Sunday, October 19, 2008

Even more regretful, blah

Though actually, substitute "lazy" for regretful, and that's probably closer to the truth. Writing is vey strenuous on the brain, and sometimes -- often -- I just don't want to do any of it. So I've been taking a break since the last entry, sometimes doing nothing about the book at all, sometimes thinking about it.

Lately the thinking has been coming more often, and I've begun setting new scenes in my head. The ideas are coming back, and I did a little writing this weekend for the first time in a while. That's like the jump start to get myself back into the groove. I'll continue little tweaks or adds this week, then start up again next weekend.

The Red Sox are continuing their postseason m.o.: destroy their opponents in the ALDS, get behind in the ALCS, then come back. Tonight is Game 7 against the Rays, which they will of course win. Then, if the pattern continues, they will sweel the Phillies in the World Series. Any sort of win would be great, of course, but a sweep results in our new bed being free, thanks to Jordan's Furniture. Go sweep!

In other good news, it's looking more and more like an overwhelming victory for Obama. Everyone blames the Republicans for the economy going down the tubes, so that alone would probably result in a victory for Barrack. But McCain's pick of Sarah Palin has proven to be as disastrous as I'd hoped, and his polling numbers have been spiraling downwards ever since. It'll be good to vote for a winner for once, presuming the GOP doesn't succeed in disenfranchising enough poor and black voters in enough swing states to steal the election again. But it's looking like a landslide right now, so I don't know how effective that strategy will be.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

In which I regret my laziness

I haven't posted anything in a while, which makes a kind of sense, as I haven't written anything in a while either. I'm not stuck like I was before; I'm just inhabiting a zone of non-motivation at the moment. It comes and goes, like malaria.

The last thing I wrote was a scene about Sam waking up after the surgery on her hand. Alex is visiting her, I wrote something that didn't quite work, and that was that. Fixing things is no more difficult than deleting and then re-writing those half-dozen lines, so you'd think I would have done it by now. I suppose if little writing "breaks" like this were explainable, they'd also be avoidable and fixable too.

Interestingly, the long problem I had with completing Chapter 10 has come back to strike when I least expected it. Those half-dozen lines were the payoff I was looking forward to while trying to figure out how to set it up without tossing a wrench into the gears, and if that's not irony I don't know what is. If my "writing break" lasts much longer, or goes completely off the rails, I guess I'll have no one to blame but myself.

I have, sort of, kind of, come up with a title. Samantha was on the cross-country team before her accident, so the phrase Running Towards popped into my head last week, as a sort of counterpoint to "running away," but it doesn't make a lot of sense of you don't get that, and is probably a little obscure. Then I mentally sized up Running Forward, but eh. Both titles imply that running is a large part of the plot, and it isn't, and that running might be part of the process that ends up healing her, and again, it isn't. I suppose I'll have to keep searching.

As I am wont, while not writing I've been thinking about writing something else -- specifically, that cool new idea that suddenly began percolating a few months ago. It's called Gone now, and I really like it. The protagonist is (at the moment) 13; her name is Anna Kosel; she has a little sister; there's a boy who likes her. And one morning she wakes up to find her parents are gone, along with everyone else in the world older than 15.

I'm pretty excited about this one, but unlike the current new thing Gone really will require an outline. I'll have to sit down some weekend and work on that, as I don't want to just start freewriting it and end up stuck somewhere in chapter 3 becuase I didn't know where the story was going.

And that's pretty much that, as far as the writing goes. I'll get back into the groove soon, finish Chapter 12, and get on with it. Promise.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Where the votes aren't

In January 2000, McCain won the New Hampshire primary and was poised to win in South Carolina too, until Karl Rove's vicious smear campaign derailed things pretty nicely for him:

Rove invented a uniquely injurious fiction for his operatives to circulate via a phony poll. Voters were asked, "Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain...if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?" This was no random slur. McCain was at the time campaigning with his dark-skinned daughter, Bridget, adopted from Bangladesh.

McCain later said there was a special place in hell reserved for the people who spread those rumors. Well, guess what? On Monday, McCain hired the guy who helped spread those race-baiting rumors!

That's nice. Obama topped 50% today, probably as undecided independents finally begin hopping off the fence, and instead of campaigning to the middle where the votes he needs to win lie, he moves further to the already-secured right by tossing meat to the base with the disastrous choice of Palin, then hiring the guy he once thought belonged in hell.

I suppose the point -- if there is one -- is that people already inclined to vote for him (or against Obama; those aren't necessarily the same things) won't care about this. They just want him to win; want the last eight years to continue without a break.

They can have him.

Monday, August 25, 2008


I'm almost finished with Chapter 12, but I'm not completely satisfied with how it's coming out. There's nothing specifically wrong with it, I suppose, but the second half of the chapter is mostly narrative as Sam goes through what she hopes will be the final surgery on her injured hand. As I've said more than once, I think I'm best when I'm writing dialogue, and at my weakest when writing the narrative. Well, here it is.

When I am finished I'll just have to go over and over that section, making little corrections and edits each time, until I'm satisfied. That's what I always do.

In other news, the Olympics are over, and I'm simultaneously melancholy and sick of them. I like having some interesting sport to watch on TV each night, and I like learning a little about the athletes. I'm definitely sick of NBC's coverage, which seemed like it had grown a little worse since Athens in 2004. I never once caught any sailing, indoor cycling, rhythmic gymnastics, pentathalon, archery, or rowing. I do believe last time I saw at least a little of some of those sports, but not this time.

London in 2012 is going to have to come up with the display of all displays to beat what Beijing did for the opening and closing ceremonies. Another bus delivering Jimmy Paige, Becks, and some random popster I'd never heard of, isn't going to get it done. Surely I can't be the only one who thought the message being sent by all those umbrellas was, "The weather really sucks! Welcome!" Although I now do want an electric brolly with lights, and I totally covet one of those circular unicycle things they had riding around.

And we go from that, directly to the Democratic convention in Denver. I for one will watch not an instant of it. I'm tangenitally interested in politics -- I'm interested in theories and arguments, but not specifics, details or (god forbid) personalities. I've watched the conventions before, and they're all the same: hot air, new heights reached in unspecified promises, and partisan sniping.

It's a complete turnoff for me. Politics is a sewer, and it tars anybody who dares to wade into it. A few months ago my email group and I were having a discussion about this. I think we were having a talk about who was or wasn't or should or shouldn't be running for President, and my friend Paul asked me who I would want to run. I told him -- nobody. I hold no admiration for the people who do run, and if I did admire someone enough I wouldn't want them to run, for fear of their becoming irrevocably stained by the process.

Yes, I realize that's quite the little interesting paradox I've created for myself. Is it too late to set up a monarchy, or an enlightened despot? We really couldn't do much worse by having someone's eldest child inherit the throne, compared with the way it's set up now.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

In which I've solved a problem

I finally figured out how to get through that impasse in chapter 10, though I'm still not completely satisfied with the result. I think I'm just going to have to go forward as unsatisfied, and leave it at that, unless fantastic inspiration strikes. I want that scene to be there, despite the difficulties I've had in completing it.

Which brings me to one of my faults as a writer: I fall too much in love with my characters, which results in my wanting to give pretty much each one of them more page time than required by the plot. This can lead to -- and has lead to, many times in the past -- dialogue-heavy scenes running far longer than they need to be, and occasionally even entire scenes that don't need to be there. Writing too much is always a problem, surely not just for me, and excessive enjoyment of minor characters is surely something that merits a warning.

I'm almost done with that little scene, and I'll just have to see if it turns into a speed bump as time goes by. Excising it won't be difficult if it turns out to be disastrous, but it won't be any fun either.

I'm just sayin'

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Someone can do it right

As much as NBC's TV coverage can be biased and annoying, their official web site is a fantastic place to watch events live. You won't see everything there live -- I think they hold off the events they'll end up showing in prime time, like the swimming and gymnastics events -- but that's sort of the point of this site. This is where you can go to see the sports you can't see on TV.

I'm not a huge fan of the format, if only because you're required to download Microsoft's Silverlight plugin. There's nothing wrong with it, per se -- it's basically just a Flash analog, as far as I can tell -- but I dislike having to install extraneous programs on my computer. I already have Flash on it; why do I need something else?

And the coverage is strangely addictive. Even more bare-bones than the Triplecast, the webcasts are little more than live feeds of events, with score and point graphics, but without any commentary. Which, I have to say, I love. It's fascinating how utterly irrelevant most sports play-by-play is; we're just used to it. Yes, I personally need it for football (which is incomprehensible without it, thanks to its Byzantine collection of field rules), but nearly evey Olympic sport there is can be deciphered easily on your own.

