Head Case

I’d been doing some traveling lately and visiting family which has put me behind on both blogging and writing. Aside from some memories and a boat load of pictures of my kids, I didn’t come back empty handed. My sister-in-law is an awesome photographer who did me a huge favor and snapped me some snazzy head shots.

Headshot for Screens

Nice, Right? I mean just look at that handsome devil.

Okay, all joking aside all credit goes to my sister-in-law who clearly knows what she’s doing. I just sat around and tried not to look like an idiot. Smile more? Less? Serious face? I think I went through the gamut. The old train station also helped. I really like that background!

Anyway, got some time in the sun down south where my kids played with their cousins for a week. Physically, I’m exhausted from traveling — three little kids on airplanes will do that to you — but mentally, I’m all fired up. I’ve got some business stuff to take care of, a short story to finish, and of course editing Draft 2.

Draft 2 has been kicking my butt. It was always going to be rough in the beginning, but I also think it’s because I was trying to cram everything I’d missed in during that second pass. I’ve since come to realize that like anything I’ve ever written, it’s going to be a another dozen or so drafts until I’m finished, so it’s okay to let stuff go for next time. Fix what I catch and streamline those 165k words into a coherent story and then polish, polish, polish while I work out other details. You don’t carve a masterpiece in the second try. You chip away and smooth stuff until one day you’re just finished with it.

Seriously, coming at my problem like that has just freed me. I can’t wait to get through this current pass so I can hone in some more on the next one. Want another metaphor? It’s like zeroing in on a target. I could probably cut down on the overall number of drafts by slowing down, but I’m not sure my work would be as good.

I’d been taking a writing class these past couple months to polish my prose and something I’ve learned is that I like to do that final polishing in little isolated chunks. Take a few “completed” pages at a time and then make them better. I think I was trying to do too much too quickly before. I’m allowing myself the ability to let stuff go, flag it, and catch it later, being more deliberate with my choices. I think it’s going to make me a lot happier in the long run.

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Couch Potato

I like to be busy. In life and in writing. I need to be actively working on something at all times either writing or editing. I mean, this is my bread and butter if I want to make a career out of writing – I need to make products – but I also see it like this: Throw enough spaghetti at the wall and something will stick, but that won’t happen if you don’t actually make the spaghetti.

I bring this up because I’ve had a minor procedure recently that resulted in a few days off from work and home in bed/on the couch. I’m not allowed to be active. Sure. Why not? What a perfect time to bust out the ultrabook and get some serious editing done without distractions.

Turns out I was wrong. Staying in a seated position was a tad tiring and the siren song of Black Mirror was just too tempting to resist. So that’s what I’ve been doing. Watching Black Mirror, not editing like I should be. I’m giving myself a pass on this one though. Sometimes I guess its good to recharge the batteries. Not that I’m doing that creatively mind you. People, I’ve been a slug. No, that’s not fair to slugs. They’re more active than I’ve been lately. If it wasn’t for my kids taking over the bedroom for a nap and then taking over the living and being too young to watch Black Mirror, I don’t know what I’d become. A puddle of goo? Can bones melt that fast? They won’t stop jumping on daddy, but I suppose its better that than being a complete slob.

That said, I don’t known if I’ve ever been more ready to get back to work in my life. And wear pants. Step one is pants.

All right, so the editing for Land of Sky and Blood – that’s the new official title – is going slow as can be. It’s gonna be a few months yet before I have anything for beta readers to sink their teeth into. I’m already getting anxious so I think I’m gonna get back into the short story game for a bit. Got a couple things brewing in the old brain pan.

In other news, Fairfax Cleaners has dropped to $2.99. That’s less than a comic book my friends. So, if you like an urban fantasy mystery, a mishmash of folklore, and fay who really like to drop the f-bomb then this might be the book for you. Find the details here or click the widget on the side of the page.

A Good Symposium …

I spent the weekend up in Muncie, IN for the Midwestern Writers Workshop’s Agent Fest. Anyway, it was good way to connect with fellow writers, meet agents, and get some insider information. Thanks to one memorable presentation, I now look at writing my synopses completely differently.

Writing is a pretty solitary experience, so it’s always nice to learn and talk to others doing the same thing as you. Something I really love about writing in general is that the “enemy” so to speak isn’t other authors, its people who don’t read.

