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Happy Birthday, crimini

Hope you're having a good day. :-)

Happy Birthday, stillnotbored

Happy birthday, Jaime. Hope you have a good year.

Know Your Audience

Lessons come from a variety of sources. Which goes back to the idea that no one is an island, and writers grow into their talent based on their experiences in life and in art. Primarily, we're a genre household. My influence, of course. The closest thing I've got to literary work is a collection of William Shakespeare's plays and sonnets. Even The Road by Cormac McCarthy, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, owes more than a nod to genre tropes.

And genre television offers a quick fix. You're able to test lots of different shows (some to most don't remain on the air for long, even though each cancellation only makes room for the next generation), and eventually find one that lasts more than a few episodes or one season.

Today's lesson is courtesy of the youngest daughter, who has the talent to become a good writer herself if I say so myself. It's not without some pride that I note she's written a few poems and penned a short story about the Revolutionary War for school a few years back that made tears well in my eyes. Said tears due as much to pacing/plotting as the story itself.

Currently, we're watching both the U.S. and U.K. versions of Being Human. For those unfamiliar with the show, the setup sounds like one of those bad jokes you hear on occasion, except it's not about three disparate characters walking into a bar as much as three disparate characters--a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost--attempting to create some normalcy in their lives. The U.K. version premiered its third season this weekend on BBC America, and this provides a nice contrast to the U.S. version, which started its run a little more than a month ago SyFy.

UKBH has everything you'd expect from a British production. At least, if you're an American. Quirky characters that are probably normal across the pond. Colloquialisms that sound more like a foreign language than English. And lots of tits and ass. Which I understand is a norm for European television. USBH is pretty much a straight retelling so far of season one of UKBH. Plot, characters, situations, but all with "American" actors and colloquialisms, because U.S. audiences are supposedly too dense to understand the source material.

Both have merits, though youngest daughter and I agree we like the American werewolf more than his British counterpart. American Josh comes across less shrill than British George. Not that Russell Tovey isn't as good an actor as Sam Huntington when it comes to portraying a werewolf who is uncomfortable in his new skin. It's just that Tovey, when presenting that he's offended by what's happened already to him and what continues to happen to him, goes into a higher decibel register. One that reminds me of the voices of the Monty Python guys whenever they played in drag.

Youngest daughter, however, summed up the differences by focusing on the language. There's so much slang and profanity in UKBH that often you're not sure what they're saying. And her opinion is that it seems dirtier because she doesn't understand it. She isn't able to filter whether something is appropriate or not. Understand that she's cut her teeth on Buffy, Angel, Supernatural, and Charmed, as well as Big Love, Criminal Minds and 24. She favors graphic novels, primarily season eight of Buffy and Angel's sojourn in Hell. She's dabbled in The Walking Dead in the wake of the television adaptation that recently ran on AMC. Sitting down Sunday night as a family to watch a zombie apocalypse or the soapy travails of Mormon polygamists is pretty much par for the course in our household. Our daughters weren't shielded from the world; they were exposed to it and taught right from wrong. So they're able to watch a show like How I Met Your Mother and recognize how the character of Barney Stinson, played by Neil Patrick Harris, is both a caricature and an accurate portrayal. They understand satire.
Frustrated call from spouse yesterday afternoon: "The township plowed over the driveway. It's two feet high. I can't get into the driveway."

She sent me a picture, and the drift of hard, chunky snow started four feet out into the street, peaked above knee height, and tapered off a good distance into the driveway. She called youngest daughter out of the house, so she could take her to volleyball practice. They shoveled as much as possible of one half so I could pull into the driveway when I got home before they left. "I pushed most of it into the street. Let someone drive over it."

She returned by the time I came home, and made it into the driveway and garage. I parked in the street and did my best over the next hour to knock down the pile. Didn't seem like an hour. Not sure whether it felt longer or shorter, though; my focus was on finishing, showering, and getting to Pioneer for the booster meeting. Shower worked its typical magic, letting the muse figure out how to progress with the short story and novel work at month's end. After the meeting, the evening went to reading Shakespeare with youngest daughter, answering questions about the validity of Romeo's motivations, and helping her study natural selection among the peppered moth population in England during the Industrial Revolution.

