Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

PBWQ14 Week Three Update

Friday, October 24th, 2014

I'm not going to lie, I'm nervous. I'm nowhere near as far along as I'd hoped to be by October 24. I have no idea where this last week went (though, to be fair, I know that some of it definitely went here). I have three things today: a progress report, an explanation, and a soliloquy of sorts.

Progress Report

Things came together a week ago, in a big way, for the over-arching story. It wasn't until a couple days ago, that I finally zeroed in on what I'm supposed to be doing right now: planning the immediate outline/synopsis for book one. It's picking up speed a bit, but where I am now is where I should have been last Friday.

An Explanation

I was looking through old blog posts here, specifically in the Progress category, trying to remember which book I was working on each NaNoWriMo season. My first one was in 2009 (which I've won) and I've tried (and died) every year since then.

Anyway, what struck me was how cryptic my posts were. I seemed to go waaaaay out of my way to actually talk about what I was working on. There are reasons, I suppose: spoilers, protecting my intellectual property, general embarrassment. But as a historical archive, they suck. So I'm going to fix that.

I still won't post spoilers. But I really don't care about my IP being stolen because: 1) nobody visits the blog and 2) there's nothing worth stealing anyway. And being embarrassed from time to time is just part of life. I'd rather share too much and have something enjoyable to look back on in the future than end up with more of what I've done so far.

So, here it is in plain language. My current project is part of something I'm (for now) calling The Underhaven Trilogy. The first book is called Elsewhither (yes, the same name as this here blog.)

It's 1864. The story begins in London. It's about a twelve-year old girl who, until recently, lived in a wonderful orphanage. The home lost its sole benefactor and consequently she's been turned out onto the streets. She runs into an old blind woman in a horse-drawn carriage who takes her in. The carriage pulls away and the two begin to talk. Upon arriving at the old woman's estate, the girl is chased off as "riff raff." In spite of the old woman's objections, servants send dogs after the girl. She spies an odd shack while running and makes for it. The shack contains what looks like a manhole cover. She heads below for safety. While below, she realizes that she may have stumbled into an opportunity to find buried treasure: treasure that could be used to restore her home. She moves forward and eventually encounters an ancient subterranean world where all sorts of adventures await. Does she ever find her treasure? How should I know! I haven't written the stupid book yet.

A Soliloquy

I've made it no secret that I've been at this (not this particular story but "this" in general) for over two decades and I have yet to accomplish anything. Sure, I spat out several "how to" books on video editing. I wrote that diet book. I've authored hundreds of blog posts (a fair number of them pretty good, if I do say so myself). I've released three major versions of my pet project Timekeeper. I've written some music. I've drawn a few pictures. I've carved a lot of pumpkins. But I still have yet to write that Mediocre American Novel.

I'm not sure why I'm still at it either. Part of it is momentum. I've spent (literally) thousands of hours on backstory, world-building, invented languages, research and development, and so on. Apart from The Underhaven Trilogy, I have Tenner Heed, Winter's Gate, and Ronald all in various stages of development.

It's not like the world NEEDS another book. In fact, I'm pretty sure we've crossed the point where, for the first time in history, there are now more people writing books than reading them. Plus, I still have my music and art interests waiting for attention. So why do I keep clinging to this notion that I've got some sort of story in my head that I need to put onto paper when all the evidence? Why do I keep at this?

The answer is simple. In fact, it's so simple, that it's only one word: because.

Okay, that's a bit too simple. Here's more words: because it's me. It's just what I do. Some people are compelled to photograph everything, others to weave baskets, others to plant trees, and still others to make peanut butter (for which I'm forever grateful). I firmly believe we don't get a say in this. The one hundred billion cells that make up your organic central processing unit make that call for you. There's a layer of consciousness in there which is aware of the decisions they're making, but that's about as far as our control goes.

I don't consciously decide that I love peanut butter and hate mushrooms. I don't sit down with a spreadsheet and think, "Hmmm, now let's list all the pros and cons of something, assign a score and weight to each attribute, then exclaim: It's official! I'm not a fan of The Godfather. Whew, glad I finally got THAT worked out." There's no logic or active thought process that says, "I like onions. I hate spiders. I love beer. I can't stand the color yellow." These things just is.

