Category Archives: Writing

I Guess It’s Too Late to Change the Site Name…

There is a theory that placing two coat hangers in a closet produces more coat hangers through some frenzied yet illogical process of inorganic reproduction that’s best left unexamined outside of a Philip K. Dick short story.

If someone suggested that placing two web articles in the Internet equivalent of a closet would produce an article about writing, I would believe them (whether or not the person suggesting it was Phillip K. Dick).

This may explain the overwhelming amount of articles about writing on the Internet — and despite their freakish origins, I read a lot of said articles.

So in the spirit of my focus earlier this month on business plans and planning, I wanted to share an interesting article by Kristen Kieffer in The Verbs that goes over some of the things one should think about as they plunge forward along the journey of being a full-time writer. I especially like the reminders about all the different avenues, back alleys, and overall channels writing could make some ducats. There’s also the important question of one’s “author brand.”

I admit, with working on getting Jabberwocky Audio Theater back off the ground and improving Stonehenge Casting, I haven’t given too much thought about my “personal brand.”

And clearly, I should have thought about what kind of pen name I should have and how that informs what kind of writing I write. I mean, when I think of Bjorn and writing, I think of  him:

Pictures of Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson are invariably intense.

Admit it: you wouldn’t want to be caught in a dark alley in Tromsø with this guy. It’s like every Ingmar Bergman slasher film you’ve ever seen. Don’t quibble with me about the fact that Ingmar Bergman is Swedish and, also, has never made slasher films: you know it’s true!

I suppose it’s not that bad. I mean, if I want to tell bitterly realist stories that end in families crying — or perhaps take a turn at nihilist crime fiction, I’ve got the name for it. But what if I want a bit more adventure? Something that has a bit more action or, dare I suggest, swagger? Well then I probably need another name. Something like “Jack Stone” — or “Brick Gunderson” if I wanted to keep some hint of Scandinavia. Construction materials need to be involved.

I guess it’s too late to change the site name.

20 Minutes (or so) to Motivation

I realized that I have a number of potential posts that relate to motivation, so for at least the next few weeks, I’ll have Motivation Mondays!

Because that sounds like exactly the kind of engagement program corporate HR would institute.

Oh, such mirth.

Anyway, I came across a pair of articles by Melissa Dahl in New York magazine.

One is about how to motivate yourself to work when you don’t want to, which provides an intro to the Pomodoro Technique. The second article (referenced by the first) is about the nature of motivation in the first place.

Both of these articles made me think about Cory Doctorow’s article about writing in the age of distraction, something that I’ve already talked about already on this site (raved about, really).

So it was nice to re-visit that thought of motivation and how so much of the motivation can be accomplished by simply doing. You start going through the motions and –whaddya know?– the motivation follows.

Of course, “just doing it” is often not as easy as it sounds. One can always procrastinate.

I could go on, but I think I’ll put it off until next week.

Paying the Writer

After last week’s post about being a self-sufficient artist who slices, dices –and probably self-publishes– I thought it was a good idea to look at the evergreen topic of creatives not getting paid.

Writers being undervalued and being underpaid is an oft-told tale — and not just because there are writers around to write about it.

Writer Matt Wallace created a freelance rebuttal guide that covers about just every usual reason given to not pay writers — or not pay them much.

It’s fantastic.

Read it. Absorb it. Make the answers your own. Get comfortable quoting rates that you know to be what the actual market finds fair.

Because while I’ve had the pleasure of working with some nice producers (and indeed, I try and be one of those nice producers), some people are horrible about trying to gaslight and guilt trip creatives. What I especially like about the rebuttal guide is that you can tailor it to a very neutral tone and make any issue just about the project at hand. Slimy producers and publishers show their hand when they try and make it all about you and won’t let your refusal to work at their rate go (producers who know you’re pricing yourself “out of your league” or their budget will simply wish you luck).

Recommended Reading: Artistry & Entrepreneurship

A certain cavegirl reminded me of a long article in The Atlantic by William Deresiewicz charting the evolution of “the artist.”

