Thursday, March 31, 2011

On mentors

Some days I have a lot of writing and/or editing experience to get on here and talk about. 

Today isn't one of those, unfortunately.  It's been a long day, nearing the end of a longer week, and I'm pooped.  It's easy to be all snarky and creativy when I'm not exhausted, but when I'm this tired it just ain't gonna happen. 

Interestingly, I spent a couple of hours reading my story last night, getting to about 2/3 through it, and I found a lot fewer sucky parts.  Part of me wonders if that's just because my overall energy level is down, or if I really did show more talent creating the latter section of the book.  The cynic wants to believe it's the former, while the realist thinks it's a little of both.  I'd taken some time in the middle and read the first 1/3 or so to Heide before she headed out to Alaska, and I suspect that reading made me more aware of the crappiness I was committing.  Given the awareness, then, one would hope that my writing would improve. 

Funny how that mirrors my day job.  I sucked at teaching, at first.  No, really...I did.  I pulled it off because I figured out early on how to project a generally likeable image.  But I knew it, and I spent an awful lot of time in the beginning learning to be more aware of how I did what I did, and how it did or didn't work for me.  Years later, I've been pretty successful in even the most hostile of classroom environments.  Today I found myself mentoring a teacher who is very much in the same position I was in way back then, and it struck me as a natural cycle. 

The same applies to writing, I guess.  The good thing about writing is how many good writers have written stuff about how to write...kinda makes sense, but it's fun to say that way.  Thus, it's easy to find virtual mentors.  I only wonder if, say, Stephen King would chuckle were he to read this as much as I chuckled after the mentoring session with the teacher today. 

In any event...there comes a time on days like today when it's good to just stop working and go to bed.  Now, I think, is that time.  Good night. 

Word count: Oh, bite me

V7N Blog Challenge

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dividing my time

So maybe starting with a trilogy wasn't the best idea I've had.  Writers have written blogs warning newbies away from it for marketing reasons...publishers don't want to take on the risk...but there's a practical issue too. best to divide my time?  If I were just writing a single book, I'd be done with the writing and deeply into the revising part...which, I assure you, takes an awful lot of time and energy.  But since I've started a trilogy, it seems to go without saying that I should also maintain momentum on writing the second book.  Thus, one night I spend reading the first manuscript, and the next I spend writing on the second.  I got 2000 words on the second novel last night, pretty much doubling its size, but I didn't do any revising. 

As the King of Siam once said: 'Tis a puzzlement.  But this too shall pass, I guess, and once the trilogy is done, it's done. 

Word count: Oh, bite me

V7N Blog Challenge

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The right point of view

A bit over halfway done now in my review reading of what I wrote so many days ago.  It's interesting, and it's exciting.  Frankly, I like what I've written so far, which is, I guess, the most important thing.  But soon I'll have to deal with all the margin scribbles I've been making. 

Other than "describe," which I actually don't inflict upon myself all that much compared to what I've heard of other beginning writers' weakness in that area, "POV" is probably my most common scribble.  Point of view...a much-discussed and oft-debated topic.  There's a good article about it in, but there are countless other articles at other addresses, filling the Internet right up.  I can't help but imagine that, had I sought a formal education in writing, I'd have had an entire class or two where we wrote four different stories about, say, a car wreck, one from each observer's point of view.  Sounds like a horribly boring activity to me, but I've seen it discussed in the the World Wide Whirlpool out there. 

Given the breadth of information already out there, it hardly seems a good use of bits here to discuss the various options available to an author. me, anyway, since I'm the author in question.  I could've probably chosen other options, but I went with a third person shifting point of view that is pretty common in fiction.  It's what you read in Harry Potter books as well as in The Twilight Saga.  Tom Clancy used it extraordinarily well, up until the point where all the zippity zipping around the world got annoying to me as a reader.  A story should, after all, be an enjoyable diversion from life rather than a memory check, and when the chapter shifts suddenly to Colonel Smith and I have to stop and flip pages back to remember where the heck Colonel Smith is and what he's doing, I get distracted.  And bored.  And bored's a bad thing for a reader of fiction.

So...knowing that shifting points of view is gonna happen in my book...why do I keep writing it in the margins as something to fix?  Because there's a difference between "OK, I've changed chapters, so now it's time to shift from RJ to Crystal's point of view in telling the story" and having three subsequent paragraphs, the first saying "Crystal saw this and thought that." and the second saying "RJ saw this and thought that." and the third guessed it...Crystal stuff.  As a reader, I expect the point of view to shift to someone else when it's a part that Crystal can't possibly know.  The smart literary experts call it "limited view versus omniscient view," I think, but I'm not that smart on it.  When it's the same scene, flipping back and forth in POV is distracting to the story flow.  It's subtle, which is, I'd like to think, why I didn't notice I was doing it in the writing of the story, but it's noticeable when you read it. 

So...I will fix it.  Soon, I promise! 

Word count: Oh, bite me

V7N Blog Challenge

Monday, March 28, 2011

Protesting in Schenectady

Most book ideas seem pretty mundane, but occasionally they leave us gentle readers scratching our heads wishing we'd thought of them.  Take, for example, the book my family just finished "reading" the first 2/3 of on our drive to and from Pinehurst, NC: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  What a brilliant idea!  It's such an engaging book that it's easy to see how it jumped onto the NY Times bestseller list, has a movie coming out, and now has a published prequel.  I spent the entire drive engaged in the story line while chortling heartily at the anachronisms.  The idea behind my book is, I had been thinking, relatively cool, but it seems downright drab compared to what I've been listening to yesterday and today.

Time to protest to the store in Schenectady.  You know, the idea store.  The one that sells such great ideas to other authors but sells me the normal ones.  It's unfair and just plain wrong.  Hence, my protest.

There are some authors who will tell you, when you as a noob ask where they get their ideas, how the whole of life is idea-rich to a fiction novelist, how just watching the evening news or a few children playing by the lake and asking "what if?" leads to novel ideas, for better or for worse.  Then there are the smartalecks, the ones who, like me, will answer the question "Schenectady."  What's in Schenectady?  It's an idea store, or an idea factory, depending on the teller, that produces ideas in jars or in six-packs that they then sell for pretty reasonable prices. 

Yes, it's fiction.  Well, hey, you DID just ask a fiction author a silly question.  What answer did you expect if not fictional?

Truth be told, it's easy to look at a well-executed work of fiction and praise the godsend of an idea that's great to crazy extremes.  Like, for example, a school of wizardry named Hogwarts and an evil wizard named Voldemort (doesn't that name just roll evil down your spine as you say it?).  Pride and Prejudice and Zombies might, in this vein, have been a really rather silly, stupid book that nobody but the die-hard zombie fiction lovers bothered reading, had it not been so incredibly well executed.  Apparently publishers thought the same; according to the author's introduction, the book was a tough sell to them. 

I guess the bottom line is that trips to Schenectady...and the resulting protests there...aren't really needed.  A mundane idea brilliantly executed is worth a great many brilliant ideas mundanely executed.  And with that in mind, back to executing I go. 

Word count: Oh, bite me

V7N Blog Challenge

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A short post

Despite the rush to get out of the house on our way to visit a cousin in North Carolina, I had to sit down for a moment and write a bit.  Today promises to be very interesting, in part due to the fact that it's snowing outside after weeks of 70 degree weather, but also due to the fact that we get to read as a family.  Whenever we drive, we like to pull out a book on tape to listen to, and today is no exception.  I've been saving Southern Lights, by Danielle Steele, for this very purpose, in fact.  If that book doesn't grab us right away, there's always Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  Either way, should be an interesting trip.  And yes, of course I'm taking my own manuscript to continue reading once we get there. 

Seeya tomorrow evening!

Word count: Oh, bite me

V7N Blog Challenge

Saturday, March 26, 2011

They can't write...and neither can I

Question: "What is the most common reason you decline to represent an author?"

Answer: "They can't write."

The interview above with a literary agent, detailed further in The Making of a Bestseller, is mostly included to point out that some agents can be rather crotchety.  But it goes along with and kind of ties together all of the various scary stories I've heard and read about writing.  The world is, after all, full of tales of unappreciated authors sending manuscripts out to dozens, or even hundreds, of agencies, only to receive dozens, or even hundreds, of, as we used to call them when I wrote them for the business incubator way back when, TBNTs (short for Thanks, But No Thanks letters).  On the other side of the same topic, I've read several accounts of agents and publishers complaining about massive stacks of garbage that they have to wade through in the hopes of finding the next Stephen King or JK Rowling. 

