Back on Hiatus

Hey, everyone. I’m going to keep this one short.

First thing’s first . . . I hated last week’s post. I rushed through something I’d intended to be important and beautiful. While at the Met, I’d taken a bunch of pictures I intended to use in “The Emperor’s Gun,” explaining how much inspiration museums provide for worldbuilding. Here’s one of those pics:

LS-BackonHiatus1

And here’s another:

LS-BackonHiatus2

The idea was to talk about how limited our understanding of the world would be without help. Without the desire to learn — particularly to do research — we’re left to assume how cultures work, and how our past happened. And, yeah, knowing that is important for us as human beings, of course, but, in terms of writing, we wind up grasping at straws and deviating into ridiculous, nonsense plots if we don’t make an effort to understand our own history and that of others.

Unfortunately, all of this fell to the wayside because I was burnt out from work, trying to post at 2AM. I wound up settling for a short, confused post about a gun. And, sure, back when I was a kid, that gun had blown my mind, and started me down the road to an important lesson . . .

. . . but I would’ve preferred to take my time. Write something that actually felt poignant. It upsets me that I didn’t.

It also upsets me that, in about two hours, it will be August — just one month until September 1st.

At which point it will be a year since I was published for the first time. My entire goal for this year had been to get another short story published.

Instead, I got a promotion — a good thing, for sure — and then spent the majority of the year struggling through the first chapters of a new book. I finished a final edit of Memory as well — also good — but I should’ve planned better. Should’ve known my limits.

What I’m saying is, I don’t regret writing here more — my stint of posting every day was a bunch of fun — but I genuinely need to dial it back. I said this exact thing a few months ago when I stopped posting every day, but that was a half-measure. I’m a man who’s only had one piece published, posting on his blog every week about writing theory.

It just feels ridiculous. And, maybe it’s taken this long for the glow of “Aixa the Hexcaster” to die down, but, once again, it feels like I have no right to talk about my process here.

It feels like the part of me that wants to keep posting is the last bit of young douchebag Louis. The guy who started this blog and almost immediately wrote that a classic fantasy series was lacking because one edition’s cover was bad.

No. No, I refuse to be that wildly bling guy anymore.

What I’m saying is, I’m not an amazing writer. And I’m not going to post on here every day until I become an amazing writing. I’m going to dial this blog back to “one post when I have something important to say,” because, otherwise, I’m just rambling on here. Or I just feel like I’m rambling, and that’s all the same.

I have many, many goals, and I have to start working on those without distractions, set up to pamper me.

This blog is one of those distractions.

Thank you to everyone who’s supported me here over the past year. You guys have absolutely kept me going. I’ve never had this steady of an audience, and it’s been every bit as validating as getting my work published. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone who’s commented, everyone who’s subscribed, everyone who’s Liked a post. I will, without a doubt, write you again.

