December 2, 2007

Do you Nano?

Every year during November, the impossible happens. Thousands of writers, both professional and avocational, join in something called the National Novel Writing Month -- NaNoWriMo or Nano, for short. During this scant 30 days, everyone has the same goal -- write a novel. There's no delusion that these will be bestsellers (at least not during November) and the metric applied to this endeavour is a mere 50,000 words. There's no monetary reward being chased. "Winning" Nano simply means you get to download a certificate that you can print. Security is lax and it's rumored that more than a small percentage of "winners" upload "fake" novels to achieve their prizes. But no one seems to really mind.

There's a website where participants can register, host a profile (complete with a running wordcount and excerpts of their masterpieces) and participate in a forum where questions like "How do you kill someone with taffy?" or "If I jump out of a speeding car, how much skin would I really lose?" are asked in volume with little fear of the FBI or Homeland Security showing up at your door. It's really a heddy atmosphere to be in. After months of living the writer's life of solitude where no one understands what you mean when you say "I have to close my door because I'm going to kill someone with a circus tent and I might externalize, so I don't want to bother you." being thrust into the midst of literally thousands of like-minded people from all over the globe is something that has to be experienced. There are local write-ins, where participants get together in bars and coffee houses to write side-by-side in a show of maniacal solidarity. It's truly amazing.

But is it useful?

Or, I guess, the correct question is, does it need to be useful? Two basic facts bother most writers who are in the game for more than just one month a year:

50k ain't a novel

Now, before you go running to Amazon or some other online bookseller to look it up, you're right that there are a handful of books published every year that are 50k or less. But only a handful. The fact is, unless you're writing children's or Young Adult fiction, a "novel" is expected to be in the 100k range. And, more often than not, considerably more. (I believe James Rollins books come in somewhere around 160k. I don't have the energy to count up what those Fantasy and Romance tomes add up to.)

Typing ain't writing

Here's the one that tweaks my muse's nose out of joint. There's a prevalent attitude out there (there being writers' groups and forums) that putting your butt in a chair and writing with blinders on is better than editing as you go. While I do agree with this to a degree (I mean, if you never reach The End, what's the point? I know some writers who have been reworking the first few chapters of their books literally for YEARS.), there's simply more to writing than running full out every time. Especially at the start of a book.

Think of it like this. When you were a kid, you were playing with your toy car and you saw a board laying on the ground all innocent like. It didn't take too long before you had that board leaned up against something, your car poised at the top ready to be launched. (If you haven't done this, you've seen it done, I'm sure.) But what happened when you let go? Sure as shit, halfway down the ramp, the stupid car ran off the side and killed the driver. You looked at all that open pavement you had the board aimed at and wondered what went wrong. So you tried again, making a slight adjustment to your car this time before you let go. Hey! You still ran off the board, but this time you made it 3/4's of the way down. And so on. Eventually, you figured out where you had to aim with this particular board and car to make it all the way to the end. Same thing for a novel. Unless you're some sort of prodigy (and if you are, I hate you more than Junior Mints that stick to the bottom of the box), your first shot at a certain book was not exactly a dead-on bullseye. But given enough time and patience, you make adjustments until you get it right (or as right as you're going to get it).

But with these issues (and I'm sure there's more) can Nano be useful to the more than momentary novelist? I think it can. Many writers use Nano and similar competitions to work the dust out of their writing cogs. More than a few novels started during Nano -- with a lot of post Nano writing, revision and polishing -- actually make it into print. It's also a great way to make invaluable connections.

Nano is also more than just a competition. During November, donations are taken to not only support the competition, but to fight illiteracy around the world. Any group of people who tackle such a worthy cause, in my book, exemplify the word "useful" before a single person has typed a single word.

Now where's that board?

(If you're wondering, I used Nano to work the dust out of MY cogs this year. I'm just over 20,000 words into a new book and damn greatful for Nano.)

November 13, 2007

Zombies and Other Parts

The day is almost here! The zombie anthology (now with a name! Zombies) is now available for pre-orders and is due out December 1st. Who wouldn't want to find something undead in their stocking Christmas morning?

On the same website, you can find Writer's Rooms. Ever wondered what an author's den of imagination looks like? Here's your chance. The ever growing list includes Douglas Preston, Joe Haldeman, David Brin, Ellen Datlow, Robert N. Stephenson and yours truly. See where the spark becomes ink and what the space means to the writer. This is an opportunity not to be missed.

