Throwback Thursday – How much is too much?

bag-end-door-cropped-307x324.jpgThis goes back to March 2011. I was pretty tough on my own skill. I have improved. I can write a nice scene, even a descriptive scene. They don’t come naturally to me, but there is this thing called craft. I am working on trying to write descriptive snippets, in the style of William Gibson. Snippets are fine. They are good in my humble opinion, but there is a point when the description goes overboard. I have seen wonderful writers, whose work I admire, go off the rails. Well, you can read this for yourself.


You know, I have a lot of respect for authors that can write wonderful prose. I know I’m not one of them, but not for a lack of trying. I think they have a gift for using picturesque words and putting them together just the right way to evoke an image in your mind. The really good ones make it so it’s hardly like reading at all, more like experiencing the story. Then there are those that have a great gift for creating imaginative and off the wall ideas that mere mortals just shake their heads at in wonder and amazement. Some are actually gifted with both and they are the great ones we all admire.

I just finished reading a book by one of my favorite new authors and he has a gift for dialogue. He has some amazing ideas for setting and his characters are layered, complex and interesting. His plots are full of twists and turns too, he is really very talented but I have a nit to pick. Way too much description! I mean WAY TOO MUCH. Paragraphs of detailed minutia. I actually skipped entire sections because I just didn’t care. I started in, but the things he was describing were so complex that I wasn’t able to see it clearly in my mind’s eye. After a while I just quit trying. If he started off on another wave of informative adjectives I just escaped to the next paragraph, and then the next one often times. They were superfluous to the story, but he apparently felt I needed to understand how many great ideas he had that he was compelled to share with me. I understand this desire. Authors fall in love with the worlds they create and the more different from normal they are, the more the desire to describe increases.

This is a lesson many of us need to heed. We just spent an enormous amount of time building that world with all kinds of cool environments that nobody has ever thought of before and we are just dying to share them with you. But the only description we should be sharing with you is stuff that is germane to the story and the character that is carrying the perspective. Some description is of course necessary, but the trick is not going overboard with long paragraphs of stuff that will have no impact on the character or affect the flow of the story. If anything I tend to be too sparse with my descriptions, so it really bothers me when someone goes the opposite way and loads up on the description. Where do you fall on the description scale? I know I’m way on the side that has very little.

 

Clear Ether!

Filtering Filter Words From Your Story

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Something I’ve been working hard at in my writing is getting rid of filter words. Filtering is using words that put space between the reader and the protagonist to remove you a step from the point of view. Think of words that are basically internal sensations or ways that you would connect to the external world, words like thought, felt, saw, heard or realized.  They may keep the reader from connecting with your protagonist.

Not a big deal to include these in your first draft, but you need to look for them on the editing phases.

They should only be used when they are critical to understanding the sentence. Notice I used “should.” There are no hard, fast rules when it comes to writing, but you take a risk of pushing your reader back a step or slowing down and possibly even pulling them out of the text so it feels more like reading instead of experiencing the story. It might be that you want to add in a few syllables for pace or poetic use, but you need to understand the risk you are taking. Sometimes you can simply move the offending word into dialogue.

For example:

Tom had the impression that it was reaching out for them.

It seemed to reach out to Tom.

Or with dialogue: “Is that thing reaching out to us?”

Hopefully that gives you the idea. It can be quite insidious. I find myself doing it all the time. See? I did it right there.

Reread of William Gibson’s Neuromancer

3272152-neuromancerWilliam Gibson’s debut novel, Neuromancer, was the first novel to win the Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Hugo Award. This first book in his Sprawl trilogy is at once jarring and groundbreaking and different from everything else that was coming out at the time in 1984. There is rampant drug use and body modification in almost every character. It is a psychedelic trip through the underbelly of one segment of the criminal world in Japan and the eastern seaboard of the US in Gibson’s vision of a future world, with cowboy hackers and genetically enhanced killers.