But, for now, I have to pick up my big boy pen and become the writer I’ve always wanted to be.

~~~

My name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx, trying to become a professional before it’s too late for me. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster” was published in 2016 at Mirror Dance Fantasy, and I’m currently preparing three more pieces for submission. I no longer post here on a set schedule, but if you’d like an email notification when I do — my words delivered right to your inbox — then please subscribe at the bottom of this page. All I get from posting on this blog is support from readers, but that support means the world to me.

Until next time, thank you again. And, as always, write well.

Let’s Talk About: The Emperor’s Pistol

I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art this past Wednesday.

It was the beginning of a new trend I’ve started of just getting out of the house. Maybe it’s in celebration of finishing the edit of Memory.

More likely, it’s just an intense desire to be out having fun when I have the freedom to do so. In particular, I’m trying to go out with friends more often — trying to work my life into a legitimate TV show with a full cast of characters.

Because of course I have to think of them as a cast of characters.

Whatever, the point is, I wanted to head to the Met . . . because, back in February, when I started posting on here every day, I mentioned wanting to go there and write about it.

Not just because it’s an awesome museum that I genuinely get lost in every time I visit.

But because it’s where I, as a kid, had an epiphany that made me the writer I am today.

And that epiphany centers on this:

TheEmperorsPistol

Yes, it’s a gun. Nothing could seem more crass, I know, but bear with me.

This is a pistol made for Emperor Charles V by Peter Peck, a maker of watches and guns, back in the 1500’s.

It is, as you can clearly see . . . absolutely insane with detail. The etchings. The detailing on its curved grip. I have no idea how functional this thing could’ve been.

But, when I was young, I didn’t care about that.

Because, when I first saw this gun, all it did was confuse me.

Much in the same way that it’s confusing the first time you find out that Batman didn’t start with Christian Bale, Michael Keaton, or even Adam West.

“Wait . . . There were guns before the guns I’ve seen my whole life?

“But . . . we have them now.”

For whatever reason, it felt like some kind of cosmic betrayal. Like the world was messing with me. Not only had we had them, but they were actually beautiful hundreds of years ago, “when they were way harder to make . . . How does that even work?”

The answer was something that stuck with me. Something that’s prevalent in all of my work, whether I want it to be or not.

It’s the knowledge that I don’t know everything. That I, as a human being, am inherently stupid and limited in my ability to perceive the world around me. The past — the eternal majority of human existence — is a thing I can only know snippets about if someone else I don’t know compiled information about it for everyone — before I was born.

My knowledge, I discovered that day, is the sum of the scattered things I can try to learn about the past . . . and my own stupid, human assumptions.

Like that there weren’t guns hundreds of years ago.

This is the reason why I think about what’s happening 10 feet below me sometimes. With no provocation, I sometimes try to imagine what’s happening 10 feet below me — at home, on the street, or wherever there’s solid ground — and I realize that I have no idea. There is, in fact, no way I can ever know exactly what’s happening 10 feet below me. Unless a) I’m falling, or b) I’m in one of those boats with a glass bottom, to which I argue, a) Oh shit! I’m falling!?, and b) Oooh. Are there sharks?

This 10 feet down talk also applies to you — right now. Apologies if you’re paranoid, but the caveat is that you don’t have to worry what’s going on down there. If you’re in an apartment, it’s someone else’s apartment 10 feet down — none of your business. If you’re in a private house, the cat’s down there, maybe, and that’s none of your business either — even if they’re clawing up the furniture. That’s their night and you’re not a part of it, because you’re up here, reading this post.

The point is . . . our thoughts aren’t unique. Our ideas aren’t original.

When I looked at that gun, I had the first spark of the realization that humanity had not started with me. And I wasn’t the pinnacle of it.

And, despite how all of this sounds . . . I thought that was amazing.

The idea that fantasy could be more complicated — that humanity hundreds of years ago had already been more complex than I thought — blew my mind.

And that freedom — to make things complicated — is at the center of everything I write.

And, of course, I use it to promote the notion that we, as humans, aren’t perfect and all-knowing. Because that idea is beautiful and fascinating to me. It’s humbling.

And it’s reassuring to know that I don’t know everything.

And I never, ever can.

~~~

It’s 2AM and I . . . really need to get to sleep, so I’m going to keep this short. Thank you again for reading. I know this one got here at the end of the week too, but I’m going to keep trying to balance work, writing, and my personal life in the non-stop Spider-Man dance that is my life. I’m actually considering taking a break from the blog again just to get my handful of projects into submissions, but we’ll see what happens.

Anyway, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process — still trying to figure it out — which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email — a new post from me delivered right to your inbox — then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

Thank you just for passing by, and, as always, write well.

 

The Plot, As It Is Now

Hi there. Apologies for this one being late, but I used my days off this week to hunker down and finish editing Memory: Shadow of the Lord Sun. I completed it on Tuesday, then had to work the rest of the week until today, so sacrifices were made.

I’m still really happy about it though, because I’ve been struggling with this last edit for a long time.

With it, I had to fix one huge issue that kept smothering my queries: the beginning of the novel — a part that needs to impress — was weird, confused nonsense. It is, as I’ve said in previous posts, my curse as a discovery writer; I start with something meant to catch the eye, then figure out what the rest of the story is, but when the story’s done, it creates a world in which the intro no longer makes sense. Figuring out a fun, new intro without completely breaking the story, was difficult . . .

. . . because I felt like I was getting closer and closer to that point when you, as a writer, hit the foundations. When you decide, “Well, this important part of the story should maybe be completely different . . . Yeah! Let me completely redo it!” But completely changing the one thing turns into, “Let me change all the things!” so easily. In my youth, I thought that was fine. As an adult, I’m way less keen to give up on a story that has merit in order to change it into a completely new story. I acknowledge, these days, that those new ideas are meant to be short stories, or different novels altogether. I also acknowledge that scrapping and creating a new story is the easy way out.

Because it’s easier and safer to never finish a project. If you keep editing forever, you don’t have to deal with rejection. You don’t have to actually make sure any of your subplots have pay-off. If you keep editing forever, you get to keep feeling like you’re making progress, even when you aren’t. You get to tell a skeptical friend, “I’m making it way, way better!” even though you aren’t making it better — you’re making it different.

There’s a point when you just have to stop editing. When you have to accept that the manuscript you have is the one you’re going to put out there.

I have absolutely hit that point with this novel; a lot of the changes I made this time around were erasing changes I made in previous edits. Because I’ve reached the point where I’m just tweaking the plot based on my mood. There’s nothing else to do aside from making sure that the plot, as it is now . . . is cleanly and tactfully presented. On that note, there is one scene that I actually have to revisit (the new dream sequence) to make sure it’s as intense as it’s supposed to be, but that will take a day, tops.

