December 29, 2005

Now THAT'S a present

A few days before Christmas, I received a wonderful surprise -- a contract for my short story "The Pond". The anthology Room 636 bought it. I'd like to pass on more information, but that's about all I know at the moment. I'll post an update as more details on the anthology are passed on to me.

But in the meantime, Yayyyyyyyy! :)

December 17, 2005

Seven Sevens

There's a meme going around the Blogosphere called Seven Sevens. I thought it would be a cute little list to post here, but as it turns out, it was hard as hell to construct. In any case, here are my picks:

Seven Things to Do Before I Die:
1) Write full-time;
2) Publish a novel;
3) Write & Direct a screenplay (preferably the same one);
4) Write a thriller based in Canada that's actually thrilling;
5) Learn to play guitar/piano/bongos;
6) Finally lose "the weight";
7) Go into Outerspace (this may have more to do with becoming weightless than being an adventurer -- see #6).

Seven Things I Cannot Do:
1) Sing;
2) Fight;
3) Read all of the books I buy;
4) Go to bed early (no matter when I have to get up);
5) Be on time (#4 and #5 seem to be strangely connected);
6) Be a golf pro (even if I do buy new clubs and try really really hard);
7) Only eat part of a Ben & Jerry's pint.

Seven Things that Attract Me To My Wife (or significant other):
1) Her sense of humor and ability to be silly (silly is grossly underrated in today's world);
2) Her love for movies where things go boom (or come from space/out of the ground and then go boom);
3) Her ability to fight back (especially against me);
4) Her organizing/scheduling skills (of which, I have none);
5) Being the mother of the most incredible creation in Earth's history;
6) Her understanding of what's required to be married to a writer (especially when he's not writing);
7) Her love of books.

Seven Things I Say Most Often:
1) Whatever.
2) Dude.
3) Actually.
4) Watch what you're doing.
5) What did I just say?
6) Stop making your Mother crazy.
7) Right on.

Seven Books (or Series) I Love:
1) John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee series;
2) Ben Bova's Moonrise and Moonwar;
3) Robert R. McCammon's Stinger;
4) Martin Cruz Smith's Gorky Park;
5) Joseph R. Garber's Vertical Run;
6) Dan Brown's Deception Point;
7) Frederick Forsyth's The Day Of The Jackal.

Seven Movies I Would Watch Over and Over Again:
1) Die Hard;
2) Back To The Future;
3) Raiders of the Lost Ark;
4) Matrix (just the first one);
5) War Games;
6) Any Sean Connery James Bond flick;
7) Tremors.
This was the hardest list of all to limit to seven. I love movies and if allowed, this list would probably be 50 items long. I've tried to keep the list to not just the movies I love, but the ones that I actually do watch over and over.

November 15, 2005

So Much For That

Well, I was going like gangbusters. Then I started thinking about what I'd been filling those pages with. Urk. Aside from my prologue, I pretty much hated everything there. So, out it went. Even the prologue on closer look had huge holes in it. I sat down and rewrote it, taking two hours to end up adding just a couple hundred words. But when I was done, it was something I was actually proud to have written. I haven't had anything like that for a while.

I proceeded to take several days to retool my story; throwing out the plot, retrieving the plot, mutating the plot (you get the idea). I even tried the old index card approach (one scene per card, spread them out on a table and rearrange until you have a masterpiece). Ate up a couple days and way too many trees with that one. Finally, when nothing seemed to be working, I read something on Absolute Write which got me thinking. By some fluke or kismet in the ether, there was a discussion going on there about whether to "plan or wing it". There were a lot of good opinions and ideas in there, but the one that resonated the most with me was that even when people are "winging it", there's more going on than just stream-of-consciousness typing. Either you're aware of structure or you're not, was the point being made. Regardless of how you assembled your book.

This got me thinking.

On reflection, I realized I had never written anything that was planned out. I just sort of sat down and wrote. There was obviously all kinds of nifty things going on below the surface there, but I didn't bother my conscious mind with that blather...I just wrote my story. Whenever I've tried to block out a story before writing it (as I did with the novel attempt I just tossed) I always felt like I'd already written the story, so why bother with it? The excitement or growing of my characters, situations and themes was gone. I'd get bored and wander downstairs to see what was on the tube.

And again, this got me thinking.

