Monday, February 27, 2012

Single digit chapters to go

The good news is that I'm down to single digits. 9 chapters to go. The bad news is that the one I'm on right now is a fucking bitch. I have no clue how to make this transition. I've been befuddled by this particular transition for years, literally. I started out with about 16,000 words in my notes, and I narrowed it down to about 4,000, of which I think I'll end up keeping 500-1,000. And I still have no fucking structure to the chapter. It's frustrating, because it's a chapter the reader will expect a lot from, given the last chapter before it. Fuck.

Every other part of the WIP after this chapter is laid out neatly. It's organized in my head. The notes are relevant.

I feel like I almost need to start at the beginning, and I absolutely detest starting at the beginning. I'm much too lazy for that, because my greatest fear is that, if I screw around with this, I may have to re-structure chapters I've already finished. I like most of what I've finished. I just have no fucking clue how to get from today, to tomorrow.

On a lighter note, three of the guys in the picture are getting ready for a fall fishing trip, way the fuck north into Canada. Everyone except for the guy in the red shirt who's sitting down is in, so far, and we have a half dozen more of "the boys" coming. I'm the stoned dope on the left in the sunglasses. The picture's circa 1985, from a fishing trip we took somewhere in Pennsylvania or one of the other places we used to go to drink, get stoned, drop acid, and drop a line in the water. I don't remember the specific conversation from that morning, but I remember the coffee, the Advil, and that it was a carefree time, and those are rare. I don't remember the conversations from my Friday night "club car" binges with my buddies at work. I don't remember my conversations with the wife when we're cooking at night. Yet I know they're the best times of my life. How does that work? If it's the best time of your life, shouldn't you remember the details?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

On being ridiculed

There's a chance that what I write will be ridiculed. Someone brought up the subject on CC today, saying that it was wrong for people to laugh at artists and writers who make an attempt. Apparently, there are web sites dedicated to belittling bad artists and authors. It's one of the risks anyone takes, and we all take with eyes wide open.

I've thought about what I might be ridiculed for, and here's a preemptive strike. That's right, I aim to ridicule myself before they get to me. Parts of the WIP are sophomoric. I'm a vulgar man with the sense of humor of a ten year-old, it was inevitable. Parts of the WIP move too slowly. I love navel gazing, and I know it's not a big hit with sci-fi fans. Parts of the WIP move too quickly. I like sci-fi and feel the need to fill in the sci-fi portions of the plot around the romance, which means the romance probably feels like it happens too quickly for some. Etc...

There are countless ways in which I may have screwed up the WIP. Countless ways in which I may have bored the reader. But, how the fuck are you supposed to know if the thoughts that entertain you will entertain anyone else? You don't. All you can do is to put them down, and wait for the reaction. Natural story tellers who spin great verbal yarns don't necessarily make the best writers. And writers rarely make good verbal storytellers. Writers piece the stories together slowly, making it seem over time as thought the thoughts flowed from their minds as quickly as a stand up comedian. I could never match the quick wit of a Robin Williams, but give me enough time, and I can write an comedy routine that matches his style and pace. If they laugh at you, if they laugh hard, then figure out what you did to make them laugh, and do it again. Making them laugh gets you rich, just ask the late Andy Kaufman, a talentless man who made millions by making people laugh at his incompetence.

I salute the people who make the effort. I know that's a common theme of mine, but it's important. Bravo to you for the effort. For having the spine to push that page across the table, knowing there's a 99% chance that someone will make fun of what you wrote. It takes guts.

As to the WIP, I'm down to twelve chapters left. Two are very heavy right now, well over 10K words, so they'll take a shitload of work to cut down to something acceptable. I've noticed I'm repeating myself, so I'll have to go back through and find all the redundant passages. It's a pain in the ass. You sit there and wish you were done, that you could trot the thing out and let the public judge the thing already, but you'd be cheating whoever you handed it to if you didn't push across the table a story you didn't think was just right.

In the last week or so, I finally nailed down the name of the protag, and the title of the book. The revelation about the title actually brought about an enhanced ending, that I should have seen from the beginning, but didn't. I think it ties it all together better for the reader. I'm pretty sure it's the last revision of the ending. I know for sure it's the last time I change the protag's name and the title, unless some snake steals the title, but I doubt it. It's not exactly the kind of title the modern novelist clamours for. It's entitled Polarized.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Color

I'm sick as a cat today. I'd say sick as a dog, but I don't want to be cliche. I visited my sister the other day, and her kids were sick. I've got whatever they had.

