Caligula Edit Update: The Aurelian Structure

When I was composing the initial draft of The Meditations of Caius Caligula, I followed a pattern from the obvious namesake The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius: in its Chapters. MoMA has Books rather than chapters, and the chapters are numbered for the sake of quotation. There are about 12 Books, and each of them is more or less a reflection of where Marcus was at the time he wrote it: It was composed over a number of years. There’s not much of an effort to organize the material thematically: he bounces around pondering various exercises in Stoic thought.

33. On Pain: What we cannot bear removes us from life, what lasts can be borne. The understanding, too, preserves its own tranquility by abstraction, and the governing self does not grow worse, but it is for the parts which are injured by the pain, if they can, to declare it.

34. On Fame: See what their minds are like, what they avoid, what pursue. And besides, that as the sands are constantly carried over one another, hiding what went before, so in our life what was before is very swiftly hidden by what is carried after.

The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Book VII

Contrariwise, I wrote MoCC in about 7 themed chapters, each of which feature Caligula expounding on a particular topic: Gods, Men, Women, War, etc. As much as the whole idea of the book owes itself to MoMA and I, Claudius, I didn’t want MoCC to mirror either work structurally. In the first place, Caligula was many things, but a Stoic was not one of them. In the second place, there are altogether too many I, Claudius ripoffs already. Putting an autobiography within a set of philsophical meditations seemed like a way for the book to live as it’s own thing.

The other purpose of the book is to engage in a bit of historical revisionism; differentiating the man from the legend, twitting Suetonius and Cassius Dio as Senatorial Propagandists. In this way, Caligula becomes rather like Richard III: a man who undoubtedly had blood on his hands, but was the product of a family and a time that would have made it hard to avoid villainy.

The difficulty in editing has been to avoid inflating the Chapters too much: I wrote them as rants, with a minimum of biographical detail. This was entertaining, but didn’t give me the emotional heft for the ending that I wanted. So I’ve been adding more detail. This has made the book more like I, Claudius, which I hadn’t originally wanted. This has made the going slow, as I worry I’m betraying the original vision.

The solution, which I experimented with yesterday, has been to break apart the large chapters, each of which were about 2,000 words in the initial draft. In this way, I can make each beat its own section. So the First Chapter, “On Gods,” is now several smaller Chapters, “On Germanicus”, “On Soldiers,” “On Lucretius”, etc. Some of these will be quite short, some longer, which fits with other Roman works such as Ovid’s Love Books and the Satyricon. I can freely expand where needed, allowing Caligula to tell his story and rant at the same time. It felt as if what the book needed finally fell into place. I’m looking very forward to the final result.

The Grand Deletion

My initial plan was to make changes to this site subtly, but visual issues with the theme required a new look, and when combined with the scale of the changes I’ve made on social media, that became more appropriate. So, in brief, let me relate what’s happening:

  • My Tumblr blogs are deleted. Every Damn CD is hereby inactive. I’m going back to listening to my music instead of reviewing it.
  • My Podcast, Thumbs Down/Thumbs Up, is undergoing changes. When I decide on a new format, I’m going to post it here, instead of through Podbean. The Shallow & Pedantic Podcast will continue without changes.
  • An ancient blog project, The Teacher’s Dictionary, which withered on the vine, has finally been executed. I may revive it in another form later on.
  • My Facebook Author page has also been deleted. It was more of a firewall than anything else, and my Facebook no longer requires a firewall. Posts will continue to be shared on my normal Facebook page.

Other things, of no interest to anyone here, have likewise gone the wayside. Whatever merit they had, they did not achieve the success I wanted. Reading Cam Newton’s Deep Work (a book I recommend) has made me consider concentration rather than multiplicity as the thing most needed in a blog. A million cross-postings are of no value if I cannot drive the traffic here.

I’ve been through these changes periodically in my long history of blogging; reaching for the new in order to combat the frustration of feeling like you’re shouting into a void. What I haven’t done is get the right content under the eyes of the right readers. Hence, quantity must take a back seat to quality. Nothing else matters.

Thus, what I intend as the final form of this web site, and my career as a blogger. I’m making this statement publicly, as a promise to hold myself to. This is a blog about writing, about content creation, and about aesthetics thereunto pertaining. Beauty is truth, and truth, beauty. And all that cal.

Read on, friends.

The Bradley Font and Classic Pulp

I found this today on Twitter:

And it’s entirely in line with the whole Pulp Revolution indie scene, in which classic pulp fantasy tropes are lovingly dusted off and embraced. Cirsova Magazine is a good go-to (I’ve bought an issue; it’s excellent if you like that sort of thing), all hail the spirit of Robert Howard.

It’s a bit over the top, frankly, and I don’t know if I’d want to use it for my big fantasy project that I keep telling myself I’m going to start. But I might like to throw down a longish novella for 2020, along lines earlier alluded to. Since this would be a self-pub, I’m fine with playing up the glorious pulp-cheese of it.

You might ask why I’d even think about such a thing when the story’s in outline form. I say unto you, the spirit of composition matters. I think in the next few days I’ll start jumping on the first chapter.

Here’s another look at the Bradley font.

Rejection is Progress

Every no gets you closer to yes.

This is part of the process of shifting through to find the best match. If your work is good, it will find a market.

These are things authors have learned to tell themselves. Not because they are true, but because they are hopeful, and hope is a necessity to keep someone going in the face of rejection. Successful authors need to survive repeated rejection. So whatever you have to tell yourself is fine.

