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.

Dream Diary #2 – A Remnant of Sith Hatred

In the lore of the dream, I’d been a member of the Rebellion.

Or, really, whatever faction stood in the Rebellion’s place; my dream took place far in the future of the Star Wars universe, and, although technology doesn’t seem to advance in a galaxy far, far away, there were drastic differences in tech in my future. Machines were more organic, which was strange, parts of them made of muscle, other parts — terminals for example — mapped to bioform towers that expanded and contracted as needed.

The Force, as we’ve seen it, also wasn’t a thing anymore. No one talked about Jedi or Sith. There were just . . . normal people and Force-users, everywhere, a distinction that was strangely lacking in gravity. I was a Force-user, for example, but no one cared, because it wasn’t super unique. I hadn’t been trained on a distant planet and didn’t wear fancy robes. I was just a guy who could mind-trick people into not seeing him — into looking past him or not noticing he was there, even when they looked right at him.

In that future universe, I was a former Rebel gone rogue–a strange way to think of it, but accurate. Because the Republic had maintained its victory at Endor for thousands of years, and now the “Empire” were the ones with old, broken down technology, trying to bring down the established government.

It was never specified in my dream, but I think I was part of a Republic infiltration group meant to stop an Imperial plot to capture a planet with a new weapon. However, at some point during that operation, I was left for dead, which fueled my hatred for my old friends.

It’s the emotion that centered the dream for me — the element that made it relatable (and writable) for me. I’ve felt something similar in my waking life — in varying degrees, of course. I don’t always hate the friends I lose contact with, but with some of them, my anger is unrepentant. In my dream, it still burned hot enough that I understood why I switched sides, even though the Empire was evil. I genuinely hated my former friends, although it was tinged with a Star Wars-appropriate amount of doubt, tempered with real-life reflection.

Anyway, I don’t know what the Empire’s new weapon was — what it looked like and what it did were totally glossed over. I knew it was a space craft (because doomsday weapons always are in the Star Wars universe), but that was all I knew about it.

Which, of course, means that this dream was terrible fanfiction because I wasn’t a Marty Sue; I wasn’t an important character in the space opera I was living — had no part in making, defending, or wielding that weapon.

Really, all I did for the majority of the dream was sneak around the weird, tech-flesh bases of the Republic, hacking terminals, avoiding patrols. There was one point when I let the mind-trick stealth powers fly and just walked through a Republic base, in full Imperial gear. Of course, it’s me though, so a character with power can never have absolute power, even in my dreams; guards with the express intent of spotting intruders could see me regardless, so the moment I got back outside, into a cavern full of Republic Stormtroopers, I was back to running between shadows.

At some point, I ran into another Force-wielding Imperial operative on the same mission, which triggered a remnant of Sith hatred. As if there could be only one apprentice, I made a spiteful competition out of getting to a key terminal first. I beat the other operative, but this weird moment added to what I learned from the dream, which I’ll get to in a second.

Let me just say that, at some point, I did get to stand inside of the Empire’s new weapon — on the bridge, with other Imperial agents. We’d captured an official of the Republic who didn’t know what the weapon was supposed to do, and I got to watch him go from rebellious to terrified as he had the base’s capabilities laid out for him.

“Wait . . . You’re not saying this weapon can,” swallow, “do this right now?”

No one answered him, and one of his worried, frantic glances fell on me. I held it and smiled at him. “Yes. It can . . . This planet is now under Imperial control.”