And so too with this writing thing. It just is. It's not whether or not the world needs another book. Or if I'm trying to cross something off some stupid bucket list. Or just spending a bit of free time noodling around with a hobby. Nope, my brain is wired in such a way that I always have to be producing something. I'm not happy if I'm not producing. I possess a modicum of talent in a few creative areas and if I'm not spitting something out, then I actually experience something approaching internal torment. So sure, it'd be nice to finish a novel someday. (Heck, I'll start with just one.) And it'd be nice if someone bought it. And even more nice if someone enjoyed it. But in the end, it's really just about me. And my sanity.

Comments Off on PBWQ14 Week Three Update
Posted in Musings, Progress |

Reading is Fundamental

Friday, October 18th, 2013

The purpose of this blog was to give me an outlet to talk about something other than dieting, and to that end, it had to be about writing. So I ramble from time to time about the non-progress of my one or two or five novels-in-progress. I bemoan in a most self-deprecating fashion how I just can't seem to get anywhere. I occasionally discuss the publishing industry itself. But until literally just now (and I mean "literally" literally) I realized: I never talk about reading.

Reading is, of course, the whole point. While I'm sure there are some who enjoy writing and never care that a single soul ever read their words, the vast majority of writers intend to be read.

Further, for those of us who do write (or at least try to) we surround ourselves with other writers. We have friends who write. We've personally friended three hundred and thirty seven thousand other NaNoWriMo participants. It's easy to forget that the Readers still (thankfully) outnumber the Writers by at least a couple orders of magnitude.

But beyond the desire to be read and the large Reader:Writer ratio, what makes reading so important to writers? I hope the answer is obvious. This is our craft. And to perfect one's craft means studying the work of one's peers. Think of a painter who never visits and art gallery. A chef who never eats out. A musician who never illegally downloads MP3s.

It expands your mind and simply makes you a better you.

There's also one additional side benefit. It helps you find out what's already been written. I learned this the hard way after spending nineteen years writing a seven-volume story of a young, orphaned boy who discovers he's a wizard and must defeat the greatest dark wizard ever. Think of what I could have done with all that time instead of writing The Magical Adventures of Henry Porter.

And please enjoy the continuing adventures of Allie Brosh at Hyperbole and a Half. I can only dream of what it might be like to create such an incredible meme as the image above.

Posted in Musings |

Unhappy Anniversary

Saturday, April 20th, 2013

"It was twenty years ago today . . ."

I like to record things. I keep track of time, I fill journals, and I log spreadsheets. It's quite likely I have millions of words scattered about, chronicling everything I've done, for over thirty years. If I ever make something of myself and some future biographer needs some raw material, there will be no shortage of it.

Which is why I know that twenty years ago today, I wrote this:

Today the itch got to me. I've been feeling like writing a book for some reason, and today I took my first steps towards realizing it. Now I didn't actually write anything today, because, heck, I don't even have a story yet. But I did some housekeeping, and, using MicroSoft Word on my PC, I came up with document templates to use. So now, if an idea hits me, I'll be ready.

I think part of what's making me feel this way is the TBX documentation that I'm just now finishing. It came out to over 400 pages, and it made me realize that I'd like to write something real rather than technical documentation.

If I were the protagonist in some other author's work, he couldn't have created a passage containing any more gems than that one. Just look at it! I say I want to write a book but instead of writing, I just set up templates. (I still get a kick out of the way I wrote "MicroSoft".) I mention not wanting to write technical documentation. Yet between 1996 and 2007, that's about all I did with my Getting Results video editing how-to series. And the most tragic part: I still have this burning desire to write novels and yet I obviously lack the capacity.

Exhibit A

To discuss this in more depth, I give you Exhibit A: Life is Like a MasterCard.

life is like a mastercard logo

The white box represents all of humanity, plus dolphins and mice. Any being in the white area has no ability to do X and no desire to do so either. Any being in the white area is perfectly content. Using me as an example: I have absolutely no ability to understand quantum physics and no desire to do so. I am content. I do not think about quantum physics in the car on the way to work. I don't worry that I'm making no progress in the field. I never fret that I will not be remembered for my achievements in quantum physics. I am content.

The blue area contains the subset of people who have the ability to do something, but no desire. The beings in this box are also perfectly content. If I may offer myself up as a guinea pig a second time: I have the ability to write a word processor. I am a software developer by profession and were I to put my mind to it, I could come up with something more than useable. But I have no desire to do so. The world is pretty well set on word processors. I am content.