Now, though, having made the journey to this point, I think I finally get it.  From the novelist's point of view, the creation of a story is a major life commitment.  Even a short novel takes a month or two to write--even longer if you have a day job and a family.  Once you're done, once you write The End on the last page, it's really print it out, bundle it up, and ship it off to dozens, or even hundreds, of industry people according to the lists in the tome called the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market

I'm glad I resisted the temptation.  I'm also glad I have over a decade of experience teaching.  The teaching experience isn't in liguistics or any similar topic, but one of the core competencies you hone in any teaching position is the ability to identify/develop appropriate rubrics for assessing work, and then use those rubrics to critically assess the work at hand.  Removing the teaching jargon from that, teaching teaches us how to look closely at something that has been done and say not just "that sucks" but to also describe why it sucks, and how to fix it.  It also, I think, gives teachers a certain amount of intestinal fortitude required to do it even when it's difficult, such as when it's our own work. 

The fact is, as I go through and read the wonderful prose I created a month or so ago, I'm struck by how bad it really is.  I'm quite certain that, had I sent it out to any agents, I would have been turned down by any of the ones I'd like to be represented by.  But that's OK.  It's still a good story, with characters I've come to adore, and fixing it up isn't proving that hard with a trusty pen in my hands and a clever Heide beside me.  I'll get to the point here soon that I will be able to say "I can write," and be able to back that statement up with exemplary work. 

Word count: Oh, bite me

V7N Blog Challenge

Friday, March 25, 2011

Most of a day off

The problem with writing around my day job is that sometimes my day job sucks, and sometimes it sucks more.  When it sucks, I tend to walk in the door really motivated to launch into the writing exercise, but when it sucks more, all I really want to do when I get home is sit at my computer and say "blah blah blah" and stick my tongue out at the screen...and then go climb under the sheets with my lovely bride and watch useless TV shows.  Today was one of those days, so I'm really not doing any significant writing.  Blah blah blah!  Time to go climb under the sheets.  Will be back tomorrow, I promise! 

Word count: Oh, bite me

V7N Blog Challenge

Thursday, March 24, 2011

"Omit needless words."

...And so the revising begins.  It's been long enough; nearly a month, in fact, since I wrote the word "Prologue" and started to tell the story.  Last night I started reading it again--out loud--to Heide, with pen in hand and the clear dictate from the Gospel of Style according to Strunk & White, "Omit needless words," at heart. 

Part of what I'm going after, admittedly, is lengthening.  There are a couple of things I already know I need to expand upon; I'm just not yet entirely sure where to put the expansions.  Plus, from a practical matter, the book isn't long enough, and I hope to lengthen it in a good way from 68K words to 80-90K words.  It's just that as I do the lengthening, I have to keep in mind King's First Law of Writing: Don't Suck.

It's actually not hard, and in fact it's quite fun as well.  As I was going through revising this morning I idly wondered why I hadn't done more revising on my papers in college, but that was easy enough to answer.  I didn't give a crap about most of the topics I wrote about in college.  It was hard enough pretending to give a crap one time through, but a second?  Wasn't gonna happen.  This time, though, it's a story that was mentally birthed by me, and so not only did I enjoy writing it, I also am enjoying reading it, and I'm finding I'm enjoying re-writing it.

It's needed, too. Ferinstance (and this is a no-shit ferinstance): "Matt nodded, then turned to face westward. A clear expression on his face, his hands began raising from his sides as the twelve on the outside drew in deep breaths in apparent surprise." Did I really allow my mush-mouth evil twin to write that crap into my story? Really? What was I thinking?

Now: "Matt nodded, turned toward the West, and slowly raised his hands."  There.  Now that doesn't suck.  Costs me a little in the word count arena, but remember that every author and editor I've read on the subject says to only make the story long enough to tell the story.  It's succinct...everything that was in the original that's not included in this version can be picked up from context.  I mean, the guy is levitating several hundred people off the asphalt.  Any reasonable reader would expect them to display "apparent surprise," right?

On the other hand, I am adding plenty of words.  I realized, going through, that a) I'd never really described the main characters in the beginning, and b) I'd given Matt's boss a couple of kids later in the book without having them actually come on the exodus with the group.  How'd they get there, then?  So I cleaned those discrepancies up a bit, while reading over it with an eye toward removing suck.  Two chapters un-sucked, 22 to go!

Word count: Oh, bite me

V7N Blog Challenge

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

It's my mind, and I'll change it if I wanna

Or, *booming MC voice* literary fiction deathmatch with commercial fiction

As petulant as the title looks...I gotta admit it's kinda fun to say.  Especially, I'll add, if it's in a whiney voice. 

Earlier I posted about having some ideas for short stories, and about not being certain whether I was going to work on the next book or those shorts.  I'd talked about wanting to write and sell shorts to the literary magazines.  I also talked about how different the literary magazines seemed in their approaches to fiction...compared to what, I'm not entirely certain, but at least compared to each other, they were different. 

I figured it out last night, reading The Making of a Bestseller.  And I changed my mind.

You see, back when I was an undergrad student marveling at the joys of learning physics, I was pretty sure that physics is physics is physics.  Yes, there were four branches of it offered at West Point, based on peoples' interests, but it never seemed like an us versus them kind of thing.  It was just a "Hey, do you want to learn nuclear, optical, or one of these other two physics?"  I can't recall the other two, since that was many beers ago, but I chose optical. 

Fast-forward several years to me walking into a Carnegie Research 1 institution to go to physics grad school.  The Carnegie category means that they do a LOT of research there, measured by the amount of grant money that passes through their doors.  I was asked, there, whether I was a theoretical or an experimental physicist.  Seemed a silly question to me at first, but as the semester wore on I realized how important the distinction was.  To the theorists, the "other side" is debasing themselves in the name of profit, ignoring the challenge of pushing the limits of what we know in order to run (gasp) experiments on what we already knew.  To the experimentalists, the "other side" was a bunch of egghead purists who inexplicably chose to not make nearly as much money in the name of...well, getting chalk dust on their hands.  Granted, they could usually speak amicably enough to each other in the halls, and even live in the same apartment in a sitcom.  But there was certainly an immutable, immovable, divide between the two camps. 

Those who've seen the sitcom to which I refer know I broke the metaphor, of course.  Leonard is an engineer, not an experimental physicist.  To a theorist like Dr. Cooper, though, an engineer is just an experimentalist who couldn't hack the rigor of upper-division physics courses.  To Leonard, meanwhile, a theorist like Dr. Cooper is...well, heck, I've pretty much already blasted this metaphor out of the water, right?  Why continue the negativity? 

Fast-forward again to my early days as Dean, back when I actually cared about making faculty happy.  Yes, I know many of you who've worked for me who'll argue that the time never really existed, but it did.  In fact, I recall the Literature teacher asking me if we could change the anthology they used, because all the stories in it were dreadfully depressing.  A woman is insane and sees crap on her wallpaper.  A guy kills himself.  It goes on.  So, wanting to make her happy, I spent hours contacting the book publishers asking for an anthology that was light and fun to read.  No luck.  Frankly, I thought that kind of strange; lots of novels have great endings, so why not short stories?  After all, literature is literature is literature.

Little did I know in my grossly uneducated state at the time that I had hit on the literary world's equivalent to theorists versus experimentalists.  It seems a relatively quietly-kept dirty little secret, too, but the book I'm reading has the greater part of a chapter devoted to it largely because it makes a huge difference in a writer's intent and goals.  They quote editor Robert Weil saying that, "While scribblers like Dan Brown or James Patterson can, with one novel, rack up sales in the millions, it is not uncommon for noted literary novelists to sell between 3,000 and 6,000 copies of their latest work.  Selling 10,000 copies in this climate would be a resplendent success."

Wow...think about it.  The average author makes, from what I understand, somewhere around $2 for each hardcover they sell.  It's a bit less than half that, I think, for each paperback.  Dan Brown, a mere commercial writer, sold 80,000,000 copies of The DaVinci Code.  It may or may not have taken him as much time as it takes a literary author to pen a 'resplendent success'; it takes time both for crafting literary fiction and for researching commercial fiction, so the time comparison really can't be made.  Assuming they're roughly the same, multiplying the amount per copy times the copies sold and dividing by the hours it took...even Leonard could do that math. 

