Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Note to Self


Sorry I didn't post up yesterday. Today I'm finishing up one story and heading back into a second round of revisions on the novel. I may have something for you tomorrow, but if I don't you can safely assume I'm writing other things. Or reading The Great Gatsby or A Wrinkle In Time. We'll discuss those books next week.

You should also just take some time off the internet and reconnect with the world. You remember what that is, right?

Watch some of the Olympics. There are dozens of great stories there. Maybe one will inspire you to write something or do something.

Or maybe you'll see a commercial that makes you wonder why any car company would use a song about masturbation to tout how fast their product is.

Either way, I'm off the 'net for a bit and writing. More later.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Saturday Sunflowers


Happy weekend everyone. We're enjoying the Olympics here at Greengate. See you Monday.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Aurora by Hans Zimmer

Following is the Add This text from the site that's hosting this lovely piece of music. I bought a download and if you feel like you can do anything to help the folks who were victimized by a lunatic who invaded a movie theater in Colorado, you should buy one, too. The composition itself is haunting and beautiful, tender. It further emphasizes how much power music can have, especially when connected with something else.

I don't often shill here, but this is worth whatever you pay for it. Here's the text from Moontoast/Watertower Music:


Aurora by Hans Zimmer: 100% of the proceeds from Aurora will be donated to Aurora Victim Relief organization through GivingFirst.org.

Friday on My Mind

Don't resist the cute baby. He gets awfully fussy.
Image attribution.
The end of the week is always appreciated, even if you have to work another day for another dollar that doesn't seem to stretch as far as it should.

I've been working a lot lately on my writing and though this week hasn't been as productive as usual, I've still gotten quite a bit done. For instance, here are my thoughts on why I write:

When humans first demarcated space they started telling stories. “Yours,” pointing to one side of a Line drawn in the dirt with a finger or a stick; “Mine,” pointing to the other side.
Humans have evolved the line as they themselves have evolved, using it to define shapes of animals or other people in the service of telling a story. This culminated in the storytelling of cave paintings that started as early as 40,000 years ago.
As far as my limited research has gone on the subject of cave paintings it’s obvious that scholars don’t know what purpose the paintings served. Whether for religious purposes or to brag or communicate that hunting in the area was good is a mystery. For all anyone knows, it may be the earliest form of “Kilroy was here”-type graffiti. Regardless, the paintings are a form of storytelling. Pictograms go back at least as far as cave paintings and culminate in Sumerian and Egyptian cultures, becoming more than just ancient versions of Powerpoint presentations, but actual language.

You can read the rest of this post over at my other internet hangout, The Confabulator Cafe. Click here to go directly to the post.

I've been spending a lot of time writing with my friend R.L. Naquin, whose book comes out on Tuesday. She's been so encouraging and helpful while I've been furthering my craft. You should check out her book and you can download and read the first 20% if you visit this link on Facebook. I don't know how much longer it's good, so you should hurry over and do the download. Otherwise you can buy the book on Tuesday. It's hella good stuff, I promise, and way more amusing than anything I write.

I'm finishing up a story (really a novella) this weekend and then diving back into a second revision of the novel. My time writing of late has been valuable beyond reckoning and it's allowed me to level up as a writer. I've finally clicked over on how often I'm using passive sentences and how much the story is improved when I don't use them. The lesson has finally been learned, I think. We'll see when I get back to the revisions on the novel, I suppose.

There are also a number of other stories that are crowding into my head that I want to write. I'm stretching myself as a writer and that's coming from stretching as a reader, too, I suppose. I'm heading to the library today to find a copy of The Great Gatsby, which I don't recall ever having read in its entirety though I'm familiar with quite a few parts of it. I'll also be looking for A Wrinkle In Time because it's past time I reread that one again.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Favorite Story

This is a story about a man who built a house for the woman
he loves, who happens to be a sorceress.
Today I'm going to take you back three years or so to when I was telling a long-form story in weekly installments. This story, Two Hands, is one of my favorites and is central to the ending of the longer tale that I called The Long Range.

For the uninitiated, I was writing a chapter a week in a short story a month over thirteen months. Each chapter was around 1500 words and all the stories interconnected. This story introduced a character named Marion who was this world's sorcerer, so it's more a fantasy than it is a science fiction tale, but even so it's more a romance than a fantasy.

So, without any further ado, here's the opening to Two Hands, at the end of which you can click and read the entire chapter. The link to the next chapter is there at the end so you can click right through if you like.

See you Friday.


“Watch out!”

Thirty feet of hissing rubber hose with two inches of stainless steel coupling on the end was threatening every mechanic in the garage. George Funk had already been hit in the temple and was down. Dale Crown was trying to get to the air compressor the hose was attached to, but slipped in an oil spill and tipped over a Craftsman tool chest. No one could get close to the injured man now. The garage’s owner calmly went to the electrical panel at the back of the garage and found the fuse switch. The lights, the radio and the air compressor all stopped working, the hose flailed another few seconds while the pressure escaped.

