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.

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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.

[title]

Not to bury the lead here but I think my favorite writing technique is using brackets.

[  ] Those guys.

Writing itself is freeing because we can put whatever we want on the page. But brackets are even more so because they not only hold whatever I can imagine, but often, whatever I can’t!

I use brackets as placeholders.

Every time I’m writing dialog and know a character should be moving right now but I just can’t quite figure it out? [body language].

Every time I write a reference to a tertiary character who I haven’t named yet? [guy’s name].

Every time I’m writing and just can’t quite think of the word? [word].

Brackets are the best! I don’t lose momentum by stopping and thinking about how to fill them. I throw on some brackets to the thought and then come back later – often the time-consuming crushing edit that is draft number two – and buff them all out. The added benefit is that brackets are so distinctive, you can even do a Find and Replace if you’re only using them sparingly or for something specific such as “[guy’s name]”.

Brackets aren’t just good for lazy writing. They’re crucial for worldbuilding especially for science fiction and fantasy.

For instance, in my current manuscript, I’ve decided that only the emperor has an army. Makes sense, okay. Now there are eight houses/clans all in favor that make up the bulk of the kingdom, though. They’ll have some kind of military presence too to fight over border disputes and interhouse issues. I can’t call them armies, but I need to call them something.

So I decided that since the peace in the kingdom is kind of only in name only, they’ll each have their own military of some kind. Eight houses need eight names, though. I have maybe one of them figured out right now. I really don’t want to stop and think about this entire military structure when I’m in the middle of a scene that has nothing to do with it so instead, I put [defense force] or [sergeant] in as placeholders.

I don’t know what the final versions are going to be, but I will definitely build them by the end. When I sat down to do all my worldbuilding and prewriting work, I came up with as much as I thought I needed, but obviously things tend to arise organically. So rather than derail the entire manuscript, brackets come in as Band Aids until I develop some crucial missing worldbuilding.

Why didn’t I do all of that up front you might ask? Short answer is to avoid worldbuilder’s disease otherwise I’d always be building a world and never writing one. Long answer is that I didn’t know I needed them at the time.

These are the kinds of things you’re going to have to deal with in the marathon slog that can be a manuscript. One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever received was just finish it. Finish the project. It’s never right the first time anyway so why kill yourself now? All of that can be fixed in post.

Pilot 38 – 1

Transmission Incoming.

38.

Um, hi, this is, uh Pilot 38. I guess you don’t want us using our real names which is weird cause you have all that info anyway. Well, whatever. Pilot 38. Yeah. First entry.

According to your machines here, I’ve been traveling for a couple of weeks now. I mean … [shuffling sound. buttons being pressed] … sixteen days, thirteen hours, twenty-eight minutes, and eight seconds. Nine seconds. Ten seconds. You get the idea. I haven’t even passed Mars yet, I don’t think. Total distance is … [tapping on screen] … sent now.

Information Received.

Space is … Space is a lot more boring than I thought it’d be. You guys said it would be okay if we added personal details to these, right? The human perspective and all that. Still weird we can’t use real names. Anyway, there’s nothing out here. Don’t get me wrong, I was in awe at first. I mean who wouldn’t be. But I’ve been awake for a few hours now and the novelty has sort of worn off. It’s pretty. Lot of black. Lot of little lights. Sometimes. But that’s about it.

I was hoping to see a comet.

I hope the rest of the pilots are doing well and off to a good start. Lord knows we need it. For the record, I’m honored to have been chosen for this. I hope some real good can come of it. Even if it’s not me who finds New Eden or whatever you’re calling it now – that’s what a marketing department’s for, right? – I still hope my data’s useful for something. Not like there’s a lot waiting for me back home. I guess this ship is pretty much my home now.

Speaking of, it’s not half bad. A little small, maybe, but cozy. Got enough room to stretch out and a nice workout station. You’ve loaded this thing with plenty of time killers too, which I appreciate. And I know, don’t stay awake too long. Don’t waste oxygen – I’m sorry, O2 – and limit my isolation risk. But I’m getting familiar with this thing. It’s not the simulator. You know what I mean.

To me, it wasn’t that long ago I was in the array with the other pilots back on Earth, shot into space, and now this. It’s been weeks for you, but only a couple hours altogether for me. I still feel like the new guy at work, you know?

So I guess that’s all from me for now. Not much to report. I’m gonna watch a movie or something then get back in stasis for a while. Hopefully when I get out again, there’ll be something new to look at.

Catch ya later.

End Transmission.

Pilot’s Projected Vital Levels:

Physical Health: 10

Emotional Health: 10

Course: Within Projection

Running Diagnostic Scan.

Complete.

Sending Transmission.

38.

Ship structure intact.

Outside anomaly detected.

Please investigate.

End Transmission.

Cycle Messages.

Transmission Incoming.

2.

Elusivity

My New Years’ resolution was to blog more consistently.

OK. It wasn’t. But I still want to post more consistently anyway.