And, regardless, I can still strap in . . . for the unbridled joy of submissions. Today, I can work on my submission package, editing the synopsis accordingly. And, yes, the synopsis is right up there with cover letters on the list of Things I Hate Writing, but at least this time, I’m writing a synopsis for a plot that makes total sense, instead of trying to hide an intro that’s strangely incongruous.

More than anything, though, I’m excited to get back to short stories. I’m going to tank the next few months on three in particular: Lokisday, A Dead God in A Silent Realm, and Hard Reset.

It’s going to be . . . amazing.

My plan for this year was to get another short story published. I got a little distracted by the promotion at work, but I’m getting back on track, and it feels great.

~~~

Thanks for reading. I’m going to grab lunch, come back, play a video game, then work on that synopsis . . . Yeah, ya know what? I’ll pick up some wine while I’m out there.

Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process — still trying to figure it out — which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email — a new post from me delivered right to your inbox — then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

Thank you just for passing by, and, as always, write well.

Things Not Felt

I have a hard time with affection.

I always have. I was just a kid when my father left, but before he did, he was still an asshole. I don’t have a memory of him doing anything kind or saying anything nice. In my “best” memories of him, he just sat in the background, replying harshly to things other people said.

In my enduring memory of him, he picked up a desk and threw it at my mother.

More than anything though, I remember when he left. It’s a strange thought to this day; my family was victimized by him, but he was the one who left us.

I remember my brother and mother crying . . .

. . . while I stood there, confused. He treats us bad . . . so why are we sad that he’s gone? I remember hugging my mother. And I remember not crying.

And, to this day, I haven’t shed a tear for him. A few years ago, he tried to get in touch, because he was in the hospital. If context clues serve me right, he probably died off camera. That’s fine by me.

The thing is, I was still young when he split, so that experience left me with a (potentially) unhealthy outlook on the concepts of loyalty and affection.

Mainly, I have a hard time not cutting emotional ties.

I have, over the course of my life, cut off so many people. Just left and right, friends and family. I have no idea if I’ve had more or fewer assholes in my life, but, despite every situation being different, the cleanest solution has been to drop them. To try to work out whatever problems first, of course, but I still wound up cutting off the majority of them when diplomacy inevitably went south.

. . . I wonder how this affects my writing.

There are obvious ways; I mean, my comfort zone is escapist fantasy.

But maybe my issue with affection is the reason I would never write epic fantasy (well, the reason aside from epic fantasy’s massive gravitational pull, crushing different stories into similar shapes)? Maybe I just don’t like the idea of a large cast of characters coming together and being best buddies, because that just doesn’t feel real to me.

There are people I genuinely care for in my life, but the vast majority of the people I meet are self-centered pricks, standing tall and loudly, proudly proclaiming, “I am such an asshole!” and then smiling as it echoes, not realizing they’re hearing their peers shout the same goddamn thing. It seems wrong to feel all of that . . . and then write stories where everyone’s a good guy except for the villains. The world just doesn’t shake down that easily.

Maybe this is also why I hate writing stories about royalty? The idea of a noble patriarch feels like utter bullshit, so that common backbone of the fantasy genre falls flat for me. And it takes all of its trappings with it. Dragons, wizards, prophesied heroes.

. . . Maybe I’m just writing the wrong genre.

Maybe I should stop writing this before it turns into a full rant.

~~~

Thanks for reading. I know this was a weird one; I’m just in a weird mood tonight.

My name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process — still trying to figure it out — which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email — a new post from me delivered right to your inbox — then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

Once again, thank you for reading. And, as always, write well.

Writer’s Workshop #5 – “Let’s Dance”

Disclaimer: I went in . . . really hard on the “I’m going to start posting whatever day of the week” thing. If this is your first time hearing this, yes, expect posts on days other than Monday. My work schedule continues to demand flexibility from the rest of my life, so I’m now officially posting on whatever day I have off. I will always aim for “before the weekend” though.

Anyway, thanks for popping in for a read!

 

The other day, I was texting a friend.

She was bored at work, and I, being the world’s biggest enabler, suggested, “Why not try a little writing?”

She perked up, totally went for it . . . and asked me for writing prompts.

Huh . . . It’s not like I have something against writing prompts, but I never do them. Even when they’re posed to me, I have a hard time working on one instead of just gravitating toward a WIP.

So, with that said, I’ve definitely never made one up.

Still, this friend is “The Best Person in the World” on my phone, so I wasn’t going to let her down.

I came up with two prompts . . . both of which came easily, to my surprise.

