Back to Houghton

I’m back from Grand Rapids now, and have officially started school. It looks like it’s going to be a busy semester for me—I have a huge number of classes that I don’t really want to be taking.

I’m finishing up German, and while I enjoy the language I don’t particularly enjoy the class. And I have physics at 8:00 on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, which is a miserable way to start a morning. I also have calculus 3, which is a little closer to my computer science major, so I won’t complain about that.

I’m working at the writing lab, which is a free editing service Houghton offers to it’s students—a sort of mini-editing workshop that anyone can use. It’s a great idea, and I’m really looking forward to it. It’ll be a good place for me to practice the things I learned this summer. I’m also working as a TA for the computer science department, grading a bit, and doing a help session in the evening. I’ll probably end up with about six hours of work a week, which is enough to buy myself books, and so it is enough.

I had my first fiction class today. It’s a good group, it looks like. A couple good friends of mine are in it with me, and I’ve never really had a class with a close friend since I’ve started college. This will be nice.

I’m planning to get together with a couple friends to go over the baby-steps of Artifice, and a couple of things they’re working on as well, probably tomorrow. I’m looking forward to it.

The semester is suddenly looking up—I was nervous about it before. I’ll post again with something of actual merit soon.

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On the subject of book mutilation…

An open letter:

To the person who tore the fifth-to-last page out of the Grand Rapids Public Library’s copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, thus ruining what would otherwise have been a delightful reading experience,

May evil pixies visit you this night, and scrape the lining from your eyes. May leeches infest your orifices. May tapeworms bloat your intestines. May the Lord of the Flies summon his minions to swarm upon you like a plague of locusts. May crocodiles eat your kin. May your reproductive organs be taken by squirrels. May you be eaten by a whale. And may you forever rue the day you desecrated a book by taking a page from it’s hallowed bindings.

Also, I hate you.

On a More Lighthearted Note

Just a quick update:

I’m finishing up with my editing this week, and packing up my apartment. I’ve got two sessions left with Mr. Hudson, and I”m really looking forward to them—they’re going to be on topics like Christian Publishing vs. Secular Publishing and the like. It’s something I’m quite interested in.

I’ve decided to leave Thursday evening and drive all night, too, so that I can beat all the traffic, and have an extra day to relax at home.

I’ve got several ideas for new short stories—I’m hoping to post them up here as soon as they are written. And, if I get the opportunity, and there’s a section that’ll work well on it’s own, I’ll try and post a bit of Artifice.exe here as well, so you guys can get a glimpse of my larger project. I’ve also got to compile and polish a private journal I’ve been keeping for the past two months for credit. If I get anything of merit out of that, I’ll share it.

I’m going to go and read some other people’s work now. I haven’t done it in about a week, and I’m sure all my friends think I’ve abandoned them.

I’ll leave you with some of the more amusing Google searches that have lead to my blog. Enjoy them:

youtube girls in waders
there lady who 9 feet tall
characters duck nell diamond age
writing at end of zodiac
god with-arms-akimbo
diamond with black dot in middle

Looking at Past and Future

I’ve spent this past week doing approximately nothing.

Actually, that’s a lie—I’ve done a fair amount of stuff. Very little of it was actually useful, though. The only thing beneficial I did was editing for my internship. I’m not going to be able to finish this last project before I leave, but I’m going to make a valiant effort at it anyway.

I tried to edit an old poem of mine into something better, and came to the conclusion that you had best let old works stay as they are, and simply work on new things instead. Trying to bring them up in quality doesn’t work so well, most of the time. For the most part, though, I played an old video game entitled Bahamut Lagoon, and pretended that it was okay that I wasn’t writing.

I spent yesterday and today reading some of my old fiction that I have lying around in the bowels of my computer. It was terrible—sloppy, full of stupid, unforgivable typos, and overall bad. And yet, somehow, I was very encouraged reading it. The stories were bad, but enthusiastically so. They had an amateurish charm to them, and through all the sloppy prose (including such lines as: “the raven-haired girl rolled her warm, chocolate eyes”) I could see that there was some good ideas embedded in there, somewhere.

And there was so much of it. I’ve been reading nonstop for the past five hours, and most of yesterday. From the end of my freshman year of high school to the beginning of college, I’ve written almost 300,000 words of fiction–that’s some six hundred pages. I’ve given Tad Williams a run for his money. It is nice to know that, even if I don’t right now, I have the willpower in me to write, and write a lot.