Phones are down this morning, I'm heading back to the gym after work this afternoon for a weight-run session, and then I've got a call to make to my mother to wish her a happy birthday. She's 79 tomorrow. I'll knock out a couple of pages on the short story while spouse and I watch The Biggest Loser and Parenthood if I'm lucky. I've Wednesday off, so I'll get my gym work completed early and knock out a few more pages before the family comes home from school and work.

Workouts aren't dropping the pounds as quickly as I'd like, but I know that's due to the cardio. Stairs aren't as daunting post-workout, either at the gym or at home. Two goals between now and the end of June: pounds and pages.

I don't have a firm number for the former, but I want to record four pages a day for the latter. Barring vacations and weekend volleyball tournaments in Grand Rapids and (hopefully) Chicago, I can either get the short finished and rewritten, and a good first draft on Sacrifices or rewrite on Only The Dead. And possibly join eldest daughter at the 5k in Kalamazoo in the spring. She wants to run it with her friend, and perhaps get youngest daughter to participate as well. Youngest daughter did the equivalent of one yesterday, walking the Pit under Pioneer for an hour.

One Step Forward

Finally got the first few words down on the short story I planned to work on at the end of last year. Went back and forth on setting (science fiction versus fantasy), which influenced how much information I would present about the main character's differences (autistic).

Came into work yesterday, taking the same direction round the cubicles that I follow so I can turn on the lights, and bumped into one of the people from accounting. I said "excuse me," as I stopped to let her pass, and she said I was OK because she knew my pattern in the morning. Which jibes with my character's viewpoint. After that it was a simple matter to jot down the opening paragraphs and set myself to flow into the action.

I toyed with different titles during the outlining process, and I've settled on one from a while back when I toyed with an idea about a colony ship, which was the science fiction setting I wanted. Call this one Rote. Even better, since this is a short story, there's an end in sight. The major selling point on short work.

First Week (Gym)

One week of workouts under my belt at the gym, but so far the scale doesn't want to reward my efforts. I'm not discouraged. Four weight sessions, each followed by one-mile to three-mile walks, are an improvement over my exercise regimen before the new year, and while the scale doesn't show much I dropped one pant size at the beginning of last week.

The week's highlight, however, was the response from my youngest daughter. We opted for a family membership at the Washtenaw rec center; my wife and I wanted to get into shape, and the daughter wanted to improve her running ability. Conditioning for the high school season last year had the players tackling runs that ranged from one mile to three miles. Club season just started, and she's at the gym on an elliptical when she's not at the new facility for practice. She loves the elliptical. Took to it like a duck takes to water. She even ran part of a mile on the suspended track that's over the basketball court.

It was one of those moments when you see life click into place. So much so that I know we're doing the right thing, which is one of the reasons I've decided to take a sabbatical from my writing group; I've spent more time editing that creating of late, and this is the right thing for me to do since I want to write. After work tonight, I'm heading to the gym to start my second week workouts, and then I'm heading home rather than my writing meeting to sit down and actually put new words down on paper.

Writing About Reading/Research

A while back I started to track how many books I read throughout the year. The goal was 52 books in a year, one a week. Beyond recording the numbers, I tracked reading patterns; sometimes I'm in the mood for lighter fare, and at others I'm interested in heavier works.

I've seen other challenges, where the bar was higher, but I've yet to reach 52, so setting up myself for failure before I've even begun the year never seemed a good idea. No matter the number, it's all research; when you're a writer, you're learning how others present ideas, handles sentence structure, dialogue, scenes and paragraphs. You're even gathering ideas, because you've got your own take on how a story should be told or you want to explore a plot thread. A good example of the latter is Gregory Maguire, whose most popular works, such as Wicked, approach classic stories from another direction.

My reading tastes favored the lighter side this year, if you can consider pulp novels from the 1930s because of their length. I recorded 44 books this year, and most of those were the Sanctum reprints of the Doc Savage and The Shadow novels written by Lester Dent, Walter B. Gibson, and others. They're certainly not "light" in subject matter, since death and destruction provide the meat and potatoes for those stories. Back in grade school, I had to give a speech as part of an English class, and I spoke about the various ways Dent eliminated villains in his books, which could range from drowning by pet octopus to poisoning by vampire bat. Gibson's bad guys usually fall to bullets fired from The Shadow's .45s, but there are gems throughout, this year's ironically coming in the freshman outing of Theodore Tinsley, Partners of Peril, rather than from Gibson.

