Saturday, January 29, 2011

In The Beginning...

Way back in the Precambrian, I wrote about opening lines and what they mean about the novel that follows. Well, I'm at a point in my work in progress that I think I've got all the bases covered regarding plotting and length (that's not true, but I'm sticking to my timeline, and my timeline says I should be done with all that stuff, so I am). So now I am carefully going over my opening pages and looking for ways to improve.

My belief that opening portions of a book are vitally important not only has anecdotal proof - in this case, me, because I use them as an indicator of the book as a whole - but of late I've been reading from an industry professional that insists that a great opening is necessary to avoid being rejected out of hand.

It gave me an opportunity to look at recent iterations of my opening moments of my work and see how it flows. Here is a look from my second draft:
“Mommy?” I called, sticking my head around the corner, I couldn’t have been more than six. She was standing over our kitchen sink, washing dishes and humming to herself.
Right off the bat I must note that almost every piece of fiction I ever write starts off with dialog. I think it's to fight my desire to lay out fifteen pages of backstory before I let anything interesting happen. Now, I like my opening scene a lot. I think it's pretty strong. But I'm not sure if a description of someone washing dishes is as powerful as I want. Oh, and I think the prose is a bit awkward there too. Could use some cleaning up anyway.

So I scrapped that opening in my third draft of this chapter and it went like this:
I tip-toed through the hallway towards the kitchen, stifling my laughter as well as any six-year old could. I snorted and hiccuped my way into the room as I fought down my desire to shout in excitement. 
Sigh. Did I actually use the word "hiccuped"? I "hiccuped my way into the room."? Geez. I was trying to inject at least a hint of excitement. I figure that if I'm going to have the scene about the mother washing dishes a few paragraphs down then some sort of movement was necessary. But after looking at it several times I think its not really an improvement over my previous version.

So I tried again:
The mind of a child is a curious thing. That my six year old mind was entirely abnormal was a fact unknown to me at the time. Such is the blissfulness of youth. Knowing this then however, would have saved me a great deal of pain.
Ugh. was I high? I like the concept, introducing a speculative element to the story, however vague, at least hints that something is atypical in what is to follow. I'm not quite sold on the execution though. I mean, I use 'mind' twice in the first two sentences and the phrase "knowing this then however" is about as nonsensical as they come. That's okay for me though, if I had decided to stay with this line of thinking I would have made it read much better. I decided to abandon it pretty quickly after I wrote it though.

Attempt# 4:
The mind of any child is a curious thing. My mind however, was abnormal even among the young. Being ignorant of this fact did little to make it less painful when I hurt those I loved the most.
Is that better? I used 'mind' again twice in the first two sentences again, I may be writing in circles here. I decided a different tact might work better, so here is #5:
Joan of Arc claimed to speak with God. At the age of six I had her beat. Because God not only spoke to me, but I could prove it. I sure hoped Momma would be surprised.
That is my latest attempt at an opening. I waffled a bit on this one, as it gives something away that was previously only revealed at the end of the scene. They mystery that I hoped was inherent in the earlier versions is gone. Replaced, I hope, with the tension that comes from knowing that this naive child is going to do something that will not go over well.

Is it a better opening? Did I make anything better, or only different? I don't know. I'll keep on working to make it as good as I can. I'll read it again tomorrow after I had a night to reflect and see how it looks then.

Until then, happy days my friends.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Don't Interrupt Me!

Well, my son got seriously ill yesterday and I took off work today to take him to the doctor and otherwise make sure he is okay. Well, he is in bed and I have all sorts of free time to write. Which of course means I've wasted the entire day on the internet.

But this was totally worth it:

I have no idea who that guy is but I'm totally a fan now. If I'm reading a book and I've been interrupted then I'm probably pissed off about it. Who cares if my shoes are on fire? I'm reading a book.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Where Am I?

