Posts Tagged With: crime writing

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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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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Oh The Things You Don’t Know

I’m finally getting to the point where i’m ready to publish Meg Brown Mysteries #6 – Meg Beats Cancer. Finally. It’s taken ages – like a full year since i wrote the last word. Which is just ridiculous. You might ask ‘why did it take so freaking long?’ Well… I can tell you. It’s not the things you don’t know that will mess you up. It’s the things you don’t even know you don’t know. Things like cover design, page layout, formatting. E publishing is a piece of cake compared to getting something ready for Print on Demand.

I did the cover myself. It wasn’t bad. I liked it. Everything was in its place and everything had a point and it wasn’t easy. As the story begins, and leads up to one epic fight in a very literal sense, i figured the background should convey that. It’s not easy making your type face into something that looks like blood stains and spatter. Nor is it easy making a blank background with wreckage and cracks. It was a good cover. It is a good cover. It has meaning and flows with the story.

But that isn’t the hard part. The hard part was putting it together. I do not have a publishing program, nor do i particularly have the skills to use such a program if i had one. Given certain events, which i will not address here to protect the innocent and the awesome (neither of which is me, sadly) I did something i generally don’t do. I asked for help.

‘Why don’t i ask for help more often?’, you may say. Well… it’s complicated, but the long and short of it is i have found that help is often LONG in coming – as in REALLY long – as in many times i ask and get a promise of help and then wait… and wait…. AND wait. And then wait longer. And then do some more waiting. And finally resign myself to never hearing from my ‘helper’ again. This is why i tend to keep things in house. Not to mention, sometimes the help isn’t terrifically helpful. Sometimes it’s actually antagonistic. Most of the time it takes the form of ‘yeah… i remember i said i would help, but dude… i’m eating pizza right now and Survivor just started.’ Correction, most of the time ‘Help’ takes the form of complete radio silence.

It’s enough to make a guy get a little bitter.

It’s enough to make you learn your lesson not to ask for help.

I hate being disappointed with people. I like to like people. Consequently, i try to give myself as few opportunities as possible to be disappointed in them.

Anyway. now that really sounds gripey. The point is, i didn’t go to my friends. Well… i did… and got disappointed. So i went to a professional with the pieces of the cover. She did a terrific job. The cover got finished. But here’s where the ‘didn’t know what i didn’t know’ part comes in. The SPINE of the book. It seems obvious in retrospect that the thing keeping all the pages together would be variable in size and you would need to figure it out somehow. There is a calculation to be made. This calculation is itself dependent on the trim size of the book. (basically the size of the book… trim size is one of those publishy terms that tell you the dimensions. i don’t know why they don’t just say… y’know ‘dimension’.)

So i fixed the ‘dimensions’ in the master file of the book. I looked at it. It didn’t look like a book. It looked like pages of some epic poem. The problem was the margins. In a real book, the margins have to be offset – basically alternating off center because of the space at the edge where one page curves into the binding. Right? Makes sense. Well… i didn’t know that. And i had no idea how to format that in a document so that it worked out. Luckily, Createspace has a handy dandy little template you can use. After a little rejiggering and a huge cut and paste, i managed to get it straightened out, got a NEW page count, had my cover designer recalculate the pixel size of the spine, redid the spine (at the end of the day i redrew the spine 5 times) and i am finally, almost, off to the races.

If you’re wondering who my cover designer is because you’re looking for one, it’s Kat Mellon. She does great work. If you’re not inclined to take my route and do it yourself, i highly recommend her. She’s excellent.

Anyway. It’s done. There’s more, of course. The book is nearly ready. It will be ready probably this weekend. The cover is done. And that’s about all i’m going to say about it.

