October 30, 2010

Clipping

Next time you're listening to an audio medium (such as the radio or a podcast), listen to how the person speaks rather than just what they're saying. Much like "he said" as a dialogue signifier, there are certain sounds that go along with actual words that our brain just ignores. The inhalation at the beginning of a word or the exhalation at the end are prime components.

When you translate all this to an audio file, it offers representation to these various elements of speech. A sound wave spikes from volume and different mouth formations (the plosive, P, throws a blast of air against the mic--it's the fastest way to spike your sound chain). In addition to the word, though, you see little squiggles before and after someone speaking. Now, little squiggles can represent a lot of things. It's a light sound, like noise in the background or the chair squeaking or your throat clearing. When a person isn't speaking, you want their audio wave to be flat otherwise it can distract from other speakers.

First-time podcasters often make the mistake of silencing the squiggles that appear before or after someone speaks, assuming that it makes for a clearer file. When you listen to it, however, it actually sounds worse. We expect to here someone inhale and exhale. Not only that, the vocal chords are still vibrating at the end, mixed in with the inhalation, and it can sound like someone has stopped speaking in the middle of the word even though the word is technically finished.

This is called clipping. If you listen to a sound file where all the inhalation and exhalation is removed, the speakers sound like robots. We've developed social cues to tell others when we're going to speak, and as a listener, when those cues are missing, it just sounds like a bunch of words being mashed together rather than a conversation. The more seasoned you are at podcasting, the more annoying clipping can be (nails down a chalkboard, really).

I bring this up because I started reading THE TRIAD SOCIETY. I don't know why. I was struck by an overwhelming need to receive a full request from the partial that's out there. I wanted to make sure the three chapters that I sent are the best they can be. So I popped open my nook (I have a copy of the manuscript on there) and began reading with full confidence that I had knocked things out of the park. I received great feedback from beta readers, and I felt that I had really improved things before sending it on. I revised, I reread, I gave everything the thumbs up.

But you can miss things when you incorporate changes from multiple sources. Things blend together and even though you reread it, your brain might fill in holes with stuff that isn't there any more. Or you may change something and then change it again, not realizing that the second change doesn't quite fit.

I found three instances where the scene is clipped. I chopped stuff that had been too long, but now without any content, the transition doesn't make sense. It's not horrible. You can continue reading, but it's not smooth. It's clipped. And because this reading was spurred by a powerful need to succeed, my reaction is equally powerful. Oh no!!!1 Fingers crossed that the overall worth of the work survives the clipping.

As for you, give it a try next time you listen to DJs on the radio. You'll hear them breathing. It's a transitional sound that our brain recognizes even if we don't realize it. Make sure you have something similar in your writing after you edit.


1 OH NO!!!

Ink Failure

Up until 2006, you could look at me while at work and never know that I had a tattoo. Of course, at that time, I had eight tattoos. The only one that was ever visible was the one on the back of my neck and only then if I wore a shirt without a collar. It was at that point that I got a tattoo on each of my forearms.


This quote comes from a discussion on a role playing forum (Karl in response to a post by Bavix that was in turn a response to a post by Al Beddow). This statement pretty much defines my first 30 years of life. Of course, there are nuances to the statement that no one ever considers. There are plenty of ways to drop a hammer, not all of them nice for the person doing the dropping.


This one is an adaptation from a painting. I don't remember the artist. I'm told it's actually a poet who also painted scenes inspired by his poetry. In this case it was a gorgeous painting of a lion that I could not afford to buy. The righteous must be bold like a lion was written at the bottom. A modified the simile and here it is on my left arm.

The writing looks kind of odd on its own, so I decided to frame each saying. I had the below done in 2007. I lost my job the following year and decided that I would have the right arm finished once I had a full time job again.

The problem I'm running into now is finding a decent artist! I think the above knotwork is only okay. Certainly the artist who did my earlier work (Spider from Dreamcatcher in Columbia, MO) is far superior. My next design includes fire and it's shocking just how few artists can actually draw fire that doesn't look cartoony. The need for skill is exacerbated by the general attitude of tattoo businesses. They aren't businesses, they're artists who aren't good at doing anything else. Store hours are dependent on whether they feel like working when they wake up that morning/afternoon. 3/4 of them will try and cheat you. And unless you're a hot chick, they will approach you about a possible business transaction only if they feel like it. If there's a conversation about the crackwhore one of them fucked last night, you might be in for a long wait.

I have 11 total tattoos now and I'm about to get my 12th. It's hard enough coping with the not so subtle derision for being an office worker who gets tattoos (I started this before it was popular, assholes).  If you don't have sleeves, neck work, and a piercing through some non-standard body element, you're just a poser. Fine, I'll cope with that. I just want my tattoo. But when you try to rack up the bill because you think you're rebelling against the establishment, it insults me. Poor girls ahead of me were going to be charged $300 for lettering. FOR LETTERING! Are you crazy? I can see starting at $100. They come back at $50. You guys end up somewhere in between. But $300? For "Friendship"? You're out of your damn mind.

I really want a new tattoo, but the only artist I still trust is 1400 miles west of here. :(

October 29, 2010

His Shadow Stands Over Us

Streaming Netflix over my Xbox (really, it seems that's the only thing I use my Xbox Live account for any more1 2), I watched a miniseries with Daniel Craig called Archangel. Though I think I may have seen the ending before, the rest of it was quite interesting. Especially the first two episodes. General premise examines just how much Stalin means to rural Russians even today, just how ingrained the Communist revolution is in those areas not immediately affected by insurgent capitalism (so everything out of major metropolitan areas). Not an expert on Russia, I have no idea how much of this premise is exaggerated or flat out fictional, but it was a lot of fun.

Short explanation of the inciting action, former Soviet higher-ups have discovered that Stalin has a son and they mean to bring about a second Bolshevik revolution.

At the end of the final episode, they have a quote from Stalin's real daughter: "He is gone, but his shadow stands over us. It still dictates to us, and we still obey."

This immediately set my mind to racing.

An old kingdom swamped with history and tradition. A fetid royal house. A dead king leaving behind a host of children, none capable of ruling with his authority, none yet burdened by the paranoia that caused him to starve to death, unwilling to trust even his food tasters.

His is a kingdom so dependent on his absolute rule and so mired by his insanity, that his children must work together and against one another to bring about the future they want. But none of them are as capable as he. Even in death, his shadow stands above them. His mad design plays out and they obey his will, until their entire house is destroyed.

To add to the queue: HIS SHADOW STANDS ABOVE US


1 I'd just use my Wii to stream Netflix but it doesn't have an HDMI connection. I love my high definition picture

2 Once upon a time, XBL was useful to me. Now, I think the only two games I have that can be played with other people are Castle Crashers and Snoopy Flying Ace.

Fried Ocher

I was talking to Elizabeth Poole yesterday who had been absent for a week because she thought she deserved to vacation in another state rather than hang out and talk to me over IM. Silly girl. Anyway, she asked me for an update on JEHOVAH'S HITLIST. I didn't have much to report. I had invoked and then rescinded rule 2a. I had decided to embrace the crapitude. There were certain things I was stuck on. I felt that Jehovah accepted the Hanged Man's orders too early. That I hadn't properly established what a great threat the HM was or why Jay would fold so quickly. I still had (and still do) have issues with the climax and how I use elements I really enjoy (like Jesus Street) that currently just seem to be there for set dressing.

But mostly, every time I thought on JH, I would immediately think of THE TRIAD SOCIETY. I've never received beta feedback only on a partial before. I'm in third-draft mode trying to work on a first-draft story, and that's difficult. VERY difficult. What's worse, I'm not just thinking of TTS. I'm thinking of THE RED SOCK SOCIETY and the whole Reliarachic1 Societies trilogy.