Weightlifting, for example, which I'm watching right now. It couldn't be simpler: keep lifting heavy things over your head, until you can't any more. It's the womens' 75+ kg clean and jerk (that's how much they weigh, not how much they're lifting; at this point they're well above 150 kg), there's nobody telling me the life story of the woman from Uzbekistan, no cutting away from some random competitor, and no commercials. It's fantastic.

Seriously, I would pay money if my TV coverage was like this. Heck -- I did pay money in 1992. I would do it again gladly.

And the woman from South Korea just set a wold record by jerking 186 kg over her head. For the metrically disinclined among us (like me), that's 310 pounds. Wow. I feel a soliloquy to the wonders of the human body coming on.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The 16 day grind

It's right around this point on the Olympics schedule, just like clockwork, that I begin to loathe NBC. I'm not going to whine about why they're not doing this or that instead of what they are doing (or not too much, at least); I know how much they spent for the broadcast rights, and I know they have to recoup their money. But still.

Beach volleyball? Every freaking night? Live?

Seriously, this might be the most overrated, boring sport at the games. This is how pretty much every single game progresses: serve, set, smash, point. Repeat until one team scores 21. Volleys are rare; sustained volleys are all but nonexistent. In between games loud music blares and cheerleaders run out for a brief booty shake.

I won't pretend I'm not aware most of this inexplicable popularity has to do with the fact that the female athletes' "uniforms" consist of a minuscule bikini barely large enough for their names and numbers. One of my friends at work more or less confirmed that as the reason he watches. Which is fine, I guess, as far as that goes, but it meshes poorly with an athletic event. If skinny women in empty bikinis are your thing, great. Go service your thing on line. But don't watch an athletic event for the wrong reasons, driving up the ratings, and making me have to watch it too.

I'm not sick of Michael Phelps yet. Yet. Fortunately he seems like a genuinely nice guy, as opposed to arrogant buffoons like Gary Hall Jr., so he wears well.

NBC's jingoistic, xenophobic coverage of US athletes is irritating, but that's not a battle worth fighting. I would like to see all the athletes covered equally, but obviously most people want to see their own athletes. I get that, and I get that it simply isn't possibly to give all the athletes equal coverage. But NBC really dropped the ball on Wednesday night during the finals of the mens' gymnastics all-around competition. They were all over the US and China athletes all night long, with some brief glimpses to the Japanese athletes. Not once did they cut away to the French athlete -- and he ended up winning the bronze. Come on, NBC. You can do better than that.

Or...maybe you can't. And it's not like I'm not going to watch, so all you can do it suck up any annoyance you're feeling and enjoy the spectacle. I said before that I love the Olympics, and that hasn't changed. I suppose what's going on is, while I love the Olympics, I hate the way the TV broadcasters have decided I must watch it.

Bring back the Triplecast!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

11 Down

And some unknown number to go.

I finished Chapter 11 over the weekend, on Sunday to be exact. It followed basically the outline I'd planned for it in my head, and ended up little better than I'd hoped for. Some of the chapters up until this point had been making their own paths, but this one seemed to need a plan first.

The Persistent Wife, who hasn't read it, has expressed some concern with the level of detail I may have employed when describing the makeout session between Samantha and Alex. I think that's valid. As I said before, this book is what it's intended to be, and the characters are the ages I've decided them to be; that requires some restraint. I wouldn’t describe my own feelings as concern; more like, it’s an awareness of a need to reign myself in. I think I’ve done that. Nevertheless, there will be some refining, as there always is.

Chapter 12 should also pretty much take care of itself, since I know pretty clearly what’s going to happen. After that, though, I’m going to have to start thinking (I know: I hate that!). In my head have the foundations of at least a half-dozen somewhat pivotal scenes throughout the remainder of the story, but as I’ve mentioned before, it’s linking all those scenes together that’s often the hard part for me.

I’ve thought about making an outline for the rest of the story. I think that would help with the filling in, but I also don’t want to feel like I’m constraining myself. I like free writing; I think it’s working for me, and I don’t want to mess up what’s been successful so far for 11 chapters.

Anyway, I’m taking another rest at the moment. I wrote myself out over the weekend, and there’s some gosh darn good trap shooting and equestrian events that need watching this week.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


I love the Olympics. Love them. I love the pageantry, the drama, the huge stories and the little stories, the triumphs and the heartbreaks. I love how powerful it can be, and I love how corny it can be too.

I don't remember watching any Games before 1980. I have vague recollections if 1976 in Montreal, but I don't know if those are my memories, or if they're things I've heard about and read about over the years, until I can't tell the difference any more. I'd like to think that I watched Nadia Comaneci, for example, but I don't think that I did.

The first Olympics I do remember watching was the Winter Games in 1980, and even then the only memory I have, obviously, is the hockey team's Miracle on Ice, defeating the Soviet Union 4-3 -- not the gold medal game, as a lot of people incorrectly remember. The US had to defeat Finland 4-3 two days later for that. But there's nothing else about the 1980 Games I remember. I probably watched figure staking, as Linda Fratianne and Robin Cousins seem so familiar, but if I did watch it's gone now.

I remember the opening ceremonies in Los Angeles in 1984, which was wondrously corny kitsch at its best. Especially I remember the 88 grand pianos all playing Rhapsody in Blue. I remember Rafer Johnson lighting the flame; barefoot Zola Budd from South Africa tripping Mary Decker; Carl Lewis being superhuman.

For some reason I don't remember the 1988 Games in Seoul. Did I not watch it? What was the matter with me?

Interestingly, what I most remember about 1992 in Barcelona was the absolutely astounding view from the swimming pool, looking out and down over the city; and paralympic archer Antonio Robello lighting the flame with an arrow. And eagerly gobbling down the 24/7 live coverage from NBC's unfairly maligned Triplecast--which nobody else seems to have watched--instead of their worthless tape-delayed coverage.

All that's left from the winter games in Albertville that year was the weird opening ceremonies with the dancers all wearing bizarre costumes. Those crazy Europeans!

Everyone remembers Nancy and Tonya from 1994 in Lillehammer -- and probably not much else -- so that shouldn't even count.

A billion and five memories from Atlanta in 1996, not all of them good. The opening ceremonies coming to a tremendous crescendo leading immediately into the parade of nations, with Muhammed Ali lighting the flame; the rampant, nauseating commercialism; Michael Johnson absolutely obliterating the world record in the 200 in track; the pipe bomb; Amy Van Dyken winning the 50 free in swimming, maybe the most exciting event in all of Olympic sports; Kerri Strug and the gymnastics team.

From the opening ceremonies in Beijing last night, mostly I remember how fucking pompous and aggravating Bob Costas is. Hey Bob -- shut up! Nobody is interested in your blowhard speechifying! We dont need constant narration for us poor dumb Mekins, explaining what's going on. We have brains ourselves; we can interpret and infer. And, you know, simply enjoy. It is possible, you know.

I'll watch pretty much anything I can get access too, just like all the other times. This morning I watched team handball (France defeats Angola) and badminton (Poland defeats Estonia). Sports I wouldn't give the time of day to normally become fascinating once the Olympics come around. Like curling in the winter games. Curling! Yes I watch, enthralled. The Olympics are important, and so that imparts a similar importance to every event.

And I try to imagine what it must be like to be, not someone huge like LeBron James, who looked bored and inconvenienced last night, but an athlete from a small country with no realistic shot of medaling. I try to imagine being that person, and then actually doing it. I think that's what the Olympics are all about, it's why it's so exciting, and it's why I'll always happily watch -- even if what I'm watching is judo.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

All the faux news that fits

I thought this was hysterical. And typical.

On Thursday Omaba was at a rally stop in Ohio, where some fool got himself a press credential and then started heckling from the audience, demanding to know why Obama hadn't begun with the Pledge of Allegiance. (I must have missed the news reports of the new law making this a requirement.) Instead of inviting this gentleman to put his money where his mouth was and begin the Pledge himself, Obama instead caved and led the crowd in the Pledge.

The fun came when Faux News, the propaganda mouthpiece of the right wing, decided to report on this incident. Their take on things? "[Obama] skipped Pledge of Allegienace." Probably becuase he hates America.

Really, is there anyone left who takes Faux seriously as a news source? I'm sure there are; people who still believe Iraq had anything to do with 9/11, for instance. But it's not even comedy like The Onion or Stephen Colbert, so I'm not quite sure how to characterize it. Pravda, maybe? Or we could just borrow the phrase used by the judge in Fox v. Franken, where he called the lawsuit "...wholly without merit."