The point of this blog is, there are ALWAYS things you don’t know that you don’t know somewhere out there waiting for you. Chances are pretty good that you’re going to sink knee deep in them at some point. They can be simple things that you just had no idea about and learning about them can be a grand experience, expanding your awareness. On the other hand there are the things that sap your strength, your will, your faith. There are things that clutch at your heart and snatch away the hope and joy you had if you let it. Trust yourself, gird yourself, take a deep breath. Do the best you can. And don’t give helpers the opportunity to disappoint you. If you can, and have the money (which i do not) hire the services of a professional and turn your book over to them to do all that stuff. It’s generally not worth the headache.

If you CHOOSE to follow my route – or are equally poor – well… that’s why i wrote this. So that you have a little foreknowledge of some of the things you do not yet know.

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Have Pen, Will Sing: Karaoke for the writing soul.

keep-calm-and-karaoke-4-1The fact is writers, when traveling, should karaoke. Why? Cuz. Reasons. Let’s face it – most of the time, you barricade yourself behind a computer. You hammer out stories and words and thoughts and all that stuff and that’s terrific and all but you probably need to loosen up around people. Maybe just a little, maybe just a lot.

So what do you do, hotshot? Yeah. You with all your pretty words. Here’s what you do. You get out there while you are traveling. And Karaoke in an unfamiliar city is the perfect opportunity for this. Why? Because, there’s a good chance you may never see these people again which nicely mitigates the risk of complete embarrassment.

And you will, most likely, be completely embarrassed. It’s okay. That’s completely built into the matrix of Karaoke. Let’s face it, you could use it. You think too much of yourself already. You’ve got a chip on your shoulder. You need to take yourself down a peg.

So this is one moment in the life of the traveling writer where you can leave your notebook at home, grab a vodka cranberry (or four) and screw up the courage to put yourself on stage to belt out (as best as you can) the lyrics to Celine Dion. Or something.

But here’s a little tip: If you want to go whole hog on the knocking yourself down a peg (and want a fairly cheap, but well worth it show) try Karaoke in LA. Yes. Home of every up and coming or want to be up and coming star. They do things pretty seriously fun out there and the show you’re about to see is worth some writing fodder.

In my case, we went to a place for my birthday. A friend suggested it as I was incapable of coming up with an idea for something to do and they already knew i loved Karaoke. It was, well…. it was something else. I was expecting the usual ego massaging sort of thing where everyone is of a similar talent level (ie – None) but this definitely isn’t the case. There were people there who could flat-out wail. There were those who couldn’t carry a tune. There was a guy and his friend who danced out ALL of Kevin Bacon’s dance routine in footloose while someone sang it. There was the girl who timidly climbed the stage to sing Whitney Houston and then nailed it so hard I actually LIKED Whitney Houston for five minutes. Yeah. And I had to follow her on stage with my weak rendition of Johnny Cash’s Big River.

Intimidating? Yes. Totally worth it? Absolutely.

So what does this have to do with writing? Well… as you’ve probably gathered from many of my other posts, everything has to do with writing. And once again, it’s a great place for character. We writers are introverts by nature. And that’s okay. But while traveling, it’s critical to get out there and meet and do things a little outside of your comfort zone. If you don’t, as i mentioned before, you’ll most likely end up sitting in your hotel room tapping away on something. This is fine. You should do that. But not that ALL the time, and you need to smash down your own barriers. Karaoke is a fairly efficient method for doing that. Let the song flow through you. Be it’s conduit.

I don’t care that you sing like a tortured moose. Do it anyway. The guy who actually SANG the footloose tune that the other guys were dancing to? Yeah. Awful. But he did it anyway. It brought him joy and happiness and it will to you to. It doesn’t matter if you wail like you just stubbed your toe on a porcupine. The most important thing is just showing up.

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Have Pen Will Travel pt. 2 –

venice2Yeah. I’m back. I know it’s been a while but you know how it goes. Life stuff. No time. Writing a novel. All that stuff. But now I’m here and you all missed me, right? RIGHT?

For starters, lets talk a little about where to stay on this trip of yours. As a writer, what you really need is to get out from under the protective shell of a comfy hotel room. I mean, let’s be honest here, what are you going to do in a hotel room? Watch TV probably. Are you going to learn anything about your foreign surroundings like that? Probably not. Most likely, you’ll sit in your room soaking in the wonderful, lovely king sized bed.

