Sunday, July 31, 2011

Politics makes great kindling for stories

The wife and I were on vacation this week. We are very politically active, and we went to the Capital for a little activism during the week. The day we were there, the young woman in the picture, climbed the steps of the Capital Building beyond the secure area with a political sign, and claimed she had a bomb on her.

I was the closest civilian and took pictures as they rounded her up, frisked her, put her in cuffs and hauled her away. It's actually remarkable how commonplace this kind of thing is in Washington D.C., particularly when there is a contentious issue on the table. People lose their minds. The media adds to the fuel with opposing views and makes some of the weaker minded go nuts.

You don't have to write political thrillers to use politics in writing. I have a heavy dose of it in my sci-fi WIP. It's great motive for all kinds of delicious mischief. It's great for sub plots and motive, particularly twisted motive. Keep it in mind.

On a side note, it was amusing that a group of Amish tourists were being led past those steps as they were leading the young woman away. I heard the elders instructing the youngsters on the evils of the English. Something right out of the movie Witness.

p.s. She looks a little like Arlene. I haven't see Arlene post anything on her blog in a while. Could it be? Anyone heard from her lately? :)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

They say to write what you know, but...

Apparently, William Shakespeare wasn't the author of the books attributed to him. That according to a presentation at the Smithsonian I saw years ago. This society of people dedicated to proving that Edward de Vere was the true author of Shakespeare's work because many of the plots mirrored his life and he actually traveled to all the places old Willie never got to see but wrote about so eloquently. Thinking being that the Earle of Oxford couldn't write the political satire Shakespeare included, so he took his name.

I'm writing about places I've never been. None of the settings I include in my WIP have I stepped foot on. My plot lines don't mirror my life. I hope some day to be famous enough that people will wonder if this simpleton could have written these masterpieces. I just want to get it down in writing now, I did.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Playing the reader

I'm not ready to get into heavy critiquing just yet. I'll start when I get somewhere around chapter 35 to kind of scout out who's out there on sites like that's running manuscripts through the critique phase and might be willing to exchange critiques with me. I've read a few stories on several sites that are being run through now and the one thing that is sticking out the most is that too many consecutive chapters have the same pace, feel, and intent.

I have different types of scenes in my WIP. There are the scenes that are filled with action. There are those that convey non-action confrontation. There are the introspective ones. There are filler scenes that move the plot. There eerie ones. They are mixed up. Not artificially, but of necessity. Unless your book is one long high speed chase (in which case it's most likely not sitting atop the NYT best seller list right now), then there are changes of pace. The character have to progress through a series of obstacles, interactions, etc...The books that are up for review feel like this to me:
Character moves to setting one, assesses situation, fights and wins.
Character moves to setting two, assesses situation, fights and loses.
Character moves to setting three, assesses situation, fights and wins.
Character moves to setting four, assesses situation, fights and loses.

If it's a romance, remove "fights and wins or fights and loses" and replace with "gains the love interests favor or loses the love interests favor".

It doesn't feel like life. Life is variable. Life is like a piece of music that makes you think the second chorus will be like the first, but it changes it up to make it similar yet completely different. Play the reader. Throw the reader change ups. Don't get in a rut. It's hard to spot it in your own writing I think. If you have critique partners, tell them to look for it, and do them the same courtesy.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Pushing the envelope

When you do something weird as a politician, they say you're coming unhinged and use it against you. When you do something strange in business you better make money off of it. When you do the unconventional as a doctor, you damn well better know what the fuck you're doing or you'll live with the rage of the deceased's relatives as well as the deceased's ghost in your head for the rest of your life. Try something unusual as a writer, and prepare to be judged.

Chapter 14 includes an argument between the protagonist and his love interest that lasts about 1200 words right now. That's a long argument. I don't remember reading any that long in any books I've read. When you recognize that something you are doing is structurally different than anything that's been done with success as far as you know, it makes your ass pucker a bit. Will it bore the reader to go on that long. The thing is, given the histories of these two characters, given the political philosophies they're grounded in, I don't see any way to cut it off without some intrusive outside influence. They are headstrong and they would continue the argument. I know because I am them and I know how they think.

I'm leaving it in. I'm doing it with eyes wide open. Some people may close the book. I'm drinking heavily.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Aspiring authors are such compliment junkies

A few weeks ago I got into a feud with an novice author on one of the message boards I frequent. We sent private messages back and forth arguing over POV slips. Tempers flared and there was cussing involved. It was fun. I enjoy that sort of thing. Each of us though we were right. The argument ended with the "We'll have to agree to disagree" thing, mortal enemies parted by time and space and philosophy.

Over the weekend, I complimented something he wrote because I liked a play on words he used. Lo and behold, I have a new friend.

We're like dogs, especially the aspiring authors who are still so full of those insecurities. Throw us a compliment, and it's like tossing a dog a treat. You turn someone who seconds ago was biting at your calf into a friend for life who'll follow you around, looking for another.

I think sometimes that, had Charlie Manson complimented young writers who were covering his case, he would eventually have had a horde of authors following him around and claiming what a great guy he really is, looking for Charlie to throw them just one more compliment.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Writer's facade

A few years ago, the wife and I thought about buying and running a liquor store. Unlike now, we had a little extra money on hand and thought it would be a good investment. In preparation for my meeting with the bank in which I'd present my business proposal, I studied booze, mostly wine. I bought wine magazines, went to tastings, learned all the lingo, and almost immediately I became one of those pompous flaming assholes who likes to give opinions on wine as though mistaking a Merlot for a Cabernet was a mortal sin. I knew only enough to b.s. my way through a conversation. Really, I couldn't stand myself, but neither could I stop myself. I was addicted.

