Happy Thanksgiving ..er..Christmas?

It’s Thanksgiving morning and I just got off work.  I love Thanksgiving morning, my wife and I have turned it into a tradition that we work together to get the feast ready together. I cut the celery and the green onions while she fixed some cinnamon muffins, then she preps the dressing while I prep the bird, then we stuff the turkey and put in the oven and clean up together.  This meal is really not a bad one to do, we do much more complicated meals.   After the turkey is in the oven we have several hours to relax and do some fun stuff, like read or write or play video games or call home.  We don’t normally travel on Thanksgiving, deciding a long time ago to make the tradition for our children here.  4 sets of parents to visit becomes a logistical nightmare so we just stopped and hope they will visit us occasionally.  



My wife already has a lot of our Christmas decorations up and my daughter is home from college, so the house feels very warm and cozy.   Kristi loves Christmas and I stopped fighting her on decorating before Thanksgiving about 7 or 8 years ago, and it does make for a very cheerful atmosphere in the house.  The pictures don’t really do them justice, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  She has stuff all over the house and I have to say I’ve grown to like it.  Even before Thanksgiving.


I’m thankful for so many things.  My family’s health, I have a great job and nice house, a great internet connection!  My parents are still living, I have family all over the country.  My half-brother just found me on facebook the other day.  We grew up on opposite ends of the country and haven’t had all that much contact but he has a beautiful family and I wish we lived closer together.  


I’m thankful that I found the spark that makes me want to write and blog.  I get a lot of enjoyment out of both and if you had told me ten years ago I wouldn’t have believed you.  I’m getting close to finishing the rewrite on my first novel and will be sending it off to my alpha readers soon.  


I’m thankful for social media for widening my world and bringing me into contact with so many interesting and wonderful people.  I know there is a lot of turmoil in the world right now and the economy is in a downturn but that is the way the economy works.  We mucked with it too much in the last 25 years and have to pay the piper at some point.  The thought that we could actually stop the economy of our country from being cyclical is just plain huberous.  It may get worse in the short term but it will get better.  This is the best time to be alive in the history of mankind for so many reasons.  We need to have faith that it will continue to improve in the aggregate.   Guess the economist in me is showing.  


I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving and a prosperous Black Friday!


Clear Ether!

5 Things That Will Make Me Drop Your Book Like a Hot Potato

I read Chuck Wendig’s 25 things that will make me keep reading your story and it made me think, I have WAAAAAYYY more things that will make me STOP reading your story (Okay, I might have overstated that, it’s ony 5 things).  And of course he posts about that very thing this morning.  ARRRRGGH!   Anyway, not to copy, but I had this idea in my head, so I’m going with it.

If I see a blurb that I like or a nice cover or get a recommendation from one of my friends, I will pick up your book and give it a fair shake.  Unlike Chuck, I’m not standing in the doorway with a gun in your face waiting to not like it.  If I‘ve gotten as far as cracking the cover and reading the first page I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt.  I’ll have the gun tucked into my belt, in back under my shirt, so you can’t see it.  I want to like it.  But there are a few things that will make me pull that gun out and blow your face clean off!

 