Don’t do this. Your best bet, as a writer, is to find a friend and hopefully crash at their place for a day or two. Couch surf if you can. I stayed most of the week at the wonderful little pad of my friend who was gracious enough to attempt putting up an air mattress for me – which collapsed under me as i tried to sleep. Twice. But luckily her couch is wonderful, so it was an easy switch.

‘Why couch surf?’ you might say. ‘Isn’t this supposed to be a vacation? Aren’t i imposing on them?” Yes. Yes. and yes. I do and did feel like i was imposing a great deal. Hopefully you can ameliorate these feelings by providing a gift or buying them a few meals etc. What you get out of it though is catching up on old friends, which can be wonderful, plus an introduction on the town you now find yourself in.

I had no sooner dropped my bags in her house and we were out the door. I was on a mission to buy myself a new hat at the Venice Hat Shop. They’d served me very well in the past and for my birthday i was going to select a new hat for myself. This didn’t go all that well to be quite honest. Which just goes to show you, dear writer, that the best laid plans and all that. I still have the hat and it isn’t bad it’s just noisy. Why is a hat noisy? I don’t understand it. But it is.

Anyway, Right after that we wandered all the way down the Venice Boardwalk on a saturday. If you have never done this, there is simply no better place that I know of for people watching. And it was CRAMMED with people. A bit like going to a foreign bazaar, really. It was just an ongoing flood of people that i, a little trout, had to swim against and weave through. If you get a chance of walking the boardwalk on a warm day in the summer, do so at a leisurely pace so you can take it all in – the sand, the people, the strange little shops, the feel of the ocean, the breeze…

Venice Boardwalk is practically legendary. You see it in commercials, in shows, in movies. You’ve probably heard about it. But nothing quite prepares you for it – the folks skating up on roller blades with handfuls of CD’s that they’re trying to sell, the street shops – little stands selling art or selling the privilege of photographing sand sculptures, the guys in surgical scrubs advertising a medical marijuana shop. I gather the weirdness factor has become a little commercialized over the years hence the new Venice slogan (sadly not very unique and possibly pilfered from Austin): “Keep Venice Weird.” But if you’re from one of those sad sections of America (or elsewhere) where ‘weirdness’ is still something to be met with an inquisition you’ll find the place a great big gasp of interestingly flavored air.

But the real trick to being a writer in Venice is having a seat. Pull up a chair at one of the many boardwalk bars or restaurants – there are some good ones – and just enjoy the flow of people. Get a drink. I’d recommend the Venice Ale House – which is closer to the dividing line between Venice and Santa Monica. It’s a little small and their turnover is rapid – meaning you may not get the chance to hang out that long, not that they’ll actually kick you out, but you might get the impression that you should push on before long. If you want to sit for a while, though, take yourself to the Sidewalk Cafe – tons of outside seating. More like a warehouse for thirsty people, actually, but a warehouse with some excellent architecture and a location that can’t be beat. It’s just huge. If you’re so inclined, make a day of it and do both. Take the Ale House for breakfast and chill at the Cafe afternoon. If you do it on a weekday it shouldn’t be so incredibly, mind-oversaturatingly busy.

As a writer you could spend hours there and you probably should. There are quite a few wonderful little beachfront bars and restaurants to choose from to plop your shit and just soak it all in.

But we did none of that. We were on a mission, a birthday mission. And this time it wasn’t mine.

After a good LONG while walking at top speed through the crush we hung a left and headed straight on some main street. This is the other reason to stay at a friend’s place – particularly some place like LA – they know how to get places. Left to your own devices, you’re apt to get lost. Or wander aimlessly into some unsavory places – which you should probably do as well but more on that in another post.