Of course, there's nothing wrong with the literary style of writing.  Heck, there's a lot that's good and impressive.  Those folks take an amazing amount of literary talent and lay it out on a page, bringing to their reader all the imagery and...what's that word?  Oh, yeah, catharsis...all that good, um, stuff, that literature is supposed to do for us.  Their books cause us to examine life, the world, and everything. 

Problem is, I only enjoy reading a book that causes me to examine life, the world, and everything about once a year.  If that.  Most of the time I pick up books to read because they'll take my mind OFF of life, the world, and everything.  Hard to keep worrying about how you're going to make this month's car payment when you're following Ender as he blasts aliens, right?  And, as the book I'm reading points out, most readers are the same as me., no literary work for me.  In part, it's that financial equation I referred to earlier.  Yes, I really am doing this, spending hours away from my beloved wife to hammer away at the keyboard, in the hopes of paying off my student loans, and $20K won't do it, but $160 million would just fine.  Two extremes, yes, but still.  It's not just about the money, though.  First, I bow my head to the reality that I'm just not that good.  I only had three classes in college specifically related to the English language.  While I used my business courses that kinda sorta involved writing as justification for my teaching the elementary composition course, and felt fine by that because I was, at the core, teaching them basic business composition, I've got no literary credentials.  Nor do I plan to go get any anytime soon.  But second, and more important, writing a novel is a labor of love.  If you don't write because you LOVE doing it...a point also made, by the way, in The Making of a're not gonna finish it.  Period.  I LOVE writing.  Fiction.  Specifically, commercial fiction.  A god and his human wife fight off a goddess, ferinstance.  I'm not going to try for a literary-style short story on the hopes that I might succeed when, in fact, I don't enjoy it.  I don't particularly enjoy reading it, and I'm pretty certain I wouldn't enjoy writing it.

So...yeah.  No short stories for me published in lit mags anytime soon.  Sorry, if anybody cares.  Most, I'm sure, don't really.  But for now, back to writing for fun.

Word count: TBA

V7N Blog Challenge

Long day, good book

1:00 am and I just got home from a drive to D.C. and back.  Twenty years ago I would've stopped for a beer or two before turning around and still gotten up bright and early for work tomorrow, but today I just wanted to get home.  Too tired to write, which tells you just how tired I am considering my love for writing in the evening. 

It was a good trip, anyway.  Heide is finally home as a result.  Delay after delay pushed the return back, but that just made it all the sweeter when she finally came walking through the security gate.  Finally life will return to sort of normal in the King household...tomorrow, anyway.  Right now, I don't want normal.  I want sleep.  Yes, that probably means I'm really getting old, so bite me. 

I made the two hour drive to the airport in two hours, incidentally, which is only strange when you realize it was headed into Alexandria, Virginia, in rush hour.  I'd budgeted far more time due to traffic, which put me at the airport with an hour and a half to spare.  What a great time, I figured, to break out the new book that arrived this morning: The Making of a Bestseller.  It's a fairly quick read; just in the time I sat in the airport I read the first third, ish, of it.  Can't wait till I'm less tired and can expound on it more thoroughly, but in the meantime I'll just say that it's looking so far like the best purchase I've made. 

And...with that...night night. 

Word count: Unchanged

V7N Blog Challenge

Monday, March 21, 2011

A new start, a new birth

Anybody who bet on the "he can't stay away for over 24 hours" horse, you win.

Writing is clearly addictive.  At least, writing creatively is addictive.  I never felt this way, to be sure, when writing case studies for my MBA classes.  "Oooh, that was really awesome.  While the rough draft settles on that one, let me go find another to begin!"  Nah, didn't happen.

It's different now.

I kinda understand, now, how Stephen King could spend the hours banging at a typewriter in his laundry room at night, and how Dan Brown could wake up at 4:30 every morning to write while he held down two teaching jobs.  Well...OK, not so much the latter.  The ONLY thing that gets me up at 4:30 is fishing.  But 5:00, perhaps?  Regardless, the point is...writing gets into your blood. 

So, I had lots of stuff I had talked about starting.  First, there were a couple of short stories I came up with a few weeks ago, based on my own blog post. Might be nice, after all, to get my first rejection letters out of the way quickly!  Second, I have a book already outlined in an entirely different genre.  But third, I still have Books 2 and 3 of the Rise of the Goddess series to write, and honestly, I'm on a roll right now.  I just finished the first book, and it was elating and grand and all the other greatly positive emotions I can describe.  Why not use that to propel myself into the next book? 

So...I did.  Got what I think is a totally awesome entry into it, in fact, keeping in mind that every 2nd-book-in-a-series I've ever read takes time to lay out the situation sorta logically.  Got a decent amount into it, in fact, and am leading up to the first spousal argument of the second book, and decided to call it a night. 

Which leads to the question...when do writers call it a night?  According to Stephen King, many do at a certain word count.  Some are extremely disciplined, reaching a specific word count by hook or by crook, and then and only then calling it done, even if it's in mid-sentence.  I just...can't.  For me, writing is like a woman.  Sometimes it needs caressing, pandering to, just to get a few hundred beautiful words, while sometimes it needs to be ridden hard and put away after a few thousand.  It's all dependent on the mood, frankly, in addition to the promise of the mood to come.  Where I end up is probably more related to what the next scene is than what the last one was.  That's so that the next time I sit down I'm eager to start again.  And, I must say, it works...I finished one novel already that way, and I'm already hungering to start back into what I've written so far. 

So...till later....g'night!

Word count: 1,080

V7N Blog Challenge

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Whew.  The feeling is, for the most part, indescribable.  I've done it. It's a rough draft, granted, and a touch too short to be a solidly salable novel, but I'm done.  Plot arc is completed, final battle won (ish), final words said, and at the end, centered between the margins, in 11 point Calibri font, two words I had sometimes despaired of ever writing and really meaning them: "The" and "End." 

Thus ends a major challenge to myself.  So far in life I've only left one failure standing, and you know what they say about that.  Well, lots of people have said lots of stuff, really, and some of it is pure garbage.  But Elbert Hubbard said, "There is no failure except in no longer trying."  I've failed many things in life, and all of the significant ones I've gotten back up and done right the second (or third, sometimes *grin*) time.  Except, up to now, this one.  Several years ago, when November 30th rolled around and I hadn't finished the book about Professor Kinder, it was a failure.  Now I'm one of the few who've gone from "I'm going to write a novel" to "I'm writing a novel" to "I've written a novel."  It's a proud moment, truly, if you hadn't already figured that much out.  :-)

Now what?  Time to put it down for a little while...a day, or so.  I've gotta go back and read it again, out loud this time, to my beloved Heide.  There's some stuff we had already identified that I need to do more of, or do better, and now we just have to figure out where that is.  Gonna have to print it, of course, since it's tough to make margin notes in Word.  In one edition of the Incarnations of Immortality series, Piers Anthony described how he tweaked the computer in order to make it behave like his typewriter, and I was amazed at his perseverance and technical pluckiness...but I'm just gonna print it and write in ink. 

Once I get to a cleaner draft stage, I plan on sending it to a few folks who can hopefully read it with an eye toward whether it's worth anything.  I plan on having it professionally edited, which costs several hundred dollars for a novel.  Not gonna make that investment if it's trash, of course. 

Meanwhile, I have more to write.  But not today.  Tomorrow, perhaps.  But now, it's time to rest and enjoy the sensations. 

Word count: 67,895 + 2 ("The End")

V7N Blog Challenge

The wrong books

Not sure how much more I'm going to write today, but I figured I'd go ahead and blog about what's on my mind.  It's an exciting time for creation, as my plot arc comes gliding smoothly up toward the climax of the story.  Still, it's getting late, and though I didn't write as much today as I usually do on weekends, it's been a good day.

I went to the bookstore today.  That place, to me, is Nerdvana, for srs.  I love moving up and down the aisles of books, looking at all of them.  The reading different when you write also applies to being in a bookstore when you write, by the I spend much more time than I ever did before in other sections, opening books and reading the jackets and the first chapters, wondering who, if anyone, was buying them. 

