My life

Nothing of importance

If I can get all the paperwork in order tomorrow morning (my part time job gets in the way… but at least provides me the funding to be able to do this), my CD manufacturing order will be in the mail tomorrow afternoon.  I’m not sure how long it will take them, but I’d give them the rest of the month.  In the meantime, I purchased the domain www.hannifinrecords.com (doesn’t go anywhere yet) as Hannifin Records is my new record label that I will use to sell the album (along with CD Baby and iTunes and whatever).  So I’ll be busy setting up that site while waiting for the manufacturers.

That’s probably not very interesting news, is it?  I really haven’t been up to much else; been spending my free time obsessing over this project.  Probably too much obsessing, but it’s a lot of fun, I’m excited.

Oh, I did get a couple rejections for my fantasy short story No One Was Abendsen.  One of these days I’ll sell something, even if I have to buy it myself.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Computer software

Rejected and WriteMonkey and Boyle

I got my first rejection letter for my short story No One Was Abendsen today; I’m going for 10 rejections.  I know it will be tough and will take a while, but, by golly, I’m gonna go for it!  Wish me luck!  I’ll submit it somewhere else next week (or maybe even tonight).

I haven’t tried it out yet, but somebody on Twitter linked to a free piece of software called WriteMonkey.  It’s basically a text editor that can go fullscreen so you don’t get distracted by all the other stuff on your computer, like that nice little Firefox logo which is always saying to me “hey, Sean, why dontcha Google somethin’?  Why dontcha look up somethin’ on Wikipedia?  Why dontcha see if there are any videos of Ray Bradbury on YouTube?  C’mon!!”  It would be nice to shut the logo up.  Also, you can have WriteMonkey make typewriter sounds as you type.  Now, come on, if that doesn’t make you want to download it, nothing will.  Typewriters are awesome.  Wish I had a typewriter right here, right now, I’d type all over it!

And now for a few words about Susan Boyle.  Actually, I commented about her on a music forum I often go to, so out of laziness (or efficiency) I’ll just copy and paste what I wrote:

I like the video, and I like the song (a good song to select!), and I enjoy watching these Internet phenomenons emerge.

Though this is may be called a “reality show”, it’s not really. The editors do control the emotions immensely, from the clips of rolling eyes to the music cues. That sometimes bugs me, because the editors are really creating a story for us. But isn’t that what we want? And it works!

Another things that bugs me is that if she was a beautiful woman and sang exactly the same way, the reaction might be different. The “triumph” here depends on our prejudice. And then we say our prejudice is a bad thing? Then why do we love getting over it so much?

(And what if she had sung terribly? No one would say “how dare we judge a person based on their singing!” and yet that’s what we do here; we’re still basing her worth on something…)

Even as I type this, I hear other people in this library talking about Susan Boyle! That’s some fame! I will be hoping that she stays true to herself and that this sudden fame and attention does more good and inspiring things, and that it doesn’t become the annoying beast it can often be.

Good luck, Susan!

Isn’t that nice?

I have nothing else to say at the moment.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Writing

Fineas Blinn’s Sorcerer

Hello April.  We meet again!

My short story No One Was Abendsen has now been critiqued quite a good many times and I’ve gotten a lot of good and helpful feedback, so hopefully this weekend I’ll be working on a final draft, and on Monday or Tuesday I’ll send it out to a publisher.  Wish me luck!

Then I need to work on another draft of my novelette Dreamgiver and hopefully try to get some more critiques of that before working on a final draft.

Currently, what moments I can spare for fiction writing I’ve been putting into my novel on textnovel called Sorcerer, which somebody recently commented on saying:

fantastic! Waiting for the rest, let’s keep ’em coming

Why thank you! 🙂  It’s an exciting story to write so far.  It’s mostly dialog; I’m keeping descriptions to a bare minimum.  If I ever finish it, I might go back and embellish it a bit, but maybe not… the lack of descriptions and details really keeps it fast paced I think, but perhaps at the expense of the readers’ immersion.  Oh well, I’m keeping details and descriptions really light for now.