Anyway, this morning, before it really hit me, the wife and I went to get our haircuts. Laptop in lap, I worked on the WIP while the wife was getting her hair fussed over. With the coloring, and all that, there were times when she was next to me, and there were times when there were other women next to me. Of course, I just happen to be working on the only chapter with what can b construed as a sex scene, so there were bras and panties, abs and asses all over the page. I don't let the wife see what I'm writing, not friends, not any other family. Nobody. Particularly the parts that could make someone blush. Letting it out in the open when the WIP is complete is one thing, but letting out individual lines expressing lust is something entirely different. So, every time someone would sit next to me, I would scoot the screen down to something benign, a description of a cabana that plays a prominent role in the book. In it, there are five colors I mention, in order to give the reader the feel of what the MC sees.

When I came home, I finished critiquing a piece on CC that I would rather have skipped over, but how I ended up critting it is a long, irrelevant story. The story I critiqued mentioned color or specific colors thirty-seven times within twelve paragraphs (and the paragraphs were relatively short) and more than fifty times within the 2000 words that made up the first chapter. Yikes. Believe me, by the time the reader reads about the fifth or sixth color, color has become irrelevant. Not only that, but the colors mentioned were generic. Purple. Green. Blue. Yellow. It doesn't focus the reader's mind on a specific subset of those colors to simply say something like yellow. If the author says lemon yellow, now we're talking. If the author chooses tangerine, instead of orange, now we're narrowing it down.

Colors are a precious thing. The author needs them for the reader to have color in his mind when he views a scene. It aides greatly with the visual effect, but it should be a splash here and a dollop there. Give the reader the primary color in your vision as you write the scene, then go on to some other aspect, preferably the plot.

Critting pieces with blatant technical flaws like that is irritating. Usually, I pass over the story. My time is too precious. There are times when writing isn't a sacrifice, like when I'm in the salon, waiting for the wife to have her hair done. It's a blessing on those occasions. It's also a blessing when I get to research something interesting while the wife searches in vain for something interesting on television. I've bought twenty or thirty books on subjects ranging from quantum physics to ship design and nomenclature to the meaning of signs and symbols. I guarantee you I got more joy from gleaming information from those books than I would have watching whatever shit she ends up watching at night. However, there are times when writing is a sacrifice. Sitting at my desk every day over lunch, while the sounds of my friends' laughter spills from the lunchroom down the hall, is a sacrifice. They're great people. I'd love to be in there with them. But I have to finish this thing. (I also happen to eat my lunch at 10 a.m. every day, because I've always eaten it then, so they eat too late for me)

Simple writing techniques like the use of color should come naturally to a writer. Read anything Vonnegut wrote, and see how many times he mentions colors. It comes from reading. Read and see how others use color. You'll be surprised at how conservative successful authors are. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A writer must be everything

That's me and my mom. She loves it when she walks down the streets of the Czech Republic, and her former students remember her, and call her, "Pani Ucitelka" or "Madame Teacher" translated.

It's how she defines herself. I'd love to define myself as a writer, but with this many years of writing under my belt and not a damn thing completed to show for the trouble, I hardly think I can make that claim. I've got 13 chapters left on what will be my first completed MS, and even though they are thoroughly outlined, it will take months to finish (sorry if I mislead anyone in the previous post.) I'm not a rebel without a cause, nor idealistic. My MC doesn't slay dragons, nor brings about world peace. He falls in love. I'm not sure that's enough to compel the sci-fi reader to turn the page, but it's what I've got up my sleeve. It's what's important to me. Conquering worlds doesn't appeal to everyone, I guess.

That said, there are characters in the WIP who want to conquer. There are characters hellbent on treachery. there are those who want to excel so their friends marvel at their prowess and bow. It takes all kinds to make up this world, and a writer has to have them all as an integral part of his heart. Can you as a writer be greedy? Can you be petty? Cruel? Sadistic? Timid and submissive?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Fuzzy nights of self doubt

There are nights I look at my WIP, slap my forehead, "Sacrebleu!" and freak out because I'm depicting characters who are sitting down. Characters sitting down has been done before. It must be cliche.

A writer will depict characters doing countless things other characters by other authors have done in the past. That's invisible narrative. It shouldn't be tinkered with to make it something unique, IMO. It's not part of the essential elements that differentiate your book from the others. The essential elements are: the plot's originality, simplicity or understandable complexity; character appeal, whether good or bad; setting conveyed in the fewest words that present it clearly for that genre; and the themes. Oh, and then there's style.