Dreams aren’t always in first person for me, but that moment was. And man was delivering that line awesome.

~~~

Now, I’m a writer who loves legacy stories. The idea of a universe advancing in time and changing significantly is really interesting to me. Because, no matter what a legacy story is trying to achieve, it will fail if it’s too different . . . but it’ll be boring if it’s not different enough.

Batman: Beyond is an example of a legacy story that’s different, but not different enough. I’d put it somewhere on the low end of the Legacy Spectrum of Success because, while good, it’s very reluctant to abandon Bruce Wayne. And, as I see it, the golden question for any legacy story will always be “What do we do with the old cast?”

The Alloy of Law is a better example, because it leaves behind the Mistborn trilogy’s cast, making them a rare, sometimes vague, often playful reference in that world’s history. However, the world is a little too different for me — because it goes in hard with a Wild West aesthetic . . . which feels different in a bad way. The original trilogy’s setting was hyper-unique, with a world covered in black ash, and terrifying Inquisitors, giant metal spikes in place of their eyes. I still absolutely love Brandon Sanderson, but I never thought cowboys would be the future of the Mistborn world, and that change still feels strange to me.

The Legend of Korra is a much better example of a successful legacy story because it shovels almost everything out the window . . .  while still feeling the same. The protagonists are all different, the world has changed a bunch, even the tone is more mature. Some members of the original cast make appearances, but most of them have passed, off camera, which is only natural. Even so, the fine details are still the same; people still Bend the elements, and the world outside of the new, advanced Republic City is still very much as it was.

Those examples have always made me wonder how far a legacy story can be pushed before it stops being a legacy story. Prometheus is a kind of legacy-prequel that tests those waters by having almost no bearing on the Alien series.

With this dream, I think I tested those same waters, even though I didn’t realize it.

The used future feel of Star Wars is still there, only now its the classically clean and sterile Imperial ships that are old and dirty.

The sense of rebellion is still there, only now strangely backwards, with the evil Empire struggling to gain ground that the Republic only barely notices is there.

Force-users are still around, but they’re less remarkable, which balances somewhere between Darth Vader being real . . . and Darth Vader being looked down on as a practitioner of bullshit space magic by the one Imperial officer in A New Hope.

Particularly interesting to me, the old Sith ways are still there — but only because of perspective. The fact that my protagonist hated other Force-users who worked with the Empire was possibly only relevant to my character; the other operatives might be buddies, for all I know. But I hated them regardless, and the audience was locked onto that perspective, which made that hate an oddly effective throwback for the Sith, even though I wasn’t Sith — I was just a Force-user on the Empire’s side. It felt like a great way to hearken to a bit of series lore without actually using it.

Overall though, the question is . . . do I think this dream would make a good Star Wars legacy story?

The answer: Oh God, no. Are you kidding? Look, I enjoyed this dream, but it’s way, way too different. And weird. Freaking flesh-tech? Are you kidding me? That would never work in the Star Wars universe. That idea alone took the dream into Bad Legacy Story Town. Star Wars is all about fun (at least, at the moment, it’s still mostly about enjoying yourself [man did I hate Rogue One, btw]), not about hating everyone. And definitely not about following the story of a man fully invested in helping take down a peaceful galactic government. I mean, to a degree, it’s off-putting for me that I even had that dream.

But still, it taught me something about writing.

And delivering that “Imperial control” line was pretty sweet.

~~~

Thanks for reading, guys. It feels like I haven’t written in ages. I have been able to sleep on a normal schedule again though, so I can’t really complain. I hope everyone’s April has been going well though — that the words have come easily.

For anyone new to the site, 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 though, thank you just for dropping by. And, as always, write well.

Dialing it Back

Earlier today, after an orientation at work . . .

Coworker: “Louis, you coming to Chipotle?”

Me: “I . . .” o_o

Coworker: “Yes, you are. Okay.”

