Friday, June 29, 2012

An Argument for Reading Books

Forgive me, I needed to crunch some numbers...

Photo pulled from this site.
Last night I wondered aloud how much concert ticket prices had gone up over the last twenty years or so. I remember seeing Metallica (touring ...And Justice for All) and The Cult (touring Sonic Temple) in 1988 or so for about $20 in a general admission situation, so I went looking for anything that would confirm that. I found this article that tells me:

If it seems like buying tickets to your favorite concerts has become even more expensive and more complicated, you`re right. It has.

and later on says this:

``It`s not a trend,`` says longtime concert promoter Jack Boyle, owner of Cellar Door Concerts. There are different styles of promoting. We`ve been passing on some shows because we just won`t raise ticket prices that high.``

... Boyle promises that big shows to come, such as possible return engagements by GNR and Metallica, should hold the line at $25. 

Did you notice the dateline on that article? 1992.

So I went looking around on the web and found this site where someone had saved his concert ticket stubs and posted the prices paid for the show. The best one was this:

Van Halen's Monsters of Rock (VH, Scorpions, Metallica, Dokken, Kingdom
Come) - Giants Stadium, July 1988 - $22.50 

Even with Kingdom Come on the bill a metalhead got an overdose of anthemic heavy rock for a great price.

The article from '92 that says that GNR would stay about $25 and that rising prices were 'not a trend' was interesting as a complaint about ticket prices being too high for the time. Wanna know how much GNR tickets in south Florida were last year? They started at $79. My estimate last night was the prices had risen approximately 400% and that appears to have been borne out.

I didn't bother researching current Metallica ticket prices because their American shows are done for the year and - honestly -  trying to use TicketMaster's website to look at things is crazy. I will say that I looked into buying Van Halen tickets this year and found the cheap seats were $75 before fees and such. The nosebleed seats, those are.

Before you go saying I'm a cranky SOB, let me offer a comparison.

  1. Robert A. Heinlein's Friday came out in 1982 with a price of $14.95 as a hardback. (Source)
  2. The List of 7 by Mark Frost was published in 1993 priced at $20 for the hardback.
  3. For $26 in 2001 one could buy a copy of Neil Gaiman's American Gods in hardback.
  4. Last month, in 2012, I bought a copy of Alex Grecian's The Yard for $26.95 in hardback.

While these books range from SF to thriller to fantasy and back to thriller, they are similar in page count (not exact, mind you, but similar) and target audience. They come from three publishers: Holt, Rhinehart, and Winston (Heinlein); Putnam (Grecian); and William Morrow (Frost and Gaiman). Isn't it interesting that over the course of thirty years, the price of a good read has only gone up 80%? I'm sure there are exceptions to the rule, but I think this is probably a good cross-section of entertainment, similar to the music acts mentioned above. Books you can keep and read again if you like. Live shows (up to about the last ten years) you had to wait for the film or just relive in memory if you weren't drunk or stoned out of your mind at the show or both.

These are first editions, too, bought as they were published. I didn't have to stand in line to get them, either. I've done that just once and it was for a Harry Potter book and my wife made me do it, but that's another story. It's true that in '82 books were a considerable investment, but in '82 concerts ran between $12 and $20 so they're a good comparison. Well, reasonable, at least.

What I'm getting at is that inflation of prices is typical. It's more grossly obvious in the price of tickets for live music than it is in printed books. The Consumer Price Index tells us that there has been 95% inflation from '82 to 2005. That says to me that publishing, traditional publishing at least, has kept pace with inflation while live music has not. So a minimum of $80 per person for a one-time, two-hour show that may or may not start on time (and might cost you more than double that by the time it's all done) versus $26 for a book I can read at my leisure and read again if I really like it seems like a no-brainer. I don't have to wait in an improbably long line for the toilet, either.

You won't hear me complain about the price of books in the future. Probably. We'll see.

Is it the shared experience of a concert that draws people? I think it is. Can something like that be created around a book? Ask J.K. Rowling or any Harry Potter fan. Or better yet, loan some of your books to your friends and then talk about them over drinks. You can play Van Halen in the background if you like.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Blind and Dumb

The person who made this disappeared
under mysterious circumstances in the
company of Jim Morrison, Amelia Earhart and
someone wearing a shirt that said CROATOAN.
Aren't conspiracies fun?

The tiniest details from meager, not-quite-facts wind up the most overwrought of people on the oddest subjects.

UFOs? It's obvious the governments of the world are hiding the fact - FACT I say! - that they have had contact with alien races. Someone is obviously planning to get the rich folks off the planet before it explodes from overheating.

Global Warming/Climate Change. Man has had absolutely NOTHING to do with making the world warmer or changing how gases in the atmosphere are trapping sunlight and warming things up. Al Gore just made up the 'facts' in his movie to sell tickets. Man has no effect whatsoever on the environment.