I believe I would probably top the 52 mark if I included actual research reading. This year's efforts involved passages from Elizabeth Moon's The Speed of Dark and other resources discussing autism, as well as hours browsing through books and articles about Ann Arbor and the U.S. Marshal service. So, I'm going to change the list for 2011, adding those into the total. Non-fiction is as instructive as much as the fiction.

Some of the books are repeats. Last year's first book was The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks, which I first read when I was back in high school. I didn't quite finish it by December 31st last year, so it kicks off 2010 rather than ending 2009. I'm in a similar spot starting 2011, which will see The Devil's Playground by Alan Hathaway and Lester Dent from January 1941 as the first book read.

Another selling point of the Sanctum reprints are the essays by Will Murray, Anthony Tollin and others, which provide insight into the pulp history surrounding the stories. I gained more respect for Dent's ghost writers when I learned both Hathaway and Harold A. Davis were managing editor's for Newsday, which started publication in 1940. Davis held the position first, succeeded by Hathaway in 1944. Murray notes that Hathaway was considered the "driving force" behind the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting of labor racketeering in 1954, which was the first of many earned by the tabloid.

1 - The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks
2 - The Stand: Captain Trips by Stephen King, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Mike Perkins & Laura Martin
3 - Die Trying by Lee Child
4 - The Reality Dysfunction by Peter F. Hamilton
5 - Tai-Pan by James Clavell
6 - Devils of the Deep by Harold A. Davis and Lester Dent
7 - Thunderhead by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
8 - The Polar Treasure by Lester Dent
9 - Tripwire by Lee Child
10 - Pirate of the Pacific by Lester Dent
11 - Blockade Billy by Stephen King
12 - The Living Shadow by Walter B. Gibson
13 - Nothing To Lose by Lee Child
14 - Lingo by Walter B. Gibson
15 - Partners of Peril by Theodore Tinsley
16 - Under The Dome by Stephen King
17 - The Lost Oasis by Lester Dent
18 - The Colorado Kid by Stephen King
19 - Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher
20 - Club Dead by Charlaine Harris
21 - The Sargasso Ogre by Lester Dent
22 - The Sea Magician by Lester Dent
23 - The Living-Fire Menace by Harold A. Davis and Lester Dent
34 - The City of Doom by Walter B. Gibson
35 - The Fifth Face by Walter B. Gibson
36 - The Awful Dynasty by William G. Bogart and Lester Dent
37 - The Passage by Justin Cronin
38 - Running Blind by Lee Child
39 - Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett
40 - Dean Koontz's Frankenstein: City of Night by Dean Koontz
41 - The Men Vanished by Lester Dent
42 - Frankenstein: Dead and Alive by Dean Koontz
43 - The Conspiracy Club by Jonathan Kellerman
44 - Quest of Qui by Lester Dent

I track movies and DVDs that I watched throughout the year, if only to remind myself to balance that activity against book reading. It's easier to sit down for an hour or two than it is to read a book. These vary more than my reading, though I would consider all genre efforts, even though it includes pieces such as W. by Oliver Stone, Hart's War, a World War II drama starring Bruce Willis and Colin Farrell, or the surreal Choke, which is based on one of the novels written by Chuck Palahniuk.