I've discovered that my first person POV voice is completely different from my third person POV voice. At least, in this WIP it is. I made the 1st person POV voice as close to my own as I could, assuming that would be the best way to go in order to assure continuity throughout my first novel. I doubt I'll use the 1st person POV again for a very long time, not until I'm far better a writer and can manage to make it sound different from the one I'm using in this WIP, and still manage to make it sound genuine. there isn't a lot of style in my 1st person POV voice. It's not haughty like a 3rd person POV voice in a historic novel might sound, but it's appropriate for the character. So, here's the self-doubt of the day: will it be unique enough against the backdrop of all the other 1st person POV authors who've decided to go the same route? I'll know on Tuesday. No, not this coming Tuesday, but the Tuesday that'll mark the close of the the week the first chapter sits on CC for critiques.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Predictability

Exactly how predictable to make your story is one of the most difficult decisions you'll make when writing it. make it too predictable, and the reader gets bored. Make it too unpredictable, and the reader gets frustrated because he can't figure anything out. In the Last of the Mohicans, the reader got the sense that certain characters would fall in love, and that the Mohicans would eventually face down the Huron, but there was no way to tell Uncas would die. The reader couldn't predict it. In To Kill a Mockingbird, the reader knew in his heart at some point that Atticus would get Tom Robinson off, but there was no way to tell that Robinson would be killed and Boo Radley would turn out to be a hero and save Scout. A writer has to give something predictable, and keep something up his sleeve.

I'm sure that someone who's brilliant, knows the meaning of names, symbology, psychology, and politics would know the general outcome of my WIP by the end of the third chapter, but there are few readers out there like that. I'm two thirds of the way through, and I'm beginning to reveal things that will make it plain enough for the common man to figure out much of what the protag will do and much of what the antags will do for the rest of the book, but they won't know the ultimate end and who my Uncas is until the last few sentences of the book.

The way I've divulged the information makes sense to me, but I don';t know if the general public will agree. If my book flops, divulging too little information too early may well be the downfall, but I'll stick with the backbone I have for now.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Political caricatures

There's nothing I despise more in modern literature or film than political caricatures. I have a political leaning, but I would drill my own kneecap before I let it seep into my manuscript. Let's face it, no political "side" will ever convince the other that it's right. I don't know for sure that my leanings are right. What I do know, is that the literature and film that portray the industrialist as the heartless beast in search of coin, or the environmentalist as one who'd kill humanity to save a dove, is absurd.

I have absolutely no political agenda in my work. I wouldn't want to impose. But my characters have strong political stances, and I try my best to portray them, without making one to be the feeble minded one, while the other is the sage one that REALLY knows how best to save the world. The influence of certain politics in cable news, Hollywood, the printed medium, paintings, etc... is so brazen, it becomes a disgusting farce. People are not as one sided as they are portrayed. No matter what Nobel Laureate may insist it's so.

There are evil people in this world, but it's rarely due to political tendencies. More likely, it's due to a mental disorder or traumatic event in their lives.

I have a boatload of political banter in my WIP, but I can save everyone the suspense. Neither political side wins. The characters may thing one side won or the other, but not the narrator. I think I may have too much banter, so as I become desperate to find words to cut to get the WIP down to my goal of 120K words, I'll end up cutting the political feuding. I just have to make sure that I don't cut too much of one side.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Plagiarism

I've removed the link from my sidebar to a friend's website who was accused of plagiarism. I have no evidence to prove she committed the offense, nor do I have any that exonerates her, but I want no association with a suspected plagiarist. If she clears her name, I'll gladly put the link back up.

I freely confess to committing plagiarism when I was at Pitt in the early 80's, but there was booze and drugs and laziness involved, so I don't consider my offense anywhere as serious as someone who is trying to make money off the intellectual ideas of others. Maybe I'm just as guilty as she is, but I was 18 and full of youthful indiscretion, and she's middle aged and should know better. I've confessed to my indiscretions, and if she has an ounce of self respect, she will too, unless of course, she's in the right. We'll see.

The whole episode got me to analyzing my current WIP. It'll be clear to anyone who reads it that it's not plagiarized. I've hardly read a book since I started it, and it certainly resembles nothing that was popular in the past. That said, there are signs of influence of the authors I read as a child. Surprisingly, far more from when I was a child than when I was older. I'm not sure that's a good thing, because I read from the classics a lot as a child, and I'm not sure the classics would sell very well in this day.

