Tag Archives: The Collective

My own work: 24-32

As a part of the Creative Influences theme, I am also reviewing my own work. This will be in three phases: high school, college and a little bit after, and my adult life. Here’s the first one.

It all started with National Novel Writing Month in 2008. I’d been writing fiction again after a long hiatus, joined up with some other fellows in a writing group and shared some very rough drafts once every month or so. Then came the 2008 election. Working in news, the election was my life for months. It crowded out all other things, all other possibility of creative work. I decided that the month of November, the bulk of which sat after the election, I would try to write the first draft of a novel.

The Collective:
Remember, finishing written work was always my hardest challenge. So the simple goal of NaNoWriMo— to finish a novel of greater than 50,000 words— was a direct shot at my weakness. And so I wrote. I wrote on planes, on trains, in coffee shops, at my future in-laws’ kitchen table. And you know what? On November 30, I finished a rough draft of about 53,000 words. I was elated. So elated that I decided to really finish it, and kicked off an editing process that lasted a full year. That first draft was a mess.

This was my first book, The Collective. In a world where the hottest new accessories are “Squad glasses”, wearable computers powered by outsourced labor, or your “Squad”. It was an idea I’d brainstormed on October 31st, 2008 and finished November 30, 2008. I self-published it to get out in the world, but I’ve never thought it was the best representation of my work. I re-read it with hesitation.

The first paragraph was so embarrassing. But the book redeems itself. It moves fast, keeps your interest. I’ll admit it’s pretty heavy on the exposition, especially at the beginning, but I kept finding myself surprised by new little bits of detail. In the end I was pleased with the creativity of the premise and how it grows. The language could use some work. But it’s easy to make excuses— I wrote it in a month and it’s never seen the touch of a true editor.

Andrew vs. The Collective
This might be my favorite thing I’ve ever written. After publishing The Collective I did a Kickstarter to finance printing a bunch of copies and as a marketing technique. The Kickstarter was itself its own writing project. Yet another time-based challenge for myself: write six short stories in six respective weeks, using 100% of contributions (words, sentences, settings, characters) from my paying Kickstarter backers. It was tough!

But re-reading it, I loved it. Especially the first three stories (before I began to wear down and lose steam). The voice is so good, so full of personality in a way most of my narrative prose is not. I made myself laugh out loud multiple times. There is something for me about challenge writing (see: the 33 project, itself). There was a lot of creativity even outside of the submissions. The second story, about two lovers traveling in opposite directions in time, is something I am tempted to come back to and spend more time with.

“A March Story:
Chronologically, this is my most recent work, but is a direct descendant of Andrew vs. The Collective. It’s a good evolution from AVTC, building on the lesson I learned there. I mapped out a story in advance— a news reporter protagonist living in modern day New York but with one big difference, the city is encased in a giant Buckminster Fuller-designed dome. I really enjoyed re-reading this one. I thought the prose was some of my strongest and the concept really interesting. This work was also written with contributions, though they were details, not substance. And it was also driven by time, I was trying to write each story to be contemporaneous with the real world of that week— weaving the same news stories in.

Drain the Gulf!
And then there’s Drain the Gulf!. After The Collective I wanted to challenge myself to do it for real. The scariest thing I could think of was to wholly dedicate myself to writing a book, to an idea that I invested a lot of time building. No caveats, no excuses. I would try to write a really good book and then I would try to get it published. The result was Drain the Gulf!, a 130K+ word tome in which America tries to decide whether or not to drain the Gulf of Mexico. It’s sarcastic political satire with some really great Louisianan and Floridian color.

I had a lot of fun writing this book. I left my job at the time and dedicated myself to a rough draft for about four months. I was a full-time writer for a little while! I researched, I sketched characters, I wrote practice scenes, I invested in Scrivener. And right before I began my job at Twitter, I called it done. Wrapped it up in a PDF and emailed to an agent. It has since gone unpublished.

I don’t think I realized how much that was weighing on me when I started to re-read this book. This was the first time I’d opened the book in three years. Would I find that it was terrible? Absolutely unpublishable and a waste of all that time I spent writing it? I was paralyzed by the fear that it wasn’t good.

Drain the Gulf! happens in three parts. The first is admittedly the weakest. Which made the reading experience tough. There would be moments that would shine through, individual scenes that I knew just sung. In the second and third parts, though, the book starts to really move. It was still an anxious experience, but I had myself laughing out loud at myself a couple of times a night when I sat down to read. Overall I still think it’s a great book. It needs an editor. For the little stuff I winced at throughout, and for the smoothing out the big stuff, too. It was good to re-read this. To face what feels like failure. I found myself thinking again about the writing experience and wanting to write again. Not to give this up, but to keep working at it.

What’s missing
I worked a lot in this time period. Worked at work. And much of that was generating media. I chose not to include the video work here because much of my work in this period was guiding the work of others, not producing it end to end. I also wrote a fair amount of non-fiction, but no major work. A lot of blogs and one short tidbit in a book called New Liberal Arts. It was in this period that I really re-connected with fiction writing, until I turned 33 and decided to try my hand at memoir.

Okay, so there are actually places to send you here. If you want to read The Collective, you’re in luck because that’s available for sale on Amazon. If you want to read A March Story, that’s on Medium.

Surprisingly, someone is also offering Andrew vs The Collective for sale on Amazon. It “appears to be signed and inscribed by the author”.

And if you want to read Drain the Gulf!, email me and I’ll send you a PDF!

Neuromancer by William Gibson

This post is in the theme “A Long Waltz Through Nerddom”. Read the first.

August 12, New York: My greatest regret with Neuromancer is to have discovered it after the derivative works, which are legion. By the time I read this novel for the first time I’d already seen The Matrix, I’d already found it impossible to separate the razorgirl Molly from the mental picture of Trinity.

It’s just a great book. Fun to read and packed solid with future-y details and little side-mentioned predictions. A perfect near-future science fiction novel. I’ve since taken my own stab at this with The Collective, but I find my own work incredibly lacking when held up to the standard here.

It is most fun to guess at what Gibson accurately predicted was actually influenced by the book itself. I bet no small number of things. Borrowed terminology, etc. I’m still waiting for Oculus Rift to turn into 8-bit Atari Internet surfing, though.

Never read Neuromancer? Heard it was a rip-off of The Matrix? No! Quick! Go buy it off of SenseNet and download it into your psyche!