Social Distancing — Not so Isolated

I’m glad that others are making the best out of a bad situation and getting a lot of writing done. Seriously, I am. I’m also super jealous. With three small kids at home, my writing has ground pretty much to a halt. As you can imagine, they don’t quite get what Daddy does on his computer. But I’m not really complaining. I’m lamenting. There’s a difference. I may not be making a lot of headway, but I’ve been spending tons of time with my family which is pretty great too 🙂

In the past, I’ve tried to publish a post every Monday — and missed more than a few deadlines — but this is going to be hit or miss for a while. In the rare moments when I DO get a chance to write … like right now … I may choose work over blogging. Sorry blog-buddies! So don’t expect any kind of consistency from me on the ole website. Hey, don’t blame me. Blame the Coronavirus.

If we’re talking actual progress then I think I figured out the problems I had with the second half of my new book. I knew what the protagonists were doing, but not how the antagonist would respond. That’s solved. I hope.Now I just need time and space to get back to the outline to plug all that in.

And I decided I’m growing a quarantine beard. Is this a thing? I haven’t shaved since work told me to stay home and I’m getting pretty bristly.

What I’m Watching: Lots and LOTS of Paw Patrol. I’m usually the one who gets up first with the kids so my wife can sleep. I need less hours than she does and can typically go more sleep-deprived days than she can before a recharge. So the task of keeping the kids alive and quiet often falls to me. We don’t usually use a lot of TV but early morning is the exception. Whenever I need them to be quiet so Mommy can keep sleeping, I just yelp for help!

What I’m Reading: I finished The Sword of Kaigen and … I have mixed feelings. I like it, I think. I like the world but the author doesn’t do much to help ground the reader in it. There’s a specific term that gets used a lot that I have a problem with because I don’t think it fits the rules the author created. I mean, this is just my outside opinion here.

That’s only the start of it. Not to give away a major spoiler, there’s a big battle halfway through the book. The entire second half is dealing with the fallout from said battle. And this is where it completely kicked me out. Again, my opinion here, but I feel like the author set up some promises and then either ignored or broke them all during that latter half. The climax of the book isn’t what the climax of the book should have been about. Or if so, then there wasn’t enough ground work to get there. Don’t give me the ole dangling threads excuse either. I love a few open ended things as much as the next person, but I’m talking central conflict points here. They don’t need to be resolved, but there should be movement. I think I see what the author was trying to do and how it made sense in their head, but it just didn’t work for me. It’s a shame too because I was all on board and then felt like I didn’t fall off, but was pushed.

I’ve also just finished Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch, the fourth Rivers of London/Peter Grant book. It was pretty much what I expected. It was the old friend, the sure thing, I needed after the previous disappointment.

Favorite Video Games of all Time

I’ve been updating my site some with more personal information. Favorite movies. Favorite books. The next, obvious list for me would be favorite video games. I mean, I’ve been playing video games since probably the second grade when I used to go over to Peter VanVarga’s house across the street and play Super Mario Bros. 3 or Battletoads. It was a fun, but it wasn’t until visiting my older cousins that video games really became a part of my life forever. They had the Super Nintendo, Mortal Kombat II and Super Mario World. My brothers and I would play over at the cousins’ house for hours. Sometimes it was NBA Jam, but usually it was MKII or Super Mario World. Favorite MK character? Sub-Zero, duh!

After how many visits, I decided that I needed a Super Nintendo of my own. I remember saving up every last dollar and cent I had. Up until that time, the most expensive thing I’d ever bought with my own money was the T-Rex from Jurassic Park. A SNES was about four times more expensive.

I rolled loose change, scrubbed my family’s brick walk, and did every kind of odd job I could think of including house sitting some cats for a family down the street. Eventually, I had enough to buy the SNES and it came with a free copy of Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country. The rest, my friends is history.

That Super Nintendo lead to so many great gaming moments with my brothers. I still can’t help but think of Donkey Kong Country every time it snows. That was our snow day ritual growing up. That one system has lead to the purchase of many more and an unknown amount of games.