There is another rule I did not include in my list of ten because it only applies while I'm not published. Rule NP1 is don't work on sequels. What's the point of writing TRSS if TTS never publishes? You can't have an Empire Strikes Back without Star Wars2. I think this is good advice even though there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of authors selling their series in multi-book deals3. I don't care. I have plenty of other stories I want to tell, so what's the rush to dive into a series? It's why I'm focusing on individual novels rather than my ginormous series of trilogies, The Third World4. There's a catch, of course. When I finish one manuscript, I usually have a few false starts before I find another to work. When I finished WANTED, I had a few false starts before finally starting on TTS, which some might think is a sequel. It's set in the same setting, but on the opposite side of the sea. You can read one without the other, so I don't consider that a sequel. TRSS most definitely is a sequel. It worries me that I keep gravitating back to this world. I have other stories I want to tell, dammit!

ANYWAY, so last night I'm reading SHARDS OF HONOR, the first half of the omnibus CORDELIA'S HONOR by Lois McMaster Bujold, my favorite author. I read CORDELIA'S HONOR once a year, not intentionally. I just get in the mood for that story again. Specifically SHARDS OF HONOR, which is my favorite of the entire Vorkosigan Adventures series. There is a scene where Cordelia is returning to Beta Colony, a desert planet, and a cloud is described as ocher. I'm horrible at non-standard colors and even though the context tells me what the color is, I want to know the actual definition. Easier than you might think when one reads on an e-reader. It includes a dictionary. Aside from not having to lug around paper books, having a dictionary on hand is my second-favorite feature. I read the definition of ocher and it's like a stick of dynamite set next to the crack in my creative dam.

There are mistakes in JH. I rushed Jehovah agreeing to work for the Hanged Man. The climax needs some work. But who gives a shit? First draft. Embrace the crapitude. You know what the next 30,000 words are supposed to be so what are you waiting for?

It was the end of the NaNo'd chapter. It was too sucky. It was so sucky as to only reinforce my poor opinion of NaNo. It needs to be fixed.

The entire setting is in a refugee ghetto called the Nation. 53 blocks representing the 53 states of the United States of America when that nation collapsed and refugees were ferried to Africa when the waters were rising. The city is built beneath a giant platform city, one so large as to block out the sun. Instead, there is a giant array with lightbulbs to make it bright as day. The move in stages, increments of 30 minutes. First and second position, the first hour of day, are considered dawn. Jehovah arrives at the DMZ at dawn and I NaNo'd the scene.

Ocher is the key. Dawn shouldn't go to full brightness. It should be at half-power. There would be a dull yellow pall over everything. Ocher. Capital Center at Philadelphia Park shouldn't be a big crater. The crater should be on the inside. From Lazarus Street, he should see the front of the Offices of he Judiciary and walk around to the Offices of Refugees Advocate Authority when he sees that a big fucking bomb went off right in the middle of it all. It was all backward. It was too short. And it was the wrong color.

I revised the end of the NaNo'd chapter into non-NaNo being. I'm about to finish that one and start the next chapter fresh, to which I expect to successfully write the next 30,000 words without stressing on the final gun battle between the Kansas City Park Family and the deputies or of how I can tie Jesus Street back into things, because I honestly don't know if I can.

For now though... #amwriting. Bam said the lady.


1 I originally chose the word Reliarachic while writing WANTED as a means of showing just how overly-complicated that society was. Its own adjective was hard to say. Now that I have a novel set there, though, I'm thinking I might need to change it to something like Reliarish or something similar.

2 You thought to yourself "You mean 'A New Hope'" and you are wrong. There are only three Star Wars movies and they were named Star Wars, SW: Empire Strikes Back, and SW: Return of the Jedi. This whole renaming and numbering thing is crap, made only more crap by the absolutely horrendous prequels that would have existed if Lucas had ever been dumb enough to make them. Thankfully for all of us, he left the original trilogy untouched and unchanged5.

3 Pat Rothfuss sold his books as a trilogy, having written all three over the course of ten years. Given that original effort, he's still spent almost half that time over rewriting the second in the series because the original offering was so bad (per his own description).

4 Seeing what happened with the Wheel of Time and how long it takes Martin to produce another Ice and Fire book, The Third World is a setting explored in trilogies. There is a trilogy of stories with a meta-arc, and each trilogy's meta-arc combines to build an epic arc. That way if I ever die, at least the trilogies are complete. You can imagine why I'm not rushing to write something of such tremendous scope considering I haven't even been published yet.

5 Han shot first.

October 28, 2010

Reformed Conservative in a Liberal World

Conservative blowhard commentators often accuse this or that media of being liberal (depending on which media they want to accuse at that particular moment). While I feel the following is true about any medium, I am speaking today about print publishing so will keep this opinion only there. I don't think publishing is liberal. I think publishing is capitalistic. It will print whatever book will make it money. (Or how else could Glenn Beck and Ann Coulter continue to spew their crazy?) The people that work in publishing, however, are predominantly liberal.

October 27, 2010

Accept the Crapitude

So, invoking rule 2a didn't have an immediate impact. I chose to finished Bujold's CRYOBURN1 before getting back to work for a few reasons which I may or may not enumerate below2. Anyway, this morning was technically a writing day, but I quickly realized that rule 2a was unnecessary. The writing was crap, but it was a level of crapness that seemed appropriate for a first draft. To stop and revise 40,000 words would reestablish neither voice nor rhythm in a fashion conducive to continuing the work. It was a time sink, a trap. It is the very reason rule 2 exists to begin with.

So instead, I began spot checking. Spot checking being reading while correcting errors I might happen upon. Mostly I refamiliarized myself with the Nation's bad grammar, Jehovah's obsession with family, Sid's foul-mouthed excitability, and Three's lovable innocence. It reminds me how excited I was writing JH before I stopped to revise TTS. It makes me want to write the work again. This is what I needed. I needed to warm up the engine so I could drive in the snow.

It doesn't fix my immediate concern that there's something wrong near where I stopped. I hope that it will come to me soon and I can correct it. Otherwise I'll have to soldier on. And I won't say that I just needed to be inspired again. That's just crap. What I needed was to love JEHOVAH'S HITLIST more than THE TRIAD SOCIETY. That has proved much more difficult than normal (see footnote3 too for hypotheses). While my word count won't be going up today, it may start going up tomorrow, definitely by Friday. Absolutely by Monday or the warning sirens go off.

Either way, it's time for Jehovah to discover the ruins of the Nation's government, meet with racist Rori Schapp (that will eventually lead to the story's thesis statement later in the book when he's talking to Dominic Texas), confront the deputy that follows him, and move the plot along. I want to have this first draft finished by the new year.

The killer? When I get beta feedback for TTS, I'll have to stop again. While I think TTS was served wonderfully for taking a longer break to begin JH before revision, JH seems to be suffering now because of the repeated breaks.

1 The end of this book would have been crushing to a series fan if Bujold hadn't spoiled it a year ago on her MySpace blog. It's almost enough to cause an AYFKM moment. It's a half-AYFKM, which is why this is only a footnote and not its own post like it almost was yesterday when I read it. It would have been delicious heartache, the kind of thing that Liz would chide me about for months after reading it if I had written it. But I knew it was coming.

2 The hardest part of starting JH again was that I didn't want to stop revising TTS. Receiving beta feedback on the first three chapters so soon after finishing my own revision, and seeing how much the novel improved because of that feedback, I wanted to keep going. There are 30 more chapters that need this kind of polish. Let's get to it! But I have to actually let people read the manuscript. ...dammit.

I also think there's a problem somewhere. Maybe Jehovah accepted the Hanged Man's threats too readily. Perhaps he needed to know he was being followed sooner. Even though I understand how dangerous the Hanged Man is and that Jehovah with his obsession with family would absolutely kill five strangers to keep them all safe, I'm not sure if I've properly communicated all of that.

3 I've totally stolen Nate Wilson's footnote gimmick. I commented that it really freed up my writing from those pesky asides. This is proving much more true than I realized at the time. This makes blogging so much easier. Why doesn't everyone have footnotes? Look at how easily I can communicate side-information without obstructing the flow of the main thought. Genius! Pure genius!

4 You just went back and looked because you didn't remember there being a fourth footnote. Didn't you? ...I think the footnotes might have just jumped the shark. Shit.

