Monday, April 4, 2016

On Ideas

'Where do you get your ideas?'

That's probably the most asked question of a writer. All of them seem to make reference to just how many times they get asked this question. There appears to be a wide variety of ways to handle it, although I get the feeling a lot of writers out there don't like answering it directly. Some have a funny joke that carefully sidesteps the question, some will give you a strange, long-winded runaround that sounds like something mystic and mythic, some will just shrug, some will get frustrated and some will give a straight answer, like Stephen King.

I prefer a straight answer.

So where do I get my ideas? I don't have one specific source. I can probably give you a fairly clear explanation for most of my ideas. Sometimes I have a goal in mind, sometimes things just happen.

Those seems to be the only two options.

For example, Ceaseless was kind of a coalescence of 'force of nature' antagonists. Jason Voorhees. The Terminator. The Meta from Red Vs Blue. RvB Season Six probably played the biggest role in laying the groundwork for Ceaseless. So there's a pretty straight answer.

But, for example, Snowblind? I had to construct that idea. I knew what I needed to happen but there wasn't really a clear, specific idea in mind. I had to piece it together.

Some ideas I've been sitting on for a while, like Deathless. I had that idea like seven years ago. Or Absolute Zero. The genesis for that was written in 2008. And I have a ton of ideas that I'm eager to get to, but books take time, even at the quick pace I release them at.

Still, there seems to be some common sources for ideas: news articles, other media (books, games, movies), personal experiences and, sometimes, dreams.

Sometimes ideas appear, fully formed, in your brain. Those are rare and wonderful. Other times, ideas have a long, slow fuse. Like, you get a cool idea for a scene, but nothing else. And, over the next few years, you kind of subconsciously build on that idea and more ideas grow from it.

Here's an example of how ridiculous this process of finding ideas can get.

Back in 2012, I was co-writing a book with my friend, M. Knepper. It's a very strange book, easily the weirdest one I've ever written. We took it down because we realized it needed a second draft and we had a lot of cool ideas for it, but anyway, in one scene, I had two protagonists playing an old game. It was called Darkest Night and in this side-scrolling shooter, a throwback to Contra basically, two men fought against an alien menace bent on apocalypse. And that was it. Just this cool little scene.

But I couldn't stop thinking about Darkest Night.

I ended up being compelled to write it out and in 2014, I plotted out what would be the first in a Sci-Fi/Action, dark apocalyptic series and wrote over half of the first novel. For several reasons, I took it down, but I definitely plan on writing this series.

So yeah, writing one tiny scene in a weird little novella with my friend spawned a series.

Now, let's talk about trying to sell people your ideas. I've come across a lot of people who say they have a really cool idea for a book or a video game and they want to somehow monetize the idea. Not the game or the book, the idea itself.

Here's why that will basically never work.

I have met not even a single person who didn't at least have some ideas. Not. One. The problem is never a lack of ideas, the problem is a lack of sitting down and turning that idea into a game or a movie or a book, which all take a lot of work, and the average person either doesn't have the time, the money, the know-how or the perseverance to do it.

Which is fine. I don't hold that against anyone. I, of all people, know how difficult time management is. I didn't get serious with my writing until I was lucky enough to not have to work a 'real' job anymore and I could stay home basically all I wanted.

So yeah, moral of the rant: if you have a kickass idea you want to see made into something, either pay a shitload of money to have it made for you (see: ghost writers) or do it yourself.

Now, there is one other thing I want to talk about.

I've been referring to ideas in a general sense, and when most people say that in reference to writing, they mean: the premise for the book.

But I want to talk about a different kind of idea. The little ideas, for individual scenes or plot twists or character development. Essentially, the little gears and the fuel that makes the story go. Now those can be in short supply sometimes. Writer's block can take many forms, but one of them is just not knowing what the hell comes next or how to deal with a particular situation.

I have a bit of advice on generating those kinds of ideas and for dissolving writer's block in general.

Experience media. All kinds. You will be amazed at what gets your creative juices flowing again. Read articles. Watch weird movies out of your comfort zone. Play indie horror games, or indie games in general. There's tons of free ones out there. Listen to random music. Basically, just try to experience things out of your comfort zone, this tends to spark creativity.

