samuel x. brase likes to write

2011

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 I quickly abandoned this plan, as I ceded to the advice Never write a sequel to an unpublished book.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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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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Interchange

Posted in pop theory by Sam X. on 11 February 2010

I finished Dune and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep within the last few weeks.

Both are good, although the latter is by far the better book. Its scope is perhaps more narrow, which affects this judgment, but the prose is sharper and the philosophies more urgent. I never read a phrase in Dune and wished I had written it–in fact, many phrases brought me distaste. However, quite a few phrases were well written in Do Androids…. Philip Dick is the clear winner in that regard.

The difficulty comes in the fact that I write stories like Dune. More political and cultural, less philosophical. I want to write the epics of Herbert with the skill of Dick. Unfortunately, good prose is not part and parcel with SF epics. There’s too much action, too much stuff happening for it to stay fresh and good. When a series is about as long as six War and Peaces, end to end, you know some bit of quality is going to suffer.

Yet, artistry can be extended. Television shows are making the jump to movie-level quality, with shows like The Wire pushing excellence to a heady new area. Television shows are to movies what pulpier books are to literature (after a fashion), and I desire to find that intersection where the pulp becomes literature.

My current series, EE, and the one I imagine in the future, DS, are both works of multiple books, and will not possess enough of the skill of proper literature. Yet, my goal, as an artist, is to bring that level of quality to popular literature. There is the rare writer who has done it; best I can point to is Dick and Neil Gaiman. I imagine DS as The Wire of science fiction: all-encompassing, ensemble cast, darkly truthful of contemporary situations. EE is my testing ground.

This all comes from my desire to be both popular and acclaimed. It seems rather easier for people in the film industry to have this than for people in literature to have this. I want it. I’m incredibly far away from this goal, and there’s the great chance it will never be achieved. But as long as I am breathing, I will work on my craft, I will work on merging populism with artistry. Fun stories with skillful prose.

I have managed to find a bit of a groove between my interests: college basketball, reading, writing. With a couple of the sci-fi classics done, it is time to move back to good literature–The Leopard and The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana–before going back to sci-fi.

And this summer, goddammit, I’m going to read Ulysses. Sandwiched between two Philip Dick books.

Focus

Posted in novel planning by Sam X. on 25 January 2010

An opportunity has presented itself with regards to my novel, and as such, I need to edit the rough draft with all due haste. This is unfortunate, because I have a lot of things pulling me in different directions these days.

Specifically, I’ve been cultivating ideas for the sequel, and the ideas have almost reached the boiling point–I’m anxious to begin work on the manuscript. I realized that I had an opportunity to incorporate ideas I had long ago for another story, what was intended, at the time, to be a webcomic. I don’t want to give away the details, but I will say that it expands one of the primary themes: the effacement of individuality amidst the proliferation of technology. Perhaps not the most original of themes (The Matrix tackled it in its own way, for one), but I’m content that situated within the unique context I have invented, the theme breathes anew. It has certainly become only more relevant as the years wind on, with our proclivity for gadgets.

So, I’m excited for my next novel. I also want to write more short stories. The shorts that I’ve been sending out to markets for the better part of a year now are obviously going to require time in the nether before they get accepted. I desire new shorts to send out, so I can get new rejections and maybe, someday, a new acceptance.

I’m hungry to write more. Which is great, but there’s only so much time in the day, especially when one has a full-time job. And on top of that, I have a lot of things I need to do. I need to read more books, I need to play Mass Effect 2, and season six of Lost starts soon.

Why must everything converge at once?

On top of this–my sleep schedule has been awful. Last night, I was unable to sleep for a good hour. I attribute this to the fact that I basically don’t relax until I actually get into bed. And even then, it’s difficult to stop thinking. I can’t perform my real job and edit for an additional 2-3 hours every night when I’m not getting enough sleep for even the first task.

I have to be strict with myself; I have to focus. Books during lunchtime. No television beyond Lost, comedy Thursdays, and basketball. Editing comes first, every night, except when it’s a “break day”–Friday and Saturday. If it’s after nine, guess what Sam, you don’t get to play video games. You may read.

