Does the Creator’s Opinion Matter?

Don’t worry, this isn’t a religious debate. It’s in regards to an idea I was introduced to via a video on YouTube (link will be at end of post).

Background

If you’ve followed the blog for a while, or my Twitter/Facebook/YouTube feeds, you’re probably aware that I am a fan of anime (Japanese Animation). One of my favorite series of all time is Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Evangelion (Eva, or NGE, for short) was an anime in the mecha genre released by Gainax in 1997. Depending on who you talk to, it either revolutionized anime or was a narrative mess. Regardless, it has had a long and lasting impact on the fan base and particularly on the mecha genre.

The video I recently watched was in regard to the creator of Eva, Hideaki Anno, being quoted as saying he didn’t understand all the fuss. That in his opinion Eva was a simple show with a lot of symbols and such thrown in just to make it look cool. The video then asks a simple question; Even if that is what Anno thinks, does it matter?

Creators, not Interpreters

I’ve published two novels and have several more works either underway or in the planning stages. Each of them means something to me. I’ve tried to weave meanings into them that may never be apparent to anyone other than myself. But does that give me the right to tell every reader what their own interpretation and meaning is?

Assuming we release art (by which I mean all forms of expression) for more than just profit, we must be seeking an emotional response from the people who view and consume that art. Art is conversation, not lecture. If I wish to convey a specific message and it fails, I have no one to blame but myself. On the other hand, if a reader finds an entirely different message that means something to them, who am I to say they are wrong?

Our personal interpretation of art and evaluation of its merits is informed by our own experience and emotional core. Since no two people have lived an identical life, there is bound to be a difference of opinion. If anything, that prospect thrills me. I find it disheartening that any creator would devalue their own work, and their fans’ opinions, in such a way. Besides, if a work contains symbols and archetypes that are just thrown in without any thought to how they belong, the audience is generally intelligent enough to realize it.

Once my words are on paper, my job is finished. I won’t be hovering over your shoulder as you read, pointing out my intended subtext (good thing too, that would be creepy). Some will love the words, others hate them. To some, the words will speak to them, while others will be left feeling cold. That is the nature of art, and I have no place to tell someone whether they are right or wrong.

This also speaks to the cardinal rule of authors, which is to not make comments on the reviews left by readers. Certainly, if the review is nothing but personal attack, issue should be raised, but when someone presents a well thought out and balanced criticism, it shouldn’t be ignored. In fact, it should be heeded. There are many unfortunate instances where authors didn’t keep their mouths shut. Their insistence that the audience was wrong did nothing but damage their careers and alienate the very people they supposedly wanted to reach.

In Harbinger, I left a few dangling ideas and story bits. I did that because I wanted the ideas planted, but didn’t want to fully address them until Suture. These dangling ideas were probably the most cited issue people had with Harbinger. And so, in Suture, I sought to leave no dangling ideas. By the end, characters are in precarious positions, and there’s still one or two mysteries left, but they are ongoing ones, not one off sentences that are never addressed again. You the readers, who voiced your opinions, made me change mine. In the same way, Bleeding Worlds Book Three might be influenced by the response to Suture. Like I said, it’s a conversation.

So if you’re an artist, make the best art you can. But realize the moment it leaves your hands, your exclusive right to say what it means is at an end. And if you are a consumer of art, let your heart tell you what it means without fear of being “wrong.”

Talk further soon,

JR

My Interview for the Writer’s Knowledge Base Newsletter

I mentioned in an earlier post that I had an opportunity to do an interview with Elizabeth Craig for the Writer’s Knowledge Base newsletter. The issue came out last week, so I thought I’d post the interview here for all you non-suscribers.

If you are an aspiring author, I highly recommend you check out the Writer’s Knowledge Base for a ton of great information to help you achieve your goals. While you’re there, you can also sign up for their newsletter.

 

You had an October 30th release for your first book, “Harbinger–the Bleeding Worlds.” You’ve got its sequel planned for release this spring, and two other books in the pipeline. How do you balance your time between your day job, family to two boys, and writing? Do you keep the same schedule each day, or is your schedule flexible?