I’ve tried coming up with a top 5 list of favorite video games to go with the others, but I’ve had a really hard time deciding what to count. There are some that I love for nostalgia — NBA Jam, looking at you! — and others that I love for the feeling I had playing them. I remember the absolute terror of Silent Hill but I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite. It’s been incredibly difficult deciding what makes the cut. So instead, here’s a list of games that I love. Some new. Some old. All great!

  • Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario World. Both for SNES. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent playing either game. I could probably draw the levels for you, I’ve played them so much. All time favorites.
  • Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy Tactics for PS. Probably the stories that resonated with me at influential times in my life. They showed me that video games could tell actual stories and it wasn’t just jumping on goombas or crocodiles all the time.
  • Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for N64. I mean, the game helped launch a complete mechanics revolution. How could it not be good?
  • Nioh for PS4, XBO, PC. I’m not as good as this game wants me to be, but it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy playing it. I love the world and the mechanics. It’s just fun to run around and fight everything. Plus, for as hard as the game can be, I really appreciate the fast load times when you die.
  • Bloodborne for PS4. It’s a modern masterpiece. It’s challenging, fun to play, but it’s the story and aesthetics that really got me. It was like someone had made a game specifically for me. I love everything about this game and it’s the only one I’ve ever bothered to platinum.

That’s about as definitive as I can make it. I mean, I still love the original Resident Evil and I’ve played enough GoldenEye to wear out a controller, but again, if we’re talking pure favorites here, it’s probably the list above. My apologies to all of the great games I’m forgetting at the moment.

For me, the real takeaway is that gaming isn’t just a hobby, it’s a lifestyle. Most of the games on that list are on there because yes they’re fun to play, but they also connect with me on another level. Whether its my hobbies and interests or memories with my family, video games have been a part of my life for over twenty years and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Outlines. Gotta Love ‘Em

Still plugging away at ye old outline. Outlines are funny things. Even us outliners have different definitions of what that term means. I know some people who use a single page and cram the whole thing on there in broad strokes. Another author has an eighty page document that he’ll keep expanding and basically rewrite until that thing is basically the novel itself. For me, mine are around 20 pages. I want those broad strokes, story beats, and memos of important set pieces and dialogue, but I can’t have any holes. I no longer trust myself to figure it out when I get there.

The current thing I’m struggling with is what my antagonist is doing the whole time. This is a heist novel. I’ve got my plucky crew stealing things to ultimately rip off the big bad. OK cool. So what’s Mr. BBEG up to while all that’s going on? He’s not just waiting to be stolen from. Well, I guess he could be, but I need more than that from him. This is another way to raise the stakes. He’s got to show the reader how much worse things are getting so we’re routing for him to get ripped off.

I think I’m cracking it. On the verge or a cusp at least. I’m examining and extrapolating some of the other conditions I’ve introduced in the book around civic unrest to tease out some natural responses that way it makes sense for both the character and the world.

In the mean time, I’ve finally gone back to finish a short story I started way back in August. So that’s pretty exciting.

Also, while getting sucked down a research rabbit hole on YouTube (I was going to hyperlink it but come on, it’s YouTube), I was recommended the following video by everyone’s favorite algorithm. I took one look at the speaker and immediately jumped to conclusions. He did not disappoint. His channel is pretty awesome and I just wanted to share this new gem with everyone. Enjoy!

What I’m Reading: I dropped Red Winter. Speaking of stakes, there weren’t any. To not become an embodiment of your god means your god has to wait another ten years to try again even though it’s been a hundred years since your god has walked the earth last time and we see no reason why this is either a good or a bad thing … OK. Do it. Don’t do it. I don’t care.

I ended up picking up The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang instead. I liked the sample so much I had to enroll in a free trial for Kindle Unlimited to keep reading. I actually did that! If that’s not an indication of praise, I don’t know what is. So far, I really like the book. My only hangup is the jargon. Yes, SFF has jargon, but this feels … superfluous, I guess.

What I’m Watching: Well, hope to be watching Altered Carbon. Season 2 dropped a couple of weeks ago and I’m hoping to sink my teeth into that real soon.

Like Me. Really Like Me.

I was listening to a podcast about authorial brand the other day and it got me thinking about myself and my own work. I suppose there’s a throughline of themes and ideas in a lot of my fiction — actually that’s what’s sparked the new and shiny novel I’m almost about ready to start outlining — but more than that, it got me thinking about myself and this blog.

