Tagged by Andrew, because whenever someone mentions my name I must appear…and he got it from Lawrence Burton, and to be honest I haven’t checked how deep the stack goes, but…


1. What are you working on at the moment?

Well, at the moment the eternal Job #1 is a sort of pop opera, a jazz-flamenco opera really, called Poseidon’s People

Which is about the Hittites…

Sort of. Actually it’s about a group of imaginary proto-Hittites I invented, prehistoric dwellers on the north shore of the Black Sea, who eventually make their way down into the Mediterranean Basin after a great cataclysm…and then make their way secretly into all our history after that. It’s basically a story about sublimed influences on/in Western culture, in two very large parts or movements: one follows the story from the Black Sea in about 8,000 B.C. west to Spain in about 1180 A.D., and the second begins in the British Isles in the present day, and winds its way eastward and back through time (though rather circuitously) to arrive on the north bank of the Bosphorus in about 5,000 B.C., and then the whole thing makes (I think) a rather delightful circle. Actually it’s not as complicated as it sounds, being basically just a rather large concept album, completely in my wheelhouse and completely appropriate to my skill-set…duck soup, really, and so the time spent in the actual writing isn’t so extreme…but the time spent in all the thinking, the managing of the sublimed influences and showing them by allusion and so forth, that eats up hours and days and weeks and months and OH MY GOD IS THAT THE TIME…!

So I am pretty much working on this constantly inside my head, as I have been for a few years now, which is something that’s a bit galling to have to do for a project that’s essentially a folly. It would’ve all been totally finished by 2010 if I’d done it all myself, but I wisely sought out collaborators such as Andrew and Illogical Volume and the long-absent Madeley…even Holly has gotten into the act (yay!), and I fully intend to make some other Mindless “talk English” into a microphone too, before I’m done. So it might’ve been finished four years ago, but it would’ve been a third the length and it would’ve been CRAP!, therefore God bless all the long-suffering helpful blogpeople, once mere Internet Friends and now real ones. As well, on this end (the Part One end) I’m very fortunate — very fortunate! — to have both an excellent jazz guitarist and an excellent flamenco guitarist as friends who are close enough for me to reach their arms in order to twist…and a dandy rapper/slam poet friend, and another couple of enthusiastic associates of great and unsuspected talent, and Part One is in fact going to be fully done in demo form by the end of May, so…y’know, I’m excited. SO MUCH THINKING ABOUT HITTITES! And after four years or whatever it’s pretty much getting on for time, Hittite-thinking-wise. Studio stuff in 2015, I guess, I try not to think that far ahead for fear it’ll distract me from my Master Planner duties, but…

Anyway, you will all be invited to the premiere, or record-release party, or whatever it turns out to be…and I’m not kidding about that, this is not to be made into a movie starring George Clooney, this is for us, Bloggers: you, and me, and all our bloggy friends who are engaged in the thankless job of collaborating with One Such As I. Huh, I guess they’ll be able to tell you if it’s all worthwhile once they get an earful of Part One’s demos at the end of Spring…as for my own horn, I would toot it never, except if this meme counts which I guess it probably does. After all…I’m here, aren’t I?

Outside of that: a great deal more music. Writing stuff for a new album with one partner, continually working on things for my on-a-slight-hiatus band with my other two partners, and at a guess I’d say we’ve got about another three albums of material stored up at this point, so…STUDIO. And then there’s just odd things, little things that I make for no reason, that are no good to anybody and have little in the way of imaginable purpose. Hmm, lemme see if I can load one of the more recent of those on here…

(Whoops, sorry, unsuccessful so far…boy, WordPress has changed a LOTTA THINGS in the last little while…)

So there’s that; but none of that is really what I do. Really I write stories and scripts, except I don’t write scripts anymore because EVEN THOUGH I AM AWESOME AT IT (if we’re just talking TV and movies, anyway) there is still no thing that I hate doing, more than I hate dealing with Biz. It’s just not worth it. At least: for me. But on the story front I am curiously active at the moment, reevaluating a bunch of SF stories that went staledated while I was busy making other plans, and figuring out just what it is I have to say now, that things I had to say back then might be profitably streamed into. Some of these things come back around into currency just like a boomerang, which is weird…others I will have to wait long enough for their subjects to become “retro” instead of just “irrelevant”…but all in all it’s a stimulating time for my prose endeavours: once I just get Poseidon’s People sorted out, I plan a trilogy of Hard SF Stories which will have the unusual feature of actually meriting the name. Uh…

I hope!