Everybody knows - and knows with CERTAINTY - that Oswald acted alone. Never mind those pesky facts of 'science' and 'physics' or eyewitnesses that say there were more than three shots. That's all the little maggot needed.

Everyone is out to get someone. It's true, unequivocally TRUE, that someone is out to get you. And you. And you, too. Someone's out to get me, I know it. I can't PROVE it in a court of law, but you can't tell me there's no reason someone wouldn't want to 'get' me.

You know why conspiracies were invented? To keep people busy in bars, buying drinks, and eating peanuts. There's always the know-it-all in any situation who definitively show you why this one thing is bunk and there's always the well-informed, seemingly-stable guy there to rebut him. Most of the rest of us want those two to just shut up.

In terms of storytelling, these two characters are invaluable. They can drop hints and exposition in your story without much effort and while giving the main characters something to comment on. These two characters are also good for throwing out red herrings, too. I always look for a character like this in novels and films where they're most prevalent. Probably this is because there's more opportunity in fiction to throw in whatever the author wants and these scenes and characters are the first to go when the screenwriter goes to work adapting it.

Unless there's a conspiracy to keep the know-it-alls and the emphatically-stable-rebutters out of the larger lens of popular culture.

Cryptids. Deserted settlements and ships. The Bermuda Triangle. These are mysteries and some are explainable. They're not necessarily part of a larger conspiracy. If anyone comes to you with a Conspiracy Theory, remember that it's just a theory. It's not definitive until it can be proven.

As for what I mentioned above, I believe it's been proven that there were more people than just Lee Harvey Oswald involved in the assassination of JFK so there were likely more than just him shooting; I believe the science that shows that humankind has definitely affected our environment and not for the better. I don't believe anyone is out to get me but I sure want to believe in UFOs, but I can't say that it's been proven enough to say that they're from another world.

Maybe another dimension, according to String Theory, but maybe not. After all it's still a Theory though what can be tested proves out. Every time.

What do you believe in but can't prove? Let me know in the comments.

Monday, June 25, 2012

HBO's The Newsroom

Last night I watched the first episode of Aaron Sorkin's new show The Newsroom on HBO. I have to confess that I have never seen Sports Night or Studio 60 and have watched about half an hour total of The West Wing. However, I'm aware that Sorkin is respected and observed by a lot of other writers. Hold on, I've seen most of the films he wrote, so I guess I'm not completely ignorant of his work.

Screen capture yoinked from here.
What drew me to the series was the trailer that featured Jeff Daniels' character ripping a college student about why America is NOT the greatest country in the world. That's probably the most powerful moment in the entire pilot, though. However, I'm going to continue watching for at least a few more episodes because my favorite line of the pilot was Sam Waterston shouting about being a Marine and that he'd beat the shit out of another character. Finally, D.A. McCoy gets to cut loose.

Daniels looks pained throughout the majority of the episode and his staff are wary of him, even when he attempts to be apologetic for being a controlling SOB, though it's far from heartfelt. The arguments that Sorkin lays out in the script are the kinds of things that people are always whining about but that no one does anything to fix. The delivery of the arguments is also forced and pat, the kind of thing that appears to be a setup just so that the writer can make the counter argument that he wants to and thus win the battle. I know this because it's the sort of thing I have tended to do in my own writing and from someone like Sorkin, I'd expect better.

This isn't to say that the show is bad. It's not. I'm telling you that I'm not impressed with Sorkin as a writer like some folks are. I think David Milch is a better TV writer, perhaps just as pretentious but at least he hides it better. There's something to be said for being unapologetic, though. At least there's a show on TV that's saying that America can be better.

Actually a character said that and reiterated it.

Perhaps that's indicative of where America is right now, that the populace has to be beaten over the head with a message until it takes. That the show features a Republican who's dissatisfied with the state of the News in America may be the unique aspect that attracts viewers. It may also be the deathknell.

Look, if liberals take a minute and listen to the Republican point of view and conservatives be quiet and consider the other side's arguments, a compromise can be reached.

Sorry, I drifted off into fantasy there. That'll never happen.

And that may be the point of The Newsroom after all. We don't listen any more, we don't hear. Isn't it time we did?

Saturday, June 23, 2012


I mentioned that I'm in the middle of a creative period. Lots of things zipping around in the brainpan, smacking into one another and sometimes falling to the deck and sometimes forming something new and interesting.

I've been going back and looking at stuff that I wrote around this time last year that was also in the middle of a creative period. One of those stories I sent off for consideration for an online venue. Another I'm editing for the same purpose. There are quite a few of them, short stories that I was obsessed with for the time I was writing them. I was excited to be writing them and updated Twitter with my wordcounts for the day. Once they were done, they sat in a folder on my hard drive and languished. I moved on to the next thing that Had To Be Written.

I'm sure I'm not the only writer who has this problem, so I'm going to try to articulate what I think happens and see if any of you agree with me.

It's down and I don't have to think about it any more. 