Also, give yourself time to process. Believe it or not, sitting there and trying to force the idea is not the best way to deal with it. In fact, it may be the worst way to handle it. If you're stuck, step away from the project and do something else for a couple hours.

Take a walk, take a shower, go to the gym or the movies. Play MineCraft or watch an old show again or read a book. Basically anything that disconnects you from actively thinking about the problem. Believe or not, your brain actually will continue to work on the problem without you knowing it, like a program running in the background. That's why you tend to have 'ah-ha!' moments when you're driving or taking a shower. Your brain had enough time to figure it out.

And that's all I've got.

Monday, March 28, 2016

On Laziness & Guilt

I'm naturally a very lazy person.

I don't really know why this is. I've thought about it a lot and I haven't come up with much. I'm sure a psych major could give me some theories but I've come to think that people are just generally wired certain ways. There's lots of theories about nature vs. nurture, with variations going more towards one or the other. Basically, we're born a certain way or we get a certain way because of how we grew up.

Like many things in life, I think it's some of both, and in some situations, one more than the other.

In the case of my own laziness, I think I've just always been that way. If pressed, I guess I think that it stems from my fear of doing things, which finds its origins in my fear of failure. For as long as I can remember, I've been afraid of just generally doing things because it always seemed like failing to do it was SUCH a big deal. Even if it was something simple, like being asked to go get something from the other room.

I'm sure you know what it's like: You're eight and your mom or babysitter or whoever asks you to go find them something. You go and hunt feverishly for like 10 minutes, becoming more and more worried and feeling stupider and stupider because you can't find the damn thing. Then, either you go back or they call you and ask what the hell is taking so long and you have to report that you can't find it. And then they give a huff of irritation, get up, head into the room and, of course, find the fucking thing in like five seconds and declare, "It was RIGHT HERE!"

Maybe sixty seconds of annoyance for the adult, but it tended to ruin my mood for at least half the day.

So that's kind of where my laziness came from, at least, I think so. It evolved over the years.

It's left me with a big motivation problem. Most of the time, I'd rather just play games or watch House. Although, I've got to admit, the more I get to know people, the more I think this isn't exactly uncommon. A lot of people seem to have a motivation problem, though they have a much more valid excuse, I think: they have a job that they have go to put up with every day and I remember what it's like to feel just drained when you finally get home. You don't want to do fucking anything, you just want to sit down, relax and do something to turn your brain off.

I had always kind of assumed that eventually I would get into a situation where I could just focus on writing and I wouldn't have to work a shit job and then I would write like crazy.

Well, I'm in that situation now. I have been since 2012, in one form or another, and last year my 'real' job truly became writing books.

And yet...I still go through frequent periods where I just don't feel up to working on whatever it is I'm supposed to be working on. I thought that if the distractions of having to get up and go to a building I hate almost every day fell away, it would unleash an untold motivational power within me. But that's not how it worked out. Even when I'm happy and in a good mood, I'd say at least half the time I'd rather be doing something else, or I just keep getting distracted.

For a long time, I was convinced something was wrong with me, that maybe I wasn't cut out to be a writer. Because, obviously, if I was a good writer, I'd obviously want to write all of the time with no breaks, right?

Except that that's not how it works. The more I looked into it, the more I came to realize that fucking everyone puts up with this, and not just for writing. You can get sick of anything if you do it enough.

There's a quote I heard from Bob Mayer: 'Writing is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.'

And that's become very true for me. I think another big part of if it is just that I'm naturally a miserable person. I'm almost completely positive that I don't suffer from a chemical imbalance or any kind of disorder, I just think that some of my switches are flipped to 'sad' and no matter how good my situation in life is, I'll find something to feel bad about.

Which leads me to probably my number one motivation in life: Guilt.

I have a lot of reasons for doing what I do, for sitting down and writing every single day. Most of them are good reasons. But the reason that keeps me going when I'd rather just fuck off is probably the fact that I feel guilty.