We got approval for the loan, but the landlord sprung a surprise and wanted to charge us more than the other tenants of the strip mall, so we were too pissed to go through with it because it screwed up our budget and made the whole thing even more iffy than before.

In college, I felt like a little too much of a bumpkin, so I started listening to classical music to seem more sophisticated for the women. Again, I learned enough to b.s. my way through a conversation. That actually worked out well. It turns out there's a lot of classical music I like, so my pompousness was beneficial in that instance.

When writing, a writer has to pretend to know about a bunch of things. I think those of us who have pretended to know about a variety of subjects have an edge over those earnest types who have always been truthful, because we've learned how to lie.

Moral of the story? If you ever intend on being an author, I encourage you to start lying at an early age. Yes, your parents will punish you and think less of you, but think of that as training for the rejection you'll get from agents. And some of you classmates will beat you up, but think of that as training for the scathing reviews you'll eventually get. It's a win-win situation all around.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Chapter 14 is nerve wracking

The armoire on top is mine, the second one is the wife's. We each selected ours. I would have never selected the one she got, not because I don't like it, I do, but because it's girlie. What man would possibly be so vain as to need a mirror? (Don't answer that)

Chapter 14 is the first extended face time the protag's love interest gets. I know I've been around women all my life, a sister, a mother, aunts, nieces, girlfriends, platonic friends (yeah, like that's possible), and yet I have this overwhelming dread that my protag's love interest is talking like a guy. I'm definitely going to be interested in the feedback on this chapter.

I know. I know. Shut the hell up. Quit bitching, and just write. Whatever.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Hunting the Perfect Writer's Blog

Being an aspiring author, of course I peruse quite a few writer's blogs. I like to see what people are doing, how effective it is, and of course I look for that gem in the rough, the secret formula that will make something click in my head and turn me into the greatest author of all time.

I find there are four general types of blogs. Of course, many blogs cross over between these types, but in general, they fall into one of these categories. The first is one is the beginner's blog like mine. Basic, aimless rambling. A drunk, staggering through an alley, peeing on every dumpster and stray cat. Throw out suggestions on occasion when something clicks. Very writing centered (Yes, in my mind, this is writing centered. Stop Laughing), because that's the most important thing to me at this time. When did I write? How much did I write? What did I learn today?

The second stage is the soft promotional blog. This seems to be the preferred style of people who have some books out there they have published. They post statistics. They post about the business of writing more than the mechanics of writing, though on occasion they like to remind people they know what they're doing so they'll throw a little gem of writing advice out there. This is a perfect example:

Then you have the mid-list writer. Someone who's had some success, maybe appeared on the NY Times bestseller list. These seem to be the most personal. The author has fans and fans don't want to know about how the author created what they created, they want to know what the author had for breakfast and whether or not the author's incontinent.

The author carefully crafts the blog to reveal cute things that don't offend anyone. Things fans are bound to find interesting. This is my favorite kind of blog. Lisa Scottoline, one of my favorite mid-listers does this well:

The final kind of blog isn't a blog at all. It's the web site of the mega author. Cold. Impersonal. Almost never reveals anything for the fans except when the next book is coming out and where the next book signing will take place. It's a waste of time, unless of course you want to know where the next book signing will take place. It's the Stephen King kind of site:                                                                                                       

I don't have any fans, so there's nobody out there who gives a shit that I went over to my parent's house last weekend to fix their plumbing. So this blog will continue to be an archive of my growth from the dope who didn't understand what POV was until he posted his first story in the Newbie Queue to the dashing and debonair playboy of writing I've become, snatching dangling participles in the blink of an eye.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

No Translation

Someone asked me this weekend whether or not I'd ever have my manuscript translated into Czech so my relatives could read it. Well, first the person asked, "Are you ever gonna finish that thing?" then they asked about translating it. I didn't have an answer then, but now I do. No. I'll never have anything I write translated. I don't want it translated. Not into French, not Czech, not British.

My father speaks Russian, Czech, English, and a little German. When Gorbachev wrote his book after the collapse of communist Russia, I bought my dad the book. I bought an English translation. He looked at the first few pages, shrugged and said I could take it back. He said that he knew right away that the words weren't Gorby's, because Misha's words were far more eloquent. It said the same thing, it just didn't say it like Gorby would. I didn't understand, I do now.

Translations of books, unless they happen to be translated by the author himself, are like playing the same piece of music on a different instrument. Even if you get a translator who can perform the music as well or better than the original piece in the new language, the reader still hears a different sound. I want to be responsible for my own sounds. I don't want Czechs hearing a better or worse version of what I wrote.

p.s. More book covers to look at. I don't know if they're covers, I just think they're cool and MIGHT fit my MS. (sometimes after it downloads, there's nothing there, in that case you click on "view original"

I really like this one:

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Madness

I prefer the night to day. I prefer the winter to summer. And I prefer writing to cleaning the house, cooking, going to work, going to parties, going to ball games, watching the shit on TV, going to the idiotic movies made in Hollywood these days, and a whole host of other activities. I must be mad to continue to do them.

I find it hard to understand how people don't spend their lives writing. It's so sanitary. If I have an argument, I know I'll win. If someone dies, I know it's for the better. Crawl in a cave and play God.

Now, excuse me, God has to go sweep off the deck because God's wife has had enough of his procrastination.