1 - Choke
2 - Splinter
3 - Yes Man
4 - House of Bones
5 - Stargate SG-1, Season 2
6 - Hart's War
7 - Lost, Season 5
8 - Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
9 - Stargate SG-1, Season 3
10 - Julie & Julia
11 - Stargate SG-1, Season 4
12 - Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
13 - Poseidon
14 - The 39 Steps
15 - Stargate SG-1, Season 5
16 - Monsters vs. Aliens
17 - Stargate SG-1, Season 6
18 - The Rock
19 - 2012
20 - Couples Retreat
21 - Up
22 - The Invention of Lying
23 - The Time Traveler's Wife
24 - Merlin, Season 1
25 - Angels & Demons
26 - Stargate SG-1, Season 7
27 - W.
28 - I Love You, Man
29 - The Kingdom
30 - Inglorious Basterds
31 - Stargate Atlantis, Season 1
32 - Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
33 - Stargate SG-1, Season 8
34 - Avatar
35 - Sherlock Holmes
36 - The Dresden Files
37 - Doctor Who and the Daleks
38 - Hostel II
39 - Stargate: Continuum
40 - Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
41 - Fever Pitch
42 - Reaper, Season 1
43 - Ginger Snaps
44 - Stargate SG-1, Season 9
45 - Stargate Atlantis, Season 2
46 - New Moon
47 - Role Models
38 - It! The Terror From Beyond Space
39 - Stonehenge Apocalypse
40 - True Blood, Season 1
41 - Stargate SG-1, Season 10
42 - Stargate: The Ark of Truth
43 - The LXD, Season 1
44 - True Blood, Season 2
45 - The Lake House
46 - Third Girl
47 - Appointment With Death
48 - Murder on the Orient Express
49 - Dexter, Season 1
50 - Quigley Down Under
51 - Supernatural, Season 1
52 - Hellboy: Sword of Storms
53 - Dexter, Season 2
54 - Cloverfield
55 - Hellboy: Blood and Iron
56 - Stargate Atlantis, Season 3
57 - L.A. Confidential
58 - Scooby-Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster
59 - Weeds, Season 1
60 - Weeds, Season 2
61 - Merry Madagascar
62 - Kung Fu Panda Special
63 - The Fly (1958)
64 - A Walk in Her Shoes
65 - Supernatural, Season 2
66 - The Ugly Truth
67 - Red: Werewolf Hunter
68 - Scrooge
69 - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1981)
70 - Stargate Atlantis, Season 4
71 - It's A Wonderful Life
72 - Knight and Day
73 - Valkyrie
74 - The Sound of Music
75 - Bad Santa
76 - Supernatural, Season 3

Writing and Moving Forward

It's a while since I posted here. More than month's passed since World Fantasy in Columbus. Thankfully, I didn't experience any con crud, and I'll credit the good meals I ate with friends in various restaurants around the convention center, as well as the copious amounts of Blue Moon that I consumed in the hotel bar. I think I've avoided posting because I didn't want to make any promises I couldn't keep. November is rife with tales of novel attempts, and I've traveled that path a time or two in the past.

I believe I need to change things up on this blog, adding in some personal reports to go along with the writing observations—though today's post falls into the latter category—because part of a writer's journey involves the people and experiences that make up their life. There aren't any demons I'm battling, such as the ones exposed by the contestants I watch on The Biggest Loser each season, but my daily schedule will become complicated with the new year when the family purchases a membership at the Washtenaw County recreation center, and I'd like to record how we're doing. I work only a couple of miles away, so making time for exercise amounts to the same as making time for writing.

Plus, I still feel inspired by my time at the convention. Several members of my writing group continue moving forward with their careers, and each bi-weekly submission presented for critique reminds me why I enjoy writing.

I successfully finished and edited my flash fiction piece for the New Scientist contest. I'm fairly certain I didn't win or even place, but I consider the story successful because (a) I finished it and (b) the writing group liked it for the most part. One critter called it a "prose poem" and that pretty much hit the mark for the effect I wanted.

I made several passes at an outline for the new story, which involved research into autism and genetics, as well as attempts at story starts to see whether I had the right tone/voice for the main character. Part of the problem I face is making the character an active protagonist when acting as an observer is his particular "area of expertise" as a savant. Current plan is to work on fleshing the story out in the next few weeks and submit it to the writing group at the next meeting. Then I can go back to the novel outline and tackle Sacrifices / Into Dust Descend once again. With my plans for exercise, working with the volleyball club as it moves into a new facility and youngest daughter plays in her 15s season, and dealing with possible sinus surgery again, I want to outline the book, and finish a good draft before the Fourth of July (which would give me a cause for celebration). That's about 180 days if I only take 4-5 days for the outline.

Happy Birthday, stillnotbored

Happy birthday, Jaime.

Sorry I missed you in Columbus. Didn't know you have moved away, since I'm not on LJ as much.

Writing About Flash Fiction

I don't know whether this post will run longer than the flash fiction piece I just submitted to New Scientist for its Forgotten Futures contest. It's likely, since I tend toward wordiness, but I'm OK if it happens as I wanted to note that (a) I had finished and revised the piece and (b) I wanted to talk about the process of writing and revising a flash fiction piece for the first time.

