Writing nonseriously

Earlier this year, I wanted to find out what self-publishing an eBook for Amazon’s Kindle was like. So I quickly wrote a terrible fantasy book. It was a ridiculous story featuring awful writing, and I gave it a cheap home-made cover. I used a pseudonym for the author’s name and did no promotion for it. Would it sell? After six months, it sold! One copy! 65 cents for me! Cha-ching!

Obviously, it was not a serious endeavor, and I still aspire to be traditionally published. But quickly writing a really bad fantasy without worrying much about quality or editing was very helpful. I become a bit of a perfectionist with my work sometimes; I become afraid to write, fearing my work will not be good enough. So writing something that I consciously know is not-so-serious is rather therapeutic. And fun.

So I’m going to do it again, but this time through the blog of fake author Nicholas Oringuard, as he writes his epic fantasy, “Children of the Shattered Cosm”, which will end up being one of the longest fantasy novels ever written. (Sure, why not?) It tells the story of twelve children from twelve different worlds who slowly discover that their worlds are linked and that their own spirits are pieces of a grander shattered spirit who had the power create worlds. The children learn they must unite their spirits to save their worlds from destruction. Or something like that.

Check it out here. If you want to.

Catholicism and homosexuality

And now a more serious post. The religious blog Deus Nobiscum recently finished posting a series of short articles worth reading. They do a nice job of explaining my beliefs on this subject. (They’re short. It doesn’t take long.)

Catholicism and Homosexuality Part 1: Equal Persons
Catholicism and Homosexuality Part 2: Unequal Acts Part 1
Catholicism and Homosexuality Part 3: Unequal Acts Part 2
Catholicism and Homosexuality Part 4: The Call to Chastity
Catholicism and Homosexuality Part 5: The Rugged Cross
Catholicism and Homosexuality Part 6: Love, Not Hate Part 1
Catholicism and Homosexuality Part 7: Love, Not Hate Part 2

They are written more concisely and with more grace than I would’ve ever been able to manage. This subject continues to be a touchy one among some of my good friends. It can be a very difficult thing to discuss. I know it is often sentimentalized by TV and Hollywood to be a struggle to be oneself and find love in the midst of oppressive institutions, outdated ideologies, and naive or downright prejudiced individuals. I can only hope my friends can give my understanding of this subject a little more credit than all that.

At the very least, even if you don’t agree with it, you owe it to yourself to not be afraid of or offended by people who understand and speak about sexual morality (and the spirituality behind it) and its related issues in this way. When I, or a Catholic priest for that matter, mentions these things, it is not an effort to shame dissenters. It is an honest (and, in my opinion, very beautiful) understanding of sexual nature. There is nothing to fear about it.

God bless!

On flame wars

Just a short post here, but I was recently reading about a little controversy that’s going on in the sci-fi blogging world. I won’t go into the specifics, because it’s not really that interesting, but there are all these flame wars appearing on a bunch of blogs about it. (And of course, I don’t want my blog to be one of them!)

I just have to say: If you’re offended by something you read on the Internet, you’re an idiot. Don’t engage in flame wars. I know I never would, that’s for sure.

Canon for a Rainy Day

Here’s my latest work of music.  It’s a canon for 2 clarinets and an English horn, with a piano playing the chords:

A PDF score can be found here: Canon for a Rainy Day.

The canon kind of came out of nowhere.  I was trying to write one last month, but it just wasn’t working, so I scrapped it.  Then I sort of arbitrarily decided to write one with a chord progression of I-IV-I-V-IV-iii-IV-V.  I ended up changing the first V chord to a iii, so in the end the chord progression became I-IV-I-iii-IV-iii-IV-V.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear how good that first I-IV shift can sound with the right melody.  They’re major chords, yet with the appropriate style, there’s something a bit wistful about it, almost nostalgic.  And of course the iii chord only adds to that feeling.

