Portable Keyboards

It’s hard to find time to write with all of the other obligations life throws at us, but it’s important to get those words on the page, too.  Ideally, we have nice, quiet locations and large chunks of time where we can stay focused and really dig into writing, but that’s not consistently feasible in a lot of cases.

Enter technology.  Between the iOS version of Scrivener, 30 minute lunch breaks, and a portable, full-sized keyboard, managing to get some writing done during work might not be so far fetched.  I’ve been able to manage a good 20+ minutes of writing when I really focus.

There are a lot of options out there, so you’ll need to consider your needs.  In my case, I wanted a full-sized keyboard with bluetooth connectivity that could be folded and stored in a tiny space, and, preferably, a lower price tag, so I went with this model.  While it lacks a number pad, the keys are full-sized, making it great for my needs: getting some writing done at lunch!

(Note: I’m not endorsing this model specifically, although it has done nicely for my needs.  At the time of my purchase, there was only a single review.  I can say that it does indeed work with my Android devices as well as my iPhone.)

Also note: you might also want a nice pair of headphones for those loud break rooms!

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The Magic of Children’s Books

I’ve been reading George Orwell’s 1984, and it’s fantastic.  I’m nearing the end, constantly asking myself, “Why haven’t I read this before?”  It’s more relevant than ever, even seventy years after it was written.

And, in some ways, that’s the problem: it feels like an extension of adulthood, shedding more light on the issues I see every day.  Rather than escaping from the day’s challenges, it’s giving me a deeper understanding of what’s happening in my own world, but with that comes additional burden and stress.

And so I’ve also started reading Brian Jacques’s Redwall.  When I was twelve or thirteen, I read Martin the Warrior and Mossflower.  It was an easy jump: I loved fantasy, and had already read through all the existing Shannara up to that point, starting with the first one somewhere around fifth grade.  (And admittedly, I specifically picked up Martin the Warrior because I wanted to strike up a conversation with a cute classmate who I noticed had been reading it.  And yes, it worked!)IMG_7618

Redwall marks the first book released in the series, and it seemed like it might be a nice diversion from the Orwell’s dystopian world of Oceania.  Only a few chapters in, I’m amazed at how much I’m enjoying it.  Unlike the grittier, more realistic settings of modern adult fantasy, it’s the sort of fantasy world I dreamed about myself as a child.  Adult fantasy often seems to start with the idea that their worlds are grounded and realistic, with magic sparing and obscure, while children’s fantasy starts by blanketing the world in magic and going from there.

That’s not to say children’s and young adult fantasy has no meaning simply because it doesn’t start from the idea of “realism”.  On the contrary, it can be as impactful as any work directed toward adults, with deep characterizations and meaning that transfers effortlessly to our everyday lives.  But it doesn’t ask me to be an adult, either, and I’m quite happy to be whisked away into a world of dreams.

No More Reviews, just Discussions!

It’s been a challenge to write this week’s blogs, because last week’s Shenmue 1 & 2 Collection has become my all-time most-viewed blog!  I could write a dozen or more blogs on Shenmue, and maybe I’ll continue with that in the future, but perhaps I should start a separate gaming blog for all of that.

On that note, related to reading and writing:

I’m not entirely sure why a few months ago I decided to do some actual book reviews on this blog.  In hindsight, they’re awkward and a little embarrassing, especially when one of the authors actually found them and commented on them!  (Okay, that part was really cool–why don’t you go pick up a John Marco book, or go follow him on Twitter at @MarcoTheWriter?)

Admittedly, I do have some semi-professional reviews under my belt in the gaming journalism realm, but I’m well versed in gaming.  Not so much with writings.  I’m an avid reader, but I don’t have the critical eye I have with games.

So in the future, I’ll still be posting about the books I’m reading, but like my blog entries on The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Prydain, they’ll be more general discussions about what I found interesting about the books, good or bad, without the need of covering all the bases.  They’ll probably be heavy on the spoilers, too–but don’t worry, I’ll put some spoiler tags in there!

The Slog of Rewriting

I’m hoping to release a full novel (Vexation: a Tale of Swords and Sorcery) within the next few months, but it’s proving to be a challenge.  I finished the first draft of what was then called The Pumpkin Knight back in November of 2014.  Ignoring a 150,000 word in-joke novel I wrote for my wife, it marked only the second time I completed a serious novel from start to finish, and it also marked that terrifying period of editing and rewriting.

Having completed a few first drafts of novels by this point, the elation of writing “The End” quickly gives way to the daunting task of making your work something you can actually put out there.  I imagine it’s something like making it to the big leagues of a given sport: it’s an incredible accomplishment and a huge success just to get there, but the real work is actually still in front of you.

When you’re doing that first draft, there’s a lot of leeway.  Nothing needs to be set in stone: characters can be easily tweaked, plotholes and questionable decisions can be left alone, and the goal is just to make it from point A to point B.

My previous novel (also unreleased) was an incredible learning process, and each of the handful of rewrites I did marked drastic changes in the overall storyline and character make up.  I had little grasp on acts and structure (although hints of the natural tendency toward three acts were there), and it was more-or-less barreling ahead blindly and learning as I went.

With Vexation, things worked a bit differently.  I had a solid outline in place before I even started, with characters and the general flow of events in place and still present in 2018.  Yet I’m somewhere on the fifth or six ground-up rewrite in terms of the actual text.  What I’m learning now is the sheer amount of nuance that comes into play in any longer work.

