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Corey J. White Posts

The Dread Month November

It’s that time of year again for writers. NaFuNoWriMo, or National Fucking Novel Writing Month.

After hitting over 52k last year, I’ve decided to cut myself some slack this time around, and instead of a 50k novel, I’m just planning to bust out a 30k novella (though if I hit 30k and the story isn’t told, I’m going to be annoyed. If I finish the novella before the end of the month though? Hey, bonus editing time!).

So, here are some hints for my fellow NaNoers.

  • Planning. I know it’s a bit late for this ’cause the month has already started, but for future reference outline. Outline as little or as loosely as you want, but have something there, some skeleton of a story for you to stitch wordmeat onto. Trust me. ‘Cause writing 50k words in a month isn’t really that hard, but writing 50k words in a month that form a good story that you’re mostly proud of? That either requires a fluke, or a lot of planning.
  • Goddamnit, stop! Unless you need to bank some words ’cause you know you need to take a day off in the near future, always stop soon after hitting your wordcount for the day. I know this seems counter-intuitive ’cause you’re aiming for LOTS of words, but if you keep writing until you hit the end of the chapter or some other natural break, you’re going to find it so much harder to pick up tomorrow. Stop a couple of sentences into a scene, so the next day you already know what scene you’re working on, and hopefully by the time you’ve finished that scene, your brain is in gear and ready for the next.
  • It’s not the end of the world. Seriously, if you don’t hit your word limit one day, or every damn day of November, it’s not the end of the world. If you hit your wordcount every day, but at the end of the month you’re pretty sure the story is an unpolishable turd, it’s not the end of the world. The great thing about NaNo is that a month really isn’t very much time. If you’ve got a project that you’re not sure about – dedicate a month of your life to it, and if it turns out to have not been worth it, so what? You only lost a month, it’s no big deal (unless you’ve got a terminal medical condition, in which case, fuck, I’m really sorry).
    Plenty of us writer types deal with depression and anxiety, and it’s really not worth damaging your mental health for the sake of this little festival of words. Look after yourself.
  • Have fun, experiment. David Foster Wallace certainly didn’t write Infinite Jest in a month, but Philip K. Dick probably churned out plenty of great novels in less than thirty days. So, maybe this isn’t the best time to start on the literary opus you’ve had in mind for the past three decades, but you could sure as hell write that book about a Werewolf… detective… tracking a missing… heirloom potato farmer… IN SPACE. Do something you normally wouldn’t do. Experiment with genres, experiment with styles. And yeah, have fun with it, otherwise, what’s the point?
  • Make your own rules. Finish something you already started. Re-write something that desperately needs it. Edit the everlasting stupid out of last year’s NaNo manuscript. Don’t feel like you need to write 1,667 words a day to take part. If you want to take advantage of this month-long wordfest, do it, get involved, and get involved in whatever way suits you.

And I think I’m done…

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Noise Pollution

Noise Pollution by Alison Wilgus is a fantastic short story, beautifully written, with a heart to it that hits you like a punch to the gut.

I’m not an idiot. I don’t leave the house without at least one set of juiced-up double-As, two if I remember when I’m putting my purse together. A minute is enough time for a spell to fall apart, and if you think you can find a bodega and buy a pack of batteries and swap them in and get your tape running again in less than five, you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.

Read the whole thing at Strange Horizons.

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Solarpunk

I’m not convinced that Solarpunk will become the next true movement of SF (I feel like it could easily go the way of Steampunk, becoming more of an aesthetic movement rather than a literary one with sociopolitical importance, but I’ll get into the -punks at some other time [and remind me to tell you how I invented cli-fi years ago, but I called it Ecopunk {but never managed to finish my Ecopunk thriller}]), but this is some very interesting food for thought.

On The Political Dimensions of Solarpunk:

Novelist Bruce Sterling […] says that the future is about “old people in big cities afraid of the sky.” This is inexorable. Barring radical cataclysm, the reasonably inevitable trends of urbanization, an aging populace and climate change will set the stage for life in the coming five decades. If you are a human living in the middle of the 21st century, chances are you will be elderly — or surrounded by the elderly. Chances are you will live in a city. Chances are your community, country and supply chains will be plagued by some combination of extreme weather, rising sea levels and droughts.