Life at the Melnick household has been a bit rough lately. The Missus is super sick. I mean when stuff gets in your chest and ears kind of sick. The babies have also picked up little baby versions of this illness in the form of stuffy noses, sniffles and even more spitting up. Yep. That’s just what babies needed: MORE spitting up. It’s lead to a lot of sleepless nights and me running around trying to make sure everyone else gets as much sleep as they can.

As I type this, I can feel the telltale tickle in the back of my throat. The number at the deli counter just rolled over one digit closer to the matching one on my ticket.

I hope everyone had some happy holidays. In between traveling and illnesses, I’ve been daydreaming about getting back to Fairfax Cleaners and brainstorming for novel #5. I’ve decided that my alpha readers have had over a month now to read the draft and while that’s not a lot of time in this busy time of our lives, it’s been long enough that I can hassle them for an update to at least let me know WHEN they’re finished. I don’t mind waiting around and working on other things as long as I’ve got something out there dangling. But if I’m not fishing, I’m not being productive.

I’m still doing research on the next book and I think I’ve got the plot basically figured out. I’m about ready for the outlining phase. This one’s been a lot quicker than usual since I’m adapting a screenplay awhile ago I wrote into a novel. I’ve basically changed the entire story with the exception of the core concept, but I’ve had this character’s voice in my head for years. Writing in first person – fingers crossed – should alleviate some of those professional pressures that have started to creep in without a pitch-worthy product.

So far, I’ve only been scratching that writing itch through mental exercises. I would love to sit down and fire off a short story or two, but that’s just not my style. I outline too much. Coming up with a plot is the hardest part for me for any book, so you’d think that something smaller would be easier, but it’s the opposite. Usually, I can propose a scenario to myself and ask “what happens next?” OK. “What happens after that?” And follow that story down the natural rabbit hole. But with short fiction, I end up doing so much brainstorming, I’m developing material for a full length novel and I’ve forgotten what it was about the short story that grabbed me in the first place.

I’m hoping to kick that habit. I had a pretty vivid dream the other night that’s still haunting me. I thought it would make a great idea for a romantic comedy at the time so I wrote it down in case I ever wanted to tackle a screenplay pretty far outside my genre as an exercise. Then I massaged it into drama shape for kicks. And now, I’ve basically rebuilt it into a science fiction piece. I like the central concept, but it’s that illusive plot thing that’s tripping me up. I supposed I’ll keep working on it in the hopes that I see an end in sight.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

The Prophet

My brother got the flash fiction group back together. I don’t know how long it’ll last, but I thought you might be interested what I come up with. Every time I crank out a piece, I’ll make sure to post it. Enjoy!

The Prophet

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Dr. Sam Marsters rubbed his thumb over the tiny statue. The stone was smooth to the touch having been handled for hundreds, maybe even thousands, of years. The little figurine had been gradually ground down over countless gentle touches. With just the faintest traces of a willowy beard and an overly elongated head, it barely looked human anymore. “This is the second one this week,” Sam said.

“Now that we know what we’re looking for, they’re popping up all over the place.” Caleb checked the inventory list. “Kosovo, Papua New Guinea, Marseille, hell, even Baltimore. Climate … religion … doesn’t matter. Ever since the university started offering rewards for acquisitions, it’s been like a fire sale.”

“Thank God for benefactors, I guess.”

The office was cramped. Documents and catalogs were everywhere. Sam, leaned back, his leather chair squeaking while Caleb moved a stack of reports off the only other chair and took a seat opposite the desk. The cord of the ceiling fan clinked with the rotation.

Caleb shrugged. “Plenty of fake ones too. Who would’ve thought there’d be so many out there?”

“I think that’s the point.” Sam put the figurine down and massaged his eyes. Christ, he was tired. Bone tired. The weariness that settles into your marrow making you heavier than cement-tired. “I’m still having the dreams.”

“Me too,” Caleb said, softly.

“I’m sure most of the planet is by now.” Sam gestured toward the impressive inventory list. “Always the same thing too. Darkness. Pressure. Something’s coming. Something big.”

“They haven’t ruled out some kind of psychological warfare,” Caleb said.

Sam scowled. “This isn’t the War.” He snorted. “Please. You and I both know it’s more than that.”

Caleb was one of the calmer grad students, but even he was getting frayed around the edges. “Well then what?”

Sam crossed his arms. “There’s an intelligence, can’t you feel it? In the design, sure, but in the application too. Every time I see that black place, I can’t help but feel like something’s staring at me from the other side. This lurking presence just looking at me like it’s waiting to come through. Every time I think I’m getting close, like I’m about to see what’s in there, the dream shifts to the figurine-thing.”

“The Prophet figures. But that would mean whatever this thing is, it’s been trying to get our attention for a long time.” He looked to the bearded figurine sitting on the desk. “Some of those carvings are ancient.” The ceiling fan did little to relieve the heat or the humidity, but still Caleb shuddered. “So the dreams … they’re its way of announcing the arrival? You realize what you’re saying, right?”