But here’s the REAL reason you want to hang with friends as a writer. Introductions. We finally got to where we were going after a long walk in a direction I could only really define as Left. Left from the beach. Which means east- ish? Sure. That sounds good. Anyway, it was a bar. A very crowded, packed bar. Why? Because they were having a birthday for someone I hadn’t met. No problem, with the help of my friend and a few quick introductions I ended up having several lengthy conversations with total strangers who very rapidly became not strangers at all.

Which brings me to the next bit about Travel as a Writer. You really have to make the attempt to open yourself up in ways you never thought to do before. I know – easier said than done right? But seriously. The thing that worked for me – and it’s going to sound really obnoxiously trite – is thinking ‘these are just friends I haven’t met yet.’ I know. Groan. But it worked. Whatever you have to do to get yourself to the point of being open and personable. Relax. If the worst comes to worst you can always tell yourself ‘these are also people I’m never likely to see again.’ Think of yourself as a bit of a journalist, though not so annoying and probing.

And if none of that shit works just relax. You’re on vacation. Chances are, if you really open yourself up you will meet some wonderful people. I met a lady, the wife of one of my friend’s friends, who was about as inclined to be crushed into a drinking mob of strangers as i was. It’s funny how you’ll do things for a birthday you’d be less inclined to do otherwise. But there we are. We had a nice long conversation about stuff in general and it was really relaxing and fantastic. I explained my burgeoning theory about LA that, in spite of appearances to the contrary and general conventional wisdom, LA is the national capital for Introverts. I know. You’re probably thinking i’ve gone completely nuts now. And i might be. I would need a much longer time to explore this theory, but there it is. And i think i’ll leave you with that for now. The theory itself might be better served in another blog post.

Hey… i’ve got to keep you coming back for some reason right?

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Intelligence – Is Lacking (a review with spoilers… PLEASE READ THE SPOILERS SO YOU DON’T FEEL OBLIGATED TO WATCH IT!)

Intelligence

Well that was an easy title wasn’t it? Pretty much says it all right there. Peace out Blog readers! *drops mic*

But seriously. I watched this epic piece of garbage last night in my ongoing quest to watch crap TV shows so you don’t have to and let me tell you… it’s a doozy. Let’s start with the basics, shall we? Bear with me. This might take a while…

Intelligence is about a guy who ends up being a high value intelligence operative because someone put a computer chip in his head that allows him to access all sorts of top-secret classified stuff. Sound familiar? Yeah… it did to me too…

Chuck

 

But where Chuck set up its characters right off the bat and had their flaws built-in from the get go Intelligence shows the lie to its name by dropping cookie cutter perfection into the plot. Josh Holloway’s Gabriel doesn’t JUST have a computer in his head. He is a Tier One Former Delta Force operator. And he looks like he just stepped out of an underwear ad. Oh and he’s snarky. What’s his starting character flaw? Something happened to his WIFE! GASP! zzzzzzzzz…. but otherwise the only thing missing about this guy is an animated sparkle to his teeth.

Then we have Megan Ory as Riley Neal. Easy on the eyes. WAY TOO EASY ON THE EYES. Yvonne Strahovsky in Chuck provided the cute… nay beautiful… fantasy to the charming fable whereas Megan is apparently here to be the butt of Gabriel’s dismally ineffective wit. And what sort of a name is Riley Neal anyway? Which committee of power suits concocted that? Where is the percentile table they rolled it up on? I mean COME ON. Who would come up with something like that? It’s tailor built for Megan’s tough, pretty demeanor. It’s like they had the name and poured Megan Ory into it and golly gee willickers, focus group, she fits! Ostensibly her ‘role’ in this travesty of drama is to protect Gabriel because she is a Secret Service agent Specially Trained For Protecting People and SHE has been selected because of her capacity of dealing with ‘difficult’ people. Oh and she’s amazing at her job too… so amazing that she was stabbed four times while protecting the president’s kids and STILL got them to ballet practice on time (an actual line – i’m not kidding). Because apparently she had to do it entirely herself as the Secret Service couldn’t afford back-up that day. Budget cuts you know. Damn that sequester.

