High School Alumnus -- Finally Again

Was never big on the high school reunion stuff. Had a great time at Paly (Palo Alto High School for those not of the body), but life is nothing if not days between stations and I moved on, didn't let the past consume me. Gods below, it's hard enough to get by day to day.

But recently found out a classmate had passed -- not that I particularly liked him and the feeling was mutual -- so you go back and see the obits. Again, no one I gave a hoot in hell for, but other classmates gave a shit about them. So I finally signed up on the alumni website. 

One of the hardest things to do as a writer is create, animate, and feel a character that has no redeeming qualities. They just are. No love, hate, affinity or disdain; they exist to fill a congruent role that the MC must deal with...or not. But we know these people. This is part of the fabric of our lives that enrich our experience (granted not much and who knows from what direction). But it's real life.

I won't ever go to a reunion (I couldn't care less about most of them when I was 17 and that has not changed). What would I say after all this time? Whatever those words might be, they'd be honest enough now to get a black eye and a fat lip and if I want that, all I needs do is make a disparaging comment about Jiminy's wardrobe. Pow!  Right to the moon!

Titus has a similar epiphany in volume 3 (oh...I didn't tell you there's a third book?) but the trigger is much different than this one. I may not be going to any reunions, but I am not quite crotchety enough, it seems, to pretend the past never happened. 


Now THIS is a Cure for Writer's Block

Just got back from New Orleans after visiting some of Jiminy's family. 5 hour delay leaving MSY -> SFO due to rain in Bay Area (for those who don't know, fog and rain cut SFO's traffic ability in half). Got to sleep at 3:30 this AM.

Life is s-l-o-w in the south, but it provides a reflective mood and I can see where "Southern Writers" get their languorous style. So to slow down this west coast techie, I made a few runs down to Willie's Chicken Shack, a chain of fried chicken and po' boy eateries in NOLA. Go for the chicken but stay for the daiquiris! 

They sell these monster alcoholic slushies out of oversized slurpee machines in a variety of flavors and alcohol types. My fav? The Hurricane, of course, with 151 rum. A 32 oz. bad boy that will get you languorous and then some. 


Nice to slow down before the final push to complete the first draft for The Fifth Circle volume 3. Oh. before I forget. If you make it to New Orleans, do not miss dinner at Atchafalaya, a nouvelle southern cuisine restaurant in the Irish Canal district. The crawfish and boudin stuffed beignets are spectacular.   





Well Hell, That's A STORY

Watched the Oscars last night for the first time in whatever and didn't realize Kobe Bryant really created something, told a story, and was recognized for it. It's worth the 5 minutes to watch. And learn.


The former Los Angeles Lakers star won an Oscar in the animated short category for "Dear Basketball," a poem he wrote after ending his 20-year career on the court in 2016.

Your Creative Lens Matters

Two nights ago Jiminy said her BFF had made it MANDITORY we watch the new(ish) flick, Darkest Hour, starring Gary Oldham as Winston Churchill. As a WW II history buff—inherited from my dad who served stateside but never got overseas because of his lousy eyesight, another inheritance—I was all in. And boy, are you all in. There are many stories about how a skinny Oldham became the puffy bulldog Churchill, but the performance is amazing.

In any event, as references were made to Dunkirk, Ms. Cricket said, “OH OH OH we have to watch Mrs. Miniver,  a 1942 film with Walter Pidgeon and Greer Garson" and we did so last night. I had heard of the flick, but had never seen it (of course Jiminy is an old movie buff extraordinaire and you would lose every time you bet against her).  There is a tangential connection to the Dunkirk operation that is brilliantly and understatedly told—from the rescuers’ perspective, rather than the big-budget movie last year.

What struck me in both films was great storytelling. Darkest Hour takes place over just a couple of weeks, while Mrs. Miniver takes place over couple of years. And each story is unique: Churchill’s rise to Prime Minister at a time of England’s greatest need, and a suburban English family living with the impending and, ultimately, devastating cost of war.

