Proof of Life, Twenty-Eighteen

Not dead yet. I joked on twitter that this is a recurring entry on this, a 16 year collection of things written that is roughly covered by the term ‘blog’ (so naturally I dubbed it a ‘Journal’). The rest of the recurring entries are threats that I’m getting back to writing fiction. I have a […]

Lost Ideas


Somewhere in my latest pocket notebook, in the middle of the page, is a hastily scribbled note that reads:


It is both working title and brain bookmark to an idea for a short story that has been swimming in my head since at least the last week. It was an old idea, but the current form started kicking around in the gauzy background-noise imagination warehouse of my being after a sumptuously talky night out with a friend I hadn’t met in months. Some ideas come in a flash, must be written down, must be captured and nailed into pitifully short, scribbled notes in little notebooks. Others you only notice days or weeks after they’ve already arrived.

And all these ideas may never leave that little notebook page.

Sometimes I will come across an old notebook — or worse, an old To Do list — and see a single name for a writing project among the clutter of crossed-out drawing, email, work entries.


I will stare at it for a minute. The word will mean nothing to my conscious brain. But already in the back there will be the stirrings of a sense memory, the dull echo of the excitement I once felt for that word; a swirling of that gauzy background noise, but not a clue as to what that story or idea was actually about. Confetti strewn on an empty street. Once, that idea must have consumed me. I must have spent hours thinking about it, days planning to execute it, reveling in the clever little turns of plot & dialogue that raced through my brain. At some point I let whatever POLENDRON was slip from my brain, because beginning it wasn’t exciting any more. I may have even begun writing something with regards to it, but either forgot or moved onto another, newer scribble in my then-notepad.

I can complain all I want about never finishing anything, but it’s quite often that I never truly begin things. And when I look back at these things I can’t quite remember, I sometimes wonder if that’s for the best. I would like to imagine a world where I am either absolutely productive, putting to page every single idea I’ve had in immaculate, amazing finished pieces, or absolutely unburdened by these lost projects. I don’t know if I’d like to be the man at the party who never looks up from his smartphone because he’s writing a ripping yarn he thought up in the elevator, or the man at the party who says, “Oh yeah, I have stacks of unwritten novels. I’m a great writer. I have a whole lifetime career of books, if only I’d written them…*”

*(NOTE: I have definitely been this person. If you were on the receiving end, I apologise.)

In either extreme case, I would not be the person who was sitting with my friend that day talking about relationships and dating and expectations, and I would not then go home that night with the background noise necessary to scribble THE NUMBER OF BLONDES into my notepad the following day.

It is quite possible that THE NUMBER OF BLONDES will meet the same fate as POLENDRON. Today, tomorrow, the day after, I may think the premise too flimsy, too pretentious, the lack of an ending already set in stone uncomfortable, and easily set it back out into the noise, replace it with imagining what Star Wars Episode 7 will be like (Oh yes, that just happened). I shouldn’t bother, really, but the imagination always goes where it shouldn’t, and where it is most easily rewarded with the sugary nectar of something old & already well-thought out by somebody else. All the hard work done, just waiting for you to put your own genius spin on things.

But it’s also never yours to lose.


Wagons & Saddles


As usual, I was supposed to write this days ago. Writing always takes the back-burner, is the first to be sent to the back of the queue, behind client work, videogames, and doing nothing. Tweeting scratches the itch to write just enough to make you think you’re doing something, and in three years my persona on twitter has spread to a number of accounts covering everything from myself, to movies, games, books, comics, and even RANTING.

Blogging once held this position.

“I’ll write, but first let me blog about how I haven’t written, my writer’s block, and how I’m going to write.”

Which is basically what this is now.

I don’t think I can classify what I have as writer’s block anymore. Ten years is a long time to have been off the wagon (Why is it that you fall off the wagon, but get back in the saddle?). In the last ten years I have never stopped writing, but I have stopped finishing things. And like the proverbial falling tree in the empty forest, if it isn’t finished, then it may as well not exist. Some of you, kind souls that you are, will point to the short story I wrote years ago as a finished piece of work. And I will grant you that, short as it was, it does qualify. But I also know that it was supposed to be the start of a large number of semi-interconnected stories, and so in my head at least it remains unfinished.