The purple area is the subset of people who have the ability to do something as well as the desire. The beings in this box are also content. I myself have the ability and desire to make toast and put peanut butter on it. I do this often. I am content.

Now at this point, you, the dolphins, and all the mice see where this is heading. You can see where the pain lies. It's in that red area. This is where you find the unhappy, the restless, the cursed. I sure would like to write a novel. But I can't. I just can't.

Exhibit B

"Well, not with that attitude!" the ever-helpful optimist points out. "Think positive! You can do anything!" Well, I simply don't believe that. And that's not being a pessimist, that's just being a realist.

My favorite Pixar film is Ratatouille. The food critic Ego constantly demonstrates his disdain for Gusteau's motto, "Anyone Can Cook!" Because, at face value, this appears to be just another twist on the syrupy "Think positive! You can do anything!" mantra. What Ego finally realizes at the end of the film is the truth in what Gusteau meant: "Not anyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere." I love that. It sounds positive but at its heart lies realism. That's me in a nutshell.

My Problem

In the last month or so, it finally struck me what my problem is. I have something I call "I Can Do That! Syndrome." I possess a modicum of talent in the fields of writing, art, and music — but only just enough to be a danger to myself.

If I read a book, or see a movie, or look at a painting, or hear a song that I like, my immediate reaction is, "I Can Do That!" Because I know how to write, draw, and play a couple musical instruments. I've done enough of these things. I understand the fundamentals, theory, and have enough practical knowledge that my reaction is always the same: I Can Do That!

For example, I'll look at a pencil drawing like this:

I then set my own pencil to paper and get this:

It's all just a bit frustrating. And even more so now, looking back on a journal entry written twenty years ago by a person who thought he just might take the literary world by storm.

Still, I haven't given up yet. If there's one thing about "desire without ability" it's this: it is, first and foremost, "desire." And I'll keep working on this, if it's the next thing I do. Which it will be if I just click that Publish button and at last get back to work.

Check back on April 20, 2033 for Part Two of this post.

Posted in Musings |

How’d THAT Get Published?

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

I've been hearing a fair number of wannabe authors lately all asking variations on the question, "How'd that get published?" The typical scenario goes something like this:

  • Author spends an entire day forging breathtaking prose out of white-hot metaphors.
  • Tired, yet satisfied over an honest day's toil, Author decides to take a trip to the bookstore for a hot cup of coffee and a peek at the latest Garfield calendar.
  • A wall in the color of, oh, let's just call it "more than four dozen shades of a color not quite black nor white" smacks Author in the face.
  • Not without a wince, Author picks up one copy, slowly peels it to a random page and reads, "The muscles inside the deepest, darkest part of me clench in the most delicious fashion."
  • In utter despair, Author returns home and burns manuscript-in-progress.

It makes sense, of course. After all, if badly written books can not only get published but become — gasp — popular, what hope does someone like Author have?

This sense of frustration is normal. For in spite of piles and piles of evidence to the contrary, we all still believe life is supposed to be "fair." And it's patently NOT fair that someone who only but recently learned how to hold a pen now receives daily FedEx trucks full of money while we — we who type until our fingers bleed, perfecting each loving sentence whilst passion for the written word visibly drips from our under-appreciated pores — can't get the time of day from even the most hard up, entry-level employee in Acquisitions.

What we seemingly forget, in spite of piles and piles of evidence to the contrary, is that there is absolutely no correlation between "level of artistic merit" and "commercial success." None whatsoever. I'm sorry about that, but it's true. Highly related: we also forget that the publishing industry does not solely exist to ensure that only the finest quality writing ever reaches the hallowed shelves of Barnes & Noble. No, the publishing industry is a business, and that isn't a bad thing. It is not run by ignorant, malevolent, money-grubbing primates with nothing but disdain for the fine arts. It is run by people who are responsible for running a responsible business. This means creating products, shipping products, marketing products, and selling products. If they accomplish this monumental task successfully, then they get to pay the tens of thousands of people who make up this supply chain. Plus, as an added bonus, they're allowed to remain in business one more year.

