A Man Mansplains Mansplaining to Mansplainers

Gather round children. Come on. Come in close. Listen well. You there… get your finger out of your nose. You.. the one in the green… stop punching your neighbor in the arm. Just stop it. Settle down now. Shhhhhh…..

Alright. Everyone? Are you all settled in? No. Put away that bucknife. You can whittle that stick on recess. On second thought. Gimme that.

Okay. Here’s the thing. You know how you read an article on the internet and then you read the comments and they are all unironically demonstrating the content of the article? That just happened. I mean. It JUST happened. To me. And i figured i had to say something because it’s sort of staggering how some folks aren’t getting this. And i figured, y’know… the best way to get some folks to actually HEAR it is if it comes from a guy. Cuz frankly, and lets be honest here, you seem to have a shut off valve somewhere in your head when a woman says… well… anything.

So… What IS mansplaining? Well… It is a verb. ‘To Mansplain’. One has ‘mansplained’. It is, as you might have guessed, pretty deliberately gendered. You might have noticed. It is also a constructed word. These things are all true. And as such these seem to be the crux of any argument.

I do not know, nor do i particularly give a rats ass, about the particular etymology of the word. I only care that it’s construction delineates a certain long standing practice amongst a section of the gender (yeah… that’s you gents) who have historically been quite pleased with interjecting their thoughts and opinions in opposition to, and quite often in complete ignorance of, the opinions and thoughts of the ‘opposite’ gender. It is, pretty bluntly, a discursive artefact of male privilege.

No really. It is. That’s pretty much it.

Now, folks might object… (yeah… that’s likely you too Gents) that ‘hey! It’s divisive! Not all guys do that! I don’t do that. That’s not fair!

Well… you know the old adage about love and war. Well… this would be the war portion. and quite frankly, you’re losing. I know. It’s horrifying isn’t it? To be sitting on top of the world, grinning down upon all you survey with the insouciant surety that you are master’s of your domain and suddenly the whole world shifts and everything is looking like a terrible threat because people accuse you of mansplaining. It’s a threat to your… ahem… masculinity. It’s dangerous. It subverts the rightful order of things. (That order being that men’s words and opinions carry more weight and import than… well… anyone else’s.)

It’s a fucking word. I mean seriously.

You know what’s funny about getting stung by a word? You know what’s just a huge fricking belly laughing riot about all of the controversy and the sad puppies howling along with their own perception of their balls being snipped off? It’s that this word, in being dismissive of the eons old tradition of mansplaining, is actually giving men the taste of being dismissed. Hmm… it’s almost like that was on purpose. Gee.

That’s what i mean by you’re losing. If you miss that point… that it was actually DELIBERATE IRONY… you are woefully obtuse and so concerned about the state of your dangly bits that you don’t even notice that the world is wandering away without you.

And you should lose. Really. I mean fuck it. You’ve been propping up an idiotic tradition of masculinity for.. oh god… FOR FUCKING EVER. Don’t you think it’s just a wee bit (ahem… pardon the pun) confining? I mean, really. You LIKE being proscribed by your buddies who don’t understand your closet love for horses? You actually LIKE being called a ‘pussy’ for trading in a minivan, kids and a family for friday night black outs and donkey porn? You LIKE the fact that someone dropped you in a uniform when you were seven or eight years old and you’ve adopted it like you’re a proud member of the universal brotherhood of the mighty dick? Yeah… Cuz that’s what men do. They let everyone tell them what to be, how to think, what to like, who to like, what cars they can drive and still be a man.

Fuck that. Lose.

Or to put it in terms a little more like what you’re probably used to: Man up.

Mansplaining is a threat. It’s supposed to be. It’s a very effective one. It calls on you… YES YOU… to question just how much damned ego you need. If you find yourself defending it and feeling like ‘oh dear! someone just said i was mansplaining and i feel… i feel… like i’m not being respected.’ You know what? IT’S ALL TRUE. Now what? How much do you NEED to be respected. Just how important is your ego? How important is your opinion? Do you think you can find a way to actually discuss your opinion… ahem… you know… without… umm… maybe making it sound like yours is the only opinion that matters? Do you think you could actually find room in your ego to LISTEN?

Gents… seriously… Listening is the key to any communication. ANY. I wish i could say that in about a hundred different languages. ANY communication. If someone actually feels that you are listening THEN you are having a conversation. If they don’t. You aren’t. Pretty much that simple.

I’m a writer. Words are my business. They have power. But the cool thing about them is they have the power we give them. Inside all this discussion on ‘mansplaining’ is someone actually trying to explain something to you and… well… so far i see an awful lot of not listening.

But that’s the thing about having power isn’t it? It’s really hard to get past the feeling that you are always losing it. (hint… you always are, and it’s not worth having anyway. Makes you paranoid and not a very good person.)

Anyway. Just thought this might be helpful.

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Harriet Tubman and Prince or Why Power is a Lie

Prince

I was a pretty lucky kid. I don’t know what grace moved me. Looking back, it seems i certainly had some because – though primarily on my own much of the time – i somehow managed to stumble into awesome. Whether it was on a walk in the woods, lost by myself, or sitting in my room with a small stack of books, action figures, a terrible little radio that played only AM stations… I was pretty lucky.

Somehow – that Grace again – i stumbled into Prince. I couldn’t say what magnetized me so much. I was a kid. I didn’t think about it. But that’s how kids are aren’t they? They live in electromagnetic fields that no one can see – not even them – but somehow when the right magic comes by you become galvanized. The experiences that will make you stick to you. You are formed by these fields. Electromagnetic invisible love. And that’s about the coolest thing there is or can be. One of those things was Prince. Bam. Just like that.