I first read it a couple years ago, but it remains quite relevant in 2017 — perhaps more so. It delves into what it means to be “a creative” in the world today and even touches on the commodification of “being creative.”

Commodification isn’t the only concept in the article that triggered memories of my anthropology studies. There’s also the whole aspect of how institutions have grown and changed in respect to supporting artists — or, perhaps it would be better characterized as how institutions and their support have both shrunken in respect to artists. They’re hardly the only group in our modern economy where that’s the case — though that is one of the reasons reading the article was so relevant. How does one make a living as an artist? What’s the new paradigm?

The safe, if selective, employment of artists and artisans by institutions (such as it was) is now all too clearly being replaced by entrepreneurship (again, not something unique to creatives and something people have noted for some time). So unless universal basic income becomes a reality (an unlikely event anytime soon), we all must become our own “brand ambassadors.” And chief cook and bottle washers.

And that’s something I’m not altogether happy with, not just because the term “brand ambassador” makes me mildly nauseous. I mean, it’s not like I’m not painfully aware that brand management is important (hello! you’re reading this on BjornMunson.com). However, the entrepreneurial vision pitched is that now we must all manage our own brands, pump our own gas, and possibly be our own tax attorneys. I’m not always happy about doing two out of three of those things — and I’m often concerned about getting it wrong… or not right enough.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy being a jack-of-all-trades. Anyone who’s spent enough time in filmmaking has learned you need to know at least a little about a lot of things. But I’ve been at this for a while. So although I’m by no means terrible at either camerawork or editing, I’d be a fool to ignore that some of my peers have done both of those tasks for a few thousand more hours than I. So just because one can do it all, maybe they shouldn’t. This is not to say you might not use a project to improve a particular skill (e.g., I’m going to edit my next project to maintain/improve my mad editing skillz). At the same time, if one wants to use a given project to improve, say, their camerawork, maybe they shouldn’t try and also improve their editing, directing, acting, and screenwriting on that same project.

So that brings us back to our networks of people. That’s the part of the equation no one writes articles about… or I’m missing them (feel free to put suggestions in the comments). Luckily, there are certainly organizations and sites where one can find networks. There’s TIVA and WIFV here in DC as well as Facebook-based groups. If there’s others, let me know.

In the meantime, I need to go clean out some bottles…

Aubrey de Grey and the Efforts to Engineer Away Aging

Sean Illing has an interview in Vox with biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey about his work on tackling aging.

Aubrey de Grey, whose prodigious beard is dwarfed by his prodigious research ambitions, famously believes that combating aging is an engineering problem. In other words, medical therapies can be developed and can be worked on now given our current scientific understanding of aging damage.

I remember first learning about the work of Dr. de Grey when he and others set up the Methuselah Foundation a little over a decade ago. While Methuselah still continues its work, de Grey has since co-founded another research foundation. They are actively working on what they term seven different categories of aging “damage” presumably trying to mitigate or outright reverse what we know of as aging.

It’s hard not to read about these goals and think of the countless times aging and immortality have been brought up in works of fantasy and science fiction. Once again, we seem to be living in a science fiction future already — though the possibility of living in a dystopia or even a Robert Ludlum techno-thriller also seems to be in the cards (maybe linked to an international conspiracy dating back to World War II!).

I have to confess, one of the reasons I like to check back on the work of de Grey, et al –besides the fact that I find the prospects both fascinating and frightening– is that I can’t be ignorant of what science fiction is becoming science fact in this area. I mean, if I’m writing stories about future humans, it might be good to know how soon we may reasonably become post-human. One of the conceits in Rogue Tyger is that all the humans in the Imperium are, to a certain extent, transhuman. The idea is that we humans wouldn’t be able to regularly cross the big black of space without some improvements to combat cosmic radiation, prolonged weightlessness, and so on. Not coincidentally, this means that most of the humans age normally, but live well past 100 Earth years old. A 150-year old human would be viewed how we might view an 80-90 year old today.

