obsessive

Sometimes, I teach creative writing to the youths of the nation (high school kids) and the advice I always give them, no matter what, is to write your obsessions. To give into them. To chase them. To follow where they lead. Because whatever you’re obsessed with or consumed by will come out in your fiction eventually, whether it’s sex or pokemon or baking or art deco or frayed jeans, and it will make your fiction better.

It’s something that held me back for a long time. I thought I needed to write a certain way, and about certain things. I grew up on SFF, but then fell deep into experimental and avant garde literature, and that meant writing in certain modes and about certain things. But even when I was deep into this stuff, my heart was still with SFF. It’s why even my most experimental novels involve invented cultures and peoples and mythologies.

Like a lot of arrogant and angry young men, I thought that art had to be a specific thing. I thought, as an artist, that I had to be a specific kind of artist. Those things mostly held me back, and they led me to discourage my own impulses and obsessions, which made my writing worse.

Since coming home to the genres that defined and shaped me, I’ve felt much freer and just better. I mean, me being a better writer isn’t just because of the genres I now write, but it’s helped. I’ve written in dozens of genres and styles, but I think my home is in the fantastic and surreal.

Anyrate, I think about my obsessions a lot, because they repeatedly come out in my fiction, even when I was actively trying to bury them.

Things like dust and wolves are everywhere. Ravens too, and a recurring dream I had for about a decade. Then there are all the people missing a hand, missing an eye, and all the characters who just never say a single word.

But the bigger ones are totalitarianism,  systemic violence, cultural clashes, shared stories, theology, Taoism, and cooking.

Most of those have always been present, to one degree or another, but cooking is a new one. I love cooking. It’s one of my favorite things to do in life. And it’s recently found it’s way into my fiction. Three of the last four novel(la)s I’ve written have cooking as a major component. Two of them involve the invention of boardgames, like chess or go.

Weirdly, these little things are making my fiction better.

The big themes are fine, and the small details are good too. But what I’ve found is that specificity adds a lot. At least, this is something I’ve found from my own reading. A character in a novel can be working a loom, and while I have no interest in such things, it’s really obvious how much the author cares. And that level of care and all that specificity just makes the utterly mundane utterly fascinating.

And so I suppose that’s what I really mean about chasing your obsessions. It’s no good to just list things you enjoy doing. You need to dig into the meat until you’re grinding on bones, breaking through to the marrow. If you want to make the reader care about the mundane things your character does, you need to really care about those things.

A scene about cooking is worthless if you don’t care about cooking, and your ambivalence will come through. Too, why would you write a scene about something you don’t care about?

It’s something that I think fantasy does better than literary fiction. Literary fiction is generally less plot driven, but I also often find the characters weaker. And it comes down to these obsessions. If your characters aren’t obsessed with something, then they feel weirdly alien. Inhuman. And while fantasy gets derided for favoring plot over character (which I generally disagree with), I’ve found that fantasy is often lethargically paced (why else would it take three or ten books to tell a story?) but that it remains a page turner, whereas the literary genre is just a slog.

There are a lot of reasons for such things and unbelievably numerous generalizations to make, but I’ve found that genre fiction tends to allow their characters to be obsessed. To have them dig into the minutia of things.

Like, I just read Lonesome Dove, which is often considered the best western ever written (for good reason!), and so many of the characters are just obsessed with…something. Horses, guns, drowning, gambling, whoring–it really doesn’t matter.

Obsessions are good.

But, yeah, follow your obsessions.

Luckily for me, mine change often, so I always have something new to write about.

Right now, it’s extinction and witches and blacksmithing, which will reveal themselves in my next two novellas.

I guess I could’ve captured all of this just by saying that obsessions are good.

witches and poetry

So it’s been a few months, yeah?

I’ve been meaning to post all kinds of things since my last post about the Tao Te Ching. I really enjoyed doing a post a day about the Tao Te Ching, and you can just keep scrolling on the homepage to find a bunch of them. Or you can click here.

Anyrate, I’ve had essays I wanted to write and share about politics, art, love, life, my cat, and other stuff, but I seem to’ve sort of lost the habit.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about. The tendency to share and how it becomes habitual or ritual. Over the last couple years, I’ve been using social media less and less, and it’s sort of like I’ve been weening myself off the incessant sharing that happens online. There are all kinds of reasons, but mostly it’s just that social media isn’t good for me, personally.

But because I don’t really share much online these days, it seems less and less important to share anything online. It always seemed like the point of starting a blog was to do more long-form sharing of thoughts and so on. Then facebook came the place to share all my dumb thoughts, so I used my blog less, and then when I began using social media less, I thought I’d use my blog more.

The opposite has mostly been true. Like I said, sharing online is kind of like a habit or ritual. Once I broke the habit, it no longer seems to matter whether or not I share anything online.

Anyrate, there is some news to talk about.

i-am-alone-facing-the-moon-front-cover1

My first poetry collection is coming out from Hawkline Press. There’s an announcement on their site.

Obviously that’s the cover and title up above in that amazing image.

I wrote it a few years ago. I think it was 2014. I wrote three poetry collections that year. All of them over the course of their own individual weekends when I had fevers. I wrote like 600 poems that year, but haven’t done much with them.

Still, very excited to have this coming out. It’s about 130 poems, most in the ryuka, tanka, and haiku, and then a final freeform series that might be my favorite poetry I’ve ever written.

The collection is inspired by the life and death of Yoshiya Chiru.

The collection is dark and weird and simple.

It’s funny to have a my first poetry collection come out as my fourth book, since I used to primarily think of myself as a poet. Obviously I’m not, and probably never will be, but I’m proud of the poems I wrote, and I hope you like them.

I’ll probably talk more about them in the future.

witches

I also just wrote this novel. Or, not just now. I’ve been writing it for a while. I was hoping to have it finished before May, but then I spent all of April and May not writing. It was a weird deadline to put on myself, since I began this near the end of February. It’s about 130,000 words right now, though it’ll almost certainly balloon a bit once I do edits/rewrites.

It’s a big complicated novel about terrorism and imperialism.

Also, it’s a fantasy novel.

There’s a lot to say about it, really.  The novel is mostly about four people: a student, an activist, an immigrant, a 200 year old poet, a 500 year old teahouse owner, and a factory worker. They’re all elves, which is funny to me, since I never really ever intended to write about elves or other standard fantasy creatures.

But the novel is really about race, culture, religion, terrorism, aspirations, systemic violence, totalitarianism, and whistleblowing.

This novel really is a reaction to basically everything I love and hate about fantasy novels. For example, most fantasy novels treat races and cultures as monochrome. All elves are the same culture, all dwarves are the same culture, but humanity gets thousands of shades. So I decided to give my elves all kinds of shades, and so the novel is really about how cultural purity is an invention, and a dumb one. But also it’s about how systems of power crush people.

I’m really happy with it, but it’s also one of the darkest novels I’ve written, which is kind of saying something, considering how many times I’ve written apocalyptic books.

But, yeah, this year’s doing well. Last year I wrote a giant novel and two short novellas. This year I’ve written two novellas and a reasonably large novel. Next I’m going to be writing a western novella, then a pirate novella, and then a novella about burning a witch at the stake.

But that’s not for a while.

It’s a relief to be finished writing this book because now I can get back into all the other things I want to do! Like read books, play videogames, and just not have the weight of a huge book on my shoulders.

That’s all for now, though. I’m going to say that I’ll keep updating things on here, but that’s a lie.

Mostly I’ll just be taking pictures of my cat.

I’ll see you when I see you, followers of this dumb blog.