Deep down Author knows this. Yet she remains despondent that crappy books contribute to this business model and can't understand why fine work (such as her own) never sees the light of day. It's easy to forget that fine work does get published. And, yes, it's very easy to forget that for every unexpected hit like Twilight, one hundred thousand equally crappy manuscripts are turned away. It's not as if only crappy books are published.

Author also forgets that "it takes all kinds." These books sell for one and only one reason: because a market exists for them. And it honestly doesn't matter if you personally disagree with the tastes of this market. I'm sure there are aficionados of classical music who simply cannot figure out why anyone would listen to jazz. The jazz devotees cannot figure out why anyone would listen to pop music. The Top Forty fans don't appreciate country music. Country music fans will never, ever figure out heavy metal. And the headbangers can't for the life of them understand why anybody would listen to anything as mind-numbingly boring as classical music.

So what's Author supposed to do? Quit writing? Give up? Chuck her manuscript into the river and never write again? To that I respond with a most emphatic yes. Because that just means MY crappy manuscript has one fewer author to compete against.

Posted in Musings |

Clean Slate

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

There's something supremely magical about that single clock tick with the ability to wipe clean the slate and give us our annual opportunity to at last Do Things Right.

My last post happened four months ago when I was (hoping to) kick off a writing binge and finally have something to show for it. It failed miserably.

But then the clock ticked over from 2011-12-31 23:59:59 to 2012-01-01 00:00:00 and I realized, with great hope (and a slight measure of anxiety) that I had just 355 days left to: write my book, get it published, and make an appearance on Ellen before the world ends.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's begin by dusting off the last two or three manuscripts and see if there's anything worth salvaging. I'll call Ellen tomorrow.

Comments Off on Clean Slate
Posted in Musings |

Who Cares?

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

As a science fiction movie, Back to the Future should be terrible. It takes tremendous liberties with its "science" and its plot has more holes than a box of donuts. Here are just a few problems I have with the story:

  • The very first time you try out your time machine, you don't stand directly in front of a car going eighty-eight miles per hour and say, "If my calculations are correct..."
  • All they know is that lightning struck during the 10:04 minute: there would be no way to know the exact split-second when lightning hit. The odds of their plan working could be as bad as one in three hundred. To guarantee they get their 1.21 gigawatts they would have to build a rail about 1.5 miles long and hook the DeLorean up to it like a streetcar. Then as long as the DeLorean is going 88 mph that entire minute, no matter when the lightning strikes, they'll get their electric jolt. Doc really should have seen that coming.
  • If you prevented your parents from meeting, there is no reasonable explanation for a photograph of you, your sister, and half your brother. On the one hand, if anyone would disappear, it would be Marty first (as he's the youngest child and thus the furthest down the timeline from his parents' meeting). On the other hand, people don't partially disappear. At no point would you find his brother walking around with half his body missing and posing for a photograph.
  • And let's face it, Marty should have been killed when he struck that opening guitar chord.

I could go on but you get the point. Actually, no, you don't get the point because I haven't actually made my point yet. My point is: in spite of all that, it's a really good story and very well-executed movie (currently #70 on IMDb's Top 250). Who cares if the science doesn't make any sense? That's not the purpose of the film. The purpose of the film is to entertain, and on that level, Back to the Future hits one out of the park.

Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis knew that the story was paramount. I, on the other hand, can't seem to grasp that. I'm the type that would spend weeks working out the exact science. My version wouldn't have a single plot hole and consequently my version wouldn't find a soul on earth who would care to read it.

I'd invest all my energy into the back story and completely forget that I was supposed to be telling a front story. Who cares if Marty's hand becomes semi-transparent while playing the guitar? The audience is enjoying the story. And they're extremely adept at suspending disbelief if the disbelief is dispensed the right way.

The wrong way is forcing them through forty pages of (what amounts to) science lessons just to ensure everyone "gets it" before you tackle the pesky task of writing an engrossing story.

On the upside, I've heard that recognizing you have a problem is the first step to curing it. So at least I've got that going for me.

Posted in Musings |

My Problem

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

I tried to work more on my new outline last night and got nowhere. My plan was to flesh out some of the bullet points I added last week and make sure the story was flowing correctly. But then I got hung up on the first five "finished" chapters and worried (once again) that they weren't drawing the reader in quickly enough. Although I'd greatly picked up the pace from earlier drafts, they were still missing that spark. I've got to plop my protagonist directly into the middle of something.

