Skiving-diving

Okay so I was skiving today. Or diving. Much the same thing. A hard day at the office, not. I should have been working, Barbs just gave me her edits of TOM. But instead, carpe divem – the weather was good the season opened yesterday. It’s still rather physically tiring. I’m an old diver, and you only have one kind of diver after fifty years at it, and that’s a pessimist, at least by preparation (yes, and stupid. But young divers are stupid too, but can be optimistic.). All the others are dead or have sensibly gone on to play golf or something, having had one of those moments you normally need to take bowel-prep for before a Colonoscopy for. Much the same is true of trad rock-climbers, so I got a double dose.cray

That’s a 5 pound spiny lobster I took out of a cave 30 feet down today. Yes, I am claustrophobic.

One day I may well die down there, having picked on just too narrow an underwater cave to squirm into after a spiny lobster, or have my equipment fail, or just ask too much of my body. But in the meanwhile… I am a hunter-gatherer. I love my diving, and I’d rather die down there being what I am, than not. One day my health might not permit it. I might listen. I might be forced to.

Now this trip is mildly different to many others, as it was on my little old boat – a Zodiac so old it just about needs a zimmer frame (it is older than me) with the compressor I imported from the US (half the local price but good quality, because you cannot skimp on air.) and a far too small outboard I repaired – everything is scavenged, fixed and made from scrap, bought by conserving pennies, second or third or fourth hand. It’s all carefully checked, maintained, cleaned – because pessimist… It’s not the boat or the gear that my richer friends have and can afford. I can’t go as far with it, or catch as much. There’s a huge amount more work involved, for me. I’m a reasonably popular crewman – and I’ll get sites (a place = site on a boat) to fish or dive often. Minimal expense, some reward. Of course, the boat owners get a share of my catch for that, and my labor, and knowledge. I am a more successful fisherman than I am a diver, as local knowledge counts a lot more underwater.

But I can go when I can go, when I choose to go. This is very like being able to bring out your own books. It’s a lot of hard work, you will need to acquire a load of new skills, and quality costs, and there are some things you just can’t not spend on. You can be clever about it, spend less, and still get quality. You may not go as far, or sell as much. But, reality bullet – 1) you can’t always get a publisher to take you. 2) They don’t actually DO all that much for everyone. Oh yes, if you’re a darling they paid x million for, they do a lot. If you’re a minimum advance noob… they might do something for your ego. Will do some work on the cover. Not a lot else. It’s over to you to do the promotion. Quite possibly do a lot of the proofing. The distribution they offer will be not a lot up on ‘buy online’ – brick and mortar stores especially for noobs and even midlisters are not major display outlets.

It’s worth at least being able – and willing to push your own book out, especially if you have a following of some kind, but even if not, you can build one. It’s hard work, but may be better than no fish… uh readers at all. And if it is yours you will be more careful about putting it together, checking, maintaining etc. than any publisher ever. Well, it’s that or let your optimism kill your effort and quite possibly a good book.

Talking of pessimists-by-preparation, John Scalzi (and I paraphrase, I am too lazy to look it up) tweeted the other day “Pro tip for writers, don’t abuse authors or their work. They’ll remember you.”

A lot of us were very amused by this. It’s good advice. But it was coming from someone who has regularly done the opposite. Was he expressing regrets? Wishing he’d learned this earlier? Passing it on to his editor or Irene Gallo (who called Jim Butcher, among others, a bad author) or various puppy kickers? Commendable! Puzzling, if overdue. Still, good pessimist-by-preparation advice. Do unto others…

Then it came to me, putting myself inside his character…

It’s a threat. They can terribly effective if you do them well, Slartibartfast said.

It’s different when he or his friends do it, obviously. We are to respect them, not conversely.

I’m a very minor pro, and my tips are probably worth precisely what you pay for them. But here is mine: Pro tip for writers. Learn to put yourself in the shoes, thoughts and headspace of people totally unlike you. Learn to write from their perspective. A great deal of TOM is written from a cat’s perspective. Some of DOG AND DRAGON is written from the sheepdog’s perspective. JOY is from a spinster urban priest’s perspective. If you can’t do this, you may have one or two good books in you – but essentially you’re writing one character, yourself, and those who are very like you. Unless that’s exceptionally appealing… people get a bit sick of it.

Even if you detest those other people who see the world differently, and wish nothing but ill on them, and plan to destroy them… you’ll write it a lot better understanding what they do and feel and why they think or act as they do.