(Excuse me, I just went away to tweet about this post I’m writing)

The strict form on your words that twitter imposes is enticing. Sometimes I consider writing a story in tweets. It’s a gimmick, but then, so is writing an action ‘novel’ in 500 words. Things of great beauty can emerge from that 140 character box, but so can they from the vast, bottomless window of Notepad as well, and I like to remind myself that all novels, great and small, started with no back cover to assure the author of a safe landing.

(Excuse me, I just went away to tweet about this post on the ranty account because the term ‘blogging’ seems funny. It’s 2001 again.)

NaNoWriMo has tried to remedy this to an extent, with the 50,000 word goal. I have participated in most NaNos over the last decade, but have yet to even best my first, NaNo 2001 achievement of 35,000 words. I’m sure that, on average, I wrote about that much fiction per year over the decade, but never into anything finished. Hundreds of thousands of words sitting there like so much risen dough, waiting for a loaf pan (baking is another thing writing has taken a back seat to. I sometimes catch myself thinking of baking like one might think of all their unfinished novels suddenly being ready & successful). But even all that goal-oriented writing doesn’t spur me into finishing things. It only ever gets me to start new things. Like Don Draper (according to Dr. Faye Miller), I only ever seem to love the Beginning of things.

Mad Men, and stories of its quality, loom large over me as well. They are at once beacons to follow & aspire to, and seemingly unattainable masterpieces, hurdles insurmountable by someone who can’t even get to THE END of a first draft. Take the last season (number five), and the way it ended. It’s definitely not the end of the series, but if it did have to end, I can’t think of a better way than employing the theme song from You Only Live Twice, followed by an innocuously-posed question, and Don’s profoundly enigmatic response.

Or lack of one. Because it cuts to the credits before he says anything. Those people know how and when to end something. I’m a little afraid of this post going off the rails (and a wagon and a saddle) into non-stop gushing about Mad Men — which it still could — but the point is that fear is as present in an writer as it is the audience, and often ending something sooner than you think is better than never at all.

I’ve had my share of frustrating, absurd anticlimaxes to things in my personal & professional life, and while that isn’t what we enjoy in fiction, prolonging and postponing things for the sake of word counts or writing traditions only delivers an ending that is nothing but absurd and anticlimactic.

I thought that this blog post would end differently, with some grand proclamation of getting back on that saddle, of promising — as I have many times before — a valiant return to writing, to producing, to meeting word counts and doing heroic feats of typing & first-draftery. But really, all I’m looking for is an ending.

And I’m going to go see if can find it.


A Short Return to Writing Fiction

Click here for the PDF
I‘ve been trying to get back to writing fiction for a long, long time now. In fact, I’ve spent more time trying than I did actively writing fiction from 2000-2003. It’s not that there’s a dearth of ideas or that I have suddenly lost the ability to string two sentences together, quite the opposite. In the past six years there have been short stories that turned into long stories, long stories that didn’t go anywhere; several aborted novels, even more never begun; scripts and outlines and treatments and everything in between, but not a thing among them has been finished.

Well, today that changed. If only in a small way.

Giving myself the most miniscule of writing deadlines — five hundred whole words — and the challenge of trying to fit an entire story with a beginning, middle & end in that space, I set out. Instead of attempting an isolated scene or a standard flash fiction short, I thought I’d try and stretch my muscles. Could I possibly condense an entire action thriller novel into 500 words? Would it read as anything more than an outline? Would it just be a gimmick and nothing more?

Well, you tell me. Click on the image above or here to download a PDF of the short story/micronovel Pendragon. I’ve released the story on a Creative Commons License, so feel free to pass on the PDF file via email or the link to this page to anyone you think may be interested in reading.