October 26, 2010

Print is Killing Publishing

Whether you love the smell of paper books or not, digital distribution will be the primary means of accessing text-based media within your lifetime. Three years ago I was in a meeting of department heads and vice presidents and all the people that make decisions on things. We were discussing the company's ebook strategy. Three years ago, Flashpaper was new and xml-ebooks were in their first iteration. We were on the precipice and most people didn't know it.

We're now over the precipice, in case you're wondering. We're falling. Argue all you want that you prefer paper. We'll hit the bottom soon enough.

Flashpaper seems like old hat now. XML is realized (not fully, as we continue to experiment with enhanced ebooks). HTML5 and CSS3 are the vanguard of the mobile revolution, where computers play second hat to smart phones and tablets. The entire publishing paradigm is shifting and those companies that deal with text-based media are trying to figure out how to handle such a rapidly changing market.

At this meeting, standing a the precipice, we discussed the marketplace, the challenges of digital sales, and most importantly, the challenge of pricing. I asked what I thought was a simple enough question: Why don't we just sell content directly to the consumer?

Now at the time, ebooks represented less than 1% of total sales. MUCH less. The industry moneymaker at the time (and currently, though not for much longer) was paper books. Paper books sold in stores and online at Amazon. A book's marketing budget was much smaller than what was needed to force any one particular title to the forefront of the consumer consciousness. So much of the business depended on customers finding the books while looking for other items. (You know the "people who browsed this item also looked at X, Y, Z" suggestions on Amazon? Those are a big deal.)

The answer was as simple as the question. We can't sell directly to customers because it will upset the market. Cutting the middleman out of a particular part of the market would rock the boat for the much larger revenue generator.

In truth, the answer isn't so simple. It is short, but it embodies so many challenges that publishing isn't willing to tackle. How do you set up a marketplace? Which department owns it and maintains it? Will this require new staff and the costs that go along with them? How does a marketplace work? (I cannot express to you the number of meetings I had to have with directors and VPs explaining what meta-text and catalog searching is.) How do you handle international sales? How do you draw users to your market without the goods of other publishers that are offered in the collective of a place like Amazon? How do you establish industry market standards without provoking (more) anti-trust accusations? How do you sell books?

Did you catch that last one? How do you sell books? Publishers are really good at selling books to the market. Publishers are not very good at selling books to the customer. The industry grew up in cooperation with the market, not in opposition to it. Publishers do not have the staff, the institutional knowledge, or the will to bring anything but a marginal effort to bear when it comes to direct selling.

How does that affect you and me? You get the agency model of ebook selling. Ebooks cost as much as their hard-back brethren because the cost still accommodates the middle man. Rather than a 50/50 split between author and publisher, the whole thing is muddled by including a third party to act as a literary fence.

With the inclusion of self-publishing arms and fourth-party catalogs like Smashwords, marketplace e-bookshelves are less accommodating than ever for browsing. There aren't enough ways to hone searches aside from direct keyword searches. If you want to see fantasy, you get sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. And a LOT of it. And a lot of that, self-published. Sure Tor might not represent 100% of the fantasy market, but when you trace so many of the imprints up to their parent corporations, you'd be surprised how many of them are owned by the same people (Penguin owns at least four different fantasy imprints. Tor at least three, and so on). Bundle all these titles into a top-notch database driven search engine, slap a nice marketplace on the front of it, and all of a sudden you don't need to charge $17.50 for an ebook. You can charge $10 and make more money than you ever did before.

With the rapidly changing distribution paradigm, the obligations of playing nice with the market because of print will soon be meaningless. The problem is, by the time that happens, the publishing industry will have given up any opportunity it had to establish itself as a market option for readers of its work, will have allowed Amazon to muscle its way into the industry despite spats with Macmillain (which I still contend Amazon won despite [or because of] the application of the agency model to ebook pricing [something that will bite publishers in the ass]).

The game is being played while we fall. When we hit the bottom, the game ends, the new era of publishing begins, and only one victor will get up and walk away. The more we fall and the more I see the game played, I predict that victor to be Amazon. If decisive action is not taken, publishers, authors, and customers alike will lie broken and bloodied at the foot of the Cliffs of E-sanity.

October 24, 2010

A Matter of Perspective

My wife and I were passing through Greeley Park a number of years back during a summer art fair. Painters, photographers, and home jewelers displayed their wares. This was back at a time when my then-employer continued to promise me an office. When I passed a small photograph that I absolutely loved and it was only $20, I decided to pick it up. It would be fantastic to put on my desk!

I set it on top of my desk at home with a few posters of New Hampshire (like the flume) where it sat for the next three years. It sat there when I got laid off. It sat there when I took a demotion to work for another company. It sat there when I moved laterally to secure a full time position that would in no way warrant me having an office.

We bought a townhouse and were setting up our home office much like we had before. But this time, a lot of the things we had put on top of the desk were being placed elsewhere. (We gave away a lot of stuff and had some extra space on bookshelves, etc.) Where oh where would I put this picture I love so much? My wife says, why don't we hang it?

*blink. blink.*

The photo is of a dead tree sticking out of the Nashua River. It looks black and white, but it's just a gray day without any color on the trees in the background. It's dark and misty. The water is this opaque force that came up around this tree on all sides and it was trapped there, helpless. (The picture is not online and I can't find the photographer's website because of a Brit with the same name sucking up the SEO [search engine optimization--a term you need to know as an aspiring author]). You've probably seen a tree like this before though, yeah? One that's growing in the middle of the river, and you can't figure out how it got there because it would have had to grow up out of the water and that only works for Aphrodite.)

I ask my wife if she's certain. She tells me yes, she likes that picture too. Really, says I? I would have thought it too dark for your tastes. Dark? says she. I find it to be a very hopeful photo.

*blink. blink.*

How is that hopeful? says I. It's a dead tree!

No, it's a tree that may bloom again. It stands for the hope of rebirth and what may come in the future.

No, it's a tree that had its time and is dead. It stands for the absolute inevitability of the future. We all die eventually.


So the picture hangs on the wall in my home office, meaning two entirely different things to two different people. That's pretty cool.

October 22, 2010

Beware the AYRTD Bird and Invoking Rule 2a

This has been a reading week. I finished JULIET1. I'm almost half-way through CRYOBURN. I've finished the first disc of ARABIAN NIGHTS. I keep taking my Eee PC to work because I feel the need to write, but when I think of what to write next, it's not clicking. I know what I need to do, but because I've been enjoying reading, I haven't been stressing forcing myself back into things (60k and JH is complete, a mark I can hit in November if I want to posture for the NaNo writers2. What I need to do is invoke rule 2a.

I've done this once before and it proved incredibly effective. Going back to the beginning and revising the current WIP after stopping to revise a completed draft both improves the ms and gets you a feel for the voice and rhythm of the work you're continuing. It's the one time I let myself go back and revise before the entire thing is finished. I updated my first 250 words on Nathan Bransford's forum to JH given how old BM&BBQ is. It seemed a wasted opportunity to post content from that work since I am no longer actively querying it. Those new 250 words needed some serious revision. I overwrote JH's first chapter and couldn't even make it off the first page without scolding myself. (The new 250 words are derived from the original 500 words and are much better.)

So this will let me rebuild a rhythm, improve the existing work, and maybe think of some new ideas for what's still to come. This is only daunting because I don't usually have this much already complete on a novel when I invoke 2a. I have 40k words in JH. Normally I might only have 10. I don't want to get stuck at the beginning and never get to the end. That's the whole reason rule 2 exists!

1 Not as bad as the AYFKM moment, the AYRTD is when you look at the main character and shout, "Are you really that dumb?" I really enjoyed the first 350 pages of JULIET, but pages 351-400 are just one AYRTD moment after another. The entire climax is impossible if the main character didn't have the mental capacity of a bag full of hammers. She would have realized that everyone had something to gain from manipulating her and no one had been honest, and thus no decision could be made. Thankfully, she chose to mistrust people in a specific order, allowing each of them to shepherd her closer to the finale, leaving the humble reader to ask why he should care about someone unfit to produce offspring less the gene pool continue to be watered down.