I need to focus; I have to manage my time. I want to be fully done editing the novel by March. I need to make sure I edit, that I cool down, and get enough sleep. Pretty much everything else is secondary.

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The Post-Mortem’s Post-Mortem

Posted in Uncategorized by Sam X. on 9 November 2009

I’ve wanted to write a post-mortem for finishing the rough draft of my novel–I have, in fact, started it a couple of times–but it has not proven useful, I think because the whole project only had one lingering after effect: The knowledge that I can in fact write a whole novel.

I learned that writing is my raison d’etre; when I got into it, writing was all I wanted. As I wrote in one of my failed post-mortems: “From June to September, I was alive. […] I would write until I was shaking with hunger or bleary-eyed from fatigue, I read more, my life felt calmer and more focused than it ever has. Never before have I been so consumed to finish something.”

So that has set in stone my graduate studies. I’m working to apply to MFA programs, because I need it, I need that time and that structure to write more. This novel was amazing, but it was a fluke. I will never have the time to write something like it again, more than likely. Getting an MFA will allow this kind of time, and it will guide my reading, and so on.

I’m also determined to read more. A common piece of advice for writers is to read; I read a fair amount in college, but it was exclusively required reading. This introduced me to my true reading love, continental lit, which I need to get back into. I also need to read more science fiction, considering that will probably be my bread and butter in the future. I have read an embarrassingly small amount of science fiction, limited to a Philip K Dick, a whole lot of Star Trek novels, and that’s about all I can remember. I read a fair amount of fantasy, too, as a youth (Tolkein, Jordan, Goodkind, Dragonlance).

This is ridiculous, and I fear coming off as a poseur when I say I write sci-fi. I need to fix this immediately. Heinlein, Asimov, Herbert, more Dick, Bradbury. I’ve relied too long on a childhood of Star Trek episodes and books.

In this vein, I read half of Stephen King’s On Writing this past Friday to gain some insights for when I begin editing my novel tomorrow. He backed up some knowledge I’m already working with–eliminate all but the most necessary adverbs–and reiterated the “read, read, read” mantra. He made some claims I’ve scoffed at before–kill your darlings, second draft equals first draft minus ten percent–and I suppose I need to take this more seriously. Dress down dialog attribution seems like reasonable, professional advice. Make sure backstory is revealed deftly. Character motivation has to be believable. Coherence, recurring elements, theme, description.

I have a feeling I’m going to learn more from the editing process than from the writing process.

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Race for the Prize

Posted in novel planning by Sam X. on 28 August 2009

The most unfortunate thing about writing a novel — at least, writing your first novel — is that I have no idea how quality is oscillating, chapter to chapter. But I suppose and hope that doesn’t matter at this point. Quality will be achieved when I spend months slowly editing the manuscript, chiseling and whittling it into a lean chunk of prose.

My novel, which is quickly becoming an actual novel (with luck and a little coffee, it’ll be 200+ pages by this time next week), started out as a meager effort to write something longer than 5000 words. I have started and abandoned many, many novels and screenplays in my short time, and when I began this project I had no reason to believe it would turn out any different. I anticipated getting through 60 pages and then moving back into shorter prose as the idea lost traction, or my energy flagged.

Those things haven’t happened this time around. Maybe months of writing have managed to prepare me for completing something of substance. Maybe I’m finally taking this seriously. All I know is that every day, every day I’m writing or every day I’m taking a break, every single day I feel a deep compulsion to continue, to continue until I am done. A deep-rooted fire to just keep plugging away on this project. At times the writing is slow and hard, and at times the writing is fast and easy. But whenever I stop writing, when I walk away for an hour or two to relax and eat dinner, a knot builds in stomach, a little voice screams in my head, “finish it!”

I suppose this is the feeling most writers feel — most writers who manage to put together a novel. Because while in the past I’ve wanted to write a novel, I’ve never felt like I need to write a novel. I feel that way every day now. A need to write this novel, and more. An inscrutable desire to let my voice be heard or at least recorded. Even if it is never published, even if I never get a publisher to buy any of my work, one day a curious great grandchild can root through my old files and pull out a dusty manuscript that says “EE, by Samuel X. Brase. (c) 2009.” And maybe my work will inspire the creative fire inside them, and they will be hell-bent to complete something of value, personal or otherwise.