I've also started a new novel. I don't want to say too much about it at this point, but I'm very excited. Moreso than I have been about any project in a while. Tentative title is Wyld Genius and you'll be able to see my progress on the novel progress bar over there --->

As always, I'm going to try to post more. Really. Stop laughing.

Finally, let me leave you with one of the better writing quotes I've come across lately:

Any writer who knows what he's doing isn't doing very much.

-- Nelson Algren

August 15, 2007

Don't Turn the Lights On

I received the cover for the upcoming anthology publishing my story "The Pond" today. There may be some slight changes, I'm told, but this is basically it. And we finally have a title: Don't Turn the Lights On.

Blurbs are coming in now for the book. Our publication date of March 2008 still stands, but you'll be able to place preorders in January.

My story "Spark" in the upcoming (still unnamed) Zombie Antho now has a confirmed publication date of November 2007. I'll keep you posted on that one.

August 4, 2007

Hero Conception

Been too long since my last post. WAY too long. Much has happened since then. I've taken a new day job, I went to Paris for a week and I've dumped my glasses after 15 years in favor of contact lenses. I'm going to get to all of that (and yes, even a little about my fiction) in the days to come, but I came across an art project today that really moved me and I just wanted to share.

Martin Firrell's Hero Project


May 6, 2007

Urban Legends Anthology

I've got a bit more information on the Room 636 anthology. We've got a publication date! The book is due to come out March 2008. I know it seems like a long way off, but there's a communication venue setup now, so just having an actual date is HUGE. It also seems that the title or subtitle of the anthology will be Urban Legends, but I'm just guessing there.

Looks like there are 21 authors in total for the book and the editor is looking at promotional material like calendars and bookmarks, so things are definitely looking up for this one.

In other news, I'm dragging my feet on a Zombie short story with a May 25 deadline. My reluctance is partly because I'm just getting kind of tired of zombies, but also I've got 2 or 3 really solid novel ideas I want to get going on. Makes it hard to concentrate. But I need to finish this story first. I should have the first draft done in the next day or two, but it's going to need some heavy revision.

I'll keep you posted.

April 11, 2007

Anthology a Reality

Well, I received a belated Easter present in my email this morning. Room 636 is alive and well and now has a confirmed publisher. According to my editor: "Two of their books have won international prizes, and three of them placed in Amazon bestselling lists at different times. They are a small press but they are genuinely committed to their authors."

My story The Pond was accepted for this anthology about a year and a half ago, so it will be very nice to see it finally in print. A website is being setup for the anthology, and apparently a "best story" is going to be selected from all of the accepted works in the anthology, so wish me luck.

In any case, looks like I've got two stories coming out this year. And that ain't even a little bad.

March 27, 2007

Premature Submit-ulation

Stick it in a drawer for two weeks when you're done.
How many times have you heard that advice? (If this is the first time, run-don't-walk to your local bookstore and get yourself a copy of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers or Stephen King's On Writing.) I think there's more than one reason that this is a great piece of advice.
The first reason is to give yourself some distance from the work. After living in a piece for days/weeks/months, it's just hard to see the commas for the uncrossed T's. Some time away (or even better, some time on another project) helps you reacquire that objective eye.
The other reason is to give yourself a chance to calm down. Whether this reason applies to you or not depends on the type of writer you are when it comes to submitting your work.
There seems to be two camps when it comes to submitting: those that have to force themselves to send their work out into the world (sometimes at great personal pain) and those that have to restrain themselves from sending work out the second they've typed the final D in The End.
Unlike other categorizing of writers (and of that, there's no short supply), I don't think you're destined to be in any one of these camps permanently. As you get more and more comfortable with submitting, any angst you feel about it will most likely fade. Eventually, the second you're "done" a piece, you'll want to fire it out into the world. This is a bad, bad thing to do. Writers who are in this camp mix up the exhilaration of the creation with the satisfaction of being done. This usually happens when a draft has just been completed. But complete doesn't necessarily mean done.
I absatively (apologies Mr. Gaiman) guaran-damn-ty that what you think is done today will change tomorrow. I know, because that's the camp I live in. Hell, I've got a couple streets and a wash basin named after me there. The point is, no matter how ready you think something is, a few weeks distance won't hurt anything. In fact, it will help.