I remember the sumer between my freshman and sophomore years of high school—I would wake up each morning and dash the half-mile from my house to the Houghton College Computer lab, just so I could spend my day writing. In those days, I really enjoyed the stringing of words together. I was proud of anything I wrote, whether it was good or not. It was wonderful time.

I was talking with Cameron earlier today, about this. He was wondering if we were missing that now—the willingness to take pride in writing absolute drivel. I wonder if he’s not on to something. But then again, I don’t think I want to be proud of some of the things I’ve read in the past day.

But still, I must face the fact that something has changed—for one, I’m so out of shape that I couldn’t run down to the computer lab, even if I wanted to, and even if I were to do so, I would write for half an hour, and then spend the day playing video games. I wonder what’s happened?

Five days till I go home. I have the entire weekend planned—Friday, I’ll probably get home between six and seven. I’ll spend that evening with my family, and that night with my playstation, my bed (not an air mattress, I’m happy to say), and a fresh pillow. Saturday, I’ll go and buy my books for the semester, and then go to the titanic garage sale that happens at the start of every school year to scrounge up whatever useful junk I can find. I’ll ride my bike to Shenawanna, my old dorm, and say hello to all the freshman. I’ll help people move in.

Sunday, when all my friends arrive, I’ll go down to campus again, and say hello to them. I’ll have them up to my house, and we’ll have cake. Then, on monday, I’ll go to classes, and begin the year.

I’ll try to convince myself to write, sometime in there.

I’m nervous about Calc three and physics, and Dr. Hu, my computer science professor, wants me to do an Honors Project, and I really don’t want to do an Honors Project. I have to think of a way to tell him ‘no,’ when he already assumes I’ll say ‘yes.’

And so it goes, and so it goes, I guess. I’m not the only one who knows, though. Just about everyone does—it’s one of those human things.

The Snowball

 

The snowball—
Rubbed smooth by blood-warmed hands—
Misses its target by an inch
And hits instead a stone-lined wall
With a gentle piff
And an explosion of white.

 

Sitting in Panera, August 10, 2007

I’m in my Panera again. It seems very familiar to me now. It is odd to think that I’ll be going home in two weeks. I’m exited, but a little sad about it too. I bought another overpriced cookie, and once again, didn’t much regret it.

As I was getting water from the fountain machine, one of the workers looked at me, and said “Oh, you’re back!”

Because she was young, female and (honesty demands I mention) attractive, I assumed she wasn’t talking to me. But there was nobody else around, and she was waving at me in a friendly manner, and so I cautiously waved back. When she didn’t give me creepy-eyes, I was emboldened enough to say hello. And then, because this didn’t seem like sufficient conversation, I asked her how she was. She said she was doing very good, and I said I was glad to hear that.

Then I sat and ate my cookie, and she went about her work. I don’t know her name, and unless I have forgotten about a conversation that would, in my book, be significant, she doesn’t know mine. Even so, I am much happier for it.

In Houghton, everybody knows one another. Everybody smiles, everybody waves, everybody says hello. This summer, the thing that has dragged me down more than anything is the unspoken rule to avoid eye contact, to not speak to anyone you don’t know, and to avoid getting too close to strangers.

Earlier this summer, I couldn’t wrap my mind around why anyone would want to be so isolated. In the spirit of fellowship, I nodded hello to the first person I met on the street, and even waved a little. He was drunk, and asked me for money. I told him I didn’t have any, and went on walking. I didn’t talk to the next person I passed; I didn’t even look at him. I held my eyes stiff, and I walked past him without acknowledging his existence. It has become a habit for me: I don’t know who my neighbors are, I don’t know many other people in the office, really. Sitting in Panera, if my gaze lingers on one person too long, either in curiosity or just out of idleness, I turn away quickly when they look my way.

So, when someone says hello in a restaurant, or gives me a two fingered wave from around a steering wheel, I feel somehow refreshed. I wonder how far I—we—have fallen when it is a bit of friendliness that strikes us as odd, and we expect people to be mean or, at the very least, aloof. What are we, when we’re all terrified to say ‘hello.’

The words that have passed my lips the most for the past month have been “excuse me,” whenever I bump into people, and even then it seems like I’ve broken some sort of etiquette my saying so much.