These are the facts we must build on and around, whether we are making solarpunk fiction, solarpunk fashion, solarpunk infrastructure, or solarpunk political demands. If solarpunk is to back up its optimism with meaningful solutions, or even meaningful notions, we must consciously consider how to respond to each of these trends.

Read the whole thing, but I’ll warn you now, it’s a long one.

And the above points to this: Notes Towards a Manifesto, which is shorter and shallower, but still interesting, and a better bet if you’re short on time and/or processor cycles.

And if you do want to think about Solarpunk fashion, it’s probably worth reading the below excerpt, taken from Deb Chachra’s Metafoundry Newsletter, about textiles and fashion after our current fashion industry has become so much dust inside so many abandoned sweatshops:

At some point in the 90s, I got my hands on modern synthetic technical textiles for the first time, made of polyester fibres that were now fine enough that the fabrics were soft and comfortable to the touch and could wick moisture. The first item was a Christmas gift, a Polartec fleece headband for running outside in the dead of winter in Toronto. When I went for a run wearing it for the first time, a day or two later, I didn’t think much about how my ears and head were warm and dry, until I got home, took it off, and was amazed to see the beaded moisture on the outside surface. The second item was a wicking polyester t-shirt that I bought for triathlons (and only for triathlons–it was expensive enough for me at the time that I saved it for race days). I could pull it on over a wet swimsuit and get on my bike, without worrying that it’d end up soaked and clammy like all the cotton t-shirts I normally wore to train. When I starting spending time there in the late 90s, I joked that the tech boom in rainy Seattle was facilitated (if not driven) by the rise of Gore-Tex. Since then, I’ve been keeping a close eye on advances in textiles as they move out into the mainstream (for me, that means 100% synthetic workout clothes from REI and the Gap–no more cotton t-shirts, ever–plus a few items from Nau and Outlier, and also amazing microfibre dishtowels). So I predictably absolutely adored this piece in Aeon about how textiles are a technology that has been underappreciated throughout history. A day or so later, a friend commented on the post-apocalyptic clothing in Mad Max: Fury Road and elsewhere, and that sent me down a late night rabbithole.

Given a vaguely-specified Hollywood-style apocalypse, where we ignore how going back a hundred years in technology will make the Black Death (and its associated massive cultural change) look like a day in the office when everyone is at home with the flu, what might clothing look like, say, a decade or two afterwards? If everything is pushed back to the level of handbuilt tech, the biggest issue with clothing is that there won’t be much of a supply chain. No supply chain means that, at least in the short term, the local clothing stocks will be a major determinant of what people wear. Where I live (the northeast US), that means cheap and ubiquitous t-shirts patchworked into everything, for a start–making quilts out of a hundred thousand unneeded t-shirts. Notions (zippers, hooks, buttons etc.) will be cannibalized from worn-out clothes–even cheap zippers bring together out-of-reach precision metallurgy and polymers, and reliable YKK zippers will be sought and prized. Speaking of polymers: Patagonia and North Face and Gore-Tex outerwear will be prized heirlooms, the most valuable garments made of durable, functional and irreplaceable technical synthetics (especially needful in New England winters). No supply chains means no polymers, nor much by way of dyes (most of which are derived from petroleum), which means returning to fibres that can be grown (and grown locally, initially). Plants or animal products like wool, as well as leather (probably not black, though) and fur. This was nicely captured in Mad Max: Fury Road: the Vuvalini of Many Mothers, who gardened, wore handwoven-looking scarves and fabrics in colours consistent with vegetable dyes. No sweatshops on the other side of the world means that the urban hipster hobbies of knitting and sewing are suddenly survival skills, assuming that raw materials can be found (and disposable sewing kits from hotels become immensely valuable for the sharp, strong steel needles). The city of Lowell, just north of where I live, was built in the 1820s as a factory town to manufacture textiles. Many of the canals, some of the water wheels, and a roomful of looms have been preserved as a national historic park. While they could be converted back to water, the timescale of that seems long enough that other technologies might be rebuilt.