  1. Your favorite character from the book you’re reading walks into you job. Sure, it could be someone who looks like them . . . but you can’t shake the feeling it’s really them. Is there some way to find out? Some way to ask without being rude or weird?
  2. A living, breathing ostrich walks into your job. No one else sees it, but maybe that’s because it seems tame; it’s not squawking or running around. In fact, it’s just standing there, calmly looking around before expectantly looking at you. There’s a note tied to its neck.

My friend did the first prompt, which she left off with a cliffhanger I’m still curious about.

But, me? I’ve decided I have to do the ostrich prompt. Enjoy.

~~~

It was often quiet at the reception desk. Hours would pass with only the occasional phone call — people ringing to ask the same three questions. After long enough, reception started to feel like its own pocket dimension; was there really an outside? Did people ever see each other, or did they just call to ask, “When are you closing today?”

“6PM, sir/ma’am.”

“Okay! Thanks!”

I mean, what else would people say to each other? Louis wondered.

And that’s when the doors beside the reception desk banged open — the antechamber giving Louis a chance to jump awake and straighten his shirt. Some other poor soul had stumbled into this quiet hell, and Louis was determined to at least nod to them.

But, when he looked up with a casual smirk, there was an ostrich standing at his desk.

Louis went wide-eyed and leaned back. Ages previous, he’d been in the hallway of the Bronx Zoo’s education department when a kangaroo had walked out and started aggressively gnawing at his shoe laces. It hadn’t actually hurt him, but it could’ve. It was big enough . . .

. . . and this was a giant bird. It was looking down at him, triggering his fear of cassowaries.

Only . . . the longer Louis stared, the calmer this ostrich seemed. The quieter. He glanced at the security desk, where an officer sat, staring at a screen of camera feeds. She hadn’t even turned around. Why? Did she not hear it?

Or am I . . . hallucinating this ostrich?

With a deep breath, Louis nodded to the silent creature.

And it quirked its head to one side — a small gesture that unsettled the pink bow around its neck just enough for Louis to realize it wasn’t a bow at all.

“Is –,” Louis began without thinking. Rule #1 of Being Crazy: At least try not to be crazy in public. If the ostrich wasn’t there, he’d be talking to an empty office.

Thankfully, the security officer was still staring at her camera feeds.

Quietly, Louis waved the ostrich closer.

There was something tied to its neck.

Careful, gentle, Louis reached up and untied a small roll of parchment. He wanted to ask the ostrich, “For me?” but it wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t — he was going to read it regardless.

As quietly as he could, he unrolled the parchment, and squinted at words in a neat, flowing hand.

“Let’s dance.”

Music came on. A simple jam of loud, obnoxious synth bass on a five second loop.

The ostrich started bobbing its head to the beat. Then started doing ungraceful hops around the reception desk.

Louis narrowed his eyes. No . . . I refuse to believe I’m this crazy.

When the ostrich started squawking, the security officer spun around, cried out, and jumped to her feet, cursing. She rushed off, shouting into her radio . . .

. . . as the antechamber door banged open . . .

. . . and Louis jumped awake, straightened his shirt, looked up.

His relief was smirking at him. “Lunch time, dude.”

As he stood, Louis saw a feather on the floor, caught in the breeze from outside. It was obviously a pigeon feather.

But Louis still smiled as his dumb kid brain gasped, wide-eyed. “It wasn’t a dream!”

~~~

Well, there it is. The first writing prompt I’ve ever committed to. Really, it was just another opportunity for me to write something weird, so how could I pass it up?

I hope you enjoyed this one, and, as always, thank you so much just for passing by and giving me a read.

My name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process — still trying to figure it out — which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email — a new post from me delivered right to your inbox — then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

May your dreams tonight be filled with dancing animals. And, as always, write well.

 

“What if it doesn’t work out?”

At my local Dunkin Donuts, I’m sitting at a small table, a friend and former coworker swiping over it with a napkin.

“So, I’m just gonna talk to you a minute–just a short thing about the company I work for. It’ll just take 20 minutes, tops.”

The table clear of crumbs, he pulls out a laptop, setting it up between us. It’s an old Mac Book. A strip of tape over the camera makes for interesting characterization.

I’d already realized this hangout was a mistake, but the gravity of that mistake becomes clear when he boots up a presentation for what is obviously a pyramid scheme.

I wonder, How did I let this happen?

You were excited to hang out with someone new, that’s how.

Oh, right. I had just been at a party with coworkers the previous night and that was pretty fun. I was expecting to ride out my hangover with some coffee and a chat. But now, I–oh God, he’s talking.

“. . . your plans for the future?”

I send this half-sentence to the Forensics Department of my brain. There’s an awkward pause; all departments are working on a delay this morning. Finally, results come in from the lab: “What are your plans for the future?”