Much like the entire plot dependent on the main characters miscommunicating, a plot driven by the protagonist not realizing clues that slap him/her across the face is enough to make me pull my hair out. It's one thing for clues to be cryptic, or riddles or double entendres or genuine intrigue. But when character A gives you a clue and then character B gives you a clue and they both wave the big Clue Flag and you still don't get it? I'm sorry, you're too stupid to have your own book. Go be a supporting character.

2 Really, I'm so hard on NaNo because my first experiences with it were from communities not dedicated to writing. I wasn't part of a group of writers that liked to participate. I was among the majority of NaNo participants, people who wanted to write but never found the time. The excuses were the same every year. They'd sign up to do it and then never start or only write for five days or use anything they write (like this blog post) as their word count. Whatever they could do not to do the one thing they said they really wanted to do. Sorry, but if you want to do something, do it.

October 21, 2010

The Rules (and their Subclauses)

1. One work in progress (WIP) at a time
    a. A work may be suspended to revise a draft of a previously completed manuscript or edit galleys of a manuscript being published

    b. A work may be abandoned if it is not salvageable and a new WIP begun

      i. If an abandoned WIP is resumed, this original work must be stripped for usable content and the manuscript begun anew

2. No revision until the first draft is complete
    a. Revision is permitted to re-establish rhythm if a WIP was suspended to revise the draft of another manuscript

3. Do not write a work that does not have a title
    a. This title can be changed at any time but may not be eliminated outright

4. Write a minimum of 10,000 words on those weeks that are designated "writing weeks."
    a. A non-writing week is a "reading week" wherein a book/books will be read to recharge creative batteries.

5. No more than two consecutive weeks may be designated as a non-writing week, barring extenuating circumstances (e.g. professional obligations, wife in the hospital, etc.)

6. Write chronologically
    a. If inspired, write only until this inspiration is spent and place this at the bottom of the WIP until the story reaches the point at which this inspiration can be assimilated
      i. If inspiration for a non-WIP work occurs, write a blog post tagged "ideas" to satisfy such inspiration then return to the WIP

7. Do not create a project folder for the WIP until the first draft is complete (this is bad luck).
    a. A project folder can be created to store supplementary files (scraps, maps, etc) but the manuscript file must remain in the general "novels" folder of your computer.

8. Copy the manuscript file to a flash drive and secondary storage device every two weeks (or more frequently) to prevent catastrophic data loss in the event of Eee PC theft or destruction

9. Do not show the manuscript to anyone else until it has been revised to second-draft status
    a. A second draft constitutes a minimum of one (but may include more) pass that reviews and revises every chapter of the manuscript

10. Do not query agents until the manuscript is revised to third-draft status
    a. A third draft constitutes the dissemination to qualified third-party reviewers and the application of their feedback to every chapter of the manuscript

October 20, 2010

NaNoing My Problem

When I finish revising a novel, I feel like the train from the climax of Back to the Future 3. Doc Brown threw in those special logs and now I'm going twice as fast as a normal train. Reall, that works for when I finish the novel the first time and when I revise it again after beta reading. Each version is relevant to the color in the movie: first draft = green, second draft = yellow, third draft = red. Then I travel through time or fall into a gorge.

And since traveling through time doesn't work as a metaphor, when it's all done, I fall into a gorge. I'm just going and going and going and I don't want to give up any momentum. I try to switch to a different novel, either something I was already working on or something new. The problem is, each novel has it's own voice. I can't maintain that momentum and switch between mss. I need to slow down. But I can't slow down. There's a chemically infused log that is sending me speeding down the track.

I never want to take off, but I always have to. With the completion of TSS's second draft, I had the good fortune of being sick. So even though I wanted to keep writing (and have 38k of JH to go to), I had to take a few days off. Only a few. Monday arrived and I trying to keep some of that momentum going for this wip. It did not go well. I had trouble capturing the voice and had reservations of the quality of the story over all. It feels a bit thin. There's no complexity or depth. It's just a "go here do this, go there do that" story. It reminds me a lot of THE BLACK COMPANY in that way.

So I pondered this on the way home Tuesday night after producing only a few hundred words. I fell into the gorge and didn't realize it. Now I need to climb back up so I can get back on the tracks. But do I stop and try to wash my pants, or do I just soldier on? Yesterday morning I decided to take the NaNoWriMo way out. I ignored any quality concerns I had for the chapter and just pushed through to the end. Sometimes you just have to say, "I'll have to fix this in revision." This risk is that the quality is so bad as to derail the proper direction of the story. You'll just have to come back later and redo it and then redo everything you wrote after. It's a gamble, and not one that always pays off.

Elizabeth Poole and I have differing opinions on NaNoWriMo. She enjoys it. I do not. I accet that she finds a fun community there, but I do not participate in the community and do not want to lend myself to the activity just to explore the community. I think writing without any concern for quality is bad writing. I think 50,000 words counts as a novel in one or two genres. I think not enough effort is made to explain to participants that what they produce during NaNo is not something that should be sent to agents without revision and review. But most of all, it's that first part. No, I do not go back and revise until the entire manuscript is complete, but I do make a concerted effort to write the best possible first draft. To write with complete abandon is to shit diarrhea on the page. It makes a mess, it stinks, and isn't good for anyone but the flies.

I'd rather see someone write 25,000 first-draft quality pages than 50,000 NaNoWriMo quality pages.

So chapter 15 of JH is shit. Hopefully it's not so runny that it was a waste of time. I'm on chapter 16 now, and that's what I needed.

Does Boston Make Me a Bad Writer?

Once upon a time, I had thought to craft a blog post entitled "The New Yorker's Guide to the Rest of the Country." Many of the agents whose blogs/tweets I follow not only work in New York but grew up there as well. They will then jet off to various parts of the country for conferences and conventions and blog/tweet about their experiences there. It is amusing to me that any of these agents should comment on my conduct given their own documentation of their own poor conduct outside of New York, moreover in that they did not understand their conduct was poor. Telling people they are "quaint" is condescending. Ogling a restaurant because you're the only person there is condescending.* Describing to locals how they do not live in New York is condescending. They know they don't live in New York. They aren't confused about their locale.

I grew up in the middle of Missouri, a small city of 75,000 people (plus another 25 grand for the students at the University of Missouri). I went to high school in a town of 35,000 people. I went to college in a town of 12,000 people. From there I have stuck to urban centers: Denver (Lakewood), St. Louis (St. Louis city**), and then the exurbs of Boston (Nashua, NH). To liken to regional stereotypes, I grew up in the Midwest thus I grew up with manners. It doesn't necessarily hold true, as I've met plenty of people from the Midwest who don't and plenty of people on the East Coast that do. But like so many stereotypes, you can find a kernel of truth if you look for it.

In the Midwest, I was often considered abrasive. On the East Coast, I am downright genteel. The fact that I have mastered the use of the words please, thank you, sir, and ma'am, puts me in the upper 1% (the proper Bostonian parlance being the more familiar "Hey guy!"). I opted not to write my thinly veiled chastisement (though I seem to have accomplished that above regardless) and let the New Yorkers act like New Yorkers. I have begun to question my own dissolution of manners vis a vis my experiences on the MBTA subway (Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, because you know you were trying to figure it out on your own).

The T, as the subway is known, embodies your classic East Coast experience. The general sense a passenger holds in respect his fellow passengers is "Fuck you." Or more appropriately, "Fuck you, guy." It is not uncommon (and by not uncommon I mean it happens every day) for a person to step onto the subway trolley and stop immediately inside the door, blocking access for the twelve people behind him/her. Nine times out of ten, when people are left on the platform, it is not a result of the trolley being full, but that people did not want to back up to the mid-section where there is no available exit. Or even worse, there are open seats but people are standing in front of them, preventing others from sitting down.

I gave up riding the Orange line during rush hour all together following an incident where a rather large woman (and by large I mean she took up the entire door made for two people to enter/exit at a time), stepped onto the trolley and stopped, blocking the twelve people behind her (I counted). Rather than shouldering past her (as is the norm), there was no place for these people to squeeze past and all twelve of them were left on the platform despite there being room for at least twenty people to board. This was her spot and those people be damned. I was struck with the overwhelming urge to kick her in the stomach, leave her sitting on her ass on the platform while those other twelve people boarded and we celebrated righteous vengeance. This is when I knew I needed to stop riding the Orange line.