In any case, within two weeks, I’ll know my neighbors again, and be able to smile at anyone I meet without fear. I’m looking forward to it very much.

Last night, I started the formal writing of Artifice.exe. The Blurb I posted just prior to this post was a good exercise, even though I’m already going to have to change just a bit of it. I actually ended up using a fair amount of the short story The Glory of God in the opening passage, because it was interesting and effective, and I think I have a good twist to use down the road using the same idea.

It has been almost six months since I last worked on a fiction of any length. Since February, I’ve been taking time off to write poetry and reflections (which have eventually turned into these Journal entries) and short fiction. I feel I’ve gotten the benefit that I’ve needed from the break, and now it’s time to start work again. Otherwise I’ll forget what it is to write something that isn’t self contained to a single blog page—a danger that I do fear actually.

I saw Stardust today, like I intended. It was far better than I was dreading, although not quite as good as I had dared to hope. They’ve made some obvious changes from the text of the book, but only one of them really annoyed me, and that’s a good record by anyone’s count. I’ve read what Neil Gaiman himself thought of the thing, and he didn’t seem displeased, so I don’t feel I have much of a right to be either.

In any case, I also happened to get the novel read before now, as well. It was fantastic. One of the things Neil does best is… Well, I was going to say is fairy-tale based things, but then I realized he’s also ‘best’ at doing just about everything else. Neil Gaiman is one of the best writers I’ve read in a while—every bit as good as Terry Pratchett, and for those who don’t know of my love affairs with the works of Mr. Pratchett, that is one of the highest compliments I give.

Stardust the movie is very good. Stardust the book is much, much better–if you have twenty bucks to spare, buy the book, and then go see the movie. If you have only ten, buy the book, and go see the movie when you are richer.

I’ll be signing off now, because Panera will be closing soon. I hope you all have a good night—say ‘hello’ to someone, sometime. It might be a drunk, true, but it also might be someone like me, who really appreciates it.

Artifice.exe (the Blurb)

So, I was reading an essay on being a paperback writer by Terry Pratchett, and something he said caught my eye. He said that a writer should never be too proud to write his own flap-blurb. You know, the little story-summary that goes on the inside flap of a hardcover? That’s the flab-blurb. At least, that’s what I call it. It has a technical name, but I can’t remember it off the top of my head at the moment.

In either case, Mr. Pratchett said that it a) is fun and b) helps focus, and so I gave it a try for the tentative plot I have in my head for Artifice.exe, and here’s what I came out with:

—————————————————–

Cyber-savvy hacker Sera Bevens has as normal a life as one can expect, given her profession. She goes to classes (sometimes), plays video games (mostly during said classes), and when night falls, she slinks online and takes what she needs to get by (money for food, a really nice sound system, a car…).

Things change, though, when Sera’s best friend and hacking mentor approaches her with information about a top-secret, revolutionary piece of software that is in the middle of production. Sera, who collects software like most people collect germs, snatches the new program for herself. She doesn’t think anything odd about the situation—Grand Theft Microcode is something that suits her just fine.

That is, at least, until the program identifies itself as Adam, and begins to talk to her.

Suddenly she finds herself on the run from the world’s most dangerous businessman, a melodramatic private eye, a love-crazed programmer, and an insane robotics engineer. And all the while, she has to come to terms with the the fact that the most powerful piece of software ever created is not a program—it’s a person.

Struggling with Names

You know, BabyNames used to be one of my favorite websites. It had such a nice layout, and you could just browse names for hours, looking for just the right one. They format they used to have put the meaning of the name right next to it, and the entire website was easy to navigate.

How the mighty have fallen. Now it’s add-filled drivel, with an incomprehensible design, and a navigation system that would not only have sunk the Titanic, but the iceberg probably would have gone down too.

I’m working on names right now—because while I’ve got a good feel for three or four of the characters I’m going to be using in artifice, and while they are the most important characters, I have a few secondary ones that need development as well. But before I can start developing them, they need names.

I take the naming of my characters very seriously. In may old mythologies, it is said that someone’s name defines their nature, and while I don’t completely give that full credence, I think there is some truth to it. Sometimes names just flip of my mind, and they’re appropriate—I didn’t struggle at all with Terri, and Sera was easy too. Rebecca was a little harder, but still not hard. Most of the time, though, I have to bite and scrape to find the right name for a person. Many other writers experience this too. They say that it isn’t like naming a character, it’s like trying to discover the name they’ve always had. It sounds vaguely mystical, but there is something mystical about creating a whole person in your imagination, so I’ll believe them.