I’m fairly satisfied with the way Pendragon has turned out. I don’t think it quite achieves the ambitious ‘novel in 500 words’ goal I set for it, but it does have a beginning, middle, and end. Perhaps in one thousand words I would have been able to squeeze in as many thrills & spills as the average airport thriller.

But you can be assured of two things. One: I am back to writing fiction (and soon, in ways that are bigger than you might think).

And, two: Dirk Cleft will return!


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.

Slackwritertron!: The Cure for the Common Block

Slackwritertron! The Cure for the Common Block - Logo and Slogan
Well, I’d love to say that I spent the last week recovering from Comic Konga! lounging aboard my superyacht, but alas, such things were not to be. In fact, I only finished off the last of the work projects — weeks late, mind you — today. There’s a certain empty space reached at the end of a project; I’m stil into it when it goes out the door, and then I’m left with a burning desire to do, well, something but I’m never sure what.

And then, I remembered: Slackwritertron!

Mind you, this exercise is really more of a break from work rather than something I’d do instead of it. Writing has so far never been something I’d consider doing full time (mostly because I’m a scatterbrain). It is very important, though, because I find that when I’m writing — fiction especially, no matter what its quality is — it acts as a kind of lubricant for the rest of my work. It’s no coincidence that the past few years have sucked creativity-wise for me, because I haven’t really been writing.

So, Slackwritertron! (I really should stop coming up with things that have exclamation points at the end… ! ) It’s a bit like NaNoWriMo in that it’s a mad dash to wordcount, but it’s also for those of us (um, me) who can’t really be arsed to finish it all in November.

The goal is simple: At least fifty thousand words of fiction between now and December 31st, 2007.

It doesn’t matter what I write to get there, simply that I write. I have far too many halfway done projects on the burner that I couldn’t, in good conscience and just for sanity’s sake, do NaNoWriMo and start a whole new novel (which I probably wouldn’t finish). I don’t think of this as a group project, really — it’s just something I’m going to do — but if you wish to show solidarity you can copy down the logo image and participate too.

I’ll be popping in every few days with updates on word counts, which stories those words are going into, plot traps and continuity conundrums etc. You know, finally using the Journal for real, honest journalgiri. It’ll mostly be pretentious navel-gazing, of course. You have been warned. Here’s what I’ll be working on

1. Fishbowl

This is a Savant story I started back in March with no delusions of grandeur, just a scene in a room that might one day have made it into a story. Then some time later Jamie asked me to write a story involving a few story elements of his choice. Strangely enough, that first scene flowed perfectly into them, and Fishbowl was born. I worked on it a fair deal over the summer, plugging in scenes from throughout the story as they came to me, but haven’t touched it for a while.

The more I think of it the more I realise that it will be a long story, and I’m probably a third or a quarter of the way into it. I sent out a short bit of this — 3700 words — to friends a while ago and they seemed to like it. It was much less than was written at the time, but that was the only complete scene. This will probably be my primary focus of Slackwritertron (oh, to hell with you, exclamation mark!) until its done.


“…All I’m proposing,” Suvan was saying as I entered the kitchen (just after Sophie), “is that we should spread our drinking runs out through the three days so that we don’t end up with a massive hangover!”

“So we just have several little ones?” Corsair asked.

“He means we should try and stay sober for extended periods of times,” Astral said.

“Why would you want to do a stupid thing like that?” Corsair asked with mock-horror.

“Nobody’s getting drunk!” Sophie shouted. The others were startled enough by her voice echoing across the long kitchen to make Pyntaillion’s wings go halfway into her ‘threatened’ stance, and make Syro jump out of his seat. She strode confidently, me in tow, across the length of the room to the dinner table at the other end of the kitchen.

“I demand an explanation for such disturbing statements,” Corsair said, this time with real horror icing his face.

“We’re going on a trip,” Sophie said.

Currently: 12,666 words.
In the end: I would have said 20K at the beginning, but now it may be more like 30 or 40. A novella, I suppose.