“George, you okay?” Brad Martin was next to the downed mechanic having flipped the fuse switch. He grabbed a couple of wadded up shop towels and put them under George’s head. “Can you hear me, guy?”

“Yeah,” George said, groggy and with his eyes closed. His left temple was purple and bleeding where he’d been hit by the errant air hose.

“Sandy’s calling an ambulance, man. I want you to talk with them and if they want you to go to the hospital, you’re going with ‘em, no arguments.”



Click here to read the story


Monday, July 23, 2012

Thoughts on The Dark Knight Rises

I'm going to cover some story points that are big spoilers. If you don't want to read them, feel free to click away and come back when you've seen the film. I had worked out this whole elaborate thing where I'd white out the spoilerish text and let anyone who wanted to, highlight the spoilers but that seems like an awful lot of work. Instead I'll warn you again that there are spoilers before I get to them. If you're interested in my capsule review - here it is (without spoilers):

Is this the best of the three Christopher Nolan Bat-films? No. It's the one with the most depth and the biggest action sequences. It's an ending that ties its predecessors nicely to it, but it's not a great stand-alone film. It's got some very emotional gut-punches, which I needed to see here, that dovetail with the action like a precision machine. It's manipulative in a couple of ways and the issues that inhabited the first two films (notably Christian Bale's Bat-voice) are still there. The score is lush, evocative, and dark with accents that echo throughout all three films.

In sum, I loved it. I was happy to have invested in all three films and I got an excellent Batman story. I'm much more a Superman guy, have been all my life, but this trilogy ranks as the second-best superhero movie ever for me. The first two Superman films top it, but not by much now.

Okay, from here on out I'm not going to warn you again about SPOILERS. The rest of this post will be filled with them. Last chance if you haven't seen the film yet, there are SPOILERS AFTER THIS LINE.

Thank you, Hot Wheels. These are AWESOME.
You've been warned.

I saw a bootleg of the first six minutes or so online when it was up briefly and I have to say that it's MUCH more impressive on the big screen. (Not IMAX, I've never been to one of those theaters. And don't get me started on 3D again. Moving on.) The amplification of Bane's voice seems unnatural to me, as though he's too close to me in the mix. It was unbalanced in the plane especially, but also throughout the film. This may have been in response to the initial reports that Bane's voice was hard to understand in the test screenings. I don't know which was the right call, but maybe somewhere in the middle. If I would've had to lean into hearing Bane a little more, he might have been even more frightening.

As it was, the physicality of Tom Hardy's Bane is extraordinary. He definitely had a presence that made Christian Bale's Batman work harder. There's a surety to Bane that wasn't there in his previous incarnation and that was comforting. He came across as a criminal mastermind, though his motivations aren't as clear as that of the Joker's in The Dark Knight. My son and I watched both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight in preparation for this film, and there are lines in both that echo in this one. Ra's al Ghul's pondering immortality and Alfred's lines about "some men just want to watch the world burn" are the ones that inform The Dark Knight Rises. At least for me.

I should say at this point that I'm always willing to suspend my disbelief when I enter a movie theater. I don't need to have a story spoon fed to me and I don't mind a lot of characters getting screen time in another character's film. That does not bother me. Nolan's stated intent that there would be no supernatural elements in the trilogy weren't necessarily a selling point for me but he was taking an interesting approach and I was willing to go along. I reminded myself of that before I went in. I was rewarded with this film.

I've read some complaints that there are too many characters in the movie and that Anne Hathaway's Selina Kyle/Catwoman is superfluous to the film. This is wrong and goes to one of my central beliefs about why Batman is who he is and does what he does and why in the comics he'll never stop being Batman. The first two films show us a Bruce Wayne who doesn't want to be the only thing between Gotham and a descent into Hell. He is following his father's example and trying to inspire people to do good on their own. He's more a leader than a hero, but he gets saddled with the hero tag and then has to become the villain. All to save the city and its people. I think that's the message that's overshadowed by the flashy villains. Ra's al Ghul specifically states in Batman Begins that he's hellbent on tearing down Gotham.

That, then, explains Bane's motivations though he's reduced to a henchman by the big reveal near the end. The storytelling throughout all three films is magnificent and layered and requires a large cast of characters.

So while Bruce is trying to emulate his father, he's looking for the love of his life and thought he'd found it in Rachel Dawes. Her death and Bruce's inability to face it are what drove him at the end of The Dark Knight. They definitely influenced him through the eight years (storytime) between films. In that time, Alfred and Lucius Fox both are trying to get Bruce to cowboy up and be a man. He can't, though, he has descended into only being Batman and as we all know, that's terribly unhealthy, and that's why it takes so long for him to get back in harness.

This is the story that I'm supposed to take away from Nolan's trilogy.