Prince was cool in ways i could only dream about. He could sing. He could move. He could play guitar. Hell… when you’re eight or ten or whatever you are pretty sure he could do whatever the hell he wanted to. If ever there was a guy who could walk out of an explosion like they do in the movies Prince would be that guy. And he wouldn’t just walk out. He would strut out – pristine and in purple with that smile on his face.

Prince was power. He was art. You listened to his music. You sang along as loud as your eight to ten year old heart could handle. You tried the moves. You had no idea if you looked like a complete idiot. You didn’t care who was looking. Because in singing along, you tapped into that power. You became Prince. And somewhere, somehow, i realized in those moments of absolute transport that this was true power. This was triumph. This was unfuckwithability. It was a superpower. You felt fire in your fingertips. It was magic.

Prince the man died today. Where does that power go? Does it snuff out? Not hardly. Not even close. That’s the thing with real power. REAL SUPERPOWER. Not the stuff of TV or politicians speeches, or guys in suits with graying hair and checkbooks. It doesn’t go out. It doesn’t even change form. It just skips along on the rest of us like lightning bolts, arcing from one to another. We might have lost the man. And that’s sad. Because there was more we could have, should have had. But the power is always in our fingertips.

I guess that’s what i’ve been thinking about today. You watch the people on TV behind their desks or podiums. You watch the speeches and the spectacle. And all of a sudden you realize that The Power that Prince gives freely is the same stuff that they grasp at, the same thing they want to embody and hold on to. They want to have the power of a song and stammer at the injustice of not having it. The stuff the courses through that shitty AM station radio is bigger, badder, and infinitely stronger than what most people think of when they think of power.

Harriet Tubman is supplanting a president of the United States on a legal tender. That’s power. That’s real. That shows us that the thing that comes to us from guys like Prince and people like Tubman is real. It may take a while. A long while. But it doesn’t go out. People can make speeches and get elected and shit and that’s fine. They can make idiotic laws about where this and that person is allowed to pee, or drink, or live, or be treated. They can live in that world but the rest of us… well… it’s not our world. Our world is dinner tables, radios, tv sets, pencils on paper, watercolors, a space just small enough to dance or sing in. Sometimes it’s all we’ve got and i’ve come to believe it’s just big enough to punch the powerful in the mouth. They want that space. They’ve always wanted it. But no one is giving it up. It’s ours. You might get our vote….

But you’ll never be Prince

Or Harriet Tubman or a Louis Armstrong solo or a Turner Painting or a Guernica or John the Revelator or Jimi Hendrix or Public Enemy. You’ll never be as strong as the pop and crackle of an old Beach Boys album on the record player. You’ll never be the wide eyed stare of a ten year old kid watching Purple Rain for the first time.

And that, my friends, is a real superpower. It gives hope. It gives life. It gives light when all other lights go out.

People are going to bitch and not get it. Personally, i think at some level everybody gets it but i’m a closet optimist. But i’ve already heard the plaintive wails of some folks who insist that the real power IS the stuff of fake princes: guys in suits with something to sell who can never afford what is actually free. They’ve invested in that version of supremacy. It’s sad. No Beatles song can cure them. They’ll stare at Guernica for hours and never see anything more than a strange horse. They’ll insist that the great deeds of great men are the stuff of real life. But they aren’t. Not really. They’re the stuff of moments trapped in the resin of history.

Don’t worry about those folks. They’ll sink below the waves of history crashing over them eventually, wailing how this shouldn’t be. But we’ll be here with Prince and the others: Lemmy, Bowie, Rickman, Harriet Tubman, Armstrong and the ones still to come.

Shelley once said “The poet is the unacknowledged legislator of the world.” So too is the musician, the painter, the author, the poet, the sculptor and the little kid sitting on the floor with his action figures listening to the sounds of glory bleating out of his AM radio. We create the heaven of possibility. In this there is all the power in the world. Enough to shake the foundations and cast down the princes.

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Dear Writers…

CastleandBeckett

CASTLE – ABC’s “Castle” stars Nathan Fillion as Richard Castle and Stana Katic as NYPD Detective Kate Beckett. (ABC/Bob D’Amico)

So, by now anyone who cares has heard the news that Stana Katic is leaving the show at the end of the season – allegedly for ‘budgetary reasons’ blah blah blah. Maybe you don’t care. Maybe, like me, you’ve already preemptively stopped watching. But this isn’t about that. Not really anyway. This is about the writers and ‘showrunners’ and such. Who are, sadly, idiots.

The news of Katic’s departure came to me from a former cop. Over at The Graveyard Shift they do this wonderful little bit of analysis of each episode of Castle from a cops perspective. As a procedural writer myself, this sort of analysis is invaluable and kind of wonderful. But they broke the news. I’m not going to lie: it was a little earthshattering.

The nice thing about Castle as opposed to regular or more serious ‘cop shows’ is that it recognizes that it is not a clinic in procedural writing. It has, in the past, embraced it’s goofiness. If there is one thing that people gravitate to Castle for it’s that, at it’s best, it’s a fan paradise with Richard Castle himself as the ultimate fanboy. See…. writers get this. Or at least most writers do. Writers – at their best – are fans. They can be fans of crime procedure, investigation technique, interrogation. They can be nerds soaking in sci fi and fantasy. They can be unabashed enthusiasts of damned near anything and everything. That’s kind of what gets us into this business to begin with.

And that’s what i want to get at here.