The themes introduced by the first clarinet, then passed to the English horn, then to the second clarinet, contrasting and complimenting each other as they are passed along.  I was originally writing the canon for piano and violins, but I wanted something with a lower range than the violin and I knew clarinets would really compliment the piano.  (Plus, sampled solo strings don’t sound that great in Garritan Personal Orchestra, at least not without a good amount of tweaking, so I don’t work with them much anymore.  I love its woodwinds, though.)  I also wanted an oboe, but its range does not go low enough, so I went with an English horn instead.

Overall, I am very pleased with how the canon came out.  It was pouring rain outside as I wrote it, and the canon sounded rather wistful anyway, so the name “Canon for a Rainy Day” seemed appropriate.

Also, I was very tired while I was writing this, so the calm lullaby quality of the piece was constantly beckoning me to fall asleep at my desk.  I was able to resist, but when I’m composing when I’m that tired, I’m unable to think straight and it makes the composing process very strange and dream-like.

Also, my pizza went cold while I was obsessed with writing this, so I know what it’s like to sacrifice something for my art.

Cousinly Silly Putty

Some more random trivia from my ancestry.com free trial…

My great great great grandfather’s older brother’s grandson was Peter C.L. Hodgson.  So that would make him my second cousin thrice removed.  He was famous for what he did with a newly invented strange but useless putty.  According to Wikipedia:

In 1949, the putty reached the owner of a toy store, Ruth Fallgatter. She contacted Peter Hodgson, a marketing consultant. The two decided to market the bouncing putty by selling it in a clear case. Although it sold well, Fallgatter did not pursue it further. However, Hodgson saw its potential.

Already $12,000 in debt, Hodgson borrowed $147 to buy a batch of the putty to pack 1 oz (28 g) portions into plastic eggs for $1, calling it Silly Putty.

Oh, Silly Putty, I always knew we had a cousinly connection… a second cousin thrice removed connection…

My Great Aunt Frances


Some random family trivia is that we are related to the famous children’s book author Frances Hodgson Burnett (author of The Secret Garden, Little Lord Fauntleroy).  I was told she was my great great great great aunt.  But is this accurate?  If so, how?  How can it be so?  Is it a direct relation, or through marriage?  No one knew.  (Not that I really asked anyone.)  History became legend and legend became myth and some things that should not have been forgotten were lost.  It was kind of like a secret… a secret garden…

So I registered for a free trial on ancestry.com to investigate the matter and after a few hours of researching and putting all the clues together, I can confirm that the family legends are true.  You see, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s older brother, John George Hodgson, was my great great great grandfather.  According to a biography of Frances Hodgson Burnett, John was a poor drunk, and when he died in 1904, it was my dear rich Aunt Fran who paid for his burial.

John had two children, Edith and Bert.  Interestingly, Bert was a songwriter, which explains why my grandparents had some obscure sheet music he had published in the 1920’s.  At some point, I’ll try orchestrating my great great great uncle’s work to see what it sounds like.  Edith married some guy named Alonzo Miller.  They had three daughters, Nellie, Lucile, and Bertie.  Lucile married John Ashe Hannifin and they had six children, one of whom was my grandfather.

So there you go, from Hodgson to Miller to Hannifin.  Not too complicated.  Also making the research easy was the fact that each generation between me and John Hodgson was born and lived in Knoxville, Tennessee, where the Hodgson family emigrated to from England in the 1860’s.

Unfortunately Frances Hodgson Burnett left no money or book dedications for her great great great great nieces and nephews.  I must confess, it is tough living under the shadow of my great great great great aunt.  There’s just so much pressure.

What I’m working on

If you’re wondering what I’ve been up to lately, I’ll tell you, right here, right now, today. I’m probably working on too much, which makes progress slow on all of them, but too bad. I’m interested in all of them.

Intellectual projects:

Book on melody and automatic music composition system

I’m still working on my book about my theory of melody, but I’m turning into a book on musical composition in general. Obviously that’s a huge subject, so the book really won’t even begin to cover music in all its vastness; it will focus mainly on how my theory of melody applies to music composition. Along with this, I am expanding my melody generator to be a symphony generator or song generator, a system that aids composers in composing entire pieces, whether they be short little songs or long Mozartean symphonies, with as much or as little creative input from the composer as desired. It’s very exciting, but obviously there is much work to be done.