I've been working hard on my limp along novel. I'm been piddling with this damn thing for six years. So long in fact, that I'm being forced to rewrite some portions because technology has changed enough that some things don't make a ton of sense. I guess that is alway the risk when writing in the present day instead of a specific period. Hell, cell phones are so radically different now than they were six years ago that some parts of my novel are woefully obsolete.

A bigger issues is that a good third of the story revolves around NASA's space program and specifically, the space shuttle program. with it being decommissioned I'm writing something that is going to be dated before it gets in front of anyone who can decide if its publishable.

So I've been thinking of framing it in a specific period of time, say  2008 or so. It seems too recent to make it a period piece, and it is supposed to be science fiction, not usually the genre that sets events in the recent past.

We'll see though. I'm not too worried. I enjoy the process of writing and this feels like it's close to being readable. It takes all my free time from being here though. No cute anecdotes from me today.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Haiku Madness! A Retrospective

I'm sure the world has waited with baited breath for the results of the haiku competition I mentioned last week. Well, I lost. I'm pretty sure someone had to cheat in order for me not to win. But who knows. Out of the (literally) hundred or so haiku's I came up with, at the last moment I went with this one:

I fear for my life
For now my spider monkeys
Have become Ninjas

After looking at it for a few days I see that I had better ones in my discard pile, but my closeness to the whole thing made me lose perspective. I wasn't capable of judging my better ones from my lesser attempts.

I'm sure there are lots of lessons to be gleaned here. The most obvious being that it's important to separate oneself from their writing before deciding that it is good or bad. In the fires of competition I ended up going with one of my most recent attempts instead of some of my earlier work, which I discounted without reason.

For example:

Shot by a laser
Square in the back, that coward
Frank is such an ass

Is that award winning? Um, probably not. But after a few days I like it better than what I submitted. Well, lesson learned. Sit on my current novel for a couple of weeks before I send it out to everyone on earth. Got it.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Cream Always Rises To the Top... But Then Again, So Does Crap

I've got a little secret for those of us that haven’t been paying attention. Digital book distribution has arrived. I've written before about how torn I am on the subject, but it seems the push to e-readers hasn’t slowed due to my indecisiveness. 

Over the past eight months or so I’ve been reading via my phone or iPad a great deal. The ability to read whatever I want as soon as I see it is intoxicating. It’s only my obsessive need to physically own what I’m reading that keeps me buying books.

But all that is old news, what do I really have to say here, today, on this topic that is relevant? Well, I’ve decided to experiment a bit. Digital distribution for books is a great equalizer. If one is so inclined, they can take their manuscript, which may have been rejected by every reputable agent and publisher in the U.S. and abroad, and plop that thing down for sale on the Kindle, or iBooks (or Nook, etc.) and see how the public reacts.

I got wind of one particular book that was released in such a fashion and it is making its author a great deal of money. More money, in fact, than all but the upper tier of authors in the traditional market typically make. This author is in the situation now that should a publisher walk to their front door and ask to sign them up for a multi-book deal... it would be better for them to pass up on the offer.

I recall hearing a similar story about MC Hammer, he was making so much money selling homemade CD's out of the trunk of his car that he passed on the the record labels when they came calling. They ended up having to give him way more than they wanted to in order to get him to agree to sign with a label.

Is the same thing happening in the world of novels? I don't know, but I wanted to find out what the gem of a novelist is selling so I bought a copy.

After careful consideration I've decided that I'm not telling who this entrepreneurial author is. Why? Because this book sucks. Hard. I mean, well, I'm not sure if I know how to describe it's awfulness.

What makes so terrible is not that the book contains typos or plot holes, most books I've read have a few that sneak through, even with lots of professionals looking for them. What makes this so egregiously awful is that sin of all sins, the plot can only advance by the characters being monumentally stupid.

Sigh. I can’t think of how this book can be successful as it stands. I think that the numerous five star reviews on Amazon couldn’t have hurt. But even there, the praise that it gets goes so far beyond hyperbole that I can’t see how anyone would take it seriously. This person owes a lot of people a lot of favors in return for the amazing reviews this book is getting.