See… lately there seems to be these murky writing denizens creeping out from the disgusting ooze that appears to be damned near everywhere these days. It’s like some sort of tomb has been opened and the dragging shambling corpses of former writers have been pouring out to blight us all with… well… what’s the best way to put it? ‘not fun-edness’ or to put it differently, their own bilious and fairly toxic spewings of literary criticism in some noxious cloud of post freudian analysis.

Lit crit is great. Until it isn’t. And there appear to be A LOT of writers who have somehow exchanged it for actually enjoying what they’re doing.

Castle is only the most recent example. My own read on the shake up is that the new showrunners suck. That’s about it. Ever since taking over the job, all they’ve wanted to do is change the show to what they think it SHOULD be. This is the same fault the morons at DC fell into when they decided that Zack Snyder is the go to guy to helm their film future. It’s my opinion that these writers are writing for a paycheck. They don’t know nor do they particularly care about the property they’re entrusted with. In fact, they seem like bitter little shits who are all like ‘well you wouldn’t read my one brilliant book about the deviousness of sock knitters at the grand national sock knitting convention which borrows brilliantly from Neruda with flavors of Foucault and Derrida… so i’m going to ruin the things you love. And i’m going to get paid doing it. Nyah. Nyah. Nyah.’

We all know… though we hate to admit it… that hollywood is CRAMMED with these writers. They wrote a single thing, somehow got into a writing room, it sucked the life out of them and blighted their existence and they really would rather be doing just about anything else other than writing. They’ve lost the sense of ‘fun’ they had in it and they can’t WAIT to get out of there to have a mai tai on the beach with someone. (and really… who can blame them for wanting a mai tai on the beach)

I’m not saying all hollywood writers are the same. I’ve been there and i’ve met quite a few folks who are working their asses off to bust in and they LOVE writing. It just seems that some of the ones now in charge are NOT them. They’ve lost their spark. They need a good long vacation to some place… any place… that preferably doesn’t have internet and where they might be eaten by cannibals.

But the problem is that there is literally THOUSANDS of writers who absolutely love writing. They LOVE fangirling (or boying) out over things. They squee over this or that plot turn. They ship and ship HARD. And each one of them is grinding away in their own fandoms. (Also… if you think fanfic is not worthy of your review or beneath your astute consideration, you can just jump this particular ship right now. This blog is not for you) Any one of these writers would leap with both hands out over a cliff to snatch at the chance to write the next Batman movie, or work on the writing staff for Castle. We know what it is to have fun. Because it is fun.

Writing should be fun. Even when (especially when) you are actually using it for some criticism. Every time i hit the page i try and have fun. If i’m not having fun, i don’t do it. And believe me, i jam as much social criticism into the fun as i think i can get away with. Because that’s PART of the fun and it’s what makes writing important and actually… dare i say it… GOOD.

But right now we seem to have showrunners and writers who are drawing a paycheck. They’re writing to a committee of twits in a board room somewhere who don’t know and don’t care much beyond what the ad revenue is going to bring in. They’re looking for the ‘sure thing’ – like Batman vs. Superman. They need the brand to sell commercial slots. And quite honestly, i’m beginning to think these board room script supervisors have their television sets locked in a freezer somewhere and the last movie they saw had a young Bruce Willis in it.

Nerds rule. That’s the takeaway from all of this. The sooner producers, showrunners, and the sunlight-deprived writing rooms of Hollywood understand this, the more likely they are to actually make money. And i’m not talking about the tidy pile of ill gotten gains they get on opening weekend (looking at you BvS) I’m talking about all of it. Merch. A steady pool of willing writers to blow you away with their interpretations of this and that. Repeat customers.

Let’s put it this way: I saw Avengers twice in the theatre. I saw Force Awakens Twice in the theatre. I bought it immediately BEFORE it was available on DVD. We are the Ents. (also if you don’t get this reference, this blog is not for you) we have awoken and found ourselves powerful. And we’ve discovered (through the internet) that there are more of us than anyone ever thought existed anymore. We’ve drawn others in. We are growing. If you think your post structural analysis of Superman and your Postfreudian interpretation of Batman impresses us – you are dead wrong. If you think you can ‘change the dynamic’ of a show because YOU think you know better than us what the show should be, you’ll see our power in the deafening silence you receive.

We are the fans. We’re your blasted base. That’s the beauty of it. You think it’s shareholders. Well… those shareholders are likely to be mighty disappointed when you disappoint us.

So get with the program, please. Start listening. Or we’ll do what we’ve been doing which is walking away and creating our own stuff. It’s what we do. Because it’s FUN and we love it. And maybe that’s what you don’t get. Nerds LOVE things. You callously rely on that love to make a quick buck and we’re getting mighty sick of it. And it makes us want to punch you in the junk.

If you would like a few examples of what i’m talking about because you don’t know… Check out Firefly posts on facebook. Check out the new success of the fourth season of Longmire. Check out the resurrection of Star Wars. Check out just about any Marvel movie that gets released. I mean… they made a movie about a tree and a talking raccoon! AND IT MADE AN ABSOLUTE SHITLOAD OF MONEY.

Don’t make us tear down your shitty little Isengard. We’ll do it. And we’ll have fun doing it. We’ll bring marshmallows and popcorn. And you’ll be sitting there all sad like ‘but… my tower. My army of hideous shambling minions… that just got eaten by a forest… i haz a sad.’ And we shall sit there and laugh and laugh and ship you with Cruella DeVille.

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The Plot Thickens (if you add some flour)

What do you need to create a plot? That’s the big question isn’t it? Well, here’s your answer: stuff. You need stuff. That was simple. End of blog. You can go about your business now. Wait wait wait… no. That’s cheating. Sorry. Okay. Alright. Someone on the facebook page just said it’s Goal, Motivation, Conflict. Okay. I can agree with that. It’s got a good beat. You can at least shuffle like an injured zombie to it. But is that enough?