Got lost in the fantasy/sci fi section, though, and in so doing came to a major realization...a blinding flash of the obvious, if you will.  I went through and bought a lot of books because they were by great writers, because Stephen King said I needed to read more.  What he didn't say, though, was that I needed to torture myself by reading crap I'm not interested in.  Let's face it...there are genres that just don't interest me.  CSI/mystery is one of them, which is probably why I had such a hard time with the Scarpetta novel (well, that, and a female reader doing a male voice in a husky cartoony type voice).  The good news is that I bought all the books pretty cheap and can probably, in turn, sell them fairly cheaply as well.  But I'm not going to waste my time reading stuff that is GREAT fiction but not my cup of tea. 

Word count: 63,227 (and counting)

V7N Blog Challenge

Friday, March 18, 2011

Research projects can be fun

So for the past couple of nights, I've been writing into my story the two teenage boys and their reunion with their dad, who happens to be a physicist at Stanford.  I could probably have chosen a different university, but there's a lot of information available online about Stanford.  Granted, I've been by there once, myself, and so have done the personal visit that many authors describe as "research"...but research is also possible online, and I've been doing that for a couple of days now. I remember when Tom Clancy's novels came out, how much stir there seemed to be over his knowledge of what was actually going on, and yet these days the amount of knowledge available for free over the Internet is well beyond anything we dreamed of in the 80's.  Look up Stanford, you find the university site.  Look up the physics department, you find out where they are located and what is there.  Do more searches on the names of the buildings, and you find a rich history available for the incorporation. 

Word count: 61,460

V7N Blog Challenge

Plot Device #23

Long day, not much writing as a result.  On the other hand, I managed to cook a mean corned beef and cabbage meal, so I can't say I didn't accomplish anything.

It's funny how the plot twists and turns.  I know there are some authors out there who begin with an outline, then make it more detailed, then fill in the connectors, and finally present a wonderful novel.  Ran across the blog of one guy, in fact, who uses that technique to publish over 800,000, ish, words a year.  For reference sake...a typical fiction novel from an established author is 150K - 200K, and prolific authors publish 1-2 of those a year.  Thus, the guy's output of nearly a million words a year is awfully good.  I just couldn't do it.  For one thing, over-outlining drives me absolutely batty.  I start at the I. part (usually I. Introduction) and then move on from there, and by the time I'm at III. or so I'm bored and wanna start just doing it.  Doesn't serve me well for academic papers, of course, but as a recipe for fiction it's not bad. 

The thing is, fiction evolves.  Part of what I enjoy the most, and what keeps me going, is that I don't really even know for sure what's going to happen in my own story.  I started out with a pretty solid idea of where to start, and a plan for the plot, and a certainty on where it needed to end up, but the "along the way" part still wasn't 100% fleshed out.  It's that fleshing out that I really tend to enjoy, watching the story...and the world described by it...unfold as I write it.

Sounds strange, I suspect, but it's kinda cool, and difficult to explain any more thoroughly. 

For example, I came up with an idea last night to introduce another couple of characters.  I'd been wondering what to do with the problem of the teenage twin girls not having anyone their age in the group they were stuck with, and decided to resolve it by bringing in two teenage boys out of a rescued group.  That was OK, but flat, so I decided after a beer or two to have the boys want to find out what happened to their sister and dad.  I'm still enjoying writing the part about the dad, though the sister died.  Sorry, sis.  I figured naming her "Plot Device #23" was bad, so I chose a variant of it spelled "Ellen."  And now, I'm coming up with all sorts of other twists for the future of these two lads.  But all that will have to wait till tomorrow, when I'm more rested and have more time to create. 

Till then...g'night. 

Word count: 60,499

V7N Blog Challenge

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Me, myself, and I, or he, himself,, he

Like I said earlier, you read different when you're writing.

Part of that is a comparison of what the author you've chosen is doing and what you're doing.  In this case, I read today two different authors doing first person voice.  For those unfamiliar with this distinction, the first person is when there's a lot of "I..." and the third person is when there's a lot of "he...".  The other part of voice is tense, in terms of whether you write in present tense or past tense.  Or, I guess, something else, but that's rare and well beyond my abilities to consider.

The first and second novels I selected to read in my writer's workshop happened to be first person, both of them, which is very interesting in that my preferred writing style is third person.  Specifically, I describe most things as happening to Crystal, or Matt, mostly focused on Crystal, but never using the "I" pronoun.  It's just easier that way, and seems cleaner.  The two novels today were both based in the "I."

Now, before I go much into it, let me say that I hadn't really read the reviews of most of the specific novels I was acquiring.  For most, I was interested in the author's style, so reviews of the specific work seemed overboard.  That said, it was really interesting to read reviews after the fact.

If you read the theory on the various persons and tenses available, you read things like, "If you combine first person with present tense, you get all the human interaction first person brings to the table with the immediacy present tense provides. I consider that a winning duo."  There's no question that the first person present tense is the most powerful, when wielded properly.  Dear Zoe is an example of that.  I quit the novel after the first CD.  It wasn't because of any dislike of the novel, but rather because it was just, frankly, too powerful.  There were emotions there that I'd never experienced before, and though I cherish Beard's ability to bring them to me, they were frankly too raw for me to continue working with.  It really is a masterfully done novel, at least as far as I traveled with it, but the emotional baggage got too heavy.

Then there's Predator, by Cornwell.  Here, my decision to not read the reviews first played against me.  Yes, it was present tense, but that just served as an example of how weird a story could read if it was set in present tense but didn't merit it.  The whole story seemed stilted to me, and the numerous negative reviews served to justify my sense. 

The bottom line, I guess, is that it really is an interesting question as to which tense and person an author should embrace.  Clearly, though, some tense/person combinations are more difficult to pull off than others.

Word count: 60,041

V7N Blog Challenge

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

To Publish, or not to publish...not even a question

Once I'm done with this book that I'm writing, I can either print it out on nice eight and a half by eleven, bind it in a pretty ribbon, and put it in a box somewhere, or I can fight whatever battles need fighting to get it published.  The first option makes me zero money, while the second option makes me somewhere between zero and five million dollars. 

The five million, by the way, comes from the amount Sara Gruen got for her third novel, titled Water for Elephants, that some people in the industry are calling grossly overpaid.  I bought the book, and I plan on reading it to my wife on our reading nights, but so far it sure doesn't feel like a five million dollar book.  Of course, I'm sure you already realize that I would have absolutely no idea what a five million dollar book feels like, but, in any event, that number seems a reasonable guesstimate for the absolute maximum possible amount that this book I'm writing is worth. 

So...the absolute surety of a zero, or the chance for more?  You don't need my help answering that, do you?

Problem is, my plan so far consists of two steps: 1) write, and 2) edit.  That's it.  I'm even planning on having some money set aside to pay for professional editing, by someone who's edited published novels before.  But that's as far as it goes.  Why, you ask?  Well, there's so much I don't know, for the main thing, and most of it I won't know till I'm actually there.  One thing I've learned is that "the industry" doesn't really exist, any more than it does in any other industry.  I'm a career college dean by day.  I thought, once upon a time, that there was a way things were done in "the industry" of career colleges.  Then I got a job in a different company, and boy, had I been wrong.  Publishing seems to be like that too. 

I've read several blogs, for example, by apparently successful authors and agents, talking about what to expect.  Two seemingly standard rules of the road: 1) always write your first book in the 80K-120K word range, preferably to the small side, because less than 80K feels like a novella, and more than 120K is too many printed pages for a publisher to risk printing a newbie's work on.  2) never tell the agents or publishers that you've got a trilogy in the works, because they don't want to consider signing on for a multi-book deal with someone who might be a dud, nor do they want what is obviously the first book of a series coming out as a standalone and ticking off the readers. 

Only...look at Twilight, with each book well over 150K words, and the saga being sold as a unit right off the bat.  For $750K, up front.  $750K is what I make in my day job in somewhere around...well, approximately...negating the forces of inflation as well as the raises due to my obvious and resounding merit, as well as the pull of the various many years.  I wouldn't complain about that amount at all, no sirree. 

Back to the publishing "industry" and its rules, though, I suspect, from a purely business-trained outsider's perspective, that publishers are feeling a pinch these days, and are all doing what they each think most prudent in the hopes of landing the next Harry Potter or Twilight.  That means some will take stupid risks, and others won't.  Some will follow the old standard rules of thumb, and others won't. 