Now here’s your little exercise in putting yourself into an obnoxious Monkey’s headspace and character. Do you think threats work well on someone like me? 😉

31 Comments

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31 responses to “Skiving-diving

  1. Oh, I put myself regularly in the heads of people who aren’t anything like me – all the time; 19th century male adventurers on the American frontier, mostly. Other than being human and American (sort-of-mostly) nothing like me at all.
    As for Scalzi and his ilk, they’ve already said the worst they can say about the Puppies and friends, so unless there is some kind of Writer’s Organization that can see that Puppies and sympathizers can be rounded up and confined to a reeducation camp … not certain how they can burn their bridges any more than they have already.

    • I can imagine fewer things more dangerous than all of us locked up together…

      “The Saxon is not locked in with you. _You_ are locked in with the Saxon.”

  2. Christopher M. Chupik

    Yes, Scalzi, we will remember.

    You know, I’m reminded of an author (who shall go nameless for his own good) who is actually reasonably talented. But he also thinks he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread and spends a lot of time disparaging other writers. Said writer is not as well-known as they could be, and likely never will be.

  3. Yum!

    I think some of the hardest characteristics to write are the ones you don’t comprehend. They’re baffling in real life. For me, it’s people who don’t want to ever be alone. People who will put time and effort into getting people close to them. I’ve observed a young man I know get panicky at the thought of living alone. And now I suppose I ought to write someone like that. Or maybe someone who doesn’t like dogs.

    • Angus Trim

      Writing about people that you can’t comprehend……….. Yes.

      I met an old friend on Friday night, I hadn’t seen in three years, hadn’t talked to in two years. She always was really cheerful, and had a fun, dry sense of humor.

      Friday night, she was full of suppressed anger. The evening started well, with a hug and a smile. But before dinner really got started, the venting started. At my point in life, not the first time I’ve run into this, but it’s something I’ve always had trouble dealing with.

      Saturday morning, while going over the previous evening in my mind, I asked myself what I’d learned. Besides the obvious that is, including that I spend to much time alone.

      I need to write this into a character. Let it take on a life of its own…….

    • This. I expend more effort trying to get those right, than on ones who are different but for whom I have a high degree of understanding.

    • I loved dogs since I was little, then I went through ten years of being terrified of them. The trigger? Three guard dogs (Pitts) jumped over the fence of the house across from the school and made for the the baby carriage I was pushing. I got in frotn of them (Natch) and fortunately the owner called them back in time. BUT that incident made me terrified of dogs for ten years. Amanda’s dog, Rocky, cured that. NO ONE could be afraid of Rocky. BTW that house? Yeah, they were producing kiddy porn, including inviting kiddies from the elementary school in for photos. YUCK.

  4. Nathan

    Scalzi would be good to remember his threat is a double-edged sword. But he’d be forced to acknowledge “John Scalzi Banned This Book But He Can Never Ban My Burning Love”. (I wish I was joking. The feud between Scalzi and Vox Day got a little weird after the Hugos.)

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      You sound like some sort of bigot who doesn’t want ‘John Scalzi is a Rapist’ nominated for the next round of Hugo. 🙂

  5. When those lobsters see you, they’re probably pretty sure it’s Chluthlu come to take his due…

    And I write from an alien’s perspective. He’d be real astonished if there were any humans in his tale. 😀

  6. Threats might work on soft heads (or possibly hearts), but monkeys tend to get harder heads the longer they survive. Anthropology training had me handling a rather lot of monkey skulls and bones and bits of bones, so this, at least, I know. Threats probably tend to go over like a wet fart, with at most a giggle, or an eye roll, or a “what did you EAT?” if especially odoriferous.
    We’re problems solvers by nature. “Threats” aren’t reasons. They’re obstacles. Sometimes very, very small ones. The kind ants step over, rather than go around. Small threats like “the cool kids won’t like you anymore” generally get a “so? They never liked us anyway, so no loss there,” response. Just like the “right side of history” and naughty name calling, the –isms and –ists. Small beans.
    Or just possibly, if the threat is delivered *just* right, it makes monkeys (and men) just that much more obstinate and determined. Is the fruit on too high a branch? Been told we can’t get it? We climb, we saw a limb off, we knock it down with a rock, or snip it away with a clever little catchpole… Or if we’re told “you must do it *this* way,” or use this special digging stick, and be mindful of “privilege” and “cultural appropriation,” or some other silly nonsense, we tend to wander off to go our own way. And, most often, we find another path to where we want to go.
    That’s the best answer to such small threats. Live well, laugh, and learn the lesson such folk can teach: don’t be the kind that makes small threats. That sort of person thinks much of himself, presumes his thoughts and opinions carry more weight than they actually do, and is generally less happy with life in general.
    Has to be. All those folk carry around incorrect opinions and thoughts in their heads, how troubling. Why, they simply *must* hate us, those incorrect folk that catch fish and lobsters and write terribly incorrect books, whose main characters are all straight white male humans, and all the villains of each piece are depressingly the same: gay/minority race/underprivileged lepers. Probably some sort of pasty supremacists or something. Glue nazis.
    And one must keep up with the latest outrage. It wouldn’t do to fall behind all the beautiful multi-colored people who’ve been *so* oppressed by white male Republican Mormons that probably feed their enemies into the grotesquely large wood chipper they all have towed behind their penile substitute monster trucks.
    *chuckle*
    Cataloguing all the things you have to believe and have Important Opinions on is so much more time consuming than simply taking people as they come and treating them with the respect they earn (and nigh everyone earns a bare minimum).