“Oh. Well, I’m going to keep working the promotion at [my current job] for a year, then try for another promotion or get a job somewhere else. At this point in my life, that’s what I have to do.”

“Right, right. What about your writing?”

Huh. I don’t know why, but it’s always been difficult to talk to coworkers about my writing. There are some who are genuinely interested, others who pretend to be.

As this is a pyramid scheme presentation, that question–like all questions–is obviously a calculated tactic. Still, there’s no easy way to opt out of answering.

“Yeah. I’ll still be writing.”

“Okay. Well, what are your plans for the next five years with that? What’s your goal?”

“I need to get more short stories published. Then keep working on novels and get those published. Realistically, in five years, I’d like to have at least one novel published.”

“Ah. I gotcha. And what if it doesn’t work out?”

For a heartbeat, I’m just staring. I remind myself that this is a pyramid scheme. He’s asking because he wants you to think about your dreams failing–make you desperate enough to sign up for whatever company he’s with.

But still . . .

I imagine him sitting down with a painter, smiling as he asks, “What happens if your work becomes unpopular?”

A doctor: “What happens if your license gets revoked?”

Anyone: “What happens if you fail?”

I blink. I want to say, “I promise you . . . that whatever you’re selling? I’m not buying it. I will never buy it. I’ve been working my ass off for years, writing bad novels, writing bad short stories, trying to figure out how to make work that’s actually good. I’m still trying, still working on it, and you sit me down to throw that in my face.

“If I’m still not published in 5 years, I’ll still be writing. I’ll be doing something else for the bulk of my money, but I’ll still be trying to write good fiction, because that’s just a part of who I am. I don’t do it to make a ton of money–I know that I’ll probably never be able to live off of my writing–but that doesn’t matter. I’ve wanted to write fiction since I was ten. I will continue writing it, in whatever capacity, until I’m dead.”

But I don’t say any of this to him.

To a degree, I don’t want to offend someone who I still consider a friend.

But also . . . I realize that sitting there, getting a full pyramid scheme presentation, unsolicited, would be fantastic research.

So, instead, I look wistfully into the distance, and shake my head. “Ya know, I don’t know. I’ve never thought about it.”

~~~

Thanks for reading.

By way of update, my Memory edit is over its dream sequence hump; the rest of it should be done by the end of the week. Then it’s on to rewriting one short, editing another, and submitting both.

Also, just a heads up for any regulars, I may start posting on other days of the week, instead of just on Monday. Some Mondays (like yesterday, for example) I like to go out, so posts may start coming later in the week.

For anyone new to the blog, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process — still trying to figure it out — which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email — a new post from me delivered right to your inbox — then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

I am now officially late for work, so I have to run, but thanks again for reading. And, as always, write well.

Just Watched #4 – Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2

Disclaimer: Man, yesterday was one of the worst days of my life in recent times. Nothing life-alteringly horrible happened, but plenty (like too many) small things went horribly wrong. There was the having-a-long-heated-debate-with-a-friend-about-why-I-don’t-date part. There was the discovering-the-spot-of-grease-that-was-smeared-all-over-the-foot-of-the-stairs-in-my apartment-building part, during which I took a comically bad fall and landed on my hand and hip. There was also (after the grease) the “Oh-cool-it’s-a-thunderstorm-now-that-I’ve-hauled-my-clothes-out-to-the-laundromat” part; I had an umbrella, thankfully, but it wasn’t big enough for me and my clothes. 

So, all of that is to say I got home, had gelato, watched Luther, and refused to write this post until today. Sorry it’s a little late, but enjoy.

So, last week, I saw Guardians of the Galaxy. I know that Wonder Woman is out and I still really want to see that, but my order of interest in comic movies will always start with Marvel, then go to DC. Because, after Batman V Superman, and how many people swore that movie was good, I’m just inclined to believe all DC movies are worse than everyone makes them out to be. I still want to support Wonder Woman, sure, but if Marvel suddenly released a Squirrel Girl movie on the same morning the new Batman came out, you better believe I’m watching Squirrel Girl instead.

That said though . . . man was Guardians 2 disappointing. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it overall, but it feels like the end of the road for the “fun Marvel movie” formula.

That formula being “Jokes! Jokes everywhere!”

Granted, there were parts of the formula that didn’t crop up, like “the completely non-threatening, zero stakes villain” that plagues a ton of Marvel movies, but Guardians 2 still absolutely failed to balance its action and humor. That’s often a problem with comic movies . . .

. . . but Guardians 2 fails to make that balance in the worst way: by sacrificing good action . . . for a ton of unfunny jokes.

And that lack of balance is what I took from the movie, writing-wise. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The movie opens with the Guardians fighting an inter-dimensional monster for exposition. You think to yourself, “Oh, sweet. This is going to be some awesome exposition!”

Nope. That action scene is immediately undermined . . . by baby Groot dancing.

It’s supposed to be cheeky irreverence for the action scene, making the high stakes into a joke.

But, no, it doesn’t work. Because that kind of joke only works when it’s used to undermine something the audience doesn’t want to see. Namely, any scene that an audience can fill in the blanks for — something they don’t need to see to understand.

But the Guardians were fighting a tentacle monster that was vomiting rainbows everywhere. Why the fuck would I not want to see every second of that? More to the point, why would I not want to see that instead of more dancing Groot?

That intro sets up a really bad joke climate for the entire movie, making more of its humor start out at a deficit, which means that the best parts of the movie are its genuine action and drama.

I wound up loving Nebula, which I didn’t expect; I also wound up wishing that one of her best lines wasn’t undermined by yet another joke without legs.

One of the better parts of the film was Yandu’s escape, an action scene that almost went uninterrupted by a recurring bad joke.

I liked the villain and felt like the climax of the movie was high stakes . . . although it also tried to break its own intensity with another joke that reminded me of Pixels (so, ya know, the worst kind of joke there is).

What I’m saying here is . . . Guardians 2 made me realize that the delicate balance between action and humor works both ways.

When a story should have levity but doesn’t, that’s bad.

When a story should have levity, but it has way, way too much of it, that’s also bad.

And that matters to me especially because there was a point when Memory had way too much levity.

When I originally sent it out to friends, some thought it was great and didn’t need any huge changes.

Others were honest about how annoying they felt the protagonist was.

My Friend: “He does a lot of thinking about doing something bad, then doing it anyway. And that’s annoying.”

Me: “Uh huh.”

My Friend: “It’s like reading a Silver Age comic, where they talk about — ”

Me: “Omfg, dude, okay. I get it. I swear I’m horrified and I get it.”

They went on to explain that some of his moments were cringy, and, on my next read, I absolutely saw what they were talking about — a lot of placeholder jokes that I just dropped in and forgot because I was trying to hit my NaNoWriMo count for the day.

Now, Kole Buchanan is the same character, but with his bad jokes fixed or excised altogether. He’s also more capable, less whiny.

What I’m saying is, fixing the balance between humor and action in my own novel was an important first step on a road I’m finally nearing the end of.

So, watching Guardians 2, seeing Drax laugh really hard at something for the umpteenth time, I had a quiet sigh of relief.

Thank God for honest friends.

