Author: Clancy Weeks (Page 2 of 3)

Who Knew?

I realized early in my writing career that I was a pantser.  Plotting was something you did only if you got stuck.  And while I’ve gotten myself stuck many times, I’ve never bought into the idea that plotting is a good thing all the time.  Stay with me here, because this post has nothing to do with novel writing.

Anthems – © Clancy Weeks

If you’ve read my blog, you’ll notice I’m writing a new piece for wind ensemble for the first time in years, and what I discovered, much to my surprise, is I’m a pantser with music, too.  Who knew?  I mean, I’ve got literally reams of paper filled with sketches and form outlines for music I composed all those years ago.  And, yes, I’ve kept every scrap over the past fifty years—you never know when you’ll need a theme, incipit, or motive, and even the worst compositions have something useful buried within.  That’s one thing that’s rarely true of storytelling.  If a plot’s bad, it’s bad, and no amount of massaging and window dressing will save it.  With music, I can turn it upside down, run it backward, or do both at the same time, and that crappy little theme transmutes into pure gold.

Anyway… I’ve been pounding away at this piece for a couple of weeks, and just today noticed I haven’t lifted a pencil or gone to the piano a single time.  Instead, I’ve committed the most egregious error in all of music—doing it all on my computer without even a midi keyboard for assistance.  It’s kind of freeing, in a way; I don’t get bogged down in details, and I don’t have to wait to hear what I wrote.  If I want to try a specific chord, melody, rhythm, tone cluster—whatever—I only have to enter it, press play, and hear it in all its instrumental glory.  Don’t like the harmony?  Nudge a note or two up or down.  Don’t like the rhythm?  Scrap it and try again.

When I started this project, I had six weeks to write eight minutes of music for large ensemble.  Any composer worth their salt will tell you that’s a tall order.  For one, we need near absolute silence while we audiate the gestalt of the section we’re writing in our head.  Most times, when stuck, I’ll take a road trip on my Roadstar.  Well, I’ve already committed over five minutes of fully orchestrated music to “paper”, and I still have about three weeks left.  Unless I hit a major road bump, I’ll finish this with time to spare.

Selene – © Clancy Weeks

I actually did something similar about six or seven years ago, cranking out a seven-minute work for full orchestra in just two weeks.  Sure, I stole bits from the piano sonata I wrote in college, but I did everything else at my computer.  The entire process was nearly painless, and even when I was almost finished and realized something was missing, I added that with zero effort.

So… I’m a pantser.

I wonder if that works for relationships…

Winterset Hollow: A Review

As an author, every article on how to catch an agent’s interest says the number one, most important thing I can do is grab their attention and hold it from the first ten pages.  The first page, if that’s possible.  Until I read Winterset Hollow, I don’t think I’d seen an author do that more than a handful of times, yet Jonathan Durham succeeds within the first paragraph.  To be perfectly honest, he manages this trick before the story even begins with his deft use of verse from the fictional children’s book of the same name.

Without giving away too much, this is a complex tale with many layers of meaning.  Its veneer is a thin layer of “be careful what you wish for” but beneath that, it’s got a darker heart beating to the rhythm of vengeance by any means necessary.  Other themes abound, but, for me, the central was one man’s quest for who he was as a person, and how much was a gift from his ancestors.

Winterset Hollow, the children’s book written by Edward Addington, is a story in verse of a diverse group of animals living together in harmony within the titular hollow.  When Runnington Rabbit hops the hedge to satisfy his curiosity, he sets in motion a series of events that must end in death.  While the depth of story in the fictional book reminds me of Watership Down, the verse makes the somber tale palatable in a way only good verse can. I’d love to see Durham complete that work and publish it separately; his poetry is really that good.

Eamon, Mark, and Caroline in the “real” world, each resemble one of the four bloodthirsty fictional characters that leapt from the pages of their favorite book bent on bloody murder, and it is only the bond of the three that offers them any chance of surviving Barley Day. But more than that, Eamon must lean on the teachings of an unbalanced father who abandoned him in the forest, coming to terms with what the man did to prepare him for such a day as this.