  7. Uncle Lar

    Now David be the better man, extend a hand in friendship, and invite Scalzi out on a dive. Take him to the land of the spiny lobster. I’m sure he’ll love it.
    Apropos of nothing in particular, I have been known to offer to take certain folks for a nice relaxing walk in the woods.
    A walk from which I would return alone.

    • Eh. Dive alone, die alone. I choose my dive partners carefully. Solid, stolid, reliable. Quick on the uptake, because you can’t talk. Watching you and themselves. Preferably experienced and unflappable. There’s a good enough chance of coming back alone – or neither of you, without any malice. I can’t say I feel malice or would threaten in return — If he was a different sort of bloke I’d take him down into my world cheerfully. I love it and like showing it, sharing it. But my reading of his character suggests to the pessimist that if things went wrong, he is not the person I want there.

  8. I don’t think threats will work. At least not well, and not permanently. Bribery, now, that’s different. A fistful of paper, about the same size as a c-note with the same news and pictures on it along with a bottle of bourbon might sway your opinion of whatever it is I’m peddling today.

    Good job on the diving.

  9. I remember one winter’s day, when I was failing to stretch my legs far enough walk in my father’s tracks, that I realized I could never really see things from his point of view. Oh, I could imagine myself taller, and how, visually, the world would look, but not really how he saw it. The thought was no more sophisticated than I couldn’t accurately imagine exactly what another was thinking. I could come up with an approximate, but never a flawless picture.

    That memory comes up from time to time, particularly in envisioning characters who’s world view is a significant departure from my own. If this was a real person, could I fully understand their motivations, or would I end up with a cartoonish image base on my own perceptions, one laughable to those similar to the character? I try to balance this with imagining motivations that aren’t cartoonish by thinking or a character and asking what sort of man/woman/boy/girl would do these things in such a way as they did not see themselves as heroic or as evil. And yet this is still, ultimately, putting something of myself in a character. For even if a character believes things that make my skin crawl, in the end their motivations, reactions, and such are no more than how I think that sort of person would behave in those circumstances.

    • I think to totally ‘become’ another person is beyond most of us – as you rightly say, there always something of yourself there. It does sound like you’re writing something worth reading though.

  10. Glenfilthie

    Somebody! Stop that old fart!!! He stole my boat!!!! 🙂 Is that a Nissan you’re running, Dave? They are fine outboards. I can think of better ways I would rather die, but at least (unlike Yours Truly) you are bathing regularly…

    I have no stake in SF anymore. Used to be a fan up until ten years ago until every second novel was about pushing homosexuality, Marxism or feminism. I used to read SF for fun and amusement AND THAT’S IT. If I want to educate myself on philosophy, morals and ethics there’s the bible and the classic philosopher kings like Plato and the Stoics. I sure as hell am not going to turn to flimps like Scalzi or his morbidly obese she-twinks with the nose rings and multicoloured hair do’s in all the frooty colours of the rainbow. By the same token, we have problems on our side of the aisle too. Vox Day is trolling Nick Searcy for not being conservative enough. I can see why the flinks call him Hitler – he is very good at manipulating stupid people and has the emotional stability of an 8 year old. Prob’ly only has one ball too…

    All I want is a STORY. Entertain me. Don’t try to enlighten me, or hector, badger or lecture me. Do you have any such books, Dave? Care to make a recommendation for a fellow old fart who has been out of the picture for a decade or more?

    • ChuckC

      Yes, Dave has such books. So do all the othet authors listed listed on the madgeniusclub.com page. Check them all out on amazon.com. Also check out authors you find in the “people that bought that also bought this” links on Amazon from books you like. Buy the monthly bundles at baenebooks.com, and check out all the thousands of books you can find on that site.

    • No, it’s a Yamaha. Dave’s shop of old outboards includes a Honda he is working on, intermittently (which is kinda like it works, which is not good enough for going to sea, It’s a great motor, otherwise), and an old Evinrude, that, to be honest, will probably never go to sea again.