The confrontation between Bruce and Selina at the beginning is what spurs him back to action, partly because she's a lovely woman and partly because she's stolen something of his mother's. Again, he's so connected to his parents he can't stop being Batman. When she leads him into a trap that leads to Bane breaking him, he is driven by the need to stop Bane killing his city and he doesn't necessarily blame Selina for her actions. Bane is definitely a powerful persuader in this film and he does it with physicality.

The fights between Bane and Batman are epic in scope. These are heavyweight bouts and huge. Both men are fighting hard in every confrontation. In The Dark Knight, Joker is amazed that people don't behave the way he expected them to. In The Dark Knight Rises, Bane is amazed that Bruce overcame his fear. "Why do we fall? So that we can learn to get back up." Another important line to the overall story.

Bane's much larger social experiment in this final film is, again, epic in scope compared to the Joker's. Bane definitely brings the world to Gotham in effect telling Bruce that he can't hide no matter what. The link between Bane and Ra's al Ghul is not tenuous, it's just not overstated. There's complexity to the storytelling that's compounded by the reveal of Talia as being behind everything. There was a lot of speculation that she'd appear in the film and Nolan and the cast denied it often enough that I wondered if it were true she wouldn't be there. The film would have made less sense if she weren't behind everything, though, completing her "father's work" which he stated in the first film, remember?

I mentioned earlier that Bane is diminished by the reveal of Talia. That he's merely her henchman is the one thing that I didn't like about the film. There are two moments of foreshadowing with Miranda Tate that lead up to the reveal, but there's nothing in Bane (that I can remember from my first viewing) that says he's obviously working for someone else. He's linked to the League of Shadows as having been excommunicated and the entire story is painted that he's a madman on his own. A man who just wants to see the world burn. That there was someone else behind him should have been hinted at, though that might have tipped Talia too soon. I don't know what the right storytelling choice was but it may have been the one Nolan used. Regardless, Bane is still formidable until that point.

As a standalone film, The Dark Knight Rises isn't the best Batman movie. As part of the trilogy, it's essential. Everything that was promised by the first two films is delivered in this one. Bruce grows up, he finds love (maybe) and Gotham is saved. Ra's al Ghul's vision of destroying Gotham like Rome is cheated and Alfred knows that the boy he helped to raise is finally living a life of his own. Not his father's and not Gotham's.

I'm going to leave the police in the film for another post some other time. I'll talk about John Blake in that one and the potential for him to be the new Batman. That could be very exciting if that's what Warner Brothers decides to pursue. This post is already too long and I have to say one more thing before I go.

The shooting in Aurora, Colorado, is horrifying and my thoughts are definitely for those who were hurt or killed by a lone nut with guns. Catwoman's line about "the whole no gun thing" sticks with me in particular here because while I believe Americans should be allowed to bear arms if they choose to, it's not to bring them to the movie theater where we go to be thrilled or scared in safety. Guns, like a good many things in any American's life, are a private thing, a private choice to be made for one's peace of mind. We don't need to be carrying them around in public, we don't need to have them to be safe. Instead we should focus more on respecting everyone equally.

As a culture we tear down those who are perceived to be somehow 'lesser' in some way from us. We need to stop that and right now. There's a thread of isolation in nearly every story about people who pull the trigger in a public space. What can we, as a society of people who care, do to help those folks who feel so lost? Bruce Wayne felt lost, lonely, isolated, but he abhorred guns and chose a different path.

Think about that. Social networks aren't the answer. Legislation isn't necessarily the answer, either. Keep your guns, I'm fine with that. I don't want to know that you have them. I'd prefer to think that things can be handled with rational discourse where people can agree to disagree and respect that the other has an opinion. We should learn to talk to one another again instead of using violence to impose one's will upon another. We are supposed to be better than that.

American society should be a leader in this regard and rational discourse should be respected over simply taking a contrarian stance. The young man in Colorado who is alleged to have done the shooting is only the most recent person to have abandoned rationality in favor of force. We should do better than that and let our heroes use force in movies, where they face a greater threat than we do. where they are better than we areLet's not confuse storytelling with reality any more, okay?

After I wrote this, I was pointed to Charlie Jane Anders' assessment on i09. If you got this far and you're unsatisfied with what I said about the film, definitely check out what she has to say by clicking here. You won't be sorry.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

More Sunflowers and stuff

This was from Wednesday. Our second sunflower had opened.

Also on Wednesday, three tomatoes came inside to live with us. They're not
here any more and they were GOOD.

On Thursday, these guys were having a really great day. Probably because there
was no AC in the house. Regardless, they're thriving as are their littler brothers
in the same flowerbed.

This is the same sunflower plant as above, but I took this picture today. There are four
blooms in total on this guy and more to come. It also looks like the pollinators have
figured out a new place to land. I haven't seen any bees yet, but it's been too damn hot to
be outside for any extended period. 