The things that whirl around the large hadron collider in my mind explode together, grab my imagination and I have to write them down. Once that's done, I let it go because it's out of my head and I move on to the next ideas that are racing up to speed. Out of sight, out of mind. Or Fixodent and forget it, if you prefer.

It wasn't any good to begin with.

Well, yeah. That's been the case with several stories for sure. But as I've been revisiting some things, I can see that I definitely reaching beyond my grasp and trying for something I wasn't ready to do. Some of those stories are still beyond me, but now I'm much more aware of my shortcomings as a writer. As a flipside, I'm also not afraid to try something that's beyond me. Sometimes that's brave. I don't think it's ever stupid.

I didn't know what to do with it.

Sending one's work out to be considered for publication is tense and nervewracking for sure. My initial feeling is that no one wants to read my stuff. I would look at listings of markets and what they wanted and I would think: My stuff's crap enough that they won't look at it so why send it. I would also look at the word counts of what I'd written and what the markets wanted and instead of cutting down a story, I would file it away as too long or not the kind of thing they want.

Editing is a pain in the ass.

If the story wasn't any good to begin with, why spend the time editing or rewriting? If it's crap it must be that the idea itself was the problem, and the characters, and my approach to the story. Not necessarily true in every case, but probably true of a couple of the stories that are languishing in that file on my hard drive. No, editing it wasn't an option. Besides there are other stories demanding my attention. Fixodent and forget it. Maybe.

Scared. Scared. Scared.

This is it. I just didn't have the confidence in my stuff to work the stories until they were ready, find a market  that would consider them, then send 'em out to see what would happen. One of the great things about being involved in the The Confabulator Cafe is that as a group we're getting more brave and several of us are submitting our work. Peer pressure is one helluva motivator, too.

So if I'm scared, why the hell am I scared? I've gotten published before and I don't necessarily attach my ego to what other people think of my work.

It could be just that

It's a lot of work to be a writer.

You think writing's easy? Sure I just sit there and stare off into space and it looks to you like I'm not working but I am thinking. Rolling thoughts around can be exhausting, especially when you're throwing things down and then asking Why three or four times and then thinking If that's true then what are the implications of that? The process can be extensive when building a story, even a short story, and it's easy to find every little excuse to not write or edit or send the work out.

I'm running out of excuses. My writing is passable to pretty good. I'm much more confident in my abilities and - of course - I'm published. I need to keep that going. Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein have given the two best bits of advice any writer who wants to be successful should follow. I'll paraphrase:

Write every day, whether you want to or not.

Keep that story out on the street until it sells.

I'm a storyteller and I have to get these things out of my head and out for others to see. So I sent a story out on Thursday. I'll let you know what happens with it. I'm working on two other stories and will find markets for them this coming week. Expect updates on submissions from now on. Send me good thoughts/vibes and I'll cross my fingers. As my friend Bruce said this week, I'll accept crossed vibes, too.

Finally, if you're still reading, I have some thoughts on poetry this week at the Cafe. Click over and while you're there, please see what my peers over there have to say on the subject. There's definitely a consensus amongst us.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

What's Next

Waiting for notes on stories is difficult but the best solution to overcoming that difficulty is to keep working. I'm waiting on notes on one story and another outline and still waiting on the cover for my second series. And the announcement of that series.

However, I'm definitely in the middle of a creative period. Ideas are pouring in, filling in the gaps, shoring up the walls.

I finished the real First Draft of my novel and it's gone out to my trusted readers. This gives me some time to start putting effort into several other things, none of which I'm going to talk about in much detail. At least until they're ready to go out or probably not until they've left the building.

You see, last week over at the Confabulator Cafe I talked about my history of submitting stories. I've mentioned here before that I've being 'going to submit' stuff as I get it ready. Well, it's time for it to be ready. One of the ideas that came to me --- whoops. Can't talk about it.

I contacted one of my fellow Confabulators last week and we opened up the idea of a collaboration. This could be an interesting process as I am a keen collaborator in my day job, have worked with artists on comic book projects and played in various rock bands over the years. I know my weaknesses and how to buttress them when needed. What's exciting is the chance to work with someone whose style is so different from mine and in a way I've never done before. I've spent quite a bit of time developing the idea since I --- wait. Hold on. I need to be careful, don't want to say too much.

Finally, I've started planning a new novel. The idea for this one first came to me last fall as I was prepping The Cold Distance. More than that, I don't want to say. Still very early days on this one. I will take what I learned from working on TCD and apply it to make the process of writing this one better, though. Hopefully that'll carry through on the editing, too.

These projects are exciting. I'll update as I can, as they're readied to go out into the world. In the meantime stay tuned and I appreciate each of you staying with me while I'm figuring this writing thing out. You're the best, all of you.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

SF in Film

One of my favorite SF films last year was Woody Allen's time-travel fantasy Midnight in Paris. It was funny, touching, and had an excellent message that living in the present is all we have and no matter what WE think of it, someone in the future will think it's the best era ever. Alternately, I took away that no matter how much we want to the future to be better (I'm talking about flying cars, jetpacks, and 20-hour workweeks), if we don't live in the Now we'll never get to where we want to be.