What this meant was something I suppose I've always known: I have an innate understanding of structure. I'd have to for any of those early stories to have a beginning, middle and end when I had no idea what I was doing. But something happened a half dozen years ago that torpedoed my confidence in this fact. I'm still not sure what "it" was. A fairly astute friend of mine pointed out that this loss of confidence coincided almost exactly with the birth of my daughter. There may be something to that. It certainly is true that before you have children, you think you know everything; and afterwards, you realize you know absolutely nothing. My friend also pointed out that until you have children, you really have no idea what real fear is. I'd have to agree with her there. Despite having written mostly horror for years, I recently found myself uneasy about watching horror movies or reading horror stories. How that plays into the fatherhood thing, I haven't figured out yet. But I'm pretty sure it does.

Anyways, it would appear that what I need to do is learn to trust myself again. Get my confidence back. This isn't something you can do overnight or even with a single project. But at least now I know where I want to go.

So, using the basic structure of my original novel, and the prologue that survived my unprejudiced editor's blade, I layed out what I think is a better backstory and a few high points I want to hit. And that's all the conscious planning I'm going to do. Now I'm just going to sit down and write. I have no idea where this is going to take me. All I know is I'm going there. If you'd like, you can come along with me. Please ignore the screaming and the tears. That's just me.

Cheers.

November 8, 2005

Wrong Turn Ate My Wordcount

Day 8: Not a very good night. I actually wrote close to my target number of words, but I realized after 1,200 words that I'd taken a wrong turn. Wrote myself into a corner, as they say. I tried valiantly to retool my plot to accommodate the veer, but in the end I was trapped. So, reluctantly I archived Chapter 8 and started over. No doubts about it, that sucked. It also gave my confidence a pretty good whack, but I think I'm still okay. We'll have to see how tonight goes.

Someone on one of the writing boards was asking about dialog tags last night. They were worried about using "said" too much.

Said is one of those invisible words. You can use it for almost every dialog attribution and your reader won't notice it at all. (You will, of course, since you'll be looking for it.) If your conversation makes it obvious who is speaking, then by all means only use tags intermittently. Just be sure it's obvious. Nothing is more infuriating in a novel than to have to reread a section to see who was talking or what was meant. And NEVER write phonetic dialog. It's fine to use regional affectations (y'all, youse, I reckon, etc.), but if you write a bunch of dialog filled with apostrophes and colloquialisms which makes your reader, again, have to go over the line several times, your book is going to be airborne fast. Read some John D. MacDonald or Donald Westlake. These guys were/are geniuses with dialog.

Cheers!

November 7, 2005

Plugging Along

Day 7 and things are going well. I'm only about 200 words behind where I should be by this time, which for me is amazing. One thing I did learn is, I can't skip a day. I was tired on Friday, so I figured I'd just kick back and zone in front of the tube. Bad idea. With what I was behind before and nothing written on Friday, I had to kill myself on the weekend just to get where I am.

The story is really coming together nicely. I've allowed it to go where it wants, and I'm in a place I hadn't foreseen. Pretty cool place, too. And strangely, a character that I had tagged for an early death got really uncooperative about stepping in front of a bullet. But I think it's for the best. Who knows, maybe I'll tire of him tonight and send an out of control hotdog cart after him.

If things continue going well, I'll post an excerpt here, soon.

Cheers!

November 4, 2005

Uh Oh

Well, four days into Nano and I'm behind already. As a minimum, to make 50,000 in the 30 days November offers, you need to write 1,667 words per day. This will give you a bountiful 10 words extra to play with. (Actually, due to the quirks of various word counters, it's probably safer to assume you have to write about 52,000 words...which works out to 1,734 words per day...but lets not get crazy.)

I have been writing every day so far and I quite like most of it. But I'm about 800 words behind where I should be. Hopefully I can rectify that this weekend. I'm going to flesh out my characters a bit more and plot out the next 5 or 10 chapters I want to write. This should make the writing go faster. (I keep finding myself on Answers.com when I should be writing. And I do have a "high point" outline of what I want to do with the book, I just need to get a little more granular with my framework...I hope.)

I am a couple of hundred words ahead of some friends who are doing Nano with me, but they're closing fast and -- uh oh...footsteps. Oh no!

November 3, 2005

New Book Started

Just a quick post to say I'm still here, writing and I'll try and post more. This year's NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writer's Month) competition has started again. After a lot of promises through the year, I finally started a new novel yesterday with the working title: Deadly Sequence. To get things rolling, I'll be trying to get 50,000 words of it written by November 30th so I can "win" Nano. But my further goal is to finish the full first draft (which should come in well over 100,000 words) by the end of the year.

In any case, watch this space for more posts about my progress. The Nano bar meter on the right sidebar of this page will tell you instantly where I am. Once Nano's done (assuming I'm successful on that point) we'll think of some other way to track things here.