I have decreed that it is Plot week on the Nanowrimo group page. Not the official page, mind you. The big unofficial one. The facebook one. So this is mostly for those folks, should they find their way here. If you’re not from the group, though, that’s okay too. Hope you enjoy it. It’s bound to be a rambling incoherent mess.

Okay. Just to start with, i remember when i was a young lad my mom got me a book for my birthday. Not exactly a unique occurrence. But this one was really good. It was The Fiction Writers Handbook, by Hallie and Whit Burnett. I was…. probably 12. It had a section on plot and it started thusly: The king dies. Then the queen dies. Now, according to Hallie and Whit, this right here is the essence of plot. This happened, then that happened. Is the happening the result of the first thing happening? Could be. But either way, everything between those two happenings (whatever you figure out) is your plot.

So you can say Goal, Motivation, Conflict and those certainly help. But, to me, that’s more of the order of character. Your character needs the goal, the motivation, the conflict. The Plot is the media in which those ingredients thicken and become a stew. I mean…. what’s my goal? To not die a horrible flaming death at the hands of the big damned dragon. What’s my motivation? Not dying is pretty good. What’s the conflict? Those big nasty teeth and, you know, the gouts of flame that are scorching my eyebrows off. Yeah. That’s good. But how the hell did i get into the damned dragons lair anyway? What am i doing here? That’s your plot.

Plot is simple. Really. It’s the barest of all possible bones in a story. It’s like a femur or something. And all plots are fairly alike… Mystery: Find the how and the who and bring them to justice. Fantasy: Recover the MacGuffin for the good guys. Sci Fi…. could be anything. Romance: Girl and guy hook up – happily ever after or no? Lit fic: Discover the X within yourself (or don’t and live as an educating wretch) It’s all pretty simple. So why bother?

Well… that’s the BIG BIG BIG damned question. The why bother is the thing that YOU bring to the table. The why is the thing that keeps you moving forward.

So you want to tell a story about dragons. Cool. Everybody loves dragons. Why not? But why you? What is it – inside you – that causes you to want to write about dragons? Find that. It can be almost anything. It can even be ‘dude. i just think dragons are wicked cool.’ That’s fine. But what is it about them that makes them wicked cool to YOU? Let’s take superheros for example: now it’s common knowledge that the superhero is an active character battling for justice in an inactive and occasionally subverted world, right? But what made someone write them to begin with? Probably a feeling of powerlessness in the face of powerful forces that seemed insurmountable. In short. I want Captain America to kick Hitler’s ass because my big brother Jimmy is over there and i’m scared shitless i’m never going to see him again and if Cap does it, Jimmy can come home. X-Men – racially mixed teens expunged from a society that hates and fears them, battle the forces of intolerance.

See? Simple but really damned powerful motivations.

Start from the small bones. The King dies then the queen dies. Then figure out why you care and put the muscle on those bones. In all probability you will start with your own motivation – what things are YOU trying to deal with? The king dies then the queen dies. Is it grief? Are you dealing with grief? Now you might say… i just want to write a really great story with lots of derring do and heroics. Who cares about all that thinky psychologizing stuff. Thousands of books are written just to sell a quick buck. Why can’t i just write one of those. Well, you can. But believe it or not, not caring is way harder than writing something you actually give a shit about. If you give a shit, you will want to know how the story ends. You will want to overcome the obstacles you set out for your Main Character. Because they’re YOUR obstacles too.

So. move forward from the basics and put the bones together with the idea of overcoming those things you need to get past, deal with, overcome. Hell, maybe you can’t. But you can create someone who can and when you do… well that’s the whole point. That’s the writing getting to the next level. That’s giving people the chance to say ‘you know what? I read your book, and the way you got Bobby over the hump of dealing with the death of the king so that he could then go and slay the evil queen? It saved my shit. No lie. I was in a bad place and i read that and i was like ‘i can get off my ass. If little Bobby Peachtree could do it. I can.’

Now that may seem more like thematics. Which i should talk about, but i won’t right now. Ideally you’ll be building your themes concurrent with the plot. But just remember the plot starts simple. Keep it simple. Little girl finds home. Detective finds the bad guy. Good overcomes bad. Then ask questions. Ask LOTS of questions. What is the good? What is the bad? How does good overcome? What is home? Who is the bad guy? How does the detective find him? What clues are left behind? Where do they lead? Plot is a series of this/then. That happens because this happened. Chain them all together and you have your plot.

 

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Why Genre Writing Matters

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Yesterday i spent a long drive down to Burlington, Wisconsin to play a board game with some old friends. Now, by old, i mean we aren’t old. Older than we were, for sure. But time’s a funny thing. You don’t see it passing, it just does and one day you’re 40 and you haven’t seen those people you grew up with for 20 years or so, but even that time… weird though it is… evaporates as soon as you are in a basement with dice in your hand playing a board game. Just like you used to do.

But this isn’t really about that. Maybe i’ll hold that one off for later.

This is about the writer i heard on the news radio station i was listening to on the way down there. I don’t remember her name, but i can tell you she’s a shakespearean professor of english and she writes Romance. From the sound of things she makes a freaking KILLING at it too. Note – this is also not a promotional ad for all budding writers to run out and scribble some romance for the sake of riches.