The thing that makes this work remarkable is that the internet did not exist yet. It was the ARPAnet and TELNETs that you could dial into with a modem. Hackers and Phone Phreakers had been around for a little more than twenty years, give or take, but there was a sense that things were changing with the advent of the personal computer. My college roommate had just bought an Apple IIe, with monochrome monitor in amber. It was fairly close to cutting edge in 1984. I bought the first PC with a hard drive in 1988. And was still using a 2400 baud modem then to dial into bulletin boards or the newcomer America Online. The Artificial Intelligence (AI) Deep Blue won’t beat Gary Kasparov at chess for another 12 years in 1984. It predates the common use of the term Virtual Reality (VR.)

All of these things Gibson smashed together in his gritty new view of the future to coin the genre of cyberpunk. VR became quite the rage after Neuromancer’s release and we all thought it would only be a few years before it would be commonplace. It is only now that we have the bandwidth to really start doing something with it. There are a few things that stick out, like using cassette tapes for a memory construct and early disks for memory, but overall it still holds up pretty well today.

In the story, Henry Dorsett Case was a joeboy for the greatest hackers in the dystopian underworld of Chiba City, Japan, until he got greedy. Now he is a washed-up cowboy that is hanging on by his fingernails, spending his nights in little more than a coffin, which may be symbolic as well as literal. He will do anything to make a buck. Is it fate or simply luck that he falls under the eye of an AI by the name of Wintermute, which has aspirations of godhood? It has assembled a crack team of killers and technicians from the fringes of society to help it become the master of its own destiny.

Money is no object for this team as they prepare to crack some of the toughest ICE in all the virtual world. The ICE protects AIs. It is their deadly security system that can cause brain death in a hacker brave or foolish enough to tangle with it.

It is a reckless weave of plot, moving them all over the globe in search of the parts they will need to succeed, that ultimately that has them end up in the orbital habitat Freeside, in a Lagrange point between the Earth and the Moon. Tessier-Ashpool SA, the twisted, incestuous family that controls the empire that birthed the AIs Wintermute and Rio, better known as Neuromancer, are the target. Villa Straylight, their home in the spindle of an orbital, is a maze of ancient bric-a-brac and houses a deadly ninja at the beck and call of the lone remaining sane member of the T-A family, Lady 3Jane Marie-France Tessier-Ashpool.

The use of Rastafarians seemed like a stretch to me, and the creepiness of the Villa Straylight offset the high-tech undertones. There isn’t anyone we meet in the book that is completely sane. But somehow it all works. It moves fairly quickly, and he has a real knack for turning a phrase. Gibson’s use of description is lean but highly effective and he drops these beautiful prose in here and there to really showcase his talent as a writer. Here is a small sample:

Straylight reminded Case of deserted early morning shopping centers he’d known as a teenager, low-density places where the small hours brought a fitful stillness, a kind of numb expectancy, a tension that left you watching insects swarm around caged light bulbs above the entrance of darkened shops. Fringe places, just past the boarders of the Sprawl, too far from the all-night click and shudder of the hot core. There was that same sense of being surrounded by the sleeping inhabitants of a waking world he had no interest in visiting or knowing, of dull business temporarily suspended, of futility and repetition soon to wake again.

I enjoyed the reread immensely. It was as good as I remembered and everything that made it cool and remarkable is still significant now. Maybe it doesn’t have the same punch, because we are much more familiar with the tropes these days, but I can still give it my highest endorsement.

On to Count Zero!

5 Things Friday: Favorite Bands

Wolf Alice
Wolf Alice. Photo: Clockenflap.

I listen to a lot of music. My taste is all over the map. I generally lean in favor of heavy guitar, but if you look at this list there are several bands here that don’t feature the guitar. I like melodic stuff. If it doesn’t have a good melody I probably won’t care for it. There are exceptions, like some Beastie Boys or some Clash stuff, but overall, I have to have a good melody. I like Classical, Rock, a little bit of Country, and a lot of Alternative Rock. I enjoy the Blues and a dabble of Reggae and Pop, as well.

When I went to make this list it, on the first blush I noticed something. My first list covered a period of almost 50 years. I decided to go with it and it works out like this:

  1. Early 70s – Bread – They are probably the band you don’t know, but if you heard one of their songs you would immediately recognize it. I absolutely love David Gates. His melodic pop songs are what made this band a hit back in the early 70s.