BTW, if you want more information on Nano, or you'd like to join in (it's not too late!), check out their site at http://www.nanowrimo.org. My username over there is MartyDaScribbler.

See ya!

June 18, 2005

The Business of Writing

What does writing fiction have to do with business? Everything! Unless, of course, you don't care about being published. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. But there's a difference between writing for pleasure and being so arrogant that you think your self-determined talent puts you in an imaginary bracket of writers that don't have to be concerned about the business side of things.

A lot of newbie writers take rejection personally. This is understandable, but usually after collecting a nice binder full of NO slips, they tend to either give up or develop the necessary thick skin required to continue. What's worse, is a writer that takes the publishing industry machinations personally. "Why should I have to make sure my manuscript doesn't have any typos? Why should I bother finding out the name of the agent/editor I'm sending my work to? Why should I follow the format EVERY OTHER PUBLISHED WRITER ON THE PLANET follows? My talent is so immense that shouldn't matter. How dare they!" Joe Newbie then ironically follows this with a diatribe on the arrogance of them. (Them being anyone who would dare try to apply any type of metric to Joe's work, instead of just sending him a fat check and a box of hardcover editions of his book.)

The silly part of this is that unlike a lot of other areas of writing, everything is laid out perfectly for the writer. Every publisher and agent provides guidelines describing exactly what is required to submit to them. There are reams of material on how to write book proposals, query letters, synopsis' and outlines. And despite spending months (sometimes years!) writing their masterpiece, some writers won't take five minutes to look for any of this. The old Comedy adage "it's all in the delivery" would be well taken by newbie writers. Heck, I've been telling my daughter since she was five that it's not enough to be smart, you have to show it.

Like it or not, writing is a business. While publishers, agents and editors may indeed love books and writers, the bottom line is they need to make money. Just like any other business. As a writer, you have to wear two hats: an artist's beret and a businessman's fedora. If you can't be bothered, then write your masterpieces and stick them in a drawer. It will make the wait time for the rest of us shorter.

June 17, 2005

A Novel Experiment

Just wanted to say I haven't forgotten about the novel experiment I mentioned a while back. I still intend on trying it, but it's going to be about a week or so to rewrite an old story, get it off to market, and then revise/polish the story I just finished before getting it off to market as well.

Once I've done that, we'll start the experiment. But, I have to say working on the story I wrote this week was quite enlightening. It helped to remind me how I write. Outlines seem to stifle me. Don't get me wrong, writing without one is scary as hell. But it's a cool scary.

First Draft Done

Well, after a couple of false starts I finally found my way into the short story that wanted out. Just finished the first draft. It came in at 6,137 words. No title yet. Which is strange for me, since I usually have the title first.

I think it came out pretty well. There was more than a few times my muse tried to lead me down cliche lane, but I think I managed to wrestle it back each time. Needs polishing, of course. But first, I need some distance. So into the drawer it goes for a week or two.

I've got an older story I want to rewrite for the same market I just wrote this for, so I'll start on that tomorrow. Now that the cogs are catching again I don't want to give it a chance to bog down when I'm not looking.

June 13, 2005

Internal Editor Wanted -- to shutup!

One of the hardest things for me -- and for a lot of other writers -- is turning off the internal editor. Maybe part of it is that we're afraid if we did finally succeed in shutting them up, they wouldn't be there for subsequent drafts when we really need them. In any case, a lot of stories and novels never happen because of second guessing, rewriting and endless reworking that keeps us messing around with page two or chapter one or that opening sentence that "just isn't right". While I can't tell you I've found the secret on/off button (I wish!), I have found something that helps.

First, a disclaimer: This trick involves Microsoft Word. Please do not take this as an enthusiastic endorsement of Word. Most of the time I use it partly because I use it in my day job, and partly because if I wander off to find something else to use, I'll end up spending weeks doing tests, comparisons, etc. The fact is Word is always sitting there on my machine, if you stay away from the bells and whistles it doesn't suck too badly, and almost every editor that takes electronic submissions asks for an attached file in Word format. So, we'll have that argument later, but if you can't stand the idea of Word, don't read on. On the otherhand, this "trick" can be extrapolated to any other package with very little thought.

If you're like me, you print out what you've written after the day's writing is done. This can be where the internal editor comes to life and sends you into rewrite hell. Typical manuscript format leaves lots of room for notes, tweaks and scratchouts (as it should). What I've found is if for the initial writing you use a proportional font with single line spacing, you won't stop the internal editor dead in its tracks, but you can throw some nails in front of its tires and slow it down. There's no space to do more than maybe a little spellcheck. (That's the part of the trick that can be extrapolated almost anywhere.)