Here's a frequent thought process I have: "I'm in good mental and physical health, I'm happily married, I have no major debt, I love where I live and I'm working my fucking dream job: writing books that pay the bills so I don't have to leave the house if I don't want to...AND I ONLY WROTE FUCKING THREE THOUSAND WORDS TODAY?! What's wrong with me!? There are people out there who write five thousand words every single day and they probably have to put up with more shit than I do!"

This is a good/bad kind of scenario. The good is that I'm slowly trending upwards in the amount of work I get done on a regular basis. The bad news is that I often feel like shit.

Another thought that bugs me is this: There are a lot of people out there that are more talented than I am. They are smarter and better writers than I am. And the only reason I am more successful than they are is because I'm more stubborn. I write more mediocre novels than they do brilliant novels that appeal to a wider audience, so I'm getting more money. That doesn't really seem fair to them at all.

On the other hand, there are a lot of writers out there who write fucking SHIT and are making like a hundred times what I'm making. Seriously, sometimes I cruise the Top 100 lists and check out what's at the top and some of it is so fucking terribly written.

So maybe it all balances out?

Ultimately, I've realized that guilt, like basically everything else in life, can be a utilized as a tool. I use it as motivation to keep me going because hey, I have bills to pay, I have to be doing something worthwhile with my life, otherwise, why the fuck am I living it?

So, if you're having trouble with getting yourself motivated, maybe try feeling guilty? Perhaps not the best advice, but it worked for me. Because if you want to succeed at whatever it is you're doing, you have to find something to keep you going even if, like Stephen King once said, "All you feel like you're doing is shoveling shit from a sitting position."

Monday, February 29, 2016

The Oscars & Other Bullshit

So, I've never really cared about the Oscars or the Grammies or any other award show at all. And don't take this as some kind of poser, counter-culture, hipster bullshit.

I just didn't really care. It was just something I never got into as I grew up. However, in recent years, my disinterest has turned to disdain the more I learn about not just the Oscars, but awards in general.

Leonardo DiCaprio finally winning got me thinking about the whole thing. Actually, I remember wondering, just a few days ago, before I even realized that the Oscars were this soon or that he had even been nominated, how much it got to him that he hadn't won one yet. I mean, he had basically become a joke. There even exists a game where you pull a floating Oscar constantly out of reach of Leonardo, who is chasing it down the red carpet.

Now, for all I know, maybe it doesn't bother him, but either way, this blends nicely into the point I want to make.

Fuck the Oscars.

For that matter, fuck all the big time award ceremonies. Fuck the New York Times Bestseller list. (Who intentionally snub indie authors.) And the Grammies. Just, you know, a lot of them.

This may seem harsh, and it probably is. I try hard not to get too worked up about things anymore, I've got books to write. But what I'm really raging against here is this idea that a group of rich old people who are ridiculously disconnected from the world at large should have the final say on which movies, books, games or songs are the best.

I mean, when I put it that way, a lot of people will roll their eyes and say "That's not how it is." And yet...consider all the shit that got snubbed because it was ignored by someone who didn't even fucking watch it.

But again, in a broader view, I've come to think that award ceremonies are really just so much pomp and circumstance (and bullshit.) I get the idea of an award. It's meant to recognize excellence in some capacity. And that's cool, for the most part. I'm not one of those people who thinks that 'everyone's a winner!' and no one should have to fail. Because that's not how life works, nor should it, nor should we make anyone believe that that's how it works.

But so often it just seems like these awards get twisted and turned into a high school level popularity contest and/or a power trip. I get that at the end of the day determining something's value is really just people's opinions, but there are some metrics against we can at least partially judge against.

This could probably be better worded and more coherent, but I'm really tired right now and I'm trying to adhere to this schedule of posting something new every Monday and this is what was on my mind.

Ultimately, my point it this: stop fucking worrying about awards. Here's a few criteria you should measure your projects against:

-Did you have fun creating it?
-Are you proud of it?
-Do other people enjoy it?
-What kind of return are you seeing? Can you pay your bills off of it?