Anyway, she chatted a little about the killing she was making at it and most importantly how those in her profession – her literary colleagues – were oblivious to it. They were completely unaware that her professor salary was dwarfed in the extreme by the small fortune she was raking in for writing pulpy bodice rippers. Well. Ain’t that just the shit?

I grew up with Genre writing. I didn’t know it at the time. I just thought Genre writing was called books. But i poured through The Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown. I graduated, slowly, to horror through Stephen King and then to… ahhh… this is fun… The Dragonlance Chronicles by Weis and Hickman. I was so damned envious when one of my friends scored a signed copy of Dragons of… something. I read them all. Then i soaked in Sci Fi for a while – Heinlein, Card, and then…

Neuromancer. I’ll be honest. Neuromancer broke my brain. The prose. Hell, i didn’t even really know what prose was at the time but i knew this was something different. For a while, William Gibson became my god and everything became Cyberpunk. Everything. And it was a delight. The world was complicated. Fast. Beautiful like moonlight on a heap of discarded computer parts or neon glinting on gutter junk.

Somewhere along the way, though, i stopped.

But that’s not a tragedy. There is more to the world than Genre fiction. I don’t regret for a second falling in love with Steinbeck or Hemingway or Austen or Fitzgerald. I would be an utter idiot for not falling for it. It’s beautiful, amazing stuff and it’s expanded my brain further than i think Genre fiction would have been able to. Plus, and this is really it, i burned out on Genre. It became harder and harder to find GOOD books in fantasy or Sci Fi. So much of it just seemed the same. It wasn’t the sort of hell i ever expected but it did suck.

The point of all this autobiographical blah blah is that there is still something to Genre fiction. There’s a reason so many people still read and love it and frankly, i think i got it. I got the bug again. And here it is – here’s the big secret that i think is worth telling. Shhhh… don’t let too many people know.

Genre fiction brings you hope.

There. There it is. That’s the secret.

I was watching Tomorrowland with George Clooney or as my friend and i like to call him Eyorhay Kloonay. It’s not a bad little film. Flashy. Fun. But one part stuck with me. The main character is sitting in school through a series of montages of her classes as she’s being bombarded with the negative reality of the world she lives in – war, famine, global warming, starvation, etc. Her hand is perpetually up and perpetually ignored. Finally, at the end of the montage, the teacher allows her to ask her question. What is her question?

How do we fix it?

Okay. And that’s pretty genius. Cuz here we are and the world seems like it’s falling apart around our shoulders and everything sucks and people are getting stupider and blathering bullshit everywhere we look and it gets really depressing when you see glaciers calve off and ice shelfs fall into the sea and everyone is all like ‘lalalalalalaaaaa!!! Let’s fucking PARTAY!’

But Genre fiction… It asks the question. How are you going to fix it? It ennobles the idiotic savage. How many sci-fi stories have inspired new scientists? Neil Degrasse Tyson has indicated that it’s inspired him. How many fantasy stories have made activists of kids who have gotten inculcated into the concept of evil. They WANT to be heroes. Maybe it’s not the only thing, but start them young on something… and miracles are possible.

Hell start em old. Start them whenever. In Mysteries, terrible crimes get solved in a way they so rarely do when we see all the blood splashed all over the news. In fantasy, we fight evil and we win. In sci fi we explore and face our fears of the unknown. In romance we find love in spite of terrible obstacles.

We fucking need these things. Particularly now when the world DOES seem so horrible. We need to believe in doing the right thing, being brave, exploring. The challenges are HUGE and… well.. this is just my opinion but the only damned thing that is going to save our asses against the ever-yawning void of the banality of tragic indifference is an ascendancy of imagination.

Remember that part of Lord of the Rings when Gandalf is talking about the ephemeral nature of hope? Yeah. That. Right there. How many kids read that and said: Fuck yeah. That’s going to be me some day. I’m going to stand in front of the Witch King of Angmar and though he’s going to rend me to ribbons, it’s where i need to stand. How many looked into the stars and saw themselves in a spaceship scudding among them?

Genre fiction spits in the face of the impossible. It eats it for breakfast and poops out rainbows. And hell… we can’t go wrong when it teaches us that you can stand with a dwarf and an elf and battle a freaking dragon. A. FREAKING. DRAGON. It says: yeah… i know these people are weird, different, different races that i don’t really understand but right now, these are the crew that are going to battle THAT big fricking dragon so i don’t give one god damn that one’s short and the other has pointy ears.

So, yeah. We need it. And i’m happy to write it. I want to do it as well as i know how because i WANT some kid to read it and be like ‘hell yeah. This is what justice is all about. This is what friendship is all about. This is what i’m looking to create in MY life.’

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The Art of Editing – Volume 4: Ahhhh…. just forget it.

Editing Fun

For the fourth volume of my increasingly inappropriate writing advice columns i will tell you, forget all the other volumes. There it is. End Blog Post. Drop Mic.

Fact is, i don’t have a clue. Above you will see an example of how little i know. Yeah. That’s mine. Pretty isn’t it? Colorful. Just look at all that gorgeous red. Look at the sad and isolated patches of black, hanging out and thinking ‘oh dear sweet jesus. Did you see what he just did to us? We’re safe!’ Those poor remaining words. You can almost hear them heaving in fear, crying, their little beady eyes whipping back and forth looking for the incoming red pen that has mangled so many of their peers.

Nah. It’s alright. You’re safe.

For now.

Muahahahahahaha…..

The point i’m trying to make is all of this is just a poisonous stew. All of the tips and tricks i wrote about before… there’s no rhyme or reason for it. Not really. There’s no pattern of ‘do this and then do that’. There is, when i am writing, a scorched earth policy. It sucks until it doesn’t anymore and i will swing down like zeus on a dragon and burn the life out of all the words until the paragraphs and sentences gleam a little bit. Burn away the garbage until the bits of gold are all that’s left behind.