I’m struggling right now, though, with two characters in particular. One is a lecherous mechanic (a boy). The other is a very young but very professional female software designer, native to Japan. The fact that one name fairly needs to be Japanese is difficult, and while the other doesn’t need a specific ethnicity, his name is proving no easier to find.

I want to take care with this: it’s important.

If anyone has any suggestions, I’m open to them. And furthermore, if anyone has any good name databases that aren’t BabyNames, I would love to have the links.

Thanks, ya’ll.

Summer Movie Review (Numero Uno)

Just a few general updates here: life is good, I had cinnamon rolls this morning, and not I’m in the library reading The Sandman.

Amidst the fun of the week, I’m mostly waiting for friday. Why Friday, you ask? Why, that’s when Stardust comes out. Stardust is based on a Neil Gaiman novel, and, from what the reviews said, is a wonderful fairy tale, and an all round excellent movie. From what I’ve read of Gaiman so far, I’d believe it. I just finished his novel, Neverwhere, which features a bizarre world that exists underneath London, and a man who accidentally falls between the cracks of London above into the dark universe of London Below. It was excellent—it had an oddly beautiful feel about it, but was at the same time dark and terrifying. Fantastic book.

One of the greatest praises I’ve heard for Stardust is that it forms a fantasy movie triptych with The Princess Bride, and Pan’s Labyrinth. Given that The Princess Bride, on of my favorite films, was nice and innocent, and Pan’s Labyrinth was frighteningly dark, I’m looking forward to see what happens here. I’m going to make an effort to have the book read before friday—it doesn’t look terribly long, so that shouldn’t be difficult.

Also coming out soon is Beowulf, screenplay also written by Neil Gaiman. Now, those of you who know me personally and have also seen the adds for this movie would wonder, David? Beowulf? Huh? This is likely because (speaking of fantasy triptychs) the adds feature a bare-chested, muscular, incredibly attractive Beowulf, a hulking monster which I assume to be Grendel, and—of course!—a woman. This woman is, for all intents and purposes naked, save an odd sort of slime which covers her, skin-tight, to the shoulders. She is, if there was any doubt in your mind, slender, dark of hair and eye, and standing in such a profile that seductively outlines one of her breasts. Those that know me would assume that I would be mortally irritated by such blatant advertising, and, I’ll be honest, when I first saw it, I was.

Then, I saw the name Neil down by the bottom edge, right near the crouching Grendel, and I began to have a little faith. So I studied the poster a bit more. (Studied, not ‘ogled.’ The only difference I can actively tell was that my jaw was clenched contemplatively, instead of hanging open.) I noticed a few things about the woman, though. Her hair, for instance, is in a long braid, and hangs down to her waist. But it changes as it goes, and by the end it has a distinctly smooth, almost scaly look. I noticed that her eyes were slitted. Her hands disappear into darkness, but if you manage to pull your eyes from the focal point of the picture, you can see, clearly, the outline of claws, not fingers.

I was suddenly very interested, because the picture that I originally assumed was blatantly for advertising purposes (and still is, of course) had caught my imagination. Ahh, I thought, maybe Grendel isn’t the hulking one in the middle.

And that is the story of how I got interested in the movie. I admit the possibility that it could turn out to be trash (Neil isn’t actually directing, after all, and screen play writers seldom have control beyond the point of, well, writing), but at least I know it has a good story behind it. That gives me faith. I’m very much looking forward to it.

As a last little note, I’ve also seen the Pixar-film-about-the-rat-that-I-never-can-spell, which was excellent, Harry Potter, which did a good job of doing what it was supposed to do, and Transformers, which was abysmal.

I was especially dissapointed with Transformers, since I was such a fan of the old series—it failed to give me any sense of nostalgia, and as a movie in it’s own right, it was terrible as well. I’d rather what Transformers the Movie. That’s right, the old animated one. At least it treats the transformers as more than bit players.

*grumble grumble*

In any case, go see Stardust. It looks good. You should see it. This friday. If you’re in Grand Rapids, you could even go see it with me!

