Posts Tagged With: Writing Fiction

An Experiment in Self Publishing… pt… whatever

Cuhlyn Cover

So I’m trying something newish… I’ve recently wrote and published a little story about a Barbarian fighting off an evil horde to try and protect his family. It’s DEFINITELY not my usual fare but i figured, why not? You write these things when they show up. That’s pretty much all there is to it. When the muse comes a-knocking you don’t tell her to bugger off and chat up the dude down the street who DOES, in fact, write fantasy. Sorry, Muse. You got the wrong door this time. You want to try 13b.

Anyway… if you’ve stumbled your way back here for whatever reason i just want to hep you to the groovy (albeit rather blood-drenched) little story i am trying out on Payhip. Why should you? Ehn. No reason really. Except – Science! Yes. This is an experiment. I haven’t used Payhip before. It seems like a pretty nifty little service. They only take 5% (which is a lot better than Amazon), you can set your own prices and ‘liking’ or ‘sharing’ can provide a discount off the price. Sounds like a pretty simple solution huh? Yeah. Deceptively simple. This is why i’m giving it a shot. And this is why it’s a story about a Barbarian and not one of the other projects i’m a little more invested in.

That said, if readers like it i’m sure i can offer up more of it when it strikes me. It was fun to write. Hope you don’t mind the rather stilted style of it though. It was a bit weird. I honestly can’t remember putting that much violence in something since… well.. probably ever. That includes having the victim of Meg #5 found with a Candy Cane lodged in his eyeball.

Also… if you do read it – be a little more gentle than it’s titular character. I did the cover art myself and i know it isn’t all that grand. Just close your eyes and remember – this is for science!

https://payhip.com/b/4Snz

Categories: Fiction, 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)

Categories: Mystery, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Plot Thinkens – NaNo Prep pt 2

santa_monica_pier

 

Let’s make this quick shall we? I’ve been at this damned computer ALL DAY again. That’s what unemployment will do to you. But you stay busy and that’s what I’ve been doing. Staying busy. Actually, way too busy. I have no idea how I accomplished anything when I actually had a job to be honest. I mean, srsly folks – I’ve been working harder in the last month than I think I ever have in my life. At anything. And let me tell you something else. It feels GREAT!

Anyway. Last week you saw the beginnings of the panic of the impending NaNo. I managed to calm myself down and look into its steely cold dead eyes and give it what’s for but you will recall that there still wasn’t much. It was a wing and a prayer at best. Better than a broken wing and a tattered couple of letters that once belonged to a prayer but still. Well this week we’re building up steam. We’re filling the ditches of the entrenchments with poisonous snakes (dangerous to handle – don’t try that at home) We’re mounding up the vicious snowballs for our defense.

If you recall, when we left off last week the anti NaNo defense looked a bit like this: MB7 scapple pic

Pretty fricking sad. But it was something. Scapple is my new friend. I took that little sad-looking blankness and thought to my self ‘self, how the hell are we going to make a go of that map of horrors. It’s truly awful and if I go into a scrap with that ‘ol NaNo will breathe fire and brimstone straight down my throat.’ Well… Self answered. Self thought long and hard about that and stared like the gray-bearded general he is and came up with this: MB7 Scap1

It’s better but it’s still not great. The thing is Scapple lets you see and ponder your elements in a zen way that makes things pop. You know you need to connect the things in there somehow and it lets you look at all of them in one spot and just…ponder, man. Really ponder. And soon enough things are building, you’re making those connections, you’re adding things. But the more you add the more your scrivener project starts taking shape. Like this:MB7 Scriv1

Now doesn’t that look better? Ahhh… breathing a sigh of relief. Lets see what do we have here? Oh look – I’ve got a whole opening sequence laid out. I’ve got note cards. If you were able to look in the characters info you would see the pictures from my past series that I just moved straight in here with no muss and no fuss. I’ve even added a few new ones.

Now I’d show you the progress I’ve done in Aeon Timeline too but frankly my brain is fried. But that’s the great thing about doing work that you love. You put in a good days work and the fried brain is a sign of a job well done. It’s satisfying. And that is what NaNo is all about. It’s about working your silly writing ass off and giving you permission to feel like a dedicated professional even if you’re an unemployed bum.