(Of course I have a soft spot for the 20s, 30s and 40s as long as you drop out the Great Depression and World War II. There was so much creativity in those times, so much originality dripping from everything, that one couldn't have failed to be inspired. Plus - men's suits were terrific and men generally acted like gentlemen. And the hats. Yes. End of digression.)

The two SF films that have made an impression this year so far are John Carter and Prometheus. I loved John Carter when I went to the theater to see it with an audience of twelve other people, including my son. I found it to be a wonderful adaptation of the source material and true in spirit to what an Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars movie should be. I reviewed it on this blog and it's one of the most popular posts here. Go figure.

And yesterday I went to see Ridley Scott's Prometheus. I'd heard it was disappointing in a lot of ways, that it was short on character development and long on plot. I don't disagree with this assessment, by the way, but I think there was a lot of subtle character development rather than overt arcs of growth. One character's crisis of faith is terribly forced, as are 90% of the character interactions, and there's the fact that this is a group of scientists who are bad at being scientists but it's all in service to the plot. Would the film have been better if the characters had been given a little more attention from the screenwriters? Yes. Without question.

The character to watch, of course, if David. You really have to pay attention to everything he does, how he walks, how he talks, how he interacts. If you are willing to lose yourself in the story with him, you'll be rewarded. But you have to pay attention. Really, you have to pay attention to just about everything that happens, but David especially.

One event that leads to the survival of one character is so heavily implied rather than explained that it beggars description. The situation that put that character in danger is questionable in the first place, too. I'm avoiding telling you exactly what I mean but once you've seen the film you'll understand that this event had to happen and that the character had to be stronger than initially shown.

The ending, where there's a sudden turn that is unbelievable and something that should be avoided unless there's a reasonable explanation, is an obvious setup for a sequel. It's too obvious given the context of everything else that was implied during the film. It's a heavy hammer that says "There's more to come". It's not a good cliffhanger. If you're going to trust me for an hour and fifty-five minutes, trust me the last eight minutes, too, willya?

Finally, it seems that if you've read interviews with Scott about the film, and the stars, you'll enjoy it even more. It's a true creature of our time in that your appreciation of the film is enhanced by the ephemera surrounding it. Gone may be the days of going to a dark theater with a bucket of popcorn and a barrel of soda to get a complete storytelling experience. You'll like the film if that's all you see or read about it but there's more and you should be aware of it.

Still, go see it if you're interested. It trusts you to make the leaps you need to make to enjoy it. It's smart and scary and fun. I liked it. A lot.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Radio Silence Today

I'm busy with a number of things today, including writing and editing the novel. If I'm good and I get all my obligations met, I will likely go see Prometheus.

So in lieu of an actual post, today you get a graphic that --- well, it's pretty self-explanatory. It comes from Copyblogger, a really great website/resource. You writers go check it out. Here's the post the infographic comes from.

See you later in the week or maybe on Twitter or Facebook this evening.

10 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer
Like this infographic? Get more content marketing tips from Copyblogger.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

What Matters

The best we can do is to be the best we can be. I have a
great Dad.
When I was a kid we weren't all that far removed from the ideal of Leave It To Beaver, where the dad went to work and the mom stayed home to raise the kids and clean the house. 

Well, it was the 70s. Things were changing. Protesting was becoming an artform and there were still only three networks. HBO was a pretty new thing and I recall we had it before we eschewed city life and moved to a family-owned parcel of land out in the country where my Dad built a dreamhouse.

I've told you that before. I think what I haven't said is that my Dad is my inspiration and my hero. He worked to make sure that Mom didn't have to, so that she'd be home when my brother and I got off the bus after school. He influenced me with his dedication to work and his single-mindedness that nothing will get in the way of what he wants.

He was also a helluva lot of fun. One Halloween before we moved out of town, he painted himself and sat under a blacklight while the Disney Haunted House LP played over the sound system. The front door of the house was wide open and the candy was right next to him. All the kids had to do was walk in about six feet and grab a fistful of sweets and off they'd go.

"Come on in," Dad would say in a creepy, almost Boris Karloff kind of voice. It was friendly, inviting, but the combination of his outre appearance and the ultra-creepy sounds of the LP were frightening to the vast majority of the trick-or-treaters that year. Dad had a great time. (For more about the LP and to hear a couple of samples, click here. If you scroll down, you'll also find that it's now available on iTunes, which makes me VERY happy. But I digress...)

Dad was the coolest guy around back then. There was a period where I knew more than he did, when I didn't need his advice, or even his approval. I look back on that period and realize I was pretty stupid about a lot of things. If I'd just opened my ears, I might've saved myself some troubles. 

Happy Father's Day to all the Dads out there, but especially to mine. 

