samuel x. brase likes to write

In-Line Fixes

Posted in third project by Sam X. on 14 December 2011

Three issues of Cosmic Vinegar have been published. All told, that’s pretty awesome and I’m proud of it, although I never really doubted my ability to produce. Writing two novels in two years demonstrated to myself that I can produce. The tough part of the magazine is in the grind, however, so ask me again in six months.

Today, I’m more interested in thinking about immediate scaling issues and reception.

Hard numbers follow. These are not pagehits to the site, but instead the number of times an issue has been downloaded or viewed. I imagine each download or view is a single person checking out the magazine.

  • October 2011: 23 downloads and/or views
  • November 2011: 11 downloads and/or views
  • December 2011: 12 downloads and/or views

October is a tad inflated of course as it’s been around the longest, and December is a tad deflated because it’s only been around for a week. In that sense, the fact that December has already matched November is encouraging. Hopefully a few more views will come in before January–I’d really love to try and get that number back up to 20 at least.

In general, it seemed like I had more success when targeting less-well-known publications, such as the Canadian Science Fiction Review. I had purposefully ramped up my focus with the first three issues: starting small then moving up to the big boys like Clarkesworld. Now I think I’ll reel it back, stick with the little guys for a couple of issues. It makes sense, of course; authors in smaller markets are probably more excited about being reviewed than guys who have cracked the big markets. That is, until this thing really takes off! Right, guys? Right?

So that’s the state of the magazine at present. Realistically, 85% of my views are probably friends and family, but I suspect that’s how it always starts.


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….

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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.

Why Not a Second Job

Posted in third project by Sam X. on 10 November 2010

Nearing the halfway point on novel #2 right now, somewhere in the 40-42,000 word neighborhood. Target is 90k words, as per usual. Perhaps a little over that because of eventual editing.

Of course, as I try to buckle down and crank this thing out, new ideas appear on the horizon and grip me.

I’ve been trying to sort out my feelings toward indie / self / epublishing. I’ve long figured that indie published short stories were fine–nay, a legitimate way to start a career–but once you were thinking novel, it should be legit or nothing. I recently began juxtaposing this with some other views I hold: that self-released rock albums are awesome, and that independent movies are also awesome.

So why are independent published novels any different?

There’s something in the form that perhaps requires more perfection; improv in a movie can be fun, a flubbed note on a record can be charming. A typo in a book is usually met with horror.

I was discussing all these thoughts with my girlfriend this past weekend, expressing my doubt that indie novels would ever be taken seriously, and she pointed out that early punk bands, who circumvented the traditional record-release process, almost assuredly doubted their success or value as well. Yet they pushed through, and I consider a lot of that output to be some of the best music ever made.

But when you’re bucking the industry, there’s no assurance of success. I’ve also thought a lot about Francois Truffaut, who trumpeted the experimental French New Wave and spent dead tree space hammering mainstream film. He and the rest of Cahiers du Cinema gave the burgeoning movement critical import; they reasoned out why experimenting with lenses and angle and so on was important and what such experimentation could provide the medium. Punk never did anything quite so academic, but music’s always been more emotional than cinema.

Point being: if independent book publishing has at least a second-removed relation to punk music, if it can be understood as rebellion against artistic establishment, what has taken me so long to wake up and smell the coffee? I’m all about rebellion. Well, OK, I’m not “all about it,” but I do recognize it as a most interesting trait of human society; the need to tear down the old. And I do believe it to be one of of the most important acts that we as a people can do. Society (traditions/institutions/mores) is our creation; so we can alter it.

Why do I spend all this time worrying about fitting into the industry machine? So I can be accepted by the same terms that other writers have been accepted? I suppose that’s the case. But the machine is breaking; the machine is broken. Time to come out from under its shadow.

And so: I am working to start a new project. One in which I critically review indie / self / epublished science fiction novels and short stories. One in which I am open about my current manuscript, invite people to discuss it. This new manuscript (separate from novel #2) will be a serial, given away for free as an ebook or sold for a pittance in a DIY physical form.

I’m challenging myself to be experimental, beyond my prose. To open up to the new model; to allow for free digital distribution of my work. I am not a perfect writer (is anyone?) and at the young age of 26, I have a lot more growing to do. For the duration of this project, my growth will be a transparent process. Free. Critical. Punk.


  • Writing the new manuscript will not begin until drafting novel #2 is finished.
  • This “new project” will likely be on a separate wordpress blog.
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