The first draft of everything is shit.

Use the shit to fuel the furnaces of the second.

I’m working on The Stonemaiden’s Cup now. It’s the first in a new series and it’s a freaking monster. The damned thing might kill me. No really. It might. It’s heavy enough, by god, to lay enemies low with one swift stroke. But i can’t stop and it must be done so whatever ‘rules’ or guidelines i had are out the window. I’m adding stuff now. I’m moving sentences around, the other day… seriously… i restructured the entire thing. ALL OF IT. I moved chapters around. Hell… i JUST added a chapter. And in between all of that there’s the slash and burn, finding the gold, razing the village with fire and wrath.

Maybe i watched one too many episodes of Vikings.

The thing is… and this is really the thing… you have to put those sentences in order and you have to make that little bastard sing for his supper if he doesn’t want to end up on the pile of the ember colored ink, smoldering with his baked brethren. If the sentence doesn’t sing and doesn’t make the paragraph sing, kill it with fire.

Every paragraph has a purpose. That should be a Monty Python song, like ‘Every Sperm is Sacred’. But it’s not sacred. If a paragraph doesn’t have a purpose – kill it. If it sounds pretty like a little fresh songbird… well… you might be able to save it, but only if you can make it work. All that rot about ‘Kill your darlings’ well… that’s more shit advice really. It’s the pretty, quaint, neato, ‘genius’ thing writers say to classes of students to make themselves sound bespectacled and brilliant but it means nothing. Save your darlings if they are worth saving. But if you’re saving them at the expense of your story, your plot, your characters, if they don’t help the survival of the whole… let em burn.

No darling ever really dies. They rise like gold laden zombies and as a brain devouring horde of rich people they shamble forth and create your work. So don’t worry about them. They’ll rise again.

Alright. Now i’m just rambling so screw it. Get to work and light a match. You have fires to start.

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The Short Man by Joshua L Cejka

Hey!!! Someone wrote something nice about my stuff! YAY!

The Book Muse

The world of Detective Megan Brown of Minneapolis has become one that I love and look forward to reading more on with each passing book. Written by a good friend I met through an online writing group, Joshua L Cejka, the series begins with a short story entitled, The Short Man.

Synopsis: Someone is paying their parking tickets the wrong way – by offing the Parking Enforcement Officers around a small college. Minneapolis Homicide Detective Meg Brown needs to know who it is and fast – before he decides to do worse.

It’s a race against the class bell to find out who the assassin is and stop them in this short but action packed mystery/thriller, the first of the Meg Brown series of mystery shorts. If you like your mystery sleuths plucky, brainy, and witty you’ll enjoy Meg.

~*~
From page one, I was hooked. It didn’t take me…

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The Art of Editing Vol. 3 – Ground down to a tiny nubbin.

Right. Yeah. I promised a blog about editing. So here it is. Frankly, i don’t really feel like it because i have been at it all day and my eyes are about to fall out of my head. Okay… that’s a lie. I HAVE been at it all day but i have also been goofing off in a huge proportion to the actual work getting done and THEN i hit a snag.

Right now i’m in the final phase. Proofreading. So that’s something you’ll need to figure on and put in your toolbox. It’s a bit of an annoying process. Really, it’s the easiest bit of editing because by now you should have smoothed out all the really rough edges to your work and are just on the verge of publishing the bad boy and getting out of the proverbial house. It’s all grown up and mouthing off and it wants to take your keys and go to The Who concert and it considers you a huge embarrassment.

I’ve had a proofreader go through it and i’ve gone through it myself. The Proof Copy looks like it should be good and dead with all of the scars all over it. But it isn’t. It’s breathing. It’s more alive than it’s ever been actually and i am just plinking away at patching the tiny things – putting bandaids on all the cruel cuts my red pen has made.

This should go fairly quickly, but it isn’t. I’ve hit a snag. There’s a three paragraph chunk that i somehow missed in the overall close editing that needs to be radically fixed in order for things to work. This sort of sucks, as you might imagine, because i’ve already had this thing out to Createspace and i’m working from a fully formatted Proof Copy, which means i REALLY want to keep the length as close to the original document as i possibly can or risk having to redo things that i don’t want to redo.

No big deal. I’ve got this. Tighten the language a little, kill off the massive run on sentence that i missed, smooth it out.

How do i do this you might ask in stunned and appreciative amazement? Well… it’s complicated. But basically, i stare at it until it starts changing. Is that a cop out answer? Yep. It sure is. But it’s also the truth. I roll the thing around in my head for a little while, try and figure what it is i’m trying to show the reader in that moment and let the sentences and paragraph reform themselves a little to bring that out.

Like i said – the bones are there. By this stage, if you have big changes, they’ve been done. If you are proofing, the finish line is in sight and you are stretching out for it. You’re constrained by knowing there isn’t much you CAN do short of scrapping huge chunks and rewinding yourself way back to a different stage in the editing process and you probably don’t want to do that. You’re sick of your story raiding your fridge and eating all of your food. You’ve bought it a Pinto and it’s already run it into a lake.

So yeah. Just relax. You’ve got this. Stare at that paragraph and let your wise training take over. Be the ball, Danny. I don’t want to hold you in suspense but i will say it didn’t take all that long to fix the paragraphs. There was one hefty run on that had some terrific imagery in it that actually worked better if i carved it into different sentences. It was a bit like straightening the poor guys tie before prom. Then there was the next paragraph that was far too witty for it’s own good. Cut that down to size a little and rearrange here and there, snip the silly rat tail off it’s head and make sure it has a comb in it’s pocket. Now off you go.

