28 October, 2015

Plans for NaNoWriMo and those Short Stories

I'll admit, I completely forgot about the short stories that I intended to post in August. Instead, I got sidetracked reading through what I had for Maximum Security Showcase so far...

...and I decided it needs the NaNoWriMo treatment for the second time in a row.

Why? I noticed while skimming through it that there was too much going on, and that some of it detracted from the major conflict at play. In some places, it made the whole thing a disjointed mess with supporting characters taking the action away from where it actually should be. Hence the decision to undertake NaNoWriMo yet again.

Unlike last year, I'll be using LibreOffice to write the story so that I'm not stuck, going anal over what to title those scenes in Scrivener. I did a test writing sprint in late August and managed 638 words in about an hour. With that, I have no doubt that I can sprint through November and finish with a much tighter story.

Wishing fellow NaNoWriMo participants all the best this November!

As for the short stories...

I'm pushing them back to December and January respectively as a two-part serial featuring Mark and Andy from the flash fiction filed in Man vs. Retail. They will be cross-posted on Ello and Wattpad as I mentioned previously.

Additional Note: I'll be honest: I also got distracted by doing some late Spring cleaning, binge-watched some old favorites, and pondered about leaving Facebook indefinitely, which I finally deactivated last week. I harped on Ello about the network alongside other privacy snafus. I initally posted something about that last week, but retracted it, preferring to wait until my one year Ello anniversary rolls around to explain why.

26 October, 2015

Reviewing David Mitchell’s Thinking About it Only Makes it Worse and Jan Wong’s Red China Blues

Note: Cross-posted from Ello

Thinking About it Only Makes it Worse

My newfound love of British Comedian, David Mitchell, goes all the way back to Douglas Adams who inspired me to write in the first place. I can’t count how many times I read through the entire Hitchhikers’ Guide series during high school, but it made that journey so much easier and then some. Not only did I start writing fiction because of Adams, I discovered Doctor Who through “Voyage of the Damned”, my first foray into all things Whovian that happened to feature the Starship Titanic.

It was through a conversation between Arthur Dent and Fenchurch where I first discovered the Guardian and in 2010 I started reading it. Or rather, I frequented their website where I found myself going through articles from columnists including Charlie Brooker, Marina Hyde, and Hadley Freeman. The first two got me hooked—Brooker with his cynical take on modern television and Hyde through her contributions to the Lost in Showbiz blog that poked at celebrities from escapades to personalities.

I read through David Mitchell’s Observer columns, but it wasn’t until after I graduated from university last year when I decided to reread through them as curated in Thinking About it Only Makes it Worse. Why? Thank that time when I watched through That Mitchell and Webb Look last December while sick with a common cold. Those sketches helped me forget how ill I was and turned those couple weeks around from the usual sluggish doldrums.

Like those sketches, Mitchell’s book is just as clever. At first glance, it looks like a self-help book with chapters that group common twenty-first century nuances. This impression helped bring out the humor of the whole thing and hooked me in. Unlike Brooker, Freeman, or Hyde, Mitchell takes a more modest approach that brings out his wit throughout, sometimes imagining satirical situations or pointing out the irony in politics. He knows how to weave anecdotes and wit together to make his modest approach effective, more so than Brooker’s hyperbolic tirades about television. Every chapter had me grinning from ear to ear and made Mitchell’s column worth reading and re-reading.

Red China Blues

I previously mentioned on here how I found this book in the first place along with why I was fascinated with China. This book turned out to be more than I expected.

Jan Wong’s initial Maoist leanings prompt her to head over to China to find out how the ideology plays out, only to find herself studying at Bejing University. From there she tells about what happened during her stay as she weaves reportage and memoir together to create a vivid image of her ancestral home.

Wong’s exploration of her Marxist leanings reminded me of the chapter in Mark Kermode’s book, It’s Only a Movie, where Kermode travels to Russia with his colleague, Nigel Floyd, in order to cover the filming of Mariano Baino's Dark Waters. Kermode himself comes from a similar ideological background, explaining his own Trotskyism while he studied at Manchester in a previous chapter. While in awe at Moscow, he finds himself becoming disenfranchised as he finds himself in more squalid, and unequal, conditions.

Wong’s own experience turns out similar albeit with completely different results as China’s government almost expels her for a trip to the Soviet embassy with a friend. The memoir doesn’t end with her university experience, but moves forward to her days as a Bejing correspondent for the Globe and Mail where she found herself covering the Tianmen Square massacre. Her firsthand experience along with her other investigations reveal China’s more corrupt and inhumane secrets alongside the eventual denial of the massacre from government officials.

Throughout all this, Wong’s voice matures gracefully and sometimes laughs at her past as a Maoist. I’m not keen on spoiling anymore of it. This is a must read for anyone who loves a good memoir, or wants to learn about China from a firsthand account.

22 October, 2015

On Maximum Security Showcase: Specters of Data

Note: Cross-posted from Ello

This foray into the long-term project starts with a confession: I finally got around to buying a copy of Specters of Marx months after I first wrote about it. I plan on reading through it before and during NaNoWriMo so I know more about what I’m dealing with.

Before that, I had some ideas about hauntology that I wanted to test out in the story. All of which deal with the other major source of conflict that I started writing out in June. That aspect in question is another character who is responsible for that “hearsay” through a start-up which merges both social media and TV news. I was inspired, in part, by Hossein Derakhshan’s article, “The Web We Have to Save” where he points out a metaphorical shift regarding how most users use the web today:

But the Stream, mobile applications, and moving images: They all show a departure from a books-internet toward a television-internet. We seem to have gone from a non-linear mode of communication — nodes and networks and links — toward a linear one, with centralization and hierarchies. 
The web was not envisioned as a form of television when it was invented. But, like it or not, it is rapidly resembling TV: linear, passive, programmed and inward-looking.

This, alongside the the algorithmic filters which drive networks like Facebook, brought me back to what a columnist mentioned during a talk at my university; clicks drove most of the front page content. The story’s start-up would compliment that notion, where likes, tweets, and comment threads would drive the rolling coverage.

That’s also where the “bare-bones” hauntology comes in along with that video on Murdoch’s Australian. Not only bare-bones, but personal as this start-up makes the showcase into a full-fledged throwback where those rumors become the top story. All because of of that data stored in those servers, and as Maciej CegÅ‚owski points out in his talk, called “Haunted by Data”, is very similar to how long it takes for nuclear radiation to decay:

The data we're collecting about people has this same odd property. Tech companies come and go, not to mention the fact that we share and sell personal data promiscuously. 
But information about people retains its power as long as those people are alive, and sometimes as long as their children are alive. No one knows what will become of sites like Twitter in five years or ten. But the data those sites own will retain the power to hurt for decades.

No matter how far they escape, data’s absolute nature brings back the worse of their past, both the main character and his friend, and morphs their adult lives straight in the volley of high school and college gossip. “You never change,” becomes a presumed absolute instead of merely an expression. Once that data goes live, they can’t change. At least the viewers will think so when that start-up goes live.

The visit from someone else was only just the beginning…