Thing is, none of that matters till I find an agent.  It was an agent, in fact, who launched Twilight's success by sending that series out to bid.  Even standard wisdom indicates that an agent will bring about 1/3 more for the first contract.'s the rub...I can't approach the agents and say, "I'm writing a book."  Every agent's blog I've read says that.  Apparently there are a LOT of Americans who enjoy contacting literary agents about the books they're going to write.  The standard response seems to be "Look, don't tell me what you're going to do.  Go do it, then show me what you did."  It's got some sense to it, really.  One of my own favorite quotes, and the current tagline for my work e-mail, is from Henry Ford: "Nobody ever built a reputation on what they were going to do." 

So...full circle.  I write.  And then I edit.  And only then do I figure it out.  If an agent takes me, and I really don't doubt much that that will happen, great.  If not, I can always go the self-published Indie route that seems to have come a long way in a couple of years now that Amazon made it really easy to buy a book directly for a Kindle.  But I'll burn that bridge when I cross it, or however that saying goes.

Word count: 58,559

V7N Blog Challenge

Monday, March 14, 2011

Michelangelo, Twain, and Snooty Prose

I can’t help it; I want to write a short story. 

It’s crazy, I know, with one novel project nearly done, and two more in the same story line in my mind, not to mention a couple of other unrelated novel-sized projects ahead, for me to want to stop briefly to write a short.  But I do…I had an interesting idea, and I want to play with it. 

The short story, though, brings with it some interesting questions, specifically those beginning with the word "how."  I’ve researched the topic and task of publishing novels pretty thoroughly, so I’m sure I have at my mental disposal at least somewhere close to an underwhelmingly small percentage of the truth behind what goes on.  But I haven’t even considered how to publish short stories, so I started researching that after posting my blog entry last night.

Short answer…short stories, publish almost exclusively in literary magazines.  Makes sense, that.  I’d never really seen one in the book stores, probably because I hadn’t gone looking, but they’re still out there, and still taking submissions.  Turns out they, like the book publishers, are all different.  I mean, really different.  Go read a few submissions pages and you’ll see it too.  Some lit mags are like, “Yeah, man, we’d love to see your stuff.  Just be cool and send it in and we’ll be gonzo to review it, just let us know if it’s a simultaneous submission [e.g., same story to more than one mag at the same time], OK, man?”  Others, meanwhile, sound like the royal guards in London might if I asked to have tea with the Queen. 

Take, ferinstance, the Kenyon Review (, reportedly one of the, if not the best literary magazine around.  They even served to launch the careers of a couple of novelists who were mentioned (but I'd never heard of, embarrassing as it is to admit).  “You are also encouraged to read back issues of our magazine to see the quality and range of work that we accept,” their submissions page says.  In plain English: “Look at what we’ve published before you came along.  That’s the bar.  If you don’t cut it, don’t bother.”  So I gamely clicked away and read some of their back issues online.

On a soon to be related note (trust me, gentle reader), I used to run a lot at West Point.  I got pretty good, too; I could stack 5-minute miles on top of each other like nobody’s business, and my personal best in the 10K was just a few seconds over 30 minutes.  That really was fast, for a very amateur runner, and I was proud of myself for getting there.  Then I watched the Olympics.  Holy crap, those guys were fast.  I remember watching and realizing that I would never, ever, in a bazillion years, run that fast.  Don’t think I ran a single mile I didn’t have to after that, really.  Dumb reaction, I know, but it was what it was. 

The shorts I read that had been published in the Kenyon Review brought back the same feeling.  Holy crap, those guys could spin compact and beautiful prose like nobody’s business.  It was like watching a Michelangelo sculpture being formed in my mind.  I’ll never, ever, ever, neverever, never, be that good.  Ah think ah’ll jest go listen me up some Cable Guy videos now since that's all ah kin handle.  *ahem*

I went to bed kind of depressed after that.  It wasn’t entirely the feeling of never-be-that-good, really; the last story I’d read, if it had a newspaper headline as a title, would have been “Woman dies in icy water and man fails to revive her.”  Why, on a side note, do prose jockeys seem to have such a passionate hatred toward happy stories?  Anyway, the aftermath of reading that, especially with the author’s keenly honed ability to weave images and emotions together in my mind’s eye, left me down.

America’s Funniest Videos cheered me up…yay, Tom Bergeron!  That might have been why I woke up in a great mood, or it might, instead, have been my Significant Realization of the morning.

It was, simply: I wouldn’t buy their books.

Yes, the prose was tight, and the imagery grand, but the stories didn’t do much for me.  If you look at my bookshelf, it doesn’t contain a lot of prose jockey material.  Now I’m not saying it’s bad to be good at writing, certainly.  But I’ll forgive some lack of tight prose for a story that grips my gut, every time.  Take Twilight…Stephen King said, and I kind of have to agree, that the author isn’t very good.  But the story is compelling, and I enjoyed reading it, and she’s sold a whole lot more books than I have…and, likely, a whole lot more books than the prose jockeys I read last night have. 

Look at the famous authors in the classics section.  You have, for example, Hawthorne, who was pretty much the Intellectuals’ Bard.  Nobody could spin prose like he could, in my opinion, especially if by spinning prose you mean creating a single grammatically-correct sentence that spans multiple printed pages.  But the story told in The Scarlet Letter was engaging on a personal, core level.  Mark Twain is kind of the opposite; the man was a genius at creating accessible prose that ranks low on the readability grade-level scale, and yet high on the list of books you really ought to read and might actually have fun doing so.  His stories, too, are engaging on a personal, core level.  Granted, I think both of them rank well up as peers of the authors whose shorts I read last night, so they have no worries.  I ain't that good, though, so my point is that there are books that are well written, and there are books that sell well, and the two aren’t necessarily the same group.

I guess the message is that it’s OK for me, in my mind, to be in one group and not the other…as long as it’s hopefully, some day, the latter. 

Word count: 56,984

V7N Blog Challenge

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Keepin' the pace up

There's something very similar to running a marathon in writing a novel.  I can honestly say I've done one of them once, and now that I'm drawing kinda near to saying I've done both once, the similarity seems obvious.  Both boil down to endurance.

Tonight marks the end of the third or fourth weekend I've devoted nearly strictly to writing.  True, I've walked the dog, and gotten a few chores done, and I went in to work today, and even ended up doing some (gasp) work, but it still seems at times as though I'll be writing till...well, till I'm not anymore.  A novel is a long damn project. 

A marathon is a long damn run, similarly.  What it lacks in actual length (I wish I could finish a novel in 4 hours) it makes up for in grueling, overwhelming, world-shattering, mind-blasting pain.  People who think that "The Wall" means you get really tired just don't have any idea.  The human body isn't built to run 26 miles in one stretch.  It can't physically store enough fuel for that long of a run.  "The Wall" is your body's way of telling you that.  It's not your body saying "I'm tired, can we sit down now?"  Instead, it's your body saying "OK, dumbass, I'm out of fuel, so you better for the love of God stop running NOW or I'll cramp every muscle in your body.  OK, there went the hamstring.  And now, the opposite thigh.  Got the pic now, sweet cheeks?  Stop running NOW!  Now!  Now!  NOW!"

Writing a novel, on the other hand, isn't nearly as painful.  If your fingies get tired, you can just stop typing for a few minutes.  But it's much, much longer, and so you get this feeling that as you sit and type, the world is passing you by outside. 

Granted, all that is probably because I write so dang much.  Most of the authors who've spoken of reasonable pace say 2000-2500 words a day is good.  I just finished a 12000 word weekend, for the sake of comparison.  It's fun, still, at this point, but I have to be careful not to do it much longer.  I think, once this book is done and in the cooling-down stage before editing, I'm going to write a short story that occurred to me recently.  That should be fun, too, and more like the 10K's I used to run that, once I got in marathon shape, seemed almost laughably easy. 

Till then, though, I continue my inexorable march toward the finish line.  I reached a hugely major milestone yesterday, finishing a NaNoWriMo project, but I still have about 25K words to go at this point, and a lot of story still to write.  I'm taking part of next weekend off, bringing my lovely wife home, so that'll help me make sure to balance. 

Till then, though...woo hoo!  12K words in 2 days! 

