2013 Recap

December 30th, 2013  |  Published in announcement

If you have been listening, you will know that this blog has been silent for most of the year. Sorry about that. The primary reason is that 2013 was my first full year as a father, which has been an all-around wonderful experience but one that has taken a large chunk out of my free time. Fair warning, 2014 will likely follow a similar path, although I do hope to spend a bit more time on the blog. Enough about that, what have I been doing besides parenting?

I read less than I did in 2012, but not by too much, according to goodreads I read 103 books this year. I did do a couple of interesting things on the reading front, however. First of all, I made a goal of finishing as many series as possible, having started many and left them hanging. These included the Virga series, the Magister trilogy, the Family Trade series, the Wheel of Time, and probably others that don’t come to mind at the moment. The second thing I did that I plan on repeating was to read nothing but short stories in the month of May (which is Short Story Appreciation Month). I read and listened to a whole lot of stuff, some of which was good some of which wasn’t. If you are a writer, you should give this a shot, as I had more story ideas during that month than during any other (a couple of which I may even get around to writing in 2014, more on that later). It was refreshing. Below is a list of the books which I have given five stars on goodreads this year, I would recommend all of them, but keep in mind that a few might fall in the middle of a series.

  • A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  • The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
  • Antiagon Fire by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
  • Who Owns the Future by Jaron Lanier
  • City of Thieves by David Benioff
  • The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson
  • The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
  • Mind of the Raven by Bernd Heinrich
  • Colors of Chaos by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
  • The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
  • Sleepless by Charlie Huston
  • Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
  • Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
  • Imager’s Battalion by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green
  • Concrete Planet by Robert Courland
  • The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
  • Princeps by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
  • The One World Schoolhouse by Salman Khan
  • Gun Machine by Warren Ellis

If my reading didn’t suffer much from parenthood, my writing can’t say the same. I don’t keep meticulous track of what and how much I write, but I did finish several short stories, none of which have been published, yet. I also managed to get some of my older stuff up on Amazon and Smashwords. Also, I succeeded in completely neglecting this blog.

So what do I have planned for 2014? First of all, I hope to get a post (even a short one) up at least once a month, hopefully more frequently. Second, I want to clear off my physical to-read shelf at home, as I have promised myself that I will not buy any more physical books unless I can fit them on it. I plan on revisiting my short story reading in May. Finally, I wrote a short story, There Are No Words, which has yet to find a home despite positive feedback from several editors. I have been convinced to turn it into a novel by writing more stories in the world that form an overarching plot. We’ll see if I succeed or not. I will begin with that as soon as I finish the rough draft of the Broken Shores story I’m working on (I think that I’ve finally figured it out, so it should go quickly from here, I hope). I also hope to write at least one other story that I came up with the idea for last May.

In any case, it has been a fantastic year and I can only hope that yours has equalled or surpassed it. Happy 2014!

Caldera, finally.

September 10th, 2013  |  Published in announcement

Whew, that was a long silent stretch. Silent but not unproductive, I should have something to show for my efforts before too long. In the meantime, I have finally posted the final draft of Caldera, an epic fantasy novella. It was one of the first stories that I wanted to write, and putting it up for sale feels like a milestone, although time will tell as to the accuracy of that feeling.

Without further ado, you can find the excerpt on this site, and you can buy the full version from Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Apple, and most other ebook stores.

 

caldera-cover-web

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It is June now

June 3rd, 2013  |  Published in announcement

Wow, I’m going to call May a wash. On one hand, I read/listened to a lot of short fiction, some of which was good, some of which was great, and some of which was terrible. On the other hand, between the eight month old child to watch and spending a week in Colorado, I got very little writing done. I’m still working on Assassination, and hope to finish the rough draft of that soon (but no promises), I ended up having to rewrite more of it from scratch than I had originally anticipated, but I’m happy with where it has headed. I also have three other stories crowding my head, largely thanks to the short fiction that I read this past month, and I hope to give those voice soon.

Next week I hope to have a post about logic and literacy for you, and I’ll keep you updated about my progress. In the meantime, if you want something strage, wonderful, and obscene, you should give this bacon filled story a listen: Spar (The Bacon Remix). But enough about that, I’m going to try and get some more writing done before I have to go to work.

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Conversational Overload

May 24th, 2013  |  Published in ShoStoWriMo

Sorry about the radio silence, I spent a week in Colorado, which was nice but prevented me from getting any real writing done (although I did produce a bunch of notes for upcoming stories). I did get some reading done, however.