Just yesterday a very attractive (to me) woman boarded the Green line and blocked half the entrance. When people pushed past her, she gave them the most disdainful, "how dare you" look. I went from being annoyed to truly loathing her just with that one look. That's when I began to worry. Is riding the T diminishing my ability to write humanistic characters? Will they all be selfish assholes with a pervading sense of entitlement and regional superiority? Can I identify good people? Or is my concept of what makes a person good being so harshly skewed that I'll write books full of nothing but dicks?

I used to spar with a coworker when I lived in St. Louis. From Tennessee, her mother had raised her with outmoded Southern sensibilities. She thought I was a sexist because I did not agree that a man was obligated to pay for a date or that he was obligated to open a door for a woman. I told her she was sexist because she was assigning gender roles and that I, being the gentleman that I am (was?), opened the door for anyone regardless of gender.*** Now I don't let anyone go first. Fuck that guy, it's dog eat dog. Saying please seems to net me all the karma I need out here, so why should I give up my seat to that old lady or let that young man who clearly has never ridden the subway before go in front of me?

Ick. I love New England, and I love with bold letters, New Hampshire. But there are some things about living here I do not enjoy. I certainly hope it does not diminish my own character or my own skills the longer I am here.


*Simple rule: The rest of the country is not a zoo. Do not treat it as such.

**Locals know to differentiate between St. Louis city and St. Louis County. The city is not part of the county--or any county for that matter. And the demographics of the city are much more representative of a poor urban center than of any of the incorporated towns that surround it. A bit of trivia, St. Louis city is one of 11 metro cities in the US that are not part of a county.

***Amusing side-note, a group of us went to lunch. On our way back to the office, I held the door for this woman and the rest of the group (an assortment of men and women). We went up the stairs and another male coworker held the second door that lead to our part of the office. She turned to me and said, "See? He held the door for a woman like a gentleman." In 24 steps, she had forgotten who held the first door for her because she was so sure I was a sexist pig.

October 19, 2010

I Love My Company

The formula I always say for meeting colleagues in the publishing industry is to take the decade of a person's age (I'm 33, so 3), subtract 1, and that's the number of publishers that person has worked for. It's amazing how accurate that formula is. Publishing is incredibly incestuous in its hiring practices, we list who we've worked for like a pedigree, and few people are satisfied with the first company they work for.

In my case, the first publisher I worked for was particularly nefarious. I am reminded of that fact today because I just sat through the annual health benefits meeting. Every large corporation has them, and the difference between my former employer and my current is like night and day, or really like Douchebag McAsshole vs Captain Awesome von Awesomesauce.

My last health care meeting with DMcA was representative of my last year with the company. They lied their face off, I called them out on their lies in a combative and non-constructive manner. The gist of the meeting was that they were changing our plans. They would cost more, offer less, have astronomically higher deductibles, and cap on services to everything. They followed this up with rhetoric about how much better the plan was for us because now we could have an HSA. I replied that it was better for us only if we did not get sick. This was a highly accurate assessment of the plan.

I skipped last year's health care meeting with CAvA, but because of the health care legislation, I wanted to see what changes might happen. This is where the screws were going to be put to us.

What I saw was not what I expected. This happened to me over the summer too. I missed the town hall meeting last year where the CEO came and spoke because I got lost (hey, I hadn't been working in Boston this year). When I worked for DMcA, CEO visits were a nightmare. They showed us an hour-long PPT showing how much money they made and that they were freezing our salaries, stopping new hires, and not funding forward-moving strategy so they could make more money. I expected much the same and for the first 8 minutes, I saw how much money the company made (in short, a shit load). The remaining 52 minutes were spent explaining our moral obligation to educate the world, the strategies we were implementing to do so, the funding those strategies would receive, and taking vice presidents to task for not being more aggressive in implementing fare business strategies.

I'm not making that up. Read that paragraph again. So what would I see at the health care meeting? This guy wasn't the wicked intelligent, charismatic CEO with the grand vision. This is the guy that manages the nuts and bolts. This is where you squeeze the workers for cost savings.

Oh, when will I learn. First, the guy is funny in his own right. Second, a discussion of cost didn't come until 40 minutes in and it was only one slide long. He started with "Our biggest expense is high-value illnesses like cancer, so we're changing policies to make it easier for employees to receive preventative care." Yes, my company actually uses common sense. Rather than limiting health care access to reduce costs, it increased front-end expenditures to reduce larger expenditures for untreated illnesses. 100% preventative coverage, free cancer screenings, and distributing free copies of a popular nutritional author who happens to be published by our trade division. Total costs are rising marginally, but the services my company offers me is improving across the board.

This is how corporate America should act. This is the ethical and responsible relationship a company should have with its employees. This is Captain Awesome von Awesomesauce. I love my company. It is the greatest place in the world to work.

And at the very end of the presentation he dropped the bomb. Because of new health care legislation, my company's health plan is considered a Cadillac plan. Come 2018, the company will have to pay the government $80 million a year to continue offering this level of coverage to its employees. What? No! This is how a responsible American business should treat its employees. They should all be doing this. The company will not consider an additional $80mm charge to its annual health costs. So it will instead be forced to reduce benefits to fall outside this range.

Dammit Congress. I'm annoyed, but am not worried. The current health care legislation will not be what is implemented in 2018. Still, what the hell. You could quadruple my salary and I still wouldn't make the "rich people are bad" $250k. What are you doing taxing my health care?

October 17, 2010

What if Books Were Like TV

Following the recommendation of many, many people, I finally got around to renting the first disc of season 1 of "White Collar" (that's the USA show that stars Chuck's Bryce Larkin as a conman working for the feds). I have to say, the pilot really hooked me. It wasn't as flimsy as I thought it was going to be. Characters got some depth and there was a really interesting supporting cast.

One of my favorite things to do with television is to watch a series pilot and then see what changes when the pilot is picked up. For those of you that don't know, a pilot is shot and given to the studio to determine whether they're going to pick up the show for a season (or a half season or a handful of episodes, etc). This means, a pilot may be good enough to get the series picked up, but certain tweaks happen when the series begins, usually with the supporting cast or particular character traits.

(Look at Agent Gibbs' team when he appears in JAG compared to when NCIS became its own series. Those people are never mentioned again. Likewise, compare how much pop culture Gibbs knows in Yankee White compared to the rest of the series.)

What amuses me the most about this juxtaposition is that the show so rarely acknowledges the people that are no longer there. They might get a one-line good-bye if they're acknowledged at all. Or, if the effect they have on the plot is relevant (such as June giving Bryce a place to stay), that effect may remain while the character vanishes.

Can you imagine what it would be like if books were like that? More and more, authors are gimmicking out the book-by-chapter sales. Or the choose the direction of the story contests. Can you imagine what it would be like to read a story where certain characters are determined not to be best and just abandoned or completely retconned in later chapters?

Is it because it's in print that we'd be upset? Or is it just that television has done it for so long that we're used to it? I can't imagine reading a book where a secondary character is replaced by a similar but distinctly different character in chapter 5 without explanation. Or perhaps we accept that the entire story is told in a book and the author is given time to go back and revise; whereas, it would not make sense to reshoot a pilot episode with new characters. Still, I always want to turn the network and say, "You know I see that. Right? I see the difference."

Sometimes it's actually a good thing. Some characters don't work or the writers threw in the kitchen pot trying to make the network like them, and you get the most ridiculous characters. Sometimes, like in the case of Burn Notice, it's a step back.

I liked the pilot cast. I was actually shocked at how progressive it was. Sure the two leads were both white males, but the supporting cast was four black people and two white people. Of those six people, four of them were women. And of those four women, one of them was a lesbian. As American television goes, that's a whole lot of minority for a non-minority focused show.

