I think it will be time to begin DS.

But that’s for 2011/12. For now… undetermined new novel. Themes that carry from EE? Nature. Technology. Themes new to project 2? Identity. Being connected to and disconnected from social groups. Memory.

An idea began percolating last night, at the super convenient time of 12:20am. Being a writer, I grabbed a pad, flipped on a light, and gave in to my imagination. I am paying for that today. But the idea is interesting. It holds promise. A lot of promise, in some ways. No characters imagined yet, just a fun sci-fi world to play in. I need to think about this more: I can already see the basic dramatic arc, and how I might pitch it to an agent.

All right, this post has served its purpose. Off to scribble, to think, and strike through. More on novel two soon.

Tagged with: , ,
%d bloggers like this: