Tuesday, December 13, 2016

One Path up the Mountain

"There are many paths up the mountain, but there is only one summit."
                                     ~ CHINESE PROVERB
          I'm going to do something that I never do here:  I'm going to talk about my religion, although only inasmuch as it informs my writing.  What, you didn't think I was going to lay myself bare, did you?
          Anybody recognize the symbol?  This has been appropriated by just about every martial art form that practices in America, and here on the legendary west coast, there is a big association with surf shops.  In fact, this is Taoism's symbol of balance and harmony, expressed as yīnyáng, literally "dark – bright," and carries the actual Chinese name of taijitu.
          To confirm all these hints, I am a Taoist.  Have been since a date I didn't think to mark in the early 1970s.  I was introduced to it by a certain martial arts instructor who was born in the old country and came here later in life.  By great good fortune, my ascension of the spirit happened to coincide with the run of the original Kung Fu series.  That show has been much-maligned over the years, but whatever there is to say about David Carradine (and there is plenty), the spirituality embodied in that show was spot-on, and reinforced my rudimentary steps along the path.  The coincidence of Kung Fu with my introduction to Taoism was, from my point of view, the most incredible case of kismet in my life.  Christians have a thousand movies they can watch for inspiration; Taoists have Kung Fu, and to our great good fortune, the producers got it right.
          I grew up in an entertainment world filled with the likes of John Wayne, Josh Randall, and Have Gun Will Travel; in other words, a surly bunch of cowboys who would as soon blow your head off as look at you.  When this quiet, peaceful half-Chinese monk wandered into this world of violence, everyone I knew enjoyed the fighting scenes, but nobody seemed to get that it wasn't about that at all.  Maybe I only did because of the other influence, that of my instructor of fighting; and there's a bit of irony for you.
          There is ongoing disagreement among religious scholars about whether Taoism is a true religion, or merely a philosophy.  See, it has no living God with a name, a personality, certain expectations of his followers, and so on.  Taoism treats its "god," the Tao, as a linear force like light or gravity, that acts in predictable ways to constantly create, destroy, and recreate the universe on a minute-to-minute basis.  What the Taoist strives to do is bring himself into balance and harmony with the cycles of nature, and thereby live his life with a minimum of hassle.  My take:  Most religions worship a God that tells you to be decent to your fellow man because that's what He wants, and you'd better do it!  Taoism teaches that aligning yourself with the Tao leads to a decent life, and will bring you the most favorable outcomes in your personal existence.  A difference that makes no difference is no difference.  No matter how you get there, though, mean people still suck!
          How this has shown up in my writing is that my main characters, as I look back at them, seem to be too kind and giving for the world they inhabit.  Some of that may be laid at the feet of the style that I consciously tried to emulate in the writing of Beyond the Rails, that of the "boys-own adventure" books of the 1920s and 30s.  That was a literary period during which the villains were villainous, the ladies were virtuous, and the heroes had perfect teeth.  A complicating factor in sorting out the reasons is that I write stories set in the Victorian Era, a time in which even the villains were as likely to make a self-justifying speech during which he called the hero "sir" as he was to plant a bomb aboard his airship, so the exact reason continues to elude me, but people seem to like it, so perhaps I worry overmuch.
          The thing is, I will soon be starting a new series with the working title of The Nexus Chronicles.  Last November 28th I was working diligently on the Beyond the Rails edit when it was knocked completely out of my head by the idea of Nexus sliding unbidden into my mind like a base runner stealing second, spikes up, and woe be unto whatever gets in his way.  I pulled out one of my ever-handy notebooks and wrote down, "The idea of Nexus, a border city formed at the intersection of all the astral planes, strikes with an almost physical impact."  In the two weeks since, this thing has been simmering, festering, and growing additional heads almost non-stop, and I've had to move into a bigger notebook.
          Here's the thing:  The denizens of Nexus, good and evil, are most definitely not Victorian drawing room characters.  The villains, above all, are not nice, and have no sense of honor or fair play about them, and any protagonist who attempts to deal with them as if they did will be chewed up and spit out, so the great challenge, and the Journey of Wonder that I'm about to undertake will be to see whether I can actually pull off heroes whose halos, of necessity, have slipped to varying degrees.  I usually say "We'll all find out together," but I'm not going to say that this time, because I intend to become a recluse while I'm working this out.  I've learned from experience how poorly I react to other voices pointing out my missteps while I'm trying to work out where to put my feet, and I'm going to spare myself that particular pleasure while I figure out whether I can write the stories this idea calls for.  All I can say is that I will keep blogging, primarily about general writing issues, and probably next week, when I see where this is headed, I'll pull the wraps back a little, and let those interested get a feel for the flavor, but don't expect any big reveals.  Just enjoy the blog, and see whether you can get into the concept.  I'll do my best to make it good! 