I don't think Fox News can be described any better than that.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Back in the Groove

Not so persistent lately, though. Sorry about that. Well, persistent at this, anyway. On the other hand, I have been writing the new thing, which I think I really ought to title one of these days. (Originally, years ago when I first started the original draft, it was going to be linked together with several other stories I was musing over, all dealing with the same group of friends in high school. I'd been referring to the series as "Senior Year" in my head, but that's out the window now: Samantha lost a year during this recent revision, and is now a junior instead. Back to the drawing board, I suppose.)

The Halloween scene I've been hammering away at all weekend is about half done, and it's going well. Part of it is Samantha finally allowing Alex to see how badly she was injured in the crash that killed her friend Harriet; part of it is just more of them getting to know each other; part of it is the two of them experiencing their first fight; and part of it is some fairly heavy making out.

That bit I haven't quite got to yet, though I did pre-write it a few months ago while I was stuck on something else. I'll plug it in when I get there, with editing to reflect how the build-up to that scene has changed since then. They're not going to have sex, but other than that I'm not too sure what it is they are going to do. I keep going back and forth between reminding myself that the characters are both 16, and that this is allegedly a YA novel whose theoretical readers will be about the same age; and knowing that real 16 year olds have sex all the time, and trying not to make parts of this book seem corny, even though my own values are likely a little out of synch with the times, hooking-up-wise.

There's an interesting dichotomy there. If I were 16 again now, knowing what I know and remember at 42, I would likely be cutting myself a horny swath through the girls at whatever high school I was at. (In my head, at least.) And yet, though that's how I think, my characters are always more shy and reserved, modest and honorable. Which isn't to suggest I'm, like, the complete opposite of all that, or anything. My characters tend to be hyper-realized versions of good people. Their flaws tend to be a little hyper as well.

Anyway; blah blah. Finishing this chapter won't take too long, unless I get stuck on another tangent like in the previous chapter (which I still haven't solved, or excised). That will pretty much end Chapter 11. Chapter 12 will deal with the aftermath, both good and bad; Samantha learning something nice about two of her friends (which I'm attempting to hint at in that damned scene from the previous chapter I may of may not keep); and yet another surgery to repair her hand. Tally ho!

Monday, July 28, 2008


And as always, actually writing something proves to be the antidote to not writing anything. I did like I suggested I might do: I skipped a bit ahead from the scene that was giving me troubles, and without much difficulty churned out a few more lead-in scenes to the Halloween chapter.

Clearly there's something wrong with that scene I was having problems with. Maybe it's a scene that shouldn't exist at all, or maybe I'm just going at it the wrong way. I hope it's the latter, since the scene foreshadows something that happens to two of Samantha's friends. It's not a thing all that important to the plot, but it's interesting and fun, and I want to do it, so I'm going to keep trying.

But in the meantime, it seems to be all clear for now. I didn't wrote a lot, but what I did write came very easily, and I could feel many more words happily waiting their turn as I sat at my desk yesterday afternoon. That's how it's supposed to be; and fortunately that's how it's been lately, more often than not. That's only the second time I've been really stuck like that. The rest of the time it's been relatively smooth sailing.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Blah II

Well, I haven't written a single word since my last post on the subject. In fact, I haven't even re-read anything. I needed a break from it, I think; needed a break from trying to force-write a scene that maybe shouldn't be there to begin with.

But I seriously need to be careful. I've taken "breaks" before that eventually stretched into years. I don't think there's any danger of that, but I'm sure I told myself the very same thing all those other times too.

Sometimes you can force yourself through a writing rut, but there have been times where that resulted in my just getting sick of whatever I was working on and not even wanting to continue, which it definitely not what you want to do.

I think I need to move on, skip ahead and continue writing at a point where I know I won't have any troubles. It's possible this scene that's flummoxing me just isn't necessary, and this block it my brain's way of telling me. If that's the case I can work around it eventually, or delete it, or just work the exposition into another part of the narrative somehow. But in the meantime I need to start writing again, no matter what it is -- I don't want to be posting "Blah # 52" this time next year, with nothing new to report.

Far from completion

I like to think that my first thought upon learning of the death of Robert Jordan last September was sadness and empathy for the family he left behind. But I have to admit that it was more likely to have been a little flash of ironic annoyance, wondering what was ever going to happen to his Wheel of Time series, one book from completion.

Okay, I'm not that big of a dick. His fans had known for close to a year that he was suffering from the effects of cardiac amyloidosis, a usually fatal heart condition that claims its victims in only a few years. So it's not like I wasn't prepared for the possibility of his death. And neither was he, it seems. In the last few months of his life he wrote and dictated copious notes as to how the twelfth and final book in the series, A Memory of Light, should be completed if worse came to worse. If it were to be completed.

I don't believe there was ever a doubt in anyone's mind that it would be completed; the only questions were when, and by whom. A few months after Jordan's death, it was announced that AMoL would be finished by Brandon Sanderson, who was chosen because of how much Jordan's widow had been impressed by his novel Mistborn: The Final Empire.

Naturally I had to see for myself what sort of writer he was. I bought the book an read it -- devoured it, actually -- and it's terrific. Fantastic, really. He's an amazing writer, with a gift for dialogue and characterization that I found myself envying. And I suspect one reason I enjoyed the book so much is because it's written much like I think I would have written it, with long sections of dialogue that never fail to advance the plot, written in a natural style that seems as though it could have been transcribed from actual conversations.

One thing I noticed right away, however -- and the friend I loaned my copy to saw this as well -- is that Sanderson is a better writer than Jordan ever was. While a fantastically gifted visionary and plot constructionist, Jordan's lethal weaknesses were an inability to edit himself, and an often exasperating fondness for irrelevant narrative description. The Wheel of Time series was already 11 books long (and I do mean long), stretched over 15 years as of the last published volume in 2005. I think the series easily could have been condensed to 9 or 10 volumes, given some restraint on Jordan's part -- and I'm not sure if the news that he had vowed to complete the series in one final volume, even if it was 2000 pages long, was a good thing or a bad one.

So far at least, Sanderson doesn't seem to be suffering from any or Jordan's peccadilloes. The book and a half that I've read so far are both crisply written, tightly plotted, and show no signs of wandering off on lengthy tangents. In his blog, Sanderson recounted his thoughts while he was re-reading the series this past spring, and to his credit argued against many of the series' flaws perceived by its fans. Whether that's sincere, or merely a wise decision to not bite the hand that fed him, I don't know.

It doesn't matter anyway; he's a terrific writer, and I can't wait for the final volume -- which, unfortunately, will not appear until late in 2009. But I've been reading Jordan's epic series since 1993; I suppose I can wait a little longer.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Under the Influence, Part III

More idealized dialogue that influenced me came from Paula Volsky, who wrote the absolutely amazing Illusion, one of the best fantasy novels I've ever read. (And one of the best covers Michael Whelan ever painted.) Volsky's characters are extremely intelligent, and occasionally utter speeches in the middle of a conversation with another character. And while this isn't particularly "natural" either, it's a little less hip and sarcastic, meaning it's more likely to find itself a place in my narratives. Here's an example from late in the MO, where Amelia is confronted by one of her enemies:
"...I thought you might enjoy the company of a man--it’s been so long. Nearly seven years, isn’t it?”

Somehow Amy kept her rage at bay. She may or may not have been strong enough to battle Lady Varlindeyn, but she didn’t possess the knowledge to do it. Some day, though.

“It has been a while,” she conceded after a few moments. “Unfortunately my memory of those nights is unclear. Perhaps if you found three or four men with no Lore talents--or rather I should say, if they found you--whom I’m sure would be more than happy to pin you to the ground and rape you like an animal, that might help me remember. Not to mention the entertainment value it would provide,” she added. “Though of course I meant, entertaining for me. And as for joining you in bed, I would sooner be raped again.”

Brianna’s face was flushed with anger. “That can be arranged,” she hissed.

Amy shook her head. “No, actually, it can’t. I’m not to be harmed or hindered in any way, remember? And please don’t bore me with warnings about provoking you, because I’m sure whatever Galadaine has in store for me is nothing compared to what he’ll do to the person who kills me before his plans come to fruition.

“So with that in mind, let me say this: I have never in all my life met a more loathsome, despicable, ignorant thing as you. I would sooner get into bed with a rotting corpse. Just the thought of touching you makes me want to vomit, and I suspect those men you’ll have tonight will want to bathe the moment they get away from you. You are a sickening freak, and I’ll consider myself blessed by God if I’m there the day your malevolence catches up with you. Did you understand all that? I wish to be sure, because I know someone with your limited mental capacities may have trouble understanding words of more than one syllable. Shall I repeat myself?”
I love loquaciousness, don't you?