Believe it or not, Dad, I did hear you all those times. I'm trying to apply the lessons you taught me to how I approach being a Dad. I can't thank you enough for all you did for me. I hope you have a great day and I'll see you for lunch.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Prurient Interests

Shirley Manson of Garbage whose new album I do not
have yet.  Photo yanked from here
Hey, it's Friday so I'm over at the Confabulator Cafe talking about my process of submitting things (or not). Click on over and see what I have to say on the subject, willya? Thanks.

Also, if you're looking for a last-last-minute Father's Day gift, (or you know someone who is) I humbly recommend this, in either paperback or for your Kindle or Nook. Thanks for considering it. If you do buy one, let me know.

Okay, now we're onto today's blog post and it's about sex. Feel free to click away if you're not interested in knowing my thoughts on the subject (at least as far as my writing goes). Regardless, today's post will be shorter than normal. Word-count-wise, anyway.

I'm waffling on how much sex is going to happen in the book I'm writing. I'm not talking about the act itself, but all the things that go along with it and happen before the act and even after. What's an appropriate level of sex in the story? Does it need to be graphic? How graphic? Is it natural to the characters or is it forced?

That last question is probably the most important to me because I definitely do not want to be That Guy who's playing at being a writer and ends up penning low-rent SF porn. (No, I never wrote any stories about Data and Tasha Yar, either.)

I'm not that guy. I know that, I'm just trying to ensure that it's not overdone.

So I ask you all who are reading this, what's an appropriate amount of sex in a serious book? It has to fit the story and the characters and it can't just be for shock value. It has to be legitimate within the confines of the tale. But what's the measure?  Give me examples of 'too much' or even 'could have been more', if you can think of 'em.

For the record, the Zero Draft had very little sex, none of it graphic. There's more in the first draft and characters are using their sexuality in context of the story. I guarantee that by the time you see the story it will make sense even if it doesn't right now. Trust me.

I'll tell you why some other time.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Le Zero Projet

I've mentioned several times a concept called The Zero Draft.  I refer you to a post by a fellow Confabulator, Miss S.E. Lundberg:

...It is what Chuck Wendig calls a Zero Draft. A hot mess written under the pressure of NaNoWriMo (in this case, Camp NaNoWriMo). It's  more like a gigantic, 107k word detailed outline than a cohesive story. I actually kind of like thinking of it that way. It has absolutely no obligation to be a decent novel until it has achieved First Draft status.

So let's get it direct from Messire Chuck Wendig, he of the foul mouth and brilliant mind:

Write this draft like it’s a very deep, intensive outline, story treatment, or story bible. Yes, yes, it’s still a novel, and it’s still a technical draft of your novel — but with the kind of haste and waste you’re going to make churning through this work, you might find yourself better served looking at the end result as a clumsy “first go.” This means it makes a truly excellent and highly-detailed preparatory tool. You take this draft, you finish it, you find the mistakes and mis-steps, then you rewrite the whole damn thing with a deeper devotion toward all those fiddly bits that make a novel truly great — character, dialogue, action, theme, mood.  

Mayhap we need another definition, whaddaya think? Let's see... Yeah, I like this one, adapted from a book by David A. Joliffe:

First, students can be encouraged to think of their first efforts at drafting a paper as a zero draft an attempt simply to write as much as possible without being concerned about thesis statements, organizational patterns, sentence structure, details of grammar and usage, and so on. This is not to say that the student should expect to produce a completed product in this seemingly haphazard fashion. As the sections to follow on revising and editing will make clear, the zero draft simply provides rough material for the writer to craft into a completed product. 

So to summarize, it's a write-as-much-as-you-can-as-fast-as-you-can hot mess of a very deep, intensive story treatment that's unconcerned about organizational patterns, sentence structure, and so on.

That's what the initial draft of The Cold Distance was.

What I had written during NaNoWriMo in November then into December was the Story. I blasted away for 90,000 words and got the spine, skeleton and heart of my story. The beats were there, the important elements were there, the characters were mostly there. At least the essential pieces of them were. A lot of missing was the details, the world-building bits and pieces that were what I always hung up on when I tried to write novels before.

So lately I've been making progress in adding in details, taking the bones of the story and breaking them then resetting them with plaster casts. Some writers call this 'editing'. I've been calling it 'writing' and in actuality it's somewhere in between. There are changes for word choice, clarity, usage, etc... but there's also serious addition and deletion. I mentioned that when I was done the first time the story was 90,000 words long. It's now over 103,000 and I've taken out well over 6,000 with a total change of 19,000 words. (Sorry sometimes I get caught up in numbers. Moving on.)

I'm only 3/4 of the way through this revision. I expect another 5,000 words at least, and maybe 10,000 as there's a big scene in the next section that is need of serious expansion. Maybe a whole chapter. We'll see.

The point being that I'm taking that hot mess of a treatment and expanding it by over 20% so far. It may expand more than 30%, and all that comes from having a deep, intensive story that's unconcerned with pattern and structure. That's what I call a Zero Draft.