In spite of that Ory is the most watchable part of the show. The kid’s got something. I can’t quite put my finger on it but there is something about her that’s waiting in this character. It’s like she believes that this dog of a plot could get better if they threw out the idiot bums who were bong hitting while writing it and is just waiting for that to happen. On the down side though, in terms of last nights ‘plot’ they completely blew it in spectacularly stupid fashion. Not only does she fail to protect her target but ends up being ‘saved’ by him not once, not twice, but THREE FREAKING TIMES during the course of one hour long episode. Way to go Secret Service! Way to go writing team for not just dipping your toe in the waters of feminine stereotypes but jumping in with both feet, wallowing, swimming in it and then drinking the whole pool of it like it was an oasis in the desert.

Finally there is Marg Helgenberger as Lillian Strand. Lillian is essentially the same character Marg played on CSI so… yeah. Just go watch that show. It’s better than this one and she’s better in it. Which should tell you all you need to know if you’ve read my thoughts on the cretinously godawful CSI.

Next let’s go to the plot… Lets not. Someone kidnaps someone…. there are bad guys… they want the chip… you’ve seen it done better on Chuck. Let’s just skip to the end in which the bad guys are predictably vanquished. (with the help of a Chinese Intelligence asset standing in for the Deus Ex Machina in the episode)

So the bad guys are vanquished. Riley Neal karate chops the traitor in their midst in the throat and he goes unconscious. They capture the renegade Chinese agent that kidnapped the scientist. They are all in the same building at this time. They exchange bad Chinese renegade guy to swap for information on Gabriel’s wife (gasp! Snooze) and then we see the evil traitor guy shifting on the couch as the Chinese gal they implanted with a NEW chip wakes up… They are apparently NOT captured…. even though they were in the same building at the time and the last scene we saw them in they were both unconscious. Seriously writers? I mean come on. Honestly… My cats can write better than that. Did you not have this read by your friends? Did you fire your continuity editor due to budget cuts? (damned sequester) or did you rush this crap project to the green light so that you didn’t miss out on the big pile of cash you had coming? No one i know would have made this kind of mistake. NO ONE! People i know who don’t even WRITE wouldn’t make this kind of mistake. People i know who don’t even READ wouldn’t make this mistake.

All in all Intelligence is one of the most hackneyed, simplistic, idiotic, stumbling, shitty endeavors produced for the small screen since last years Golden Boy (you can read my review of that hunk of frozen dog shit here) Don’t bother. Tell your friends not to bother. Write to the studios to tell them to send the writers back to grade school so they can learn the basic fundamentals of plot continuity. Tell them it is not okay to hire twelve year olds to write produced scripts. Tell them it isn’t okay to rush something into production so they don’t miss out on the stack of cash. Tell them… just tell them… in a universe in which they are competing with Game of Thrones, Justified and any number of professionally written shows this just smacks of disgusting laziness.

Here’s the Executive Producer: Michael Seitzman

And the show is on CBS on mondays if you really want to torture your eyeballs and your writing soul. I don’t recommend it. In fact…. kill it with fire. Purge it from the memory. Or read a book.

 

 

 

Categories: Mystery, Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Second Week Blues – Continuing Tales of the Ravaging NaNo.

PandaGood morning, NaNos. I’m sure by now you’ve collided with that invisible barrier – the two-week blues. You’ve been watching the unbelievable progress of your fellow nanos with a mixture of Hulk Rage and Sad Panda. By now you’ve had some time to get into the middle of your plot and realized it’s all mucky and full of weeds and you’re wondering why the hell I ever bothered with this stupid NaNo stuff. This is usually the point in your november when all seems lost. If you had a fainting couch you would throw yourself dramatically upon it at least once a day. Your hair is getting thin. Your characters suck and they hate you. And why can’t I write an action sequence has crept up and strangled you with its cold icy fingers.

Don’t despair, brave NaNos. It’s only week two. This is the hard part. The rest is easy.

Okay. That’s a lie. But this is the hard part. This is EXACTLY the reason you are doing NaNo.