  1. I picked up a book recently that had a great blurb and interesting ideas, but the language was unique for a lot of things.  It was hard to follow because of this.  It’s nice and all that you went to the trouble to try to make this futuristic place, with new fangled words for everything, but If I have to read the page three times to catch what your drifting then something’s wrong.  My shooting hand starts to twitch.  It’s a fine line to make it “feel” all futury but overdone, it will just lose the reader.
  2. I don’t mind if a book has lots of characters, as long as the POV is consistent.  And by consistent, I mean not jumping from one head to the next as the paragraph changes with no warning, no break or any sign that will clue me that we just switched heads.   You might get away with this once, but keep doing it and it’ll get my ire and likely a bullet to the face (i.e. I’m putting the book in the Salvation Army box in my basement).
  3. Most of us are willing to suspend our disbelief when we pick up a book.  But every now and then something will break the mirror that holds the illusion together with facts that are SO blatantly wrong that I can’t get over it.  Like in Iron Falcon Eagle.  A movie about a kid, whose father is a downed F-16 pilot, who goes out and saves the day by flying an F-16 Fighting Falcon and they call the jet by the wrong name.   Or perhaps something less obvious, that I happen to know is true, like poisonous tarantulas.  No such thing.  My suspension of disbelief comes to a screeching car wreck of a halt … book in the basement box.  These things are incredibly simple to determine, even a 30 second Google search will show the error of their ways.
  4. I’ve read a sizeable number of books and have a baseline of expectation for prose.  They don’t have to be Nora Roberts great, but it should be slightly better than my 10 year old can do.  Okay, that’s not even fair, my 10 year old is an exceptionally smart kid and can write pretty well, but something at least close to that level.  Your writing style is so simplistic that It’s like vanilla icing on cardboard.  I’m not a fan of vanilla icing.  I know some of you might be, so let’s make it dog poo icing on cardboard.  I’m gonna pass on this.  It lacks hardly any description and the sentences are all the same length.   It just lacks something.  This alone will often not be enough to make me put the book down if I have nothing else to read, and by nothing, I mean I’m stuck in the airport for five hours and have no other options.   My reading list is usually ten books deep at a minimum, and I will forget to pick this one back up at some point and move to the next on the list.
  5. The opposite of the previous problem is too much love of the world.  Paragraph after paragraph of description.  I enjoy envisioning a new world as much as the next geek, but it can be overdone.  I’ll end up skipping past a lot of the descriptive and do this enough and I’m skipping the entire book.  I can appreciate how much work went into building this lovely world you’ve created, but I don’t need to know every single detail that crossed my field of vision as I turn my head.  Keep it pertinent to the story and let my imagination fill in the blanks.  I like a little description, but once you’ve gone past the first paragraph describing how the sun hit the old church building and tell me about how the door used to go into a basement that is covered over blah blah blah …  I don’t care.  Unless that door leads to a torture chamber or a secret path to an underground hideout or something at least partway useful to the story just skip it.  You can chop these prose off and save it somewhere to put in later.  Or in a different story. But it doesn’t belong in this story if it’s not moving the narrative along somehow.

Other than that I’ll probably gut it out and try to finish your story.  That’s only 5, not 25, but that’ll have to do.

Clear Ether!

 

NaNo Fail Whale

NaNoWriMo is never a waste of time in my humble opinion. I’m not going to hit the target this year of 50k words in 30 days, but the endeavor has its own rewards.

Last year I had a great idea and I think it will become my Master’s thesis and I had no trouble moving along. It was a simple idea but very open and I knew where it was going ultimately. I‘ve got stuff on the back burner and a backlog of ideas I want to explore but for this year I decided to try my hand at something completely outside of my comfort zone. The original idea was to try my hand at a YA tie- in to my current novel. But once I conceived of the idea it started to develop its own life. I thought it was just going to be in the same vein as my adult fiction, just from a different perspective, but as the idea started to coalesce it began to morph into more of a substantial piece, and basically even though the setting is several hundred years in the future it is not classic SF. It’s actually literary fiction, which is a completely different animal.

What I learned this year is that literary fiction is harder. It requires a lot of introspection and for me at least, has been a lot slower to develop. The story arc for literary fiction is intended to be an internal arc, to see a character mature or change their beliefs in some fundamental way. That is the overarching plot, and of course you can add in lots of small plot-lines that will move the story along.

I can see a lot of potential with this, but it’s not what I thought it was going to be. I love that these things are like a living flame that can be stoked into life, just add a little more kindling, a breath of air, bigger sticks and the thing grows. You have to pay very close attention though or the flame can die. But even as they can grow, it helps to know where you’re going. This story is developing but I’m still not sure where I’m going with it and that is the biggest hurdle. I like the characters, and I like the ideas that are developing, but the elephant in the room with me right now is time.

I have several projects competing for my time and some have real deadlines. Some are self-induced, but one is outside my control. I seriously want to finish my adult novel and get it out there. I have a series of tests that I need to study for, that are incredible time eaters. Time keeps marching on and as it does my stress level is slowly creeping up.

I like the idea that I have something that will challenge me and my skills and it’s something that might actually have something to say and not just entertain. But right now I’m not sure it fits in with my agenda. Ideas are funny things, some are very finite and some are lofty and undefined. This one feels more like the latter, even though I have some concrete concepts developing it has a long way to go to really gel.

All this to say I think I am going to put this one back on the rear of the stove again and let it simmer some more. I like knocking things off my to-do list and I have some low hanging fruit that I can take care of if I just focus my energy. The one good thing about stress is that I tend to get more motivated. The stress has reached a point where I need to act and this is the first step. Epic NaNo Fail, but ultimately a victory in my pursuit of happiness. Good luck to the rest of you working toward your 50k goal!

Clear Ether!

Reconstruction (Revision)

This is a picture of the new intersection by my house. It really looks fantastic. I know, it’s hard to get excited about a road intersection but you have to keep in mind that this busy section of road has been undergoing construction for about a year and it has disrupted all our lives. They expanded the lanes — completely resurfaced the entire stretch of road and then repainted all of it. It got me thinking how this is a good analogy of building a story. Originally this was a two lane road, with lots of pot holes and patches. Now it is a beautiful multilane road with smooth blacktop surfaces and fresh paint. It looks remarkably different and the traffic flow is substantially better.