And finally -- God, this is getting long -- my modern teenage characters got their wit and their snark from Ellen Emerson White, who I think is brilliant at writing narrative and dialogue that captures the shyness, the uncertainty, the hesitancy of being a teenager. Teens aren't loquacious, and they don't utter well-planned speeches at the drop of a hat. They say "um" a lot, repeat themselves occasionally, and aren't always sure what to say next. This is a scene from the New Thing where Samantha first meets Alex:
“Hey, hi,” someone behind her said.

Because she wasn’t the nervous type, Sam decided on the spur of the moment not to jump out of her skin. Being all calm and cool, she turned and watched the Orioles hat walking across the street with a guy under it. One of the movers, probably. He was wearing cargo pants and a faded Georgetown t-shirt, and a little teensy part of her brain noticed that he looked pretty nice under it.

“Um, yeah?” Miss Welcome Wagon. She took a quick step back, even though she was already in her own yard and the guy was stopping out in the street, hands in his pants pockets.

“Hi,” he said again. “I’m Alex.”

Jesus, what was this? Was the moving guy hitting on her? What, did he have a crip fetish or something? “Um, Samantha,” she said, too nervous to know what else to do.

He took his cap off and smiled. “Hello, Samantha.” He had gray eyes and a nice head of curly dark blond hair, and Sam felt a very annoying flutter down in her belly. Okay, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad getting hit on by the moving guy. Assuming he wasn’t about to ask for directions or offer to give to the March of Dimes or something.

“Um, so, you’re almost done?”

He nodded. “Yeah, just about.”

“Did they, uh, have a lot? Stuff, I mean? Boxes?”

“Oh, um, I don’t know. Not so much. It’s like twice as big as our old house. There’s lots more closets and stuff, but we’ll probably spend all week unpacking.”

And Sam realized then that she was talking to the son, not the moving guy. She felt her face heating up, and hopefully he’d spare her the mortification of having of reveal what a moron she was. Very observant. Of course he was like her own age.

“Yeah,” she said. “It takes forever. Um, so, it was nice to meet you. But, uh--”

“Hey, did you break your wrist or something?”

Yeah, great. So much for that. “Um, yeah. Sort of,” she said, holding the brace tightly against her belly. Which might possibly draw attention to the general area of where she wasn’t wearing a bra, so she dropped it down by her side again, which hurt, so she swung it a little bit behind her -- which probably didn’t make her look very good either. Hiding something? Ashamed? Moi?

Her little spaz attack had probably given him plenty of time to notice the cane and her knee brace -- and heck, the scar next to her eye too, if he was interested enough -- but when she glanced up he was only looking around the neighborhood. So either he hadn’t noticed, which was unlikely, or he wasn’t a starer, which was nice. She was extremely sick of that.

“I like it here,” he was saying. “I didn’t think I was going to, but it’s nice.”

“Yeah,” she agreed. “It’s nice.” And if her deformities didn’t drive him away, her sparkling conversational skills surely would.

“Any other kids here? High school, I mean? I’m starting on Monday. My folks have the week off”--he nodded back at the house--“but not me.”

“Uh--” For a second her mind was quite blank. God, he was going to think she was retarded too. “Uh, yeah. A couple. Like, three or four, I mean. The bus stop’s down there, at the corner.” Her parents’ house was the third up the street. It was an easy walk now; it might not be when it began to snow. She didn’t know what she was going to do about that. Her parents had mentioned a van that came for disabled kids, but just the thought of that was so humiliating Sam had refused outright.

“Listen, uh-- The game’s starting. And I always watch it with my dad.” Ooh, liar. Extra pathetic.

“Oh, yeah. Sure. And, you know, it’s not like I should be back there helping or anything.”

Sam took a few steps back towards the house, holding her cane behind her. “It was nice to meet you.”

“Yeah, you too, Samantha. See you Monday.”
That's what I mean by natural dialogue: something that could have been transcribed from an actual conversation. It just works for me, even while I strive to make the narrative as elegant as possible, given the subject and the protagonist.

Under the Influence, Part II

The next group of writers who influenced me could seem a little odd, since none of them are traditional "genre" writers, as if that makes any difference.

The first that I noticed was Diana Gabaldon, who wrote the terrific Outlander series of novels, about a woman from 1940s Britain who somehow (it's never plausibly explained, and doesn't matter) ends up in 1740s Scotland in the middle of the Jacobite Rising, and falls in love with a Scotsman. What's fascinating about the bit that influenced me wasn't her writing style, or her prose, or the inspiration to write a sweeping historical romance. It was in the first book of the series where she wrote, more or less, a 20 page love scene.

It was hardly 20 pages of grunting and sweating; it was the characters in bed, being in love, talking, advancing the plot...and yes, having some pretty great sex. I'd written a few sex scenes previously, but they were all either afterthoughts or very self-conscious. Her scene just blew me away, because it was wonderfully sexy, necessary to the plot, and basically dared the reader to disapprove. And how could I?

At the time (and yes, I know exactly when: December of 2001) I was more or less sputtering through the last vestiges of effort that had allowed me to re-write the entire first book of the magnum opus, The Dark Side of the Sun. Near the end of the book was a love scene between my heroine Amelia and the man who was guiding her to her destiny. I had never been satisfied with it, and finally after reading Outlander I was inspired to do what, at this point, remains the last meaningful thing I've added to the book.

It's even possible I went a little overboard, as since I should probably also include the banquet scene thrown for the two of them in the village they've arrived in -- which serves as a long seduction scene -- my "love scene" encompasses more then 13,000 words. Or, it could just mean I'm quite accomplished at foreplay.

I took Gabaldon's idea of a meaningful, important love scene, and made it more earthy and explicit. I wasn't quite at the point where I was writing porn, but I was definitely enjoying skirting the edges. And now -- except for the current projects, which are all YA novels, where it would be fantastically inappropriate -- I'm thinking this is how it's going to be for my characters. If it should come to pass that they're going to have a little fun, I'm going to describe it, and they're for damn sure going to enjoy it. This excerpt from Dark Side should speak for itself:
“Was it-- I mean, was it well for you too?” he asked hesitantly.

She peeked up at him. “Well? Yes. I mean-- Um. Well?”

He laughed shortly. “God, Amy, I feel like I’m fifteen again. Did you enjoy it?”

“Well…yes,” she admitted, not sure what he was asking. “How-- I mean, how else should I have felt?”

“Like I did?” he suggested.

“Like you? No, but--” She was shaking her head. “I don’t understand.”

A surprised and concerned look passed over his face. “You don’t? But-- Well, haven’t you ever-- I mean, with your own hand? And that girl--you must have felt something.”

Now she understood. “Oh. Well, of course. I mean, yes, of course I’ve-- Well. Pleased myself,” she admitted, blushing. “And Prith-- Well, she knew. I mean, what to do for me. Of course she would.” And then a thought struck her, and she really understood. “You mean--? I mean, I could? With you?”

“Of course,” he said. “You didn’t know it?”

“No,” she marveled, shaking her head. “I mean, there were only those men, and I don’t think they were too concerned with my pleasure.”

“No, I’m sure they weren’t,” he agreed. He leaned down and kissed her again, and Amy could feel her lips growing red and sore--a wonderful soreness. “But I am,” he went on after a long while.

“Are what?” she whispered.

“Concerned with your pleasure,” he explained. She felt his manhood stirring against her hip. “Very concerned.”

Before she could think, he had pushed himself on top of her again. “No,” she mumbled against his mouth. “Wait, I--” But he wasn’t listening. He was being a little more firm with her this time, taking her wrists in hand and pinning them to the mattress above her head. My body knew exactly what to do, she remembered Esmera saying the day of their picnic. Well, so did Amy’s, apparently, and it had stopped listening to her brain. Her legs parted all on their own, and she heard a low moan coming from her throat as Durnell put his other hand between her thighs and began caressing her. She longed to lean up and kiss him, but his weight on her arms kept her away, and his body leaning against her belly kept her from doing anything more than squirming in the most amazingly wonderful torture she’d ever known.
It goes on from there, but this is a family blog and I might risk getting flagged or something.

Like I said, that was pretty much the last gasp of the MO, and after that scene and chapter (chapter 16 of 18; so near and yet so far!) I was pretty much tapped out. But early in 2002 I read a pretty good horror YA novel called Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause, that while not influencing the way I wrote, did inspire me to write the Wee Vampire Novel, which at this point doesn't have a title.