Here’s the little secret about this giddy madness you’ve engaged in. It isn’t REALLY about writing a novel. It’s about getting over those internal hold ups in you that don’t let you finish your novel. It’s about persistence and grinding away. It’s about the reward of just winning. Sure it’s fun to have a brilliant novel that just rollicks off all over the place like a mining cart full of kittens playing big band music while it hurtles down the rollercoaster track ala Temple of Doom. But that’s not what writing is all about. It’s about work. And a mining cart full of kittens. It’s both. But it’s about getting through those moments and winning in spite of that little niggling voice telling you you can’t and that your ideas are all stupid.

So you’re in the two-week blues. Everybody gets them. Hell, I even got them recently after realizing that my characters have all spent more time in restaurants chatting about the case than actually DOING anything. So I skipped all that stuff and started working on a different part of the story. It is a part, I might add, that I didn’t even know WAS a part until I got desperate and tossed in a guy with a gun. Why? Why not? Voila! Unstuckitude. I know, I know. You want to take yourself seriously and preserve the integrity of your work. You feel the need to keep your plot cohesive. Giant lizards stomping on your city or playing parcheesi with each other while using buildings as seats and a table doesn’t really enter in to your concept for your story. You think i’m just being silly. But the thing is – it isn’t silly if it works. If it gets you putting words on the page – and most importantly – if it gets you to STOP TAKING YOURSELF SO BLASTED SERIOUSLY.

Look, YOU opened the door to the world of imagination. You’ve looked out upon its landscape and took the first steps. You may have laid out your story like a nice yellow brick road and are determined to walk it but just look out on that lovely grass. Look around. Do you have your tourist flyer for the land of imagination? THROW IT OUT! Get off the path. Take a hike. Get lost. Just down the hill over there are some alligators in top hats. What are they doing? You tell me. What kind of trees are those over in that misty valley – the ones with the purple on top that those weird birds keep fluttering around in singing old Morrissey tunes?

NaNo is for you. It’s not about creating an everlasting masterpiece of unbelievable brilliance. It’s about showing yourself that you can win a freaking marathon with your MIND. And it’s about learning how to play again – or maybe for the first time, maybe showing you just how brilliant the imagination can become when blended with the adult in you. Maybe it’s a boot camp for learning to think outside the box. Or maybe it’s the great awful dungeon from which you must escape but you’re the one that writes that story. No one can write it for you.

So what are you going to do, Panda? Are you going to pine at the iron bars of “i’m too far behind so why bother?” Are you going to stare at that massive wall of “My plot is totally boring so why should i keep going because i suck”? Or are you going to invent a troupe of freaking Ninjas to help you scale it? Will you find the bar-bending hulk roaming through your own dungeon? Will you help yourself release your own imagination from the trap of every day. Will YOU win the marathon – dragging yourself across the finish line in a heaving gasp but with a grin wide enough to swallow a bus?

It’s your call, writer.

 

Categories: Fiction, Mystery, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

It’s Here! It’s Here! The NaNo has arrived – Week One

For a few weeks now I’ve been building up to this NaNo thing, right? Telling you all about my prep or lack thereof – in lurid and exaggerated detail and all that stuff. I’m sure it was very amusing and stuff. But all that fun aside it is now upon us. Bam. Just like that. Did i panic? Did i lose my marbles and go screaming into the night? Did I hide under the covers? Nay! I did not. I stood tall and proud and joined the fray like a true damned hero.

Okay. So I may have peed my pants just a little.