Again, I repeat myself: This novel began as a meager effort to write something longer than 20 pages. After a few weeks of planning and thinking, it morphed into a pop-culture experiment: How many subtle or overt references can I shove into my work, how many sources can I pull inspiration from, and create something separate, something unique and yet tied to contemporary culture? A nineteenth century writing philosophy to focus on internal character rumination, a twentieth century approach to symbols and meaning, a twenty-first century taste for pacing and plots. So many strands adding up hopefully to a larger whole, a text that projects forward by looking backwards.

I have a lot of personal hopes for the text; I want it to work as a whole, achieving all the different facets I mentioned in the previous paragraph. I am confident in my ability to execute but realistic as to my experience. Many weeks ago, EE became my longest fiction work, and now it is blazing into the wild unknown. With a bit more than half the novel done, I know I can finish it. I do not know if it will be worth much when done, but either way I will have finished it. And I will know I can finish something of this magnitude. And I will know that if I did it once, I can do it again.

And when I do it again, my writing will almost surely be the better for this experience. The only way to get experience is to do the work. So here I am, doing the work. Logging the hours. Getting the experience. Nothing in my life has been this thrilling, this exciting, this different.

Thank you, Great Recession, for taking my job. For giving me the one resource I needed: time. For demanding I give this a real shot, a real chance, for giving me the time so I would have no excuses but my own shortcomings. So far I am proving that I am up to the task. But we’re only through five innings. We got four more to play.

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The Fall Classic

Posted in Uncategorized by Sam X. on 12 August 2009

Working on a long, more substantial post, where I begin to outline books that might come after the first volume of EE.

Speaking of EE, had a great writing today, got down about eight pages in six hours. I feel pumped, I could keep writing, but I need to do something else for a couple hours or my eyes’ll bleed.

I’ve had good writing days before (the day when I wrote the last 19 pages of Scary Bells comes to mind), but I’ve never felt as exhilarated as I do today. I feel completely empowered by this novel, so in control of writing as I never have before. I have 123 pages of a novel written, I have an outline for the rest of the novel, I feel like I could sit and just finish it right now.

Of course that’s impossible — eyes, bleeding, etc. But I looked at it this way. I’m estimating the novel to be about 300 pages long, which leaves 177 pages unwritten. If I could write 7 pages a day, a little less than I did today, it would take me just TWENTY-FIVE days to finish this novel. If I put my mind to this, I could have a whole draft by October, an entire novel written in four months. I’m no Stendhal but that’s damn fast.

No project has ever seemed so possible to me, nay, probable. Every page I complete raises the stakes, raises the chances that this novel will be complete some day. I almost want to stay unemployed until I have the whole draft. At this rate, I’ll barely have to make an effort for that to happen.

This is the writer’s high. 25 days, huh? There are 22 business days in September. Throw in a couple weekend days and the rest of August, subtract some lazy days, and bam. Novel done. Complete.

Who knows if it’ll be any good but it’ll fucking be done.

All right, Sam. Are you really going to do this?

I think you are.

October 1. By the time the baseball playoffs start, you’ll have a complete draft. Keep applying for jobs, but keep writing. I can see it.