So for all you folks still prepping out there: Prep (or don’t). Prep like the wind. Gird your loinchops. Get ready. It’s coming. Your apotheosis. In November you shall rise from your pathetic cubicle torpor and become GODS! GODS I SAY! Beasts shall rise, mountains shall fall, oceans shall boil, kittens shall destroy a thousand words in one errant paw on your keyboard and you shall sigh and say ‘Foolish kitten! I care not for a thousand words for i shall write 50,000 before i am through! The NaNo MUST and WILL be defeated to slink it’s hoary way back to the depths for another year. To rest. To be soothed by the cool waters of editing. Yes, ye gods. RISE!

Categories: Mystery, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Few Unkind Words About Beta Receiving (for writers)

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Have you ever watched one of those Gordon Ramsey cooking shows or any one of the dozen or so ‘fix this whatever’ shows they have on TV these days? You know the ones: A troubled business is falling flat on its face and needs outside help in the form of some Uber-genius in the field to help them straighten their shit out? Have you noticed the first thing said ‘expert’ sets out to do is pull the owner/manager/whatever’s head out of their ass? Have you noticed, as viewers, that the problem is almost always right there, staring you in the face while the owner/manager/whatever is completely oblivious to it? If you are a writer I can absolutely guaranty that you have been that Owner/manager/whatever at least once – so convinced of your own work that everyone else must be wrong. But you’ve done at least one thing right – you’ve gotten outside help. Now don’t screw it all up by assuming that person is an idiot.

Last week I yapped extensively about the evils of Beta Reading. I can’t remember what I said but I think it was along the lines of ‘be kind’. Which shouldn’t be too hard to understand, really. At least i don’t think so.   After all of the feedback it got on the NaNoWriMo FB page I figured I had to write a little bit of a follow-up on how to RECEIVE a beta read and it goes a little like this:

Be Kinder.

So a Beta reader just tore you a new asshole. So they think it all sucks. So they think your character is a one-diminsional piece of library microfiche. So what? Does it make you feel bad? Do you feel like someone just punched you repeatedly in places that hurt? Probably. So what are you gonna do about it, punk? Well… You’re going to be kind. Not to whoever read it, because really they don’t need your kindness. You aren’t going to turn around and beat them with rolled up, tacked together copies of your manuscript. You might want to, particularly if they are the sort of readers I mentioned in last weeks post, but you probably won’t. Nah. You’re going to be kind to yourself.

It’s a draft for starters. If it were perfect you wouldn’t have hunted for those Beta Readers, would you? You would have submitted it. So some part of you knew that it wasn’t quite ready for publication or query letters or whatever. Some part of you was hoping that your Beta would be wise and just and wonderful and noble enough to hold you by the hand and tell you what you needed to hear. The other part, of course, is bound and determined to not listen. But you will won’t you? Because this little hunk of words is your baby and you know it needs help to fly. It needs to be fed. And it needs to fail.

The other part is your ego that likes to protect the whole chunk of you and everything you survey – even the nasty and totally wrong parts.

Gordon-Ramsay-007

The truth, as I like to think about it, is that birds fly by learning how to fall really well. You’ve got to trip a few times before those wings learn what they’re for. That’s what Beta’s are for. Sure. Some of them are for turning you into a weeping puddle on the floor. If they do that (as I already mentioned) they are dirty, bad, Beta’s and you can feel free to pummel them into submission with the aforementioned rolled up manuscript. But know that you’re the one attaching your ego to your work and it’s your ego that’s fueling that sniffling.

Quit sniffling and get to work.

Consider what they said. Did they completely misunderstand something? It’s possible. Not every reader is going to ‘get it’ and not every one who ‘get’s it’ is going to like it. There isn’t much to do with things like that except move on or compare their comments to another Beta and see where they agree or where they disagree. Do they have a point? Can you see what they are saying or what they’re getting at with their comments? Yes? Great! Now you’re on your way to doing something about it. No? Well… try it again or figure out if they are wrong or off point. It happens. Beta’s are people and they can often get things wrong particularly when they are being deliberately obtuse or socratic in their methods.