~~~

Hope you enjoyed that one. As a man who has only recently found his way through the Marvel-nurtured struggle of levity VS drama, it’s good to be on the other side. Assuming that I am on the other side and the jokes in Memory are actually funny and well-timed . . . Yeah, I’m-a get back to editing now.

Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process — still trying to figure it out — which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email — a new post from me delivered right to your inbox — then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

I’m actually going to go grab a breakfast burger and Advil for my hip. Then I’m going to eat, bing-watch some more Luther, and then edit. That’s my sick day plan, and I hope your plans for today, whatever they are, are awesome.

Thanks again just for stopping by, and, as always, write well.

A Good Dream

Disclaimer: This is going to be a short one; just a little update on my editing. I’ve been incredibly busy lately and, although I’m not offering that as an excuse, I’d just rather do a low-impact post for this week. Not trying to teach anything–just venting.

So, I’m up to the part in Memory when one of the main characters has a nightmare.

And, when it comes to nightmares, Memory has had a strange journey.

At first, there was one nightmare that actually read like a nightmare.

But then, on future edits, I decided there should be two nightmares . . . which both wound up being edited into flashbacks.

Flashbacks, or, as they’re often called, the worst things ever.

I know that my original intention was to give the world of Memory a little more body–to show off more of the Capital of Panthius, which is seen in passing otherwise. I also wanted to give the audience time with a character who doesn’t pop up until much, much later in the story; one of my protagonists talks about her a lot, so I thought it would be good to actually show her being great instead of just talking about her being great (because, of course, I also fear what I call the Jean Grey Effect: when a character seriously never shuts the fuck up about his love interest to the point that you just . . . don’t care).

The thing is though . . . a dream flashback is kind of a double whammy. Doing a flashback in the first place is lazy story-telling, but making that flashback into a dream is also ruining the potential for a good dream.

Because dreams are awesome when they’re done well. They’re great character-building tools; dreams tell us so much about the dreamer–how they feel about themselves and others. They’re also awesome because they have the freedom to be completely bizarre.

All of which was made incredibly clear with recent viewings of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and–especially–Twin Peaks.

But, despite knowing these things . . . I’m struggling with Kole’s dream in Memory.

