Visas, Editorial Passes and The Black Lodge

Well, big news out of the way first: last week I was finally granted my partner residence visa, replacing the bridging visa that I’ve been on since just after the wedding. The bridging one allowed me to stay in the country and seek work but it could also end unexpectedly, the wording was essentially that if they said no on my partner visa I’d have a 30 day grace period to either contest it and/or arrange flights out of the country. Now as long as I don’t commit any major crimes and get shipped out I’m pretty much set, in two years I can take my existing visa and apply for permanent residence and citizenship beyond that, if I so wish. It’s an extremely weird feeling, in part because it was granted so suddenly – I got the notification that I’d been approved less than a week after a letter saying that due to a backlog in the department it could take over a year for my processing to finish up. I was not looking forward to a year in limbo where any day I could receive a notification that I had 30 days to put together an appeal or buy a plane ticket. This is now also the first time in close to two years where I’m not waiting on some kind of massive life stuff to hit. First there was the initial visa application that took several months and then half a year of waiting, and then all the wedding and marriage certificate things, and then this. I have a constant, niggling sensation in the back of my head that I’ve forgotten to lodge some important paperwork this week, because it’s something I’ve had to do on a regular basis for so long.

Anyway, that’s been a big weight off my shoulders. It was one of the major stumbling blocks regarding looking at work, and one of the reasons my wife has encouraged me to stay home and make myself busy with expanding my writing portfolio. It would have really sucked to land a contract somewhere and then the next day find out that my visa is going to be revoked and I need to run around Sydney getting paperwork certified and waiting in line at the immigration office and everything else. I was already gearing up to bite that particular bullet but now I feel even more comfortable looking around at options.

Speaking of expanding the portfolio, I am almost done with the short story project I’ve been working on. It really had gone a long way towards establishing habits that’ll be useful on the full novel. I am very much aware that no one makes a living off of short story compilations but it’s been a good way to flex the proverbial muscles. I’ve taken Stephen King’s advice to heart and I can consistently throw down 6+ pages a day, and I’ve taken the opportunity to really write stories outside of my favored niches. Crawling out of the comfort zone is basically the worst feeling in the world when it comes to writing but I can tell it’s resulted in some big improvements to my writing style.

skullwrtier.pngBy the way, can I just say how jealous I am of my friends who work in more visual mediums? I know a lot of incredibly skilled people who paint, do woodburning, sketching, tattoos, the works. The work-in-progress is still really pleasing to look at and it’s great being able to map that to the finished product. Meanwhile I’m over here working on my editing and, frankly, if I do my job right readers won’t be able to see any of the improvements I’ve made because I’ll be overwriting and erasing the rough parts forever. It still astonishes me how many ways a story can change while maintaining the core components, though. The last one I’ve been working on has gone through the most changes of any that I’ve worked out and came out so much stronger for it:

  • Started off as a first person past tense urban fantasy piece focusing on Kabbalah and Sufi mysticism coming together against jinni and golems in contemporary New York. 8k words, was alright, felt incredibly hamfisted at times, big overuse of “I” even for a first person piece.
  • Started rewriting it as third person past tense to see if I could shift the focus a little bit to be less on the main character’s snarky attitude and more on the decisions he was making and their ramifications on the world. This was better but I got about five pages in before realizing that more than anything else I was just getting tired of the setting. Most of the other stories I’ve been working on recently are in either the urban fantasy or horror veins and it had become a bit of a rut.
  • I started casting around in my old history texts for something I really enjoyed. Came to the Ottoman Empire. You know, there’s not enough written about the Ottoman Empire in fiction. It’s an absolutely fascinating culture, particularly coming it as a Jewish man who has otherwise been told by a lot of popular media that the muslims have always wanted him dead. There have been plenty of horrible atrocities between the two groups but also a lot of mutual growth, tolerance and cultural exchange, and it feels like a lot of the history is less violence and more a fellow in a skullcap and a fellow in a turban hanging out at a bookshop together shaking their heads at all the pork-eating barbarians running around outside. I went back through a few of my old sources I’ve held onto, from historical texts to fictionalize-but-realistic accounts like Dawn of the Beloved. The transition of the Sephardic Jewish people from Iberia to the Ottoman empire has always been very interesting to me and I dropped my characters knee-deep in that. I thought it would be a good way to explore the story of a child of refugees adapting to the new land with a mystical tinge to it.
  • This went really well and I took many of the characters and elements from the original story and stuck them into the period piece, coming in about 5k words in one sitting. Then I sat there and I played around with it. I realized what the hell, I’m going to be doing a novel set entirely in a secondary world, I grew up reading novels set in secondary worlds, all my short stories have been set on our earth, let’s get some practice in. Iberia became an archipelago nation, the Ottoman Empire got a name change and incorporated some elements of Bedouin culture from their recent conquest and integration of nomadic tribes prior to welcoming in the strange refugees from the north fleeing pogroms. A land based on ancient Persian myth became the new setting and I took a son of these refugees, paired him with a grizzled janissary bodyguard and sent him unicorn hunting (well, Karkadann, kind of the bastard children of the last unicorn and really pissed off rhinos) in what had long ago been his peoples’ homeland, now mostly divided up between regional warlords and sorcerers, forced to deal with some identity crises as he travels the lands of his ancestors and finds them unrecognizable compared to his adopted home. I also wanted to avoid the 1-for-1 fantasy transplant culture, as I’ve spoken about before. I did not want the Hewish Mystic to consult his Talmad and use the Kubbuluh to cast spells, so I mashed together elements of the Sephirot, the Turkish Ağaç Ana, the tower of Babel and some other mythologies and came up with something that was wholly a product of this fantasy world but carried what I consider to be the core feeling and many of the teachings of Judaism.
  • This rolled along really well and within three days I had the completed story sitting just shy of 16k. I still need to take a hacksaw to it but there you go, within a week I ran the same characters through a series of settings, learned and improved in each one and carried those improvements forward. If someone does not read this blog post they will never know that, and even if you do read it it doesn’t look half as cool as someone painting or sketching, at least to me!

 

I won’t lie when I say the concept of doing editorial passes on an actual novel is terrifying even with some helpful tips I’ve gotten from other authors. I have to try and take a step back and realize that even with the sheer amount of work I put into that one short story, it was still all over and done with in seven days (plus however long it takes me to tweak it this week) and the sum was much stronger than any of its parts collected along the way.

The counter in the lower right hand side of the wordpress app says I’ve just broken 1500 words mostly rambling about my work, falling into the obnoxiously talky writer trap, so let me break off from there and talk about a television show and a book to cap things off!

Diane, I’ve finally convinced my wife to start watching Twin Peaks with me. It’s taken close to five years, not because she’s particularly recalcitrant to do so but because we could only spend a few weeks at a time with each other due to travel and those were usually spent going out and doing things like visiting museums or parks. We watched the pilot last night and I was a little worried about it. Diane, people seem to have two reactions to the first episode. Either they are instantly captured by the surrealism of this half murder mystery, half soap opera set in the Washington backwoods, or they’re tremendously put off that David Lynch has just subjected them to 45 minutes of people crying awkwardly before introducing any other elements of the plot. I am pleased to report that she did not fall into the latter category and we would have continued watching if it hadn’t been close to midnight by the time we finished the pilot. I am also pleased to say that, Diane, the show holds up incredibly well 26 years after it premiered and on my seventh viewing to date. I still pick up tiny quirks and details that Lynch hid in practically every shot and it only made me hungrier for the 2017 continuation of the story. Hungrier for that and jelly donuts, Diane.

I also spent yesterday reading Charles Stross’s newest Laundry Files novel, The Nightmare Stacks and it might actually be one of my favorites in the entire series. I have a hard time describing why without spoiling it, but let me just say that it has one of the best portrayals of elves I’ve seen, and that they’re a spiritual successor to the Fair Folk of Terry Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies, one of the best Discworld novels. While prior Laundry novels have been riffs on various established spy stories (and superheroes, with The Annihilation Score) this one is much more in line with Tom Clancy’s thrillers of the mid 80s, thankfully devoid of the xenophobia and revenge fantasies of his post-9/11 works. Red Storm Rising with elves, basilisks and really fucking creepy tentacle dragons, and I think I actually like the character of Alex a little better than I liked Bob from the older books. The V-parasites are one of the best takes on vampirism ever and I can’t recommend this book (and series) enough. There are also certain social issues in the book that Stross didn’t have to include but chose to do so, and that I really appreciate him including because they’re not typically explored or even touched on in technothrillers, fantasy or horror.

 

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