Okay, I’ll stop. It isn’t fair to rake this over the coals, especially since I don’t have the guts to even let folks know what book it is. But I think I see a larger picture being painted here.

Real publishing, even in a digital medium, makes a promise to the reader. That promise is that the book, while I might not like it, will be professionally produced. I can be assured that the grammar will at least be at the grade school level, that a character, while perhaps not fully formed, won’t range from preternaturally intelligent to functionally retarded within a single scene… and that the author won’t do things like spend 50 pages making a character the possessed arbiter of supernatural doom, then also play that same character as helpless to the whims of the people around him a bit later.

Again, that promise is that the work meets minimum standards, I have read novels released by authors who self-publish before. The difference in the self-published books I've read before is that those authors still spent a great deal of effort, and their own money, to have people read, edit,and copy edit, and those said authors revised and rewrote their work accordingly. This book that I have been reading shows no signs of any of those things happening. It’s a first draft, complete with typos, horribly worded sentences, plot holes that render the entire book pointless, incomprehensible character actions and above all… every major character in the book has all but admitted that they have no idea what is happening (It isn’t mysterious, if just makes me think the author is just as surprised by the twists and turns of the story as I am. I should know, I do that too when I write myself into a corner).

I have often read about now famous authors whose work languished in slush piles or agent rejections for years before they found an outlet to be published. Only through perseverance and belief in their own story when no one else thought it was good enough were they able to succeed. Stories like that create an illusion that a lot of unpublished work is really of fantastic quality – it just needs a chance.

My evidence is anecdotal for certain, but make no mistake. Crap is hitting the market place right alongside the greats. Buyer beware. I think in the short term this can be a boon for folks looking to get themselves out there, and to make some money along the way. But long term I think this is damaging to the confidence of the reader. If I don’t already know the author, I sure as hell won’t be taking a chance on a novel now. It might be something that a drunk college kid whipped up over a long weekend to pay for his drug habit.

Novels are special. They’re hard to do well, and I have great respect for those that can pull it off with success. I can shrug my shoulders at a book that I hated that at least had signs of an effort being put forth from the author. But selling drivel and passing it off as a novel… it makes me feel like I’ve been snookered.

I’m not real happy about that.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

We Called it What?

A few short months ago, my work had me in Atlanta for a few days. Upon leaving the city I was told I have to go by this little Mexican restaurant on the way out of town to eat. Well, okay, no problem for me. What is the name of this Mexican restaurant?

Mexican Restaurant.

I wasn't sure I understood, so I asked again. "What is this place called?"

Well, needless to say, I found the place and took a pick of the sign:

It was almost named "Restaurant", but they were feeling creative.

Ah, I see. In fact, I was so stunned that I couldn't help but wonder about what the owners were smoking when they were deciding on what to name the place. I mean, I imagine that there is some poor immigrant family that is struggling to open a place to get their piece of the American dream. They have the plan, the location, the expertise... all they needed was a name... what could they possibly call the place?

After many late nights and even more arguments they finally settle on the perfect name and the rest is history.

I told the story to several of my friends and family when I got home and I was kinda sad that I didn't see any awesome names like that for places of business here in Knoxville. I guess all the really cool names were taken by a bunch of big city places. Oh well, you can't have it all.

Then, just a few days ago I was sitting in a fast food place in the most popular shopping district in the city and there it was. A name just as good... no, even better than the little Mexican place in Atlanta.

Take that, Mexican Restaurant!
Again, poor immigrants clawing their way to the pinnacle of their dreams for a better life. Maybe they even hired a firm to come up with the best possible name. I could see the interview process before hiring the marketing firm.

Entrepreneur: "Have you ever provided a business name for any other clients?"

Name branding firm: "Yes, we named a Mexican Restaurant in Atlanta."

Entrepreneur: "Fantastic, you're hired!"

