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.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Evil, unrelated thought of the day

My job is an account administrator, meaning my group creates and manages user accounts, email accounts, VPN accounts, etc. We also call users when our help desk has triaged tickets to us. When we call someone, they're as wary as anyone would be to have a stranger call them at work, until we tell them we're calling about their issue with their password, or whatever the ticket was for. At that point they're all smiles, and they'll tell us pretty much anything we want to know.

This will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with security procedures, but were we so inclined it would be childishly simple for us to defraud these people with a little social engineering. They would tell us their passwords, their social security numbers, pretty much anything we needed to know if we were evil.

It's because people are natually inclined to not believe "the other" means them any harm, and because they're also inclined to believe the false authority of the voice on the phone. That's a sood sign for our future as a race, but a sort of bad sign for our credit cards in the meantime. At least until every VISA comes equipped with a tiny biometric device.

So it's a good thing -- for you -- that we're not evil.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Perhaps, I wondered just now, I have trouble writing sad scenes because I'm never sad? Hmm.

Humor -- often snarky, sarcastic humor -- comes easy to me, for the simple reason that that's the sort of person I am. But I rarely get sad. (Not to mean I don't cry; show my the right movie, for example, and I'm a river)

Possibly I'm enjoying too wonderful a life to be able to create the sort of scenes that would complete me as a writer. I may just have to live with that.

This makes me sad

I have trouble writing scenes of sadness. At least, I think I do. I mean, nobody has ever come up to me and said, "Wow, that funeral scene left me laughing out loud!" or anything like that. But then, no one's ever come up to me in tears either.

I wonder if the problem is that I'm just not likely to be emotionally affected by something sorrowful I've written? Because it's too familiar? Maybe, but I don't have any problems chuckling at funny bits I'm re-reading for the nth time.

Funny, I can do. Drama; elegant, flowy narration or dialogue. Exciting scenes, most of the time. Sex scenes, the few times it's been needed. Probably my expectation of my own reactions are too high for a good sad scene.

And possibly I know Superwife would think I'm a nut if she saw me blubbering at the keyboard.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Shorter and sweeter

Following up on that, my narrative tends to run on too, at least in the first draft. I often suffer from "why use one word where five will do instead" disease, and I think it's because my winging it writing style tends to result in a first draft that's a little crude. And by that I mean I often end up using the same descriptive words more than once in too short a span, or recycling a narrative theme or bit of dialogue too quickly.

But the rewrite process doesn't just begin after "The End" is finally written; that's just the official start. In reality the rewriting begins pretty much the moment after I've written the first thing. I re-read my stuff over and over again -- sometimes because it's really good and I enjoy it, sometimes because I can't quite figure out how to fix it.

All that re-reading does the trick though: those repeated themes or words are edited out; descriptive phrases are shortened; better choices of words are sought and found; adverbs are occasionally excised (though I'm not the sort who believes that use of "-ly" adverbs is the sign of a lazy writer, there usually are better ways to modify a verb).

And the result is an always better, and usually shorter, draft of the original. That particular section may not end up shorter -- sometimes I think of something else to add to the narrative, which will itself eventually be streamlined and improved -- but I think it becomes an easier, quicker read. Because it's better.

Almost aimless

I rarely have a map as such when I write. I have a good grasp of what's going to happen -- always the beginning and the end, and then any number of scenes between them -- and so what I do is usually just sit down and wing it, for want of a better term. Ideas happen while I'm writing, and if they're good I go with them, and if they're not so good I hopefully ignore them. I can think of a few times when I've had to delete handfuls of paragraphs or even pages, but fortunately that doesn't happen very often.

I can only think of one time where I actually made the effort to write an entire outline. It was for a long-ago draft of the MO, and if I searched hard enough through a few boxes in my mother's attic, I'd probably find it still there. I recall actually sticking to the outline more or less faithfully, though obviously I must have improvised here and there, because an outline can't cover everything.