For the most part, I write about my work and writing life, but what about me? What do I think is cool? I was always a little hesitant to just throw stuff out there because what if you, dear reader, are a movie buff but then I go off the deep end gushing about a video game and you decide, nah, video games are dumb. Shame on you! Or maybe you’re a gamer who doesn’t like my taste in television shows. I don’t know. So rather than keep all that out, I realized I can only be me.

Unless, it’s a critical deep dive into a work, I don’t like writing about entertainment pieces I don’t like. I don’t mind admitting when I didn’t care for something, but I don’t like bashing on stuff because I know how long and how hard it is to make said stuff! With all this in mind, I’ve updated my About Me page with my top favorite books and movies. I’ll put them below too …

Favorite Books:

(In no particular order …)

  • Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien … (see below …)
  • Embassytown by China Mieville
  • Shogun by James Clavell
  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  • The Sandman comics by Neil Gaiman
  • The Stormlight Archive series by Brandon Sanderson

 

Favorite Movies:

  1. Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, Return of the King (all extended editions of course) – Let’s be honest, they’re all really one movie right …
  2. Jurassic Park
  3. Spirited Away
  4. Ghostbusters
  5. The Last Samurai and Little Shop of Horrors (1986) – two way tie

Maybe we’re a fan of the same things. Oh come on, of course we are!

I also thought I’d update you on what I’m reading and what I’m watching.

What I’m reading:

The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross. This book is awesome. Book 2 of The Laundry Files. While the government bureaucracy is so real its painful, it still doesn’t overshadow the eldritch horror crammed into these books. Anyone looking for a modern take on Lovecraft, this series is for you. I enjoy the plots and occult techno-babble as much as the next guy, but speaking of crammed, the amount of references (Lovecraftian, historical, and real world technology) stuffed into each book is amazing. You honestly don’t need to know what any of them mean, because anything important is always explained for the plot, but for someone like myself, it’s riddled with Easter eggs so I feel like each one is some inside joke only I’m privy to. When they say write what you know, this is totally what they mean. It just goes to show you that you don’t need one thing. If you’ve got a couple of passions, smush them all together and the beautiful mess you’ve made is going to be one great, original story.

What I’m watching:

I just wrapped up watching Altered Carbon on Netflix. I’m a little late to the party on this one, but oh man was that good! I thought they did a great job with the jargon. It felt like a real place and wasn’t just replacing current words with future words. Also the setup and payoff was really well done. You know it’s good when you have multiple actors playing the same character and I don’t even bat an eye. I’m looking at you episode 7. It’s mainly flashback, so it’s not the primary actor, but the guy I’m watching still always feels like Tak to me. It’s great and so well done.

From a production design, I can marvel at the nuts and bolts too. They clearly had money to build sets and render things in CGI, but they were super careful with their locations. The places feel big, but when I stop and think about it, there really aren’t that many places the characters go to. Even when they’re outside, it’s a section of a street or a storefront of something. There are plenty of extras and things in the background, but the show doesn’t blow its budget on needless filler.

I’m definitely excited for season 2.

So there you have it. A little bit more about me and what I like. Writing up the what I’m reading and watching was pretty fun. I don’t get a chance to gush about stuff so much anymore, but I think that’s going to be changing. I’ve a feeling that feature is definitely coming back.

The Hustle

I’ve been a little lax on the ole blog here, so sorry about that. First I was busy and then got sick. Every time I wasn’t wrapped up with something, I was doing the final read through which turned out was followed by a second FINAL final read through of Land of Sky and Blood. So my eyes were pretty much spent every day and couldn’t stare at a computer screen anymore. I’ve poured so much time and attention into finishing the manuscript that I actually broke my own rule and abandoned Partners in Crime. I’m maybe 20K words away from finished that novel, but haven’t touched it since December. It’s weird. I’ve never just stopped a work like that before. I do plan to finish it. And soon. I hope. But hey, I’m done. Land of Sky and Blood is done!