Now I've got to get back to it.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Historical Record

Roll the dice and build a character to fit your world.
Photo found here.
Last week I ran across a scrap of paper that I had a note on about how to build a character with six bits of information: 
  1. Build/Body Type/Physical trait
  2. Style  of dress
  3. Sex/Hair/Eye color
  4. Name/Age
  5. Emotional makeup/traits
  6. Occupation
The theory I worked under when using this set of bits is that lots of things can be inferred from lots of things like what the character does, their name and age and how they dress. I came to this after running around and looking for something that would allow me to work on telling the initial story. The Zero Draft. I'll use this list to jump start the story and give me a simple sentence that can introduce the character quickly. For instance:

Nancy is a tall, cheerful, 38 year-old librarian.

Got an image there, don't you? I hope so. I suspect that for everyone person who reads that description will see a slightly different person based on skin color or ethnicity. I hope for that more than anything. Could I give you more in that description? Sure. But I want you to put your own ideas onto my story. I want you to be able to immerse yourself in the world so that when I drop a piece of information in you can believe it.

I don't tell you what she looks like, I'm telling you who she is. I use this list to build my main characters and the I discover a little at a time more about those six things and then even more about the person I'm writing. It's easy to forget that characters aren't people. That's why with main characters I look more at number 5 than anything else. Within that emotional makeup is why the character is the way he is.

The best way to communicate that to a reader is to have one thing in the character's past that has caused them pain. That is why she acts the way she does, why he behaved that way in that situation. Will the reader ever know it? Probably. Sometimes it'll be inferred, sometimes it'll be spelled out. That depends on the character.

So this came up because I didn't do any kind of prep on a background character in the novel. I just sort of wrote this character in at the beginning and didn't know until later how important that role would be. I need more than just a 'tall, cheerful librarian'. So I have to go back and build a bit of a record for this character and I'll start with that list up above.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, June 09, 2012


The long tunnel from dreaming to wakefulness is filled
with casks of story. Which one to sample? Photo from here.
I've kept a notebook of ideas for the last three years or so. I don't write in it every day, and actually there haven't been any ideas to jot down in it since I was blazing away on The Cold Distance last November/December. Before that, it was probably six months or more that I'd had an idea worth writing down.

Oh, I'd written stories in that time - don't get me wrong - I just didn't have an idea that I felt was worth 'saving for later'. Usually those ideas occurred when I was working on something else and I felt the need to keep it safe, whether or not it was good or even usable was the question. Fortunately I have all of these in one place and I can access them whenever I want. Last time I went through them, I was surprised at how many I didn't immediately recall and how many I added little notes to.

Going along with my post from the other day, it takes time to process ideas and thoughts in my head. I don't know how it works for you, but there are times when things are firing like stormtroopers at Jedi and then there are times when tumbleweeds are blowing across the desert. (Yeah, I can hear the whistling of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in there, too.) This morning I woke with an idea for a story that I'd never had before. I wrote it down after I fed the cats and made coffee, but it's sticking with me. I'm going to spend the day thinking about it. It's haunting me and that's why I'm telling you about it.

It's a short story. A piece of detective fiction. It may be a little bit original. Or it may be a lot original. I'm not sure. I haven't read anything like it and it combines four disparate elements of things I've had in my head and written down over the years.

I know I'm building it up and ultimately it may be a disappointment to me and it may never go anywhere but this afternoon I'm going to write the thing and see what happens. The exciting part for me is the hypnopompic effect that I haven't experienced for a while. I think the stress of the last several months may finally be falling away. I think I may be back in a place where I can access all the ideas again.

This may have something to do, too, with Ray Bradbury's passing. (I wrote a bit about him here.) It may not. Regardless, with all that I have to do today I'll be working to get back to the keyboard and write this story.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

The Speed of Thought

I started writing The Cold Distance on November 1, 2011. I finished on December 13, 2011. I started editing the book in early May.

Yesterday I mentioned that I was going to write something in honor of Ray Bradbury. This morning, I figured out the real beginning of my novel.

I knew the opening was weak but I liked it and I had re-written so bits to strengthen it but... it still lacked something. I suppose it was the act of getting knee deep in expanding the world of the story and the motivations of the characters to help me figure out what I needed to do.

The characters are so much stronger now, so much different from where I started learning about them, that they needed to have different drives. I needed to intensify the story.

Part of this comes from my friend who's also editing her novel and the conversations we have about the process. Part of it comes from me just being naturally slow on the uptake. After all, this is the first novel I've written that I think has even a chance of being something that people might want to read.

I've killed off about 5,000 words of the original draft and as it stands now, the novel is about 9,000 words longer than it was to start so that's a net change of about 14,000 words, right? No wonder it's taking such a long time to get to the point where I could call this a real First Draft. Can you tell I'm excited about this? I'm only a little over halfway through the book and I know there are going to be more words deleted, more words added and it's going to be better. I've got a group of readers who'll go through and be merciless in their critique and I'm anxious to get it into their hands.