I’d encountered such a phenomena in the Scotch whisky industry years ago when I was writing my masters dissertation. The distilleries all sold different products, but on many occasions they joined forces to promote Scotch as a whole and broaden the overall customer base.

So collaborating with other writers whether it’s for a combined sales initiative or just sharing information about the craft or the profession can benefit both parties. For instance, I was waiting for that “How to Write a Good Synopsis” presentation to start and got to talking with my table. I learned all about a couple of programs that scan your prose for redundant phrasing, poor grammar choices, and active/passive voices in far better detail than Word ever could. In return, I think I ended up telling them how Amazon Direct Publishing works. See? We all win.

I’ve gone to enough events over the past 7 or 8 years now having to do with writing that I’ve started to define what type of experience I think I can expect based on the title of the program alone. Keep in mind, these are my definitions. Program creators are free to name their events whatever they wish.

A Conference: Different from a convention. I define a conference as a learning experience where people present ideas. Usually, it’s author to author. A place to go, network, and soak up some good discussions.

A convention: More of a celebration of the craft or a particular genre. More fan/reader presence as well as more booksellers. For an author it’s a good place to meet those fans and meet fellow authors. It might be tough for new authors to find each other though, as they fall someone in the middle.

A workshop: Can involve presentations of some kind, but the big difference is that the author attendee is actively working or practicing a lesson of some kind. To give a shout out to MWW, you can usually find instructions and critiques from some “faculty” authors paired against presentations or lectures about specific topics.

A retreat: A sequestered experience in some out of the way location so an author can focus on his or her writing. Usually it’s run by another writer of some clout who shares their expertise and critique on a much more personal level.

Those might be self-explanatory, but it helps to set the attendee’s expectations. A new writer could still make connections at a convention for instance — hello, Bar Con! — but it’s a much less structured experience.

I like to go to events. I usually come back with a couple new tricks, some contacts, and I always learn something. The price of some of these events can get limiting, but if you’re ever on the fence if you should attend or not, my answer is yes!

Now you just have to whittle down which one that’ll be 🙂

Maybe next time I’ll give you my list of the types of people I usually run into at these things …

Full Stop

I write chronologically by nature. I always start at the beginning and work my way towards to the end. It makes me really uncomfortable to write scenes out of order. I don’t like going into a situation without knowing all the subtle nuances and decisions that got my characters to that point, so whatever I end up writing feels hollow to me. Even those big, shiny set pieces I know are going to be in there and I’m super excited about, I still can’t write them out of order. I’ll get there when I get there.

The only way I can write unconnected scenes is once I’ve finished the manuscript. With the story told, it’s much easier for me to see, “Oh, I’m missing this scene here,” or whatever, and then go back and write it. Doing it that way removes my earlier hang ups and it’s not much of a problem.

I bring all of this up because I ran into a brick wall in my current manuscript. There’s a particular battle that I’ve known about since the outlining phase. A small force has to win against insurmountable odds. I knew it was coming. I knew I should prepare for it. But Past Dan decided I’ll figure it out when I get there.

Past Dan is an idiot.

I have no idea what to do. It’s not exactly writer’s block because I know what needs to happen and the big turning points in the sequence. What I don’t know is how to bring those about in a logical manner. I mean, this rag tag group of heroes has to win, yes, but win in a believable way.

The diligent writer in me knows I won’t be getting my words in for the day while I sit and noodle this one out. That Dan wants me to pick a point after the battle and just continue since I know how it’s going to end anyway. But I just can’t. It feels wrong. I guess I can massage in continuity edits later, but it’s hard to get going. Unless I figure this out soon, I may not have a choice.

It’ll be an interesting exercise for me for sure if I just breeze past this pivotal scene. I know other writers who don’t have the reservations that I do and can write whatever scene they need in whatever order that strikes them. Not me, friends.

So maybe you can help me out. Besides a small group winning against a large one, how does said small group win if they’ve already given up the high ground? Seems impossible, right?

Now I’m mad at Past Dan for two reasons.

  1. Why didn’t he figure this out earlier?
  2. I control the narrative. Why are we even in this mess?

Oh well. Instead of my daily word count, I think it’s off to read some history forums and learn as much as I can about underdog battles. If any of you have any insight or advice, Present Dan is much more receptive than Past Dan. He’s all ears.