Why would she do this?  Where is his family in all of this?  What season is it in that specific geographical region?  What’s the time frame?  Why does his magic help here, but not there?

To illustrate further, let’s take the idea of traveling, since it’s a fantasy novel and they’re off on their quest.  Why would Randell insist they take this route instead of that?  The obvious answer is because they need to arrive at a specific location for a specific event, and in the first run through or two that’s acceptable.  Yet this location can’t occur on the main road–so what excuse do they have to go tromping off the beaten path?  The later rewrites need to address that.

Further still, there are no easy answers.  Maybe the bad guys are watching the main roads.  Maybe the main road is blocked because a bridge is out, or local warlords are battling back and forth.  Maybe Randell just has a terrible sense of direction, or Idona can feel the magical pulses given off by this location and they can follow that.  Maybe this even can occur on the main road: maybe the village only appears to those it wants to.

The choices are myriad, and when you’re the author, it’s your world and your decision.  So which explanation is the most reasonable and fits best within the overall tone and style of the story?  Now multiply the above situation over and over again across every event, every important bit of dialogue, every meaningful choice made by a character, and the daunting task of rewriting and editing becomes clear.

Shenmue 1 & 2 Collection

It’s finally happening: the original two Shenmue games are being ported to modern consoles and PC!  The two games were originally released on the Sega Dreamcast (and later II was ported to Xbox) nearly twenty years ago, and were groundbreaking in terms of realism: the graphics were an amazing recreation of 1980s Japan, every single character had their own name, backstory, and schedule, the weather matches real weather patterns of the time, it was fully voiced, and so on.

I don’t write period pieces, martial arts epics, or real-world settings.  Yet, Shenmue is one of the greatest inspirations in my life.  It showed just how video games could become art, how they could truly draw people in to new and unfamiliar worlds.  It created a real connection between an 18-year-old American in 1999 and a fictional 18-year-old Japanese in 1986, one that has stuck with me for years–more than half of my life at this point.

And that’s one of the amazing things about writing: our inspirations come from a myriad of sources, not just those related by genre.  Regardless of our preferred genre, our stories come from memories created by all the experiences we’ve had in our lives.  We could be writing a historical romance based in 1400s Ireland, and it will be forged and tempered by our modern experiences, from childhood memories to the last slasher flick we saw.

In that way, every genre is built through an incredible amalgam of discrete, unrelated stories.

Oh, and look for Shenmue 1 & 2 Collection later this year!  I’m stoked!

Reading List: April, 2018

As a writer, reading is of vital importance (or so I’m told–and it makes sense to me!).  What I’m not sure about, however, is whether I should stick to the genre I prefer to write, or if reading outside of the box can help create a more well-rounded story.

For example, would utilizing the western’s affinity for wide-open plains and dangerous travel help create more tense, exciting travel in a fantasy epic, or would the difference in style be a turn-off for fantasy fans?

All the same, as a reader, I find myself quite enjoying dalliances into different genres.  Fantasy is like home, but there are all sorts of great vacation destinations out there to visit.

So what’s on the agenda?  In no particular order:

1984 by George Orwell.  I’ve never read this classic, but now it’s more relevant than ever.  A little more than halfway through, I’m surprise at how modern it feels, and indeed, quite relevant.  More George Orwell is almost certainly ahead!

Malice by John Gwynne.  After the pleasant surprise that was John Marco’s Bronze Knight series, I’m looking forward to my next foray into thick fantasy tomes.  I’ve heard good things about Malice, and it’s waiting on my shelf.

The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher.  I started this one about two years ago and stopped early into it, not because I wasn’t enjoying it, but because I was enjoying it too much, and I suddenly felt terribly insecure about my own partially-done airship-based fantasy novel.  The writing was crisp and snappy, and the handling of the ships in motion was incredibly detailed and mind-opening!

MST3KHamlet

Hamlet by some obscure old poet.  I’m intending to slowly work on the Shakespeare catalog in between other reads, and Hamlet seemed like a great place to start.  (Of course, it won’t be the same without a spaceman and his robot pals commenting as I go along.)

What else?  Both my digital and physical shelves are packed with titles.  Dante, Aquinas, Chesterton, Brian Jacques, Robert Jordan, Louis L’Amour, Ray Bradbury, Terry Pratchett, C.S. Lakin… the list goes on.

And I really should read the Harry Potter series sometime–whoops, my fantasy credibility just flew out of the window with that admission!

The Embarrassment of Returning

Putting yourself out there is rough.  I imagine it’s the same whether you’re a writer, an artist, a stand-up comic, or any sort of “ideas” type.

Around the middle of last year, I was making social media progress.  My Twitter followers tripled, my blogs started getting hits, and I released a set of short stories.

Somewhere around the first week of NaNoWriMo, life kicked in hard, and there went the blogs and the tweets, and the grandiose plans of uploading chapters as I went and making a big production of the month disappeared.  It was, to say the least, a pretty big fail, and more than a little embarrassing.

In the months that followed, a couple of false starts made it easy to heap further scorn on myself.  The joys of putting yourself out there, and the joys of being your own worst critique!

And then I realized: so what?  We all leave failures in our wake, but it’s really not about the failures so much as how you respond to them.  Feeling a little silly suddenly blogging again after a few failed attempts is nothing compared to the progress lost by wallowing in self-pity.

So put yourself out there!  Brush the failures off and look forward, not backward.  Delaying because of some embarrassment will only push those writing goals and dreams further away!