Whatever happens, be kind. Mainly to yourself. You did the best you could. If you could have done better you would have, right? Someone is telling you which feathers are out-of-place, maybe that the wing angle is all wrong, maybe that the heights you’re trying to jump off of is suicide. It isn’t personal. (Unless it is – see above) It’s suggestion and you can do with it what you like. Have a dialog with your reader if you think they’re wrong or didn’t understand something. Maybe there is something they missed. Maybe they had it on the nose but whatever it is the process isn’t finished when they give you the full report and sit back in their comfy chair waiting for the fireworks to start.

Oh and cancel the fireworks. Cancel the drama. Step down from the battlements of your defense. That’s your ego talking and chances are pretty good that it’s full of shit. Ego’s are like that. If you find yourself getting all tight in the shoulders and wanting to fire back at someone – don’t. Take a deep breath. Relax.

And get back to work.

There’s a fine line between ‘being defensive’ and ‘explaining’ and you’re the only one who can see it. A reader may think you’re being defensive and it might piss them off. Which you don’t want to do. On the other hand you may be trying to help them ‘see’ what direction you were heading, your flight plan. That’s okay. But again, perception is everything and if they think you’re being an ungrateful little shit then you’re back in the nest looking down. Figure out where and what triggers your defenses and… this is going to sound stupid but it’s true: deactivate them. They aren’t going to help you with what you need to do. Keep your eye on the goal – you want your little birdy to fly into the world all noble like a fucking eagle. What happens when no one helps and tells you what’s wrong? Well… ahem. You might end up a smashing financial success (not naming any names) but a seriously flawed and migraine producing writer.

Please please please don’t do that. Becoming a smashing financial success is the surest way to insulate your idiotic ego under layers of equally stupid justification and puffery all while flying like a drunken skunk in a leaking dirigible filled with other people’s hot air.

Be kind. Most particularly to yourself. The world isn’t going to end because someone doesn’t like your book. Your book is not you. It’s a product of you. I know that sounds like ‘well, DUH.’ but I can’t tell you how many artists. writers, musicians I’ve met (mostly in my younger days) who LOVE to make that mistake and associate their work as some living embodiment of themselves. That’s a sure way to lose your marbles because I guaranty that people won’t like it. They will attack it. If you’re that close to it you’re going to be in a lot of trouble, psychologically speaking. And frankly why would you want to? This is supposed to be fun, remember?

Your Beta is your mission control, your air traffic controller, sometimes even your flight engineer but in the end they can only draw up the plans, they can set the flight path or tell you that you’re nuts. If nuts is who you are and what you want to be then jump, little birdy and spread those wings. Pay no attention to that big brown and green thing rushing up at you because, gosh dern it, you’re flying! (if only for a few seconds.) If you want the advice, the guidance, the designs for the wings then listen. Really really listen. With your ears and not with your mouth. It’s still all up to you in the end and it ain’t going to kill you. I promise.

Whatever you do, the book or story or painting or jazz riff or whatever it is  fly’s on it’s own. Your part will be done eventually. You will hopefully learn how to be better than you thought possible. You will have learned how to take advice and criticism and not crumble. You’ll actually be a better person. But you won’t be there when it jumps out of the nest. You’ll watch from the sidelines, cringing, hoping, wondering, begging it to open up and fly like you know it can, but whatever happens it’s not you that’s doing it. You made the thing but where it goes from there you have no control over. Will it fly to the moon and back? Will it make it to your front porch? Will its amazing shadow inspire those below to look up in awe and wonderment? Who knows? It’s not up to you. All you can do is give it the best you’ve got and everything you know how – borrowing a little here and there from others – and see what it can do.

 

 

Categories: Mystery, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Few Unkind Words About Beta Reading…

Statler-and-Waldorf-ShoppingUp to a few months ago I’d never heard the term ‘Beta- reader’ and honestly I kind of hate it. I’m not kidding. I get the relationship between it and the whole computer program, game-playing culture and I’ll freely admit that it fits but ugh. It sucks. But it still fits so we’ll run with it until something a little more poetic comes by. Anyone? Please? Come up with something better. It grates on me. So fix it people! Please your weird blogger.