The first influence that comes to mind is James Fenimore Cooper. When Czechoslovakia was invaded by the Russians in '68, we escaped through the underground railroad into Austria, and my mother brought along a couple books. The one that made the biggest impression on me, and introduced me to adult themes such as death, revenge, stealth, multi-culturalism, and unfamiliar worlds, was The Last of the Mohicans. While my WIP is far enough in the future that I'm not sure there will be multiple cultures, rather a gray mix of races and customs, I've included an heavy dose of the new world feel to the setting, death plays a large role, as does revenge. I didn't set out to include these, it's only after crossing the Rubicon, that I can look back and have to assume that the influence of that literature on me influences my writing.

Another influence is Frederick Forsythe. I loved The Day of the Jackal, The Odessa File, and his other works. What I liked about those books is that the reader doesn't get to see the whole picture right away. there's a driving plot, but it's not really until the end that all the little nuances that have been brought up along the way are tied off in a nice neat way.

Alistair Maclean and his book Where Eagles Dare plays a role, because I like the notion of a small team against a superior opponent. Though, that would seem the farthest thing from being a part of the WIP at first glance.

Isaac Asimov obviously had a huge influence. Not in the sci-fi aspect, because I don't think my WIP is nearly as sci-fi-ish. But he has a very simple writing style that lends itself to easy reading. lots of dialogue. I love setting description. It's something I cherish, and I could do it all day, and nothing else. Similes and metaphors flying out my ass. But I looked at my last attempted WIP and it got too bogged down in setting and description. that story, and this story, are too complex to tell in a wordy way. I might be able to get away with some of that in the other WIP, because it's a historical novel, but not in a sci-fi, where the reader has a clearer mind, looking for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but. So this IP is far more dialogue than the last.

i hope the great writers who influenced this WIP don't roll over in their graves at my handling of it. But even if my prose isn't up to the standards they set, I feel an obligation to pay them tribute at every turn. They deserve it, if only for the joy they brought me as a kid. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Some days it's easier

Dineen, the Italian chick in the picture, was one of my favorite little sisters at the fraternity. When she wasn't flying off in that Sicilian rage, she was as cool as anyone I knew. I asked her once how she could be so Sammy Davis Jr. most days, and such a bitch other days, and she just shrugged and said something to the effect that some days it's easier to let go than others.

Today was an easy day to let go. Lots of cuts today of lines and paragraphs I've clutched to like a parent clinging to a child on a life raft. I blog about cutting a lot, because I agree with Truman Capote (or was that Hemingway? I forget, the rum has sunk in) who said that the eraser is more important than the pencil. I believe that one of my greatest weaknesses in writing is not knowing instinctively what to cut.

Maybe it comes with time, but I don't think it will in my case. When I was done slashing today, I wondered why it's so hard for me to do on most occasions. Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is that it's ego, that maybe I secretly consider every word a Monet that needs to be hung at the Louvre, but that's not it. It's fear. Fear that I'm losing a part of the character of the book. Fear that cutting some of the more frivolous, lighter moments of the book makes what remains too harsh. Too hard. Then a day like today comes along and I look at those long cherished lines and say, "What the fuck was I thinking? Nobody's gonna give a shit about this." Slash.

I need more days like today.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Can you sniff out the bullshitters?

That's me and some of my buddies on one of our fishing trips a decade or more ago to Lac Monet in Canada (which has recently been converted to a residential area...sacrilege). I'm top center.

The thing about friends who are that close is that you know each other's nature. It's rare that one of us surprises the others. Now, that's not to say it doesn't happen. My friend Mark became extremely religious overnight about twenty years ago, and I doubted his sincerity. I thought he was faking it to appease his wife, until he revealed that he survived five agonizing years of testicular cancer. I guess that'll change your perspective.

I've run into some writers on various message boards in the last few days that have me squinting at what they're writing. It's more difficult to tell over the Ethernet who's telling the truth and who's lying, but not all that much more difficult. Writers on message boards who repeatedly show up with a quip or relate a scenario in which they confronted just the type of person the thread is about, or experienced just the sort of extraordinary thing someone relates. In short, it's amazing how many people sound insincere on writer's message boards. They don't get called out most of the time, but I think 90% of us scoff at their posts. usually, it's someone who's a pretty good writer. If one is terrible, then it's usually so obvious that the person doesn't get away with it without being publicly ridiculed. But it's the ones who are decent writers, but not quite as good as they think they are who we all smirk at. yes, it's plausible, but if there were as many strong and intuitive people in the world as there pretend to be on message boards, this world would be quite different. I think a good writer has to be willing to divulge the truth about himself, his own lack of experience in many realms. Because, invariably, there will be things out there we know little about. No use in lying about it.