The main hurdle back when I started writing was finishing. Think 1975 here. I was in the sixth grade and attending St. Vincent De Paul elementary. There was an English assignment, and I wrote about a dream where I saw a flying saucer during the middle of the night, and wasn't sure where the dream ended and reality began when I found circular marks pressed into the snow in our front yard the next morning. I even drew an illustration to go along with the story. My teacher liked it, and gave the assignment an A, and I've never looked back. Except writing on a deadline for a class is different from sitting down with a blank sheet and making stuff up where the story isn't yet fully formed. Especially when you're a teenager.

I'm still figuring out how to finish, which is why I talk about learning different tools here, such as outlining or writing flash fiction. But I'm also figuring out how to revise/rewrite, which requires a completely different set of tools. Re-writing is as important as writing. Stories improve in second drafts and third drafts, because you're able to add stuff you forgot, remove stuff you don't need, find the right word that draws a clearer picture.

I'm finding the appeal of flash fiction is that I'm able to finish that much sooner and every word counts. Every word. Especially when the piece comes with a tight limit of 350 words, as in the New Scientist contest. It's great when you're forced to weigh the merits of the word void versus the word deep or the nuance of using false or falsehearted. At least, I think it's great, but my mind is wired that way.

Writing About Conventions

I'm finally coming down from the rush that was the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, Ohio, last week. Enough to provide a coherent report of my impressions and what I gained from the time and money spent hanging out with friends in bars and restaurants (and attending the odd panel or two).

There were more than two panels. Probably more than what I can count on one hand, but don't pin me down on the exact number because I don't have my program handy. The ones I attended were excellent, which includes the two readings by Jim C. Hines and Kelly Swails. If you want a sample of what went on at a panel, use the following link to see a recording of the Epic Fantasy panel. You'll get an idea of the discussion and general brainstorming that's available at these conventions, and you'll understand why I go to these and come away from them with a wellspring of energy and inspiration about my writing.

It's difficult to go to any convention in a vacuum. I think you need to go with people, if only so you have someone with whom you can share all the ideas that spring from your experiences, whether it's over dinner, at the bar, or at a floor party. The first convention I attended was local, back in 1999 or 2000, and I met a good online friend from the Del Rey Online Writing Workshop. I don't believe I would have gone if I wasn't getting an opportunity to broaden a friendship that only existed online until that point. I've gone on to meet and make more friendships since then, some of which I renewed after as long as six years. Writing is sometimes pretty solitary, and you take what you're offered. The hours I spent Thursday to Sunday in the Big Bar upstairs at the Hyatt are going to keep me going for a year or longer.

I talked to an editor Saturday evening about why I was at the convention. I'm not a published novelist yet, I've only a few short stories out in the world (some to recognition, some not), and my main stumbling block at this moment is productivity. I didn't have an agenda where I planned to meet agent X or editor Y or writer Z; I wanted to reconnect with friends who were going to the convention, attend a few panels and come away from the experience with a newfound energy about my craft. It doesn't hurt to talk to an agent or editor or writer, because you're going to find out some common ground that lets you know you're not alone.

Consequently, I can say the convention was a success for me. I wrote almost all of the flash fiction piece that I'm submitting to the New Scientist contest. I mapped out how to rewrite my novel synopsis so I'm telling the story I want. I gathered some information for the short story I mentioned in my last post.

The latter might not necessarily include zeppelins, by the way; zeppelins represent the fantasy or science fictional variable that allows me to play with the ideas and themes and story I want to tell and the emotion I want a reader to experience. Replace zeppelins with talking alien cats or resurrected Mesopotamian gods. The goal remains to connect with readers and help them see the same thing you saw when your muse gave power to that light bulb shining overhead.

November stretches ahead of me as I sit before my computer and rather than facing a month where everyone is writing a novel to varying degrees of success or failure, I'm comforted by the knowledge that I may have turned a corner last week. I don't expect my flash fiction piece to win the New Scientist contest, but I was able to write a flash fiction piece and consider it good enough to submit to my group. That's something to consider a success. If I were fortunate enough to make it as a finalist, let alone win, that's great. But winning isn't always the point. I forget that sometimes, especially when I work with other writers on a bi-weekly basis where they're making strides I can only imagine as part of my experience.

I hope to report a new short story written by month end, as well as a new outline/synopsis for Sacrifices / Into Dust Descend before I tackle the novel's second draft.

Writing About Stories (Zeppelins)

Another highlight from yesterday's yard work (beyond the muse trashing the current book outline) was the work she put into examining flash fiction ideas for the New Scientist contest and her determination to have me write a story about an autistic boy and zeppelins.