There's more, I'm sure, but this is what I think of when I create my work, and I imagine I always will. Especially that last one. Being able to pay my bills from writing books, even though I'm not really making much more than if I had a minimum wage full time job, puts me over the fucking moon with happiness. I mean, seriously, not having to put up with that hell alone is worth the battle.

As a small aside here, I don't, in any capacity, look down on people who work 'regular' jobs. Any jobs, really. I don't really look down on people. What I meant was, I can't fucking stand working jobs that require me to go to a place most days out of the week that I hate and deal with the general public and I'm extremely lucky that I no longer have to.

So yeah...something to think about? (Probably not.)

Monday, February 22, 2016

Interview with S. D. Perry

So, wow! I often reach out at random to famous people because I've figured out that sometimes it just works, against all odds. I've had contact with Carbon Based Lifeforms, Bob Mayer, Travis Milloy, James Rolfe, Gus from RoosterTeeth and Christian Alvart, though with varying levels of contact/success, some of them admittedly very brief. I got close to talking with John Carpenter once.

So now I can add another interview and person to the list. S. D. Perry! The author of seven Resident Evil novelizations, several Star Trek and Alien adaptations and other projects. I reached out to her last year, asking for an interview, and she said yes and answered all my annoying questions!

Also, joining me for this interview is my fellow creative type and best friend M. Knepper.

Let's get this started.

SA: Which author would you say served as the largest inspiration for you?

SD: Stephen King, probably. I read The Shining when I was ten, and have wanted to write since. Also my dad, who is a science fiction writer. He encouraged me a lot when I first started out. 
M: When you wrote Aliens: Labyrinth, were you intentionally going for a bleaker tone?

SD: It was a bleak graphic novel first. So, I already had about 100 pages of material, that I had to pump up to about 300. The story wasn’t my idea, just the character development and dialogue, descriptions, stuff like that.

SA: When and why did you begin writing?

SD: I’ve always written. My first poem, about my cat, I wrote when I was 8. I started keeping a journal when I was a tween, and wrote in it pretty much daily all the way into my 20s. By then, I’d started getting published.
M: What are your thoughts on the state of publishing?
SD: Well, self-publishing seems to have taken off, and I’ve considered doing some myself, but it’s a hard row to hoe if you don’t already have a fan base. Plus, advertising would be difficult; I’m pretty awful at self-promotion. I’m lucky to still be contacted occasionally by companies looking for write-for-hire. The royalties suck--contract writers usually write for a flat fee--but I enjoy writing for the sake of writing, so I don’t mind the work involved, trying to create an entertaining product based on someone else’s IP.

I do think that traditional publishing has some issues. When my original work makes the rounds, I get a lot of rejections by editors looking for the next breakthrough novel that will make them a zillion dollars, rather than someone just recognizing the quality of the work. It can be really frustrating.
SA: Being an author, I know that this is kind of a loaded question, but I still try to ask it whenever I can, because the answers are often interesting: Where do your ideas come from?
SD: The same place yours come from, I imagine: dreams, real life, random thoughts. In contract work, I look for inspiration in the original property. 
M: Did you intentionally go for a more action-orientated tone for Aliens: Berserker?
SD: Again, based on a graphic novel. I wrote it from the “outline" of an already published material.

SA: How did you get into the business of writing for already existing intellectual properties?

SD: My father was into it. When he got backlogged, writing novelizations of graphic novels for Dark Horse, he offered to let me co-write one of them. We did two together, and after that I started getting contacted on my own. Write-for-hire is kind of exclusive, generally invitation only, but once you get your foot in the door, your name gets around. 
M: How do you feel about the e-book market and Kindle?

SD: I have a Kindle, and love it. I read a book or two a week, at least. I gotta say, though, that a lot of people WANT to write, but don’t actually have the skills to publish. It’s hard to wade through so much bad writing to find the occasional doesn’t-totally-suck read. Maybe that’s harsh, I know that most of the people publishing are sincere and have worked hard to write their own book(s), but just because their friends and parents say it’s good doesn't mean it actually is. Unless you’re some kind of prodigy, your early work is going to be practice. I don’t understand the overwhelming rush to publish; I look back at some of my early work and cringe. Okay, some of my later work, too. Writing is an art and a craft, like learning to play a musical instrument; just because you’ve picked up a violin and figured out how to make noise with it doesn’t mean you’re ready to perform in front of people. I’m still practicing, and I’ve been writing for over 20 years.