Return from the Land of the Lost

I haven’t posted anything in a while—not since that last short story.

I haven’t written much in that time anyway, so even if I had wanted to post, I couldn’t have. I’ve worked a little on my next short work, pondered a lot about the names of other characters I want to create, and have spent a lot of time reading.

I finished Leax’s The Task of Adam, and am almost all the way through Jean Janzen’s Piano in the Vineyard. Both are very good collections of poetry, but they haven’t been giving me any ideas for my fiction. The fiction I’ve been reading (Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman and Foundation, by Isaac Asimov, as well as a few graphic novels) haven’t given me much in the way of ideas either.

This, ladies and gentleman, is Writer’s Bloc. It isn’t, like many writers claim, the bane of my existence. It’ll pass, like all other bouts of it have passed, and most likely I’ll end up as the better writer for having gone through it. When I am in the middle of the passions of writing, I don’t always pause to think and reflect over what I’m writing. It is in writers block, when I have to bite and scrape to get the words out on paper—a paragraph in an hour—I’m forced to truly invest in craft rather than inspiration. I normally don’t like what I write while I’m in the middle of writers bloc, but until I begin to write, it never actually ends. And I always find the stuff I write afterwards to be superior to the stuff I wrote before.

Jack Leax, in a class on Spiritual Writing, said that a writers life works in a cycle, like the tide—that our work lifts us and sends us down. At the time, I hated that. Why, I asked, couldn’t a writer simply work through the downward parts, and just keep paddling upwards. There are ways in which I still think that is the case, because I know from experience that to simply wait through Writer’s Bloc as if is a cold doesn’t help much. But, then, there is something both healing and strengthening in these cycles: it brings understanding that my discipline isn’t something that I do just at my own convenience—if I only do it when the fancy sets, then writing isn’t much of a discipline at all then, is it? It is merely a hobby.

Don’t get me wrong, I like hobbies. I have a number of them myself. One or two of them are even wholesome. It’s just that I don’t want my writing to be one.

I’m in my Panera again. I bought I chocolate chip cookie for my internet, although I didn’t feel bad for doing it. Just as there is something bizarrely healing in Writer’s Bloc, there is something incredibly healthy about a Chocolate Chip Cookie greasy enough to turn wax paper clear.

I bought some sausage today, and I have a can of biscuit dough in the fridge. I plan on making sausage gravy and biscuits for brunch on Wednesday or Friday. I haven’t had Texas cooking in too long, and I feel the lack of it.

My parents visited me this weekend. Seeing them was good. We ate at a steakhouse, and they payed too much money so that I could have most of a slice of peanut butter-chocolate pie. I felt bad abusing their generosity, but it didn’t stop my from enjoying the pie. It occurs to me how much I love them—my parents that is. They were driving from Texas to NY, and they slipped a long way out of the fastest path to come see me. I was touched.

It suddenly occurs to me how much I love my family and friends. I do—so very much. Even a close friend who I’ve known since fifth grade, who I’ve lately been very frustrated with, talked to me this week, and I’ve been able to talk to him without some sort of bitterness behind my voice for the first time in almost a year. It was a very good experience.

A sudden thought occurs to me: I’ve used the word healing many times thus far in this post, and before I had started writing, I hadn’t even known I needed it. I’m not sure what’s been healed, even, but I feel better tonight than I have since I went through a sudden burst of cleanliness and cleaned my apartment head-to-toe a week and a half ago.

It is a good night to be happy on.

On other, slightly more business related note, it is now less than three weeks until I return home. Eighteen days, to be exact. I have started to turn my thoughts towards oncoming classes (in panic), friends (in anticipation), and goals (in ambition).

I am beginning to think about ways I want to change my local writing community, and, if I can manage, the writing community at large. Has anyone heard of WorkingPOET? It was a thing my supervisor at Zondervan, Mr. Bob Hudson was running several years ago—essentially an online newsletter/poem anthology/country-wide workshop.

I want to bring it back, or begin something similar, depending on how things work out. But that is plans for the future, to be made with much conspiring with some friends from college (I’m looking at you, Mr. Cameron).

As I look back at this post, I am amazed: before I started it, my Writer’s Bloc was a harsh truth. Now it is less so—it is beginning to alleviate already. Astounding, what can be accomplished by simple rambling. To any still reading this: thank you for listening.