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

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Caravan

Posted in novel planning by Sam X. on 26 July 2009
The gauntlet I threw down a few weeks ago is being met. The first third of the novel, Act I, is written in rough form, clocking in just shy of 30,000 words. Some of the writing is pretty shaky, but that’s what happens when I pound it out in 7 weeks. I’ve done some editing, but more needs to be done. Still, I’m extremely proud of what I’ve accomplished thus far; I’ve never gotten this far on a single writing project. The most exciting part is I know what it takes to write 100 pages now: doing that a couple more times and finishing this book out doesn’t daunt me in the least.
The second act is well planned, I can see finishing it by my birthday (Sept 21). My concerns lie with the third act, of which I have only a few ideas about. I have a number of action sequences imagined, but no established tension, no big reveals. My worry is that the second act is so loaded that there’s nothing left for the finale.
Let’s take a look here. I can’t spoil a ton because the plot is all I got, but…. Okay, so I broke down the major actions for the rest of the novel and there are three of them. I think my problem stems from the lack of a fourth major action; without it, one act would be very heavy in comparison to the other. I need to figure out a fourth action, probably a smaller one, like an initial skirmish between the two sides.
(Three hours later) And I’m back. I decided that instead of a contrived fourth action, I’ll simply amplify the first action beat in the second act and move some of the others around. I have a very rough (very, very, very rough) outline of the second and third acts, which I think will work better. It spreads some of the major actions from the second act into the third and elucidates on some events I hadn’t fully thought out.
Tomorrow I’m going to try and elaborate on this basic outline I have created while inebriated. If it gels, fantastic. I expect it to. There is ample room for the character development that is necessary, and ample room for exciting moments.
God this novel is going to be great.
If I can pull it off.

The gauntlet I threw down a few weeks ago is being met. The first third of the novel, Act I, is written in rough form, clocking in just shy of 30,000 words. Some of the writing is pretty shaky, but that’s what happens when I pound it out in 7 weeks. I’ve done some editing, but more needs to be done. Still, I’m extremely proud of what I’ve accomplished thus far; I’ve never gotten this far on a single writing project. The most exciting part is I know what it takes to write 100 pages now: doing that a couple more times and finishing this book out doesn’t daunt me in the least.

The second act is well planned, I can see finishing it by my birthday (Sept 21). My concerns lie with the third act, of which I have only a few ideas about. I have a number of action sequences imagined, but no established tension, no big reveals. My worry is that the second act is so loaded that there’s nothing left for the finale.

Let’s take a look here. I can’t spoil a ton because the plot is all I got, but…. Okay, so I broke down the major actions for the rest of the novel and there are three of them. I think my problem stems from the lack of a fourth major action; without it, one act would be very heavy in comparison to the other. I need to figure out a fourth action, probably a smaller one, like an initial skirmish between the two sides.

(Three hours later) And I’m back. I decided that instead of a contrived fourth action, I’ll simply amplify the first action beat in the second act and move some of the others around. I have a very rough (very, very, very rough) outline of the second and third acts, which I think will work better. It spreads some of the major actions from the second act into the third and elucidates on some events I hadn’t fully thought out.

Tomorrow I’m going to try and elaborate on this basic outline I have created while inebriated. If it gels, fantastic. I expect it to. There is ample room for the character development that is necessary, and ample room for exciting moments.

God this novel is going to be great.

If I can pull it off.

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New Plans

Posted in novel planning by Sam X. on 5 July 2009

The novella. Well, novel. I have about 60 pages and I can’t deny that the plan is for about 300 pages. That’s not a novella, that’s a novel.

We’ll call it EE for now. In brief, the idea is that five strangers meet after discovering portals from our world to another. They explore this other planet and the alien ruins contained thereon. The twist? When they’re on this alien planet, tentatively Planet X, they have been reverted to young teenagers. Oh, and — they’ll constantly be competing with a group of “lost boys” who have declared themselves the protectors of the new planet.

The reasons I decided to start a new project are many:

  1. With a clean slate, I can practice keeping the scope simple.
  2. As a result, this will be much easier to write than Doveiron.
  3. I don’t want to write Doveiron as my first novel, I want to learn from other projects.
  4. I’m tired of writing short stories for now; while the ones I’ve written flit from market to market, I will work on this.
  5. The project also allows me to put to work a number of theories I’ve been formulating about popular stories.

My idea, as it is coming together (I currently have 17,000 words), feels like a cup of cold water thrown on the face — sigh, I should probably not pitch it that way. The reader is plunged almost immediately into a new world that neither they nor our main characters understand, and the journey of discovery is shared by all.

The heart of the story is simple. I want to put friendship and rivalries under a lens, I want to romanticize exploration, I want to hook lots of people with a fun story and make them smile. Doveiron is a bit of a preachy novel, painting the dark picture of corporate ownership, impotent politics, brutality, etc. EE is about hope and dreams, candy and flowers, butterflies and perriwinkle. No, of course there’s an underbelly — every story needs a nadir — but I’m working to keep the vision narrow.