Me: He thinks about the post he needs to write tonight. And he realizes he desperately doesn’t want to tell his coworkers–again–that no, he can’t hang out because he has to write a thing. And that’s when he realizes that the post he has to write tonight . . . is about how he has to write fewer posts so he can have a life. The irony sits heavily in his gut, like a Chipotle burrito. “Yes,” he finally decides. “Yes, I’ll go to Chipotle.”

~~~

So, I’m a little sad to write this one.

I have absolutely loved writing posts every single day for the last month and a half. The original plan was to write every day until October, at which point I’d wrap up a “season” and take a break until next February. I’ve actually been thinking about writing every day for an entire year since NaNoWriMo 2014, and finally just starting to do it felt amazing.

But then . . . I got a promotion at work. Something I totally wasn’t counting on. Professionally, my plan for this year was to get a new job at a museum, hoping for a little bump in pay and steadier hours.

What I got was a significant bump in pay and a ton of extra hours. Which is awesome.

Until it came to this blog.

If I’m completely honest, I was already struggling to post on a normal schedule. Posting late at night meant sitting on my bed and dozing off while writing each post, which I’ve been doing . . . for weeks. And, to be clear, that’s weeks of actually falling asleep mid-sentence, then jumping awake, angrily trying to finish a thought from who-knows-how-many-minutes-ago. Eventually, I got frustrated enough to shout, “Goddammit! Just let me do this!” to an empty bedroom.

At the very end, I started taking naps the moment I got home from work, hoping that would refresh me (and stave off the dips in quality that I know rode in on the exhaustion). It barely worked.

And, regardless . . . the price was always to sacrifice time with The Hand and the Tempest.

For a while, that was okay, because I could still write in my notebook at work.

But, somewhere around a week or two ago, that stopped being possible. And I was so busy–with training, preparing for a presentation, stepping up to the new title–that I didn’t notice.

That is, until last Friday, when, for reasons that I don’t remember, I listened to the theme for Stranger Things.

Stranger Things . . . A show that I loved more than I can say.

Its theme is what I call “righteous,” which, for me, means “a song, image, or any design that I want to write for. I want to write a story that fits the theme for Stranger Things for reasons I don’t really understand; maybe it’s just a reflex of young Louis, copying things he loves.

But, at any rate, hearing that song made me remember how I had to avoid making H&T like Stranger Things.

Which in turn made me realize that I hadn’t written in over a week. That, even before that, I’d just broken down to writing loose notes that I’d never gotten around to typing up.

All of this is to say . . . I have to cut back on the daily posts, even though I really, really don’t want to. The site has grown so much since I started and I don’t want it to slow down.

But it has to. Because I have to finish H&T soon, and I need to get a new short published; the “Aixa” banner is killing me at this point.

So, I’m going to dial the posts back to one a week. Still better than once a month, but much more forgiving than my daily jam.

However, there’s also an addendum on the life goals now:

  1. Get more short stories published.
  2. Get my novels published.
  3. Become a successful writer.
  4. Get back to a point where I can post here every day. Because I love it.

~~~

I want to take a quick moment to thank everyone who’s followed recently. There’s been a huge rush of new followers here on the site and it has made me feel . . . invincible.

Together with all of the likes and comments, I’m pretty sure the support from you guys is the reason I got that promotion in the first place. I’m not kidding; I went into that interview feeling like I deserved it because I knew that there were people out there who liked my work. People who kept coming back, reading, and commenting. You guys . . . changed me. Seriously, I sat with a group of people and made them all laugh tonight.

This from a man who was afraid to enter cafes by himself in 2013. That sounds like an exaggeration–it isn’t; low on cash and unwilling to meet anyone, I once went down to The Common Grounds and just stood outside for a moment . . . before walking away, afraid. It’s strange to think that’s true, but it’s liberating to know that part of my life is really, finally, over. So, seriously, thank you. I still feel like I can do anything, and I cannot thank you guys enough for helping me get here.

For anyone new to the site, 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 though, thank you just for dropping by. And, as always, write well.

Practice Poems #3 – 20 Feet Beneath You

Look down.

Imagine what’s 20 feet beneath you.

Someone else’s bedroom?

The underside of a bridge?

Maybe an animal den.

Probably all of those things.

A red panda’s hammock, hanging from bridge girders.

You’d have to wreck your schedule to find out for sure.

Beg the cops to let you clamber down there and take a look.

Or maybe just circle around, camera ready, frantically looking up.

It’s not worth it–I’m telling you.