It is often said that Speculative Fiction (and I would argue all of fiction) is one big conversation stretching back to the first time someone said “What if . . .” This conversation isn’t always obvious, there is no comprehensive guide that will tell you what a particular story was responding to or if it was the basis for a new thread of conversation. In my experience, the only way to pick it out is to read a lot of it and tease out the connections on your own.

Anyone who writes a story is part of that conversation, which is one of the reasons that I love short fiction, because you don’t have to write a novel to participate (which isn’t to say that writing short fiction is any easier than writing a novel). This month I have been making a concerted effort to read a lot of short fiction, an effort in which I have been moderately successful (I’ve still been reading an ebook novel before I go to sleep every night, but that is largely because the anthology I wanted to read in that time slot is, somehow, not available as an ebook).

I have read some good stories, a lot of mediocre ones, and a few that have been just bad. The good ones are very entertaining, and the bad ones are unfortunate, but it is the middle category that creates a problem. I have read a number of stories to which I really want to respond, in story form. Of course, I’m already working on something. So I make notes and push them out of my mind. Then my frustrated subconscious starts pushing stories into my head fully-formed, stories which I do not have the time to write at present.

I feel full to bursting with stories, and it is frustrating. But I should stop whining, it’s better than writers block after all. In any case, I should get some work done on Assassination so that I can placate my subconscious before it kills me.

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A First Draft

May 7th, 2013  |  Published in ShoStoWriMo

I haven’t really gotten much writing done this past week. Which isn’t to say that I haven’t wanted to, but rather that I haven’t made enough time to do so (and to be fair, some of this is out of my control). In fact, as I have been consuming a bunch of short fiction, in the form of Diverse Energies, Podcastle, and Escape Pod (and then At The Mouth Of The River Of Bees and High-Tech Gothic), I have had a lot of ideas for stories, which is frustrating as I can only work on one at a time. One of the great thing about Speculative Fiction is that, once you read enough of it, the outlines of a great conversation begin to emerge (a similar phenomenon can be found in philosophy), and the more of that conversation that I see, the more I want to participate (and in the case of short fiction, the more attainable that participation is). At the moment, there really isn’t much to do about it, other than to make notes about the stories I want to write (which are great to have for when you sit down to write but aren’t able to come up with a story, by the way). But enough about that, this post is titled “A First Draft”.

Back when I first started to work on Broken Shores, while I was still figuring out how the world worked (I hadn’t figured out what to call it, if I recall correctly), I wrote a short story with the working title of “Assassination”. I liked this story, but Broken Shores went a different direction, and I shelved it. But I have always wanted to dust it off, and make it work, but every time I looked at it, I was daunted by how much would need to change (almost all of it). Well, fuck it. I’m going to make it work, and you get to see the process. Just remember that what follows is a ROUGH DRAFT, and will be full of errors (continuity, plot, grammar, and otherwise) and represents a direction that the Broken Shores setting could have gone, but didn’t. Really, I want you to go into this expecting less than nothing. If you continue to read beyond this point, you will never get those minutes of your life back, and I cannot be held responsible, so don’t bother asking. Also, although I dislike doing it, I’m going to put a page break after the first scene, which I hope doesn’t mess with the feed/email subscriptions, but if it does I’m sorry. Feedback is welcome, just keep in mind, there is much necrotic tissue that is already marked for removal. Without further ado:

Assasination (working title)

by Tom Dillon

FIRST DRAFT (“here there be errors”) / 6.27.2008 / approximately 6,200 words

“We must never forget our history, what our forefathers went through to ensure our safety.  We have become complacent, and there is nothing to stop another disaster from occurring.  My opponent insists that the time for caution is over, that the threat is past, but it is not.  If anything, it is greater than ever.”  Senator Burien’s words blended into the noise of the crowd as something else caught Devin’s attention.

The man was easy to spot, moving quickly through a crowd that seemed to sway sluggishly in Devin’s ramped-up state.   She didn’t bother to signal as she braced herself, the guards on the perimeter had already done so.  The guards on the stage with her noticed as well, and she heard a series of thunks from their crossbows just moments before a few quarrels embedded themselves in the man’s chest.

The bolts didn’t slow the man down, he kept on dodging through the crowd as one of his hands plucked the quarrels from his chest and the other drew a long knife.  The guards that were closest to Senator Burien bunched up, making a human wall in front of him.  Even if the assassin got through them, they would slow him down enough for Devin and the rest of the guards to do their jobs.

Then the assassin jumped.  His momentum carried him in a smooth arc over the guards’ heads.  He ducked his head and crossed his arms in front of him just in time for the metal plates on his forearms to deflect three or four more quarrels.