NaNo launched at Midnight last thursday. If you were up at that hour you probably felt the furious tapping of hundreds of thousands of keyboards all over the world. It probably sounded like a herd of pygmy goats. I was up. One of those little tappings was my own. Mine. My precious. I did 2000 words that first night which is off to a pretty nifty start if i do say so myself. And yes i did panic just a wee bit in the small hours before kickoff. I got that little nervous jitter in my chest that niggled at me and filled me with self-doubt. But then it started and it was all like “you got this?” and the steely eyed missile man inside glared down and said in his best Clint Eastwood impression: “Yeah. I got this.”Clint

Three days later and I’ve crested the 10,000 mark and things are still going strong. I think. Honestly, I wouldn’t know as I’m terrified of looking back at what I’ve already written. It feels like its working pretty well but almost immediately something popped up in the story that I didn’t expect: Meg sorta fell for the Los Angeles Cop she met in the opening chapter. It had been in my mind that that might happen, but I figured ‘it’s Meg, we’re talking about. The chances of that are fairly slim.’ and then it happened. That’s characters for you. You never can quite tell what they’re going to do until they do it and Meg is particularly that way. I love her a lot but it’s a ride writing her. Most of the time i just feel like I’m following along.

And once again I’m struck with what a weird magical mystery writing is and that’s what NaNo is really all about in my opinion. If there is one thing I want all NaNo participants to find it’s that word count doesn’t matter. Yeah, it’s great to have goals. It’s a moment of great joy when you hit that 50,000 and kick on the Queen and go strutting around your minuscule monastic cell but that’s secondary to all the moments in between. LIke everything else in life the journey is the destination. Don’t forget the little things. Like when you’re just writing along, grinding away and suddenly the giant puzzle pieces drop out of the sky and fill the landscape and you have that first gasp that everything might actually work out. Or that moment when you suddenly see your scene so well that you can hear the seagulls in the air and feel the breeze. You might not be able to write it but you know it and you know it’s there when you need it.

Those are the great moments. That’s why this is a blast and why NaNo is so cool. Not everyone is going to have those moments. You can’t engineer or create them. They just happen. You can read every pro writer tip out there and soak in hundreds of hours worth of boring lectures and never have that moment. But then one day you’ll be writing along – maybe in the middle of a word sprint and BAM! Like you just ran into something with your face and liked it.

I’ve been hearing an awful lot lately about how hard writing is and how you need to respect it and how it’s hard work and it will twist you into knots and no true writer can say they are a true writer until they learn to hate it just a little. Personally I think that’s bullshit. You’ve caught someone trying to make themselves sound more respectable because ‘who doesn’t hate their job a little every now and then? I’d be an asshole if I said the truth – that this is the only damned thing I have ever wanted to do and when it’s working its like angels singing.’ Are there rough times? Sure. But whatever.

Let’s put it this way: I remember the playgrounds of my youth. I remember transforming a pile of old tires into a tank, or a horse out on the open plain, the swings were like flying, that weird collection of splintery beams and chains was a pirate ship, or the back of a dragon. I remember nothing being what it was. Everything changed dramatically with the power of invention and imagination. Writing is the playground. A piece of paper or a blank screen turning into forests, space dragons, the Santa Monica Pier, the bridge of a starship. It’s the place where your own personal memory meets the kid in the adult – your imagination makes alchemy happen and it’s magic. But in order to let that magic happen, in order for NaNo to really live up to its full potential – you need to get that ego out of the way and just learn to surf the resurgent wave that is that resurrected little kid fighting it’s way back into the adult.

Anyway. That’s Day three of Nano. Now i’m heading back at it. Rig and Meg are about to interview an elderly criminal. This is going to be fun.

Post Script – Last week i wrote a teleplay involving Castle working through NaNo while trying to solve a case. As soon as i figure out a way to share it here i will. In the mean time, drop a line and ask about it or share ideas on how i might be able to share it. Cuz i’ve got nothing.

 

 

 

Categories: Meg Brown Mysteries, Mystery, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Calm Before The Storm – Nano Prep pt. 3

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Listen. Shhhh….

Do you hear that? The Quiet? It’s eerie isn’t it? The cold wind whistles. A crow cries in the distance. A tumbleweed blows by carrying the poems of dashed dreams tied in its desiccated branches. Quiet. Deadly quiet.