March 15, 2007

Zombie Shuffling Forth

One more step towards fruition for the Zombie anthology. Just received payment for my story from Australia. The editor also sent me a color version of the artwork being used for the cover (seen here). It's absolutely BEAUTIFUL! I am so jazzed about this book!
BTW, this is the original painting the cover will be based on by Connie Valentina. It's 1 1/2 feet square and valued at AUD$1500. If you'd be interested in buying it, send me an email and I'll put you in touch with the editor. (We'd both love to have it ourselves, but we foolishly do this for the love, not the money. And our bank accounts can attest to that! )

March 11, 2007

The Hardest Part

Depending on which writer you ask (and when), there seems to be no end to the different types of answers you get to the question "What's the hardest part of the writing process?".

For some, coming up with ideas is like pulling proverbial teeth. For others, ideas are a dime a dozen and the execution of the ideas is actually the hardest part. Some writers find crafting an exciting and original opening chapter to be the hardest part (and this can be extended to cover opening scenes, paragraphs, sentences or even the first word, as well). Once they're rolling, it's all down hill (probably not the best of metaphors, there).

Some have trouble fleshing out their characters, or choosing a setting and won't even start until they have everything in place. Still others feel they need to know the entire structure of the book and have a detailed outline in place before the prose can start to flow.

Quite a few writers feel it's the swampy middle of their books that are the hardest to write and get past. I know I've personally left quite a few still-births at that point and I feel for my brother and sister writers who lose their way in the everglades of lost threads and overzealous plot devices. That middle can be a dangerous place.

In truth, there seems to be no end to the number of things writers find "the hardest part". I haven't even mentioned endings, rewrites, theme development or killing your darlings; all brutally difficult and painful stages in the writing process. And let's not forget that for some it's not even the writing part of the process that they find difficult. There are those who can get manuscripts in shape with little effort, but wake up with cold sweats when they think about submitting or even contemplate the idea of letting someone else read their work.

For me, though, the hands down, king of the hill, cock of the walk, queen of the prom killer is -- choice. Now, I'm not talking about those million choices every writer has to make between "It was a dark and stormy night..." and "...Bobby realized it was all a dream". Though those are tough, they don't particularly scare me. What scares the little malteasers out m'butt every time is choosing what to write. Or maybe a better way of putting it is choosing what not to write this time.

The biggest problem here is that I want to write everything: horror, mystery, sci-fi, fantasy, hardboiled, time-travel, thriller, romance, etc, etc. I love and want to write them all. For short work, it's not such a trial making a choice, because you know you'll be done soon and you can try something else. But longterm committment to a project, like a novel, is another matter. The conundrum is that I think I have a predilection for longer works.

So more often than not, I end up making no choice, or diddling around with shorter projects. It would help if I didn't have ideas for a wide variety of projects, but I'm one of those writers who feels ideas are a dime a dozen. And I've got about six bucks worth of stuff rattling around my noggin.

I've never really been a planner or outliner, but that's exactly what I'm currently doing in an attempt to focus and actually produce something. We'll see how it goes. I don't want to scheme the creativity out of my work, but I'm hoping a plan -- or path -- laid out for me to follow will keep the shiny objects on the side of the road from distracting me into being the king of partials and owner of the hard disk with the most pointless vignettes in the English speaking world.

We'll see how it goes.

Unless I start work on that eight-volume opera I've been thinking about...

March 8, 2007

Zombie Sale

More good news, this time about my writing. :)

Just got word from Australia that my zombie story Spark has been bought for Altair's yet-to-be-named Zombie Antho, due out in October 2007. Guess I'll have something to talk about at the World Horror Convention at the end of the month, after all!

At just under 7,000 words, Spark is the longest story I've sold to date (previous champion was my story The Find, which appeared in Transversions). As of October, my fiction will have appeared on three continents and in four countries.

While the name is still being worked out, the editor (Robert N. Stephenson) sent me a rough sketch of what the cover will look like (shown here). The drawing is called Zombie Girl and is by Conny Valentina. It's based on Zombie Love by Mike Brown, one of the stories to be featured in the collection. Mike is a new writer from Adelaide, South Australia.

Robert can't make it to World Horror this year, so I guess I'll have to drink Fosters all night in his honor.

Cheers, Mate!

February 22, 2007


Time for a little bragging.

My daughter, who turned 10 years old this week, is receiving a literacy award from school tomorrow for a story she wrote.

I can't even describe how excited and proud I am!

They could write about anything. She chose the backdrop of a video game she likes called Trace Memories. (Some of the games she plays on her Nintendo DS have incredibly intricate and inventive backstories.)

You can bet I'll be there tomorrow flashing my camera in the front row and embarrassing her to no end.

I'm a Dad.

It's my job.