Word count: 54,963

V7N Blog Challenge

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A minor victory

There's something deeply fulfilling about surpassing the 50K word mark, if for no other reason than I failed the first time I attempted. A couple of years ago I tried NaNoWriMo and didn't make it, and I.can't.stand.failure.  For those who don't know, National Novel Writing Month is November (oops...the month containing both my and my wife's birthdays and numerous work special dates) and has two basic requirements to "win": 50K words, making a "novel", and write "The End" at the end.  Thus, tonight, when I capped 50K words and decided I'd written enough for one day (7400 words is enough for ANY day), and then typed "The End," I felt a unique sense of euphoria. Then, of course, I deleted "The End" because it's not the end.  I still have lots of story to's easily gonna be an 80K word novel.  But it was indeed a benchmark, and a fulfilling one at that.

Writing creatively is like nothing I've ever done before.  When I posted early today about how I had eclipsed 2700 words, a dear friend and former West Point roommate (many West Pointers will probably agree that it's a miracle the two terms can remain not mutually exclusive) reminded me how much I whined and wailed against writing 500 words.  OK, maybe whine and wail is an exaggeration--mine, not his--but it still seemed an insurmountable task at the time.  I totalled 7400 words today, which leaves 500 in the dust, frankly.  But it's different. 

First of all, a research paper is at its core a challenge to your basic abilities as a human.  You're reading and trying to regurgitate without plagiarizing lots of others' opinions, while hoping that the professor approves of your regurgitation.  My students...I promise to never issue a research paper assignment, ever again, based on this realization.  The instructors who work for me might, though, but that's OK since they're smarter than me. 

Once you figure that out, let me know.....


In any event, creative writing is wholly different.  It's far, far scarier, for one're not talking about anything that's happened, and you're not basing it, hopefully, on anything that has been written before.  Instead, creative writing calls for no small about of hutzpah, in which you're sure that the story you're telling must be interesting to others...if not, you're wasting your time.  That said, though, volume is relatively easy once you get over the hutzpah and the worry..."volume" being, oh, 1K to 2K words a day.  7K words won't happen a lot, really...only on weekends, for sure.  And then, only when I am working with, as I am in this case, a story that has been in my mind for a while, and I'm just filling in details as I write. 

But all that being said...I did do over 7K words today.  And I breached the 50K mark.  And I'm proud of it, and ready to sign off and get some reading and sleep in while I hope my wife is doing OK up in Alaska. 

Y'all have a great night.

Word count: 50,199

V7N Blog Challenge

A night off, ish

Long day, but I managed to get home reasonably early...well before 8 PM, in fact.  That gave me time to cook a decent dinner and watch Alice in Wonderland, the new one with Johnny Depp, with Jessa.  I didn't end up writing much; really, I mostly edited some stuff and described their old (and now destroyed, but she doesn't know it yet) house before leaving off at the point where she's about to see the destruction that the evil author wrought.  But that's a good place to pick up tomorrow, and I don't mind calling it quits tonight after relatively few words.

Today I received more of the books I'd ordered.  In fact, at this point I only have two unreceived books: the Zombies one, and the one I just bought today.  Can't wait to dive in to all of them, to be honest.  But the new one is interesting and different.  Heide actually had a fellow passenger on her flight recommend it to me through her, and given Heide's glowing recommendation I bought it immediately.  It's called Zing, by Pat Mora.  I've only gotten a little ways into it, but so far I love it.  It's definitely different; the other books I've been buying are basically my writing laboratory, my CD-based collection of fiction I can use to see how other authors handle stuff like what I'm faced with.  But this one is non-fiction, and specifically purposed for helping teachers and students get creative.  Good choice for me, really. 

In fact, one of the reasons I'm saying good evening to my laptop a bit early and retiring to the bedroom is so that I can enjoy some reading time.  Plus, after the week I've had, I think I'm due an early night.  Good night, real world, and good night, Rise of the Goddess world...I'll see you both in the morning.  Don't expect me too early, either. 

Word count: 42,828

V7N Blog Challenge

Friday, March 11, 2011

A short mid-morning post

As I've been sitting here drinking my coffee, considering driving to work soon, I read the news about Japan and the massive wave hurtling toward the West Coast of the United States.  My heart goes out to the people who are affected.  That said, I'm struck by the fact that I'm currently 40K+ words into a novel that starts out with a big wave taking out most of the West Coast of the United States.  Nobody in their right minds would think that a guy writing about something could make it happen, might make an interesting storyline.  Inkheart was based on a similarly nutty theme, and it was quite good.  Just sayin'.  Now back to the regularly-scheduled disaster coverage....

Only so many stories in the world

While today pretty much sucked at work, it was a good day for writing.  Not only did I get my 2K words in no problem, but I also received 3 more audiobooks I had ordered.  Good thing, too, since I finished L. Ron Hubbard's Kingslayer today on my way to work.  The way home, I almost started one of the new books, but instead rode in silent thought.

Kingslayer had been a good book, to be sure.  He avoided adverbs astutely, all except, of course, those tossed into the middle of the sentence right behind the verb where they belonged.  The book was written over a half-century ago, so of course the wordings used were a little quaint, but if you discounted those it was really a pretty enjoyable read. 

My only surprise came at the ending, when I realized I'd been listening to a 50's version of Star Wars in which Darth Vader became Yoda.  I hope I didn't just ruin the book for anyone, but's been around long enough that you should'a read it without my commentary.  In any event...from the storyline perspective, L. Ron got copied.  And probably copied, himself. 

I once heard someone say that there are only so many stories in the world.  I forget the actual number given, but it was somewhere around a dozen or three.  And they were right.  Let's take the story about a group of specially-abled kids led away to a school for the specially-abled, facing a specially-abled character turned evil.  Is this Harry Potter, or X-Men? 

Basically, as a story goes, there are five basic conflicts on which to base a plot.  Pick a conflict, and then color in the details, and you have a book.  Sounds simple, really, but the devil is in the details.   

Harry Potter is an excellent example of this.  It was really not a major breakthrough in terms of storyline, as I've already pointed out.  It was a Done story.  But what it was, also, and why millions of readers ate the books up faster than the good folks at Barnes and Noble could keep the shelves stocked, was a well done story.  JK Rowling had created a masterpiece not by somehow magically coming up with a story that nobody had seen before, but rather by taking a fairly commonplace plot arc and executing it amazingly well. 

Werewolves versus vampires?  Now that seemed a new plot arc to me, which is, I think, in my completely unqualified point of view, rather incomprehensibly not done well at all, that nevertheless drew millions of dollars to its author.  So...well, so much for my wisdom, eh? 

Point of this blog post?  Quit waiting for a great story idea that nobody has ever thougth of to come to you.  Take, instead, a basic and well known story line, and come up with a new way to present it.  Then send me a portion of the millions of dollars you'll earn.  :-)

Word count: 42,411

V7N Blog Challenge

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Adverbs suck

You read different when you write.  No, I'm serious.  How many of us read a book for pleasure and keep count of adverbs?  How many of us actually know what an adverb is, for that matter?  Here's a challenge: go up to your five closest friends and ask each for an example of an adverb, and then let me know how many of them laughed at you.  My bet is that, if you then subtract that number from five, you'll know how many of them are English majors, doctoral candidates, or, worse...writers. 

Adverbs, to put it plainly, modify verbs.  If a verb says the subject moved, an adverb can say how fast.  They allow us to describe a scene more thoroughly.  See, that was an adverb..."thoroughly."  You can usually see them hiding behind an "ly" ending.  And adverbs, to put it plainly again, suck.  Stephen King said, "I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs" and called them the literary equivalent of dandelions on your lawn.  Having read that, of course, I, ever the contrarian, ran right out and looked in one of his books.  Don't recall which one, and it's pretty much irrelevant.  I was expecting to see how the man manages to create prose without using one of the parts of speech.  The answer...surprisingly, or not, that he doesn't.   Didn't get through more than a couple of pages without seeing a weed sprouting in the master's lawn.  But then again, we all use them.  It's really, really difficult to go through a spate of linguistic construction without using, say, "really," just once.  Or twice, as you can now see. 

But Stephen King himself said that adverbs aren't always bad.  "Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind....  With adverbs, the writer usually tells us...that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across."  So a few are unavoidable, even possibly good.  As I have listened to my new copy of L. Ron Hubbard's book detailing a one-man-army's attempt at killing The Arbiter, whoever that is, I've noticed that adverbs are sprinked through like ghost chiles in a salsa.  A touch adds flavor, as you can clearly see when they say that the spacecraft swiftly takes to flight.  But too much makes it unpalatable, as the example in On Writing makes clear. 