My work schedule consists of two 12hr day shifts, then two 12hr nights and then 4 days off. It makes a consistent writing schedule almost impossible. Most of my writing happens in the late night hours after my family has gone to bed. During my night shifts at work I take time between calls to jot down ideas, plot points, etc. and then do some writing on my breaks. In general I try to squeeze 1-2 hours of actual writing into each day.

Any tips for worldbuilding?

After you have some basic concept of plot, ask, “What kind of world would this happen in?” With the Bleeding Worlds, I started with this vision of a boy plunging his arm into the ether and summoning forth power. So I wondered, is this a fantasy world? Is he a magician? I realised very quickly that this was our world in the modern day. Next, I asked, “Is he the first?” No, that didn’t work with my other ideas. So I asked, “If this had been happening for a long time, how would people with these powers be treated?” This led to the idea that the gods of myth were just super-powered humans. I kept on like this, asking more questions. Every answer expanded the world and its possibilities. Then, I dialed it way back, told a story with a small group of characters, and kept the bigger world stuff for future books. In my experience as a writer and a reader, I think it’s best when worlds are hinted at as opposed to blatantly laid out in every detail. It leaves some of the magic up to the reader. It also means less rules you might one day have to break as the writer 😉

What’s your approach to plotting? How did you work out story arc for the first two books of the Bleeding Worlds series?

I always start with an idea or an image. Harbinger was an image of a boy with energy swirling around his arm. Another series I’m working on, Hidden Empires, started with the idea of a princess trying to bring sunshine back to her kingdom. I take these ideas or images and just ask a lot of questions. Why does the boy have this power? Why can’t the kingdom see the sun anymore? Each answer gets written down. As the number of answers grow, I start to see threads that connect them, or a logical sequence that needs to occur.

From there, I use the writing program Scrivener to lay out a few chapters. Each chapter gets a part of the sequence. Then I start writing. I find as the initial chapters develop, they inform the following chapters. It’s a mix of plotting ahead and flying by the seat of your pants. I try to keep a vague endpoint in my mind, but I let the story tell me how I’m getting there.

In terms of plotting a series, it wasn’t until halfway through Harbinger that the larger story took shape in my mind. It happened in response to a simple question I had about one of the characters. That question was, “Why did he leave home?” The answer led to me using the Norse legend of Ragnorok to help structure the series (for spoilers sake, I won’t tell you how the question led to that).

I also find a lot of series related plotting happens in edits. When Harbinger went through edits, I knew a lot more about book two and the series in general, so I left myself room to grow. I also made sure I hadn’t painted myself into any problematic corners.

You’ve got an interesting and fast-paced job as an emergency dispatcher–how does that inform your fiction…or does it?

Every day my job gives me a “I should put that in a book” moment, but I’ve yet to find stories where they fit. Let’s just say that truth can truly be stranger than fiction.

Where it did help in getting Harbinger written was that it taught me you can’t wait to pursue your dreams. Life is fragile and you never know when it will end. I learned to stop talking about writing, and actually get to it. Because tomorrow, I might not get that chance.

Tips for new writers for finishing a book and staying motivated through the process?

First off, find a community. As an indie author, you are constantly bombarded with the message of being on social media for exposure. But the main reason to use it is to meet outstanding people who help and motivate you. Twitter was a major factor in my finishing this book. On nights where I didn’t feel like writing, there were people who cheered me on, or who were just so inspiring that I had to keep writing to chase after them.

Also, accept that the process is long. While my newer books are taking shape much faster, it’s taken me two-and-a-half years to get Harbinger to the point of publication. The first one can be hard-it’s filled with doubt and fear. But don’t stop. The best writing advice I’ve heard, outside of Stephen King’s “Read a lot,” is from Neil Gaiman. His simple answer on how to write was “finish what you start.” This really resonated with me when I finished Harbinger. When I was writing it, I would be filled with doubt. Could I really write a book? Was I even capable of building a plot intricate enough for that? Now, I don’t have those doubts anymore, because the answer is “Yes, I can.” It’s made my writing since far more enjoyable. So stick with it.