The next, no doubt odd, influence was Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the screenplays for A Few Good Men and The American President, and created the TV series Sports Night and The West Wing. His walk and talk dialogue just blew me away when I first started watching Sports Night in 1998; but because at the time I wasn't writing anything that could use that style, it wasn't until I began the WVS almost 4 years later that I found an avenue for trying something like that myself:
When [Fred] had left Helen turned to me. “I’m going outside for a smoke. Come with?”

“Sure.” I followed her up the stairs and outside, and when we were far enough away she pulled a pack out of her oversized army surplus coat. She lit it and took a drag.

“I hear cancer rates are up,” I mentioned.

“It’s a national tragedy,” she agreed.

“Thinking of maybe quitting one of these days?”

“Actually I was sort of counting on you stopping bugging me first.”

“Well, that’s probably not going to happen.”

“So, I’m stuck with you being a pain in the ass forever?”

“Yeah, pretty much. You know, with me being your friend and all.”

“You know, it’s actually starting to grow on me. I’m thinking of taking drugs too, so you can nag me twice as much. I know how much you love it.”

“That’s very thoughtful of you.”
I like that, but I haven't done much of it since then. Partially because I haven't found the right place to do it, and partially because it's idealized dialogue, not actual dialogue. And like I said before, at the moment I'm all about natural dialogue.

Monday, July 21, 2008


I'm not sure if I'm stuck again, or just worn out and in need of a break. As can be plainly seen, I couldn't even think of a more interesting title for this post.

I know I mentioned earlier that I was basically winging it with this one, even though in the past I have written complete outlines for several stories. The problem with winging it is that if you get stuck, you really get stuck. And right now I've ground to a halt at the most lame of points: trying to fill space between what I just wrote, and the Halloween scene I've already basically completed.

While being stuck, I've been going back to re-read some of my older things, including the paired novels I have complete outlines for. I hadn't read those outlines in several years, and much to my surprise I found nothing I'd really need or want to change. Even more to my surprise, I suddenly found myself wanting to start writing them.

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised; I always want to write something else when the thing I am working on begins to annoy me. But the fact that I have two entire complete outlines there, staring at me, is awfully tempting all of a sudden.

I also want to try out that idea of mine where all the adults vanish from the world, but there will be no winging it on that one. An outline is definitely required there.

Now that I'm thinking about it, I can't recall the process that resulted in those outlines. What I mean by that is, I can't recall if I thought about them for x days or weeks first, or if I just sort of, well -- winged it. (Wung it?). They've been gathering dust for so long, I can't even remember how I came up with the ideas at all, which is a little weird -- I remember exactly how the MO formed in my head, and even where I was, more or less. I also remember the exact gestation of the Wee Vampire Story, and of another, long-lost book idea from back in high school that will never see the light of day. (For very good reasons; trust me.)

I was also reading another old thing, the story where the girl from the magical land comes here, instead of the usual way it happens. I wasn't feeling any particular temptation to start writing it again, but I did come across an interesting passage that more or less dates when I was writing it. There's a scene where the heroine, finding herself in Boston, see the natives talking on pay phones, and I mentioned in the text that they're all NYNEX phones. NYNEX was the successor to AT&T after the 1984 breakup, but it only lasted until 1997 when it became Bell Atlantic. I figured, if it's been that long since the last time I wrote a word, there's really no hurry to start up again.

I think I'll muddle through the current story for at least a little while longer, and hopefully I can knock some creativity out of myself and finish this silly little cut scene I'm working on. Or decide the scene isn't needed at all. One or the other. And we're back to the old question if I'm even writing in the correct direction. Unfortunately, there's never an answer to that one until after you've figured it out for yourself.

Friday, July 18, 2008


This is one of the most amazing videos I've ever seen. The Deep Impact spacecraft launched in 2005, with a mission of firing an impactor at comet 9P/Tempel, to learn what the comet was made of.

After the mission was completed, Deep Impact was retasked to imaging extrasolar planets and another comet, Hartley 9, and renamed EPOXI. Just three months ago, EPOXI trained its cameras back towards Earth, and from a distance of about 30 million miles captured this series of images:

That is a series of images of the moon transiting the Earth, and as far as I know that's the first time such a thing has ever been witnessed. Amazing.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

I don't remember; I know

I read Feist's Faerie Tale in March of 1991. I know what book I was reading 25 years ago. I know what book I was reading the day I turned 18, and how many books I read in 1983. (The White Dragon by Anne McCaffrey; The Return of the King; 123.) I know these things because while I am relatively cluttered and disorganized in most of my life, in at least one area I am severely afflicted with OCD.

As best as I can recall (this was a while ago), some time in May of 1982, near the end of my sophomore year in high school, I was for some reason trying to remember the last handful of books I'd finished, and so made a list. Then I added the next book I read, and the one after that, and after that, and etc. And since it took like two seconds to make a short notation whenever I'd finish a new book, I kept doing it.

I did fall out of the habit for 4 years, from 1986 through 1990 (girlfriend; little interesting in jotting down quick things; I'm sure you understand), before picking it up again; and but for a few instances of forgetting exactly when I'd read something, have soldiered on ever since.

Why? Well...why not? I love lists of things; I find inordinate pleasure in certain kinds of order. So why not a list about my reading? Like I said, it takes like two seconds to add to the list once ever week or so, so it's hardly some arduous task I've embarked upon. And it's extremely interesting to go back through it once in a while to remind myself what I liked to read when I was a teenager.

How long will I continue it? I have no idea. Maybe forever. Maybe only as long as I like to read.

So, like I said...maybe forever.

That thing you don't do

One particular writing technique that I absolutely despise, is the convenient amnesia a character must suffer in order for the plot to be resolved. Or "must" suffer, since I tend to see it as little more than laziness on the part of the author, instead of a legitimate narrative device as part of the denouement.

Convenient amnesia takes the form of, for example, the hero having his memories erased (by injury or by magic) in order that some secret be maintained, or disaster averted. I think this is always a poor choice for the author to take, because in my mind there is never a lack of an alternative that doesn't involve abusing the protagonist like that. Discovering what that alternative is is just part of the writing process.

The first time I recall encountering this device was in Raymond Feist's novel Faerie Tale, an otherwise enjoyable book that was ruined for me at the end when the protagonists are made to forget their adventures in the land of the faeries. More recently, in the Series 4 Doctor Who climax, companion Donna Noble is made to forget everything that happened while she was traveling with the Doctor, so that her memories wouldn't kill her. Now theoretically, I suppose, ridding someone of lethal memories is a good way to save their life, but only if you've already written yourself into that particular corner.

Not only is it a lazy device, but I even think it's disrespectful of your characters. No, they're not real; their memories aren't real; blah blah. But the thing is, they're sort of real. They're as real as it's possible for you to make them, so don't take away the only thing that made them exist in the first place -- the things than happened to them while they existed.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The dangers of being an adult

I may stay home in November

Sometimes I wonder why I vote for anyone at all, let alone Democrats.

I am not a registered Democrat; I never have been, and I never will be. I am, in the parlance of Massachusetts, unenrolled. But I am exceedingly liberal, and Democrats simply happen to be the only viable choice when I step into the booth every other November. It's just that, lately, I've been holding my nose when I black those little circles with my choice.

Now I wonder why I bother at all. The Democrats who control Congress have just allowed to pass into law a bill which will legalize the White House's practice of conducting illegal wiretaps; and will forever immunize the telecommunication businesses which have been abetting these criminals acts.

This is not a kooky rant or a left-wing polemic. The NSA, at the directive of the White House, has been breaking the law since at least 2005. The text of the 4th Amendment to the Constitution is quite specific:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
The text of FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, under which this wiretapping has proceeded, is equally specific:
A person is guilty of an offense if he intentionally -- (1) engages in electronic surveillance under color of law except as authorized by statute; ...

An offense described in this section is punishable by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than five years, or both.
So to sum up, it is a violation of our Constitutional rights to be spied on without a warrant. It is specifically illegal, according to FISA, to spy on someone without a warrant. And the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which passed with barely a jitter through a Democrat-controlled Congress, has just ignored the Constitution and made it legal to continue spying on Americans without a warrant; and blithely dismissed the 40 lawsuits pending against AT&T, Verizon, and the other telecoms which assisted our government's criminal activities.

To say I'm disgusted would be something of an understatement.

Disgusted, yes, but hardly surprised. That Bush is a disgrace to his office; that he is without argument the worst President in our nation's history; that he is a criminal, a liar, and an utter buffoon -- there's no shock there. But that the Democrats, the party allegedly given control of Congress in November of 2006 to bring about the changes the voters so desperately wanted, would so willingly cave in the most spineless manner possible, is simply astonishing....and completely predictable.