That said, the book from Hubbard does make extremely scant use of adverbs.  Makes sense,'s the way we normally talk.  How many of you, for example, go through life saying things like, "the boss says, vociferously, that we should do this"?  None of you, I'd bet.  Adverbs are sprinkled sparingly through the garden of our speech, so they should also be sprinkled sparingly in our books, to break a perfectly good metaphor early. 

So, once again, I come to one of those "there ain't no equation" things.  Writing is truly an art, not a science.  And it's that, I think, that explains why I enjoy it so. 

Word count: 40,425

V7N Blog Challenge

Short on words, but a good day regardless

Thank you, Mr. King.

No, I haven't given in to referring to myself in a weird third-persony kind of way.  I'm sending out thanks to the other Stephen King, the guy who wrote the book On Writing, literally.  In that magnificent tome of information on the craft, he said, "If you want to be a writer," (and I do) "you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot....  Reading is the creative center of a writer's life."  I've been reading a lot over the years, of course, but nearly all of that has been texts and business or education related non-fiction work that really doesn't stand much chance of being any type of creative center of anything.  It was important, sure, and all of it has served and continues to serve me well...well, nearly all, anyway.  There were admittedly a couple of books, like Building a Scholarship of Assessment and Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership that I spent hours on and really do wish I could have those hours back. 

In my previous two-week-long go at an illustrious writing career, I took Stephen King's words to heart a little differently.  Specifically, I went out and procured several books and found several web sites on the process of writing.  He specifically mentions the Elements of Style, which I found quite useful as well, but I also got other books on the craft.  In doing so, and in the further laborious exercise of reading these works of "art," I found truth once again to Stephen King's words, "...most books about writing are filled with bullshit."  It turns out, as Stephen King told me directly in his book and I have now proved, that some of the best lessons about writing aren't to be obtained from texts on the topic. 

This time, I set out to do it differently.  My schedule still isn't any better, with 12+ hour days at my day job and writing at night, but there are times to read.  For one thing, I sat in the doctor's office for a few minutes today.  Luckily I had installed a book reader on my phone, so I got to read a little.  I've also gotten an interesting work of short stories for the restroom.  But my big score is that I now have a half hour drive to work, and the corresponding half hour drive back.  The new to me, anyway...I bought last November unfortunately doesn't have a tape player (what new cars do, really?) so I can't use the massive tape library I built up when I was commuting back and forth between Wasilly and Anchorage.  Consequently, I took a page from my spouse's playbook...and went shopping.

Shopping, to me, meant spending a little bit of time online.  If you haven't shopped online for books before, you should try it.  It's really a treat.  Just don't tell the good folks at Borders I said that, please.  But do a few browser windows, and direct one to eBay, one to, and one to Barnes & Noble (  I also opened one to Wikipedia, which kinda helped me with the main purpose. 

What was the main purpose?  Well, there are thousands of audiobooks on CD available.  I can't afford them all, so I had to pick a few.  What was I looking for, then?  Cheap, actually, was my #2 criterion, after format.  Yes, they had to be CD...tapes can't fit well into a disk drive.  They also had to be unabridged, a distinction I learned after listening to several books on tape.  The abridged audiobooks are fun, and they're inexpensive, but they're not THE author's work.  For example, one of the first audiobooks I bought was an abridged version of The Da Vinci Code.  It was still an interesting story, but the movie actually had more of the original storyline.  When you're building a fiction library simply for entertainment, abridged works are OK.  When you're doing it to create a fiction laboratory as well, stay away from them. 

So then, after filtering for CD and unabridged (both are available filters on eBay) I, of course, went after cheap.  By cheap, I mean less than $5 not including shipping.  Yes, that's cheap...cheaper, in fact, than the paperback version of most of those works cost.  But there is inventory available in that price range, and I figured an audiobook I got for $3.99 would teach me as much as one I got for two or three times that, as long as it was by the right person.

That, actually--the author--was my other criterion, which is where Wikipedia came in.  Lookit, I'm not spending the hours needed to write this book just so I can have a bunch of bits on my computer to point to later.  I want to sell some books.  Everything I've read about the business of the craft says it's the author's job to sell the books.  The publisher makes them, of course, and pushes them through the distribution channel.  But all that fancy marketing whizbang stuff I learned in my marketing whizbang class back in business whizbang school (have you ever really thought about what fun it is to say whizbang?) is largely the author's to do, or not.  And the first part of it is writing a book--telling a story--that doesn't suck. 

So, all that being said, if I'm setting up a laboratory to work on how to create fiction that doesn't suck, why would I buy fiction that...well, that sucks?  I mean, I suppose you could make an argument that by virtue of it being published, it's already cleared its way out of suckage.  That's not what my virtual mentor, the other Stephen King, implied, though, when he said Stephenie Meyer (the author of the Twilight Saga) "can't write worth a darn....  She's not very good." (incidentally, I figure one way I can measure my success is that I've "made it big" if and when Stephen King takes time to critique my work) 

So who doesn't suck?  Well, kind of by definition, authors who've sold lots of books, right?  No matter what I think of the genre, if they've sold a bunch of books, I need to look at what they've done.  Later on in life, once I've retired to a secluded desert isle, I can take time for full-on literary studies, but for now I grabbed books that were a) unabridged audio CD, b) $5 or less, and c) written by authors who sold a lot. 

So what did I end up with?  The one that came yesterday, that I got to listen to today, was L. Ron Hubbard's Kingslayer: Seven Steps to the Arbiter.  Arguably not his best work ever, but it's been fun to listen to so far.  Also coming are works by Clive Cussler, Danielle Steel, Patricia Cornwell, and others.  Water for Elephants is an interesting exception...she's sold lots of books, but she's a newcomer (who's actually completed NaNoWriMo, but who am I to complain?).  I look forward to getting to listen to her narrative style. 

Word count: 38,214
V7N Blog Challenge

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Storytelling is surprisingly interesting

Surprising...and strange.  That's the best way to describe today's writing efforts.

Got home from work awfully late, but that's just the nature of the business I'm in.  Sat down to write, and as usual spent too much time checking e-mail, updating Facebook, etc.  Time Magazine ran an article recently about Jonathan Franzen, a fairly renowned author who refuses to have Internet capabilities on his writing laptop.  That seemed pretty obvious to me, since the distractions available through Internet channels can be pretty tough to switch away from, but it wouldn't work for me.  I think that, were I to sit down at a laptop at which I could only write and think, "OK, now, self.  Time to write," I would just continue to sit and stare in a state of not-write.  It's weird, really.  The engagement my brain requires to put words on the page is only about 3/4.  Too much focus, and my brain just seizes up and stops creativizing.  Doesn't mean I can have the TV on, of course...had to chase my stepdaughter out of the room tonight, in fact, since she was watching the first Superman movie and God knows I can't do anything but watch Superman when it's on. 

In any event, the surprising thing wasn't that I wrote.  It was what I wrote.  If you recall from my previous post, I was all prepared for a pitched argument between the two main protagonists, one of whom is a god and the other of whom is the god's wife.  I was imagining an epic battle of words, which would take either days of I'm-sorries or an hour of truly epic make-up sex to come out of.  But it didn't work out that way.

It's just...weird, really.  The fact is, I don't control the story.  I tell it, sure.  And I try to make it interesting and believable and engaging.  But have no doubt...I do not control it.  I have scenes in mind, things that have to happen to make the plot arc happen as it should so that once it's all over nobody will look at my efforts and say "the dummy didn't have a plot."  But tonight's efforts are real testament to how the author--this author, anyway--doesn't control the story as much as I thought before I started.  As I write, I craft each comment based on what has come before and what the character would most likely say based on their reasoning or lack thereof.  Then the next comment is crafted the same way, and so on.  The end result isn't anything like what I thought it would be.  The pitched argument certainly started pitched, but rapidly settled into a quasi-humorous discussion of the past with a couple of comments about battle tactics over the ages tossed in. 

Bottom line...this really is some fun stuff.  I don't know if when I'm done I'll have something worth publishing or something worth printing and using as firestarter, but in any event it's an enjoyable activity as I never figured writing creatively might be. 