Now comes the pitching …

I told myself that I was going to take my time with this one and I think I did for the most part. My usual schedule has been to both write a book and query a book within the same year. That’s just the way my pacing has seemed to be going. While I’m querying the last work, I’m simultaneously working on the new one. When the new one is query ready, the old one cycles out and I start the next manuscript. That’s what I’ve been doing for seven years more or less.

That all stopped in 2019. Land of Sky and Blood was too large and just wasn’t ready. So instead of rushing, I wanted to take my time and I like to think that it paid off. I ended up with the most ambitious thing I’ve ever written. But now its time to make the rounds.

Just like I’ve been more deliberate with my writing choices, I’m more deliberate with who I’m contacting in the publishing industry this time. I’m really only approaching those who I think would enjoy the work rather than throw spaghetti at the wall to see what’ll stick.

But it’s still nerve wracking, right? Rejection is never fun. Whether its from an agent or an editor or a bad review. As an author, you’ve poured your heart and soul into a project you believe in, so it hurts when someone else doesn’t share your same vision. It’s counter intuitive if you think about it. The best authors are probably sensitive, creative people. You’d have to be to dig into the art part of writing and really form a connection with your reader. Yet these are the same people who are also supposed to have thick skin and just shrug off rejection. It takes time and is definitely a learned skill.

Like I said, I’ve been writing now for over seven years. There were times when I’d see rejection in my inbox on a weekly basis. And rightly so, I might add. Some of those manuscripts weren’t actually all that good. So how do you handle something like that?

During the low times, I try and remind myself why I’m passionate about the work in the first place. Often, I wrote the novel because an idea was just burning in my brain. It was something I wanted to read but it didn’t exist so in a way, I was the first fan. Just because somebody else didn’t connect with the material doesn’t mean that no one will. It’s already got a fan, remember? Me. So I tell myself not to lose heart. In a planet of seven billion people, I can’t be the only one who would like it either. That’s just simple probability. There’s got to be others out there who’d feel the same way. Maybe they won’t see it. Maybe the vehicle I chose was wrong. Who knows? Maybe the work will stall and get shuffled aside as I try and sell my next shiny obsession. It doesn’t mean the story isn’t worth reading.

Just remember, if something doesn’t sell, it doesn’t mean you have to throw it out. Yeah, we all have trunk novels, but there might be a couple of gems in there too. Maybe you can sell it later. Or maybe you can rewrite it or reuse an idea for a future project. Nobody knows you’re stealing from yourself. I’ve reused character names, plot points, and thematic elements.

At the end of the day, I see every novel as a learning experience at the very least. I’ve learned or practiced something new with each one. There was no way I could have written Land of Sky and Blood without writing all of those other novels before it. I hadn’t leveled up as a writer yet.

So I’m going to start querying and hustling and pitching and everything that entails, but the book already has a fan. I’m proud to have written it and thankful for the experience regardless of what happens. My sights are already set on the future.

Well, maybe after I go back and knock the abandoned Partners in Crime first …

Frozen Too

We saw Frozen II with our kids over the weekend so our house has been a little more “Into the Unknown” than usual. Don’t get me wrong, like most little girls, I imagine, my daughter loves Elsa. Adores her. You can joke about just about anything with my daughter but Elsa is off limits. So anyway, seeing the movie has sparked a conversation between my wife and myself about musicals, their purpose, and how awesome they are.

You can totally see which side of the fence I’m on here by the way. Don’t worry. My wife is over here with us too…

You can find plenty of articles praising Frozen II as a more “mature” movie and pointing Disney in a new direction. You can read that on your own time. All I wanted to bring up was that for this movie, to me, the music was not just more mature but it was also, well more musical. As in theatre musical. More than a few times throughout the film, as stuff was obviously happening on screen, I was watching a second stage show in my head and could clearly imagine what the cast and characters would be doing with each song in real life. So I agree to a maturity to the music as it’s about more mature themes, but I’d go even farther and say it’s just more complex than not just the last movie, but most Disney movies in general, putting it more in line with, well, a musical.

I bring all of this up because over the holidays, my wife and I got in a discussion with my brother about music in kids’ movies. He’s a big fan of Trolls. And I mean a BIG fan. My wife was trying to explain to him that regardless of the concept, when a studio takes recycled pop music as a soundtrack — even if the tracks are rearranged and the characters are singing them — it’s not the same as original numbers. I agree.