On textnovel I use a penname: Fineas Blinn.  The Fineas comes from the last syllable of my last name and mixed letters from my first name.  Blinn I just made up out of nowhere because I think it sort of goes with the rhythm and sound of Fineas.  Then I got to thinkin’, hmmm, Fineas Blinn sounds a bit more catchy and memorable than Sean Patrick Hannifin, doesn’t it?  Maybe I’ll try using Fineas Blinn as a penname when I submit No One Was Abendsen to publishers.  Not sure yet, but it’s tempting…

There is nothing else I really have to say right now… I need to get back to doing some musical things here soon…

By S P Hannifin, ago
Non-fiction books

The Atheism of Dolphins

I was going to post some philosophical thoughts on the relationship between psychology and religion, mostly about how they’re compatible.  My main point was going to be: that the emergence of religion among living beings can be explained scientifically says nothing about the truth of religion.  But such a post would be very long-winded, and it would certainly get confusing in some parts.  Then again, maybe to some it’s already pretty self explanatory.  However, I’m really just too tired and a bit too uninterested right now to go into it all.

There are a couple reasons I felt compelled to write such a post.  Firstly, I’m reading quite an interesting psychology book called Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique by Michael S. Gazzaniga.  It’s filled with many interesting psychology … uh … things.  For example, it seems the emotion of disgust is a purely human trait, and it is possible for humans with certain brain injuries to be incapable of knowing it.  Can you imagine not being able to see anything as disgusting?  Also, it made me question what I said in my last post, that emotional suffering comes from wanting.  I think that, like physical pain, some emotional pain can just be automatic, such as fear or sadness; they can be born from things we don’t consciously control.  I guess you could say they still come from wanting; they still come from the brain wanting the environment to be different.  But it’s not really always so much a conscious wanting.  One could also say that suffering serves the purpose of physical survival, so why do we always try to find spiritual meaning in it all?  I guess that’s a whole different topic…

Anyway, the second reason was that I was browsing Neil Gaiman’s blog, and he wrote this:

Picked up my copy of New Scientist over breakfast this morning (which, along with Fortean Times, is my favourite publication) and found myself puzzling over an article that began

That a complex mind is required for religion may explain why faith is unique to humans.

Which left me amazed and potentially delighted that journalists at New Scientist had succeeded in interspecies communication to the point of being certain that dolphins and whales have no belief in things deeper than themselves, that ants do not imagine a supreme colony at the centre of everything, and that my cats only believe in what they can see, smell, hunt and rub up against (except for Pod, of course, who when much younger would react in horror, with full fur-up, to invisible things), and that there are no Buddhist Pigs, Monkeys or whatever-the-hell Sandy was.

I wasn’t sure what to make of Gaiman’s post… I hadn’t really considered the idea that non-humans might have religious feelings.  It just seems rather… absurd.  But then again, I guess it depends on how you define religion.  We humans tend to believe in a difference between right and wrong.  Why wouldn’t animals?  It’s needed for the survival of the individual and of the species.  I would think it would be part of their psychology.  I guess my puzzle is… where is and what is the nature of the link between believing in a difference between right and wrong and religion?  I’ve met many an atheist who think religion is not just stupid, it’s evil.  But that seems like a religious statement in and of itself; the word “evil” presupposes the existence of an objective right and wrong.  How can anyone truly be atheist while believing in an objective difference between right and wrong?  Wouldn’t true atheism just lead to moral relativism?  Or should psychology by itself lead to moral relativism?  But if atheists who believe in an objective difference between right and wrong are really religious, then wouldn’t animals also be religious, in a very fundemental way?

So I think both Gaiman and New Scientist have some truth; I guess they are differing a bit in what they mean by “faith”.  Very interesting… I had not thought of such things before.

So… that’s that.  The book I’m reading and Gaiman’s blog post there made me want to write a much longer blathering about psychology and religion, but what I just wrote is enough… for now at least.  It’ll give my subconscious something to think about while I’m not.

In other news, my short story No One Was Abendsen goes out to critiquers in the Critters Workshop this week, so I look forward to getting some more feedback.  (Mr. Sawczak was kind enough to provide some very helpful feedback earlier.  Thank you again!)  So by the end of next week I should be ready to write a final draft and start sending it out to magazines.  (I can sometimes be a perfectionist, so I like to say I never really finish a work, I just stop working on it so I can move on.  So, after my final draft, I don’t get any more critiques no matter what so as not to waste time trying to make it perfect for anyone in particular including myself.  Some people send their stories through Critters multiple times, but I must move on!  It’ll never be perfect.)

I started writing another short story, which I mention on Twitter every now and then, but I’m not far enough into it to say much about it because… who know?… I might abandon it later.

