Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Origin Story

Did I ever tell you about the birth of the Awful Space Opera?


Well, you see, it was like this:

I’ve been planning to “be a writer” for as long as I can remember. But, unlike practically every successful author ever, I didn’t start writing until I was an adult.

And I hated it.

Not the process, as such, but my writing. It was so terrible. So very, very bad. So much worse than every piece of bad writing I had ever read anywhere and I used to read Harlequin Teen romances.

This went on for years.

I decided to get a job at a newspaper, because one had to get a job somewhere, and I figured I needed practice. Writing for a newspaper is fun. If you like that sort of thing—the person I replaced and the person who replaced me both hated it, but I had a wonderful, wonderful time. But I soon realized it was the wrong sort of practice. Journalism and writing fiction are very different things. If you want to write fiction, eventually you have to just do it.

So I did. For maybe ten minutes. Then I got stuck. But I had other ideas—I never, ever run out of ideas—so I decided to try something else. Got stuck again.

After spending a week or two beginning unfinished projects (mostly comic screenplays—somewhere between the ages of ten and twenty I outgrew my passion for historical romance novels), I realized that something had to change. And that something was: Standards. I needed to get rid of them.

You see, my writing is still dreadful. Even after struggling along with it for two years, it is vile. (Every now and then someone reads this site and says, hey, you’re a good writer, and I really appreciate it, I do, but if you read any of my fictional work you would take it back.) But squirming at my lack of talent was holding me back.

The only way to ever get anything done was to embrace the hack within.

So I decided to start a side project, the Story With No Standards. To establish our low expectations, I began with the universally acknowledged Worst Opening Line, courtesy of Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

“It was a dark and stormy night,” I typed cheerfully.

Immediately I was transported back in time: I am in my grandmother’s yard, standing on the trunk of the collapsed apple tree, the one that we always used as a bridge across the creek, and my cousin is telling a terrible joke, based on Bulwer-Lytton.

I was probably nine, which would make him ten, but that’s not really an adequate excuse for this joke.

So I added the joke: “It was a dark and stormy night. They were all sitting around the campfire. The captain said to the mate, ‘Tell us a story.’ And the mate said, ‘Okay. It was a dark and stormy night. They were all sitting around the campfire. And the captain said to the mate…’” (I’m not sure when you’re supposed to stop telling the joke—my cousin seemed to think you weren’t.)

So—I had a dark and stormy night, a campfire, a large group of people led by a captain and his mate, hello, shipwreck! No, make that spaceship wreck!

And that is how, with no planning or preparation whatsoever, I became a writer of bad science fiction.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Road to Texas, Phase I, Part II, Attempt III

Two (three?) months ago I wrote what was supposed to be the first of a two-part post. I have tried repeatedly to complete the second half, but it just isn’t working. So I’m giving up. (The beauty of being one’s own publisher, yes?)

Suffice it to say …

You see? I have no words.

One of the great things about turning thirty is that I’ve begun to have a pretty good sense of my own limitations. Such as knowing the kind of work environment that makes my work output grow progressively worse over time. This is gives certain choices a bit more clarity: Sometimes it’s less a question of quitting now or hanging on till something better comes along, than of quitting now or getting fired later.

It is hurtful to tell someone that they have the people-managing skills of a lobotomized honey badger, but if the alternative is waiting to collapse under the strain and then getting sacked, well, then, that would be hurtful to me.

And I am nothing if not attentive to the needs of number one.

The most attractive thing about this job was that it was a sort of skilled labor, which made it less dull than my other option—hotel housekeeping. But in the right circumstances, housekeeping gains a certain je nai sais qua.

And, the boredom can prompt useful acts of desperation, such as walking into the local newspaper unannounced and asking for work.

So now I’m a maid. And also an underemployed freelance journalist.