2. Sundari

This is the project I started for Script Frenzy last June. It’s supposed to be a movie script, but by now it’s run away with itself and is more like a miniseries. On the surface it’s a loose — very loose — adaptation of Beauty & the Beast but, as the name implies, with more of an Indian spin on things. Don’t worry, I don’t plan on having people break into extravagant song and dance numbers at the drop of a roomaal (mostly because it would be hell to write on a page). It’s more DC Vertigo than Yash Raj.

I’m not writing this in a traditional movie script format (though Roughdraft, my word processor of choice, does have a nice screenplay mode) because I know that what I write now will not be the final version. I’m doing it as a kind of loose present tense story, a treatment. It works for me, and during Slackwritertron it will serve as an ‘antidote’ of sorts to Fishbowl and other stories. When I’m writing Savant stories especially, the voice — his voice — needs to be in there from the beginning, so even the roughest of drafts is more complete and has more thought put into it than most people say you should in a first draft. With Sundari I don’t need to worry about that since it’s going to eventually be in a visual medium anyway (comics, maybe, when my drawing improves). This resulting text is a lot rougher, more like free writing now and then. It’s not a pretty read at all, but it works and I should use this method more often.


Hansika, out of breath, and crying, stumbles up to the fountain at the base of the slope near her house, and collapses against the wall. She sobs. The gently smiling stone form of Vidria looms above her, its gaze skywards, looking at the moon.

A sound; the guttural breath of a monster, or a horse, and the clap of quiet hoofs on cobbled stone. Hansika starts, a final tear running down her cheek. From the darkness of an alley near the statue, someone — something — watches her.

“Who’s there?” she asks, with not a hint of fear, and no trace that she’s just been crying. She pushes herself back against the fountain wall and gets to her feet. She peers into the darkness of the alley, and hears the feet of whatever’s there skitter over the stones.

Hansika slowly walks up to the dark alley, passing under the hot pool of the street lamp. “Is anyone there? Show yourself!” She reaches the boundary of the light, and in the darkness she barely makes out a large black form.

Immediately she raises her right fist and mutters a spell. Her hand flashes with light and bathes the alley in yellow light just as we hear the swoosh of something departing.

The alley is empty, save for some rag-covered boxes. A ginger striped cat leaps silently onto one, then mews, flashing its silver-coin eyes eyes at Hansika, and leaps up onto a small wooden balcony.

Hansika lowers her hand and extinguishes the light. “Always a cat,” she mutters to herself. She’s wipes her tears away, sighs, and walks to the road that leads up to her home.

The cat jumps up to the roof of the building, and mews again at its occupant. The Beast crouches silently on the roof. It quickly turns to look at the cat with its glowing eyes. The cat pads up to it, unafraid, and to the edge of the roof. The beast collects it in one of its massive palms, and strokes the back of the cat with one of its fingers, breathing a strange sound that is almost a lullaby. It watches Hansika walk up the hill, and then looks at the moon with a sigh.

Currently: 20,100 words.
In the end: It’s very difficult to say. When this was still a movie script, the part of the story I’ve reached would have come at the fifteen minute mark of a two or two-and-a-half hour movie. Of course, in the writing of it, a lot more material has been added and now what I’ve written so far would probably fit in two or three issues of a comic. In the end it may be hundreds of thousands of words long. And that’s just the treatment…

3. Other Short Stories

Last February when I went on vacation (*sniff*) I gave the old mp3 player to my cousin. I’d kept a backup of my writing folder on that, and a few days after my return she asked if I still wanted it there, and if I would mind if she read any of the things. She was quickly disappointed that a lot of the stories in there stopped abruptly — they’re unfinished — and I asked her for a list of ones that she would like to see completed.

There are about forty of them, of varying lengths. Some of them are self-contained shorts. Some are stories from greater universes such as the old Vampyres & Daemons stuff, and there’s one that would probably have ended up being a novel or three. There’s even one Savant short — 99.99% — that is really self-contained and has since fallen hopelessly ‘out of canon’ but I might be able to pull something out of it.