He landed to the left of the main bunching of guards, in between them and her.  He ricocheted off of them, heading straight for her.  For a moment, his face was nearly touching hers, and she could see the tinge of blue under a layer of powder.  Then she felt her dagger slide along one of his ribs.  It caught, then he shoved off of her causing the blade to snap off as she lost her balance.

Even ramped up as she was, it was over by the time she regained her feet.  Senator Burien was on the ground, the assassin’s knife protruding from his temple.  It wouldn’t matter how much Ve they pumped into him, there was no coming back from something like that.

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ShoStoWriMo ’13

May 1st, 2013  |  Published in announcement

Regrettably, I will not be running ShoStoWriMo this year. I had hoped to, but the reality of the situation is that I wouldn’t be able to do it properly (I have an 8 month old son at home and am taking a trip in the middle of the month). I will not be putting up a forum, but I was planning on moving away from that anyway (keeping the spammers away was a itself a job). Still want to participate? The good news is that ShoStoWriMo isn’t a thing, its a protocol, to participate, all you have to do is write a short story this month. That being said, here is an idealized schedule if you want to follow one:

  • May 1-9: Write the rough draft of your short story. Don’t worry about getting it perfect, just get it down. A good length to shoot for is 3,500 – 6,000 words, but shorter or longer works, too.
  • May 10-17: Give feedback, get feedback. Spend a week away from your story, preferably reading and providing feedback for others who are doing the same.
  • May 17-21: Revise. Take that feedback that you gathered and do a second draft. When you’re done, send it back out for more feedback.
  • May 22-30: Polish and share. Do more drafts, get more feedback. Read some published short stories to see how others have done it in the past.
  • May 31: Celebrate! Congratulations, you have a short story that has gone through the revision process and is ready to post, sell, publish, whatever you want to do with it.

Since I’m not setting up a forum, I went ahead and created a Facebook page for ShoStoWriMo to help people connect with other people. In the next couple of days, I might add a Google+ one as well.

I will be trying to participate, but due to time constraints, I’m setting a conservative goal of just writing a short story this month. I’ll keep you posted about how its going. Also, I plan on writing a couple of blog posts about the medium, so let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like me to cover.

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Some Shameless Self Promotion

April 30th, 2013  |  Published in announcement

The Revolution Will Not Be MicrowavedThe Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved is up! I have published it at Amazon as well as Smashwords (which means that it should be available everywhere once it gets approved, but that might take a while. I had a great time writing this story, and when I went through to do a final edit, I realized that I had forgotten how much I enjoyed it. As usual, the most difficult part of the self-publishing process was writing up a brief description, but I’m pretty happy with how it turned out:

For Sam, working at the Future Shoppe is a study in absurdity. Every week, he receives a directive from home office, a new product display, store layout, or signage style. And in the middle of every week, the orders are countermanded, often only hours after they have been completed. One week, the set of contradictory directions never comes.

Something is rotten in Coeur d’Alene, the nerve center of the Future Shoppe. And so Sam, Rosa, and Isaiah are roped into a mission to find out what, or at least steal some office supplies. Each of them is looking for something different: Rosa is expecting zombies, Isaiah just wants to see an old friend who lives there and Sam wants some sauce for his Guinig Meat Snack. But what they will find is stranger than they could have ever imagined.

So go grab a sample from one of the aforementioned retailers or read the first bit on the TRWNBM page and enjoy!

P.S. – As for what’s next, if you’re curious, I hope to publish There Are No Words in late May or early June and after that I will hopefully get Caldera all polished up and ready to go.

Meme Culture

April 24th, 2013  |  Published in commentary

Sometime last year, I stumbled across a blog post about how Star Trek had prefigured the direction our language and culture is heading in. In essence, there was an episode that dealt with a race that communicated purely by metaphor, the author then compared this to the rise of memes and reaction gifs. Of course, these things were around long before that post was written, but it wasn’t until I read it that I saw the connection between memes and language. And now I can’t unsee it.

More and more, I see emails and facebook posts that consist of nothing but a meme or reaction gif. These things can be fun, and I know that I’ve spent my share of time looking at lolcats, but when they become a substitute for communication, I begin to worry. These things are sort of like the graphic equivalent of cliches. Both are useful for expressing a common sentiment to someone who shares the same cultural frame of reference to yourself, both make it difficult to say anything interesting, novel, or memorable. The main difference is that I would guess that there are fewer memes/reaction gifs than there are cliches, due to the higher cost of production and the shrinking half-life of popular culture phenomena.