Not every character gets their moment in the sun the way Eamon does, yet we learn so much of the antagonists—Runny, Finn, Bing, and Flack—and their motivations, it’s difficult to hate them as they hunt and kill those who came to honor them.  It’s this depth of character that makes Winterset Hollow so wonderful a read; every motivation for good or evil is plausible and understandable.

There’s a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming until I was over three quarters of the way through the novel, and that revelation is one final push for Eamon and his last act.  The only issue I have with the writing are the number of miraculous escapes Eamon has from what even he sees as certain death, each time musing on its meaning in relation to his life.  Once is enough.  More than that is overkill.  Aside from this one niggle, though, the novel is brilliant and deeply affective.  This is one that will stay with you for days or weeks after you turn the last page.

A discussion about homework…

I had a discussion yesterday with my wife—currently an elementary music teacher—about the state of education in general, and education in Texas, specifically.  We also have a son who is a freshman in high school.  But first, let’s take a ride in the Wayback Machine™.

When I was in school, back when dinosaurs were still in the planning stage, our teachers gave us homework almost daily, and we’d drop the completed assignments in a box on their desk at the beginning of each class.  This was especially helpful in skill classes like math, or where memorization was an important component.

Over the intervening decades, we’ve learned a lot about learning: how it works, what affects retention, faster methods, better pathways toward synthesis, and the like.  Educators have also learned more about motivation, but that’s a subject for another day.

The problem in this country—and primarily in Texas—is we haven’t done a good job adjusting for these new realities and their relation to homework.  A lot of valid research suggests homework is not a valuable component of learning.  It does, in fact, as I can attest, add to the stress levels of students, reducing their ability to learn and retain material.  But—and this is an important “but”—teachers are almost required to teach to THE TEST.  That thing that determines if a student advances, or graduates, if the school gets adequate funding, and if the teacher keeps their job.  This leads to stress increasing at every level.  I’m going to ignore how Covid-19 affects all this for now, but rest assured, it doesn’t help.

What happens now is teachers try to teach based on best practices regarding homework, yet the dual realities of standardized testing and time constraints practically requires homework.  The number of minutes in a class has not increased since I was in high school—the opposite, in fact, has happened—yet, without assigning homework, teachers must present the material, determine if the students understand, then give them time in class to practice and demonstrate what they’ve learned.  If there are hiccups, teachers must repeat the entire process.  There just isn’t enough time to do all this, so they encourage students to finish the assignment at home.  But students are no longer used to regular homework assignments, so they fail to complete, fall behind, then are swamped as the unfinished work piles up.  This has led to unprecedented levels of stress in students, parents and teachers.

Teachers cannot escape this trap, because THE TEST and BEST PRACTICES won’t let them; teachers are literally caught between a rock and a hard place.  Their only hope is to ignore the fucking test!

You didn’t read that wrong.  I taught for many years, and once, when I was interviewing for a promotion within the district, I stated flatly to a question about THE TEST, “teach the material, teach the fundamentals, and the test will take care of itself”.  Most of the committee hated that answer, but one principal—the one with the highest campus scores—muttered “hell yeah”.

I remember they fired that guy a year later.

The upshot of my diatribe is that it is long past time for teachers, students, and parents to ignore the goddamn TEST and focus on fundamentals, and this begins with assigning regular homework where students can practice what they’ve learned in small chunks.  Either that, or administrators must lengthen class periods to accommodate the new reality.

The second won’t happen, but teachers can implement the former on their own.  Their students will thank them for it.

Ever feel like you’re screaming into the wind?

Sometimes (and by that, I mean all the time) I wonder what I’m doing all this for. It’s not like people really care about what I write–and that’s okay… no one cares about what most people write. There’s a reason for that. Two, really. One is time. Most people these days just don’t have enough of it. The second is due to Sturgeon’s Law–80% of everything is crap. People know this instinctively, and budget their time accordingly. They stick to the writers they know and like and are often unwilling to take a chance on anyone new. Hence the reason most sales of new writers go to friends and family, and usually only the one time. Even your friends figure out quickly enough whether or not you’re someone they’re willing to add to their list of “writers”.