“That an extraterrestrial intelligence has invaded our dreams and is sending us a ‘save the date’? Yeah, I know how that sounds.”

There was a knock at the door. “Dr. Marsters?” Lydia poked her head inside. He waved her in. “Another package for you, sir.” She handed him an already open box. The ripped tape and loose packing material looked like the entrails of a carcass.

“Cairo,” Sam said, checking the return address. Caleb made a note on the inventory list.

His fingers probed the contents searching for the familiar form of another Prophet figurine, but they brushed against something flat. He pulled the object out, spilling shredded paper pieces everywhere. It was a piece of wall tile.

“They sent it up from downstairs,” Lydia said. “Thought you’d know what to do with it.” Her hands clasped in front of her, she waited for dismissal.

“What is it?” Caleb said.

Sam didn’t have the foggiest. The tile was old, that much was easy to tell. Probably like the figurine on his desk it could be anywhere from hundreds to thousands of years old. Hard to know without proper dating methods. It was painted, not carved. The style looked about right for what he knew was ancient Egyptian and …

The realization hit him like a kick to the gut. More sweat beaded on his brow. “Is this real?”

“That’s what they say.” Lydia shifted uncomfortably and checked a memo pad. “Let’s see … ah, here. Clay and paint composition put it somewhere around 2000 BC.”

“What’s wrong?” Caleb said. “Jesus man, you’re white as a ghost.”

“That’s all, Lydia.” Sam’s words sounded raspy even to his own ears. “Thank you.”

He waited until she’d closed the door behind her again and he was sure she’d be back at her desk before he flipped the tile over to show Caleb. There were many hieroglyphic markings he didn’t know, but the center image was obviously clear. Human shapes were kneeling, praying maybe, to something massive and humanoid with an overly elongated head. But instead of the beard, the figure’s mouth was a mass of writhing tentacles.

“Jesus,” Caleb said. “That’s …”

Sam’s hands tingled. He’d drop the tile if he wasn’t careful. “I don’t think it’s a ‘save the date’,” he said. “It’s not announcing its arrival, its announcing the return.”

[Taylor is busy]

I’m still chugging along …

I’ve been writing like a maniac this week through my typical morning sessions, but lately I’m adding a second one in the afternoon to help reach the end of the novel faster. In books past, I used to be able to write on the weekends. Last weekend’s laziness aside, I’ve been pretty busy with the impending arrival of the two babies so that’s been eating up most of my time.

I awoke to a text message from a friend the other day who recommended the iPhone game, Lifeline, to me. As you’ve probably guessed right now, my life isn’t exactly set up for another game to steal my attention, but he convinced me to give it a shot and boy is it nothing how I imagined it being.

Lifeline isn’t a game in the strictest sense. It’s more like an experience. The gist is you get a text message from someone who’s asking for help. This stranger, Taylor, is a science student who snuck aboard a spaceship that’s now crashed on a moon outside Tau Ceti. As the name implies, you’re Taylor’s lifeline. All you do is talk to Taylor and advise him on certain decisions that ultimately affect his life when given the prompt. Usually, he takes that advice and says he’ll get back to you and you get the message [Taylor is busy] while he’s off doing said activity.

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That’s it.

That’s the game.

But I gotta tell you, I’m completely hooked! It’s a choose your own adventure where you care about the protagonist. Every time he goes off on some venture, I’m always nervous about what’s gonna happen to my new friend without me knowing about it. Last night, he convinced me that he should spend the night in some other wreckage he discovered instead of trekking it all the way back to his original ship. Some wreckage, I might add, that he was pretty sure he spotted some other kind of life form scuttling about …

Lifeline doesn’t demand much from you and occupies more of your thoughts when you’re not playing it, which I find pretty novel. When you turn on the push notifications, you get his messages that pop up in “real time”. It’s to the point now that I’ll stop what I’m doing to check my phone when it buzzes and my wife will ask, “What’s Taylor up to now?”.

There are so many branching paths, that it can’t help but feel like a unique story. My friend who recommended it has already lead his Taylor to destruction, I found out. However,my Taylor, who’s been at it about three days now, is still kicking by his last transmission. He’s on his way to investigate a non-natural pinnacle he spied in the distance at the moment. He’ll text me next time he gets the chance.

As someone who’s fascinated by telling stories to others, this thing gets all the right hooks in me. I’m both voyeur and protagonist, but yet I can’t see anything. I’m helping the story, but he has to describe it to me while my mind fills in the blanks. It’s a fascinating thought experiment about the nature of stories.

I’m hesitant to talk too much to my real friend less something get spoiled, but through the few notes we’ve compared, we’re experiencing too completely different stories. I was genuinely scared when Taylor asked me to look up how many rads it takes to harm someone so he could sleep next to cooling reactor engines. I hope I gave him the right answer. I still worry about what I might have done to him.

Well look at that. There goes my phone. Seems he’s run into a huge crater and needs some advice… Gotta go!