Anyway. For the time being we’re going to run with it.

I get the concept. You have a few select readers – or victims – peruse your erstwhile completely untested and frequently quite unfinished manuscript to work out the kinks. Sort of like sending the babe off to kindergarten – if kindergarten was Lord of the Flies. Which it sort of is isn’t it? Writers need this sort of thing. Nothing flies when it first tests its little wings. You have to give it some time, some encouragement, let the people you trust shower some advice and attention on the little feller and get some air under its wings. That’s what it’s all about. In theory at least.

UNFORTUNATELY…

Many folks seem to think that beta reading is a nice way to sharpen their critical teeth on someone else’s work. You get the input back and within the first sentence you can practically envision that reader furrowing their brow as they slip on the tweed jacket they’ve reserved JUST for this purpose. They clamp the pipe they don’t smoke between those sharpened teeth and then they bite. Hard. Right into your little bird that hasn’t done a thing to them except peep hopefully at them. They seem to think that this is their chance to show their chops (choppers) at VALID LITERARY CRITICISM. Like that’s actually a thing. Like that’s exactly what they should be doing.

Well stop it. If that’s you… close your salivating mouth. Save it for the book review published to much imagined praise in the anals of the New Yorker. (Yes… that is what I meant.) Here’s a tip: YOU ARE NOT HAROLD BLOOM. And even if you are Harold Bloom this is not the time for it. Your basic job, that you have been entrusted with, is to be helpful. No matter how godawful the thing you’re reading actually is you are NOT permitted to say things like ‘why are you wasting my time’ or ‘didactic’ or ‘good lord, you should really think of doing something else.’ You may think these things and that is perfectly fine but your job is to be helpful. You are reading for concept, flow, tension, character. You are reading for compassion. Act that way. Be critically brilliant somewhere else on your own time.

Now I’m sure we’ve all sat in some tiny room at one point or another around a table at which we are being fed piecemeal to the class and masticated by a professor whose own books didn’t sell well enough to avoid having to teach. How did that feel? Good? Nah. I’m guessing it sucked. Was it actually helpful? In my case I can say all it did was puff up my own writerly ego and made it don armor against such stuff. You know how it goes: first it’s “good lord that hurt like lemon juice on a bee sting.” Then it’s like “oh yeah? what the hell do you know you little turd. Wait till I get a chance to review YOUR stupid story…”

Do not give a writer an excuse to grow a whopping ego. It’s pretty much the worst offense any writer can ever commit. They start thinking stupid things like ‘I am the author of the universe.’ or worse ‘I made that.’ If you are Beta Reading you first goal should be – really – to help said writer to put down that ego. The ego is the biggest impediment to decent writing there ever was. Which is amazing considering the best writers ever had MASSIVE egos. Maybe that’s why. They somehow managed to put it away while writing then looked upon their own works and thought ‘dang. I’m pretty awesome.’ and then they believed it. As Ricky Roma put it in Glengarry Glen Ross: “your job is to HELP US. Not FUCK US UP.” 61586534_640

To do that you need to have some compassion. Realize that the person behind the excremental piece of trash that you are slogging your way through is trying to do the best they can. They are doing the best they can. AND THEY CHOSE YOU to help make it better. Why? Yes. Because they kind of think you’re at least a little bit awesome. That’s called respect. What happens when you dance around on their blessedly ugly little bird? They stop thinking you’re in any way awesome and now think you’re a total turd out to kill the things they love. And why would they think that? Because you just did. Congrats. Douche.

So have some respect. You wouldn’t go up to a friend who just had a baby and say ‘Awww… Congratulations… but seriously, don’t you think it’s not too late to abort?’ If you are I’m guessing you don’t have too many friends and have gotten used to being punched in the face. And besides, I know you think you were a virgin birth that came borne fully on a sun-beam to the tune of angels but really you came out kinda tiny and gross just like the rest of us. Harold Bloom might be a titan of literary criticism but at one point he too was a geeky little book nerd and you still aren’t him. So have a little humility and appreciate when someone wants you to read. Take it seriously. If you don’t think you can reign in that penchant for critical brutality (or worse yet, think it’s somehow necessary to ‘toughen someone up’ – sadist) then DON’T AGREE TO DO IT. It’s that simple.