In part because I realize I’m over-editing; in this run, I cut out one of the dream sequences . . . meaning I’m back down to one dream, which is where I began in the first place. That’s a little exhausting, but also comforting; assurance that I’m definitely at the end of the editing cycle for this book. It’s also a lesson in trusting my instinct for pacing and the strength of minor additions (an extra paragraph here and sentence there painted enough of a picture of the world that two dreams felt superfluous).

But I’m also struggling because I don’t have a well established ensemble to play with in this dream; Memory is very much a Buddy Fantasy novel, focusing on one mismatched pair of protagonists. Doesn’t feel like there’s a lot to work with there. In fact, I’m still using this dream to visually introduce a key character. That makes the whole thing a weird pain in the ass.

But, whatever. I’m at least certain that this is the last major change I have to make to this manuscript. After this, it’s a straight shot to the end.

And the unbridled joy of submissions.

I just . . . can’t wait.

~~~

Thanks for reading. Apologies to anyone hoping for a long talk about theory, but I just don’t have the energy this week. Summer has officially kicked off here in New York and it’s already so hot that I’m dead inside–not to be dramatic. And work is just . . . really, really dominating my time (I worked six days last week, including a double shift). I’m finding it more and more difficult to get home and transition from day job to writing. But, hey, I’ll figure it out; as with everything else in my life, my drive to chip away at my WIP is, itself, a WIP.

Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out–which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email – a new post from me delivered right to your inbox – then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

At any rate, I am now going to go allow myself to pass out. Even if you just passed by, thank you. And, as always, write well.

The Way Forward

So, I spent about a week making sure the edit of “Aixa” was perfect. It took way longer than I thought it would.

But, as stressful and difficult as that edit was, I enjoyed doing it . . .

. . . because it felt important.

And it felt right.

It was something that I needed to do–a clear task that I attacked with very clear, realistic results in mind.

And the experience of that edit–the satisfaction I got from it–melded with a conversation I had at work last week.

Coworker: “Hey, man. How’s the writing going?”

Me: “It’s alright. Kind of struggling with the YA thing I’m writing.”

Coworker: <narrows his eyes> “That the same one you were writing back in December?”

Me: <blinks, and in that moment, he realizes that, Holy shit. I started this novel last November. And I was so sure I’d be done with in a month. Then two months. Then February. Then March. He realizes that none of this would matter if he was far along with the manuscript, but he’s not even close to half-way done. Because this has always been the “YA novel that’s kind of kicking my ass.” The one that’s “supposed to be fun, but my life isn’t amazing right now, so it’s hard to make it feel like a carefree romp.” The one that’s been difficult to write from the beginning because it’s so “comforting” and “easy-going.”> “. . . Huh. Yeah. Yeah–it’s the same one.”

Obviously, that conversation stuck with me, but it also paired with the experience of editing “Aixa”–seeing it again. They became a catalyst for a simple question: “Wait . . . What am I doing?”

“Why did I start a new novel without getting my last one ready to submit?”

“Why am I not sending out that last novel?”

“Why do I have a short story that’s an edit or two away from submission quality, but I’m just . . . ignoring it?”

“Why am I not working on any of the short stories I want to finish when they’re gnawing at me constantly . . .

“. . . and H&T just . . . isn’t coming along?”

H&T, a novel that I had a hard time even deciding to write.

In short . . . how did I let my priorities get so wildly and completely out of whack?

To a degree, I think it was maybe just peer pressure; I’m not saying anyone is at fault; just saying that I got wrapped up in the need to produce. Do a million impressive things, like participate in another NaNoWriMo and come out the other end with a new novel I love. A great idea . . .

. . . until you get to the part where I finally got a short story published. I finally have a platform–an incredibly tiny one, but it’s there; the beginnings of a professional career. And, instead of immediately buckling down and sending out the batch of other short stories I have (seriously, I’m sitting on four more good ones in varying stages of completion), I decided to . . . write a completely new novel that I knew, from the start, would be a pain in the ass.

It almost seems like . . . I’m stalling. Like I’m afraid of actually succeeding. Of putting more out in there.

And if that’s what my problem is, then, oh man, fuck that.

I love a good challenge; that was the actual reason I decided to write H&T. And, of course, my love for a good challenge hasn’t changed. But, when the way forward is full of challenges, it’s easy to get lost in them without a good plan.

So, here’s mine:

  1. H&T is going on hiatus. I’m not abandoning it–there are still scenes I’m eager to get to, but there’s also a ton of worldbuilding and brainstorming required to get it to a point where I can just write it.
  2. Finish editing and start submitting Memory. I was having a hard time working out the first chapter and that was really frustrating, but it’s been long enough–I can come back to it with a clean palette. I can get it done.
  3. Finish editing and start submitting “Lokisday.” This story is probably three editing sessions away from submission. It required a really intense addition (the one-paragraph-that-will-influence-a-bunch-of-intense-dialogue kind), but, again, I can handle it.
  4. Rewrite “A Nameless God in a Silent Realm.” A short that was always missing something. I’ve come to think of that something as “truth”–a fundamental experience or feeling that drives a story, gives it meaning. The old version of “Nameless God” drummed up feelings but didn’t direct them at anything. I know how to fix that now.
  5. Rewrite “Respawn,” my sci-fi story. Also from the drums-up-feelings-with-no-direction era of short stories. I also know what to do with this one.
  6. Do all of this while worldbuilding for H&T, so I can get back to it with a firmer grasp of the world . . . and hopefully more published work under my belt.