Some authors like to give you pictures of various things so I'm sharing the things that we're growing here at Greengate. (That's what I've taken to calling the house. I think it has a certain ring to it.) I'm proud of the sunflowers because they're just gorgeous to watch grow and then sway in the summer breeze. 

On Monday I'll give you a proper review of The Dark Knight Rises. I'll hint right now that I think it was a fitting end to the trilogy being action-packed and emotionally satisfying despite some glitches. I liked it and will probably go again.

Have a nice weekend!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Hitchcock, Truffaut, and Me

Two masters talking about telling stories.
Check out the website this picture is from.
There's this book that Francois Truffaut wrote decades ago where he spent a dozen hours interviewing Alfred Hitchcock. I've read this book twice and learned a great deal about storytelling when I did. However, I haven't looked at it since I have been writing prose so I thought it would be a good time to glance at it.

In Chapter 6, they begin by discussing Rebecca and how Mrs. Danvers almost never moves on screen, then Truffaut makes the point that the whole tale, while suspenseful, is really more of a fable. This is something that Hitch considered while making the film. It's a fascinating discussion made moreso by the revelation (or reminder to me, in any case) that the main character in the film is never named. She's the mistress of Manderly, or her husband's wife, but she doesn't have a name. Since the Daphne Du Maurier novel is told from the first person point of view, this makes sense. We don't often use our names when we tell stories, do we? We say "I" or "me" or some variation.

Something of a great deal of interest is brought up near the end of that particular subject. I'll tell you why after I give you the quote:

"...the location of the house is never specified in a geographical sense; it's completely isolated. That's also true of the house in The Birds. I felt instinctively that the fear would be greater if the house was so isolated that the people in it would have have no one to turn to."

This was done because the picture was made in America and not in Britain. (It was his first American film for David O. Selznick, who had just done Gone With the Wind.) Hitch admits that they would have been "tempted to show the countryside and the lanes leading to the house." If they had gone for a more realistic setting they would have "lost the sense of isolation".

Of course. When one reads these words and knows the film, it makes perfect sense. One of the great romantic stories retold by one of the great storytellers of the last century is multi-layered in such a way that it's not obvious until you step back. It's one of the things I've striven for in my own storytelling but have failed to achieve.

At least until the development of my novel.

I'm still in revisions, but I'm getting closer to sending it out. I was hoping for the end of August but it may be more realistically the end of September. That's neither here nor there for now. Why the word 'isolation' is important is that main characters in successful stories are always isolated at some point and I've never really thought of it that way before. So, the light has gone off and I'm sharing that with you because I like you guys.

But also, the Confabulator Cafe's new series of stories are coming up and I want to tell you a little about that. We've created a house, an isolated house, where things have happened over centuries. The house is the main character and the people and things inside it are supporting characters. I'm excited that this is happening and I want you all to make sure to come visit. It'll launch the end of this month or thereabouts and I'll remind you when it's going on. Six days of stories by some really talented writers ought to be pretty satisfying. I'll go ahead and tell you that my story happens in the Upstairs Library in 1955.

Oftentimes it feels like I"m pretty isolated as a writer. I'm new enough in the game that not many people know me, but I've been doing it long enough that I know a lot of people. I'm looking to take that feeling of 'in-between' and isolation and transfer that to the stories I'm telling. Meantime, I'll be reading Truffaut's Hitchcock book a lot more closely. I recommend you do, too, if you tell stories at all.




Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Statement


I am a writer.

I write every day and not just on my blog, Twitter, or Facebook. I have used every single excuse not to write, fallen into every single hole every writer digs for himself. I have climbed out of those holes only to fall into others. I write things you haven’t seen yet. I write every day whether I feel like it or not. I am determined.

I am a writer.
www.jasonarnett.com

Monday, July 16, 2012

Self-Publishing

It's a dark and stormy night for anyone who
doesn't hire and credit an editor on their
self-published work. Thank you, Charles
M. Schulz for creating Snoopy and
Woodstock.
I've self-published. I talked about this over at The Confabulator Cafe a while back. (If you're interested you can read that post here.)

I've thought a lot about self-publishing again recently and I'm working on a project that might be the one that gets me back in that arena. That project is not, however, what I'm talking about here today.

Interestingly, I've read a lot of self-published comics and listened to a lot of self-published music. (They call it independently released music, but it amounts to the same thing.) I have not, however, read a lot of self-published fiction. The advent of sites like Smashwords and lulu.com and even Amazon's CreateSpace are interesting and even good for a lot of authors who want to eschew the traditional routes to publishing.

This route is not for everyone and in fact it's not for most people. Self-publishing has a bad connotation to quite a few folks. Mostly because 95% of self-published titles don't go through very many, if ANY, filters before they're offered for sale. Typos and bad writing are just the tip of the iceberg.