No, I'm wrong -- I just remembered two other occasions where I plotted a complete outline. It was for 2 books that were planned to be non-sequel companions to each other, and which never went anywhere except for some incomplete scenes and I think the beginning of one of the books. I definitely still have those outlines on my computer; I have fantasies about returning to them one of these days.

Just last night I finished the 7th chapter of the NT, and I actually don't think I had any idea what was going to go into it when I began. My protagonist, Samantha, a high school student, likes the new boy who moved in across the street, and I had had this vague sort of notion about what the scene was going to look like where he finally asked her on a date. But I wasn't sure how it would happen, or where it would take place, or at what point in the book it would occur. But like the story was alive and evolving as I wrote it, it turned out that Chapter 7 was the place where it happened.

Okay, technically it happened right at the beginning of Chapter 8, but whatever.

I've never spoken to other writers, so I have no idea how the writing process goes for anyone else. I suppose there are writers who map everything out to the tiniest detail, and I'm sure there are others who basically improvise from start to finish. I'm obviously closer to that last example, but not all the way there.

I'll begin with a basic notion for a story, think it through for a few weeks, imagining several different scenes and bits of dialogue, probably the ending though not necessarily the beginning. I'll begin writing with this idea in my head, starting at the start of the book. If I get stuck, or if I have a strong idea for another part of the story, I'll write out the scene the way I think it will happen. Hopefully when I get to that point I'll be able to just paste it in, but of course it rarely happens that way. I am able to paste those scenes into the narrative, but typically they'll require some revision or edits first.

Rinse, repeat. Eventually I'll get to the "the end" part, which is pretty cool. I've been able to do that three times now: once each for the 2 books in the MO, and again for the WVS. Of course, getting to the end doesn't actually mean I'm finished, as I mentioned once before. Anything but, in fact.

Nevertheless, it's still a very exciting moment. It's the fulfillment of an anticipation, an eagery awaited moment realized.

To be closely followed by the first round of re-writes.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Dialogue analogue

I've always enjoyed writing dialogue far more than writing the narrative. I've never really thought about why, so what the hell. Let's give it a shot.

I think it's probably because it allows be to write in the most naturalistic way. I like to have my characters speak exactly the way real people speak, complete with ums and pauses right there on the page. I could do that with the narrative too -- and have, on occasion -- but it doesn't really fit. The narrative is about describing what's happening to the reader, and except for certain stylistic choices clarity is usually the best way to go. But the dialogue is about the characters speaking directly to the reader, so all bets are off: if the character is profane, then by all means include swears. If the character has trouble making herself clear, then put in every "but" and "um" that you'd hear if you were really talking to her.

I wrote this the other day, a scene with three friends chatting from the NT:
"What are you reading?" Alex asked Melinda. He'd told Sam the ten or so cases of books he'd brought up with him were only the ones his parents had allowed him to take. Another dozen cases easy had been donated to his local library.

"Tolkien," she said, bringing a smile of joy to Alex's face and making Sam roll her eyes in despair.

"Please tell me you don't watch his dorky TV shows too," she begged the girl.

"Oh yeah? Like what? My dad just got me the first season of Lost in Space for my birthday."

"Wow, old school," he said, impressed.

"Please kill me now," Sam implored the heavens.

"Pardon her," Alex said. "Sam is wondering if you might also watch some of her shows, like Jailbait Daughter Swap or Pee in a Bucket for Cash or whatever's on Fox tonight."

Melinda was cracking up, and Sam was hard put to maintain a straight face herself. "Oh my God, I cannot believe the frikkin slander I'm hearing. And you're such a loser, because everyone knows Pee in a Bucket is on tomorrow night."
See, I think that's pretty funny stuff, if I do say so. But more to the point, I think it's actually how a group of friends would actually be talking to one another: they'd be making jokes, and casually cracking wise.

It's certainly what I'd be doing.