With that in mind, I offer a little story here for you to dip your toes into the icy river of my words…

An Illusion of Night

by Clancy Weeks

Everything leaked—the window, three bulkheads, seals, and the port reaction chamber; the worst were Will’s head and Paul’s own abdomen, and the second he plugged with two quick squirts of Heal-It.  There was nothing he could do for Will, and Lena had trapped herself in the airlock.  Next up was the port engine before their universe went boom, but unless he got into an EVA suit soon, it wouldn’t matter.  Paul’s trachea burned with every icy breath, and the ship’s alarm faded with every second; in moments, hard vacuum would reduce it to a vibration he could sense only through his boots.

He ran to the nearest locker and shrugged on the suit, ignoring pre-check protocols.  The collar on the helmet clicked home when he gave it a quarter turn, and air flowed instantly to his aching lungs.  Before he could descend the ladder to the port engine, a fierce rumble vibrated up his boots, through his legs, and into his brain.

“God da—”

***RESET***

“I’m not goin’ in there.”  Will shook his head violently, the white-knuckled grip on his weapon never wavering.  “Why me, anyway?”

Paul eyed him with a frown, then pasted a smile on his face.  “Because you’re the better shot.”  Without waiting for further argument, he opened the hatch and shoved the boy through, dogging it closed behind him.  The kid stared through the porthole with wide eyes, then spun at a sound from the darkened depths of the hold.

One, two, three shots rang out, vibrating the floor plates under Paul’s boots.  There was a short, high-pitched scream, and a bucket of blood splashed over the porthole.  The beast that had once been Lena had just pureed Will, then pressed a leathery snout against the glass and licked it clean.  Paul pointed his weapon, hands shaking, and blew the glass out with a single blast, accomplishing nothing more than enraging the creature.  She bashed the door, and Paul retreated.

Not fast enough.

The metal screamed, and the door popped open like a can of biscuit dough.  She gripped the ragged metal and pushed the door wide; head and body revealed an inch at a time.  Paul fired into her abdomen and head with no effect, and she lunged and seized him around his chest.  She tore the rifle away, taking most of his right arm with it.  He cried out in agony, his vision blurry from pain and rapid blood loss, but clear enough to see her mouth open wide.  Rows and rows of glistening teeth awaited, and he smelled Will’s blood on her hot breath as she—

***RESET***

The upper half of Will’s body exploded in a fountain of gore, bits of bone and brain raining over Paul’s head.  The creature lifted Lena high into the air, its roar of rage shaking the ground, and he shouldered the weapon and prayed this time his aim was true.  He took a deep breath and pulled the—

***PAUSE***

Dr. Jackson lifted his hand from the control panel and rubbed his temple.  The power of the machine humming through every surface faded, then stopped.

“Why did you do that?”  Inspector Janet Hardison stood on the other side of Paul’s body, studying the holo-field over his head.  “We’re close.”

“He’s spiraling, Detective.”  He shifted from rubbing his temple to scratching the five o’clock shadow on his cheek.  “The longer he’s inside, the greater the chance of trapping him in a loop.”

Janet rubbed the side of her nose with a forefinger.  “I think we were close a few iterations back.”  She frowned and furrowed her brow.  “Can you re-run from there?”

“Yes, but—”

“Do it.”  Her tone left no room for argument.

“How long do you plan to continue?”

She sneered.  “The man murdered his wife and son, Doctor.  I want that confession.”

“How long?”

Janet straightened.  “As long as it takes.”

***RESET***

Will’s body lay splayed on the ground, his head a mess of red oatmeal, while Lena screamed under the weight of the bald man with all the tattoos.  A wave of déjà vu washed over Paul as the other bikers struck him over and over with their lead pipes.  How many times had he been here?  A thousand?  Two?