This is just off the top of my head–I wonder about needles, about spinning strong but fine threads, about how warm clothes allow mobility in the wintertime. But ultimately, it’s hard not to feel like the idea of a catastrophe as a short sharp shock is an artifact left over from the Cold War and the insanity of concepts like ‘full-scale nuclear war’ and ‘mutual assured destruction’ and ‘nuclear winter’. The catastrophes that loom over us now are all happening in slow-motion: anthropocentric climate change, planetary-scale pollution, peak oil, pandemics (or some combination of all of the above, as occurs in William Gibson’s The Peripheral and referred to, with grim humour, as the Jackpot), which will likely allow at least some evolution in what people wear as they play themselves out. One thing is for sure, though–there’ll be mismatched plastic buttons everywhere, since they need millions of years to decompose, and crafters will be finding stashes of those suckers until the sun goes out.

And finally, I feel as though Warren Ellis & Paul Duffield’s Freakangels might have been the original solarpunk text, without realising it and long before the term was coined. Think about it – it’s set in a flooded world, and follows the exploits of a small group of people struggling to build themselves a sustainable community without help (or interference) from any authority but themselves.

Freakangels

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Reeeeeeeeer

I think writing should always be like that. Just like, “Reeeeeeeeer,” blasting through the desert on a three-wheeler with your mullet that you gave yourself, like, I don’t give a fuck.

– Claire Vaye Watkins, from this fantastic interview. You should read the whole thing. Special thanks to Jane Rawson for pointing it out in the comments.

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How Will We Live?

This article by Anab Jain is a thoroughly interesting and human look at… well, at a whole bunch of things relating to the modern experience (or perhaps the up-coming experience unless you live in the US and are well-off), Amazon, algorithms, the internet of things, death, etc…

How Will We Live?

How Will We Live?

It also includes this little piece of craziness:

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What They Want

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Lich House – Warren Ellis

I’ve long been a fan of Warren Ellis – his thinking in public, his creator-owned comics, and his novels and novellas. That said though, Lich House is perhaps my favourite thing that he has written. Presented as part of the Institute of the Future in 2013, it’s a phenomenal story; beautiful descriptions that drip with the sort of tactile body-horror Cronenberg used to bring to cinema, but in a completely unique post-cybperunk setting.

Excerpt:

The white room is bleeding to death.

A white vestibule, with white floors and white walls and a lit white ceiling. The only other color is red. A crack in one wall, exposing a raw fistula in the bioelectric packeting. Blood leaks from the hole, down three inches of slick white wall, to pool on the floor. A broken heart in the interstitial net of veins and wires that makes our houses live and breathe.

Somebody has murdered the house.

Read the whole thing at Boing Boing.

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Proof of Life

Write every story as if it was your last, whether suicide note or proof of life.

– Steve Aylett, Heart of the Original

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Space

I wrote this story in early 2010. It’s based on a true story, inasmuch as my then-partner had told me she needed space, and I twisted those words (in perhaps an obvious way) to come up with this story.

Five and a half years later, I don’t hate this piece. But I also see now that it’s less a story and more a slice-of-life or vignette.


 

“I need space,” Elisa said, her eyes steadfastly locked on the ground at her feet.

Clayton reached out to touch her side but she took half a step back; not enough to escape his reach, but enough to let him know the gesture wasn’t wanted. He dropped his arm back to his side.

“Can we talk about this?”

She shook her head slightly, a sign of both refusal and exhaustion. “I don’t know what to say, what you want me to say. I need space, I need to go, it’s as simple as that.” Her eyes were still focused on the ground.

“Okay,” he forced down the emotions that were churning inside him, “I guess it’s too late for me to change your mind.” He was surprised at how well he was keeping it together, but he knew there would be weeping later.