Look, writing is a helluva lotta work. Anyone who thinks that writing is just sitting down and typing is misinformed. Woefully misinformed. Just like thinking that abstract painting is the bastion of pre-schoolers, writing is more than just words on paper. Like any profession, it takes a serious mind to do the work and too often I think that self-publishers believe they're possessed of that serious mind. They think their writing is good enough to pass muster at a major publisher.

Unfortunately, that's just not the case.

Most of the self-published fiction I've read over the last couple of years are things I can't get through. The writing is just plain bad, to begin with, and often the ideas are terribly derivative. By that I mean that too often what I've read is essentially thinly-veiled fan-fiction. It'd be different if these were meant to be parodies, but they just are not. These are serious writing efforts. Not very good ones, by and large, but serious nonetheless.

This is why I believe that if I were to self-publish something again, fiction I mean, I would definitely have to work closely with an editor that I paid to help me make the work better. I wouldn't want to just slap-dash something together and throw it up for consumption then try to market it somehow (usually very, very poorly) in the vain hopes that I would sell hundreds of thousands of copies. That's not why I write.

There has to be a standard of some kind for self-publishing stories. Something that gives potential readers the idea that you can browse the shelves and know that no matter what you pick, you'll be confident that the work will be as good or better than what you might find at a larger publisher.

Oh, man. I'm talking myself into an idea.

Philistines, in other words.
Taking a step back. If you seek out a self-published story to read for whatever reason, you need to know that the work is GOOD, right? Then look for a writer who works with an editor. Then find that editor's other authors and see if you might like one of them, too. Sounds like a simple formula, doesn't it?

Writing is a solitary thing, or it can be. Publishing, however, is a collaborative effort and any writer who thinks otherwise is fooling himself. Especially the ones who think they've been rejected because no one gets the ideas of their stories.

If you want to take a non-traditional route to getting your stories out there, at least set a standard for excellence and meet it. Or exceed it. Then you'll have done something you can be really proud of. If it's your dream to have a book with your name on it, then do that. By all means, do that. But make sure the work is absolutely the best it can be. Work it. Work it as hard as you can and make it GOOD.

Please.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Certain Point Of View

From Marvel Premiere #19. Art this page
supposedly by Neal Adams but credited
to Larry Hama. Written by Doug Moench.
No, this isn't about politics. I'm saving that for later when you all are REALLY tired of the election cycle.

Today's post is about how I write, and how much I want you to be in my main character's head. This is about the point of view of a story. The narrative point of view, okay?

We can talk about First Person, Third Person, and Alternating points of view all day. Those are the easy ones. Second Person (where the narrator involves the reader in the story by referring to 'you') is the most challenging and the least used, because it's the most challenging. However, it can be an enormously satisfying device in certain situations.

The first time I encountered Second Person POV is in - of course - a comic book. Iron Fist's run in Marvel Premiere in the 1970s was sort of uneven and a response to the kung fu fad on TV. I mean the actual TV show Kung Fu. Marvel had a bunch of heroes who were martial artists like Shang-Chi (originally the son of Fu Manchu but not any more since the rights are somewhere else), The White Tiger, The Daughters of the Dragon, and more. Iron Fist was the superhero who had the most angst of just about any of them at the time, except for maybe Peter (Spider-Man) Parker. The narrator speaking in the second person and referring to Danny Rand K'ai/Iron Fist as 'you' constantly stood out in the crowd, too.

I thought there was a lot of power in being able to read the story through Danny's eyes. I relished this as a kid, actually. I still have the very beat-up, coverless copy of that issue, which isn't the one that's here. I would come back to it periodically just to appreciate the words and art as they really seemed to come together in that story. Every time I'd go through my comics and I'd come across it, I'd have to read the entire issue. It was just mandatory.

But I can't write that. Maybe it's that I don't have the skill (probably) to pull it off though I do try it from time to time. I'm still not good at it. I'll get there, though.

Instead I prefer to use Third Person narrators more often than not. Not because of any one thing, but because it's natural and I can be in the head of a character without too much effort or thinking. I can be a little more omniscient here when I need to be. If I'm using First Person narrative mode, I have to limit the reader to what the character sees. That's a helpful device if ever there was one, but I find it limiting.

No, the stories I tend to write best right now are better off in Third Person. I know that about what I write enough to know that I should challenge myself every once in a while to step out of that mode and try something different. I favor past tense over present tense a lot, too, because it's easier. Present tense requires me to really pay attention to what's going on and not slip up  by having someone say something she shouldn't.

So as a writer, I like to play at being godlike with my characters. Third Person Omniscient is what I think I write in. Or what I prefer to write in most times.

Let me know what you like to read in the comments. First, Third or Second Person? Why? Give me examples of what good narration is to you, too. Teach me something, folks!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tools of the Trade

Everything is interesting. Image from here.
Time to pull back the curtain and share a bit with you the things I use when I'm writing:

Dictionary/Thesaurus.com is maybe the one resource I use every time I've got a writing window open. I've got thesaurii here at the house but there's something about being able to type in a word then clicking on a synonym and checking definitions for similarities. It's enormously easy and convenient and probably too easy and convenient. I rely on this site more than I should.