The problem I face with some of them is that they were started six or seven years ago. This was before I started doing general outlines for stories before I attempted them, and in a few cases I have a vague recollection of where the story would eventually go. Some of them, I’ve plain forgotten. This isn’t so much of a problem as a challenge. Looking at them now, with fresh eyes, I can pick up hints of ways I may have wanted things to go, or even come up with entirely new ways of finishing things. Some of them will work better as comics, I think — a story called Brass Pyjamas springs to mind — and I may attempt that, but first I want to write them down as stories.

I’ll probably save these for after Fishbowl. I’m a scatterbrain, but even I have limits.


“I wouldn’t want your calf to have putrid dung,” Siddarth now called to the brown bovine by the neem tree. He then wondered if the neem wasn’t driving the insects away, as neem trees are wont to do.

“Who were you talking to?” Sapna asked, setting the steaming parcel, made of banana leaves, on the veranda near him.

“Apsara,” he pointed.

“Cows don’t talk.”

“So you say.”

“True.” She sat and the cow decided to join them, though she brought her own breakfast along and was busy masticating.

Idli,” Sapna said, unwrapping the parcel of rice cakes.

“Again…” Siddarth mumbled.


“Oh, Again!” Siddarth checked himself and answered with glee. He picked one of the white discs up and fiddled with it.

“What’s wrong?” Sapna asked, pecking at an idli.

“It’s nothing,” Siddarth said.

“We’ve been married three months,” Sapna reminded, “don’t tell me it’s ‘nothing’ or I’ll turn it into something.”

“Do you think it’s proper for a woman’s husband to be sitting around on a cold, drippy morning in his underwear while she’s fully clothed? What would someone say if they came round here?”

“What would people say if it was the other way round?” she replied, and smiled.

(from the aforementioned Brass Pyjamas)

Currently: Tens of thousands of words, cumulatively.
In the end: Probably a couple of hundred thousand.

Onward & Upward

I’d love to say that I’ll be writing every day, but that’s probably not going to happen. I will try, of course, because there’s enough times in any given day when I’m slacking off and could be doing something productive. There will be times when I just. can’t. write. and I hope those are few and far between, if not entirely nonexistant. I look forward to writing fiction at a good clip again. Hell, I’ve been looking forward to it for years now. When Fishbowl is done I will make the first draft available to read. Not on the site, mind you, but you can drop me an email. Same goes for the other shorts, but given its raw nature, I’d like to keep Sundari to myself for a while. You never know, I may suddenly turn into a comic art genius, and I’d love to show you the story as I imagine it — in a visual medium.

Of course, I may end up taking to the ‘slack’ rather than the ‘write’ in Slackwritertron, and not complete anything, but really now I have no excuses. The’re a laptop that actually works (unfortunately it also plays Half-Life 2 really well). The lure of Gran Turismo and an untouched copy of Final Fantasy X-2 notwithstanding (and, y’know, pr0n), there aren’t as many distractions as there used to be (we unplugged the cable. TV is a distant memory. I don’t miss it). There is that last Harry Potter book I have yet to finish, and I’m somewhat reluctant to read it while I’m concurrently writing lest it filter through into my prose in some kind of weird Opal Mehta way, but that really shouldn’t be a problem.

I can’t write for shit anyway.


About NaNoWriMo…

I have never really finished anything I’ve started on that thing. I’ve never taken part in the community aspect. I’ve never really written anything I’d consider stellar (except for my first one, and that was more through sheer momentum of having reached the 30K mark on a story for the first time rather than anything inherent to the event).

Nanowrimo is a good motivational tool to set youself the goal of writing 50K in a month, but it isn’t going to write those 50K words for you, if you know what I mean. I think I may do another ‘meta-nano’ like I did (or attempted to do) last year.