By the third episode, we're down to two women and two men. One of them is black and one is latina, but the lesbian is gone. Now IMDB tells me June and Diana come back, but I'm disappointed at the loss of Denise Vasi's Cindy. I thought she acted well, I liked her confidence, and it was nice having a female that would be totally immune to the charming main character's whiles. I also appreciated how little emphasis they put on her sexuality. Too often the "gay" character requires quotes because the writers make such a big deal of it that it becomes a distraction, as if gay people aren't capable of working in a normal, every-day environment.

I'm not sure if I'll stick with this show. The episode I just watched failed pretty horribly as a procedural. And actually it failed worse than normal. It made an effort to point out that FBI Agent can't use the gold coin because it was obtained illegally, but then a confession is taken based on the stolen gold coin. Any evidence deriving from illegally obtained evidence would be thrown out. The entire episode is a road map of how to let two criminals escape any kind of prosecution.

If you're going to be a procedural, you have to get your procedures close enough to the truth that the armchair-lawyers don't see the gaping hole you drove your plot through.

Clarification, Explanation

I changed my twitter profile recently from "I write." to "I write in the morning. I make ebooks all day. I write in the evening. I do other stuff." There was some confusion to this statement. It was presumed that I self-publish in ebook format, and that is not the case. I work for a publishing company as a media project manager. One of the things I am responsible for creating is the ebook (in its many formats, pdf, xml, flash, etc). I changed it because in the pub-o-sphere, the paradigm of agents giving advice to aspiring writers, they can forget that we have day jobs too. I have eight years in publishing, six of those in media production. I have participated in the creation of estrategy and worked the guidelines for xml creation from typeset PDFs of finished books. So, you can imagine, when an agent tells me I'm wrong about ebooks, it grinds my gears. The closest an agent will get on the production side is perhaps giving feedback on a cover. When it comes to this part of the business, the paradigm is reversed. There is a caveat to all this.

October 14, 2010

The Satisfaction of Success

I am a success!

What? Did I get an agent? No. Did I get an offer of publication from a major publishing house? No. Did I get a date with Rosario Dawson? No.

Yet I am still a success. I have not accomplished any of the above professional goals (and if I never accomplish that third one, it'll probably go a lot smoother with my wife), but I have done the thing I perhaps love the most. I finished a novel.

This feeling right here, the mix of excitement and euphoria, is the big pay off for me. It's not the completion of the first draft. That's just a step in the road. It's finishing the revision where I feel confident enough in the manuscript that I can send it to other people to read. Of all the works that I have finished (and even JEHOVAH'S HITLIST, which isn't complete), I felt THE TRIAD SOCIETY was my weakest offering. One of the reasons I continued on to JH instead of TTS was because I was unenthusiastic about he ms. That extra time helped a lot, though, and I realized a lot of my mistakes. I tweaked here and fixed there and made one massive change (Herman to Annelie) that made all the difference in the world.

I just took something mediocre and made it great. ...or at least better. Good enough that I'm happy with it, feel it's representative of my talent. I have accomplished my main goal. That is a great feeling.

So whether my current partial leads to a full and (fingers crossed) leads to representation, it's not as important as what I've done write now. I wrote a novel from start to end, and I think it's good. I hope you get the chance to read it, and that you enjoy it too.

October 13, 2010

The Importance of a Name

THE TRIAD SOCIETY is a pre-steam punk fantasy. What does that mean? That means steam technology is in its early advances. I don't have airships or the like. I have steam-infused water and other similar "inventions!" Reliarach is the first kingdom on the Crescent Sea to develop such technology, the other six kingdoms being in the technological dark ages (a pun!). The king of Reliarach is Urban.

Urban.

The entire story is set in a city where this new technology and its resultant socio-economic impact is tearing everything apart. And I named the king Urban. I wanted to name the king Urban as soon as I decided that I would include a king in the story. Only after the fact did I think it was a cute nod toward the atmosphere I was developing. And after that, I never thought on it again.

Not until now. A beta reader commented that the name was like beating him over the head with the message. OH NO! I hate that. I do not like to be beat about the head or have my ears boxed or any other physical violence from messages. That leads to AYFKM moments!

So now I have to ponder and ponder hard. Is this one person's reaction or should I change the name. I really like King Urban, but at the same time, I will not beat my readers about the head with a name. Twould be akin to beating them with a fish, and no one likes that.

Trading at $1,365.00 an ounce

A good beta reader is worth his or her weight in gold. As of closing October 13, 2010, gold traded at $1,365 an ounce. An ounce is equal to 1/16 of a pound. (2.2 pounds equals 1 kilogram for you metric folks.) Assuming Elizabeth Poole weighs about 110 pounds (when she's soaking wet maybe), that means she's worth $2,204, 400.

Yesterday's exciting news is that an agent that appeared on the infamous List asked for sample pages from THE TRIAD SOCIETY. I wore myself out yesterday doing the Dance of Joy. But when I came to my senses, I realized I was unprepared! The thing is still in revision. It hasn't even gone to beta readers! I should email her and say sample pages will have to wait (this request came outside of the normal querying process as a result of the sample pitch paragraph submitted as part of the webinar I mentioned previously).

NO WAY!

I'm not waiting. This thing says I have seven days to submit the first 30-35 pages. They'll then take two months to review those pages. I can revise the first 30-35 pages in seven days (already finished first pass) and the remainder in two months. No problem. There's no reason to delay here. The thing will be done and polished before they (undoubtedly) ask for the full manuscript. I've revised 29/33 chapters already. Pretty much all I need is the beta read/revision. So if my beta readers can review the first 30 pages right now, this balls a rolling!

Sara Megibow has expressed her frustration at fantasy authors glutting the early chapters with world building. The reason I'm doing a second pass before beta? I'm worried I did the same thing. There are a few paragraphs in chapter one and a section in chapter two in particular that I think need to be moved or cut all together. Without saying any of this, I send the ms to Liz and she pings the EXACT chapters I was worried about AND the EXACT section I was worried about.

That's not just skill. That's peace of mind. Now I can skip worrying whether I was being overly strict with myself or risking this great opportunity by submitting something I was on the fence about (I liked the world building, but it mucked up the pacing a bit). Now I know. It wasn't me being hard on myself. It was me seeing a problem (not a glaring one, those are easy to pick out. The subtle ones are harder). I need to tool this stuff for the betterment of the story. I have confirmation. I have peace of mind. And that is invaluable.

October 12, 2010

Stuff Stolen from Other People

Eric at Pimp My Novel retweeted this blog post that has a great quote:

“An absolutely necessary part of a writer’s equipment, almost as necessary as talent, is the ability to stand up under punishment, both the punishment the world hands out and the punishment he inflicts on himself.” – Irwin Shaw

I'll try to keep that in mind next time the query process is thunder punching me in the junk.


Le R. at The Rejectionist posted a You Tube video sent to her by Maine Character. You will find value in what it has to say, so I repost it here for your edification.

October 9, 2010

Redux: There is No Such Thing as Writer's Block

Not quite sure why people are so much more willing to read blogger than live journal as one is just as easy as the other (other than displaying in reader, but we won't get into an RSS feed discussion). Anyway, because it has reared its ugly head again, I feel inclined to repost one of my earlier journal entries on writer's block. It doesn't exist. Stop making excuses.

I can't remember who the author was, someone I respected immensely at the time (Kurt Vonnegut Jr. perhaps?), but I read his opinions long long ago and to this day, I have found them mostly accurate. I say mostly because physical and psychological factors can also play a part in one's writing, so if you're exhausted, overly stressed, or in some other way not prepared to write, it may be frustrating if you're trying to push yourself through. Excluding such instances and focusing directly on writing (when you're in the proper state of self, when you should be writing), there is no such thing as writer's block.

I'll say it again, there's no such thing as writer's block. If you find yourself stuck, unable to move the story forward or unsure of where to go from where you are, you're not "blocked." You've made a mistake. Go back and review what you've written. Somewhere in there is a mistake. When you've corrected the mistake, the story will continue to progress normally. Thus, writing without mistakes will yield a fluid process from beginning to end. Granted, by fluid process, I don't mean that you'll write a publishable book on your first try. There's still revision and corrections to be made. But it's a serious mistake that stops a writer cold.