To be clear, I am not worried that using memes and reaction gifs will start us on the slippery slope to complete illiteracy. Rather, I feel that their use constitutes a vocabulary of expression, and a small one at that. The capacity of expression of ideas and sentiments seems as though it could limit the occurrence of them, or put another way, if you cannot express something, how fully can you be said to experience it?

On the other hand, if you’re reading this, you speak the English language, and if those upstarts over at Oxford Dictionaries are to be believed, “there are, at the very least, a quarter of a million distinct English words, excluding inflections, and words from technical and regional vocabulary not covered by the OED, or words not yet added to the published dictionary”. This number likely also doesn’t include cool untranslatable words like fingerspitzengefühl, or neologisms (look at what Shakespeare did to the English language). Taken together and considering that most things will be expressed by a combination of words, and the possibilities appear to be virtually endless.

The Devil’s Advocate in me responds to all this by saying that creativity is often the result of artificial limitations, and so reducing our vocabulary to a handful of memes might actually act as a font of creative expression. I would have to disagree. As a culture, we use memes as a shorthand for complex ideas and sentiments, as a shortcut. Words, on the other hand, are hard to use well, much like representing three dimensional objects on a two dimensional medium. As such, it would seem that words are inherently more limiting, and thus more beneficial to creativity (which also helps to explain why we have a quarter million of them in the English language).

So the next time you feel the urge to reach for that comfortable meme, take a moment and do yourself and your culture a favor. Just put it into words. Don’t worry, we won’t run out any time soon.

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The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved Cover

April 23rd, 2013  |  Published in announcement

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I need to get my act together and do something with some of the stories that I’m sitting on. So today I went ahead and did a cover for “The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved”. I’m pretty happy with it, but may tweak it a bit before I’m ready to stamp FINAL on it (naturally, feedback is welcome). Other than that, I need to take another pass through the story and format it for Smashwords and Amazon. Hopefully I’ll be ready to go with it early next week. I’ll let you know.

The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved

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Organization: what it is and why it matters

April 17th, 2013  |  Published in commentary

When we talk about organizing and organization, we often think about it in terms of optimizing an existing organizational structure. This is all well and good, but the concept of organization has become so ingrained in our culture and language that it is often assumed as a given and little thought is given to what it means to organize and how the resulting order differs from disorder. So I’m going to do some thinking out loud on the subject.

First, what is organization? Following the word’s etymological trail leads one eventually to the greek organon which apparently translates literally to “that with which one works”. In short, organizing is the act of creating something that is useful, an infrastructural element of getting things done. One could think of it as the fundamental aspect of toolmaking. All of this is good if you’re making a musical instrument (something else that pops up when looking into the history of the word), but how does it function when applied to people? Sure, forming a task force to get something done fits the notion, but a couple of interesting ideas come from it:

  1. Organization is a multiplier of force. For example, take a mob of people who want to effect some sort of change. As a mob they have certain amount of ability to influence the world. Now, arm the mob, give them all guns. The mob has exactly one more option, violence (and even that isn’t really anything new, any mob is capable of violence with or without weapons, arming them just makes that option more effective and more likely). Okay, so go back to the original, unarmed mob. Instead of giving them weapons, organize them. Get them talking to each other, have them work out what it is they want and delegate tasks to individuals or subgroups. All of a sudden, the mob (although it is no longer a mob, really) has as many options as it has ideas, and the amount of ideas in proportion to its size. Instead of adding to its options, the mob has multiplied them. This is specifically why governments are leery of any well-organized group, they are more dangerous than an armed crowd ever could be.
  2. Mindset. Unorganized groups (and individuals within the group) approach problems from the perspective of the individual, organized groups (and individuals within the group) approach problems from the perspective of the group. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is in fact the difference between powerlessness and power. Many of the issues that we find troubling in our world are not problems at the individual level but problems at the neighborhood, town, state, national, or world level. Dealing with problems on those scales as an individual is difficult, if not impossible (which is why superheroes seem to be such a dangerous fantasy to me, almost no one can deal with those problems on an individual level).

All of this is not to say that there aren’t problems with organization. Take for example the Stanford Prison Experiment, which suggests that it is possible for our individuality to be overridden by group identity. Despite this, I don’t honestly believe that there is a better option, yet.

In short, organization is a process by which useful things are created, multiplying the options of a group and providing the potential for hope against long odds.

So why am I going to the trouble of working all of this out? Aside from the subject being interesting in its own right, I’ve wanted to write something about organizing in a post-privacy society, and so this post was a necessary prerequisite. I’ll try to get that (more interesting, I promise) post written in the next week or two.

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