Her advice to me regarding the latter? Listen to some classic music, probably Mozart, and focus on the image of symphony orchestras.

Writing About Second Drafts

One of the few advantages of mowing the lawn is that it allows my mind to drop into autopilot; all it's got to do is keep me walking in straight lines and avoid debris that might shoot out from under the mower. Consequently, my muse moves into the front and starts playing with scenes and story ideas.

I worked through a lot of problems with Sacrifices / Into Dust Descend yesterday afternoon. Enough so that I'm going to be able to start the second draft on November 1. Removing a character or two, and changing motivations of another. I still have a few things to work out in the next few days, so if anyone spots me with a pencil and steno pad at World Fantasy I'm working on the outline.* My focus is improving the relationship between central characters. The romantic resonance that I wanted to highlight as a driving motivation for the villain and the protagonist fell by the wayside when I added a subplot that's caused more problems than it's solved.

While I've always felt plot was my main problem when it came to writing, it's never been the focus I've sought. I like surprises when I'm reading, and while they're few and far between because I read like a writer, looking behind the words on the page at the mechanics, the stories that remain with me are those that combine narrative twists with strong emotions. Sacrifices / Into Dust Descend was supposed to be a love story at its heart, hence the original title before the slash, and why it remains part of the working title. It's a literal and thematic focus. The current outline gets the plot down, creating the structure in the same manner an architect draws lines on paper or a contractor assembles studs for framing. But I need to make revisions to this blueprint so the sides and interior come together in a way that flows, carrying a reader forward to the inevitable conclusion I want to reach.

Without giving away that conclusion at the same time, which is where the process cycles back to plot. Can you feel my chagrin? :-)

This first outline/synopsis runs about thirty chapters. Length depends on how much time I want the main characters to spend in the Mesopotamian underworld. If I get my "interior decorations" right in the earlier chapters, I'll have the right amount of surrealism and I can temper how much I go over the top at the story climax. Ball park length for the book, even when I cut out the extra subplot and extend the narrative across a longer timeframe, will run more than 100,000 words. Normally, a person might see such a length as a daunting amount. Heck, my first book took 18 months to write, and my second took considerably more time, as I'm sure I've mentioned in previous posts. However, I didn't have a true outline/synopsis before, and I'm comfortable enough with this tool that it won't dissuade me from working on those "interior decorations." If anything, these past three months taught me that much.

* -- Or I'm working on a flash fiction piece to submit to New Scientist.

Writing About Deadlines

Two weeks remain until World Fantasy in Columbus, and while I'm not as close to finishing the first draft as I'd like at this point, the accompanying synopsis/outline is nearly complete.

Each novel requires its own process, and I'm normally an organic writer. I start at the beginning and move forward, letting the story take me where it will. I normally know the climax, so I've got an end point I want to reach. And there's normally a particular theme/idea I want to communicate. But I've always felt my plotting suffers with this method. There's a lot more rewriting involved to layer in foreshadowing. The first book that I completed* I used a technique where I would map out the next few chapters, so it wasn't truly organic and freewheeling. That book took about 18 months to complete from start to finish. The second book** that I completed (actually the fifth that I attempted) took a little less than three years. Sacrifices / Into Dust Descend first took form in November 2008. Two years seems too long.

I convinced myself before this novel that writing an outline or synopsis would stunt my creative process. Why would I want to write the book if I've already told everything in the synopsis or outline? Except ... these are tools and if you're going to become a professional writer you need to know how to use all your tools. The writing group to which I belong includes several published authors, and they'll regularly submit a synopsis or outline to the group, along with the first three chapters. Since they're represented by agents, they don't write a novel from start to finish unless it's under contract. The first three chapters and synopsis are used as proposals between them, their agent and their publisher(s) to guarantee everyone works on something that will reaches publication.

So slow progress isn't necessarily a bad thing on this book, because I learned something useful. And I'm confident I can set a new deadline. Ten to eleven weeks looks like a good estimate for a finish time once I put the last touches on the final chapters today. I'm looking at somewhere between 100,000-120,000 words if my first chapters and planned chapters are any indication.

No matter the length or the actual date on which I get to write "the end" I'm going to consider this work a success because I'm able to move forward after writing a synopsis before I wrote the book. It's a nice accomplishment, as good as completing the actual book. I'd like to report in a few months that it's done and only took 24-25 months rather than nearly 36 months.