But right now it’s all just busy-busy-busy, like the Magician at the end of Frosty The Snowman. A mad whirl. My correspondence has suffered over the last few years, too. And I forgot to do laundry today, and also there’s about five (or fifteen) blog posts languishing in this hard drive which were meant to get out into the fresh air and get some exercise around about January or so…

2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?

It’s more boring!

No, well…actually it’s just becoming ever more about only the things that I am personally interested in. Or maybe it’s just that my conscious control over the manner in which I infect my own work is improving? I want to differ, I really do…I can’t do any of the things that other people are good at anyway, so basically I am just praying to differ. Richard Bensam compliments me enormously by saying I’m interested in the thought-processes of characters: how they think, and wherefore is that “how”. Well, plot-mechanics provide the “what” of their thinking, so I dunno what else there is to be interested in? Now that I think about it? Hmm. If I’m writing SF, I’m always thinking about HPS (that’s History and Philosophy of Science for those of you who haven’t been yammered at about it by me yet)…always always always ALWAYS, in fact I’d even say that I just can’t write SF at all anymore if there is no philosophical weight to the story, if it has no relevance to the history of science. And I am always trying not just to take some random factoid out of Scientific American as just a springboard, you know? Because I want the science to really be the science, I want the scientific problems to be genuine problems in science…I want to float theories that are (hmm) worth entertaining, if I can, even if they’re natively presumptuous because of the ineliminable “fiction” part of SF. I guess when you boil it down I want to do gedankenexperiments, but not being a physicist I have to use words instead of math. So maybe I’m a bit like Chopin?  It would be a bit bigheaded for me to claim something like that, so I don’t claim it, but…outside of Isaac Asimov I’m the only person I know of who writes HPS-based SF, I don’t think anyone ever did it before him and I’m not sure anyone did it after (though you could argue Cordwainer Smith did something like it it at around the same time), Umberto Eco has certainly done it and so has Tom Holt, but I think they both escape the “SF” tag. Did Mary Stewart do it, in her Merlin stories? But she escaped the tag too…


Ursula LeGuin!

And Alan Moore, to tell you the truth. Watchmen awakened my interest in HPS well before I even knew there was such a thing as HPS…

So maybe I’m different that way, if “that way” matters. Which I’m not sure it does, to anyone but me…

In music, though, it’s a different story; I know exactly how I differ in a genre sense, since I spent so much time writing alt-country songs. It’s Watchmen again, actually! Country music has some strict conventions, so what I did with that was I built in multivalence, I got even more interested in formal trickery than my Eng. Lit. education had already made me…there are no “innocent” expressions in any of my songs, you don’t need to unpack it all but if you chose to you’d find a lot of strange resonances buried in the cliches. Kinda wanna be the Lawrence Durrell of pop songwriting? Again, I’m fortunate to have collaborators who see a lot of value in those sorts of shenanigans, and are good at it themselves…so, yes, I have written old-fashioned Hurtin’ Songs that reference Thomas Browne and Piaget and Rumi and Einstein and Donne and blah blah blah blah…! And I love doing all that, it’s a real constrained type of art, and thus a fascinating puzzle. How do you cram all that stuff in there, how do you make a lasagna out of a crepe, how do you make a treble clef into a roman a clef? As I often say, rap lyrics can go anywhere and do anything, can become arbitrarily logically-dense in about the space of two heartbeats…rap is VERY cool for being able to do that. But that the ordinary melodic song isn’t as fitted to that function is basically why I so enjoy screwing around with making every line a laminate, and making every kinetic thing balance or double up or reflect back on itself or what-have-you. I am not particularly good at it; I had to learn it all, none of it came at all naturally, and I’m still learning it. There are musical Jack Kirbys out there who don’t even need to rough anything in, they just MAKE, and the fruit of their making is complexity that goes a million miles deep…but I’m not one of them. My musical vocabulary is still just so awful I can’t tell you, I can barely communicate with musicians! But I come at it from my place, if you like I write like a critic