Where can we find you online?

I’m a bit of a social media butterfly, but Twitter is always the place I come back to and where I post most regularly.
https://twitter.com/JustusRStone

Naturally my website is always a good place to go, http://justusrstone.com. It also has links to all my social media accounts.

Where can we find out more about your new book?

You can find out about Harbinger, and all other future Bleeding Worlds releases at the official website http://thebleedingworlds.com/

Another place to check out is the Goodreads page for Harbinger http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15745096-harbinger. You can see what other readers think, and add it to your lists!

Thanks so much to Elizabeth for asking me to participate. I hope to converse with all of you online and I hope you’ll give Harbinger a read.

 

Chasing a Following

It’s been some time since I sat and typed anything for this site. I can understand if the only people coming here are spammers. After all, I haven’t given much meat to digest.

It’s not intentional. To be honest, I’ve been having some fun posting videos over on YouTube (if you want, you can check them out at http://www.youtube.com/user/JustusRStone). There’s something liberating about not having to force my hands to translate the happenings in my brain. For some reason, the mouth seems much easier to perform that task. Maybe because of its closer proximity to the brain?

But being on YouTube has given me some food for thought. And I suppose it’s not just YouTube, but also Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and all these messes of social networks that have noodled into my brain and have me thinking. Just what am I doing? What validation am I seeking?

Checking my YouTube page to see the stats for each of my videos has become a daily habit. Bizarre really, given that I’ve done little to promote the channel and my videos betray my amateur status. There’s little there to justify getting viewer counts in the tens of thousands. Yet, there’s so many on YouTube that have just that. And I can’t help but think how an indie writer could benefit from such a huge following. I mean, that is the reason we’re chasing people on our various networks, right? We talk about warm things like community, support and connections, but the real reason so many indies hit the social web is to gain customers. And perhaps that’s the other reason why my blog hits, video views and twitter followers haven’t exploded; because I’m worried about customers.

Which is stupid given that I currently have nothing to sell (but that’s a whole other post).

My most viewed video on YouTube is a rant about how the current team of people involved with the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie are seeking to change the origins of the characters. Does this have anything to do with my writing? Not even in the most remote sense. And that wasn’t why I made the video in the first place. I did it because I was mad (yes, I am a fanboy). But that upset connected with others. Why?

That’s where the noodling in my head has been stemming from.

The answer I’ve come up with is… sincerity. That video is who I am. I didn’t do it because I wanted book fans to follow me so one day I might sell them a book. I didn’t do it to try and gain hordes of followers. I did it because it struck a true chord in my fanboy heart and I had to say something about it.

I think I’ve been doing things for all the wrong reasons. I think I’ve allowed myself to get sucked into the “gain a following and create a presence” vortex. I’ve spent too much time worrying about how to get people to follow my exploits instead of focusing on the exploits themselves.

So I’ve decided to stop worrying about it. Whether it’s here on the blog, or over on YouTube, it will be a reflection of who I am and what I really feel the need to talk about. If people find that interesting, well, they’re welcome to follow along. In the meantime, I’ll just keep rambling….

News of My Death Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

Wow, a month and a half since my last post. You’d think I’d forgotten this blog existed.

Truth be told, I just haven’t had much to share with the world. The Veil has stalled in edits. I mean, it’s getting there, just a lot slower than I had hoped. But with all things The Veil, I shouldn’t be surprised. That book has always taken longer than I hoped. And perhaps the reason is that I’m not ready for it.

I had a lengthy discussion via email with a fellow writer named Regan Leigh. We were comparing notes on the YA series we had in progress. As I outlined the scope of The Veil, I realised that this thing is big. Maybe too big. With every edit and passing day, I seem to throw more into it. At present, I have 1 book written, another book started & plotted, and two more books with very rough outlines. And that doesn’t even end the blasted thing!