That old "Republicans are evil/Democrats are stupid" mantra has never been more true than it is today. Since 9/11, Democrats have been terrified of opposing right-wing efforts to, basically, do whatever the hell they wanted, for fear of appearing "weak" in the fight against terror. What they have accomplished instead of not appearing weak, is appearing like they stand for nothing at all. They are the opposition party which supports the other side; they are the opposition party which does not oppose anything.

And I'm not alone in that sentiment, it seems, since a recent Rasmussen poll reports that only about 9% of Americans think Congress is going a good or excellent job. 9%. Only 13% of registered Democrats think Congress is doing a good or excellent job.

I cannot fathom why the Democrats given control of Congress have chosen to betray the voters who put them there, and I cannot fathom why they have chosen to betray all Americans by allowing the Bush White House's criminal activities to continue unchecked. They are a disgrace to their office, no less than Bush is a disgrace to his. And Barack Obama, who back in October released a statement vowing to " a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies," completely turned his coat by adding his "yea" to the bill which passed on Tuesday.

I'd say the odds that these new powers won't be abused at some point in the future are pretty close to zero; and that we won't hear about it until it's far too late to do anything. The saddest thing, I believe, is that supporters of actions like these simply don't care. It's not like they're acknowledging the inherent dangers but arguing exigent circumstances -- they don't care. Like their support for invading a country that didn't attack us, and torturing prisoners, they simply don't care.

It's astounding how far my love for my country has diverged from the utter loathing I feel for my government.

Eureka shmereka

Sometimes I have to drag a new idea out of my brain by its heels, like with the recently gotten past mini block. Sometimes I get ideas from other places, like the astounding blog I was reading last night which made me think that next time I could maybe expand my horizons a little, instead of writing all nicey-nicey about suburban girls and their upper-middle-class woes. And sometimes I'm struck by lightning, like just now.

Samantha believes she was the cause of the drunk driving crash that killed her friend and her friend's cousin, and severely injured Sam, four months before. She's wrong -- it wasn't her fault, and coming to that realization is part of her very painful journey back to being human again. But in the meanwhile she blames herself, hates herself, holds it all inside, and lashes out at the people who try to help.

There was one last liquor-fueled party at the cousin's house; there was a fight between Samantha and her friend; the cousin appeared and suggested they go home; she drove them home; crash. Before now I had only a vague notion of what that fight had been about. It may have been about the sort of silliness that fifteen year old girls tend to fight about; it may have been the friend teasing Sam for the hundredth time about not going far enough at the parties they went to; it may have been Sam finally blowing her top and calling her friend a slut.

What I realized just now is that the fight was actually bits of all of those things, plus one other: the friend had revealed to Samantha that she was pregnant. That spawned the fight, which resulted in them basically getting kicked out of the house. So not only is Sam killing herself with guilt over the deaths of her friends, now she believes she's responsible for the death of an unborn baby as well.

I'll have to keep working on that one. I really like the idea, but I've long known that I have a tendency to pile on the misfortune when it comes to my protagonists, so it could turn out that's the old straw that broke the camel, etc. And yet it works, because it's a piece of knowledge so traumatic that it would have kept Samantha from noticing the myriad other clues from that last night that could have told her that it was, in fact, not her fault. Not remotely.

Sometimes I'm mean to my characters, but never without cause. There's always a reason, and they're always able to overcome it. After all, what else is literary misfortune for?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


The Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait, linked to this Thai commercial, and it just cracked me up:

That was my good laugh for the day.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Hey, it worked!

I soldiered on through, and as usually happens in situations like these, inspiration struck. I finished the chapter and the scene in a way I hadn't thought of when it began, and in a way that's better than what I was hoping for. I like to call that "being creative."

And as also usually happens, the little throwaway encounter I just wrote, between Alex and Sam and some kids from their school, has given me more ideas for later, and another way for Samantha to heal as the book goes on.

That? Is why I love to write.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Problem solved?

It's also interesting that the way I chose to solve my scenic dilemma was to, more or less, ignore it. I didn't go back and delete any passages; I didn't start erasing dialogue wholesale. I just kept on going from where I'd left off a week or so before.

So far it seems to be working -- I haven't gotten stuck again yet, or realized what a foolish mistake I'd made by not repairing anything first. And I've always believed that writing something -- even something you might have to fix later -- is better than writing nothing. So in that way, at least, I'm doing it correctly now.

Friday, July 4, 2008


While not writing this morning (jeebus, Martha Stewart is annoying; but Superwife enjoys her show) -- while, instead, reading some awesome skeptical science blogs -- I had an interesting though that's occurred to me before, but never so clearly. Many of my characters, at least when I bother to make this particular trait manifest, are religious.

I find this somewhat worthy of comment, because I am not. Not in the least. Religion is a societal cancer, a retardation on progress, intelligence, peace, and decency. To put it simply, religion does nothing but make people prickly and stupid.

Faith, on the other hand...

Hmm. Faith is different, at least to me. A person can believe in "god" without feeling the need to worship, which is where the trouble starts. You can believe there's an order to the univese without the need to call it "science" and teach it to children. In other words, keep it to yourself.

Also, faith can be an interesting personality attribute, as far as protagonists go, because it speaks of earnestness, with a dash of innocence and loyalty -- traits, as it happens, that seem to afflict my characters one and all.

Obviously not all my characters feel that way. That would be boring and repetetive; and it's hard enough differentiating them sometimes without intentionally making my hobby more difficult than it already is. Some of them have been quite vociferously atheistic, in fact. None, however, are religious; nor are they likely to be.


Okay, let's review the situation here. It is now early in the morning at the beginning of a long, three-day weekend. The New Thing is currently idling in neutral, waiting for its alleged creative mastermind to fix the corner he wrote himself into, and write a simple conversation between two kids on their first date. How hard could that possibly be?

Or...I could go with Superwife to her friend's pool party and cookout today; go see WALL-E with some friends one day this weekend, and another pool party/cookout at mom's house the other day; and possibly go out for drinks too with yet another friend. Hmm.

I funked out just like this about four months ago, right after beginning Chapter 7, and for the same reason too: I wrote myself into a corner. Part of it is not wanting to fix things, and part of it is not wanting to have to fix things -- it would totally awesome, in other words, if everything I typed out was good to go the minute I finished it. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way; not for me, and not, I'm quite sure, for anyone else either. Corrections must occasionally be made.

Four months ago the first (gosh, let me check!) 500-odd words sat gathering dust, while I read them to myself over and over a few dozen times and tried to figure out why word #501 wasn't magically appearing in my head. Then we went on vacation for 10 days to Arizona and Nevada (Sedona, AZ: astoundingly beautiful country), wherein nothing was accomplished but for seeing old friends and having an amazing time.

By the time we got back in early April, the creative juice I'd been trying to wring out of my head had dried up, and I had lost the fantastic writing urge I'd had for the past month since being inspired for the first time in years. I'm not particularly worried I'll lose it again; not so soon, and not while I know which direction the book is going now, more or less. It's even pretty simple: just back up a few paragraphs, half a page, whatever, and start over again. I've done it a million times before. I just don't like doing it.

Or I could attend a cookout, go to the movies, and enjoy some holiday company.

I love coming to a decision; don't you?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Movie Review: Thirteen Ghosts

Or perhaps I should have written, "Thir13en Ghosts," the way it appeared in all the advertising copy and in the opening credits. You know, sort of the way the movie Seven was advertised as "Se7en." It's a crying shame the screenwriters don't have half the talent and imagination of the studios' marketing teams. I never saw Roger Corman's original movie, but considering we're talking about Roger Corman here, I'm willing to bet that A) that older movie was pretty bad too; and B) it was a lot more fun to sit through.

The plot, such as it is, involves a widowed father and his two children inheriting a very weird house from his deceased uncle. (Father: "He squandered the family fortune." Daughter: "We have a family fortune?!" Father: "No. He squandered it." Heh.) So they head off to the new homestead, accompanied by the uncle's lawyer, whose only apparently purpose in the film is to be horridly killed so the audience can enjoy the death of a lawyer; and the kids' sassy black nanny, whose presence is harder to explain, other than the need to have a black character, since the family is portrayed as nearly destitute.

The house itself is an extraordinary piece of set design, and if the film had been 90 minutes of the cameras just wandering up and down the halls -- no actors -- the movie wouldn't have suffered much. The house is a polyhedron with glass walls and glass inner partitions that slide back and forth on cleverly designed gears, and with "containment spells" etched into the glass. The spells are for the ghosts - there are 12 of them - who are imprisoned in the basement.