~~~

Well, thanks for reading. This post was a little weird for me because it feels like War of Exiles all over again. That novel was also difficult to write, so it’s hard to not compare these two experiences, even though they’re wildly different; WoE was bad and messy, but H&T is challenging and really poorly timed on my part. Regardless though, I have my plan. I just have to remember that I’m learning from my past here, not reliving it.

My name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out–which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email – a new post from me delivered right to your inbox – then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

Seriously, even if you’re just stopping by, thank you so much. And, as always, write well.

“It has to be perfect.”

At work, Louis is trying to record a voice message on an answering machine.

“Thank you for calling ticketing services at [redacted]. We are open from–”

The line clicks.

The woman training him is smiling. “You paused too long.”

Louis blinks. “Okay,” he says, thinking, Seriously?

Louis tries again. Gets two sentences in before another click.

“Now you’re going too fast.”

There are two more attempts made, both of which are not good enough. One of the final critiques is that Louis is running out of energy.

To which Louis thinks, Yes. Yes, I really, really am. I wonder why.

This, of course, Louis keeps to himself, certain that the sarcasm wouldn’t go over well to at least one person in the room. Also because his frustration is apparent enough that the person training him takes over.

And this after having a friend read “Aixa the Hexcaster” and report that it has some typos.

~~~

It’s been a long week.

My friend telling me about those typos was actually the most helpful thing anyone has done for me in ages.

But, regardless, the world snowballed those typos, katamaried them with a bunch of bullshit into a single theme.

Being pressured to be perfect.

A theme bolstered by my managers at work. Sometimes, communication is difficult in my department, so there were a bunch of cases of managers assuming I did things wrong, confronting me for doing things I didn’t do. Individually, these things are all fine. Every day, repeatedly, they get exhausting. Especially when you work your ass off. You start to feel that, “Man, maybe I’ll never do anything right ever again.”

Oddly enough, finding out that there were errors in “Aixa” was genuinely more uplifting than work.

It was also way worse–by far–but I’m grateful for the criticism of my writing. To the extent that I had to willfully stop thanking the friend who told me about the typos.

I’d like to take a quick aside to say that, yes, she genuinely is the best person in the world. Like, literally. And, somewhere, she’s reading this and shaking her head, saying, “I hate you so much,” because she’s embarrassed.

But, whatever, she gave me criticism when I asked for it. That alone makes her the best ever.

The aftermath of that criticism was a bit messy though. I had to write to the editor of Mirror Dance and ask if I could do a quick edit. It took a bit, but she got back to me with a “yes.”

And now, as a man who has always criticized poor edits, I’m taking my time doing an incredibly thorough line edit of “Aixa.” Because I’ve had my bad editing habits made clear, and it’s taught me a bunch of important lessons.

Here is a short list of things I will absolutely never, ever do again:

  • Make changes for improved grammar and flow . . . without editing said changes.
  • Make additions for clarity . . . without editing said changes.
  • Do a rush edit of a piece before publication . . . while making changes and additions for improved grammar, flow, and clarity.
  • Give a manuscript a passing grade because “I’ve already edited it 1,000,000 times–it has to be fine.”

 

No. 1,000,000 times isn’t good enough if the 1,000,001st time has new errors.

Because nothing in my life matters more than writing as well as I possibly can. Nothing matters more than succeeding at this one thing, because it’s just about all I have.

I have to do it right.

And it has to be perfect.

~~~

Gonna stick with a short one today, because I have to work on “Aixa” a bit more so I can send it tonight. The weird thing about editing something that’s already in publication: I can’t edit for content. Reading it again is exactly the torture I expected, because I see so many things that are wrong with it.

But alas . . . I’m going to just link it anyway, as always.

And then make myself feel better by outlining short stories that are tighter. Better. I refuse to overhaul “Aixa” because it has to stand as a milestone in my life, but I can get something better published this year. I know it.

But, anyway, thank you for reading this more personal, frantic rant. If anything, I hope it sparked reflection about your own editing process.

My name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was published last year in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out–which means posting here every week, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting updates by email – a new post from me delivered right to your inbox – then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

Regardless, thank you just for stopping by. And, as always, write well.