Somewhere a klaxon started wailing.

“They’re playing my song,” she said with a weak smile. “Goodbye.”

Elisa turned and began to walk away, her lithe figure and subtle movements somehow still visible beneath the heavily-insulated astronaut suit. He stood there on the platform watching her walk away.

In the distance behind her receding figure stood the massive rocket that was going to take her from him and give her space.

To him it was an anachronism; a pointless marriage of twentieth century science fiction, twentieth century Science, and Cold War hysteria.

To her it was everything.

He watched as she reached the shuttle’s doorway, stepped inside and disappeared into the belly of the monolithic machine.

The klaxons still wailed and the gangplank he stood on began to retract. It rattled and pitched violently beneath his feet, so he finally turned and walked away.

He put his hands in his pockets and looked up at the blue expanse of sky, with its limitless potential and the promise of infinite space beyond.

How can I compete with that?

Moments later the rocket engines fired. His ears were pounded with the thunderous noise of a billion chemical reactions and his feet tingled with pins and needles as the earth trembled.

The rocket began its ascent. He didn’t turn to watch, he just kept walking away.

#

Elisa floated, lost in the vast expanse of nothingness, connected to the universe – and the space shuttle – by nothing more than a long, thin, polyplastic tether. Small rocks drifted past, as though carried by a light breeze, caught up in the cosmic ballet of the galaxy’s rotation.

She reached out with an insulated glove and closed her fingers around a jellybean-shaped stone.

He always loved jellybeans, she thought, as she placed the rock inside the canister that was strapped to the side of her suit.

“Ware to Liberty; I have a sample, you can reel me back in. Over.” Elisa had to force herself to speak loudly – the incalculable reaches of space tended to awe and quiet her.

She watched as the tether began to tighten and then with a small tug she was falling back towards the space shuttle.

#

Inside it was far easier to work. She had taken off her gloves and was holding the miniature asteroid. Elisa turned the rock over, let it go and watched as it spun freely, before grabbing it again. She thought of him once more and this time she smiled.

The database onboard was agonisingly slow; the longer she sat there waiting for it to find a match for her sample, the more she let her mind wander.

She kicked her feet beneath the workstation she was strapped to. The motion didn’t work the same as it did on Earth, but she couldn’t stop herself from fidgeting.

The database beeped.

Zero matches found for Sample 2502. Please insert a name for New Element.

Her heart stopped, and she read the words again. Her hands shook as she typed a scientific-sounding variation of Clayton’s surname into the database.

Her index finger hovered over the Enter key as she read the name again. She let her digit drop onto the button with a clack.

She looked out the small, heavily reinforced window. She could see Earth far off in the distance – a small blue and green orb hundreds of thousands of kilometres away – and she missed him.

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You Are Dust

What then do you think about the label “post-apocalyptic,” a label that’s been applied to your novel? How would you feel if someone recommended your book to a friend as a post-apocalyptic novel?

The issue that I have with “post-apocalyptic” is that it connotes a kind of egocentricity. Even though we pretend it’s very disturbing—it’s hard to think about the apocalypse!—we do it so much. Kathryn Schulz wrote a really good piece about earthquakes in the New Yorker recently where she pointed out that many of our blockbuster movies imagine the end of the world. It can’t be that disturbing if Hollywood is doing it. I don’t believe we’re disturbed by apocalyptic thinking; I think we’re comforted by it because it makes us feel important. We think, If I survived to the end of humanity—we call it the end of the world of course, but the world doesn’t really give a shit whether we’re here or not—if I survived to the end of humanity I would be the pinnacle of our species and I would be important and, yeah, it would be tough, and I’d have to drink my pee or whatever, but I would still be special. And in fact, we’re not special. You and I will just die and go to dust and be forgotten just like everybody else and the world will keep turning. The apocalyptic thinking is really just kind of an egomania or a narcissism that makes us feel more comfortable than our true insignificance. That’s what I would just tell that nice person recommending my book, like, You are dust. [laughs]

– Claire Vaye Watkins in an interview here.

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