The uncle's evil plan -- as far as I can tell -- was to use the ghosts as fuel for an infernal machine he'd constructed, allowing him to somehow gain access to an artifact that resides in Hell, and thus conferring upon himself great powers. How a machine that looks like the insides of the world's largest pocket watch could do that isn't explained, needless to say. If it were able to be explained, I suspect the screenwriters would be doing something a lot more important than writing movies like this one.

Much like the set design -- and unlike the plot -- much attention and care was lavished on the makeup for the 12 ghosts. (The 13th ghost is the key to the mystery. Somehow.) There’s the Jackal, a gibbering fiend with an iron cage over his head; the Hammer, who has spikes driven all through his body; the Angry Princess, a nude woman covered with razor slashes; the Torso, who is self-explanatory, I trust.

They escape their confinement, naturally, and mayhem ensues, as it frequently does in movies like this one. Also along for the ride are a psychic who is either searching the house for money the uncle owed him, or searching the house for clues to the mystery (it’s poorly explained, and he doesn’t seem to know himself); and a woman who shows up unexpectedly to save the day at one point, but when her true motives are revealed it exposes all her previous actions as self-contradictory.

Since the daughter is played by Shannon Elizabeth (American Pie), I was waiting for the scene where various parts of her body are exposed. Sure enough, she is attacked by the Jackal, who for some reason concentrates most of his demonic energy on assaulting her tank top and bra, rather than her person. And yet one is doomed to disappointment; the Angry Princess shows more flesh. Oh well.

Plot points come and go; important things said are either quickly forgotten or contradicted. The lawyer was there to steal money, but why was the money just sitting in a satchel in the basement? On top of the dead-pedal that releases the ghosts from their prisons? For that matter, why was there a dead-pedal at all; if the satchel full of money hadn’t been sitting on it, wouldn’t the ghosts have been released long ago? When the 13th ghost is revealed, and does exactly what the prophecy requires, why does something completely different happen? Why is someone shown gathering explosives to take into the house, when they have no intention of ever using them? Why did I rent this movie?

Oh, right: because it was 2-for-1 day at my video store. It was free.

Not scary, not sexy, not very entertaining. 2/10

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Yeah, like I said

Okay. I did it. I said once that I do this every once in a while, and now I have. I've written myself into a dialogue corner, and now I'm stuck. Samantha and Alex are on their first date, and I was having them chit chat on the way to the mall...and I realized they were babbling. Meaning I was babbling. Now I can't figure out what they should be talking about, how to get rid of what I've already done, and how to do it right the next time.

First thing to do, I think, is to get rid of the left turn the conversation just took, no matter how interested I was in it. Then, I think...maybe some freewriting? (Freetalking?) I've done that before, and it seems to work as often as not.

However, the problem might be that I've convinced myself that this conversation I want them to have is important, meaning I can't just wing it; I need to know what they're going to say, and then I need to decide how to say it.

But if it's not important, then it doesn't matter, and I can just free write it.

On the other hand, if it's not important...then maybe it doesn't need to be there at all. Hmm.


Um...okay. So there's this princess named Gwynn, and she lives in a land called...

And yet another old thing

Something I'd actually like to return to one day, even though I don't think I've touched it in 10-12 years (presuming the date stamps on the Word files can be believed), is a story that's sort of the opposite of most fantasy quest plots. Instead of the heroine being whisked off to a magical land, etc., this time the heroine is from a magical land, and gets whisked off here instead.

A quick and dirty recap: Gwynn's father is the king, and his realm is all but conquered by the forces of evil. In desperation he has his wizard carry off his children to safety, but he only has time to take her to the nearest available port, which ends up being here. From there the story becomes seemingly pedestrian, with her surviving here and meeting a boy she likes, while at the same time discovering she's a wizard too. And realizing the forces that defeated her father are still searching for her.

The interesting thing about that one, is that I had originally conceived of it as a screenplay, since most of the visuals and plotlets in my head are really light on the narration, like the scene of Gwynn and her boyfriend being chased by a dragon -- on his motorcycle, down Storrow Drive, in Boston. It'll make a great scene in the movie.

For once, I only ever imagined it requiring a single book, and I do have quite a bit of the plot and more than a few scenes ready to go in my head, so I could jump back into it fairly easily, if desire strikes firmly enough. As always, I would probably have to re-write the 6 brief chapters that already exist (Chapter 1 word count: 3575 words; New Thing chapter 1: 5130 words; Magnum Opus chapter 1: 11,043 words). But I did that with the NT, and as always, it's better now, so that would likely turn out just fine.


Tuesday, July 1, 2008


This hurts just looking at it:

It wasn't even a foul tip -- he just plain missed the pitch. No one to blame but himself...

And on the heels of that one:

I love me some weird Japanese game shows, but WTF?

Monday, June 30, 2008

And the old new thing too

I was just wondering where my ideas come from, because I actually have another plotlet percolating around that's a few years old. I wrote half a chapter for this one before it fizzled into nothing. I still think about it from time to time, but I doubt it will ever go anywhere.

I think sometimes my ideas start with something as insubstantial as "Hmm, what would happen if..." and then take off from there. (Or not.) That occasionally seems a tad lame to me, like real writers have fully formed outlines appearing in their heads all the time, or complete subplots that come to them in dreams. I'm sure "What if...?" inspires more stories than just mine, but sometimes I wonder if I'm doing it wrong.

Anyway, this old new thing was my attempt to have a male protagonist for once. All my protagonists are female, mostly because girls are cool and awesome, and it's more interesting to have a women doing the same thing a guy might do.

I don't remember where this particular idea came from, or when, but it probably sprang from my burgeoning interest in British royalty. My hero's father was the governor, backed the winning Presidential candidate, and was rewarded with an ambassadorship to the UK. Hero goes to Jolly Olde with his family, attends the new school, meets a cute shy girl who likes him back...and then he discovers she's the King's granddaughter.

Even to me that sounds like a Lifetime movie for teens, but I liked where the ideas in my head were taking me, especially when they're both kidnapped by an IRA splinter group in retaliation for...something or other. Excitement and romance ensue.

It'll never happen, mostly because I could never figure out what happened between the meet cute and the abduction, or between the abduction and the rescue. And this is what happens sometimes when you try to base a plot structure on an interest in peerage, British culture, and the Act of Settlement 1701: nothing happens. Or not enough happens. Certainly not enough to fill a YA book, let alone the three books my fevered imagination was dangling before my eyes, especially after [plot point] happens at one point and the hero's girlfriend is suddenly, at seventeen, Queen of England.

I suppose the New Thing didn't grow out of an idea any more substantial than that one, but the NT isn't much more than a romance I'm trying to make a little unique. All it requires is to be interesting and well written. The England thing, being a good example of high concept, is in addition to all that required to not be silly or implausible, which is where I think it began to fall apart.

Silly and implausible can be overcome, but it takes more than the effort I was putting in. And so the idea withered and now exists as half a chapter, and some extra scenes. RIP.

The new new thing

Sometimes I think I have more fun thinking up my next idea for a story, rather than actually, you know, finishing my current story.

I'm not abandoning the NT, and I'm not stuck, and it's not even that I've reached a point where I don't know what to do next. But a few months ago, or maybe last year some time, a neat idea for something new popped into my head, percolated up in there for a while, and then went away. For some reason, this past weekend it came back.

All that's there right now is an idea: I was imaging a world with only children left in it. All the adults are gone, and there's no reason why. There was no war, no plague, no disaster. The protagonist simply wakes up one morning to discover that her parents are gone.

There are hints and some clues in the few scenes that I've had bubbling in my head: a grieving argument between her parents, the night before they vanished, that she wasn't meant to have heard; dreams or visions of her lost brother trying to tell her something important; small scenes of survival.

I think it's a pretty neat idea, but I'm not quite sure what to do with it -- or whether to do something with it. Survival stories and stories of societal breakdown are grim enough; make the survivors into children and it might be too dark and dreary even for me, and I do tend to pile on the grime occasionally.

We'll see what happens. If I get stuck in the NT for real some time, I might just start writing something, and see where it takes me.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Movie review: Eight Legged Freaks

Just a thought experiment here. I used to write movie reviews for my own amusement; the dumber the movie, the better, believe me. I thought thought I'd post a few of them here and there, as an example of my writing style, and to demonstrate how I think I excel when I'm being this snarky.