I have no pictures of Scapple to share today. No images of the Scrivener set up. My eyes are scanning the distant horizon for that hazy lurking figure. I’m crouched in my trenches. Waiting, Taking deep breaths, hauling in gallons of coffee and dried meat. I’ve got a little fire burning to keep the chill off but there’s a chill buried deeper in my bones that I can’t shake. Will I make it or will that thing stomp me to dust. There’s nothing to do but wait.

Which, of course, isn’t true at all. There’s a ton of shit to do. You’ve got to wave a fond farewell to friends and family. You’ve got to make sure the barricades are well stocked. You’ve got to check your prep again and, seeing as there is still a week to go, you can still prep a lot more. Me? I’m just chilling for now. Tomorrow I do a bit more prep, check the fence and the razor wire but I’m feeling pretty good about my chances because I finished the novel I was working on last week. It’s these little bits of confidence builders that boost the energy for the long haul. Do more of these throughout the year and you’ll be fine. Today I worked on a ton of editing for the other work in progress. Ain’t no moss growing on this rolling stone.

NaNo is just a month of writing, folks. I’ve been going on about what a noble battle it is but the truth is that it’s like Christmas for writers. We throw caution to the wind and dive in feet first. It is the time to be mad. It’s the time for a literary bacchanalia. In the last month I’ve chatted with pantsers who haven’t a clue what they’re going to do. I’ve talked with plotters who have their whole thing laid out to the very last detail. And every variety of literary lunatic in between – some are planning on doing the whole 50,000 in 24 hours, other’s are planning 2 novels of 50,000 and still others are hoping to work through 5 short stories of 10,000 each. It doesn’t matter how you get there. Just get there. Join the party. Throw caution to the wind. Don’t panic. And whatever you do – don’t worry. This isn’t really an epic battle unless it’s an epic battle with yourself and your own torpor or your own resurgent wishes and desires.

Burning Man Car

NaNo is the festival. It’s the burning man of writing. Come one come all. Put that lampshade on your head and sing sea shanty’s. Dress up like a pirate while you work. And if you find yourself stuck, frustrated, confused, or reaching the end of your rope with whatever you’re working on, take a deep breath and find some way to make it FUN. Has the plot gone completely off the rails? Throw in a gang of super intelligent baboons. Is you’re MC pissing you off with his insufferable judgements about people and things? Stomp him to death with Godzilla. Murder him with a troupe of Bulgarian clowns. Why? Because you CAN! Don’t take it seriously if it doesn’t help you. Don’t set unrealistic goals. Don’t think for a second that you will be writing the next nobel prize-winning novel in 30 days of literary abandon. If you do you’re going to miss out while the rest of us are holding hands in the back yard singing sea shanty’s around the burning pyre of our ambition.

Just write.

Be free and howl at the moon. For 50,000 words you can purchase your freedom from everything. That’s all it takes. 50,000. And really that’s nothing. 1700 a day. You can do that in your sleep. Now I sound like a late night advertisement, but seriously. Or not. It’s true. Oh the places you’ll go – moons to visit, space dragons, faeries with a penchant for playing marbles in the back alleys of Manhattan. Freedom. For just 1700 words a day. burningman Car

But you, dear quivering hopeful writer, must make the choice. Are you going to let that poor shriveled thing inside you starve or are you going to give it one hours worth of sustenance a day? That’s all it takes and you too can have your very own set of banjo minnows, or a new moon, or a fleet of interstellar battleships screaming their way to certain doom.

Save yourself, write a book.

Give in to the howling quiet in your brain. Let it feed you. Be a great god and join us  – the weary and the willing – in one more years worth of the valiant stand against the gloom of all there is. Prepare (or don’t. It makes no bother with me) for we – in one week – shall sally forth and do something pretty damned awesome.

(All purchases of soul freedom are non-refundable. Offer not valid on some systems. Please check with your doctor if Soul Freedom is right for you. May cause bouts of giddiness and in some patients, moments of quiet rage, depression, goofiness, insanity, hysteria. Rare side effects include publication and possible fame and fortune)

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