Of course, dangers lie therein. My characters tend to run off at the mouth, and if I don't shut them up they're liable to just babble on for page after page, talking about whatever it is I happen to find interesting while I'm writing it. And though I suppose that could be interesting for the reader, it has the effect of leading the reader away from the plot. And while writing dialogue that advances the plot isn't particularly difficult, there have been times where seeing the difference was the problem.

And that's a problem with writing dialogue with such a naturalistic style: irrelevant babbling that wanders off topic. I've sure I've deleted more dialogue than I've written over the years, and while the stuff that ends up on the cutting room floor usually does so for a good reason, it's still sometimes a bummer having to remember that I'm theoretically writing this for someone else, and not my own private amusement.

Kind of like this blog.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

What was old is new

I noticed something pretty cool today in what I'm currently reading. Re-reading, actually: The Videssos Cycle by Harry Turtledove. Though I've turned on HT recently for some excellent reasons, I do love this 20-ish year old series. I think I've already read it 3 times, and I needed something quick and good to read the other morning, so what the hell.

But the last time I did read it was 15 years ago, and except for bits here and there, I remembered next to none of it...except for the names of pretty much all the characters, and the names of the places they visit in this magical world they're in.

The effect was like reading a brand new book, but with instances of "Hey, I know him!" thrown into the mix. It's really interesting, and it's getting me more excited about re-reading a series whose outcome I already know. Nifty.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Under the Influence, Part I

My influences, you ask? Who were they? Why, what a fascinating question!

My literary influences are nothing special by, er, literary standards. No Keats, no Pope or Shakespeare. Well, I mean-- Will influenced everyone, didn't he? He helped create modern English, so even if you don't write like he did, in a way you're writing what he did.

My third attempt at writing for real -- Firestarter 2 was the first, something quite pretentious and self-indulgent was the second -- was a long-ago first draft of the MO. And the writer I was most enamored with at the time was Stephen R. Donaldson, author of the Thomas Covenant series.

(I promise not to begin this paragraph with "my.") I'm not sure why that was so, other than I was huge fan of the series at the time. Something in the way he wrote -- I can only describe his narrative as urgent and insistent, which I'm sure makes no sense -- got to me, and my first draft of the MO was created using much the same template. Seriousness abounds everywhere; metaphorical exclamation points litter the landscape; and the humor that wasn't in short supply should have been.

I liked it at the time. I also liked SRD at the time. Neither infatuation lasted very long. (Though I do think SRD's Mordant's Need series is actually better than the TC novels; certainly better than the newest series, which is a little dreary.) From there my next influence was the aforementioned Stephen King, and it was because of his amazing ability to weave (often hysterical) humor into the most dreadful situations.

That made complete sense to me: life is often funny, even when bad things are happening. Though initially I took it too far, and actually stole a few of his literary devices. He doesn't do it so much any more, but his earlier books were peppered with what I would call instances of creative sub-narrative, which comes out
(do you like it?)
looking a little like that.

Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. A little blatant in the middle of a narrative, perhaps. So over time my personal homage evolved into something a little more subtle, like this example from early in the MO, where my heroine is recalling a happier time with her mother, while just beneath her thoughts another memory bubbles, not so happy:
...she remembered the first time she’d gone swimming after her mother left. The dog had scared her out of the pond: an old, slat-sided mongrel, trembling with hunger. She’d seen it there on the bank and it had just scared her, no reason. She’d screamed and run out of the water naked, but her mama wasn’t there to laugh at her this time. Her papa came up looking angry and dangerous and she said I’m sorry papa that ol dog just scairt me and her father said you little dirtyslut and slapped her so hard she went down on her back in the dirt going around naked as a jaybird and kicked her in the stomach before she could roll up and protect herself I won’t have people thinking I can’t raise you right and he grabbed her hair and pulled her close and she could smell the drink on his breath and he said are you gonna listen to me now Amelia honey?
And I hadn't intended it at the time, but that semi-stream-of-consciousness/sans punctuation thing just kind of happened on its own. I think it displays urgency, without needing to describe it. I like it. A lot.