Categories: Mystery, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Plot Thickens

Alright. Finally… At long last… My words of wisdom on Plot… Are you ready? Here it is. Listen up. Lean in close.

Forget about it.

No. Seriously. That’s it. What? You want more?

 I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.

A strong enough situation renders the whole question of plot moot. The most interesting situations can usually be expressed as a What-if question – Stephen King, On Writing.

Yeah. I figure you’ve probably heard that one before and I’m not one to preach the King gospel but in this case i find it pretty helpful. It seems to me that a lot of writers I experience come up with a plot before anything else. Maybe they have a few characters that are jumping out at them. Maybe they just want to ‘get in the game’. Well I’m all for it but you must have a reason. This is sort of what I was talking about last week. Start with something. In King’s case it was a ‘what if’ and King isn’t the first place I’ve heard about that. I think I’d jump a little further than that though and say ‘why?’ Why do we care what happens to a bunch of trapped idiots in the cabin in the woods? Why do we give a damn about a fantasy kingdom that’s on the verge of being overrun by a horde of evil six-foot hamsters? Who cares? It’s fantasy!

For me, I’ve been starting with the why lately and it feels pretty right.

Plot is just the what happens of the story. Bob walks to the store to buy a stack of elf filters for his new TV. Along the way Bob meets Marion. She tries to bludgeon him with a fish. Bob defeats Marion. None of these things are necessarily in the right order but who cares anyway? Somewhere in Bob’s desire to buy Elf Filters is your answer. Figure out the why. The why of the story is the point of contact between the writer and the writing. Sometime’s it’s the only point of contact. You need to answer why the kingdom is important to you or no one else will care either and they won’t give a rats ass whether or not your pectorally endowed, sword-swinging, no neck bruiser can save it or not. They won’t care HOW the dude saves it either so you’ve just spent a great deal of time spinning a plot founded on nothing.

So start with what’s important to you. What pisses you off enough that you want to fight against it? What do you desperately want to save? Poetry does this very well. It snatches little moments from life and the mind and heart of the author and focuses on them, expands them and leaves the reader with them to play in the fields of the writers little moment of thought or experience. But how does it work in the life of a fiction writer? Well…

Lets’ take Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest:

I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. He also called his shirt a shoit. I didn’t think anything of what he had done to the city’s name. Later i heard men who could manage their r’s give it the same pronunciation. I still didn’t see anything in it but the meaningless sort of humor that used to make richardsnary the thieve’s word for dictionary. A few years later i went to Personville and learned better.

It’s got to be one of the bleakest hero tales ever. Nothing in this festering rat hole of a town is worth saving. There is no earthly reason for the Op to do his job and ‘clean up the town’ and because no one cares if he does the reader shouldn’t either. But we do. Hammett creates a vacuous world of assholes who are in desperate need of getting their proverbial clocks cleaned, why? Because it is precisely their lack of humanity that we start to care about. They’re perfectly willing to destroy anything and everyone to lay complete claim to a place so worthless even the rats have abandoned it. The Op is our avenging angel. Sure, he ain’t grand, he ain’t pretty, and sure we might prefer the guy with the gleaming white teeth and the white hat but we know from the first page that if anyone can do the job it’s our guy. We also know that if we dropped a guy with brilliant white teeth and a fine white hat into Poisonville he’d be swiss cheese before his foot left the stirrups of his horse.

The plot, such as it is, is the complex way he gets the job done in this incredibly hostile and completely antagonistic environment. The why, really, is because such a place as Poisonville is an affront to the humanity in us. We can’t, in good conscience, suffer such a place to live. Isn’t it interesting how he starts it off with the REAL name of the town, Personville and instantly warps it to what it’s become – Poisonville. That’s the why. But, just to be a literary critic about it, let’s take that one step further and say that Hammett redeems Poisonville as a stand-in for the world Hammett himself lives in. He writes it because he needs his Op to save the world that no one in his own experience gives a crap about. He, like the Op, demands that someone steps to the plate and bring this crappy old world out of the dark, compassionless wasteland that it’s become.