A lot of my writing is done for me and me only; if other people like it, that’s great. EE is definitely for me, but I’m also writing it with a definite audience in mind. I realize that if I want to be a professional writer, I’m going to have to understand how the writing is sold as well. Who the audience is, what the marketing could be like, plans for further books, etc. To get published, the more you know about how your story can be sold, the better your chances are. If a publisher finds my story and likes it but wants to know if there will be other books, I can tell them right now that we can sign a contract for four more books with the same characters and places.

Everything about the EE project makes me excited for its possibility. I started it about a month ago and I have a fifth of the first draft. I could have the whole draft done by the new year. By this time next summer, I could have a well-edited, slick machine of a mainstream-friendly novel. I think I will set that goal for myself. Have at least a second draft, something I can be proud of, by June 1, 2010. It’ll require a lot of continual effort, but I think the end result could be amazing. I really do. And I’d have it done before I’m 26.

Then it’ll be time to find an agent.

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Taking the Scenic Route

Posted in novel planning by Sam X. on 8 June 2009

You may ask yourself why I’ve stopped posting here.

I haven’t quit on this project, far from it. I’m still convinced this is my best idea for a science fiction franchise, and I love so much about it. I’m focusing right now on other projects though; my short story work has taken priority. I like the idea of developing my writing through many smaller projects. By the process of rejection and acceptance with various editors, my style will develop into something that is marketable, something that is unique and captivating. I’m convinced that writing short stories right now is the best way to begin any writing career that I might (or might not) have.

This project sits with me every day though. I think about it at least ten times a day, running themes and events and characters through my head, like there’s some sort of committee up there who takes a new look at the material every day. I’m constantly reevaluating the status of characters, the prominence of certain institutions, and so forth.

One of the things that has really been nagging me is how to portray futuristic combat. Specifically, I want the story to have a number of gritty firefights. I don’t think the future of combat is overwhelming force however; that worked in the world wars, failed in Vietnam, and has been replaced in Afghanistan and Iraq. Current combat is focused on units, on specialized tactics and operations. The smaller, more efficient the unit, the better. So envision many battles where a small force, of 5 to 10 people, are seiging a spaceship or building.

This idea works on a couple of levels for me. One, I portray what I believe to be realistic future combat. Not Star Wars, where there are waves and waves of cloned robots, but syncopated and veteran units similar to Navy Seals or whatnot. Two, this allows me to fully flesh out the characters of most people in the fights. If I focus on one main unit of 7 people, over the course of a novel or two you would get to know them very well. Then one of them dies and you’re heartbroken — but such is the epic space opera.

I have not decided at all how to portray combat between spaceships, or if I even want to. We’ll see on that.

The instability and fractious nature of religion is another thing that I’ve decided I need to study in this series. The religious storyline, which runs concurrent with the political rebellion, features the rise of a peaceful spiritual leader, his abdication, and the succession of a more tyrannical figure. As this occurs in the background of the battlefield, we’ll see various characters begin to take sides. They’ve all chosen their political side by the second novel or so, either supporting the revolution or the Empire, but they certainly won’t all agree on religion. Some will support the first leader, some will support the second leader, some will support neither. These fractures will create tension, rebellious splinters, and hopefully at some point tie into my message of peaceful coexistance.

There are other topics that have entered my thoughts recently — how to portray potential lightspeed travel, how to discuss my feelings on the importance of food (it brings people together when almost everything else would divide us), and how I want to dismantle our obsession with teleology — but these are less fleshed out.

I want to work on this series slowly, however. I feel so strongly about the Doveiron series that I feel I must work on other projects first. I’m not the next JK Rowling or George Lucas. Yet. I will write short stories as they come to me, I will work on my new novella-length project, and let Doveiron simmer. It is such a big idea, such immense world creation, and the relevance of the main themes (drugs, political hegemony, religion) are not going away any time soon. I am sure that this tactic is for the good.

So this blog will study the gestation and eventual creation of my series. You will hear about my short stories. And that novella project? That’s for tomorrow.

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