Their top ten songs are all fantastic:

Everything I Own                    Make it with you

Guitar Man                              If

Diary                                        Baby – I’m a want you

Aubrey                                     Lost Without Your Love

It Doesn’t Matter to Me           Sweet Surrender

Go find them online. I think they will surprise you.

  1. Late 70s to early 80s – The Police – They are legendary. The made great music for only 5 years, from 78-83. Sting has had a long career afterward, but they made an indelible mark on the music scene and then stopped when they were on top. They were my favorite band when I was in high school.
  2. Early 80s to 90s – U2 – I can still remember the first time I heard one of their songs. I was a freshman in college and was in a dance club in Denver when the video for Sunday Bloody Sunday appeared on the huge wall display over the dance floor. I went back and found all of their albums and then followed them through the years with each release. They made a big switch when I was in pilot training with The Joshua Tree, and initially I didn’t like it, but after listening to it more I began to appreciate it. Under a Blood Red Sky is bittersweet for me, as I had tickets to that concert and ended up not being able to go. I did catch them live in the late 80s and it was epic. Of course, they are still making music, but the early stuff is the stuff I really love.
  3. 00s – Alter Bridge – I was sad when it looked like Creed was done. But the lead guitarist, Mark Tremonti is a workhorse and a prolific songwriter and took the original lineup from Creed and found a new lead singer, Miles Kennedy from the Mayfield Four. Much to Tremonti’s surprise, Kennedy was also a world class guitarist. Their stuff is serious rock and on the heavy side. Their ballads are fantastic, too. My favorite album is Blackbird, there is not a bad song on this album. I can put their stuff on endless loop and listen all day. They have a new album coming out in October for my birthday!
  4. 10s – Wolf Alice – I think I was listening to the alternative rock station on my cable television My Choice, when I first heard them. I went immediately to the internet and started searching for them. They are very young and fresh and the talk of the British rock scene. They have an eclectic rock vibe and a very distinctive sound. Ellie Roswell and Joff Oddie started as an acoustic duo then added a bassist and drummer and went electric and found their sound. Visions of Life won the Mercury Prize last year for best British Album. It is cool and breezy and wonderful. It also will rock your ass off. Here is one of my favorites: Mona Lisa Smile

 

Who are your favorites?

Throwback Thursday – Inserting Ideas into the Public Mind

circuit handshake.jpgThis feels timely with all that has gone on in the world in recent months. Especially regarding the Russians using online personas to insert disharmony into social media sites and put out actual fake news about stuff and it worked. It actually did exactly what I wrote about back in March 2011. I know that terrorist organizations like ISIS used social media in a very savvy way to promote their worldview and recruit people. Our military public affairs figured it out late and fought hard to recapture their own media perspectives and now it is part of our toolkit.

It is a real thing that people have tapped into. I wish I was better at it, but I don’t really have an agenda, other than being here for when the time comes I have books out in the world, and to have a place to chat with people that like my books. In the meantime, I put out treacle like this post.


I’m enrolled in a course about Strategic Communication right now and with the explosion of the Facebook and Twitter revolutions across the Middle East it really puts a new face on the whole concept.  It really got me thinking about how interconnected we all are now all over the globe and how powerful the new social media really is.  I’ve read opinion that it is the most innovative development since the industrial revolution.  I’m not sure we understand all the ramifications yet.

How many of you have read Ender’s Game? (If you haven’t you really should) It was originally penned in 1977 by Orson Scott Card and there is a segment in there about Ender’s older siblings taking on personas on the “nets” to shape public opinion.  WOW is all I can say.

There was no true internet back then, not the way we know it now.  The first version of Windows didn’t come out until 1985.  The World Wide Web didn’t exist before 1990.  There were only USENET groups and electronic bulletin boards from the mid 80s until the early 90s.   Card was visionary with some of these ideas.

I see that now is the time when something like Locke and Demosthenes could actually be utilized with real effect — Agents with an agenda to shape public opinion.  Governments across the planet are fighting a war of ideas and information is a commodity.  The ability to shape global opinions through social media would be a powerful weapon if it could actually be harnessed somehow.  I think there is a kernel for a great story here.  But reality could be even more scary.  A determined group of people with money and some real savvy could build a network of social media personas to nudge opinions.  Collectively they could have a real impact on global viewpoints and if the recent events in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya are any indication they could topple governments.  Food for thought.