Book on artificial intelligence

This is far more experimental, so I don’t know if this will happen or not, but I’ve been working on creating a program that will ideally teach itself to play chess, or any rule-based game, after being supplied only the rules of the game. It should teach itself in such a way that users can then look at its “discoveries” and use them to play chess themselves. That means no artificial neural networks, no genetic algorithms, no statistical analysis, no number crunching, etc. It should learn to play the game the way a human would: by recognizing concrete meaningful patterns. I have an algorithm written in a notebook that should do this, but it’s a bit complicated and I haven’t programmed it yet, so I don’t know if it will work or not. We’ll see. If it does, I’ll try the algorithm with a few more games besides chess and then write a short book about it.

Creative projects:

Middle grade and young adult fantasy books

My agent search for the middle grade fantasy novel I finished earlier this year is going nowhere. Of course, it’s my first novel, so I’m not holding my breath. While I continue to search for agents, I’ve started writing two more fantasy novels, one being another upper middle grade, the other being young adult (and a male-oriented young adult at that, not one of them paranormal girly romancy love triangle books). I’ve been looking into self-publishing on the Kindle, as it seems like a much more viable route than it did just a few years ago, but it still has many disadvantages.

Adult fantasy book

Working on another adult fantasy book, coauthoring it with a friend.

Computer game(s)

I rediscovered Game Maker a few weeks ago thanks to someone I know. I remember looking at it years ago and was not impressed with it, but they’ve made newer versions in the meantime and it looks like a fun toolkit to use for making 2D games. I haven’t started any official projects yet, but I’m brainstorming some ideas.

Following your selfish dreams

From this interesting article:

For all the chatter about the formulaic sameness of Hollywood movies, no genre in recent years has been more thematically rigid than the computer-animated children’s movie. These films have been infected with what might be called the magic-feather syndrome. As with the titular character in Walt Disney’s 1943 animated feature Dumbo, these movies revolve around anthropomorphized outcasts who must overcome the restrictions of their societies or even species to realize their impossible dreams.

It’s probably no coincidence that the supremacy of the magic-feather syndrome in children’s movies overlaps with the so-called “cult of self-esteem.” The restless protagonists of these films never have to wake up to the reality that crop-dusters simply can’t fly faster than sleek racing aircraft. Instead, it’s the naysaying authority figures who need to be enlightened about the importance of never giving up on your dreams, no matter how irrational, improbable, or disruptive to the larger community. As Jean Twenge, the controversial cultural critic of America’s supposed narcissism epidemic, argues in her bestselling book Generation Me, younger generations “simply take it for granted that we should all feel good about ourselves, we are all special, and we all deserve to follow our dreams.”

First, I will diverge into the idea of “comparative success”. That is, success as defined by comparing oneself to others.

I get annoyed with the Disney channel and some of Nickelodeon’s teen-oriented shows, in which being a famous pop-singer and/or trendy-dressing dancer is something that is idolized. I know they may seem like harmless frivolous silly entertainment on the surface, but I think they actually actively harm our culture (like much of television, for that matter) by glorifying, subtly or unsubtly, performance art talent and popularity. That is, the more talented and popular you are, the more you are worth as a person, so it is a good and worthy thing to dream of that sort of success, to dream of being not just a pop singer or a fashion designer, but of becoming a famous one.

The most famous antithesis to this teen-idol market is a cartoon show targeted at a younger crowd, but shares a large number of older fans as well. It is Spongebob Squarepants, an ever-ready nerdy optimist who takes insane amounts of pride in flipping burgers, blowing bubbles, and catching jellyfish, remaining blissfully oblivious to the ways in which he could never gain fame in his own society by just doing what he loves. And while his burger-flipping pride is something we have an easier time laughing at than relating to, it is not presented as something to be ridiculed in and of itself, but celebrated. That’s not only what makes it funny, that’s what makes it inviting to audiences. That is, if a viewer can even slightly relate to a bit of Spongebob’s over-passionate nerdiness for something ridiculous, he is welcomed to it in good company, not made to feel a clownish outcast. (Compare this to the nerdiness presented in The Big Bang Theory, in which audiences are called to laugh at references to nerdy things, but these nerdy things are never celebrated in their own right; audiences still need their trendy dirty humor.) I daresay grown men who go into cartoon production for a living have a much different outlook on their art than producers looking to profit from teenagers idolizing each other’s voices and looks and fame.