It took me some time to think about it and here’s what I’ve come up with. Musicals are about more than just the plot or the characters. When done right, a musical gives you both the broader, thematic picture, but also a more intimate one as well because it invites you into the headspace of the person(s) singing. It’s really hard not to empathize with someone really belting it out, wearing their heart on their sleeve. And if the song is good on its own, well then, it stays with you, and helps keep you in that same headspace making the movie even more personal.

And by original song, I mean a song written solely for the experience being portrayed on stage/film. Not something for the radio that just debuts in the movie. I like Can’t Stop the Feeling as much as the next person, but it doesn’t really have anything to do with Branch. Know what I mean?

So while my daughter is skipping and bouncing with new memories about her favorite character’s emotional adventure, my wife and I are pontificating about the nature of musicals in general. Complex, I guess.

The other thought I had when leaving the movie theater is that I know exactly what Frozen III is going to be. I don’t mean, oh wouldn’t it be cool if … No. The cynical movie goer in me knows exactly what Hollywood is going to do. Here’s my pitch …

Nothing will happen for like 20 years. I’m talking IRL here. Then, in the world of reboots, nostalgia, and franchises, we’ll get Froz3n or whatever. The same amount of time will have passed for them too, so Elsa and Anna are much older. Something has happened to Elsa — spirit corruption or she’s just mad — but she’s invaded the land as the true Snow Queen. A creature to be feared. Anna tries to reason with her and fails. Elsa can’t/won’t kill Anna so she imprisons her in ice or whatever like Carbonite.

The story then shifts to Anna and Kristof’s teenage children — I’m thinking a boy and a girl — who have to go on an adventure to rescue their mother, save the land, and talk some sense back into their aunt. It’s a soft reboot of everything Frozen stood for and completely undermines the growth and sacrifices of the original characters like any franchise milking reboot should. Looking at you Star Wars. Sure the original voice cast will be mad about it, but maybe we’ll get little cameos anyway.

That’s my prognostication for the future. You can tell me I’m right in 20 years. So what do you think?

New Year New Problems

Long time no see!

It’s been a while as you can clearly tell.

I was pretty swamped with both writing and work deadlines for the first two weeks of December and then we were traveling the last two weeks of the month, so this is the first time I’ve been able to sit down at the old website and see what’s what. I had to blow off a layer of dust to even write this post.

Writing for Partners in Crime has stalled for the final edits of Land of Sky and Blood. I know I said I was going to work on them simultaneously and that worked for a while, but I’ve only got so many soccer balls to kick. My enthusiasm for LoSaB is completely overshadowing all other projects right now. And with two weeks away from writing, I’m not just champing at the bit, I’m a slavering, chewing, frenzied beast ready for the gate to open, the bridle to snap, or both! I’m so excited to get going again.

How were your holidays? Any New Years resolutions?

I don’t make far fetched promises and never end up seeing them through. Not anymore. There usually isn’t an end goal for me, more like a continued, enhanced state of being. A couple years ago it was to take my writing seriously. Last year it was to be a good dad. As both of those years are, of course, over, my positions on those goals hasn’t changed. I still take my writing seriously and I’m always trying to be a good dad. Even when I fail. So for me, the resolutions are more like an additive effect. I think for this year it’s going to be write something that’ll be published.

Granted, I wrote an article back in December for a local magazine that should be coming out in a week or so which means that goal is pretty much already met. But instead of an end state, I’m taking this new task like a mantra to continue writing serious enough and good enough that my work ends up in a printed, published format whether I’m the one who does said publishing or someone else.

I think the spoiler alert here is that these are all resolutions I was going to do anyway, I just like to solidify something in my mind, I guess.

Now that I’m back in the saddle, you’ll be seeing regular posts from me again. Wait. I was the horse before. Now I’m the rider? … Whatever. You get it.

