samuel x. brase likes to write

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.

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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.

Notes

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

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.

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Response: The Value of the Recession

Posted in current affairs, novel planning by Sam X. on 26 May 2010

In regards:

  • The Big Short, Michael Lewis
  • “Faulty Basel,” by Marc Levinson. Foreign Affairs, May/June 2010.
  • “Nouriel Roubini said the bubble would burst and it did. So what next?” by Jonathon Sibun. Telegraph.co.uk, May 23, 2010.

In the US there is a lack of bipartisanship between Democrats and Republicans, in Germany Merkel has just lost the majority in her legislature, in Japan you have a weak and ineffective government, in Greece you have riots and strikes. The point is that a lot of sacrifices will have to be made in these countries but many of the governments are weak or divided. It is that political strain that markets are worried about. The view is: you can announce anything, we’ll see whether you’re going to implement it.” -Nouriel Roubini

I listened to The Big Short on audiobook the last couple of weeks, which coincided nicely with a couple of articles in the latest Foreign Affairs and the quoted interview with Nouriel Roubini, above.

I cannot speak intelligently about the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008; nor can I speak intelligently about the conditions we now live in. I know unemployment is high, I know a lot of people are broke. I was unemployed for 11 out of 12 months in 2009, but I received unemployment virtually the whole time and thus my experience was mitigated.

Since I cannot speak intelligently, I rely on reading books and articles from intelligent people (and the occasional conversation with my father). One of my desires, for my epic sci-fi series that I’m not yet ready to write, is to demonstrate economic influences within a futuristic society. It is clear to me that money is very important when it comes to shaping the world, however, most major sci-fi stories shirk its importance.

Star Wars tried to break ground in this regard with all the trade embargo talk at the beginning of The Phantom Menace, but it was far from compelling. Dune did it more successfully, as the driving force behind the story, the spice melange, was an extremely valuable commodity and sparked much of the decisions made by offworlders (it had very little impact on the Fremen, of course, but they responded to occupation, which resulted because of the spice). Much of Philip Dick’s books circumvent economics, Foundation addresses it as a inferior factor when compared to military might, and in most dystopian stories, concerns of freedom trump money, as in We, The Matrix, and Dark City.

Of course, my sci-fi knowledge is not exhaustive and I’m sure some stories do it well. I’m told George R.R. Martin incorporates it fairly successfully, and the first book in his series is on my “to read” list. But suffice it to say, economics generally takes a backseat in space epics.

Thus, my book and article reading is, in a sense, research. I am trying to understand how macroeconomic forces can shape the world, and how the world in turn shapes those forces.

Still, when I pull back, it strikes me as a great drama, one with a prelude from 2004 to 2008, the first act in 2008 to the end of 2009, and the second act beginning in 2010. Roubini, in his interview, points to many countries that are in trouble, and it is essentially the entire “First World,” from the eurozone to Japan, the UK, and the US. None of these countries are safe, only some (Germany?) are in less precarious positions.

And rising in the east is China. They have their own problems, economic and otherwise, one being shrinking freshwater supplies, and another being, obviously, it’s massive population which carries with it substantial demands of resources. How will this great economic drama affect their growth? Will they benefit, or will curtailed trade with Western countries damage their own economy?

Michael Lewis has a bleak outlook about our recent economic past, and Nouriel Roubini has a bleak outlook for our economic future. Our past is ridiculous; as Lewis points out in his book, incentives to even begin to do the right thing on Wall Street on nonexistent. That is was the bailout said. You get a bonus when things are booming, you get a bonus when you fail and your company is propped up by taxpayer money.

Our future sounds potentially terrifying. Reform is already being attacked by the Republicans. And Levinson points to a need to de-globalize, in order to lessen the future possibility of a domino crisis. Roubini points to numerous weak governments the world over that may be unable to enforce the changes that our situation demands. The problem, Roubini explains succinctly, is that from 2004-2008, a whole ton of debt was created, which was privately owned by banks and other institutions. When the debt went bad, these institutions couldn’t pay anyone or anything: From the electric bill to paychecks. So governments gave them money for the debts. And now the governments, Greece, Spain, and others, are defaulting on that debt.

Who bails out the government?

The plot is thickening. As a writer and a reader, I’m extremely excited. As a human being on this planet, I’m rather quite scared. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does buy security. What happens when we can’t buy our security anymore?

War?

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.

Getting Warmed Up

Posted in Uncategorized by Sam X. on 4 May 2010

The nihilism of technology lies not only in the fact that it is the most perfect expression of the will to power, as Heidegger believes, but also in the fact that it lacks meaning. Why? and To what purpose? are questions that technology does not ask itself. —Octavio Paz

It seems to me that this quote has much to do with my second novel. My novel takes this idea, that technology functions without meaning, and then asks the question: What does this do to a person or a people who rely entirely on technology? How does this break traditional notions of identity, and what replaces our notions of identity? Is identity simply undermined, or do we reorganize our understanding, restructure identity, come up with something new? These are questions I must contemplate and work on, for they are the core of Novel #2.

In other news; this year has revealed the second phase of my budding writing career. Last year, I wrote about a dozen short stories and a novel. The short stories taught me that surrealism comes naturally to me, and the novel taught me that science fiction is my wheelhouse.

This year, I am reading far more than I have in the past, both novels and nonfiction magazines (primarily National Geographic, Natural History, and Foreign Affairs for now). But I also realized that it might be beneficial to merge my surrealist bent with my sci-fi talent. I took a flash fiction that I created earlier this year and redid it entirely; futuristic setting, expanded characters, more description. It went from 250 words to about 2500, as is probably a more interesting story for that.

The reasons for merging my two tastes are numerous.

First, I think it makes sense to unite them in an attempt to establish a more unique style. Developing a readership and anything resembling a writing career both require a sui generis voice. People need to be able to read ten pages and say, “Oh, this sounds like Brase.” Of course, merging surrealism and sci-fi has been done before. My personal touchstone of Philip Dick provides ample evidence to that point. I just hope I can bring new stories to the subgenre, a new ideological stand point, and relevant themes.

Second, I believe it works to the benefit of the stories. One of my perpetual themes in sci-fi stories is how technology is decentering our reality. This plays naturally to surrealism, and if I embrace that, it will allow me to plumb the depths of that decentered reality.

Third, this focuses my career at this juncture. I spent a lot of last year splitting time between standard fiction and more sci-fi oriented fiction; while certainly useful for my portfolio and attempts to get published, I think it will prove more beneficial to focus on one genre, one style. So I’m taking what I liked best about both, blending, and moving forward.

Despite all this, I’ll probably work on some more mainstream fiction come the fall. I’d still love to get an MFA, and my portfolio for application should probably steer away from sci-fi. Despite my fondness for my story Scary Bells, it was probably a miscalculation to include it in most of my applications this past year. I’ll keep the Recession Menu however.

So; I am feeling confident about this new focus, I’m excited to get to work on a pile of new short stories, I’m excited to read more, and most of all, I’m excited to commence work on novel #2. It certainly is busy for me, but I’d have it no other way. As Mark McGuire said in an interview recently:

There’s so many jams to be made and things to be done I feel like I just have to keep working constantly, there’s no time to waste!

That’s about right. The days are just packed.

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.

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