I have yet to discover this claim to be untrue.

October 8, 2010

But this is what I do!

I went to lunch across the street, diligently working on the revision of TTS (Otwald is about to meet Crown Princess Klara, which will require some serious scrubbing). The owner's wife brings out my food and sees me tapping away on my laptop.

"No more work," she says. "It's time to enjoy ourselves!"

I smiled and nodded, but really just wanted to reply, "This is how I enjoy myself."

This is what I do, lady.

A Ponderance: What do you think is back there?

My good online friend and beta reader, LurkerWithout works nights at a hotel. Having held this job myself, I understand his psychological pain. To pass the time, he will occasionally doodle and share those doodles with the masses. (That's you and me, in case you were wondering just who was amassed.) Today's offering is worth reposting, both for its humor, but in particular the fourth panel:



I love the angle of the door and the streaks that give it texture and make me feel like I'm looking at a door that's really there and really weird. But it's the question! The question demands an answer and my brain just starts turning.

What is behind the crooked door?

Is it a crooked world? Is it a world filled with optical illusions where everything is level, but based on its craft, everyone walks slanted in an attempt to maintain their balance? Or is it metaphorical? Is the world on that side the same as ours but crooked? Half-way between this world and the bizarro world, where everything seems normal until the twelve-foot tall white rabbit comes out of his pawn shop and beats the shit out of you because you were looking through the window too long. Don't fuck with the white rabbit. If you're looking you're buying else move along.

So move along you do, walking down a street like any other you might walk in New York at night, feeling dirtier than it really is because the air is stagnant and filled with exhaust. You turn in an alley because that's what one does when he feels like he's being followed and no matter where you go, you always feel like you're being followed inside the crooked door. That's where you meet Tommy the Rat, but he's not a squealer. Bobby the Hamster is, but Bobby the Hamster is Tommy's bitch and the hamster doesn't do anything without the rat's say so (unless you can get Bobby alone and buy him an orange soda, but since you don't have the peach pits to pay up, how are you going to get an orange soda?).

All you have is cloth money (as dollars are cloth not paper, so we really need to change that phrase) and that doesn't get you very far here. You need yourself some peach pits or people will think you're a chump.

Maybe you can turn a trick or two, but the corners are already full of fellas and their pimp looks like she can kick your ass. It doesn't much anyway cause the fellas are as broke as you. No one wants humans anymore. There's nothing finer than the foxes uptown. They don't have pimps. They have services with phone lines and operators. An hour with a fox costs more pits than you could make in a year turning tricks down on the corner, so just give that up and see if you can't pick up some day labor down by the docks.

When does the sun rise here?

October 7, 2010

A Ponderance: How to Steal from the Greeks

You may have noticed Nate Wilson appearing here and there in the comments section. He's a good bean. He's a bean you'd use in your award-winning chili. He has his own blog. If you have not read it, you should. The footnotes alone make it worthwhile. Recently, he posted an explanation of why the blog is named Sometimes, the Wheel is on Fire. This origin is wicked awesome. I immediately declared I would steal this from him and use it for a story. I pondered and I pondered and I pondered some more. But no matter how much I pondered, I could not come up with a story better than the original mythology. It's just cool. But it's not cool to just use the mythology as if it was something you came up with. If you can't play a tune and make it dance like a monkey, there's no reason to include it.

But today that monkey danced! The mistake I made was to look at new stories where the wheel could be used. Oh no, my friends, I should have been looking in stories I've already written. Or more precisely, the one I'm writing right now.

In JEHOVAH'S HITLIST, you don't get a lot of the resources you see today. No wood, no plastic. Most everything is fabric, recycled paper, or metal (mostly metal--aluminum or tin and the like). Each avenue is named for the 53 states and has three or four parks named for the larger cities in that state, the largest always being the capital city. These parks, lacking trees or vegetation of any kind, are a lot like your modern day skate parks and playgrounds. The problem is, the tinkers have already looted all the movable metal. Swing sets are barren, teater totters have nothing with which to teeter or totter. So you get these great big cement ramps and these concave bowls where if you run fast enough, it's like you're going sideways.

But what about the larger pieces of metal too heavy for the tinkers to haul away? What about those wheels where you run in a circle and then grab hold and go round and round?

So far, the punishment I've found for almost anything is death, and that's a bit extreme. There would have to be some method of punishment for minor infractions. The gangs aren't going to shoot you over every little thing. The deputies aren't going to string you up. You'd get beaten up or left out in the elements. But how? Circling a pursing and beating them is blah. No curb stomping or anything that extreme.

The wheel!

When Jehovah finally goes up above and to Ademi Dayo, the young woman he has to kill, the two talk about the differences of their worlds. Jehovah talks about how much trouble he got into when he was younger, always acting out. When you get in trouble, they tie you to the wheel and throw rocks at you.

How horrible!

Nah, not really. It could be a lot worse.

How could anything be worse than that?

Sometimes, the wheel is on fire.

BAM!

Idea stolen and assimilated. Boo. Yah.

October 6, 2010

Beware the AYFKM, My Son

There are plenty of reasons a person may stop reading your book at the beginning: overwriting, underwriting, rehashed plots or story elements, a disconnection with the protagonist. I can't even list the number of books I've picked up and put back down before the end of chapter 1 (it's a long list). That's the important part. I can't list them. I don't even remember most of them. Those books are discarded from my memory as not worth remembering or filed into the "not right for me" category. The worst that happens when someone starts to read and dislikes your story is that they stop. They might go so far as to comment that they did not enjoy the story when the subject matter comes up. Sure it stings and you want all the readers you can get, but in the grand scheme of things, much worse things can happen.

Like the AYFKM--the Are You Fucking Kidding Me moment. This is so much more dangerous than a person giving up after page two. The AYFKM happens much later in the book. The reader has invested time and money, but more importantly has invested in the story. He or she cares for what's happening, cares for the characters and the outcome. There is something at stake. Then you hammer the square peg into the round hole and that whole investiture comes apart. You shat on their feelings with your plot decision and there are consequences for your action.

AYFKM Level One
The reader immediately stops reading the book. They then seek out others to vent their frustrations, say like a blog post. ;) They're not waiting for conversation. They're starting the conversation. This isn't the same as weighing in with a "yeah, I just didn't like xxx main character, so I never read the series." This is "I was reading xxx and yyy happened. Are you fucking kidding me?!?!"

AYFKM Level Two
The reader immediately stops reading the book and refuses to buy any more books in the series (or possibly no books by you ever again). They actively begin conversations, but rather than voicing their frustration, they tell people that the entire experience is a waste of time. Stay away from this series. The author completely ruins everything that came before it (*cough*HPbook7*cough*). If you're lucky, this person may read the back cover copy for your next series, but as far as this one goes, it's dead in the water, and they're going to try to sink it with everyone they know too.

AYFKM Level Three
This is where all the bells and whistles go off. The torpedo is in the water and the submarine has to dive before everyone on board is killed. You didn't just waste their time, you hurt them on a personal level. For whatever reason, the bond they established with your story/character was an intense emotional investiture, and you just gave them a golden shower. You have made yourself an internet enemy. Nothing you ever write will ever earn you forgiveness. They will hunt you across the internet and make you pay. They will troll your blogs, spoil your Twitter hashtag conversations, and even show up at conventions to tell you how much they hate you. Nothing breads entitlement like an open mic and anonymity (aka, the internet), and you're about to suffer the worst of it. And you deserve it (or so they think).


And the real trick is, beneath all this self-assured rage, the person has a point. There is quite possibly, a fundamental flaw in the event that set them off. Too often an author will bend the plot to accommodate a personal desire/whim at the expense of immersion/realism. I know writers who decide what the beginning and end are going to be, what they want the plot to be, and they'll beat the story as hard as they must to move it from point A to point B.

I had a level one AYFKM moment this evening, that I will put behind the cut because it includes spoilers.