So, it makes me think, should my current work in progress ever get picked up by a publisher I will strongly recommend it be titled, "Science Fiction Novel."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Haiku Madness!

Of late I've been plowing through John Scalzi's Old Man's War novels. I read the first one a couple of years ago and really liked it, then never bothered to read another in the series. Well, I saw Zoe's Tale for four dollars a few weeks ago and figured I should go ahead and pick it up.

Thanks to a ridiculous amount of snow that fell last week I read it, being cooped up in the house left me with few other options. I did not realize until I was finished that I was reading out of sequence. It didn't matter, the book was awesome and I didn't care that I skipped some installments. I have just about caught up with the missing pieces since.

Anyway, I visited his blog the other day and noticed that he was running a contest to have a character in his new novel named after you. Cool.

The contest? Write a haiku. Now I must confess, I've never attempted one before in my life. I think I'm one of the few writers in existence that has almost no appreciation for poetry. But he laid out the outline for his contest and I decided to participate.

The rules: Seasons not necessary, must be about death by spider monkeys, bad GPS directions, lasers, or spontaneous human combustion.

I must have wrote a hundred. It was so much fun. Here are a few of my rejected attempts:

Many ways to die
For me, the absolute worst
Drunk spider monkeys

The spider monkey
It toys with me in the dark
Then it strikes me dead

I could not fathom
How a tiny beam of light
Would cut me in two

Combustion is great
Inside of a car or truck
But in me, not good

Okay, enough of that, I have a small batch of ones I think are pretty good that I won't share now. The contest lasts through Sunday. I'll stew on them for a few days and whip out my very best.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

How Is That Possible?

I find that providing content for my crappy little corner of the universe here can be daunting sometimes. I've made some commitments for 2011 that require a great deal of time and like most things in the real world - they all end up taking precedence over the internet.

So, of course I end up on the internet anyway, and my other commitments will just have to take care of themselves. But, I have real intentions of having a novel ready to shop around to agents, publishers and the like by March of this year. So I've got some work to do to try and make something presentable by then.

Interesting only to me, I'm sure, is the fact that I've got numerous drafts of novels I've written to choose from. This is the first time I've had to suck it up and make a real choice about what I'm trying to get accomplished. No more just moving on the next thing , I'm really, really, trying to get one piece complete enough for submission.

What is it? Why, I'm glad you asked. The only novel I've ever managed to get any revision done on: The Blutonian Death Egg. And you just thought it was just the name of my blog. Jokes on everyone I suppose.

So, I stopped my work in progress, which was the mess that was November's Nano, and pulled out my beloved novel, first conceived way back in 2005, I believe, while working out at the gym.

I reread my second draft that I finished, more or less, back in 2008. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I recalled putting it away in a tit of frustration because I felt like I was writing complete and utter drivel and came dangerously close to scrapping the whole thing. But as I read the thing this week I was swept away in the story and got all googly eyed thinking about it.

So there it is, a gem just waiting for the world to see. It still has a plot hole or two that needs some tending to, a typo or three that needs correction, and still a loose end or four that never got tied up. It'll still take diligent work for a couple of months to get this thing as good as I can get it. But damn. I'm actually excited.

So excited in fact, that in case anyone failed to notice, I did a mock-up of a space scene to serve as a header for the blog. After appreciating my own work, I, of course, found that similar scenes pepper the internet. I'm somewhat annoyed that so many folks have stolen the concept of my artistic endeavor well before I had a chance to create it. Shame on everyone who preemptively stole my idea, and did it better than I could.

Note the tiny shuttle near the asteroid. Such detail!

Still, I think I have dibs on the word Blutionian, so I have that going for me.

So, I hope to post here as close to regular as I can. But I also hope that I'm writing/revising/editing so much that I just don't have the time.

Good luck to all. Please wish me well.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Post 102 About Me Getting Old

"Hey Dad, can you take us somewhere so we can Parkour?"