Just believe instead.

~~~

So, that was a ton of fun to write.

But, serious time now, here’s a heads up: I’ve talked before about needing to figure out something with this blog. The intention was to find a way to reliably post earlier in the day.

The promotion at my day job . . . has made that incredibly difficult.

I was already struggling to post, fighting sleep to write here after working on the MS. The struggle has only gotten worse; the job title comes with a significant bump in hours and a ton of responsibility, which are both great, but terrible for my writing schedule (i.e. I can’t sneak in a few hundred words at work anymore).

So, just a heads up, I’m going to take the weekend to figure it out, but I might have to cut my schedule down. I love posting every day, but it might be a luxury I can’t afford anymore. More on that this Monday.

For 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 recently published in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out. Part of that has meant posting here every weekday, 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 though, thank you just for dropping by. And, as always, write well.

Rain and Jurassic Park

Welcome back. Thanks for coming by for this first in another week of posts.

So, I realized . . . I do a lot of series. In fact, since I started posting every week day . . . I think every single post has been part of a series.

It’s getting a little exhausting.

So I thought I’d kick it old school and just talk about something random.

And, since it was showering earlier today, I thought that random thing would be . . . rain.

Because it’s a really intense trigger for me.

To be clear, I don’t mean that rain is my muse; I don’t get ideas from walking out in the rain. Inspiration doesn’t come to me from the unique roar of a storm.

No, rain just–very regularly–motivates me. And we’re talkin’ stop-what-you’re-doing-and-go-write motivation. Literally; a bunch of times during my life, I’ve stopped the moment a first drop hit my window sill. I’ve blinked, gotten up, walked to the window–or, other times, I’ve just sat and stared.

Either way, the clean scent of billowing atmosphere would roll in through the window.

And I’d breathe it in. Let it out with a sigh.

Then turn off whatever game or movie I’m distracting myself with, and immediately get back to my manuscripts.

I almost want to suggest a totally fun name for it–something like Writer’s Guilt–but a name like that wouldn’t be 100% correct.

Because, when it starts raining, I’m not hearing a voice pressuring me. I’m not remembering something someone told me or some promise I made.

I’m remembering . . . the feeling of watching Jurassic Park for the first time.

I know–that’s weird. But it’s true. Jurassic Park came out when I was 11 and I saw it in theaters. Naturally, the part that had the biggest impact on me was the scene at the T-Rex enclosure.

If you haven’t scene Jurassic Park, I’ll just explain that, at one point, the majority of the cast is stranded at the T-Rex paddock when the park’s power grid is turned off. The loss of power means that their automatic vehicles stop moving.

Right beside the T-Rex paddock’s electrified fence . . . which has also lost power.

When the T-Rex arrives, it turns into a scene with a ton of suspense.

In part because there’s no music.

Just the constant sound of rainfall.

At that point, I’d already played Final Fantasy III on my Super Nintendo. I’d already realized that stories were really awesome because they had the power to make you feel things–experience stuff that was cool . . . and important.

But Jurassic Park was the moment when I first thought, “I want to make something like this.”

And that something was, of course, a ridiculous short story about my cats becoming giant-sized and chasing me and my cousins around our apartment (I was so 11).

But, decades later, with significantly less cat-heavy stories under my belt, the sound of rainfall is enough to remind me of why I write in the first place. The feeling that I want to give to other people.

The feeling of being 11 years old and in complete, wordless awe.

~~~

Thanks for reading. This week is going to be a little crazy for me with the promotion, but I’m still going to try to get these posts on a better schedule (getting them out during the day instead of around midnight). I’ve been prioritizing other things over writing on here, which means sometimes, I’m get started on these posts really, really late. The result: I’ve been fighting sleep to finish some of these. We’re talkin’ writing a sentence, passing out, jumping up a minute later, determinedly writing another sentence, passing out again . . . It’s obviously not good for quality, so I’m going to try to figure something out.

But, anyway, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was recently published in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out. Part of that means posting on here every weekday, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting an email every weekday–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.

Either way, thank you just for dropping by. And, as always, write well.