One of the problems with this is that pages are massive and you can feel like you're not getting as much done. But if you reduce your page size to booklet form, not only will you feel like you're getting more done, but your printout will be easier on the eyes and each session will resemble a little chapbook. Now printer software has been able to do this for a while by shrinking down your full-sized pages and jamming them into half the size your layout intended, but I find this less than elegant. Since Word 2002, there's been a better solution at your fingertips. Here's what to do:



  1. Open a new, blank Word document.

  2. Choose File > Page Setup.

  3. On the Margins tab, select Book Fold from the Multiple Pages drop-down.

  4. Change your Top, Bottom, Inside and Outside margins to .5 inches.

  5. Set your Gutter to .25 inches.




  6. Click OK and you're now not only working in booklet form, but you're actually typing into a page the size of one booklet page! (Make sure your using Print Layout view, of course.)


Now just choose a good looking proportional font, and you're off. (I use 12pt Times New Roman because it resembles the font used in traditional paperbacks and it's freely available almost everywhere, but feel free to play around with it. Don't forget if the page or font seems too small, you can adjust your view zoom to help.)

For printing, you'll ideally want to duplex. If your printing doesn't provide automatic duplexing, most printers come with instructions on how to manually duplex. Check your manual.

To simplify things in the future, save the document as a template. For submissions, just copy the text out of your finished document and paste it into your normal manuscript template.

Good luck!

June 8, 2005

Bad Muse! Bad!

And just when you've tired of waiting for your muse to get its shit together and you've decided to make him do something (jesus, anything!), he jumps up and does something on his own. Of course, not what you were going to make him do, but words are words.

Wrote 500 words on a new short story last night. We'll see where it goes.

June 6, 2005

Up to the lab to see what's on the slab

I think it's time for a little experimenting.

I've been reading a lot lately (and discussing online) about the approach to getting a novel out of a writer's head and down on paper. The approach, mind you, not the development of the idea in the first place. (Some writers call the latter step composting, but I don't like the concept that my ideas are rotting, so I think I'm going to call it stewing or simmering.)

Now, there's a LOT of different views on what's best. Some like to outline laboriously before ever putting a single word under the Chapter One heading, whereas others prefer to strap in, grip the keyboard and see where the sucker takes them. I don't think any one approach is "right". There's an old saying that what works, works because it works. But the reason I'm looking into this now is that ever since writing my first novel, I've been actively filling a box (and hard drive) with partials. Even on my first novel, things were...um...uneven.

For the first one, I just started writing with no idea where I was going. This actually went pretty well for a while. Then, at about the 3/4 point, I stalled. It sat like that for over 6 months. Finally, at the urging of some good writer friends, I went at it again. I went back and outlined what I'd done, and then continued the outline to the end. Then I sat down and did my best to follow the outline. It got done, but I'd much prefer a less time-consuming and soul-wracking approach.

In a previous post, I spoke about The Snowflake Method of writing a novel. This is one of the many systems out there which provide steps to follow from idea to finished novel. In theory, all it does is break the task of writing a novel up into digestible chunks. But, there is a map to follow.

So, the experiment I'm launching myself on is this: I'm going to start writing two novels pretty much at the same time. One, I'm going to outline a little, do a little character sketching, figure out a few high points (all of this is actually done already) and then I'm just going to start writing.

For the other, I'm going to try and stick religiously to The Snowflake Method. We'll see how it goes. If nothing else, I think this will show me the way I function best. Worse case, I'll have some more partials for THE BOX. Best case, I'll have two novels written by the end of the summer and some insight into how my muse works. (Most likely I'm going to end up with one novel and a slightly heavier box, but what the hell.)

I'll keep you posted.

May 29, 2005

Already wishing it was Fall

What the heck happened to tv this year? It was good. I mean REAL good. This has to be one of the first years in I don't know how long when I've actually had too much to watch (thank you, whoever invented the DVR) and not enough time to watch it. I've always had a roster of a few shows I liked to catch when I could, but nothing like this. And almost all of the shows that claimed such high ratings and critical acclaim this year (Lost, 24, House, etc.) owe their success to the same thing -- damn fine writing.