Of course, the modest increases in human lifespans I was thinking of are nothing compared to what the SENS Research Foundation is after. And before we even get to reversing aging damage, there’s a host of other questions about genetic engineering that might be in our very near future. Check out this interview with Michael Bess in Vox — also by Sean Illing. I don’t know about you, but it’s enough to just explain to my kids about why the sky is blue, let alone potential massive changes in how humans love.

Guess I better get to writing that fiction while it’s still charming fiction.

Going Faster than the Speed of Light with Imaginary Numbers

For many of us writing science fiction, a common decision point is how hard or soft we should make the world(s) we’re building. A perennial area is whether we allow faster-than-light travel or not (i.e., warping, folding space, entering stargates, traveling through hyperspace, etc.).

Scientist and science fiction author Catherine Asaro explains her own journey in coming up with a way to have interstellar ships that can move at the speed of narrative without  willfully ignoring Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Recommended Reading: Arms and the Bard

This piece from by Robert McCrum in The Guardian about some Shakespearean research this past weekend is a welcome read.

Not only does it detail intriguing additional evidence that the plays of William Shakespeare were written by (dramatic pause) William Shakespeare, but it shows how ardent and assiduous the scholars of Washington DC’s own Folger Shakespeare Library are.

It is fair to say that I first came to know Shakespeare through many, many performances at the Folger Theatre and their many exhibits about both Shakespeare and Elizabethan England. So I suppose you could say I’m pre-disposed to give them credence, but, in sooth, they have earned such trust.

Kudos to your diligent research, Dr. Wolfe. May your continued paleography (isn’t that a wonderful word?) give us more insights in the future.

 

Edward Albee, RIP

2016 really isn’t getting any new fans as our cultural icons continue to shuffle off this mortal coil in a manner that befits the most macabre dance number imaginable.

I'm going to need a rather long pause. Something more than five seconds, please.

I’m going to need a rather long pause. Something more than five seconds, please.

Playwright Edward Albee is dead, as reported by NPR, the New York Times, and others. I suppose he wouldn’t mind, what with his work exploring death, gloom, and despair. He was also 88, which I’m sure actuaries would assure me is “pretty old,” statistically speaking.

I don’t care. As a playwright, Albee had a voice. A beautiful, absurd, deeply disturbing voice to be sure, but a voice you don’t forget.

(You can actually hear his voice in this 8-minute interview on Fresh Air from 1984).

I first encountered this voice in high school with The Zoo Story. It wasn’t simply reading the play as a diversion in English class. My idle teenage hands had been repurposed to be a stage technician, so I was the chap responsible for the blood pack necessary at the end of the play. The blood pack didn’t always work to my liking –sometimes a bit more Sanjuro than desirable– but I went on to do blood effects for other productions. More importantly, my interest in this playwright, Edward Albee, began.

Watching the production, even in our inexpert high school hands, you couldn’t help but be drawn in. Albee violates cultural comfort zones not unlike Pinter and other contemporary playwrights. But more than that, his characters are fascinating: intense, driven, and deeply, deeply flawed. Crafted with such specificity, you can’t help but try and understand the nature of what’s broken — even when you, yourself, might not have much in common with them.

Or so you think at first.

It could be, as Leo Tolstoy pointed out, that “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Yet among that specific unhappiness, there are some recurring themes. In fact, Albee summed it up thus:

“You know, if anybody wants me to say it, in one sentence, what my plays are about: They’re about the nature of identity — who we are, how we permit ourselves to be viewed, how we permit ourselves to view ourselves, how we practice identity or lack of identity.” -Edward Albee

How else could us countless college students tasked with studying Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? — probably his best known work — relate to the struggles of George and Martha (and I suppose Nick and Honey)?

Amid the games like “getting the guests,” there are those questions of identity. How do you see yourself? How do you want to be seen? How much can you bear to see what you have done or have become? As you approach adulthood, you begin to see how many decisions you need to make involving how much you buy into socially constructed pretense and ritual. Where will you toe the line? Where will you stand out? Must you stand out? What do you lose by doing either?