And not just any "something" which is what I have now. Something unusual and curious: thirteen dwarves showing up unexpectedly for tea, four Preferiti missing in a race against time, fairy-tale creatures relocated to an ogre's swamp. The story has to begin immediately. There can be no long, drawn-out set up.

In my favor, I finally have a good solid backstory. At last, I possess greatly matured motivations for each character. And to top it all off, I have the build-up and ending that I envisioned from the beginning (not the ugly, tight corner I painted myself into during the first draft). So now I just need to pull it all together. I have to tell a story, and that is, as I've now proven repeatedly, something I can't do.

But I'm not going to let that stop me. That's what we're going to fix. I've slowly realized over the last two and a half years that my problem is, in a word, realism. My stories are just like real life, and real life is boring. Events unfold logically and methodically. That doesn't make for interesting reading. Take this current book for example. My protagonist makes an appearance in the Special World. Then another. Then several more. Each time a small, measured amount of story is doled out, but nothing is happening. My story is like a carefully designed PowerPoint presentation: each slide dispensing the required amount of information, and no more. I might as well write a history textbook.

So that's what I need to change. And fast.

Wish me luck.

Comments Off on My Problem
Posted in Musings |

Some People

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

I think of myself as a halfway intelligent, reasonable, and level-headed person. I respect other people, strive to be polite, and only very rarely throw up at fancy dinner parties. So I'm often befuddled and flummoxed by the behavior of some people. This involves observing said person's behavior, shaking my level-headed head, and saying, "What were they thinking?"

I bring this up now for one single reason: the latest (as of today) entry on Slush Pile Hell:

I received your rejection notice, and I want to let you know that even if you would have offered representation, I would have turned it down. You obviously have no taste in literature and are a hack. I look forward to your failure as the publishing industry goes down in flames.

There are so many things wrong with this, I don't even know where to start. What makes people behave like this? First of all, I'm positive the person is lying. If this agent had offered to represent the book, I highly doubt the response would be, "You have no taste in literature and are a hack." No, this person somehow would have managed to find it in his heart (and yes, I'm assuming it's a "his") to actually thank the agent and move forward with getting that book deal.

Some people!

You know, the worst part of all this is the realization that my book(s), if I ever finish writing it(them) will never get published. Because of this one guy's rejection, the entire publishing industry is going down in flames. What rotten luck for me. Oh well. At least this happened after the seventh Harry Potter book got published.

Posted in Musings |

Staying Motivated

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Think about your dream job. I mean your all-time, number-one, could-do-absolutely-anything-you-want dream job. If you can't think of one right off the top of your head, don't worry. Here are some ideas I pulled out of my newspaper's classified ads for you:

  • WANTED: Man or woman, age 21 to 129, to taste-test new chocolate candy recipes. Twenty hours per week. $120K/year and up.
  • GREAT OPPORTUNITY: Are you a real go-getter? Because we need someone to go get our coffee. Up to two hours per week. $1,750/hr.
  • NEEDED: Highly-motivated individual to stress test beach chairs in the Bahamas. Travel expenses and per diem included. May be required to test beer and/or margaritas up to 10% of the time. Starting rate: $6,000/month. Winters off.

While your dream job sounds kind of nice, let's face it: sooner or later every job becomes a job. You may find it incredulous that anyone could tire of tasting chocolate or fetching coffee or even sitting around on the beach. But sooner or later it happens.


Posted in Musings |

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

I got an idea for a new story. It goes something like this: a young hero, trapped in the ordinary world, longs to get out. He's befriended by a gray-bearded mentor who helps him find adventure. After meeting both friends and enemies along the road, our hero eventually faces the Big Bad Guy in the final showdown. The hero defeats evil and everyone lives happily ever after.

Whatcha think?

About seventeen years ago, when I first got the crazy idea I wanted to write fiction, I immediately began thinking about what I wanted to write. I realize this is backwards: the fact that I desperately wanted to write before actually having something to write . . . a problem that stuck with me for . . . oh, I'd say about seventeen years now. But anyway, as I tried to come up with something new and different and gripping, I simply couldn't help but come back to Hero's Journey-based stories. It's like it was imprinted on my DNA.


Posted in Musings |