* Side Effects
** Only The Dead

Writing About Death Marches

Thirty days remain until World Fantasy and the month started off with a literal death march.

We've two cars in our household, and Melissa's went into the shop yesterday because of a steering fluid leak. First shop called us after half a day to say they couldn't fix it. Beyond their scope to repair, please take it away, we don't want to be held responsible. Second shop was the dealer, and they called today to report they could fix the leak for X, and by the way there's a problem with Y and Z. More than $1,000 in repairs. The other side of the coin dropped this evening when my car finally gave up the ghost, and the transmission failed. It's limped along since Saturday, and it couldn't make the last three miles from work to home. Spouse and I ended up parking it in the high school lot and walking back home in the dark on uneven sidewalks and gravel shoulders.

Things can only get better, right?

Writing About Process

My wife and I watched Parenthood on NBC last year, sharing those moments married couples experience where they recognize bits from their own lives. The first episode from the second season offered a scene that explains how my imagination works, however, and I feel it's worth sharing, if only because it illustrates something of my process.

One of the characters, Kristina, was giving her daughter, Haddie, driving lessons, and had difficulty with the experience. When they resolved the issue by the hour's end (as most television shows do), Kristina explained she kept picturing the worst things possible that could happen, calling it catastrophization.

Every parent probably does this at some point in time, but you've got to grow up along with your children. My method for handling these dire visions of the future is to channel them into my writing.

Writing About Inspiration

I'm reading more than one book at the moment, which is pretty typical for me of late. Primarily because I'm not a fast reader, and my taste in fiction favors longer works more often than not, but also because my muse finds inspiration in a variety of genres and sources. It's an old saw, but you need to read if you want to write.

I probably started reading with a writer's eye (and ear) back when I was a teen and starting inserting myself into my Hardy Boys and Rick Brant mysteries. Eventually, rather than reworking someone else's story, I tried writing my own. Unsuccessfully--and I'll lay blame for that at the door of my Catholic school education as it laid the groundwork for my preoccupation with perfection. There weren't personal computers in those days, and any writing I did was with pencil and paper. I hated mistakes and one misspelling or imperfect rendering of a cursive Y or G or Z prompted me to crumple the loose-leaf sheet and start over. Now I work on a MacBook, keeping multiple versions of drafts and attempted drafts; there aren't any more battlefields strewn with the balled-up corpses of my imagination.

My process still bears some resemblance to those days, however, because I'm meticulous. Probably too much so. Everything can get fixed in rewrites.

The only advantage my process affords is the ability for my writing to pull inspiration from multiple sources. I like to think they're coral islands in the Pacific, building up over time until they break through the ocean's surface. What you see are sandy beaches and palm trees, while beneath the surface there exists layers upon layers of reality unseen but necessary to the tale.

Today's comes from three sources.

The first is a scene from The Passage by Justin Cronin, where a character notes that writing is slow work and satisfying because it requires time and concentration. The character is creating this latest book by hand. Making her own paper, binding the sheets with needle and thread. There aren't any pages thrown away for false starts or misspelling or poor penmanship in her work; those are the layers on which the work is built. The character displays her flaws. Each makes her real and, ironically, perfect.

The second and third are two sides of the same coin, different takes on characterization provided by Jimmy Smits. One comes from a new series, Outlaw, which premiered last night. Smits plays a Supreme Court Justice who turns his back on his seat to pursue justice. Another is my viewing of season 3 of Dexter, where Smits played another legal eagle, albeit one who takes justice into his own hands. The two performances appear similar, driven by the impassioned delivery Smits brings to the table as an actor, but the vehicles provide a clue as to how characterization isn't straightforward. Dexter is probably best described as black comedy; he's a serial killer, and while Smits' role is drawn with the same strokes seen in the new show, I can interpret the former as a validation of the latter. I can believe the moral epiphany portrayed by him in Outlaw because I can believe the corruption shown in Dexter. Given a novel, such a transition could make you weep.

Novels are examples that allow readers to connect. With the author, with other readers, with the characters in the tale and their unfolding lives. If a writer doesn't open the door to outside influences, whether they're a turn of phrase, the handling of an idea or a character, then they're less likely to create an immersive experience readers will enjoy and revisit.

Happy Birthday, fastfwd!

Happy birthday. Hope the day treats you well. :-)

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February 2012



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