Wednesday, October 24, 2012

That Writing Entry I Said I Didn't Want to Do

... I joined a writing group.

To be fair, I joined this writing group two years ago, when I lived within walking distance of the place they were meeting, but then I had little bundle of joy, moved, worked a lot, and moved some more. But recently, I was motivated to check up on this group again, and found they met not too far from where I live now. So, I went.

Why, oh WHY didn't I go dressed like this?

Now, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I've been a part of Permuted Press' online writer's critique group (the Pit) since 2007, and I've learned quite a bit there. People have come and gone from the group, but there remains a core of participants, some of whom can boast quite extensive publishing histories. And it's been wonderful. A while back, one of us had joined another writer's group, and came back with horror stories about how useless it was.

Needless to say (ah-HAH, but I'm saying it anyway) I went to the meeting with a slight bit of trepidation. When I got there, the group's coordinator was explaining the weekly meeting schedule to another person who had also joined some time ago and not visited, and he handed me a business card while he did so, with this same information on the back.

Shiny, I thought. This guy has his shit together. A realy hoopy frood.

The Saturday meeting I ended up at was a "Shop Talk," I learned, where the group would discuss the mechanics of writing, the process, what works for them... all the stuff I said I didn't want to blog about. (Still don't.) Gathered around the group of tables was a range of people, ages from the mid-twenties to the mid-fifties, I would guess. (I didn't ask.) And all with varying degrees of experience in writing; one of the people there was an ex-military journalist, who had a completed manuscript and was in talks with an agent, while another wanted desperately to write but didn't know where to start, and everyone else fell somewhere in-between.

After the initial "getting to meet you" bullshit, there was some discussion about membership and participation, and then it meandered just a bit before the other new person asked about the methods of writing, which opened up things. We talked about paper and pen vs computer, and voice recognition software to cut down on transcription time, which then drifted into a conversation about other methods, outlining and 3x5 cards and Story Bibles.

There were other techniques brought up, and one guy had a deck of Story Forge cards, which I thought were neat, but I don't think I have a use for. And that went to illustrate a point, that my method may work for me, but you have to find the thing that will work for you.

My weapon of choice when I have to make a decision.
 The discussion ranged all through the before, during and after stages of novel-writing, which was kind of nice. And all of a sudden, just as we really got to talking, the two hours was up. We put the tables back where they belonged, said our goodbyes, and I walked back to where I had parked, unsure how I felt about the group. When I got home, I talked to my Bestest Friend and Confidant, Kitty, and told her what I said here, still unsure how I felt about it all.

She encouraged me to do whatever I felt best, as she normally does, unless she knows when I'm fucking something up, which is often. I'm still not sure what that is, but I will be participating in this group remotely.

I said all that to say this: If you have the option, join a writing circle of some kind, if you haven't already. The kind of feedback you'll get from a dedicated group of writers/editors is invaluable, and the increased number of high-powered eyes on your work will definitely highlight the areas that need work.

And one more word on that: If you join a group, be in the group. Recently, there was a new member to the novel group I'm a part of, who got his novel reviewed, kicked back all our feedback (more or less) and then went on to self-publish the work with little revision. This author wasted all our time, and he "ate and ran," not returning to critique the next work in the queue, or the work after that. Don't be that guy.

Next time, I want to talk about the Doctor. Oh, you know who I mean.

-Thom Brannan

Monday, October 22, 2012

That Mad Serbian Lightning Man

Last time I posted, I said, "Next week, I'd like to talk about Tesla." I am, apparently, a goddamn liar. Or I don't own a calendar. Make what you will out of that.

To many minds, Nikola Tesla was the father of the twentieth century. The Industrial Age would not have been the same without the fruit of the fertile mind of the Serbian-born genius, and it's a damn shame that kids don't learn anything about him, getting instead the propaganda from the Edison camp.

(That's what Thomas Alva Edison was good at. Two things: swooping in on patents when inventors were down on their luck, and PR. Everybody "knows" Edison invented the light bulb, right? Gah.)

But there are other articles on the War of the Currents, articles that are both better researched and better written than what I might have for you. What I wanted to talk about mainly was how Tesla acted. He was a strict man, and when he gave his word, he kept it to the best of his ability. He expected the same of you, and it was quite often he didn't get what he was expecting.

(But no, I'm not ranting about Edison. I promise.)

Instead, this short blog will be about Tesla's ethics. I know my last blog was mostly the same thing, but I seem to be stuck on this, still. Why now? I couldn't tell you. But it seems appropriate, so here we are.

Had Tesla wanted, he could have cashed in on all the patent money he was owed by the Westinghouse corporation and driven them into bankruptcy. That is amazing, that one man had so much hold on the technology of the day, he could have broken the company he was working for, just by getting his due. Instead, he took just enough to keep his experiments going, and even at the end, when his financers backed out on the free energy project (sad, though Tesla might should have seen that coming) and everything collapsed like a house of cards, he didn't take what he could have from Westinghouse.

Eventually, his patent money dried up (the stuff he was collection on) and he was left more or less high and dry. Oh, not right away. He had several rather wealthy and generous investors, one of whom he did kind of... well, lie to. John Astor gave Tesla a lot of money to develop one thing, and Tesla used it to develop something else. This strikes me as odd, having read what I have of Tesla's life, and it makes me wonder what the hell else was going on in his life at the time.

I guess that just goes to show, the guy was human, for all his genius. He had his faults. Besides the OCD, he was also a proponent of imposed selective breeding. Yeah, I know. You don't have to tell me that's fucked up. But anyway. As a scientist, he was occasionally close-minded, which seems odd to hear about such a maverick.

Tesla ended up living poor, giving the occasional (and unusual) statement to the press and trying to find investors for whatever he was working on at the time. Because of the mostly unfettered vision Tesla had, it was hard for him to find money. He's the original Mad Scientist, you know? When he said things like, "I can make your motors more efficient," investors threw cash at him. When he said things like, "I can talk to Mars," mmm, not so much.

He died penniless and in debt, his largest project, that of wireless energy transmission, a failure.

Unfortunately (for both of us, me writing and the one guy reading) I don't have a life lesson tucked away somewhere that will help make sense of all this. Nor do I have an upside. For the most part, Nikola Tesla did what he said, or did his damnedest to, and in the end, he was a broken old man, whose best friend was a pigeon. (No shit, look it up.) And the first person to royally fuck him over lived a good life, active in the community and with awards named after him until he died of diabetes. Rich as sin.

Maybe there is a life lesson there, a kind of truncated Golden Rule: Do unto others.

How does that make you feel? It makes me feel old and cranky, so I guess I'll stop here. Next time (not next week, I know better than that now) I'll have something slightly happier, I hope. Maybe something about writing. I know, I said I wouldn't, but recent developments have decided otherwise for me.

-Thom Brannan