Remembering

I don’t do well without distractions.

At this point in my life, being in a quiet room, without anything to do, ends horribly for me. Like characters in some of my older stories (vehicles for me to express the phenomenon), I start thinking of the many, many things that are going wrong in my life. Projects that aren’t finished, relationships that ended poorly, mistakes I’ve made. Anything that pulls me down into the silent, tight hole of depression.

It was happening at work the other day, because last week was especially bad for me; the news that an emotionally abusive and physically violent person from my past was–surprise!–living in my apartment again did wonders for my sense of dread, even before the difficulty of finding a legitimate apartment or room settled in. So, sitting at work, unable to focus on anything creative, the progression went something like this:

It’s going to take forever to find a decent room.

I’d be able to find one faster if I had a better job, but just getting an interview seems impossible.

I could get back to working on fonts, but that probably wouldn’t yield big gains.

And, besides, I can’t even focus on creative projects.

What if I’ll never be able to again?

What if I just die without being able to finish anything again?

What if “Aixa the Hexcaster” is the only story that I ever get published, because [and I can’t stress how honest and legitimate this fear is] I get murdered in my sleep?

At that point, I realized I needed any distraction whatsoever, because, for me, depression is always at its most debilitating when I fall into the pit of “I’m going to die.” I can keep myself from falling into it–settle back into a place where I’m just trying to be productive–but if I get stuck, I’ll be stuck for hours. And, of course I would, because, contrary to the word “sadness” being used interchangeably with “depression,” depression is a very different beast. Getting stuck and losing time is part of what that beast actually is.

For whatever reason–maybe because I just couldn’t think beyond the fears–I decided to pull up Google on the work computer. I fully expected it to be blocked, but I blindly typed in “Aixa the Hexcaster” anyway. I think I was trying to get to a review I’d seen on a message board: just one line talking about how, out of all the stories released in that Autumn’s issue of Mirror Dance, “Aixa” was their favorite.

But I was on image search, somehow–maybe an idle click while I was trying to stop thinking about depressing things.

I wound up pausing though–blinking. “Aixa the Hexcaster” is a pretty unique name, I’ve discovered, so if you google it, the top results are always the story itself, me talking about it, or images relating to it.

So, it was surprising when this popped up:

anime-paradise-anime-world-of-books

The very first thing I noted, for my own benefit, was that this was not fan art. I glanced at it, and in that first heartbeat, I made sure the first thing I admitted to myself was, “No, seriously, it’s impossible that this is fan art. Like, calm down. That’s not real–you ain’t there yet.” The woman in this picture? Clearly not Aixa Silva.

But what was it then? I followed through, clicking on “View Page,” hoping the resulting site wouldn’t be blocked by IT (‘Seriously, I never browse–just this once, IT, be cool’).

I found a post on the blog of Michael Matheson, a writer, editor, and reviewer. The post was a reading list they’d put together for 2016.

The list was a monster–Michael had put in a ton of time, even listing comics they’d enjoyed.

But, still, the same self-checking reflex that made me realize the feature image wasn’t fan art told me that this page must’ve been linked in error. To make sure, I hit Ctrl + F, typed in “Aixa,” hit Enter.

The page jumped down to “2016 Recommendations (Short Form)”:

  • Louis Santiago – Aixa the Hexcaster (Mirror Dance, Fall 2016) – Writer’s first publication. Still somewhat raw, as one would expect from a first sale, but Santiago’s a writer to watch.

The screen blurred. I only barely managed not to cry, but the effort meant I just sat there for a moment, looking at those words.

The gratitude I feel for those two sentences–seen at such a terrible, terrible time in my life–cannot be expressed. I cannot overstate how much it mattered for me–how much it still matters. It suddenly clicked again that, “Hey, man, you finished another story that you feel good about, and you’ve already started submitting it.”

“Yo, you almost finished the rule set for your own game; it’s almost ready to be tested.”

“Dude, you come up with new fonts really quickly. And, like, yeah, there’s still no way to tell if that will be profitable at all, in any way, but, hey, it’s still something you’re awesome at.”

I was getting somewhere. It was taking forever, and it always would, but progress was still being made. Ground was still being gained.

At the best of times, you barely even notice that kind of progress.