Wikipedia is another resource that I use extensively especially when I'm researching weird stuff or history. Again I've got books on shelves here at home but when I need to wiki some shit to extrapolate possibilities, that's what I use it for. Now the caveat about Wikipedia is that it's not always as accurate as it could be, nor as reliable. That's why I visit the links at the end of the articles I read. And those links will lead to other links and possibly to typing something into the Google window at the top of my browser. That can lead me to a whole other kettle of fish and losing another hour or two if I'm not careful.

Let's see, what else? Oh, yeah, YouTube is a big way to do some research. Ever wanted to spend an hour or two looking at UFO videos? Ever wonder why a writer would need to do that? Me, too.

Duotrope has been terribly, terribly helpful in finding markets to submit stories to. It's a terrific place to do a lot of research on where I need to send things. Very highly recommended.

I use delicious.com to store a bunch of links I find online in relation to the project it's related to. I have stacks that are dedicated to particular stories or types of stories so that the links are easily discoverable know matter where I am when I'm writing. It's helpful to have a link to delicious on my phone so that when I'm stuck in line somewhere I can pull up a site I want to read.

Finally, Google Reader is invaluable for me to be able to keep up with the blogs I'm interested in. I don't get there every day and it's lovely to be able to get there and pull up what I'm interested in at the moment and catch up. I've got blogs in there that offer all sorts of insights and up to date information on just about everything. Also handy to have this one on the phone, too, for those long waits.

A lot of the web resources I use are transient, too. They depend on the story I'm writing and my interests of the time. As I noted above some of them land in a stack on my delicious account, but not all of them. I tend to rely on physical books for a lot of research as the ideas are the same whether from 30 or 40 years ago or on the internet today. There's something really nice about flipping pages physically, leafing through a book on the porch without a hot laptop on my legs. I highly recommend having physical books for reference. Dictionaries and thesaurii included.

Any sites you think I should use? Obviously this list isn't comprehensive but I'm always looking for new things to distract me. Ooooh! Shiny! SQUIRREL.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Visioning

The Eye of the Future is looking ahead at what will
be written. The rest are watching you. Image from here.
It used to be that I'd open up a new file to write in when I had an idea or just a single image in mind for a story. I'd be all het up to go pound at the keys with no real idea where the story would take me. I've learned that in the business this is called 'pantsing'.

It was one of the things that held me back as a writer.

I'd get knee deep into the story, a little less than halfway I'd say, and I would either write myself into a corner or have no idea what to do next. I'd get frustrated and stop working on the story for a while, come back to it and have no idea what I was trying to do.

Because I had no idea in the first place.

It seems so simple to remember that every story has three components: Beginning, Middle, and End. Right? Yet it's the one thing that I would forget every time I had an idea. Every. Single. Time.

So I've had to put some controls in my head that will help me be the writer I'm supposed to be. When I come up with an idea or an image, I write it down and leave it alone. I may think about it and think - "This is an opening, what's the ending?" or I may think "What's the middle?"

See, because I need two out of three in order to write the story well. I never come up with endings. Or at least I don't think of them as endings. I have a problem where I start my stories too early, usually because of the image I've come up with as the opening and that image isn't necessarily the beginning. It's the seed, though; backstory in all likelihood.

And that's the next step, once I've got a beginning and ending, I have to backfill enough to know why the character's doing what he's doing and a secret he doesn't want anyone else to know.

I didn't used to think about these things and I don't know why. Every book on how to write good stories tells you these things. What's changed that I'm paying such close attention now?

I have not one clue. No idea. Something's clicked, though, and I intend to keep those gears working, keep them well-oiled and turning.

For now, my ideas folders are getting bigger. They're filling up with a snatch of dialogue or the barest hint of a beginning. It's the ends and the middles that are getting written in more often. My head apparently has to percolate things to the point of being fully brewed.

I don't feel like I'm being held back by a lack of ideas. No, rather it's the execution of those ideas that's the challenge these days. Some of them are way beyond me and I know it now because I don't have everything I need to even begin planning some of the things I've written down.

Dunno if this makes sense or not, but it's how things are working in my head these days. If you have a different approach, please take a bit of time and let me know how you do it. That little peek behind the curtains of other writers is always interesting.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Taking Stock

Image borrowed from here.
Today I spent some time looking into all the things I'm working on as far as writing goes and I was surprised at just how many projects I've got in some stage of progress. Here's a rundown without going into any detail on any of them.