Word count: 38,039

V7N Blog Challenge

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A full Sunday

It was quite the full day today.  Dropped the love of my life...and my chief idea at the airport so that she can fly 5,000 miles away in order to be at her son's wedding.  Honestly, I wish I could have gone, but it won't work financially, which is part of my fuel to get these books written.  I may never be a billionnaire like J.K. Rowling, or even a multimillionnaire like Stephen King or Danielle Steele, but hopefully I can supplement the family's income a little in my side work.

As I started to write today, I realized that I really wasn't recording the number of words done every day.  Thus, I went back to yesterday's blog and wrote at the bottom the number of words in the primary novel, The Rise of the Goddess book 1, so that I can keep kind of a running tally.

Writing is still fun.  Sort of, anyway.  I guess "fun" has multiple definitions for me.  It can be used to describe walking down a path in a flower garden enjoying the orchids with my wife, or coursing down and around a roller coaster's rails with my stepdaughter in a mad attempt to get a thrill, temporary though it may be.  Appropriate metaphor, that.  I just finished a scene describing the fine shop of a silk merchant, where my chief worry was keeping the pace up and not succumbing to describiness.  Also did a transition scene, which I'm finding to be a bread and butter type of thing for author types.  Now, where I'm leaving it tonight, it's into an emotional and verbal fight scene between the two main protagonists, which will be very much like the roller coaster.  More so than you might think initially, in fact.  A roller coaster has its highs and lows, true, but it also is very unpredictable when you ride it...until you know its twisty turns from lots of experience, anyway.  Writing about a fight between lovers is very similar...very intense, yes, but have you ever thought about how to tell the story of a fight between your lover and you?  It's a new thing to me, describing emotions and thoughts I've never described before, and half of which I've never actually felt before. 

As I've had a long, long day today, and have finished my 2K words for the day already, I don't think I have the energy to do the roller coaster justice.  Thus, I'm stopping for now.  Tomorrow morning and night I'll get to it.

Word Count: 36,693

V7N Blog Challenge

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A weekend off

Weekends being my most prolific writing time, this may seem strange, but I'm going to do something else this weekend...most of it, anyway.  We're going to spend the weekend enjoying Washington, D.C., so you may or may not get a real update tomorrow.

Ending word count: 34,643

The love for the craft

I'm not sure how long I'll be able to keep bringing up that other Stephen King and his comments about writing before my own readers rebel, but I feel compelled to do it at least once more.  He said that writing is telepathy.  That the act in which I commit to paper, or in this case this blog, words which will in turn spur mental images on the part of the reader is somehow elevated, important, yet also as pedestrian as a day job.  And he's right.  On days when I feel I have the luxury to write, I compose wonderful prose at the pace of five to eight thousand words a day, which is monumental.  On days when I get home from a horrid day of work at nine o'clock at night and sit down to write because I feel I have to write something every day, I create stuff at a far, far lesser pace, and what I create may or may not be considered prose, much less wonderful prose.  And then I have evenings like this one, when I sit down with a great movie playing on the TV in the room and spend most of my time enjoying family and the story of the movie that is playing out, and kind of just write because I enjoy it.  I find it funny how, tonight, I wrote as much as I did in the previous two nights put together, and without realizing it.  Writing is really something you have to do, I guess, for the love of the craft.  That seems to be a lesson speaking to me from the stories of Stephen King, Danielle Steel, HP Lovecraft, et al.  It's a job, sure.  But the truly successful writers are the ones who can quit being writers for a while and just enjoy telling a great story. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A long week

Not quite 300 words written today.  I'm really slacking by the standards of that other Stephen King.  Personally, I don't mind much...worked another 12 hour day at my day job, so it's good to just sit and relax. 

Bought an audiobook today...yay.  Found it online for a few bucks, and it sounded interesting.  I don't read nearly enough to make myself a decent writer, and my half-hour drive to work is perfectly suited to listening to audiobooks.  All the books and blogs on writing I see say the same thing...if you're going to be a decent writer, you have to read a bunch.  It makes sense, really.  If you're going to be a decent anything, you have to read a bunch, and it's particularly important for writers to see how other writers lay out their plots, introduce and expand their characters, and begin and structure their books. 

Just like today was a short day of writing in which I nevertheless got some writing done, it's also a short day of blogging.  I'm looking forward to a much shorter day tomorrow, but my wife leaves for two weeks Sunday morning so I'll likely not get much writing at all done.  But that's OK.  I write to live, not the other way around.  

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Another slow night, but that's OK

About 500 words tonight, and I'm calling it quits already.  What a slacker I am!

Eh.  Bite me.  I was lucky to get that many words.

Was a long, long day to start off with.  That's the chief thing I have to remember: this isn't my primary job.  In my day job, I managed an accreditation visit with zero findings, which is a rare happening at best.  I finished the Academic Probation list, and started the task of calling the students in to tell them their academic careers might be ending...not really a hard task, but emotionally draining.  I taught a class of 7 students who've already told me they don't want to be in my class, which is draining in several ways.  And I spun off and rewarded a class who had perfect attendance, which was great but took my time away from other things.  All considered, not bad, and I love my job, but...tiring.

I came home really intending to go grocery shopping with my wife, a project I'd been promising for days, and then to participate in that bliss we call sleep.  Instead, we went to dinner.  A nice dinner, of course.  Well...really, a mediocre dinner at a nice dinner price, but I got to watch my wife lick the chocolate off of a martini glass, which in itself is worth more money than I can afford. 

So, anyways...I got home tired and ready for bed, but I've always been one of those "just do something" types.  I figured at a minimum I should add a little to the story.  Five hundred words later, I was done for the night.  Really, it's not bad for a night where the goal was "greater than 1" but it's not huge by Stephen King's "2K to 2.5K" standards.  In any event, I think it's good to let the 500 words rest, acknowledge that I'm doing this as a secondary, if that, career, in which I may never make a dime, and get some rest for tomorrow before tomorrow smacks me in the face. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Tuesday night writing

I probably ought to give myself at least one night a week off, but I'm too hardheaded to do so.  That said, I only got 922 words written tonight, and I'm OK with that.  Stephen King, who specified 2K - 2.5K per day as a good number, can just stick it. 

Part of the limited word count tonight is that I got home very late.  My day job is just like that; some days are short days in which I only work 10-12 hours, and others are longer.  Today was longer.  It happens, and though it's certainly not why I love my job, it does give me something to do with my time.  Some day, if I get my wish and my writing takes off financially, I'll probably have to decide between my day job and my night job, but for now it's all good.

Another part of the limited word count is a problem I have.  When I got home, my stepdaughter was watching How to Train Your Dragon on the large TV in the living room, which is the same room I write in.  I could have kicked her out, but it seemed wrong to consider.  But I can't write while there's anything going on on the television...seems like having one story going through my ears totally freezes the story I'm trying to create in my brain.  So, instead, I watched it with her, and once dinner was done with my wife as well.  Frankly, I don't mind cutting down my word quota a little in the name of spending family time. 

It wasn't wasted time, in any event.  Most of my book involves western mythology and western history, but the chapter I'm working on now brings in a little East Meets West action.  Specifically, the guy that the protagonist meets up with in Atlantis is supposed to have been at one point the ruler of a major portion of what became India.  If that doesn't make sense...hopefully it will in the book.  But in any event, there are so many little nuances to get right, from the name of the guy to how he reacts to a practical superior to the expected interactions between male and female in the culture he was from...I spent a good 2-3 hours just researching. 

Granted, those in a Ph.D. program would scoff at what I call researching, as should I since I'm in a Ph.D. program.  I'm using wikipedia as a significant source, and I'm even also using some stranger sites.  But fiction doesn't require the same attention to detail that even nonfiction, much less peer-reviewed work, does.  I could probably completely make crap up as I went along, as I already have in parts, and it would be acceptable.  But keep in mind that a significant aim of fiction is to convince the audience to suspend their nonbelief, which again is different from creating a scholarly proof.  Simply put, if I say it well enough that most of my readers believe it, then I win.  Nobody (hopefully) believes there are actually wizards training at Hogwart's, and nobody (hopefully) believes there are actually werewolves in the Pacific northwest.  But the stories are so compelling that you want to believe them...suspend your disbelief, anyway...for a while.  That's what I hope to create.