It equally annoys me when contestants on talent competition shows like American Idol or The Voice claim that they want to win so that they can be an inspiration for others. Oh, how noble of you! Oh, wait. You want to encourage other people to desire fame and money? Oh, thanks, that’s great, just what the world needs!

Of course, it’s not just pop culture in which this sort of comparative definition of success reigns. It’s just perhaps the most visible and the most obviously vain in pop culture. But it thrives in businesses, academics, politics, the arts, etc. It’s all over the place. You don’t know how well you’re doing what you’re doing, or how you should feel about it, until you compare yourself with others.

Anyway, the reason I diverge into comparative success is because that’s the sort of success these animated film characters dream about. The “Follow your dreams!” message isn’t bad in and of itself, it’s just vague, and allows for a variety of narcissistic interpretations, dreaming of being somehow quantifiably better than others, as in winning a race, and not allowing for the mere following of the dream to bring any joy.

That’s what equally bothers me about the Charlie Brown example given in the article. (I’ve never seen the Charlie Brown film mentioned, so I speak here only based on what I read about it in the article.) The entire point of Charlie Brown wanting to succeed at something is just as narcissistic as the modern-day dreaming characters. His tragic results provide a nice contrast to the modern characters’ easy success, but why couldn’t he learn to do something just for the sake of itself? His tragedy wasn’t that his success rate was more realistic, but that he took no pride or gratification in what he was capable of to begin with. The entire point of “trying again” is not to force yourself with gritted teeth through the frustration of the trial so that you can one day achieve your goal. Trying again is (at least ideally) a natural consequence of your love for something. It should be FUN to try again. And when it is, failure is only a minor disappointment.

On a side note, I like how the article points out the trope of having some supporting character be nonsupporting of the hero’s desires. I can understand the dramatic need for the hero’s desires to be rebuked at the beginning of a story, but I wish writers would come up with more creative ways of having characters do it, instead of just, “Oh, I just hate dreamers! Your desires are arbitrarily wrong! I pointlessly have no faith in you!” I’d love to see a supporting character offer a real argument, perhaps pointing out the hero’s selfishness.

Mr. Conductor

I recently watched the 2002 Russian film Russian Ark, a 90 minute film done entirely in one take. The premise was a bit bland, there’s not really a story in the traditional sense, it’s more like a romanticized time-traveling tour through a grand museum. (The Hermitage museum in Saint Petersburg; looks like an awesome place to visit, even just for the beautiful grand palace architecture.) Anyway, near the end there’s this dance scene with an orchestra playing in this huge ballroom and the conductor looked really familiar. I was sure I had seen him in college.

In my college days, George Mason University offered students free concert tickets (if there were any left), which I took advantage of whenever I could. Usually free student tickets get placed in the way way back of the balcony, but one time I was seated in the front row, so close I could reach out grab the conductor’s ankle. OK, maybe not that close, I was a bit off to the side, but it was pretty close. I could definitely read the string musician’s score from my seat, so it was quite close. I had hardly any view of most of the orchestra, but I was up close and personal with the front row musicians and looking right up the right side of the conductor. And the conductor was hard to forget. He was really into the music, and was a bit distracting for someone in the front row, because I could hear him grunt throughout the music, and even see the sparkle of small bits of spittle that would fly out when things got particularly impassioned.

So I’m watching Russian Ark and the conductor looked familiar and I thought: “That’s the guy! Isn’t it?” So I had to look through my programs to confirm that, yes, it was the famous Russian conductor Valery Gergiev. You can see that he has a memorable face, and does indeed grunt and make noises while conducting. Below, for example (at 45:45). Fun stuff.