Clear Ether!

Plans Dashed

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We joke at work a lot about how much you get injured working out to be in better shape. Somehow I managed to herniate myself, so I am off my training schedule for the mini-marathon. I was hanging on to my schedule by the skin of my teeth as it was, running about a week behind, with hopes of catching up. But I am giving up on making it to the mini in October. There is another close by in the Spring. So, if I can manage to keep running through the Winter months I will try that one.

The sucky part, other than the surgery, is that I was starting to enjoy running again. I haven’t really enjoyed it for many years, but I was finally getting into running form again after 6 months of effort. Getting old is not for wimps.

Hey, more time for writing, right?

I hope you are having a wonderful day just the same.

How do You do Social Media?

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During my MFA course we talked about how to present yourself to the world. Marketing yourself is pretty much expected these days. The problem for a lot of writers is that they tend to be introverts by nature, and having to put themselves out there in the public eye can produce a lot of anxiety. Especially doing live events, like conventions and sitting on panels or books signings. But even beyond that there seems to be an expectation by the industry to have a presence on social media.

There are so many now, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Patreon, Twitch, Flickr, Tumblr, Snapchat, YouTube, LinkedIn, LiveJournal, Blogger, WordPress and so many more. I found a link that discussed 165 different platforms for 2019. Holy crap.

Obviously, we don’t have time to do everything, and still have time to write. I could have stopped with the first half of that last sentence. We don’t have time for 165 different platforms even if we did nothing else.

Just keeping up this blog takes up quite a bit of my time when I could be writing more for my current work in progress. So, for me I spend most of my energy on three, WordPress, Twitter and Facebook. I have accounts for LinkedIn, and LiveJournal, Flickr, Tumblr, Patreon, Instagram, and YouTube, but I rarely use them, other than to peruse the content of others.

Are my three the best three? I have no idea. My kids tell me that nobody uses Facebook anymore. I have to laugh at that because it is still the largest with over 2.4 BILLION users. That is almost unbelievable. What my kids mean is young people rarely use Facebook now. My youngest spends a lot of time on Reddit, which I can barely stand, but he loves it.

Young people are always moving onto the hot new thing. Which, I have to admit, I have no idea what that might be. I try to stay up on current events, but pop culture moves fast at times, and I have no doubt that at some point it will leave me behind.

I know there is a fine line between selling too hard and not doing any. I think the real trick is to simply be you. I know that I don’t like following people that all they talk about is their latest book, with character discussion or snippets of their novel. If I don’t see some real personality in there, at least occasionally, then I don’t want to be your friend on there. In fact, we aren’t making any sort of connection, because all I am to you is a person to buy your book.

 

So, what are your favorites? If you are a writer or an artist do you actively market yourself? How do you go about it?

5 Things Friday – What I’ve Learned About Relationships

 

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  1. Honesty – It really is the best policy. Trust is huge. Jealousy is a horrible thing and lack of faith in the other person leads to this in many cases. I can vaguely remember being in the dating scene and trying to find someone you could trust. It is much harder than it should be. It was so refreshing meeting my wife. We don’t lie to each other and never have. I don’t have to remember what I told her to keep it straight, she already knows. We have been together a long time now, 27 years, and we have learned to trust each other implicitly. I think this is the bedrock of any strong relationship.
  2. Servant heart – This might sound funny, but what I mean is put your partner first. It takes both people doing this to make it work or resentment will follow. If you are always the one giving and not getting anything in return it won’t work in the long run. The reciprocal is also true. That is not to say we should do things to get things in return, but if both people are putting the other ahead of themselves it works fabulously. That doesn’t mean you can’t have solo time, or plan for things one person wants to do, but when you have the best interest of your partner in mind it all balances out.
  3. Communicate – This is true of just about any endeavor. It is usually the weakest link in any organization from big to small. Keeping others informed about what is going on will save embarrassment and hurt feelings. It helps others empathize if they understand what is going on. It allows you to have teamwork and accomplish things much easier than trying to shoulder a burden by yourself.
  4. Apologize – Even when you are not wrong. Sometimes it just takes someone to say they are sorry to break the ice. But especially if you are in the wrong. Being stubborn does not lead to a better relationship. My wife and I have a policy that we don’t go to bed mad at each other. I won’t say there haven’t been times when it was a close thing, but in the end we talk out whatever the issue may be, and we do try to put the other person first. Keeping that in mind when you are mad is hard sometimes, but in the long run letting go of your pride and remembering why you are together is usually enough of a reason. Making up is a wonderful feeling.
  5. Expectations –  Be clear about them up front. Don’t make your partner guess at what you expect. Don’t get mad at your partner because they didn’t do what you expected when you didn’t let them know. It is not intuitive to do this, even though it seems so obvious in retrospect. This sounds simple, and it is, but it surprises me how many people don’t do this easy thing. I tried to make it one of my priorities as a leader as well.