Slave to the Narrative

Ever hear about plots being on rails? Or maybe characters being a “slave to the narrative”? Those are both descriptive ways of explaining that the plot is the driving force of the book, overshadowing everything else. Things happen because the plot demands it, not necessarily because it feels natural to do so.

I’ve always known of the concept, but it never hit me as hard as it did now. I’d gotten some good advice from an agent about my manuscript Altered Egos and wanted to implement it into the most recent draft. In the book, my protagonist is a supervillain who’s freed from prison to stop a serial killer. Now there are plenty of things vying for his attention and trying to keep him under someone’s thumb, but I realized that I too fell prey to making him a slave to the plot.

I thought I’d covered my bases pretty well by having him always be scheming for ways out, but then I went back and reread scenes of him running head first into danger. I had to stop and ask myself why. Well, I knew why, because I needed him to blow up that mech or to save that guy for whatever reason. But would my protagonist really do that?

The short answer was yes. He needed to accomplish these tasks to further his own plans. The longer answer was yes, but he’d have reservations. I needed to do a better job of explaining that in the prose. I was missing the entire emotional piece of how he felt about the matter. I just had him moving about like a chess piece. Yeah, he’s an intellectual guy and I had him examining many of these situations from an intellectual angle but I don’t care who you are, if bullets are flying over your head and things are exploding left and right, you’re going to be on the verge of peeing your pants. But none of that was in there.

It made those scenes feel hollow. Here I had a protagonist with a strong character voice, but we never really got into his head. It wasn’t some parlor trick I was going for, it was just weak writing.

I’ve never been one of those authors who say their characters are dictating the story as they go along. I need an outline and I need to move my pieces around from Point A to Point B, but there are times I can do a better job of explaining how my characters feel about those elements. More often than not, readers are enticed by the plot, but they stay for the characters. It’s the emotional connection a reader forms with a protagonist that has a lasting effect, but they can’t form that emotional connection if the character doesn’t actually emote.

Glad I got that advice and caught it when I did.

Just a reminder that my book Fairfax Cleaners is for sale on all major e-retailers. And you can of course get a print on demand version from Amazon.

Down the Rabbit Hole

Ever notice how authors know so many random things about a lot of stuff? That’s because in order to create conceivable worlds, we need to know how those worlds work. That’s where the whole an author only writes 10 percent of the iceberg thing comes from. You need to know so much on the back end in order to write a realistic setting. Learning all that can inform other stories down the line and even if it doesn’t, it makes for a bunch of random facts for the back pocket.

For instance, did you know that after the passing of the Metropolitan Police act in 1829, constables’ uniforms had stiff collars to avoid strangulation as they were definitely not a welcome sight around the city? Because thanks my research for The Red Door, I do.

To help put this in perspective, you’ve probably heard stories about getting lost in Wikipedia or falling down rabbit holes on the internet. One search leads to another leads to another and so on …

Story creation works that way too. Let me give you an example.

I’ve talked a little about this before, but my new story all started because I wanted to do something with a deep sea diver. OK, when did they do hardhat diving with a breath line? Well, the Navy still used the Mark V helmet up through WWII (I had to learn that …).

Well, I don’t want to use that time period, but I like the idea of a soldier, so how about after WWI?

OK. It ended in 1918.

Well, I don’t want it to be RIGHT after, so let’s push it back to 1919.

Great. Where?

Well, my protagonist has seen enough battle. He wants to settle somewhere idyllic for a while. Oh and there needs to be water.

How about the Mediterranean Sea?

That sounds good. Lots of history there. I can base him in Greece.

What was Greece’s role in WWI? How would the react to an American fisherman living there now? If he’s a diver, he’ll need a tender, probably a local, so was this guy in WWI as well? Also, in 1919, Greece was gearing up to fight another war against he Turks and his tender would be involved with national sympathies and …

See what I mean? You make a couple of decisions and the threads just start appearing. Do I need to explain all of this in my own work then? Absolutely no, but I need to understand the interplay and relationships because its all going to inform what I write.

It’s been fun doing the research. I was just reading something about sunken treasure ships which lead me to Egyptian ports which lead me to trade routes and the list goes on.

I may have directed this journey, but remember it all started with me wanting to do something with deep sea diving and it spun out from there.

To me, that’s what makes storytelling so much fun. Yeah, it’s a lot of work putting all these pieces together, but change just one facet and the entire story changes. That’s why, the last time I tried this, I got from the Marianas Trench to spaceships.