We interrupt this review to announce the fact that we are not perturbed by the absence of a hyphen in the movie’s title. We understand that inflation and the depletion of our natural resources has made certain punctuation marks prohibitively expensive. Further, we acknowledge that this particular offense against grammar is not as egregious as abominations such as spelling “through” as “thru.”

We now return you to your regularly scheduled review.

Eight Legged Freaks was everything I expected it to be, though not all that I had hoped for. What I expected for my $6 was a decent B-movie with good effects; a fun, goofy plot; some laughs; and the sight of Kari Wuhrer’s breasts. I was amply rewarded with the first, second, and third points; yet sadly disappointed by the fourth. What I had hoped for was Tremors all over again.

ELF only cost $30 million, which in this day and age is a miracle of restraint and modesty. Most of the money seems to have gone into the effects, with a more than decent fraction left over for the script – which is more than you can say for most movies costing 3 times as much, you have to admit. A great deal of the savings came from the decision to cast some B- and C-level actors, mixed with some relatives unknowns.

For example, David Arquette is nobody’s idea of a hero (well, perhaps he’s Courtney Cox’s idea of a hero, but that’s their own business). I was, in fact, rooting for him to be eaten by a spider several time. Alas, it was not to be. Similarly, hot though she is, Kari Wuhrer -- as the prettiest sheriff this side of Suzanne Somers -- isn’t in the same price range as Jennifer Lopez (with whom she co-starred in Anaconda); and they probably saved a few extra bucks – a la Halle Berry in Swordfish -- by having her keep her top on. Too bad, too, as she has since gotten herself de-implanted. Well, life goes on.

The plot, such as it is, is a silly delight. Not much effort is made to incorporate logic or sense into the script, and the movie gets away with it by being so good natured. The town of Prosperity, AZ (where it seems to rain an awful lot) is dying, and the Evil Mayor has rented the empty gold mine to a toxic waste company for dumping their product. Naturally, a barrel of the stuff gets knocked off the delivery truck and lands in the local river (which again seems awfully babbly and verdant for Arizona).

The sludge contaminates the water, which contaminates the local crickets, which the local spider breeder captures for food for his collection of exotic spiders. Not much time is wasted in the buildup, as the sheriff’s nerdy son visit’s the breeder just in time to have him explain in amazement how much his little pets have been growing lately. The kid soon leaves, the small-for-the-moment spiders escape and attack, and hilarity and adventure ensue.

There are some good laughs, enough to satisfy, but on the whole it fell well short of the mark – “the mark” in this case being Tremors, which is something of a B-movie masterpiece. Part of the problem was this movie’s gruesomely high body count, which often clashed with those aforementioned laughs -- if the people standing around congratulating each other at the end are any indication, I truly wonder what happened to the rest of the town.

Still, I may be taking this silly movie a bit too seriously, when taking it even remotely seriously would be a mistake. Like I said, the movie supplies you with a steady stream of chuckles, a good supply of laughs, and one or two screamers. For instance, when the sheriff’s daughter [Ed: a pre-superstar Scarlett Johansson] has to fight off her boyfriend’s Russian hands and Roman fingers with a taser, leaving him writhing on the ground and clutching his balls in agony, he shouts at her: “Don’t you think you overreacted!? All I did was cop a feel!” Precisely what I was thinking, while guffawing.

The spiders themselves are very well done, with the animators posing them just short of cartoonish. They make lots of squeaky non-spidery noises, pull double-takes when startled, and generally have a greater acting range than David Arquette, who it should be noted is not computer animated.

So like I said: my $6 was very well spent. It might even be said that this was the least disappointed I’ve been at a movie so far this year, considering that I knew exactly what I was getting into when I stepped into the theater. And not only that, I got a grand collection of coming attractions: for Star Trek: Nemesis, Dreamcatcher, Shanghai Knights, and The Two Towers. Unfortunately, I also was subjected to the trailer for Swimfan for at least the 3rd time. Let me save you all some time and trouble: it’s Fatal Attraction with teenagers.

Anyway: Eight Legged Freaks: good dumb fun. 6/10.

And now a break from our regular programming

This is just too funny not to post and share.

I suppose the lesson here is either to never give your card to unbalanced creeps; or to not accept a business card from someone likely to post your raving, insane phone message on the intarwebs. Because it could make you look like a nut.

We now return you to your regular programming...

Monday, June 23, 2008

What's in a place, for that matter?

It's just just the names of my characters I try to make sound elegant and maybe even musical; it's also the names of the places I create. So far that's only been in the MO, which is set in your typical magical land. The name of the place itself is Caernavon, which is almost (because I initially remembered it wrong) the name of a castle in Gwynedd in Wales called Caernarfon. The names of the provinces within this land all came easily to me, with out any effort I can remember:
"There are twelve Houses -- thirteen, if you include the capital Province of Caernavon city, which many of the nobility do not: Elorian; Voriandrin, which is King Jehain’s House; Dunvaelen; Valerra; Daraganthin; Varlindeyn; Maralandra; Derrivale; Perilandra; Everlayne; Lancashire; and Hessingdon. Perilandra is the largest Province; Varlindeyn the most populous. Elorian is very wealthy thanks to Karadon’s exclusive right to mill the red oak that grows in the Dhaum Woods. Everlayne is the smallest Province, and is between Varlindeyn and Daraganthin -- not an enviable position, believe me."
That's the land being described to Amy as she sets out on her quest, and all of those names sound to me exactly like places should, not people. Am I just used to it after all these years, or did I just happen on names that sound inherently place-like?

What's in a name?

The loads of other writers I've spoken to -- and we're talking at least one or two individuals here, all of them making as much money from this as I do -- have all told me that coming up with names for their characters is one of the hardest things they do. I found this very interesting, because for me it's the complete opposite: naming my characters is one of the easiest things I can to. Hell if I know why.

A fictional character's name doesn't really mean anything, and I think the ones that do tend to sound a little silly more often than not. I'm thinking of the cliched sort of "Storm Ironhew" names you see in poorly planned D&D campaigns, but it applies as well to people like Luke Skywalker. It's a little pretentious, if you think about it, expecting him to live up to his name like that. Why couldn't Lucas just have called him Fred or something?

Stephen Donaldson did kind of the same thing when he named Thomas Covenant and Linden Avery: they're not even real names. They're symbols; metaphors; analogues. It's probably why both of them have such prickly sticks up their asses the whole time. Who could relax and have fun if they were named after a binding promise, or a tree with leaves shaped like hearts? Oh, the pressure!

I don't do that; I can't be that mean to my characters. I don't name them so it will mean something; I give them names that sound nice. Really, that's all there is to it. My characters' names all sound pretty to me. Often there will be several syllables, repeating in a pattern like a music beat. And no, I don't plan it like that; it just ends up that way.

The heroine of the MO is named Amelia Christine Richardson; Amy for short. I don't recall spending a lot of brain power coming up with that one (as if I would remember; she's had that name since I was in high school); it just sort of happened that way. There's no subtext there; her middle name isn't meant to imply anything divine or sacrificial or even good. It just sounded nice when I thought it up.

Other characters in the MO are named: Prith, Serith, Ailith, Esmera, Brianna, Naranda, Selandra, Taraminya, Alyssa -- all women, and it never really occurred to me that the vowell ending most of the names makes them sound a little weird when recited all in a row like that. I'll have to make sure to never write a scene involving a roll call.

The men are named Willem, Jannem, Jehain, Hostin, Galadaine, Lahorrel, Merrick. Clearly my female names all have soft sounds to them, while the men's names are harder and rougher. Also, none of them have surnames, which is a remnant of my Donaldson-worshipping past. None of the characters in his Land have surnames, so neither did mine, dammit.

The protagonist of the WVS is named Amanda Green. It turned out she was Jewish, and originally her surname was Geller, but that didn't work. Geller was the last name of Ross and Monica from Friends, and Sarah Michelle Gellar was in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and just: no. Even by accident, I didn't want to link my story with that one. So Green she became.

The heroine of the NT is Samantha Eileen Foster, though I haven't actually mentioned her middle name yet by the point where I've written to. Her new boyfriend is Alex Bennett, and it was about this time I noticed they were all sounding a little whitebread suburbia. Which: fine, becuase that's what they are and where they live, but I didn't want to do that the whole book. So a new girl she becomes friends with is named Melinda, which I think it just a beautiful name, unusual and maybe a little old fashioned, and which I pinched from one of the best books I've read in the past decade: Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. Another friend, who was killed in a drunk driving crash before the start of the book, is named Harriet, another unusual name that seemed to work.

Nearly all of my protagonists are women, which will get a post of its own one of these days.