What have you learned about relationships?

A Small Win

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I’ve been running since March. I started with very short distances. Maybe two miles on a good day. I was trying to prepare myself for a Mini-Marathon in October and figured I would have time to train my body for the longer distance without too much trouble. The last time I did this was nine years ago and I went from not being able to run a half mile to running 8 miles in only a month. I used to run cross-country when I was in High School and then for fun in college, not competitively except for intramurals.

I thought for sure I would be able to get up to distance fairly quickly.

Well, being almost 55 now it was a lot different. I began officially training for the mini-marathon in mid-July, and have been almost making the distances. I am about a week behind schedule, but today I was supposed to run 5 miles for the first time yesterday. I went for it.

When I started I did not feel great. Last weekend I ran four and felt strong. The good news is I felt okay at the four mile point and was able to keep going, unsure if I was going to make it.

I did it!

I have to repeat it this week. We’ll see how that goes. I’m not sure I am going to be able to run 13.1 when the time comes, but the training continues. It is keeping me motivated. There is a mini in May if I don’t make this one, but running in the winter here is not awesome.

Setting goals and accomplishing them is very satisfying. Do you have anything you are working toward?

Throwback Thursday – What’s in a name?

2dfea-nametagThis originally posted Jan 28, 2011. I still believe it. Words are magic. They allow the writer to talk to the reader telepathically, from anywhere in time to whenever they pick up the book. And names create an image, whether it might be the name of a business or a new gadget or a person you just met. It shapes your perception, maybe a little and maybe a lot.


I have a question for you writer’s and aspiring writers out there…do names matter?

I know there are many approaches to actually writing a novel from outlining to discovery, and every iteration between those poles. NaNoWriMo taught me to write every day, and I’ve read over and over again that when you write you should just keep going, letting it flow out the right side of your brain and fix it later in the editing phase. But my brain is already full and if I learn something new I have to forget something to make room for it, and I have no idea what that lost tidbit is going to be. It might be the great idea I had for the edit that I didn’t take the time to fix earlier.

I’m one of those people that have to fix it on the spot, if I can. I can get hung up on a scene if I’ve introduced a new character that I wasn’t planning on, and I don’t have his/her name. So much is wrapped up in a name; their whole essence is in that name. I’ve heard the horror stories of editors or publishers demanding a name change! Don’t they understand what you have invested in that name!?! You might have spent hours or even days trying to find just the perfect name. And it’s not just characters, it’s ships and planets and weapons and continents and lakes. You get the idea. This is world building, but to me it’s more than that, it’s world CRAFTING. I’ve heard people say that names don’t matter…WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE!?! We world builders know different! We’ve put our blood, sweat and tears into those names, they have power!

Okay, maybe I’m getting a little carried away, but I do think it matters. Names set a tone and paint a word picture when they are done well. If I name my main character Rupert or Sterling, it creates an image in your head. Doesn’t it? What about Mad Dog or Killer or Whysk?

Names anchor the ambiance of your setting, whether it’s grim and dark or whimsical and magical. They evoke image and imagination. They have soul or lack soul. Names alone won’t make your story good, but I do think they can help both the writer to imagine and the reader to get absorbed. I would love to hear your opinions on this, unless you disagree with me you cretin!

 

Clear Ether!