Your plot will grow – organically – from the seed of the why. Find that seed and plant it. Everything else is sort of gravy. It becomes much easier. Honestly.

I mean that’s what Comic books have been from the beginning of time – and excuse to find power in a world way too big for us. Superman kicks the crap out of Hitler. Spiderman has superpowers in the face of a miserable high school life. The X-Men show that different ‘races’ can get along and when they do they’re sort of awesome, empowering.

I’m not saying you need to throw the plot out. Maybe it was brilliant and you had all these really cool set-pieces lined up. That’s great. Cheers. But think about it this way: in all probability King started conceiving of a great ghost story – The Shining. We know he stayed in the haunted Stanley Hotel and that was the inspiration. He probably heard tales of the Donner Party and probably saw all the markers along the road to the hotel where unlucky snow plow drivers lost their lives. He probably saw the roadway carved into a deep trench where the snow was still deep – even in April. All of these things are great inspirations to shuddering horror and will, by themselves, form the basic elements to what will become one of the scariest books and movies ever. But what really makes this sing is the relationship between Danny and his Father. Child abuse. But it’s not that simple, of course. King could have made Jack an irredeemable monster but isn’t it more horrifying that he ISN’T? That he decays, that he’s literally out of control and that we get to be inside his head as he spirals out of control. In some sick way King makes us want him to be redeemed.

But he’s a friggin’ Child Abusing Asshole!

The power of why.

Do you see how the ‘what if’ can grow out of the why? Why am I writing this? Because I care about child abuse and I want to see the little kid win. But what if the father – the abuser – isn’t a terrifically obvious monster? What if I sort of make him like-able? What if the kid is a little creepy? What if the mom, who only wants to protect her boy, is the one on the outside of the relationship? Now what if I stick them all in a haunted hotel in the winter? Bam. Just looking at that gives me shivers. And what happens? In the end, of course, Jack redeems himself and saves his son by… gulp…refusing to kill him. Ick. Wow. That’s some sick shit right there. But there’s your plot in a nutshell, isn’t it? With that little nugget of why at the center.

So forget about plot. Don’t even worry about it. If you don’t have a reason to write the story to begin with you don’t have a plot. You don’t have a story.

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

The Strange Case of the Author on the TV. – Baldacci and Johnson go to the small screen.

Hey, all. Sorry I biffed last thursday. You know how it is. Or maybe you don’t. I think I got home from work, parked my butt on the couch in front of the thursday crime shows – whatever they were – and shoved down that weird sensation that there was something else I was supposed to be doing. It wasn’t until friday that I figured it out. See? That’s what happens when you get out of practice. You get slow and stupid.

Before we get to the writing portion of things let’s do the usual roundup. Two little things: I just checked out King and Maxwell on TNT. Little did I know when I started it that it was from the mind of David Baldacci. I’ve read very little of Baldacci. Two books, I think, though I couldn’t tell you what they are. I’m pretty sure I used to heap scorn on them but I’ve had it on very reliable authority that they are a lot of fun. I have to admit I saw some promise for King and Maxwell so long as the viewer is keen on throwing the reality out with the bathwater, kicking back and enjoying a little intrigue and thriller with their standard crime tropes. The characters could use a little development, in my opinion. So far they’re a little underwelming. Maxwell takes a boat to work. King is a bit of a slob. That’s about as much as you get of them, which says to me that the actors and possibly the writers haven’t really committed to the idea of this whole thing working at all.

Honestly I think that is – or was – my critique of Baldacci too. They might be fun but they are a little thin. But then again, there’s that reliable authority too that’s picking at me to give it another chance and I think I may just do it. We’ll see how well it shakes out. I’m good with fun, until some genius decides they can take it a level further and try to make something respectable out of it which usually doesn’t work so well. But hey. I’ll cut them some slack because the show JUST started.