Frenetic

I have stopped revising so I can read BLUE FIRE. I haven't opened my computer since Monday evening. This isn't too bad because I should finish the book by tomorrow. It's not a long-term delay or anything. And reading a good book is a great way to recharge one's batteries. Keep the juices flowing and the ideas fresh. Flowing juice can be difficult to handle, though. Fresh ideas just pop out of your head and demand to be put to paper (or in my case, screen). I've had some new ideas for THE SEVENTH SACRIFICE (and I still want to get to the end because I love it so much. I had a HUGE breakthrough for JEHOVAH'S HITLIST that requires I write another 30,000 words before I even get to it. I have some corrections I need to make to THE TRIAD SOCIETY once I start revising again--of course those come at the end as well, so I need to get that back in gear. I've even been having ideas for WINE AND VINEGAR, which I had forgotten about until I found the manuscript file the other day.

I feel absolutely frenetic inside. I'm really enjoying the book, and I want to finish it. But all these ideas! They demand attention! They demand appeasement! And the worst of it is, once I finish the book, I will still only work on one of them at a time. I'll need to finish revising TTS so I can send it out to beta readers so I can go back to JH and finish that first draft. Then when I set that aside, I can start back on T7S, which I'm effectively starting from scratch and aborting my previous attempt. So IF (and that's an all caps IF) I write WINE AND VINEGAR directly after T7S, that won't be until this time next year at the earliest.

GAH! Too much juice! Too much juice!!!

October 5, 2010

BLUE FIRE, Writing to Age, and the Agency Model for eBooks

 BLUE FIRE by Janice Hardy released today. Some how, I switched the 10 and the 5 and thought it wasn't coming out until Friday even though new books come out on Tuesdays. I are dumb. So I get an email while riding the train into work saying the download is available. I turn on my nook's wifi to see if there's a signal on the train. There is. And I promptly download the new book, setting aside the two other books I'm still in the midst of completing (those being ROSEMARY AND RUE and JULIET). As a personal note, this is the first ebook I've ever pre-ordered.

I was introduced to Janice's first novel, THE SHIFTER, through Kristin Nelson's blog when she discussed the challenges of titles. (THE SHIFTER was originally titled THE PAIN MERCHANTS, which is a much cooler title but was thought it might inhibit the target market from buying this title.) Kristin being an agent I want to work with, I have looked over all the fantasy novels she has sold so far. Now, I'm a bit finicky in my fantasy tastes. If you give your main character a "cool name," it's an immediate turn off. This was the first of Kristin's fantasy novels that piqued my interest.

I actually passed on it the first time, though. Then she did a second blog post where she posted first pages. She was illustrating how important first pages were and how little Janice's first pages changed from what she sent as part of her query and what they submitted to publishers in an attempt to make the sale. They were very similar, almost identical. (Hence, first pages are important. But then, so are the rest of them. :) Reading the first pages, I felt like it was a book worth buying. Two days later, I had finished the entire thing. I read it again about six months later. It's a short but solid work. I am glad that the second novel came out when promised and not fallen into the sophomore slump of coming out years after the initial success.

What really shocked me about this series is that Kristin called it Middle Grade. Wow, really? It has a young protagonist, absent sexuality (other than young infatuation) or profanity, and most violence is threat more than execution. And it has a short word count. But still, Middle Grade? I would have assumed YA (sure, the line between the two isn't as distinct as between genres, but I don't usually read YA and I never read MG--I thought--so this came as a shocker to me).

I have one young-reader's story. Without it being finished, I don't know it's classification. MG is kind of new, really. Everything else I write is most certainly adult. I have graphic violence, profanity, sexuality, and all used (I think) in a manner appropriate to the work. Could I take it out? Could Otwald, aged 18, be the star of a YA TRIAD SOCIETY rather than the adult fantasy as I've written it? Until today, I never even considered it. I don't write YA. I have no interest in writing YA (with the exception of HOUSE ON SANDWICH NOTCH LANE). But "The Healing Wars" is a solid story that never seemed "young" to me. It's well written and an immersive setting. I have no qualms reading it. But writing it..?

I don't know, man. I just don't know. That's really the point of this post. Most of the time I just think of YA as the genre every agent and her sister reps when there are less than 30 agents remaining that accept submissions for adult (non-urban) fantasy. Now, let me be clear, I'm not pondering this to possibly expand my available agent pool. I'm just pondering on the state of adult fantasy all together. Between YA and Urban Fantasy, the genre is much diminished.

One last thing to note about BLUE FIRE. I bought it for $9.99. I bought so many more books last year before the agency model was implemented with ebooks. I was buying them left and right. Now that they're being priced $5 higher, I won't buy them. This makes me sad. A lot. There have been a number of books I wanted to buy that were priced too high.

October 2, 2010

The Selby Invitational

If you've browsed my website (and specifically the Inkwell), you will have noticed that I've done some work with D&D. I love me some role playing games. RPG play is highly regionalized. There is a reason D&D was born in Wisconsin. The epicenter of fanatical role-playing is the Midwest. Sure there are groups out here on the East Coast, but nothing like back there. It's just all over the place.

So, my favorite and most prevalent hobby took a bit of a hit when I moved from Missouri to New Hampshire. Role playing out here? I've had a little bit here and there, but nothing like when I lived in St. Louis (and if I had gone to Kansas City, good lord, that would have been endless RPGing).

When I first moved out here, my girlfriend-now-wife was still back in St. Louis. She didn't come out for another month and a half. She was looking for various things she could do to introduce and acclimate herself to her new home. Among the list was meetup.com. She found a board game night hosted at a local Borders just a block and a half from our apartment. She suggested I go and scope it out for us. I like board games. My friend Luke had introduced me to such exciting games as Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride (I had only previously been exposed to lame games like Monopoly). This could be awesome! But I expected it to be three or four losers who got together and played a game once a week.

Boy was I wrong. RPGs:Midwest::Board Games:Northeast. Wow! Twenty people showed up that night! There was ticket to ride, settlers, carcasonne, and a bunch of others I had never heard of. I knew Germany made board games, but do they do anything else? Most of my friends out here I met at board game night. It has been a great experience. Mondays have moved to the Holiday Inn as Borders slowly dies. 35 people show up every Monday where we play Thurn and Taxis, Imperial, Brass, Quirkle, Small World, Ra, Dog, Tichu, and so many others.

Now, once a quarter, Jen and I like to host our closest friends at our home for a seasonal meal, get together, board game party. Today is our quarterly Selby Invitational! There will be do-it-yourself nachos, chicken chili, rice krispy treats, hot apple cider, root/beer, seasonal coffees, and games games games. Telestrations, Cyclades, Conan, Quirkle Cubed, Trigon, and on and on and on. And it will be the first time in our new home! Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!

Jen loves to host people. I love to play games. We both love food! This is going to be a good day.

October 1, 2010

REVISIOOOOON! REVISION.

I love revision. My love for revision is inversely equivalent to my love for writing queries. When I get into a groove on revising, the words to "Tradition" from Fiddler on the Roof change to "Revision," and I hear the chorus shouting it over and over in my head.

I'm 1/3 of the way through TTS, and I am in such a good mood. Why? Well for one, if I'm revising, that means I have a finished manuscript. It always feels good to finish a novel. But more importantly, I'm taking what is most assuredly a crappy draft and making it awesome. I'm still concerned there might be too much world building in the first two chapters, but I just finished chapter 11 and am totally jazzed. I've really tightened a lot of stuff that was loose before and the whole progression of events is solid. I'm enjoying this story as a reader not just a writer, and that's always a good sign. Really, I think it's the best sign. If you would sit down and read your work for the sake of reading it, then you've written something you truly enjoy for its own merits and not just the obligatory sense of accomplishment.

And not to toot my own horn, but that first chapter I wrote where Otwald first goes to the Triad Society? Holy hell, that was some good world building. I'm mean, damn fine. Sometimes I really do feel like I have the skill to not only succeed at all this, but to be awesome at it.

Fingers crossed that holds true for when this goes out to beta readers. LurkerWithout didn't like WANTED, and I value his opinion as a reader. He reads a billion books a month, so if he likes it, that carries weight with me.