And that’s that. 🙂

By S P Hannifin, ago
Non-fiction books

Favorite books on writing

I recently finished a novelette of around 11,400 words.  (I’m using the SFWA‘s definition of a novelette: a story between 7,500 and 17,500 words.)  I think that’s the longest work I’ve ever written and actually finished.  The story is called Dreamgiver, and you might be able to guess what it’s about: a man has the power to give people dreams.  I’m sure it’s been done in fiction somewhere before, but hopefully my story still has some newnesss to it.  I could probably write many more stories from that same idea; I think it leads to a lot of possibilities.  I could probably write a series of novels based on that premise, if I could actually finish writing novels.  I’m not sure the name Dreamgiver is the best, but it’s straight-forward and to-the-point.  It sort of instantly tells you what the story is about.  That said, it does seem just a wee bit cheesy to me.  But then, my writing probably seems cheesy to some people, so I guess it will match.

Anyway, I’m going to send this story through Critters some time to get it critiqued, though I realize I won’t get many (if any) because of it’s length.  Right now my previous short story, No One Was Abendsen, is in line waiting to get critiqued.  I’ll be very interested to see how people react to that story as it was somewhat experimental for me.

I’ve got some other ideas for short stories floating around in my mind, so I’ll probably try my hand at another one before I get back to composing music.

Favorite books on writing

First, I’ll just tell you what the books are:

The Art of Fiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers and The Art of Nonfiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers by Ayn Rand

Characters & Viewpoint and How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card

And now I’ll blather about my reasoning:

I think reading books on writing is much easier than actually writing, so I think it can be dangerous for wannabe writers to constantly seek out books on the subject.  They can only be helpful if you actually spend some time writing.  No amount of reading can replace that.  That goes for the other arts as well.  You can’t learn how to compose music by reading music theory books.  You just have to do it.  I think sometimes there’s a fear of failing, so the wannabe artist spends more time reading about the subject than actually practicing it.

Similarly, beware of writing about writing.  I think writing about writing is also easier than actually writing.  There seem to be a lot more people wanting to talk about writing tips and hints and how-to’s and strategies than there are successful authors.  I don’t think that’s necessarily bad in and of itself, people can talk about whatever they want, and even unsuccessful authors can have some very helpful tips.  Just make sure you don’t forget what it’s all for: actually writing.  (On a side note, sometimes it seems like some writers who write about writing just sort of regurgitate advice they’ve heard before and don’t really understand why it exists.  For instance: “show, don’t tell!”  Make sure you filter any writing advice you hear through your own opinionated mind; you are allowed to disagree.  Never blindly follow advice, otherwise you can’t really follow it.)

That said, there are very few books on writing I’ve read all the way through.  Usually I find books on writing to be empty or boring or pointless or simply a collection of regurgitated advice.  I find advice like “make your main character interesting!” completely unhelpful.  Duh, I wanna make my character interesting.  If a writer doesn’t know that intuitively, full time consideration of another endeavor might be in order.  (On a boring a tangent, I hate when people suggest you need to know every tiny little thing about your character, like their eye color and height and shoe size and favorite ice-cream, as if you’re playing The Sims.  That’s great if it helps you, but to me it’s a complete waste of time.)

In my opinion, the best writing books are not actually books on “How To Write”, they are books on “What This Author Thinks About Writing”, and I think that’s the way it should be.  Writing is an art, not physics.  It is guided by people’s tastes and opinions, though some academic writing books might want you to believe otherwise.  Therefore, I think the best writing books for you are the ones written by the authors you already know you enjoy.  For some reason, I think that kind of helps you know where they’re coming from.  Because you already like their fiction, you’ll probably agree with most of the advice the writer gives and the opinions he or she has.

If the only writers you like are ones that have nothing to say about the process of writing, then you’re out of luck.  Too bad; I guess you can never be a writer.

Fortunately for me, that’s not the case.  Two of my favorite authors are Ayn Rand and Orson Scott Card, and they both have books on writing, so those are pretty much my favorite books on writing.

Ayn Rand’s Books on Writing

I can’t say I agree with all of Ayn Rand’s philosophies, but I’ve found her writing to be quite immersive.  In my opinion, she’s fantastic at describing characters’ motivations and attitudes.  Her stories also have very strong themes, which I think is lacking in some of the fiction I read.  So much fiction these days is purely about the action and has nothing to say beyond that.  It’s like the author saw an action movie and just wanted to regurgitate it with different characters.  Anyway, Ayn Rand talks all about themes and how they relate to plotting.