I think that’s what I do, anyway. Supposed to be impossible, isn’t it? That’s what they all say. But oh, the cleverness of me

And on the blogwriting front (is arguing about the semiotics of Spider-Man really a genre, now?) (says a voice in my head), a great pleasure for me is that I’m not very much different from most of the people I read…I write long things full of digressions and tangents, and I’m mostly interested in seeing how far I can cast my net and still expect to bring up the desired sort of fish. This “Plok” voice of mine is largely a device I employ to do that, and for some strange reason I’m interested in getting good at it…and there was a time, not too long ago in non-Internet time, when maybe that made me a slightly unusual blog-stylist? But I’ve since discovered that loads of other people can do that too, and better than I can — Andrew’s Grant Morrison books are like that only they’re coherent — and I find this very comforting and reassuring, not to be all different all the time.

3. Why do you write what you do?

Curiosity makes me write. I read things and I see things and I get a funny idea, a silly idea, from it all…from whatever odd pattern-matching games my brain chooses to carry out, and I just want to know if the silly idea really is silly, so I chase it down and try to ramify it. I’ll write anything if it makes me curious; heck, I thought of an idea for an actual opera last year or the year before, called “Copernicus In Bologna”…absolutely no chance of me writing an actual opera, that is NOT in my wheelhouse, but…you know, I’m of a ludic inclination. I try to stay in bed for at least a half-hour after waking, every single day: I want go-nowhere musings that a human standing erect must partly abandon for the necessities of coordination. Actually a lot of the stuff I write comes out of the pressure of dreams — “right, so that’s what that meant, now how do I make it make comprehensible sense ten minutes from now when I’m standing upright and brushing my teeth?” Without abandoning the sense completely, which is always bound up with the dream-logic so you can’t just make it all rational. But for whatever reason — diet, maybe? — I have a LOT of dreams that are pretty “clean copy”, and…

I don’t know, those ones just sort of stick in the mind? The mind is a womb housing twins, as I’m sure you’re all aware: one twin’s name is Thought, and the other twin’s name is Dream. When you’re asleep, you don’t “think” anything, you merely dream it…”I dreamed I was talking to you.” “What, you thought you were talking to me?” “No, of course I didn’t think I was talking to you!”…and when you’re awake you don’t dream but you think instead. For myself, I’m always curious why Asleep-Me dreamed what he did…say what exactly is the difference between thinking and dreaming, anyway? I don’t know, and no one else knows either, and that’s why those inklings are worth pursuing. So there’s your example…

I dunno. Like I said, I like to stay active. In Greg Egan’s Permutation City there’s a place all the uploaded consciousnesses can go in their minds: the coal face, the realm of pure mathematical research. My friend Jack Butler (oh God but my correspondence with him has suffered these last couple of years!) once told me that the great thing about mathematics is that anyone can make a discovery, and once discovered by someone a mathematical thing — a truth! — is never lost. And we will never come to an end of truths to discover, in math. So in Egan’s book you might go on absolutely forever and do anything you please, and you have no needs and all your wants are met, and so what can possibly motivate you, what can you care about after a million virtual lifetimes of perfect satiety? The coal face; you can always find some real work to do, work that matters, and you can set your own schedule and do your own thing and return eternally from every imaginable series of events whether good or bad, to that own-seam-mining, and with all eternity to do it in it doesn’t even matter if all you have to scrape away at it with is a bent spoon. So the reason I write what I do, is I guess because…

No one else is writing it?

So I might as well make myself useful.

Uh, for a certain value of “useful”.