That said, Longmire on A&E based on the books of Craig Johnson. Now that one you should be checking out. I just started reading the first of the Longmire novels after soaking myself neck-deep in the first season (yeah – it was my first binge watch! Yay me!) So far the book is VERY different from the series but i have to admit I like them both a lot. Johnson has a style all his own with brilliant paragraphs, terrifically descriptive sentences that sing and fully realized characters that jump off the page. (I think I’m on Chapter 2) These are the sort of mysteries that are a true pleasure to read. It engages the language. That’s one of the things I LOVE about the mystery genre: finding authors who have a unique voice that don’t skimp on the details in favor of the zippy blood and guts whodunit.

I don’t want to gush too much because i just started but I’m going to jump forward and give the recommendation now. It’s good.

The TV series, like I said, is different but it has its own language too and very well-developed characters with a cast well suited to them. Not to mention it’s awful pretty to look at. Walt Longmire’s battle worn hat and coat, Ferg’s irrepressible earnestness, Henry’s sardonic wisdom – it’s all present and well wrought though not even close to being a reproduction of the stories.

The episodes ain’t bad either. They cram a lot of pretty fine sleuthing into an hour with a fairly well trodden plot arc covering it all that still somehow seems fresh. Even though it isn’t.

In the meantime, I’m still busy working too hard on my own little mysteries – Meg Brown #6 (obviously not the final title) is… well… growing. I’m still typing in the second draft. No idea really on when it will be ready. I’m shooting for release later this year yet, but hopefully not too much later. You can, of course, find the others on Amazon. Here.

I’ve also been a little obsessed with my new (but still old) procedural experiment. So I’ve been plinking away at that one too. Giving it a day a week while I’m still cranking out the Meg pages.

Here’s the thing, though: I need a writers conference. If anyone out there is actually checking in with this regularly and you have some suggestions on writing conferences – particularly ones dealing with mystery writing – I’d be happy to hear about it. Please let me know.

And while we’re at it and asking questions and such: what sort of thing would you like this blog to focus on? I’m really open to suggestions. Anything you can think of from a mystery writing perspective, Crime TV Criticism, writing in general, whatever. Let me know. Usually I get to thursday and I’m scratching my head at what I’m going to write about. I’d much rather start planning next weeks excursion as soon as this weeks is done. Just let me know.

Anyway. If you are into writing mysteries yourself and have been here once or twice you know I’m a huge fan of Derek Pacifico’s Writer’s Homicide School that I attended in LA last year so I have a few plugs to mention on that. It seems he just wrapped up another one in LA (I was not in attendance unfortunately) but there’s another one in Seattle August 17-18, Vegas in September 21-22, and Atlanta in October 19-20. If you’re interested in getting the real goods from a real cop, you need to attend and you should go straight to the website and take advantage of the early registration. Pacifico is a terrific instructor and it really is a terrific course that can help the sleuthing writer write better or at least avoid a few of the major mistakes we all find so damned annoying when we see them on TV for the billionth time.

Well that’s all I’ve got today. I know it’s not really earth-shattering. I swear I will have something actually PLANNED for next time. Seriously. Especially if y’all help out and add your two cents.

Categories: Mystery, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Umm… Yeah. I got nothin.

So i was trying to come up with an amazingly clever title for tonight’s blog post and that’s what I came up with. Brilliant, don’t you think? Me neither. Titling things has never been my strong suit. In fact, as far as suits go, more than a few moths have nibbled the hell out of it.

So how am I doing? Oh wonderful. Just peachy. Discovered what may be a gluten intolerance. Yay me. Which means I’m exceptionally paranoid about everything I eat now. That’s always lovely. But I can work it into the writing of course. Now I know what those old Kings must have felt like when they stared out at their amazing banquet and thought “Oh dear god, it’s all POISON!!!” So many things can come out of that sort of thing: I can be the crazy middle-aged man squinting at the labels and reading everything. I can be the cat lady rifling through the produce section, carefully prodding each and every fresh vegetable like it’s a suspect in her kidney disease. Oh so many things. If only I could get over the anxiety of something dramatically WRONG going on in my body.

But that’s not why you’re here are you? You’re waiting for the few pearls of wisdom. Heh. Like I said. I got nothin. I haven’t even been working on my own stuff as much as I’d like because the gluten thing apparently messes with your head. Bet you didn’t know that did you? Oh yeah. You get all foggy headed like you’re hungover or still drunk – but not in a good way. So you look at a draft and have to read it three or four times. And then when you try to type something it all comes out terrible.