  1. The Evolver Series - The first book is out (you can buy it here [hint, hint]) and the first draft of the second book is turned in. Waiting for editor's notes.
  2. An as yet unannounced second series for Actionopolis - The first book is done and I've turned in my outline for the second. Waiting for the 'go' light to show green on that. 
  3. My Short Stories - I've got Story B out right now with Story A having just come back this week with a nice rejection. I've gotta find another market for Story A. I'm also editing Story C and Story D. Story E needs a little massaging before it can go out of the house unaccompanied. 
  4. The Novel - is out to my beta readers. Waiting for notes back then a second round of revisions and the first round of submissions. I'm hoping to have the novel out on the street by the end of August.
  5. Collaboration A - I'm working on this one with one of my fellow Confabulators and it's getting exciting. We're starting to nail down some things and it's taking shape. This is probably all you'll hear about it until we're closer to having something to share. Unless you buy me a drink in person.
  6. Non-Fiction Thing A - This book is going to go pretty quickly. I'm in the planning stages of it now. I'm looking to have a draft of this done by the end of August with feedback sometime in September. Hoping to have it self-published in October or November. 
Lots of waiting. LOTS. That's the life of a writer, I guess. Getting things done is just the first step. However, I feel pretty good about the variety of things I'm working on. I've got a corkboard in front of my desk that is set up to help me keep these things organized. While I was working on it today I realized that I've changed my working methods quite a bit in the last few months. I'll share one of my insights with you on Monday.

Between the short stories and NFThing A, I should have lots to work on over the next couple of weeks. What will probably happen is that all the notes I'm waiting on will arrive all at once and I'll be overwhelmed with things that have to get done now. Thus the reason I'm working on getting these things organized in ways I can manage them.

If it's one thing I know how to do, it's manage things. 

Finally, we've had two solid weeks of temperatures over 100 degrees here in eastern Kansas. I've had just about enough of it and today's the worst of them all. I've had to water the driveway so that the cement doesn't crack any more, that's how hot it's been around here for so long. At 2 o'clock it was 101* but felt like 110*. Thankfully, tomorrow's high is only supposed to be 94*. We're crossing our fingers here. 

All right that's enough for a Saturday post. You all have a great weekend and we'll reconnect on Monday or thereabouts. 


Friday, July 06, 2012

Nina Simone and the Keyboard

Uh, yeah. Kind of where
my head's at today. Borrowed from
Wikimedia.
This isn't really about Nina Simone, so if you came looking for a story about her, sorry. Really I'm talking about when I feel good about my writing. Which is more often lately, but then I'm apprehensive again. So Nina Simone, Feeling Good. That's the connection here. Moving on.

I'm told this is normal. I see some of my friends online talking about their insecurities as writers and I look at their work and say to myself "Wow - how can he be so self-deprecating?" Then I remember who it is and I understand.

Sorry to be mysterious. Maybe I'm making it all up. Maybe this is me just sort of stream-of-consciousnessing some BS about when and why I feel good about what I'm writing. Probably not. Well, it's not likely anyway. I always tell you guys the truth here on the blog, don't I?

But I do say things that I'm not sure I should say. I suppose that's when I think I'm the most insecure, when I say things I'm not one hundred percent assured are the best things to say. There are subjects I avoid here just because they're none of your business. When one of those things becomes part of a point I want to make I always always always think it through at least twice and more like a dozen times before I put it down.

Like all the stuff I said about the pre-planning of my NaNoWriMo work. I won't do that again because I look back and I see a lot of things I either didn't follow through on or didn't believe in totally when I wrote it. To be sure it was mostly me just writing out loud, working through my process and since then I've learned about myself that I should be more inscrutable.

Of course I'm breaking that rule by writing these things here today.

Well, maybe not. Maybe not. Maybe I'm just making a public statement that I'm focusing more on the actual writing than the thinking. Yeah, that's it. I'm telling you that the things that are on the blog about my process will stay up there but it'll be rare that I'll share any kind of deep thinking about the development of a particular story. That stuff I'll have to pull back.

But, while I was writing that story back in November and December and when I was editing it again last month, I felt great about it. Now that it's back out to my beta readers, I'm all nervous again. It's significantly changed since the Zero Draft and I'm all anxious about what they'll think, what they'll say. I shouldn't be, the story's good. It's very good. I just want it to be better and that's what I'm hoping to hear from them. Wait and see, I guess.

So right now I'm not feeling too good about my writing at this particular moment because it's out there for others to see and comment on. I've got thick enough skin that I can take the criticism, I'll just worry it to death before it comes back.

As an aside, and I suppose a reward for you reading this far, I'm also over at The Confabulator Cafe talking about Writer's Block today. If you'd be so kind as to click over there and read that then peruse everyone else's thoughts on the subject, you may find some insight into this post here. Not that I'm trying to go all Meta on you or anything. I'm just saying.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Happy Independence Day

Was that really big firecracker or what?
It's Independence Day here in America and that means a lot.


  1. Retail stores are open but government offices are closed.
  2. Things are exploding.
  3. There's a marathon of Twilight Zone episodes on SyFy.
Let's tackle that second item first.

Yesterday I completed a story and all that really means is that I came to an ending. It's not an ending I like, especially, but it's an ending. It means the story is finished.