I know there are people out there who go, “YAWN . . . we’ve seen that movie before . . .” But not really. Good storytelling is good storytelling. Character, Obstacle, Conflict, and Stakes. Have we heard these stories before? Yes. In this particular way? Maybe . . . maybe not. I was reminded of a quote from French writer Andre Gide, “Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.”

As we strive, struggle, and like hormonally-crazed salmon try and return upstream in our creative frenzy, remember that as a painter, a photographer, writer, or designer, we’re re-stating what needs to be re-started. Just re-state it through YOUR lens.


Can Truly Alien Aliens Exist in SF?

Was part of group discussion on another board where the subject was "truly alien." I then remembered an interview in Unbound Worlds with author China Mieville, a way over-educated young Brit who writes brilliant, weird SFF. Rather than explain it, I'll let the question and answer speak for itself.

Portraying authentically alien intelligences- in the sense that they’re not just humans with pointy ears or green skin – must be an incredibly difficult task for an author. How do you approach this?

I don’t just think it’s difficult, I think it’s literally impossible. If you are a writer who happens to be a human, I think it’s definitionally beyond your ken to describe something truly inhuman, psychologically, something alien. However, that doesn’t mean there’s no point trying, or that you can’t do some pretty interesting things with flaws and failures, and the very asymptotic aspiration is pretty exciting. You can play games – you can imply consciousness beyond ours, you can hint at things obliquely, you can not say too much, you can have a character describing in passing. I don’t think you can succeed, but I think you might just fail pretty wonderfully.

Though there are some honourable Forehead-of-the-Week aliens, too, in our tradition. SF seems to oscillate between cheerfully unalien aliens, and inadequately but, crossed-fingers, interestingly more alien-ish aliens.


Shameless plug: Mieville's unbelievably great urban fantasy police procedural, The City and the City, is in production as a 4-part BBC series. Highly recommended book and if BBC 2 doesn't totally muck it up, the show will be extremely compelling. 

Sad Lisa, Lisa

Lisa -- Jeff and Jenny's youngest daughter -- is lured and then brutalized by Het and Tannann. She wanted control over her world -- as many young girls want in 2018. But she has no idea what she's have to relinquish to get that control..... 

Lisa Miller.jpg

A Void of Compassion

My friend Bob is a mountain climber, and has summited Everest and other Himalayan peaks. So it was with a great deal of sadness he passed along a story about the death of revered Lama Geshe, 87, of Pangboch, Nepal. With his death, we also lost kindness, understanding, and compassion, perhaps the ultimate Buddhist blessing on us all.

After greed, guns, lies, racism, inequality, and planet-cide, this is a sorrow that affects me deeply. We need more people of compassion. Everywhere. Please read the blog post by the mountaineer who initially reported this tragedy. 



Deny. Deny Deny. Global Warming Is A Hoax (throws up).

It is 1 PM on the afternoon of 4 February (13:00 for my friends in Europe) and it is 77 degrees (again, for right-thinking countries, 25 degrees). This is a bit, um, unusual. Generally speaking--and us in Northern Californians keep it a deep-state secret -- January and February are pretty darn nice, particularly when you know that June through August is always socked in with fog. There's a reason why they sell so many sweatshirts to non-California tourists at Fisherman's Wharf. And , again, generally speaking there's usually a few days here and there between January and April where the weather can be warm for a day or two. 

Um, not so much this year. This is the 5th day in a row of 70 + (21 +) degrees with no measurable precipitation or cooling in sight. It ain't normal! Now, as completely fucked up as the gestalt of wrong this is, you kinda have to take advantage of good weather when you can get it -- particularly in The City (NOT Frisco and NOT San Fran!). Yet if is the new normal, I'm alarmed, as most  people should be. 

Oh, well. Time for another Mai Tai. Sees yuz!



Trying to Make Sense of the Series Mentality

First, a message from your sponsor: Happy 2018 to everyone—let’s hope we don’t have a repeat of 2017 with political strife, natural disasters, and international gamesmanship. Can’t we just give peace a chance?

It’s been amazing to experience the process of creating a series of books with interlinked arcs. There is no one way to do it, just your way.