These things might come up in proofing. It’s important not to let it get to you. If you let it get to you, that little bastard is never leaving the house, you’re cutting up it’s drivers license and sending him back to sixth grade and you definitely don’t want to do that. You’re almost done. Just make the little fixes you need to make. Remember – we’re talking bandaids and not surgery at this point as long as i feel like mixing metaphors. Which i do. Cuz it’s my blog and i’ll mix if i want to.

If you have an open wound, stitch it up and slap a bandage on and get it out the door. That’s the lesson for the day. I know it’s nothing earth shattering but it may just save you some serious heartache.

Post Script:

Today i was completely schooled on a grammatical foible i have been committing – unwittingly – since time immemorial. The terrible error of my ways has been pointed out and i shall not err again. Lesson learned. But there you go kids, the minute you think you know everything – you don’t. And that’s a good thing.

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The Art of Editing (according to me) Vol. 2 – Further Down The Rabbit Hole

IMG_0203Phew. Dang. I didn’t think that introduction was ever going to get out of the way. But now what? I’ve got em hooked. What do i do with a second act? Do i have a second act? What’s my next step? Oh God. What do i do?

Panic.

Panic should be your next step. So run off and take care of that. Chop Chop.

You think i’m kidding. I’m serious. Hanging out with a bunch of characters and a huge sprawling plot for months on end is not a ‘normal’ act in polite society. People frown on that. You are – officially – a weirdo. Which is fine. Weirdo’s make the best people. But a little panic is in order. You should celebrate. You should freak out a little. You should lose your mind a lot. You should wonder what comes next. You should panic. So go take care of that pronto and then come back. I’ll wait.

All right. How long did that take? Hopefully long enough because your next step in the epic that you just wrote is shoving the whole thing in a drawer for a while. Get it out of your head. Purge. You need the distance for the next step because a little distance really helps when you have to go back to it. I suggest you take up knitting or doing jigsaw puzzles or learning Swahili. Take your mind off of it and learn something new and different. Keep the brain minty fresh. You’re going to need it.

So you might ask – why? And provided you’re actually asking this WHY in relation to me suggesting you put it away for a while and think of something else, i will tell you. If your ‘Why?’ is merely general and existential i recommend Sartre or Camus. You have to get away from it is why. You have to let your brain catch up with where you are now. If you’re anything like me, that little noggin of yours has been reaching for that story in the darkest watches of the night every chance it can get it’s grubby little mitts on a spare thought. It’s like you’ve been shut in a closet with a film projector that occasionally breaks. Now is the point you come out and actually see the sun and trees and breath some air that is unadorned with the stank of mothballs.

If you were to look at it now – your story that is – you might not see anything different from what you saw yesterday. You would still be ‘In’ the story. That doesn’t help you read it and reading is what you need to do next. You need to read it just like joe schmoe on the street, if joe bothered to read anything other than the racing form.

Reading is the first act of editing.

Now when i say reading, i’m getting a little ahead of myself. Basically what i’m going to – or HOPE i’m going to – give you in the next few installments are the individual processes. What order you put them in are mostly up to you. I will not – nor CAN i say that there is ONE WAY to do this. There are only steps. Like tools. Reading is the first tool you will see in the tool box.

But there are different ways to read. So it’s a bit like a wrench. You know how there are eighty billion different types of wrenches out there.

Your first read through, in my opinion, shouldn’t be just slack jawed. After all, you already know you’re going to have to tinker with this beast. But, in my opinion, it helps if you keep your immediate goals reachable with the first read through. If you need to fix things – focus on the annoying mistakes you knew you made. Things like spelling and Your/You’re issues. This makes this step manageable and gives you a little boost to keep going. That’s important because you’re in this for the long haul. This is the first step in polishing the marble. Your story isn’t going to move and grab your readers without you committing to the process and little reachable things like that can help you – so long as you give yourself credit for them.

Give yourself credit for them. There will be innumerable opportunities to kick your own ass during the editing process and it IS going to hurt and get pretty tiring after a while. So you HAVE to remember – this is really fricking important – you MUST remember to give yourself credit. 90% of the time you are going to be your own best cheerleader. Everyone else has already gotten tired of you squirreling yourself away and not being social and unless you have a miracle angel talking cheerleading Pegacorn, you’re it.

So, Back to the reading. Read it and make those little changes. Take notes. DO NOT scribble all over your manuscript. That just diminishes your agency and gives you a consistent visual reminder of your suckitude in those moments when you least need it. I usually start with a list in a notebook – a bit like the planning period before i sat down and wrote. If i can (and lets face it – MUST) alter a sentence, that’s fine. So long as you keep the little edits reasonable. You don’t want to muck about with too much lest you start yanking on a thread that unravels the whole damned sweater.

Take notes. Make the little changes. If you have a computer program that allows you to tack on sticky notes to things, that works really well.

What sort of notes? Well… that’s really up to you. Read it for the flow first. Read to make sure the thing makes sense, that your transitions are good and that you at least have the sketch of the emotional and plot driven content you were looking for. Read CLOSELY. Read primarily for story. There will be plenty of opportunities to get nitpicky with the grammar but this isn’t one of them. Right now you just want to make sure that the structure is in place and where it isn’t, leave a note for the engineers to shore up the bulwarks. Don’t be afraid to sit and think at the end of chapters. There are times, and they aren’t rare, when i’ve written something and don’t have a clue WHY i wrote it. This is generally the step where i start to figure out why.