And around the same time I began experimenting with a more naturalistic and casual style of narrative writing, when the situation called for it. My dialogue had always been like that, with all the ums and buts and pauses that dot the conversations of real people; while the narrative around them was as smooth and elegant as I could make it.

For example: the POV character in this example is a 12 year old girl, and while there would have been nothing wrong with continuing the narrative style I had been employing all along, I instead tried writing it the way a younger person may have written it. I like the way it came out:
Her mother was sitting at the table, reading some sort of gothic that was being passed around from tent to tent. Alyssa had no idea what it was about, but the one time she’d picked it up her mother snatched it right away and told her she was too young to be reading books like that. So obviously the book was full of good stuff, and she was going to have to be a little sneakier next time.

Her mother was huge.

Alyssa thought about the night when her mother had told her about how babies were made. It had been a month after the last time her father was home, and her mother had been very anxious for her to know. She’d told her daughter she was going to have another brother or sister in a while, and she thought Alyssa was old enough to know how it was done. They’d waited for a private time at the washrooms, and then they took a bath together. They both sat on the edge of the basin, and her mother had pointed and told her what that was and what that was for and what that did; and Alyssa, who’d been starting to get ideas of her own, was amazed. So her mom and dad had done that when he was home, and now her mom was going to have another baby. Wow. After she got to know Carin she thought about telling him, but she though that might not be a good idea. Besides, he probably already knew.
It seems to work; I like that too. A lot.

Now what?

So at least twice people have told me the WVS is good to go -- they think I could get it published now. Superwife and another friend -- and maybe a third; I can't remember -- have both enjoyed it and said I should send it to a publisher. And don't get me wrong: comments like that are really nice to hear but--

Well, they're wrong. It's not ready.

Which brings up a question that I suppose lots of actual authors are confronted with, which is: at which point do you have to just stop fixing the damn thing, and let it go? Eventually -- and I would hope it's long before the point where your debating between commas and semicolons -- it actually is finished, whether you like it or not. And I doubt that any author is ever 100% satisfied with a manuscript -- just satisfied enough that further tweaking just becomes pointless procrastination.

I don't think I'm at that point, despite the pleasant opinions of others. Like I said earlier, I did crank the thing out in half a year; and for all intents and purposes it's still a first draft. I won't have to re-write the whole damn thing, but there are some chunks that need to be re-done.

Such is not the case with the MO. About 9 years ago, at a job where there was nothing much to do, I simultaneously got a better idea and finally decided to re-write some bits. The bits turned into lots, and from there the lots turned into most of it. I eventually, over not that many months (yes, there was very little to do at that job), I probably re-wrote about 90% of the manuscript.

Unfortunately, it's the first of two books, the second of which was similarly almost finished, and similarly unsatisfactory. The changes I made to the first book, not just to the plot but to the protagonists themselves, will require a re-write of the second book as well. I began that process at some point, heck if I can remember when, and then petered to a halt, maybe daunted by the task in front of me. (It may also have been around that time when the WVS began worming its way into my brain.)

So see, I have not one, but two manuscripts sorely in need of work -- both of which have been conveniently supplanted by the NT.

Isn't it nice the way that works? I'll never actually have to complete anything, because I'll always be busy with something else. Or be suffering from writer's ennui.

God help me if I ever do finish something...and like it.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Oh by the way

At least one of the simple cures for writer's block is something called "freewriting," where one, more or less, just impulsively writes what comes to mind. Some would call that stream of consciousness. Others might describe it as writing in one's blog.

Substance over style

The best way to write something -- stop me if you've heard this one before -- is to sit down and write something. It's really pretty simple.

Many times in my life I've gone through long periods of-- Well, I wouldn't really call it writer's block, which is a condition wherein one finds one has lost (hopefully temporarily) the ability to write. What I had was more like "writer's ennui" or something like that, which shall be defined as "the temporary loss of giving a damn."