So in lieu of my usual writerly advice I have a few of my other things:

Killing Floor by Lee Child. The first of the Jack Reacher series. I saw the movie recently and though it wasn’t STRICTLY mystery it did have that nice aspect to it. They don’t generally make Mystery movies much any more. But this really had the whodunit vibe to it which I liked. So I gave the book a shot. There’s something I like about Child’s writing. I can’t quite put my finger on it. He’s a professional. Economy of line, terse but vivid descriptions, it all works very well in the sort of gruff, fast and loose mystery/thriller style he works in. That said, Reacher isn’t exactly the savviest or most observant detective I’ve ever read. I don’t want to get into it too much for those who are going to read it but lets just say he misses a few very big things that I don’t think he should have missed.

As far as characters go, Reacher is a lot of fun – if not entirely unique. I really enjoyed it and was reading it at a breakneck pace for me, but Reacher was a little vanilla. Blues aficionado, womanizing, meh. Been there, read that. And yet it’s STILL a lot of fun. I highly recommend it. If you like a nice tight, action packed mystery thriller I don’t think you could do much better. But be aware that it does have a few glaring flaws: the sort of thing that will have you yelling at the book much like I tend to yell at my television screen.

On to the next thing: Motive – What is it about other countries that can do cop shows better than we can? I call it the Beatles effect. America synthesizes country and rockabilly and blues and jazz and makes rock and roll. Rock and roll flies across the pond where the Beatles and the Stones throw a few more interesting ingredients in and then ship it back over as something brand new and totally irresistible. The Beatles Effect. Which is why we have the Stieg Larssons, the Tana French’s, etc. What does this have to do with the new show Motive? Well… The characters aren’t the dour type for starters. They appear to actually investigate rather than blunder their way into a conviction. You can actually WATCH them make conclusions based on evidence and it didn’t come from a fancy computer. Is it perfect? Heh. Not by a long shot. But it’s better than we’ve been getting lately.

Truth be told I was flipping channels at the time so I didn’t get to watch the whole thing but I was impressed. Not over the moon, but impressed. Sometimes I think we cling to the tried and true a little bit too much around here. Sure there are different things happening – that’s pretty much why I got into this mystery stuff to begin with – but most of the time we plot out similar mysteries with similar characters doing similar things and solving similar crimes in similar ways. Reacher is a good case in point as much as I enjoyed it. I need my characters to be alive. They must have their quirks. No one, except REALLY boring people are so by the numbers. Figure out what color socks these characters are wearing. Anything. Everybody has something. Celebrate the difference.

That’s why I ended up liking Motive even though I didn’t expect much from it. The characters have something. I know it sounds weird but the lead male character has strange hair and a beard! Weird right? And the female character doesn’t always look like you just shot her dog! And has a sense of humor! And they actually detect! With their eyes! Good lord I don’t even remember the last time I watched an American based crime show where the clue didn’t come from a computer. Okay. I will admit there was that part in the very beginning of tonights show where the lead detective ‘discovered’ the wallet and lifted it off the body. But I’m going to let it slide. Everybody does that. Someday I’m going to write a mystery where the detective is standing around the body waiting for the ME to show up and they’re stuck in traffic for hours. Wouldn’t that be fun? “No. We can’t ‘roll’ the body. No we can’t fish the wallet out of their pocket for an ID. For all we know right now we have a perfectly live person with several dozen holes in them, completely unable to move for some reason.” In the mean time I’ll suffer through one little evil for something different.

Well. That’s all I’ve got. Like I said it wasn’t much. If there is a pearl of wisdom in here somewhere it’s ‘figure out what color socks your character is wearing.’ It’s important. I’ve said it before but you have to know those things. If you ever get stuck with a character, or ‘blocked’ as you call it, watch them brush their teeth. Go into their medicine cabinet. But please don’t skimp on the details. I don’t even care if you don’t eve write those details. Just make sure you know them. Hemingway said something like that once. I think.

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

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