I generally don’t find notes like ‘this sucks’ very helpful mainly because there have been quite a few times where i come back to that note after a little while and i’m like ‘what sucks? You’re an idiot. There’s nothing wrong with that.’ Notes like ‘let loose the dialog a little here.’ or ‘find better verbs’ or ‘string this out and add tension’ seem to work much better because then you have some sort of launchpad for the next step.

Which is where the real work begins.

Make your notes specific but not so specific that you’re technically rewriting, which i will get to. And don’t forget that this is not a ‘do this first and this second’ sort of advice column thing. This is a tool box. Rewriting is the another tool i will be talking about. You may lay the wrench of reading aside on the worktable and pick up the hacksaw of rewriting and then shift back to the wrench. They don’t have to be in any particular order. All you’re looking to do is get the rough piece of wood to look a bit more like the thing you saw in the plans.

Now, finally, you have finished reading it through. I hope. You have a whole bunch of well organized notes to guide you through choosing the proper tool for the next step. But remember, before you start, take a bow. Have a sandwich. Listen to some good music and give yourself credit. You have finished the first step in editing. You are a shiny golden god. You can do this. You will do this. Because the world needs your book.

Take this step because you are about to step out of the blue and into the black.

See ya next week.

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The Art of Editing (according to me) Vol. 1

Alright. Are we all situated? Should i take attendance? Ah screw it. Sit wherever you want. This here Blog is The Art of Editing 101. I say 101 because i’m probably not qualified to teach an upper level class on the subject. But i’m going to put a few thoughts out there in a few volumes. Whether you like it or not.

So sit down. Shush. Take notes. Yell at me. Whatever you need to do. But this is important. Seriously. No really. You in the back. I see you playing Pet Rescue. Put it away.

The first thing you need to know if you are a writer, or want to be a writer, is that editing is every bit as much an art as the actual writing process is. Start thinking of it like that. Everybody thinks that it’s a grand thing living in a wonderful floaty cloud on high, plinking away at your keyboards, creating brilliant new worlds, inventing characters. I have personally met artists who believe that the products of their fingers is spun gold straight from the start.

They are liars.

No one writes spun gold. No one. Not ever. Not once. Not in the entire history of all stories ever told.

What artists do is they start to understand that editing is every bit the process of art that drafts are. Possibly more so. Do not presume that your first, second, third, fourth, eighth effort is worthy of production and publication. It’s not. No really. Its not.

No. REALLY.

You aren’t going to believe me no matter what i say, so i’ll just put this out there as coldly as i can. If you are a self pubber, or e book writer, chances are this is going to happen to you. It’s happened to me. Here’s how it goes: You write something wonderful and you think: “oh my god! I’ve got it!” and you’ll rush to press with whatever it is, dreaming of riches falling out of the sky and the accolades and adoration of your fans.

There is even a tiny chance – infinitesimally small – that you’ll actually RECEIVE those things (which is far far worse, really, than if you don’t.)

Then, many years later, you will review that thing you rushed to press and you will invariably head-desk so fricking hard Mr. Miyagi will want to take lessons from you on how to break tables with your forehead. (another tip: this is going to happen anyway, but I hope to help mitigate the damage to furniture if I can.)

I have a sneaking suspicion that there are authors among us, very popular authors, who somehow get that fantastic ego ballooned to ludicrous proportions by enigmatic success and become impervious to this effect because… well… filthy luchre is still pouring in so they can’t be that bad… but they are.

Write well. No one gives a rats ass if you have money coming out of your rectum if you still can’t carry a tune and write a sentence. In fact, you’ll be an even bigger asshole. They’ll gladly stand around with their hands out smiling at you long enough to grease their palms but at the end of the day, you’re still going to have pros call you an inveterate shmuck.

So….

Sorry for that preamble. But that’s where it’s at.

Editing is an art. This is Volume One of the things i’ve learned. Subtitled even further as The Introduction. If you are content to fumble about taking chances and hoping for the best then don’t worry. You don’t need to come back. If you WANT to get better, I can tell you the things that have helped me.

Am I a great writer with fame and fortune to spare? Nope. But I am someone who more often than not does NOT put things out into the world that I would be ashamed to stand behind. I do not claim wealth and success… yet. And I don’t want to, until I feel like i’ve earned it.

Editing is an Art. Are you sick of me saying it yet? I’m going to keep saying it. It’s a beautiful thing in itself.

Take a picture. Go outside right now and snap a shot of any random thing. ANYTHING. Seriously. I’ll wait.

Got it? Now take a look at that picture. Is it art? No. It’s probably a shot of your cat, or maybe a shot of your car. Or the nearest snow bank. That’s fine. You aren’t a photographer. And I JUST asked you to take a shot of any random thing. But what’s the big difference between you and a professional photographer? A professional photographer would have set his composition. He would have framed it. He would probably have gone into some program and tweaked it. He might have cropped it, adjusted colors. If he was old school he would have used chemicals to do this and that mysterious alchemical thing we whisper about – photographic process. He might have used a different camera or a different film. He did all of this because he KNOWS how.

How does he know how to do this you ask?

Because he has screwed it all up before. Editing is the process by which you hone your talent. The more you edit, the better you are at drafting and setting up the originals, the less things there are to edit the next time.

It’s the art of getting yourself closer to what it is you want of your art. You had the idea, you know what you want to say, you know how you WANT your reader to feel. Now you must craft and hone and tinker and process and alter the color and get the notes right until that IS what they get.

Or die trying.

And don’t get me wrong… it might kill you.

End of The Introduction.

Coming Soon – Volume Two – The Basics.

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