My son, he wants to do Parkour now. Damn. It was just a few short months ago when he was banned from video games, partially because I wanted him to get off his butt and start being active. Now he wants to Parkour, I'd rather he go play Madden.

I don't know at what point I became an old man, after all, I still have a hard time thinking of myself as an adult. In my head I have stayed perpetually 17.  But watching my kids growing up has certainly made me feel old. There are a few teenagers in the house now. If they don't have anything to do they'll sleep until 4 in the afternoon - wake up, go to the kitchen, complain that there isn't anything to eat, dirty seven dishes without eating and then ask for money - so they can buy food. That's just what kids do.

"When I was your age," I will say, "I got to go to Shoney's every few months - If I was lucky." That's mostly true. It was generally up to me to find something in the house and make do. How else would I be so familiar with powdered milk and potted meat? I learned quite by accident several things that definitely do not go together in the kitchen - example, you can't use cinnamon as a substitute for chili powder. Trust me.

Somehow though, my awesome stories of my youth fall on deaf ears. To them I'm just an ATM that rambles a lot before I fork over the cash. Where did it all go so wrong?

It seems like it was only yesterday that I would hold my son on my knee and he would ask me endless questions about what my life was like when I was his age. I would entertain him with stories of getting lost in the woods, of falling out of moving vehicles (no one wore seat belts when I was a kid), getting attacked by a wild turkey, or a domesticated raccoon. He wanted every detail and I was happy to oblige. 

He's at a point now that I think he'd like to hear my stories about being arrested in a foreign country, drinking Wild Turkey, falling out of moving vehicles, cutting school to play with handguns, and dating strippers. 

But again, he'd rather not hear about it. I guess it's all fine really. It's part of getting older. Which brings me back to what always is in my thoughts: Getting old. I'm not sure when I became an old man, but I did. My bones ache, I'm keenly interested in my bowel movements and I'm always preoccupied with how my lawn is doing. I feel like I've experienced all the adventure I ever will, the rest of my life will be me retelling the same stories over and over. 

I think it's that last part that gets me, I have no desire to actually do anything else, but a burning desire to have done much more. It makes me wish I could just make stuff up.

You know that movie First Blood? The Sly Stallone movie from the early 80's? Totally based on a weekend I had in Gatlinburg. That seems easy enough. Just make it up and try to sell it. How else can I get his attention?

I guess I sort of lie already, I tell the kids that I was a straight A student at their age (true - if you look at my end of year report card horizontally - I got A's in P.E. every grading period). I may have mentioned I could dunk a basketball (also true - if the goal was lowered down to eight feet...and I had something to jump off of... and land on... and the basketball was replaced by a tennis ball). Still, those are the sorts of lies every parent tells. I think it's expected. 

But back to my son's Parkour wish,  I don't know if you know what that is, but here is brief youtube video to give you an idea:

It only take a few seconds of watching to see why I'm horrified. So my kid wants me to drop him off so he can try to backflip off of buildings and onto moving vehicles.

This is the same kid that I had to rush to the emergency room because he had some Wile E. Coyote type of incident in his bedroom and ended up crashing through his bedroom window. He wasn't trying to do something stupid. He was just trying to walk from his bed to his desk.

I'm not so sure he's cut out for Parkour.

After his incident we were at the emergency room  and it was with mangled and bloody limbs that he begged for a cell phone. I, as any concerned parent would, watched in horror as he struggled to dial, he persevered though, and managed to call almost every person he ever met to tell them how awesome of an accident he had and that he was totally getting stitches in the emergency room.

And like a bolt of lightening it dawned on me - as I write this I mean, not last year at the emergency room - He is tired of my stories not because they are boring, but because he wants to start telling his own. 

I'll be damned, that lifetime of me telling him all this crazy crap that I did when I was a kid/teenager is coming back to haunt me. He is taking my half-truths and slightly exaggerated exploits of my youth and is trying to one-up me. Geez. I might be in serious trouble.