Blood poured from a deep cut on his forehead into his eyes.  They burned and blurred, but he refused to close them.  One leather-faced animal wound up like a major leaguer and—

***RESET***

Mask up, idiots…

So, way back in the dark ages of 2019, I read a brief article about a novel virus called SARS-CoV-2—what we commonly refer to as COVID-19.  Friends of mine were already saying this wasn’t gonna be any worse than the flu, but I paid attention.  I told them that if we didn’t take it seriously, the entire country would shut down.

I don’t claim to be a virologist or immunologist, but I listened in all my science classes, and I’ve read widely my entire life.  Especially now that I write Sci-Fi.

A few months later, and the death rate from this flu-like virus proves to be ten times the worst flu epidemic, and I told everyone we would shut down the schools soon.  Later, I said they wouldn’t open on time in September.  A very intelligent friend told me things would get back to normal by Christmas of 2020, and I reminded him of human nature.  My exact statement was “People are stupid, and we’re gonna see wave after wave of variations for years.  He countered with “But viruses always mutate to lower virulence,” meaning they become less deadly with successive generations.

I say all the above in hope people reading will believe me when I write here that we haven’t seen the worst yet.  While it’s true viruses become less deadly as they mutate, that’s with a normal life-cycle.  What we are doing with this is definitely not normal.  We could either let it run its course and burn itself out by everyone getting it and hence creating a modicum of herd immunity (not optimal because of the death rate) or we could vaccinate and take simple precautions and achieve the same result without the high number of deaths.

What we’ve chosen (and by we I mean the idiot anti-vaxers) is the worst possible path—limited vaccination and huge numbers of super-spreader events.  From this, we’re going to get random mutations in selected populations, and some of these will be more virulent.  If we keep this up, we may see a death rate rivaling the bubonic plague.  I remind readers that the plague had a 13% mortality rate among treated patients, and a 50%-60% mortality rate for those untreated.

In short, please help us save the world.  Mask up and get vaccinated, or us survivors get to divide up all your stuff when society collapses.

Feel free to comment below, but COVID misinformation will be deleted.

When pantsing isn’t enough…

In the universe of authors, there are really only two forms of intelligent life: “plotters” and “pantsers”.  I admit it—I’m a “pantser”.  I open my Surface, fire up Scrivner, and let the words fly without a single thought about the plot.  Sure, I have an overarching whisper of a hint of a possible idea, but I rarely know the complete picture going in.  In fact, a novel I have been working on for years is mired in writer’s block hell because the entire story is already in my head, and I can’t put it on paper well enough to do it justice.

I usually start in the middle of the action, pulling a character out of thin air, place him/her on the page, and start throwing crap at them until they react.  No matter how detailed I make my character sketch, though, the damn buggers always seem to have a mind of their own.  Sometimes a new character will just barge into a scene without even asking, mucking up the grand schemes of my protagonist.  I rarely know what will come out of their mouths until I type the words.  A few have even refused to exit the story when their fifteen minutes is up.

What happens, though, when pantsing isn’t enough?

I once wrote a serialized novel for the website Channillo and reached the painful conclusion that I have to at least plan better.  I like to write a chapter in a single shot, then go back and revise, sometimes not reconciling plot holes with earlier and later chapters until the first full revision.  Sometimes I move scenes around or add new characters.

That simply can’t happen when you’re posting individual chapters online as soon as they’re finished.

Sure, I can make cosmetic corrections such as spelling, grammar, or some minor word choices.  What I can’t do is change the plot after the fact, since doing so makes everything your audience has read wasted effort.  That’s a great recipe for losing readers.

I remember a certain television show based on a bestseller setting up a major character, with a major storyline that should have had an arc that lasted at least to the final season, only to see it all wiped out in a single scene.  Worse, it made every scene leading up to that completely pointless.

I nearly threw a book at the screen.

Don’t be that guy.  Those writers make me see red.