It's not ready for anything, however, other than taking a day or two off from it to rest (like when you grill a steak, you have to let it rest when you take it off the flame) and not thinking about it. 

Except I know I'm going to have to blow up the ending. It's got to be more satisfying. I'll have to get in and rip out maybe five hundred words and tighten it up then light the fuse and see what happens.

Why was the ending so difficult? Well, it's because the theme of the story only made itself apparent in the last 2,000 words. I knew the story I wanted to tell and I thought I knew why, but that changed somewhere in the middle of writing the thing. So my original thoughts were exploded when it dawned on me what I was really writing.

I thought I was writing a story that would just get me through in order to write the next one. Uh uh. It's about loyalty and the choices one must forced to make to honor that loyalty. 

THAT'S a complicated subject. 

This story may be more than I'm capable of writing currently and that's what I'll take back to it when I open up the editor tomorrow. Or maybe I'll let it rest a little longer and start the next story that I really want to write.

Likely I'll get some inspiration when I turn on the TZ marathon later. Hopefully The Howling Man will be on later. Or To Serve Man. 

While I'm doing that, you all have a great day. If you visit a retail store of some kind today do me a favor and tell the folks helping you 'thank you' for working on a holiday. They'll be glad you did and you'll feel just that little bit better. It's not hard. You can do that.

Then you can go blow things up to your heart's content.


Monday, July 02, 2012

Reviews of Stuff

I finished Alex Grecian's The Yard over the weekend.  Taking place in London in 1890, it's premise is that Jack the Ripper's reign of terror is over but the overworked 'murder squad' at Scotland Yard has a new devil on its hands. Inspector Walter Day must find a killer who's murdering policemen, and he must do it quickly.

There are similarities between this book and Caleb Carr's The Alienist from twenty years ago and that's not a bad thing. Forensic science is in its infancy and Grecian's meticulously-researched details stand out alongside such memorable characters as The Dancing Man and Dr. Kingsley. This is an entertaining, pretty quick read that is satisfying in its conclusion and has set the stage for further adventures. With short chapters, he's used his skills as a comic book writer (the excellent series Proof from Image Comics) to set a pace which sometimes feels choppy but is actually a deft change in point of view that contributes to the chaos the murder squad is experiencing.

It's a great ride and if you're looking for an interesting thriller that will submerge you completely into its world, The Yard is well worth the money you'll spend on it.

The book I'm reading now is the Year's Best SF 17 edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer and I've told you guys before that this is the BEST SF anthology out on the market and this volume continues that tradition. I'm only a quarter of the way into it, but each story is dynamic, interesting, and compelling. There are a couple of authors whose names you'll recognize when you look at it, and that's a great reason to buy it, but you'll be treated to work by authors whose names you aren't familiar with, too. Those are the stories that tend to stick with me from year to year. You can get a copy here.

Before I move on, a word about anthologies. If an anthology - whether it's a comic book, prose or even television show - fails, it's inevitably because the vision of the anthology was lost somewhere. Sometimes that's the fault of the holders of the purse strings and sometimes it's the fault of the editor(s), but it's never the fault of the writers. No one sets out to fail and anthologies are famous (especially in comics and TV) for 'not catching on' with their potential audiences. Don't let that fear keep you from trying this series. This is my fourth year reading Hartwell and Cramer's work and Year's Best SF has not disappointed me once. It truly lives up to the title. 

HBO's The Newsroom is in its second week and continues to be interesting, if a little trite. Last night's episode was all angsty about the reasons why McAvoy and McHale broke up three years ago but the subplot about building a new news show carried on underneath the emotional component quite well. One thing that was evident was that managing people is the same whether it's in a newsroom (as in this show) or a food service operation (my particular personal experience) or even a gang of killers and thieves (as in The Sopranos). More on that another time, but I bring it up now to say that I was allowed an 'in' to this world through the way the characters (particularly Senior Producer Jim Harper) interacted with their co-workers and I recognized more than a few personality types and behaviors. 

But back to the show. As I said last week, I'm not the biggest Aaron Sorkin fan for any reason other than I tend not to watch commercial TV and haven't for probably fifteen years or so. I've read elsewhere that there's misogyny running rampant through the scripts and that was certainly a subtext of the first episode. However, what I saw last night was a management team working together to support one another during the difficult birthing of a Changed Environment. I'll wait until the end of the season to see if the misogyny is inherent in character behaviors, but for now I'm seeing The Newsroom as something else and I don't know if that's how Sorkin intended it or not. Stay tuned.

Finally, Happy Birthday a day late to my old friend Rob Schamberger who is having the time of his life lately. We met long ago when we were both trying to break into comics and Rob has kept on as much as I have in telling stories. His big break has come this year as he's now painting every single wrestling world champion ever. And he's getting recognized and paid to do it. You think I'm kidding? Check out his website

Now it's time for me to dive back into my own writing.