Think of your first draft as that narrow, gravel and tar covered, pot-hole filled road. It has spots that have been patched repeatedly. Places where the road forked to a dead end. It’s ugly and the traffic flow is horrible. You built this first draft hastily to get all those ideas out there and try to build a plot that makes sense as you go along, even though maybe all of it doesn’t quite fit exactly right. You had some starts and stops. You had to backtrack … you had to restart the beginning a dozen times. Whatever method you used to get that first draft down, by either plotting an outline or just winging it from the word go, it’s an ugly baby.

On the revision you clean up all those dead ends and block them off like they were never there. You widen the road with enhanced tension and foreshadowing. You repave entire sections with new subplot and better dialogue. You overlay the entire thing with theme and proper structure. It takes a long time, and in the interim it can be like trying to cross a really bad section of road trying not to bottom out or smash the rims of your wheels from the pot holes.

But when it’s done though, it’s a thing of beauty! (Hopefully) It’s not an easy process and it is time consuming, but it is the process that we must all go through to have a final product that is worth putting out there for all to see. It might take you months or even years to work through all the problems in your story. You sent it out to alpha and beta readers and maybe even a professional editor. But now it shines! It’s ready to send to an agent or publisher or to properly format it for self-publishing.

Clear Ether!

NaNoWriMo Take 2

I can see that NaNoWriMo is going to be interrupting my planned schedule for posting this blog.  I had to fly on Thursday evening, so I tried to sneak in some writing at work, but it didn’t leave me any blog time.  Posting the blog at work has been a near disaster so far.  The LAN we use is hermetically sealed and I feel lucky I can even get to blogspot at all.  I’ve also been fighting a cold and an abdominal muscle injury that is hampering my workouts considerably, but that really doesn’ effect the blog any, just my demeanor.  But all that aside, trying to keep pace with my NaNoWriMo story is the real culprit.  I could have blogged last night, but I’m doing the exact opposite of what I had planned, which is fall dreadful behind, so I hemorraged words onto the NaNo WIP.



I wanted to get out the gate and get ahead.  Being ahead in NaNo is the sweet spot.  The stress is low, you feel good about where you are, and can just enjoy the experience.  I watched in amazement as most of my Writing Buddies racked up 5k and 8k on the first day!  I think I hit 600 on day one.  I took today off to take my wife to the annual craft fair at the local college, but I should have some time this afternoon to try to catch up.  I’m lagging enough to keep myself at least a day off pace.  I just need a good 5 K day to catch up and I know I have one of those in me.   I know because I’ve done it before. It’s a nice feeling to know that, it’s what’s keeping me sane at the moment.   I looked back at last year and I barely made any posts during November, simply because I spent every waking moment that I had free working on my NaNo project.  


There are some valuable lessons to be learned from NaNoWriMo.  The first and foremost is putting your butt in the chair.  Nothing surpasses that one commandment.  It’s very easy to find just about anything else to do, all the while telling yourself that you are brainstorming.  There is more to butt in chair though.  Even that isn’t always enough, you need to eliminate as many distractions as you can.  Hell, even the little word counter in the corner is distracting.  I feel my cheating eyes sneaking to the bottom left corner of the page to check our progress, only to be disappointed.  Why isn’t it moving faster!  I spent a good part of day 1 doing research, stuff that I could have done, should have done in advance.  So even though my butt was in the chair, I wasn’t grinding out words.


So my advice is: 
1. Sit down, preferably in a place with no internet connection and work those little fingers till they cramp up.  Scrivener even takes the word counter out of view, and they even have a PC version beta out now.  I think it goes live on the 7th. 
2. Don’t go back and fix things (unless you must, it’s a personality flaw) keep forward momentum.  It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to keep moving forward.  You will have until next November to revise it and make it shine. 
3. Don’t think it has to be complete by the end of the month, 50K is not really a novel, more like a novelette, which is fine if that’s what you want.
4. Try to stay ahead.  Believe me on this.  You don’t want to be where I was last year knowing I needed multiple 5K days to even catch up, frantic in the last week to “win”.  


If you give it a serious attempt it will help you develop a writing habit.  I read somewhere that it takes 30 days to develop a habit.   I know from practice that more writing makes for better writing.  But don’t think you know everything, don’t stop learning about how to write better.  It is a craft that can be continuously honed.  Now go out there and mandibulate on the keyboard!


Clear Ether!