One such period I remember, for example, lasted several years. I just didn't feel like writing. I was discouraged; I was busy; I didn't think I'd be able to come up with anything good. Etc. And, as always, utter crap.

You sit down at your computer or your typewriter or your pad of paper, and you write something. That's it. Make yourself write something, if that's what it takes. Force yourself do do something you simply haven't felt like doing lately. It will work. It always works.

Yes, what you write could stink. It happens. Sometimes it happens a lot. But writing something suboptimally excellent is still better than writing nothing, because the bad thing, for all you know, could contain the seeds of a good thing. It can be fixed. It can be polished. There's not much you can do with nothing. With something, if nothing else, you have a head start.

Until recently I had 2 things chugging away in the background: the magnum opus, and the Wee Vampire Story. The MO is the thing I've been working on, in one form or another, since I was in high school. (No, not Firestarter 2.) It's gone through many revisions, and many extended periods of dormancy -- right now, for instance.

The WVS is relatively recent (some day I'll have to relate how I dislike vampire stories, and how I ended up writing one anyway), and actually was finished to a degree within about six months. After that, when it came time to fix things, is when the ennui began.

That was probably, wow, five years ago? Something like that. Five years of little tweaks, and fixing words and phrases, and re-reading it once in a while to remind myself that, hey, lots of this really need a re-write. (Because that's often what happens when you write a whole book in six months.)

But then the New Thing came along, inspired when I finished a new book by one of my own favorite authors (that list will be its own post one day). Inspired again -- nay, excited! -- I pushed out 6 really good chapters in about a month and a half. Wow, yay me! But then Superwife and I went on vacation, and after that two more months went by. It didn't help that, at the point where I'd halted before we left for Arizona, I had written myself into a minor stylistic corner: the narration had taken a zig, as is its wont, and I had no idea how to zag it back on track. It took those two months for me to figure out how to continue; but mostly it took me that long to work up the kick in the pants I needed to do something as simple as sitting in front of my computer and just doing it.

Funny how that works sometimes.

No: funny how it works every time.

Why am I doing this again?

So. Hello, nobody. Probably. I suppose until and unless someone reads this, what I'm doing here is more of a journal than a blog, but whatever. That's probably no different than about 95% of all the other blogs out there, so why not join the party? I'm sure in no time at all I'll be getting so many hits I'll be able to start running ads for the revenue, but until then...

My name is Mark, and my hobby is writing. It's not even close to being my avocation; that's computer IT. I find writing to be sometimes relaxing, sometimes exciting, sometimes aggravating; always worthwhile. It's a good thing to get things out of your head and onto the page. (Hard drive. Whatever.) It doesn't really matter what it is that's being transferred from head to page -- fiction, wants and loves, streams of consciousness, this -- but it's a good exercise to do it. It's good brain exercise. And like all exercise, the more you do it the better you get at it. My particular form of exercise is fiction.

I've been writing since I was 14 years old. It began when -- I could not possibly say why -- I started banging out the text to Stephen King's Firestarter on someone's typewriter. My dad's, I think. It's possible I was bored that afternoon. Anyway it didn't take long for that to get old, and it wasn't much longer after that when I began to wonder what happened to the characters after the book was finished. So I decided to find out for myself by continuing the story.

Now at this point Mr. King is either laughing his ass off, or calling a lawyer. Whoa there, relax! It didn't go anywhere. I churned out about two dozen handwritten pages before it died a well-earned death, but the damage was done: I was hooked.

I'll probably get into the history of by efforts at some point, but for now that was just an introduction to why I started writing.

Around the same time I began to read adult books. (I mean, books for grownups, not erotica.) Actually, Firestarter might have been the first one I read. It was certainly one of the first. And so other than talking about writing, I'll also be talking about reading, what I'm reading, what it means to me, and how it affects what I wright -- because it does; a lot.

So, stay tuned. Maybe someone will read this one day, and then we'll have something here. You know: an actual blog.