4. How does your writing process work?

There’s a lot of drinking! Steven Sondheim says that every songwriter medicates in some way while they’re manufacturing inspiration…obviously a generalization, but for me it fits! Seems to fit, although what I mainly manufacture is misprision, so it would fit, wouldn’t it. You need sobriety for the detail work, of course. Or, not exactly sobriety, more like…


But basically I am a guy who writes songs best when he’s at a party, because writing songs is a lot like a party…you know, due to the fun-ness of it. So I generally just combine the two activities. My friend Pete and I have evolved a way of doing it that isn’t like that, mind you, just out of sheer necessity…we write on the phone, like Elton John and Bernie Taupin, and the feeling really is one of presence, like at a party: all other methods work less well, because we’ve gotten super-efficient at phonework. Wrote an album in a week, once!

Just over the phone!

Seriously: no one does that anymore.

But when I’m not doing musical or visual things, I generally start every story with a sort of Plot Diary — just a pad and a pen, and something like free-association, and I write about the thing I want to write about, and I write about it and write about it until the pen runs out of ink, and at the end I have a couple of pads of paper that are partly personal diary (“woe is me, how will I ever figure out what to write about, and what about those groceries and that laundry”) and partly acres of backstory and millions of fiddly little mechanical details, and partly the actual composition of the piece, right down to dialogue that doesn’t need changing later on! All in an enormous pile, all mixed-up together like a potful of cold spaghetti. And then after that I get a fresh pad and a fresh pen, and start the first draft for real…then edit the first draft by marking it up like hell until it damn well looks like spaghetti, then produce a second handwritten draft…and then I do a typed draft where I just change shit on the fly in the process of transcribing the written draft, and then I print THAT out and revise IT! Then by the second typed draft I’m basically done, which means it’s time to throw it all out and start over from scratch and wish I had some other sort of marketable skill. Mind you, while Poseidon’s People has been going on I haven’t had much chance to write that way, which makes me sad. My writing table’s covered in dust! Working on keyboards sucks, I lose the sense of the…the composed nature of the composition, the sense of a special compositional space that I can enter when I’m working and then leave again when I’m not. The computer just eats time, for me: gobbles it all up, and then you look up and it’s ten hours later and you’re not completely sure of what you’ve done, and it’s hard to read back through it. Whereas writing with paper and pen is a lot like reading a book, in that it seems to deliver extra time: always a physical sense of involvement, something like an actual activity, which dispenses the feeling of fruitfulness and a job well done. Others may disagree, but for me if I’m not working with pen and paper then it’s not really proper work, it’s like the thing I do where I make notes on matchbook covers while doing reading that turns into research…it feels like it’s just annotation, not composition. And the computer just creates such a tremendous feeling of time pressing in on me, it’s like an attention-splitting machine, it’s a multitasker…and I don’t even really like to read that way, let alone write that way. Somehow the computer is like a clock, telling me about all the things I’m running out of time for, reading the list of tasks in the job jar and calling out “well, I guess you’ve fucked that one up for today!” So for me, paper is the way. Always paper. Then I put my watch on the table next to me, and I look at it when I feel like looking at it, and somehow never miss dinnertime?

But mostly it’s this: I always start with a title. I love titles, find them wonderful lenses for the focussing of purpose…every title a sort of analytic breakthrough! “What’s this story going to be about?” When I find the right title it tells me what the story’s about, and it gives me something to remain true to through all the revisions and reversions. My own intention, obviously: why I wrote the damn thing in the first place.


That’s about it?

Of course that isn’t it, there’s miles more of it, but this is a meme not a novel, so I should probably stop now. Hey, don’t they always say that if you’re looking for a way to end your contribution to a meme, that means you’ve already written it?

Sounds like good advice!

But if I were to start taking advice, all these blog posts would be three hundred words long and consist entirely of bullet points…and there would be very little of arguing over the semiotics of Spider-Man…

And then, of course, I would never have started a blog in the first place.


Now to privately email the people I want to tag with this meme, since apparently that’s how one is supposed to go about it…

So you may all now start living in fear of receiving an email from me! Or in other words…

Business as usual.


3 responses to “BLOG TOUR MEME!

  1. Pingback: Linkblogging for 17/04/14 | Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!·

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