The real possibility of real failure also exists. No doesn’t actually get you closer to yes. It’s not a map. Yes can occur on any submission, from the first to the hundredth, or not at all. And good work is not a guarantee of anything, because “good” is an ambiguous term. It means different things to different groups. It can denote true, beautiful, or useful (and no, they aren’t the same thing). Something can succeed in being one of these and fail in the other two. Or it can fail in all three.

My point is that art can fail, and that an artist that attaches himself permanently to failed art will fail in a more complete way.

You wrote a book. Good. Now write another.

You Can’t Write Unless You Can Lie

Writing is a process of self-deception.

In the first place, you deceive yourself that anything you create will be read, understood, and appreciated. That’s not me being emo, that’s speaking to the large likelihood that your work will die on the vine. That’s simple statistics. So before anything else, you have to teach yourself to ignore that.

In the second place, you deceive yourself that you have time to write. Any time is writing time. An hour, a half-hour. I suck at this, which is why my production hasn’t been great lately. I allow my day, with all necessities thereunto pertaining, to impose itself upon my hour, upon my minute. The next step is to ignore everything that’s happening to you today.

Finally, you have to deceive yourself that this is some kind of calling or vocation. It is that, in one sense, but in another, it is simply the process by which a certain kind of intellect interacts with the world. Not an especially useful kind of intellect, either. I’m never going to solve an engineering problem, or cure a disease, or even advance public order in any appreciable way. All I’m doing is poking at the world with words and seeing what comes back at me. It’s supremely egotistical. But you have to ignore that, because if you don’t, you’ll either stop doing it or become the most insufferable kind of author, the kind that if he makes anything approaching art, it will be entirely by accident, and he will leave a trail of misery in every other aspect of his life. The final step is to ignore your ego, even as you tap into it.

And then, just keep swimming.

On the Fourth Act

The most basic structure for a story is the three-act rising-action-to-climax. They teach it in high school. It works because it hits the beats that conform to emotional expectations that people have.

But it’s not the only structure that can be.

I mentioned earlier this week when I finally got Chapter XII finished that it was time for the fourth act. I also called it the denouement, which isn’t entirely accurate. Denouements are short. But this fourth act will have a falling action kind of effect.

But it will also contain action. An act implies action, something significant. And even though a major moment occurred, perhaps a central moment, there’s more for the character to absorb.

Really, there’s something of a fifth act/epilogue in the last chapter. It’s like a Shakespeare play.

Writer’s Block, Resistance, and the Grind

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

-Jack London

Sword2So I finally finished Chapter 11 of The Sword over the weekend. For a transitional chapter, this one took forever. I’m not sure if the culprit that dragged it out over so many weeks was a loss of confidence in my own abilities, being distracted by other life business, or just an inability to bridge the gap from where I was in the novel and where I needed to get to.

One thing that’s definitely happening is I’m already seeing things I’m gonna want to fix in editing. Some characters are hanging in the background and not very clearly defined. I’m uncertain if my protagonist isn’t wandering a bit. So I might have been pausing to take stock.

It’s hard to say. Writing a novel is something like having an argument with imaginary friends. You may have ideas about what they ought to be, but they start insisting to be what they really are, and you have to negotiate the way to display that.

In any case, one thing I’ve never found particularly useful are the various Tips and Tricks to Beat Writer’s Block. I’m not saying others won’t find them useful, but to me they just feel like make-work. The technique I find most useful is as follows:

  1. Put butt in seat.
  2. Put fingers on keyboard.
  3. Let whatever comes out suck. You can fix it or toss it later if you want to.

Stephen Pressfield writes about Resistance in The War of Art, which he describes as anything, any thought or habit, that conspires to prevent you from completing what you have taken on. And thinking of Writer’s Block, or lack of confidence, or the Critical Eye, as forms of Resistance, is useful in terms of putting the task of Finishing above all else.

Which means that Resistance happens, and it’s okay. You will deal with it from time to time. Just keep going. Just mash the keys. Just finish. Grind it out

Chapter 12 is a Big Deal. I’m feeling good about beginning it.



Writing Principles Derived From Musici

via A Writer’s Path:

There are three points:

  1. Avoid Repetition – In the substance of your writing, words used, plot occurences, etc. Sometimes repetition is useful, but you have to know how much you’re doing it.
  2. Avoid Monotony – how is this different from “Repetition”? Here the author refers to rhythm, i.e. what do your sentences “sound” like? A variation between short, staccato bursts and riverine flow is the recommended idea. I’m a fan of of that approach myself.
  3. Know the Expectations You’re Creating – This basically means “write for your reader”. What are you signalling to the reader in terms of where story and character are going? You need to know these things to fulfill them (or to violate them, if that’s what you’re planning on).

Those are your takeaways, but Read the Whole Thing

The Sword Update

Here’s where we are on my Civil War novel.

  • I just finished Chapter 7 of a planned 15.
  • Chapters are averaging somewhere between 4,000-5,000 words (rough estimate). This will put me at about 70,000 words, reasonable size for a novel.
  • If I finish in the next six weeks or so, I can let it lie fallow for a bit before editing it and then figuring out how to publish it.
  • At present time, I want to try traditional publishing, then if that doesn’t work, perhaps a Kickstarter.
  • I have a new working-cover. It kind of looks like a flag:Sword2

It’s been a while since I updated on this, but I’ve been working on it – especially since I finished Void. I’m toying with offering a chapter on Tablo to see what people think. Then again, I might not.

I’ve also been toying with the idea of trying to make material available completely available from this website, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post…