      I kinda leave homosexuals, Marxists and modern feminists to do their own pushing. I’m a firm believer in ‘story first’. There may philosophical and psychological layers or not. But then my philosophy in life is judging individuals as individuals, and taking responsibility for ones own actions. If you can’t live with that and want excuses and blaming others for everything, you’re not going to like my heroes.

      Getting into a pissing contest with Vox Day comes under the heading of ‘not understanding the character of the other person’. Given both of them being here and willing, Scalzi and Vox – I’d take the latter diving, because he will be methodical, careful in a dangerous place and, under pressure I would guess unflappable, and relentless in his effort. We’re not going to be talking much under there.

      Recommendations – depends. I write all over the show. Historical fantasy to sf. What kind of books did you enjoy reading?

      I can recommend this bathing thing. I have one at least once a year, whether I need it or not. They say cleanliness is next to Godliness and I am sure to need a friend in that high place.

      • Heck, from what little I know and understand of Vox Day, he’d probably pull himself back onto the boat after you finish, a thoughtful expression on his face, and the next day announce that he’s got an idea for a better type of SCUBA kit, more efficient, lighter weight, sturdier, or what have you. And have ways to safely test it, or have friends who could do it better than he could and would be happy to give it a go. He strikes me as the kind of person that does nothing by half-measures.

        I’d rather have someone abrasive who I can trust with me in the cockpit than someone charming who starts flailing when the going gets “interesting.” Because the latter 1) can’t pull his/her/its weight and 2) will blame me for the scare, assuming we get back on the ground in one piece.

      • Cleanliness IS next to Godliness . . . but only in an Irish dictionary.

        😀

      • Glenfilthie

        LOL. I suppose it’s fair to say I don’t understand Vox. He has some spectacular social commentary I suppose. And, I have been wrong about certain other authors before (I even took back SOME of the rotten things I said about Peter (All the rotten things I said about Uncle Bob are entirely true for now, though. He owes me $2.00 🙂 )).
        I like my SF a little over on the hard side. Some originality would be a tall glass of water for this old sod – most of the stuff I see today is what I think they call ‘derivative’ fiction that is based on plots and themes that have been done to death. Personally I don’t care much for fantasy. I may get egged for it but I am sick to death of unlikeable, bitchy but powerful female characters. I’m supposed to believe that a monster that can kick the stuffing out of a 220 lb. space Marine can be dispensed with by a blonde 125 lb. hottie with an attitude and nothing else? GAH! Who writes this shite?
        You are pouring, Dave – please – pick a good one for me. And while we’re at it, what has Pete got that’s worthwhile? I read one awhile back by Torgerson about oversized grasshoppers and planetary invasions that was pretty good … either of you guys have anything in that flavour…? Christmas is coming up and some suggestions would be great to pass along to my younger admirers that I don’t want spending too much money on me…

        • I’m probably out, given 1) female main characters (although not stronger-than-anatomically-possible), and 2) plots/characters taken from history (among other places). And not a lot is suitable for the truly younger set, because of “vulgar language and adult situations.”

          If you want to give one of my (Alma T.C. Boykin) books a cheap try, _Blackbird_ will be on sale starting Dec 21 for $.99, then $1.99 through Dec 28.

        • On the hard side? Try Peter’s Laredo War trilogy. Speaking as his wife, I can vouch that there were spreadsheets and calculations on closing rates and thrust vectors and stuff. (The “and stuff” clearly indicates that I am not the hard scifi fan in the family.)

          But more than that, there’s a fair bit of the cultural conflicts and reality of war, of two nations both convinced they’re in the right, and of the people on both sides (and neither side) who are convinced that they’re just doing what’s best for the country, or what’s best for themselves. Some of the guerrilla tactics and weapons are straight out of too many years on the ground in Africa… which may indeed count as original to you.

          Start with War to the Knife, and see how you like it!

          http://www.amazon.com/War-Knife-Laredo-Trilogy-Book-ebook/dp/B00KVLNJEC/

        • Basara549

          I’d recommend Dave’s Rats, Bats and Vats series he did with Eric Flint, just from the combination of reasonably hard science (the uplifted animals require computer assistance to be sentient, etc.) and tongue-in-cheek satire.

  11. I think threats work great on you, and if you don’the stop writing right now I will check with thugs.co.au if their Tasmanian branch can do a trip to Flinder’s Island.

    Hey, I am smart enough to use reverse psychology. Maybe some darlings are not…

    • Threats – if they are credible, make me take steps to put myself beyond their reach. That may mean neutralizing or weakening the threat, or simply stepping around it. It doesn’t exactly change the goal. They don’t terrify me into meek obedience or even cause rebellion 😉 Sorry, Ori. I have my goals. They include more books,

      • Holly

        So if I threaten to buy two, will that help with writing another Rev. Joy? (I know, you’ll get to it when you do.)