*          *          *

          On the writing front, I'm going to solicit your opinions here, as a point was raised last week by one of my readers, and I want to know how everyone feels about it.  This reader said the blog was hard to read, because of the light-on-dark print, and the all-caps font that I use.  Let me address each of those points separately.
          First, the color.  The background color of the blog is #441500 on the standard internet color chart, International Steampunk Brown, and I have no plan to change it.  That means it will be light-on-dark for the foreseeable.
          Second, though, the font. The name of the font is Walter Turncoat, and I chose it from among the dozens of fonts that Blogger offers because it most closely resembles my natural handwriting.  The photo to the left is of a page from my Beyond the Rails notebook so you can see the uncanny resemblance for yourself.  Seriously, if you could get a font based on your own handwriting, would you use it?  Yeah, I thought so.
          But unlike the color, I'm not married to it.  If it's driving off readers, I'm not so stupid that I won't consider a change, so that's what I'm asking here.  Should I change it?  I've put a poll at the top of the right sidebar, and I would very much like for everyone to voice their opinion: should I leave it as it is, make it larger, or change it completely?  This is an important question to me, as I'm not doing this to drive off readers, and your input would be dearly appreciated.
          As to Beyond the Rails III, I am still hopeful of seeing it for sale on Amazon by this coming Sunday.  Once that's done, I'll be taking a break for Christmas and New Year's (if you can call building a new world from scratch "Taking a break"), after which I'll be pitching into the next project.  I have repeatedly said that that will be Stingaree, but I may have to go to The Nexus Chronicles next just to get that monkey off of my back, because it is paying no attention to my demands to get back on the back burner and be quiet.  But I have three weeks to figure that out.  Meanwhile, let's get the Kestrel back into the air for another thrill-packed adventure!
          Until next week, play nice, look out for one another, and above all else, get out there and live life like you mean it!

~ Blimprider


  1. Sounds like you'll have your hands full with Nexus. Re your comments about becoming a hermit, I'm re-reading Diane Gabaldon's Outlander series for the first time - I read them the first time years ago, borrowing the books from a friend who had them all as I read. With the TV adaptation of the first book FINALLY screening here, I got hooked again and have been buying the books as I read - so much fun. ANYWAY, at the back of the one I just read was the transcript of an interview with the author - and an interviewer who really, clearly, hadn't thought to much about his/her questions before the interview. The author's answers to many of the questions made me laugh though - particularly those asking about her writing process and the accompanying assumptions. Ultimately, every writer has his/her own methods and those are what make us all unique. Makes perfect sense to me to hole up and wait until you have the basics of your story and the characters sorted in your own head before anyone else gets to hear about them. Otherwise, the waters get too muddied!
    On the readability of your blog - I find the light on dark very difficult, particularly when I'm tired - and that's not just your blog, that's across the board. Yours is the only one I've persisted with, because I like you and what you write enough to make myself deal with it. A change in font may ease that, I don't know. But, again, it's YOUR blog and your choice about how it looks...

  2. Kaz, m'love, always a pleasure to find you here! For the past two weeks I have been formatting Beyond the Rails III for publication. Put in a 17-hour day yesterday, and am looking at the same again today. I hope to see it on sale on Amazon by the weekend, and at that point will begin giving my friends the attention they deserve. I don't remember the last two being this difficult; it will sure be good to get on the other side of this one! I'm really looking forward to that two week break. Small chance it might get extended!

    I've started to get some votes on the site's appearance. I have the poll set to close New Year's Eve, so we'll see what's leading when the curtain comes down. Changing the color may be more than I can manage. I can change the basic font color with a mouse click, but I would have to go back through 5½ years of posts to manually change the color of the quotations that start almost every post, and those individual words I highlighted for emphasis... Just talking about it makes packing it in look pretty attractive! Don't worry, though, I'd keep in touch through your comment section. The rest of you should, too. Find Books Anonymous in the sidebar, and click on over for an entertaining reading experience!

  3. Re the font. I do find it hard to read I must admit. Personally it's the size that I find difficult. Smaller fonts are more difficult to track and harder to read with your capitals font. There is less variation on letter sizing, risers and drops (which help to define letters more easily).
    From a technical point of view, light on dark is harder to read optically than dark print on light. However...
    if you increase the contrast (ie. white writing rather than off white), then this will help. I strongly suggest upping the font size a few notches if possible. This will also make it easier to read.
    Taking off my old job hat now.
    Hope the info helps.

    1. Hi, Karen, and welcome! The trend seems to be to make it bigger at the moment, with a complete change running a close second. Trying to change all the colors, especially dark to light background, at this late date, would be a full time job for me, but making the text a brighter white should be easy, and I'll look into doing that as well as the size change first. Of course, nothing happens until New Year's. That's what the poll is for, and I want to see what comes out ahead.

      Hope you're setting up for a great weekend! By the way, checked out your pictures (and everyone should, Karen J. Carlisle in the sidebar). Looks like you had a great time there. I couldn't find anything to comment about, but that's just my lack of cleverness. Keep on punkin', and I'll see you around the stacks.

    2. Neither font nor color bothers me. And I completely understand the feeling of being struck numb by a story that refuses to vacate the brain except on paper. Best of luck, and I hope to read your stories soon!

    3. Greetings, Shanna, and welcome! It's one of the greatest pleasures of maintaining this site to greet a new reader, and a new follower at that. Yes, first of all, I don't see a problem with the font either. I thought maybe they were reading on the phone, but I brought it up on my phone, and if anything, it's clearer there than it is on my computer. Consensus right now seems to be to make it bigger, so I'll add a couple of points after New Year's and see if that makes it better.

      Time and sobriety are combining to make Nexus calm down. Before I can write that, I must perforce make up the circus tricks to support the fantasy/steampunk narrative, and I can be working on something else while I'm doing that. Meanwhile, there are two complete stories you can read here at the top of the left sidebar. I took a quick look at your material, and saw some steampunk there, not surprising if you're following a blog like this! Let me invite you to pay a visit to my writers' group, Scribblers' Den. http://thesteampunkempire.com/group/scribblers-den/. We are a very active writers group within The Steampunk Empire. You may find us to your liking, but if you don't, no harm done.

      It has been an honor to serve as your host. I'm going to hit Publish, and take a more detailed look at your material, so don't be surprised if I stop and say hello. Thanks for dropping by. Hope to see you around some more in the weeks to come!