SA: What kind of roadblocks do you run into when writing for already existing intellectual properties?

SD: Depends on the property. Novelizing something, like a movie script, is pretty regulated--that is, you stick to the material and don’t wander too far. Some franchises are very strict; when I did Star Trek stuff, I had to use a ST encyclopedia so that I wouldn’t contradict stuff that had already been written. I did an Alien(s) book not too long ago that was VERY research heavy, timelines, character bios, etc. 
M: Coffee or tea?
SD: Tea, usually. I’m old now, coffee kills my stomach.

SA: Which was your favorite IP to write for?

SD: Hmm. Not sure. When I’m working in a shared universe, I’m a fan of whatever the material is--that’s my job, to be a fan and then try to keep that feeling while I’m writing. So, I guess my favorite is whatever I’m working on at the time.
M: Favorite musician?
SD: Easy. Beck.

SA: I'm sure there are a lot of fans out there who would be angry at me if I didn't ask (although I already did ask on your Goodreads and got an answer) but, what happened with the Resident Evil franchise? Why are you no longer doing novelizations?

SD: I was hired to write those books. I was contacted by an editor working at Pocketbooks to write four novelizations, two game based and two original. They did pretty well so he hired me to write a few more. Pocket--or, rather, their parent company, Simon and Schuster--had leased the publishing rights for a set amount of time. Once their “lease” expired, someone else got the rights. For me to write more, whoever currently has the rights would have to hire me to do so. 
M: Did you enjoy writing the Resident Evil novelizations? Which one was your favorite to write?
SD: They were fun. I was in my mid-20s then, slamming them out first draft over a period of weeks, perpetually late on deadline… I wasn’t a very good writer at that point, but I didn’t know that. Caliban Cove was probably my favorite, because it was the first book I’d done where I had some real creative control.

SA: If you could novelize or expand upon any IP in the whole world, what would it be and why?

SD: I’ve never really thought about it. I’m happy just to be hired… any horror franchise, probably. Silent Hill would be fun. I got to do a little for The Walking Dead, which was very cool.
M: Have you ever written any film scripts or screenplays?
SD: Nope. I got a book on screen-writing some 20 years or so ago, and decided that the format was too rigid for me. Plus, visuals really aren't my strong suite.

SA: If you could co-author a book with any author current alive today, who would it be and why?
SD: I don’t know. I’m a pretty solitary person… okay, introverted to the extreme. I’m one of those people who doesn’t ever answer the phone because of performance anxiety. There are a lot of writers I respect and enjoy reading, but I couldn’t imagine trying to work with one of them. Collaboration can be tricky. 
M: Favorite author?
SD: I have favorite books and stories more than favorite writers. Like, Hell House, by Richard Matheson, is one of my favorites; I re-read it every December, but haven't cared for some of his other work. I like M.R. James a lot, most of his short stories. I loved Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill, most of Stephen King, early Clive Barker (Books of Blood) and Dan Simmons for Fires of Eden and The Terror. And Lovecraft, of course, although most of his dream-based stuff doesn't work for me.

SA: What do you think of Kindle Worlds, which allows anyone to write legal fan fiction for select IPs and get paid for it?

SD: I don’t really have an opinion. I know a lot of writers don’t like it, because they think Kindle isn’t paying enough. Myself, I think that if a fan wants to write in a shared universe because they love it, getting paid is icing. 
M: Do you have any future books planned?
SD: Yup. I’m on a deadline now for a TV show-related book, I have an original horror novel making the rounds via my agent, and I have a book due around Christmas that’s sort of original--I have to write about humans attacked by some kind of violent creature(s), but that’s the only restriction. Survival horror, in other words, which I’ve had some experience with.

And there you have it. I would like to thank S. D. Perry again for answering my questions and talking with me. It's been awesome.

You can find all of S. D. Perry's book's HERE on Amazon. And here she is on Goodreads. You can also follow her on Twitter.