So, even though I can't share it here (because I want to sell the book I have to keep the contents under wraps, sorry) you'll have to wait. I need to get back to writing.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The Carnival Moves On

From his IMDB entry. Thank you
for all your stories, Ray. 
Ray Bradbury has died.

This makes me sad. The only other author whose passing has affected me as much was Robert Heinlein's and I was much younger when he passed and I knew far less about him. Bradbury has been as much teacher as he was entertainer for me. His influence on me came from reading about how he approached his work and then reading those works knowing how he did it. I understood his sense of wonder and I have tried to hold on to my own as I've aged.

He didn't make writing a mystery. He celebrated it, told those of us so inclined to tell stories that we should go for it. Every interview on TV he always had this look of "I'm having the time of my life and don't you wish you were, too?"

I realize this sounds like I knew the man, but I didn't. I was never fortunate enough to meet him, or correspond with him, nor even see him speak in public. Instead I read his books and stories and watched his TV shows and learned about capital-S Story. Dandelion Wine, The Martian Chronicles, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Fahrenheit 451, all the radio plays he wrote, everything had an effect on me. I had a Bradbury phase that lasted a lifetime. I watched the NBC miniseries of Chronicles (starring Rock Hudson and featuring Nicholas [Spider-Man] Hammond and Darren McGavin and so many other quintessentially 70s stars) as a child and then again recently as an adult. The story is still great even if the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

His other TV work, the Ray Bradbury Theatre, was a child of its time and missed as often as it hit.

After reading, watching or listening to one of his stories, I wanted to write.

That's what I'm going to do now. I'm going to tell a story that I hope would make Ray proud.

I'm going to miss him but having his stories to read will help.

A little.

Believing is Seeing

A couple of quick notes:

I really have to remember that when I update the site's look, I need to ensure that my analytics code is installed, too.. I hope you're finding the site a little easier to read. I know I am.  Sigh The life of a self-promoting writer...

I'm really back at The Confabulator Cafe, too, on Fridays. Please do go over and see what all my cohorts there are talking about every week. If you're a writer or even tangentially interested in writing you'll find one of us saying something that will inspire you.


There's a lot going on in my world these days and so when I've been able to think about things I have to be sure that I'm really thinking about them and not just spewing out babble. The far-away stare that writers get while they're thinking can be scary to anyone who doesn't do it. The cats are comfortable with the stare as long as they can get my attention when they're hungry, but my wife just shakes her head and waits for me to come out of it.

Anyway, to take my last post a little farther, I was wondering this morning if I have always written Space Opera (when I write SF) or if my awareness of the subgenre nudged me into the writing of it. Was it conscious or unconscious? Is the act of becoming aware the cause of a definition? I mean, if I was just writing to write before, will every SF story I write just fit into the one subgenre?

I don't know the answer. I don't have the education to ponder the philosophy of that idea. What I do know is that it becomes something to explore in my writing. I will have to test through observation, but if the act of observing creates the desired result what then?

I don't know.

I'm confused.

What I'm really wondering is if I'm sticking myself into a box by acknowledging that my most recent big story is what it is. Is that revelation the one I need? Am I just looking to the horizon and beyond without realizing all the obstacles in between? In other words - am I getting ahead of myself?

Yeah. I can make myself crazy with overthinking things. Prior to the revelation that the novel is really a space opera, I hadn't really concerned myself with genre other than in the most broad-based terms. I think I will happily go back to being unconcerned with genre going forward and just writing stories.

Except, that if I'm going to be submitting things (the novel, short stories) then I need to know what my target markets are. What I want to avoid, I think, is writing for a particular market. While that may seem counterintuitive, it's how I think I need to work. Without concern for genre but with a great deal of concern for story.

It's a plan anyway.

Meanwhile, progress is slow on editing the novel, but I'm in it for the long haul. I'll crunch some numbers to share with you once I've completed the edits on Part Two though I can say that I've added well over 9,000 words so far in expanding the worlds and the interactions. Lots of words have been taken out, too. I'm curious what the swapout ratio is. I'll get back to you on that one.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Selling the Genre

Will Eisner, Wally Wood and Jules Ffeifer
take the genre and make it not just
operatic but cinematic, too. Read the
entire story here.
I finally figured out the genre of The Cold Distance and it's - wait for it - Space Opera.

Jeez, that sounds terrible doesn't it? Science Fiction Soap Opera? Who in the world would want to read that?

Well, maybe anyone who's seen The Avengers or Thor. Especially with the big reveal at the end of The Avengers, I can reasonably assume that Avengers 2 will be a lot more cosmic than the first one where there were invading aliens.