To explain: last year I decided to dust off my very first — circa 2001! — nanowrimo project, The Tale of a Thousand Savants, and try and finish it. For the first week I directly continued from where I left off, and the writing was okay but the story was colossally boring (There was the excerpt posted here). I scrapped the chapter and spent a while mulling over where exactly the story had gone off the rails. Deciding that what was needed was a good kick in the plot, I took the advice that when you’re stuck have two men with guns burst into the room. I backed up the plot a bit, took a different fork and continued along happily down this new and more exciting road.

Funny things happened. I started asking all sorts of questions I hadn’t asked five years before. “Who are these people?” “Why are they all acting so stupid?” “Why am I writing them so stupid?” The plot I had so carefully constructed unravelled before me, a million strings and no logical way to put them back together. So, next I went back over the 1/3rd of the novel that was written, took down notes as if I hadn’t written it myself, and began to poke holes in it. Believe me, this was easier than I thought it would be. What followed was weeks of decontructing and reconstructing things, changing things, tweaking things, keeping things from the old and laying down groundwork for the new.

None of this was actual text, mind-you; only notes in longhand in a diary, something I find works better than on a computer (I still type the story on a ‘puter). I took a lot of notes that month. Not 50,000 words worth of notes, but certainly a lot more than I usually do. Blame it on an upbringing as a comic book geek, and attempting to write a story ‘in-canon’ when the canon has changed and evolved over time. TOATS, like the Legion of Super-Heroes, really gets the short end of the lollypop most times the multiverse goes through a crossover restructuring.

Oh, don’t look so sad: I still kept ‘Research‘. And Park. And Chef.

All in all, I don’t consider that nanowrimo a failure. Sure, I didn’t write 50K words of a novel in a month. But, I’ve started to reconsider November as a month of trying things out, just like I did back in 2001 by attempting to write a novel. Hey, I didn’t for one second think I would have a completed novel by the end, especially not a 50K one. The nanowrimo people have their rules — and I don’t begrudge them that — but I’m just not particularly interested in the athletic display of fictional prowess anymore. I don’t feel particularly sorry if I can’t get a “Winner!” GIF at the end.

So this November, I’m just going to write 50K words of fiction, period.

I already have halfway done stories to finish. You guys have read a bit of Fishbowl. Jamie hasn’t even read that much, as I’d promised him (last March!) that I would deliver a finished story for him to read. Sundari, my Script Frenzy project, is barely off the ground despite being over 20K words–success!–but, um, not really because it’s not in proper Hollywood script format. I’d really like to tackle that, not as a movie script but as a graphic novel script. Part of the reason why I’m no longer enchanted by nanowrimo proper was winning Script Frenzy. At the end of it, I just felt a tired and asked myself, “Am I done? Is that satisfactory?”

I enjoyed writing it immensely, but there was no payoff. I enjoyed not finishing nanowrimo for several years much, much more.

Speaking of comics, Spyder mentioned the idea of working on a comic idea for a whole month. I say: Go for it! If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a 50 panel comic (that’s 8 pages if you go 6-panel) is a worthy challenge to take on in 30 days.

There are also a few short story ideas I’ve had floating around in my head recently, and I’d like to try them because that’s really where I started writing, and that’s really the only place I can claim to have successfully written (but not published, which is a whole ‘nother matter). Aishwarya is also doing a bit of a non-standard nano by writing a short story collection. She’s signed up officially and I assume she’s going to be plugging her word count into the site. Does the counting program care that it’s not all one narrative? No it doesn’t. Do I? Hell no. I think it’s as much of a task as writing a novel; anybody who told you writing short stories — good short stories — is easy, obviously never wrote one.

Anybody who tells you that writing a short story is less of a buzz than a novel is similarly mistaken. They’re just different kinds of buzzes, that’s all.

(There’s a whole debate here about what actually constitutes a ‘novel’ or what even constitutes a single narrative or story, but that’s a matter for another time or, if you are so inclined, this post’s comment thread.)

So onward, brave nano–no! Onward, brave storytellers. I hope this November is as fruitful and enjoyable for me and you as it has been for me in the past.