I was reminded of this watching Babylon 5 for the third time through. For those unfamiliar with the 5-year syndicated SF show from the 90s, it was J. Michael Straczynski’s masterpiece of storytelling. It might have not had the special effects of The Expanse, or the taut drama of the Battlestar Galactica reboot, or the off-beat characters of Firefly, but the story is remarkably—some would say uncannily—tight and complete from end to end.

When I first binged it at my brother’s recommendation, the point was to “find out what happens.” I think this is common to all series, whether visual or written; it’s only in subsequent viewings or readings that linkages and foreshadowing make sense. These connections enrich the story over time; I am re-reading The Malazan Book of the Fallen at present and the richness and complexity of the story comes forth in ways I completely missed first time through.

In my second binge of Babylon 5, I found a similar richness; how did the writer know that an action in season 1, episode 12, would be pivotal to a turning point in early season 4? The series is rife with these long-distance foreshadowings and connections. When I realized this, I could only shake my head at Straczynski’s genius.

Now, however, in the third binge, I’m not so sure it’s pure genius. Oh, certainly there is a great attention to story detail and major character growth—a hallmark of Bab 5 as opposed to the Trek canon, where Kirk and Picard will ALWAYS be the same Kirk and Picard. But in creating the linkages in The Fifth Circle—now conceptualized through 5 books—I think there’s something less magical going on. It’s called happy accidents. Was that turning point in season 4 deliberately foreshadowed in season 1, episode 12 or when Straczynski was writing season 4 did he said to himself, “Wow. I could use that thinga dinga I did in season 1 episode 12 to get through this tricky turning point.”?

Having said that, I have no doubt those who write series—movies, TV, or books—have an intent and a deep understanding of how their world plays out. But is it ALL deliberate? In my personal experience, no. And the more I look at series from that perspective, the more I see the combination of careful planning and serendipity at work. Every creator’s mileage will vary, but that balance, to me, is what makes the process so damn interesting!


Friends Of The World

I have tried to keep my political commentary to myself because I know it will ruffle feathers (scales?) in certain enclaves. But I have to bust out with this one because I am so god damned frustrated with the politics in the USA. Most thinking people never though it could happen, yet it did. Another reminder we need as we trudge toward harmony amongst the ratfuckers.

"Don't be afraid of anything Don't be afraid of anyone. "


Love Triangles Bad for SFF?

Just read a Reddit thread where people complained of having to put up with love triangles in SFF. I'm not sure I agree. 

When I began writing The Fifth Circle, it was always meant to have a love interest because Jeff was a happily married Earthan and his world view is deeply colored by his relationship with Jenny. It provides a very natural dramatic tension when he is uprooted against his wishes.  

Fast forward to Here and the dynamic changes completely. We are introduced to Mykanna, Titus's mate, and Jeff--now Titus as well--can't help but to feel drawn to her, particularly after he finds that Jenny was a re-programming of Shandann, the captain of his house guard. After her rescue, Shandann is deprogrammed--but not completely--and she still harbors deep feelings for Jeff/Titus based on an unrequited past and her role as Jenny. 

So it's a triangle no one wanted, but it exists and must be dealt with. It does not play to type, but provides any number of branching dramatic arcs that, I think, make the backbone of the story stronger.

What do you think? 


 Jenny Miller

Jenny Miller






YES - Making Art The Right Way

Saw Yes (featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, and Rick Wakeman) at the sumptuous Mountain Winery last night. I have always been a progressive rock fan and have seen Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, King Crimson, and myriad prog rockers countless times over the years.

What frosts my gnarlies is the critics’ easy wash of prog as “sci-fi/fantasy music.” Because it ain’t. As a musician (jazz) I appreciate composition, arrangement, dynamics, and melody/harmony. Just because a record jacket was designed by Roger Dean or Hipgnosis doesn’t make it “sci-fi.”

I was reminded of that last night when the band played one of their signature songs under an enhanced arrangement that was unexpected and gorgeous, much more Sibelius than Stanislaw Lem. I think this is what we writers strive for in our own craft, taking tropes and turning them on their ear so everything is new again. That is craft. That is imagination. I couldn’t conceive of working any other way.