But let's get a kind of definition out of the way. This is from the Wikipedia entry on the topic:

As David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer note in their 2006 anthology of space operas, "there is no general agreement as to what [space opera] is, which writers are the best examples, or even which works are space opera".[1] They further note that space opera has had several key and different definitions throughout its history; definitions that were significantly affected by literary politics.[1] They argue that "what used to be science fantasy is now space opera, and what used to be space opera is entirely forgotten."[1]
I have a great deal of respect for Hartwell and Cramer as I've read the last three in their series of The Best of Science Fiction anthologies and have not encountered one bad tale in any of them. As a matter of fact I've got the newest copy waiting to be read (once I've finished Alex Grecian's The Yard). My point is that Hartwell and Cramer know their stuff. They pick the best of the genre year after year and they do a terrific job of it.

Regardless of what you think science fiction is, space opera fits there quite nicely. It's pretty respectable and I guarantee that if you're reading this blog, you've been to at least one film that is classified as space opera. It's not the hack work that has disappeared along with the pulps and it's not all planetary romance, either. (That's a term that I'm quite fond of - can you imagine Millie the Model kissing a purple alien on a green planet?)

You want some examples of what space opera is? Okay, hang on to your hats:

The most recent example is probably John Carter. The Andrew Stanton-directed film from Disney that tanked at the box office. It's a planetary romance for being set on Mars and for Carter and Dejah Thoris being attracted to one another, but there's war, too, a war that risks pulling all of Martian society apart. It's great science fantasy.

Another example that's recently been translated from novel to comics and soon to film is Ender's Game. While it could be seen as a sophisticated riff on Heinlein's Starship Troopers, there's war here, too. This war threatens to pull apart human society as the threat of invasion looms and politics are played out. It's a great comment on how humanity would work (or doesn't) when faced with annihilation.

The best one, of course, in the genre is Star Wars. Now, we're talking the original trilogy but the entire thing could easily be classified as space opera. Traveling from world to world, fighting bad guys, the Jedi are, themselves, interstellar peacekeepers - the sheriffs of the universe. The showdown between Ben Kenobi and Darth Vader at the end of A New Hope is a direct nod to High Noon.

Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, the Star Trek films (but especially Wrath of Khan), and even the Avengers. I'm sure you could come up with more (like Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers) if you wanted to and I can.

Which is why I'm writing a space opera. It just took me a longer time than I wanted to realize what the genre of the novel was. It's Science Fiction, make no mistake about that, and the characters travel from planet to planet and their relationships are important to the story. I can't wait for you all to be able to read it. I'm aiming for it to be the SF equivalent of Bohemian Rhapsody. Let's see how it comes out, shall we?

Here's some more reading on Hartwell's and Cramer's ideas about space opera. Check it out.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Zero To One

Before I get to the meat of this post, I should tell you that I've returned to The Confabulator Cafe this week with a flash fiction piece about dreams and food. If you like it, let me know there, and while you're in the Cafe take a look at all the fiction that's gone up. There are some really entertaining stories (this one may be my favorite) on display and I'm glad to be back there contributing again.


As I've been working on the edits for the novel I've realized what I did last November and what NaNoWriMo is about for me and probably a lot of people.

I've said before that this was a Zero Draft and I'm understanding now more what that means. In November, during NaNoWriMo, I'm working as fast as I can to just tell the story. Hopefully in a thoughtful, coherent way. 2011 was my fourth try at that and I definitely achieved a new level of coherence and certainly got my confidence up that I could sustain a story for more than 60,000 words, my previous best. The feedback I got on the Zero Draft was amazing, too, and further affirmed my choice to pursue being a novelist.

This month, deep in the editing process, I realized that the 90,000 word Zero Draft is just The Story and not The Book. I'll explain.

November (and half of December) was for discovering The Story, to put all the elements that will make it a full-fledged novel in one place with room for expansion. I did that and I did it pretty well for a change. So this process of 'editing' is more akin to 'rewriting' than anything else. Yeah, there are line edits for word choice and grammar and clarity, but there are cuts and additions that are happening that are expanding the world, the characters and the plot.

I think I mentioned here that I had - at several points in the The Story - told things instead of showing them. As I've come across those sections, I've been unafraid to take a single paragraph of about 250 words and expand it into a full-fledged scene that is so much better than what I had before. These scenes then inspire subtle changes in the manuscript and have even caused me to go back and ensure that those scenes were properly foreshadowed.

Damn, I'm a real writer.

I'm only halfway through the revision from Zero Draft to First Draft and I've killed upwards of 4000 words and the draft is now over 6000 words longer than it was when I finished. At this rate, the book should end up somewhere between 110,000 and 120,000 words in length, which I think is a great length for a story. If it becomes a paperback (cross your fingers!) it would be a little bit over 300 pages. Not too long, not too short.

But now I've got to get back to it. The First Draft has to be finished and feedback sought. I have plans for this book to get out into the world.


One last thing. If you're seeing this on a reader of some kind, you may not have noticed that I'm opening up for short story commissions. Click the link to read more and if you've got questions about it, let me know.