“All of my plays are about people missing the boat, closing down too young, coming to the end of their lives with regret at things not done, as opposed to things done. I find most people spend too much time living as if they’re never going to die.” -Edward Albee

That overarching theme is why I think Albee will resonate for decades to come: it’s timeless and –in the hands of Albee– well executed. His expert exploration of mortality and mistakes is also why he’ll be missed. Because it wasn’t simply The Zoo Story and Woolf. He had been steadily writing impactful plays for the better part of 50 years, Three Tall Women and The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? being some of his more recent celebrated works.

But at least we’re left with his works… which does also leave us with a question: at the end, was he visited by a young man doing calisthenics?

Space Opera Tropes

Speculative fiction writer Charles Stross has written a blog post about space opera clichés which has been brought to my attention by one of the denizens of MOSF.

I haven’t read too much of Charles Stross, though I like his imaginative and subtly disturbing short story, “Rogue Farm.” It sounds like he enjoys being a bit harder with his sci-fi and space opera than some, which comes through in this list. For that reason, I can see how some writers might not be as concerned with some of entries on this list, but reading it in total, I think it’s a good reality-check/world-building check. Because frankly, if you ignore the majority of these points, your sci-fi world is going to seem incomplete and not well thought out. And any clever plots or characterizations will ring hollow as you haven’t successfully suspended disbelief.

This is very timely as I’m working on a short story involving a space elevator, something so geeky that, on one level, I must make the world-building believable — otherwise what’s the point? At the same time, the aspect of the story that’s really taken it out of mothballs has been the arc I’ve figured out for the main character. Ah, the joy of balance!

So Long and Thanks for all the Lutefisk

This past weekend, while I was dealing with schoolkids and stormtroopers at Escape Velocity, Garrison Keillor hosted his last episode of A Prairie Home Companion, as described here and here (and countless other places on the web).

As mentioned in Chris Barton’s piece for the LA Times, the approach on one hand was that of simply another show. But so many of us would like that option for yet another show. After 40 years, you can be assured some people find you to be a “mainstay.”

“Nothing gold can stay,” notes Robert Frost… and Garrison Keillor will note him and many other poets on the Writer’s Almanac, the daily podcast which I believe he’ll voice for a while longer. He’ll also be working on some more writing… probably for the rest of his life frankly.

Between thoroughly Midwestern parents and a steady diet of folk music growing up, it’s hardly a surprise I enjoyed Garrison Keillor and A Prairie Home Companion (which, let’s just abbreviate to APHC for the rest of this). I came to appreciate APHC more as I got older, because by then I had traveled around and lived in a few more places than “home.” That’s when the small-town Americana and wry storytelling inherent within the Lake Wobegon tales came into greater focus. As Scott Simon notes in his remembrance/appreciation at NPR, having his final performance being on Independence Day weekend, a time of intense Americana, is entirely appropriate.

The fact that APHC was old-fashioned when it first debuted may explain some people’s ambivalence about it, which Robert Lloyd explores in the LA Times here (though this is the first I’ve ever heard the word “polarizing” applied to it). I’m curious how the new, younger host and the presumed new focus on music will affect APHC’s demographics. At the same time, I’m not sure how often I’ll tune in myself.

There’s one other element to APHC that theoretically could continue even with a music-centric version. For the past few years, my family has been able to see APHC when they come to Wolf Trap and be some of the “wolves on the lawn” that Keillor would always reference in the broadcast (which invariably elicited wolf howls from the lawn denizens). Keillor would warm up the audience before the broadcast started by walking around the audience –including up and through the lawn– leading everyone in song. Not a unique show tactic to be sure, but the particular 70-something in suit and red sneakers owned it. Lord only knows if my kids will remember any of this when they’re older, but I will.

And that’s one thing I’ll miss.

APHC_2016-05

Garrison Keillor at Wolf Trap, 2016