Rand also talks about creating believable characters and dialogue.  Usually I think some beginning writers (I’m obviously a beginning writer too) think those are the easiest things: creating believable characters and dialogue.  Personally I’ve found it difficult.  When you have two characters who have completely different world-views, you really have to get inside their heads for each line of dialogue.  Back and forth and back and forth you have to go between trying to trick yourself into believing things you don’t.  Tricky, in my opinion.  Well, some scenes aren’t, some scenes are pretty fun, especially if you’re writing humor.  Other times, it’s just plain hard.

Finally, Rand talks about style and writing descriptions.  If you’ve read her fiction, you might know she can be very verbose in her descriptions, and in my opinion, it works.  For her.  I think if you try to mimic her, you’ll just come off as being far too wordy.  So, in my opinion, what she has to say about style is very helpful.

Although The Art of Nonfiction is about writing nonfiction, I think a lot she says in that book still applies to writing fiction, so it’s a great companion to the other one.  I won’t blather much about this book, though, because I have a headache.  If you like The Art of Fiction, then The Art of Nonfiction is also worth a read.

Orson Scott Card’s Books on Writing

As I stated above, I find that characters can be quite tricky.  Fortunately, Orson Scott Card wrote an entire book on the subject: Characters and Viewpoint.  However, don’t let the title trick you into thinking this book is about a small subject in fiction.  Characters without stories and stories without characters are extremely hard to find; they’re very strongly linked.  Thus, in my opinion, learning about creating characters is learning how to create a compelling story.  So it’s not like you’d get this book and then say “Oh, now I need a book on plot!” . . . though Card doesn’t talk about it by itself, you’ll still find that it relates strongly to characters (character development, duh!).  That said, this book is part of a series called Elements of Fiction Writing, the other books by other authors.  I found this addition to the series to be the only one worth buying.

Card’s How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy lets him deal with the entire subject.  There is just a wee bit of overlap, and Characters and Viewpoint I thought was overall more helpful (for me), but this is still a very worthy mention.

The End

These books aren’t long; they’re all under 200 pages.  I’ve found them so useful that they are among some of the only books I reread every now and then.  They’re the most worth buying, in my opinion, or at least checking out from a library.

To restate what I said above, I think the best books on writing for you will be the ones by writers you enjoy.  I’ve taken a look at many books on writing, and they can certainly get empty and useless.  Above all, don’t blindly agree with what you read in books on writing.  Just because it’s published doesn’t mean you have to like it; you’re allowed to disagree.  There are no “rules” in art, only observations and opinions.  Think for yourself.  Then when you come across a book on writing you do agree with, it will be far more helpful.  Ayn Rand and Orson Scott Card do not agree on all subjects when it comes to writing, as is evident by these books.  So I get to determine who’s right and who’s wrong.  Neener neener.

So writeNow!

By S P Hannifin, ago
Fiction books

Reading and writing and blah blah blah

Been a while again, eh?  I submitted my short story, Oberon’s Paradise, to yet another publisher, this time online magazine Strange Horizons.  They publish stories about once a week on their site free for anyone to read.  The story’s been rejected three times so far, but it never hurts to keep trying.  I’m also trying to get back into the habit of critiquing other people’s work through Critters, a free online writing workshop, and I’m hoping to put my newer short story, No One Was Abendsen, through the critique line.

I also finished another orchestral piece for my album which I call On the Edge of a Dream.  So far my album is up to a bit over 20 minutes, so I’m about a third of the way there.  One song that will be on the album, White Castle Waltz, is already available on iTunes and CD Baby.  I must say, it’s pretty cool seeing one’s work on iTunes, even if they’re not really a selective distributor.

I finished reading Dan Ariely’s book Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, and I have a few quotes from it to put up on my Book Quotes blog.  It was a very good book, definitely worth a read if you’re interested in non-fiction.

I also finished reading a fantasy book by Kage Baker called The Anvil of the World.  It was a short book that came out in 2004, and I think it’s out of print now.  I wanted to read a book by Kage Baker because I had read a few of her short stories and enjoyed her style.  It was pretty light reading; the plot never got extremely thick or dark and the world never seemed very complex, but it was still engaging and believable and very humorous.  Not a bad read at all.

I’m still reading The Lord of the Rings (50th Anniversary Edition), a nice all-in-one volume I got for Christmas, but now I’m also reading T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, the book of the legend of King Arthur, which has definitely been enjoyable so far, especially since I already know how parts of the story go, and this book kind of fleshes things out.

And… I think that’s really all I have to blather about for now.  Kinda boring, eh?

By S P Hannifin, ago