Ugh…

Cover reveal…

Just a quick note to show you guys the cover to my first horror novel, The Ward. I plan to release this in both print and Kindle formats in February. I’m also trying a new size format for this book, making it more like something you’d find in a bookstore–something a bit more pocketable.

Comments are welcome!

Superman is NOT of Krypton!

Let’s get this out of the way up front:  I am not a physicist, nor have I made an in-depth study of the subject.  I also am no Superman geek who knows the entire canon.  What I am is a science fiction writer with a better than fair passing knowledge of the character, and someone who was able to successfully explain the ending of Lost to my friends.  That, right there, is qualification enough.

I’ve been thinking about Superman’s various powers over the years and have spent much time arguing with fellow comic book fans over who is the better superhero in the DC universe, The Man of Steel, or Batman.  Setting aside Batman’s obvious mental illness, Superman still comes out on top every time.  “But Batman has beaten him more than once!” they say, as if that matters.

Riddle me this—Why doesn’t Superman just nuke him from orbit?  The reason is obvious—Superman is actively trying not to kill his friend, but Batman has no such compunction.  He fights like a lunatic, and the battle is therefore asymmetrical.  I laugh at those who say Batman doesn’t kill—take a look at decades of comic history for the real story.

So, after settling the issue of greatest (at least in my mind), we come to the meat of the Batfriends’ major complaint—Superman is a god, and therefore is cheating as a superhero.

But, for the first time, I reveal here that Superman is no god.  He doesn’t, in fact, have any powers at all.

What?

For an explanation, we must travel far back in time.

Krypton, by all accounts, was a planet orbiting a Red Giant.  A Red Giant star is very old, at the far end of its lifespan, and by most theories began as a sun much as our own.  At the end of its life, with much of its hydrogen burnt, it feasts on the helium and iron byproducts and swells into a Red Giant and swallows the inner planets as it expands.  What’s left are the gas giants that were once orbiting far outside the habitable zone.  Much of the gas on these planets would be stripped away by the solar wind as the star expanded, leaving a smaller—though still massive—rocky, or even a crystal core.  Krypton is one of these.

A planet such as Krypton might be more than four times Earth’s mass, with a toxic atmosphere and very low surface temperature.  And it was here the “Kryptonians”, already a starfaring race, settled a small community to mine the planet for resources.  These proto-Kryptonians were much like us (let’s just go with that for now) and could never have withstood the gravity or atmosphere, so they altered themselves with nano-technology to give them the ability to live on the planet without the need for environment suits.  The nanites are intelligent enough to give the people whatever abilities are required for each given circumstance and are powered by the radiation from the Red Giant.

Why nanites and not simply altering DNA?  Because the proto-Kryptonians traveled to other planets, and each had their own needs.

At some point in Kryptonian history, they became a separate and distinct colony from their homeworld—far enough removed that they no longer remembered their origins.  It was possibly due to an interstellar war, cutting off the distant colony, and leaving them to fend for themselves.  This might explain their reluctance to leave a dying planet.

Once Kal-El arrived on Earth, our yellow sun—much richer in the radiation spectrum than Krypton’s sun—supercharged the nanites with the energy they needed to endow Superman with his abilities, and even explains his evolving powers over the years.  The machines in his body give him the abilities he needs when he needs them.  It clarifies his ability to stop a falling plane instead of just punching through it—the nanites forcefield emitted to protect him envelops whatever he is trying to stop.  This even explains the effect kryptonite has on him but not humans.  The radiation interferes with the normal functions of the nanites, not his biological systems, and is why he heals so quickly once the kryptonite is removed.

This is why he is the hero he is.  He knows the nanites could fail at any given moment—that he could die at any time without their help—yet he charges head-first into every dangerous situation.  This guy commits, and he does it on pure faith.

Every single so-called plot hole is filled (maybe even Bizzaro) with reliance on the technology we know the Kryptonians possessed.

Deus ex machina, indeed.

Superman may have come from Krypton, but he is not of Krypton.

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