I actually started thinking about this about halfway through the season, wondering what the deal was. The conclusion I came to was that almost all the shows, aside from being tightly written, had an underlying mythology. A sort of "night time soap" feel to them, but without getting melodramatic about it. They also raised the stakes. No fewer than 5 shows knocked off regular cast members. And popular, well-liked cast members, at that. I think this speaks well of how serious television producers/writers are taking their projects right now. Risks and highly dramatic actions are becoming the norm. Finally!

Of course, what's a good season if it ends like a wet firecracker? I was really concerned we were all headed for a couple of weeks of groaning and remote-tossing, but I have to say I was pleasantly proved wrong. Almost every show I spent time with this year ended on a note that made me wish it was September next week. No mean feat! (The notable exception was, of course, ENTERPRISE. But I'm still too mad to even try talking about that yet.)

In the coming weeks, I'm going try assembling a few lists associated with the fine television I've been privy to this year. Things like "the 10 best characters now on tv" or "the top five lines of dialogue" or "the top 3 easy-outs that were never taken". You get the idea. In the meantime, feel free to tell me yours!

May 28, 2005

How to write a novel

I came across what seems to be a pretty cool "How to" site today. The Snowflake Method is another approach to bashing out those tomes we all want to be known for. While the analogy to a snowflake is new, the underlying ideas really aren't. For instance (off the top of my head) I can think of two other sites which talk about the same thing in pretty similar terms. Holly Lisle's website has a similar approach as well as a ton of how to articles on the writing life. Another site, very similar to the snowflake, uses something called the Jungian Novel Writing approach. The Jungian approach, and even Holly's site to a certain degree, are much more long-winded about giving you the information available from the Snowflake Method's site. Based on that alone, I'd recommend you check it out.

If you're too tired to click any links, let me sum up what these sites talk about. There's no secret formula for writing a novel. Oh, you'll have lots of people try and sell you on a formula for novels, but that has nothing to do with the actual work of getting the sucker on paper. Those snake oil salespeople are talking about the structure you should use: "put hero A through these paces and then put Heroine B through these paces and make sure a baby is born at the end". Even if that did work, I would surmise that the writing would get pretty stale and damn boring after a while. What the sites I mention above are talking about is basically how to chop up the work of writing a novel into itty bitty, digestible pieces and then approaching each piece on its own. They put it into different contexts (i.e. snowflake, Jungian, etc.) but in the end, it's all the same in my eyes. Of course, that's never stopped me from fooling myself into thinking I've stumbled across the next sliced white bread and applying the principles to something I'm working on. After all, organizing things isn't really writing, but it can sure seem like it with enough beer and lack of sleep.

A colleague recently said that what these kinds of approaches are best for are stalled novels. You know, when you find yourself on page 300 and you still have no idea what your book is about. Getting your ducks in a row, no matter how you do it, seems a pretty logical way of figuring out what you're doing and whether or not you want to stop it or continue on. Whatever your reasons or current state, if you try these approaches I wish you the best of luck.

And if by some whim of fate, they actually help you, drop me a line and let me know. If I'm still on page 350 and on my way to the store to buy more index cards, I'll try to curse softly so I won't interrupt the signing of your movie deal.

May 25, 2005

Writer on the move? Don't forget this.

I moved about three years ago and thought I'd taken care of all the little details. You know, the relatives, the bill collectors, junk mail producers...all the important stuff you want to reach you in your new digs. The one thing I didn't do, or even think of, was to let the publishers who had bought some of my stories over the years know where I was going. Who would? At that time, it had been a couple years since I'd sold anything, so you can't really blame me for not thinking of it.

Well, over the past few weeks I re-did my website (ain't it purty?) and in the process of doing up a new Publications page, I decided to nose around the online bookstores and such. Maybe I'd find a nice picture of the books I could use on my site, or maybe they had a nice write-up from the publisher I could use, putting off my carpal tunnel meltdown by a day or two. So, I hit the usual spots: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc. And I couldn't believe what I found!

Most of the publications my stuff were in not only had new editions out (which means new royalty checks that were going to my old address), but one of them actually had an audio cassette version! Somebody out there had read my story and people were listening to it. The mind boggles, I tell ya. Just boggles. There was also a new UK edition of one of the books with a supercool new cover. Kicks the US versions ass by a mile...er...kilometer.

Anyways, so I've gotten the publishers current address from one of my co-authors in a couple of the books and I'm in the process of straightening this all out. The part I try NOT to think about is how many anthology invites and such I missed out on. Let's not go there.

So the moral, I guess, is if you're a writer and you've ever had anything published, NEVER EVER MOVE! Or, if you want to be all rational and stuff, include your past publishers in your change of address card deluge. I know I will from now on!