At the worst of times, remembering it can save your life.

~~~

I need to sincerely thank Michael Matheson for single-handedly pulling me out of a really bad place a few days ago–for helping me keep going. Michael, even if you never see this, or maybe if you see it three years from now, thank you so much.

To everyone here, thank you too. I have always appreciated everyone who stops in to read this blog. Creators say this kind of thing all the time, but, genuinely, without the support, I would not be able to justify doing any of the things I love doing, and I don’t even want to know where I would be if that was the case.

As a quick update, I have been delving into two other modes of creativity:

  • Game design, which is something I’ve always kicked around, but only recently got serious about. After a weekend of board gaming, which my friends and I called XenoPAX, I suddenly understood how to make sense of an old, problematic rule set I cooked up. Since then, I’ve been working out its kinks to make a functional game, and I’m surprisingly close to getting it into game-testing shape.
  • Font design. Long story short: a friend started a video production firm, which resulted in me dusting off graphic design skills I haven’t used since my Infinite Ammo days. I made a few logos for him, which required a custom font, and that led to the strange realization that font design just inherently makes sense to me. It’s slow going, but the goal is to use some extra time here and there to put together fonts I can sell on fontspring.

Writing-wise, I keep working on new ideas for shorts, looking for new places to publish them. I’m also getting started on rewriting an older novel. It means putting a newer one on hiatus, but I honestly haven’t done enough worldbuilding for the new one anyway, so that hiatus was happening regardless.

All of that said, I have to get back to packing and looking for apartments. Thank you again for passing by.

And, as always, write well.

Just Checking In: Welcome to 2019

It’s a new year. A new chance to finally get the life I want.

For me, 2019 feels almost like a last chance though; my internal gauge of Published Heat has officially dropped back down to 0, and if I get to 2020 without getting published again, it’s probably going to spin down further, into negative percentages. Which is supposed to be mathematically impossible . . .

. . . but not for a writer, baby! Ha ha!

Anyway, look–I’m so serious about this year that I’d already started a few initiatives and resolutions weeks before the ball dropped.

For one, I’ve stopped eating meat. Not a self-righteous decision there; I just want to make healthier food choices, and I found that being vegetarian–while not as difficult in 2019 as it was in 2008–also forces me to make better food choices.

I also drew up a Google Sheet of 52 places to apply to this year, shared with a few friends at work.

My point is, I need this year to be different, and I’m doing my best to make sure that it is.

And part of that effort means posting on here–if only to keep myself sane.

But, really, to keep myself on track creatively.

My Current WIP’s

  1. “Nurture Garden 5” – A sci-fi short story that I’ve submitted a few times. Originally, I was just happy that it was under 7,000 words. Currently, I’m in editing hell with it. Every time I go back, I comb over the same scenes, looking for things to improve, determined to do several rounds of edits in one go. It is looking promising, but it’s also very, very difficult to go back to. I’m just about in the middle of it, and the goal is to have it done–again–by February.
  2. The Hand & the Tempest – The YA fantasy novel I’ve been working on for over a year now. I learned a very, very important lesson with this one earlier in the year; I can never, ever push myself to write. If I don’t know what’s coming next in a novel, I just need to put it down and work on something else instead. Yes, that makes things horribly slow-going.

    But the alternative is writing a completely rushed chapter that takes everything in a stale direction.

    This was kind of a surprise, because, in 2016, when I finished the first draft of Memory–an fantasy action-adventure–I was absolutely sure that bolting out novels in a single month was the way to go.

    Nope.

    More on Memory later, but, for whatever reason, I just didn’t pay attention to the massive additions and edits I had to make with that novel. The endorphin rush of just finishing something quickly dwarfed the desire to make sure that something was as sound as possible. That is never the angle from which I want to tackle a project.

    Yes, I do need to finish projects. But if I don’t execute them well–the first time–they’ll be in edits forever.

    The goal with The Hand and the Tempest is to find a middle ground–a schedule that’s somewhere between belting out words every day (like I did with Memory), and wasting months on an outline that’s ultimately too rigid.

    Right now, I’m hoping the answer is meditation–or some other form of quiet thought-exercise. I haven’t tried yet, because my personal life is bad enough that I rely very heavily on distractions.
    But I will give it a shot this weekend. And maybe I’ll write about it too.

Of course, there are other projects I want to work on, and others that I’ve completed. Unfortunately, I’ve put one of those completed stories on the back burner, and retired another one completely.

  • “Lokisday” is the project that I retired. It was a fantasy short story that just had way too issues:
    • It’s incredibly long–I’m talkin’ novella length–so I ran out of places where I could submit it.
    • It was also a “working shit out” story. Not an exact mirror of a previous relationship I’ve had, but definitely a vehicle for me to work out emotions brought on by that relationship. Still, I’m too close to it to judge it honestly, which I’m so aware of that I’m just not sure I want it published anymore; I’d be giving that story side-eye for the rest of my life.
    • Anyway, because it was a working-shit-out story, it had a very, very stale theme. You can’t change the past. Love who you are. Some people genuinely aren’t worth it. Things we’ve all heard so many times from so many other stories.
    • It was also another story from me where a protagonist goes somewhere and talks with a super-powerful mythical creature. I already did that, to way better effect, in “Aixa the Hexcaster.” I don’t want to keep rehashing that experience. On to different things.
  • Memory: Shadow of the Lord Sun – I’ve put Memory on the back burner. Primarily–and I hate saying this–because I think it needs to be rewritten if I intend to submit it at all.

    As I said earlier, this was my NaNo 2016 novel, belted out quickly before I realized that wasn’t a good way for me to write a story.

    It is very much a creature of the time I wrote it (a Marvel Studios-esque fantasy adventure with a strong female lead–as a secret hook, for some reason). So much of that doesn’t really resonate anymore, and I’d rather be ahead of the curve than behind it.

    • I didn’t plan to make a plot twist out of the one character being a woman–I just wrote a hyper-intelligent, super-powered character without knowing what gender they would be, then realized that she was definitely a woman.

      Somehow, though, that character’s gender came off like a plot twist regardless.
      And I hate that. I think it became a twist because, at the time, I didn’t feel like there were enough leading ladies in nerddom (and also because I love Samus Aran–not gonna lie).

      But there are plenty of strong, female protagonists in nerddom now. Or, at least, there aren’t so few female protagonists out there that it would make sense, at all, to hide the character’s gender as a twist. We’re definitely at the point where you can just add momentum to the wave without being coy. I’d prefer to rewrite the story from that adjusted angle.

      Of course, hiding that character’s identity still makes a ton of sense plot-wise, but I’ll figure something out.

    • The other protagonist never had a strong, unique arc, which I can absolutely fix. I already know where I’m taking it, and that it would be more interesting. However, it’s not the kind of thing I can just drop into the existing MS.
    • I never showed the world in as much detail as it needed to be shown. The end result was a novel that made it seem like I did minimal world-building. Also something I can fix.
    • The weirdest thing: Memory was significantly under its appropriate word count. So, rather than struggle to add something to a flawed manuscript, starting over feels like a better bet.
    • And, finally, the Marvel-esque tone just bugs me. Not because I suddenly hate Marvel movies or like DCEU movies–because just fucking no.

      It’s because I don’t want to write any of my work with the tone of someone else’s. I want it to feel like my work. I want it to read like something I would write.

      I want the visuals to be weirder and more striking. I want the action to be more dangerous. Less punchy than Marvel’s.

      I guess, more than anything, I want to finally cultivate my own style, and stick with it, unabashedly. It’s going to take practice and focus.

      But, if there’s one thing I know in the vast, mysterious hellscape of writing, it’s that finding my own style–my own voice and cadence–will absolutely be worth it.