The Finish Line

I’d say that my NaNoWriMothis year was a smashing success! I even finished a day early too. This is the fourth time I’ve taken part in the challenge and I think it was also the most diligent – therefore the easiest – it’s ever gone. Only a few days toward the end did I have to really worry about putting in the words and that’s only because I knew I wouldn’t be writing anything on Thanksgiving or the day after. Even then, it was only about three thousand day. The rest of time, I was chugging along nicely. So nicely in fact, that it’s been three days now that I haven’t written a single thing and I’m feeling restless.

The habit is established and now hard to break. There’s about a quarter of my current manuscript left so there are plenty of words left to write, though. I think I’ll dive back on in tomorrow at the pace I’d been going. Even record my progress via spreadsheet. I do so love to compare all of those numbers … If I can finish the thing before the end of the year then I’ll be able to brag that I’ve finished two books this year instead of my customary one.

I’m also feeling restless about getting Land of Sky and Blood out there. I’d told myself to take my time with it and I have been, but the excitement is getting to me. I’ve added some, probably, unnecessary pressure to my life to also get that finished by the first of the year. I don’t like to be bored, I guess.

In the little down time that I have, I’ve been watching some Great British Baking Show with my wife and reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I remember when that book came out and all the of the hullaballoo surrounding it. I’m about halfway through it now and I can honestly say I don’t get it. I like aspects of the book, but I’m feeling a familiar itch to also get that finished. Like the circus the book is about, the story is all flash and awe without any real substance. I feel kind of clever for coming up with that one, but I wonder if some reviewer beat me too it years ago when the novel first came out. That’s not to say I dislike the book. There’s plenty to like, I’m just in the mind for one that moves at a faster pace.

Anyone else do NaNoWriMo? How’d it go?

 

NaNoWriMo 4

We’re in the home stretch! I didn’t get a chance to write yesterday, so I had to make up for it today. I’m now exactly on track to finish by November 30th. I plan to front load my word count over the next couple of days though because…

  1. I don’t want it hanging over my head
  2. I doubt I’ll get much writing done around Thanksgiving.

Not having a chance to write yesterday means I missed out on both my 14 day in a row and my 21 day in a row badges. Honestly, I think the 21 one might have been shot anyway, but 14 was doable. Oh well. I know the badges don’t really mean anything, but I’ve played enough video games in the last ten years to be a fan of achievements.

I’d say I’m a fan for the new NaNoWriMo site and its features. My biggest critique and feature it is sorely lacking in my opinion is that right now you can’t retroactively add to your word count. Say, I did write yesterday but forgot to enter it. Right now there’s no way to do so and tag it for the correct date. It’s all day of input. I assume that’s something they’ll iron out once everything calms down because it seems like a massive UI oversight to me.

Anyway, hope you’re all doing well and we can get back to much longer, more meaningful posts once this is all through.

NaNoWriMo 3

Another short one. I had a couple of goose eggs, but made most of it up last week. As you can see from my current stats, I’m just about on track again.

Word Count Graph

To me, half the fun of NaNoWriMo is watching those little dots climb. I love the stats feature. The bottom graph makes my pace look a lot wigglier than it is. I’ve been shooting for around 2k words a day (hit 2.8k today) to make up for lost days and create a little cushion for future days when I don’t get anything else done.

In other news, I’m almost finished reading The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. I ended up loving The Thousand Autumns of Jacob DeZoet so much, I wanted another ride on the Mitchell train. If I thought Thousand Autumns broke what I conceived to be typical narrative structure, hew-boy was I not prepared for Bone Clocks. But I think I like it? 500 plus pages in I better like it. I don’t have time anymore to read books I don’t like. Mitchell’s grasp of character is definitely his strongest feature. I chose The Bone Clocks at random because it sounded cool and I didn’t want to read Cloud Atlas. Apparently, I chose correctly because it and Thousand Autumns are related?! I have so many questions for David Mitchell writer to writer.

I love when that happens, though. I’d read 14 by Peter Clines and absolutely loved it. Maybe a year later, I bought The Fold just to read something new. Even reading the description of the book I was pleasantly surprised to find out the two novels were sidequels.

So that’s twice this has happened to me. It’s like discovering a secret connection of the universe no one else can see. Know what I mean?

That’s enough for today. More writing and editing to do. Hope you’re all having a good event. If you’re still looking for writing buddies, I’m dmelnick.

Happy writing!