It dawned on me that if I self-published The Veil Book One, I’d be making a deal with my readers that the series would be completed and done so in a timely fashion. Am I ready to dedicate myself to seven years or more on one series? If I’m honest, I’m not. Regan gave me some sage advice; Set aside The Veil until I learn to manage my writing time more efficiently. Stick to more standalone stories until I’m more proficient at organising my thoughts and then I’ll be able to write the Veil series.

It made sense, but was scary at the same time. Because writing a book, it’s like nurturing a child. And when you’ve finally got it to a point where it can walk, stand and think on its own, it’s hard to let go. But I know I need to do that. I’m just not ready to tell that story yet.

Which is not to say writing it was a waste of time. I’ve learned a great deal from it. I’ve also gained the confidence that comes from knowing that I have finished a novel.

In a convenient twist, an idea for a book struck me the other day and I’ve fallen in love with it. It’s a fantasy. I’ll be doing some world building and telling a single story in the one book.

And to push myself to the limit, I’ve signed up for Nanowrimo.

If you’re not familiar with it, that’s National Novel Writing Month, which is in November. The idea is to write a first draft of a novel equaling at least 50,000 words within the month’s time. That works out to approx. 1,667 words a day. Which is a lot more than I’m used to.

To get ready, I’m planning ahead. That’s right, the pantser/write-like-it’s-chess boy is planning ahead! Because that’s one of the lessons I’ve learned from The Veil. The better I had planned a chapter, the faster it was to write. I did have days where I hammered out 2,000 words in a single session. If I plan a whole novel, I’m hoping I can do the same.

During Nanowrimo I’ll be doing more frequent updates here on the blog. Yes, I do intend to breathe some new life into this poor, neglected corner of the web.

I feel great about this new book. It feels like a winner. Hopefully I still feel that way by the end of November.

When Did You Become a Writer?

A bit of a personal blog entry this morning.

Was there a defining moment for you? A point where scraps of stories hidden in folders became work aimed at being published? When was that moment that you started including “Writer” in bios of yourself?

When I was in grade school, I loved to write. There was only one type of assignment I looked forward to and that was creative writing. I was that kid who was assigned a “short” story and turned in a binder with chapters. In those creative and heady moments of youth, seeing my name on a book cover was my singular goal.

But as with most dreams of childhood, I strayed from that path. Other interests and influences pulled me away. Over the years I wrote less and that vision of my name on a cover dimmed.

Fast forward to me in my thirties. I had rediscovered writing, but had no focus. Every story I started was left only partially completed. I had ideas, pages and pages of ideas, but I couldn’t translate that into a finished product. My wife developed a look that said “Will you just shutup and write” that I saw on regular occasion when I started a conversation with “I had an idea for a story…”

My defining moment, the thing that finally made me focus on finishing something, anything, was the death of my father.

My dad left an impression on people. Even now, two years after his death, I still have people that stop me in my work life and tell me how amazing my father was and how he influenced/helped/changed/supported them at some point. I have a set of morals that I can easily trace to my father.

As I mentioned in a previous post, my love of science fiction, fantasy and reading I can trace to hours spent sitting next to my dad watching classic Star Trek and Doctor Who.

When my dad took early retirement, he looked forward to trips with my mom and had thoughts of writing a book about his paramedic days called “Life Under the Lightbar.” You can imagine his dismay when he was diagnosed with lung cancer two weeks after his retirement party. And then a year-and-a-half later, he was gone.

So much planned and dreamed. So much left undone.

As the grief subsided, I realised that dreams shouldn’t be put off. I looked at my pile of half-finished writing and loose ideas and thought, “If I die tomorrow, I don’t want a bunch of half-realised dreams left behind. I need to finish something.”

And now, a first draft is done.

My dreams are larger than just one first draft. What I truly want to leave behind is still incomplete. Which is fine, because I intend/hope to have more time to finish it. But I’m on the road. I feel that I can call myself a writer. I feel less unfulfilled than I did before.

Did you have a defining moment? Was there something in your life that finally pushed you hard enough that you were able to type “The End?”