~~~

In the weeks to come, I’ll be posting a lot more about these projects–particularly “Nurture Garden 5,” which I’m hoping to make a ton of progress with tomorrow morning.

Anyway, thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this post–and want to get a notification when I publish my next one–please hit the subscribe button to the left of your screen. You can also follow me on Twitter @LSantiagoAuthor!

Until next time, take care. And, if you have one, seriously reconsider that working-shit-out story.

I’m Back

Hey, everyone.

Like Castlevania’s Dracula, I have returned–once every 500 years to post for a month or two, until the urge to once again devote all of my time to my WIP’s, like a Belmont, whips me in the face.

That metaphor just kept going. I apologize.

Seriously, I’ve wanted to get back to my blog for a while, but life has been a bit crazy. Trying to keep things in order and advance professionally, combined with working on several WIP’s (i.e. securing a steady flow of rejection letters) has meant I had to stay away from the blog, even though–as you may have noticed–I gave it a face lift. Seriously, I changed themes for this site months ago, intending to start writing here again all the way back then. But, of course, life got in the way.

Regardless, though, I am back, and I’ll be posting very, very casually across the next year. If you’re still here, I appreciate you! If you’re not, I mean, A) I don’t really blame you, and B) you’re not here anyway, so why did I even write this part?

Anyway, I’ll write a proper post about what I’ve been working on soon, but, for now, I’ll publish a new post within the hour. If you like cartoons, celebrating social justice stuff, and criticizing social justice stuff, you’ll love it.

TL;DR: What I’m about to post will appeal to literally no one.

Enjoy!

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.