Saturday, February 25, 2017

Writing With Circles - Two Great Resources

Scott D. Parker

This was a great week for writing advice.

First up was the latest episode of Rocking Self Publishing, one of the essential podcasts if you want to learn what's going in the world of independent publishing. Host Simon Whistler interviewed author Jacqueline Garlick. Over the course of the hourlong discussion, two things emerged.

One was her increase in writing speed. She took inspiration from Chris Fox’s 21-day novel challenge. She attempted the fear and ended up with a first draft in about 15 days. She knew the manuscript would be reworked over subsequent drafts, but getting the story out of her head in a short amount of time was eye opening. She ended up completing 10 manuscripts in various genres last year.

Impressive. Most impressive.

Ever a student of the writing process, Garlick attended multiple conferences and met lots of other writers. She also taught writing. After sifting through all of this information, she conceived the idea of a plot laid out on a clock. The opening is up to 3pm, the middle is from 3 to 9 (with the midpoint naturally at 6pm), the climax from 9 to 11, and the final denouement from 11 to 12. It’s a neat way to visualize a story that was new to me.

If Garlick’s interview solidified some of my own thinking regarding writing pace, then an article Joe Lansdale write really drove home some key points in the writing process. Published in The Strand, Joe’s “The Rules of Being a Professional Writer” proved to be quite the peek behind the curtain. The obvious rule of reading a lot and writing a lot is again reiterated for the thousandth time. It's in the rest of the guidelines that true sneaks out.

Again, an obvious one: be excited about what you write. If you're not dying to get to the next scene, neither will your readers. Keep your day job until you know you can make it as a writer. That one hits home with me, a day job holder who writes at 4:30 am.

The second circular analogy about writing came from this article. Lansdale writes thus: “I don’t plot, at least not consciously. I go to bed, and my subconscious works on it. When I awake, the work is there, and when I finish for the day, I know from experience my subconscious will fill me up with the next day’s work. Now and again it lets me down, but that is rare. For me, working this way, I get to enjoy the creation of a story from soup to nuts, and the passion that goes with it. Some writers need a road map, some a compass. I’m the latter.”

This year, to date, I have not plotted out the two novels I’ve worked on. That's new for me...and fun! I have a general idea of the ending, but I’ve been experiencing the story alongside my main character. Sure, there may be a moment when I know that my hero is going to discover something, but more often than not, my creative voice just landed something on the story I didn’t see coming. My hero is surprised. I just have a big goofy grin on my face and marvel at how great it is to be a writer.

Lansdale's piece just landed itself on my all-time best writing advice list. 

Here are the two links. Enjoy and learn.

Friday, February 24, 2017

On Punk and Writing.

You ever have a moment that makes you feel like a teenager again? I don't mean like you're recently divorced and having your first super charismatic first kiss on the front porch again (though I've had that moment, too). I mean a reigniting of all the energy and optimism, all the big emotions you didn't have words for then, and maybe still don't. I mean like - the first time you heard a song that filled you up and made you want to scream with the joy of being understood and cry at the same time, or the first time you wrote something you were proud of. The way you felt when graduation was only thirteen days away and it was so goddamn exciting that you didn't have time to be fucking terrified of whatever came next.

I had a moment like that last weekend, and the next day I spent the whole day recovering from it just to suit up and head out to do a little book promo at San Diego Comic Fest. The weekend was a whirlwind capped off by finding a big Rubbermaid tub full of shit I kept from high school. It was all there - the good, the bad, the "fuck you, you are never going to see this shit, I don't care who you are." I'm talking about poetry. Poetry written between the ages of fifteen and seventeen. A box full of half formed story ideas, song lyrics, poems, a file I kept on my favorite filmmakers, a few embarrassing photos (I looked really stoned  through a lot of high school even though I was so straight edge I didn't even drink caffeine).

I went through that box and still felt good about myself, which is saying something.

The point is, I feel reignited. On Sunday, our panel was asked when we decided to "get serious" about writing which is always a funny question for me. I've always been dead serious about writing. I spent more time with my headphones in writing longhand than I spent doing literally anything else. I carried my works-in-progress with me all day at school waiting for a free moment to work. At college, with time management firmly in my own hands, I barely pulled a 2.0 the first semester because all I wanted to do was read and write - just not the stuff I was supposed to be reading and writing.

I don't count that as being serious in the context of a career, because I was still writing with that intense need. Scribbling with any pen I could find, no concept of the business side of things, no concept of what was good or bad - just filling pages and feeling good. Of course, being a writer was easier then. Lonelier, too. It was pure energy and everything else was secondary. It was writing song lyrics without knowing how to write music, and writing novels without knowing (or caring) how to outline. It was the feeling that it was important to do it, and everything else would work out eventually.

In a way, that idea worked. I had some pretty low lows, where writing was the last thing on my mind because I spent a fair amount of my early adulthood making decisions on the fly and hoping for the best, only to learn the hard way (over and over again) that there were some upsides to having a plan. The way "everything else worked out" was that I got older, less dumb, and more focused. I learned about the business side, I learned about the craft, I met other writers and started building something more than a Rubbermaid tub full of loose-leaf notebook pages. I'd be lying if I said that all that learning the hard way didn't snuff out a few sparks.
Maybe you read that and you feel a little sad, but remember how this blog post started. I've been riding the high of finding that excited, passionate, crazy ass kid I used to be - blasting my favorite punk rock and getting excited about art and writing, getting excited about possibility for nearly a week now. What's curious about it, but in the context of my life, fairly unsurprising, is I found that spark in the same place teenage me always found it. Riding the barricade at a punk show screaming my lungs out.

I've avoided shows like that for awhile because I've got a bad leg, a bad back, and a kid that requires babysitting. I was thinking I couldn't hang or I didn't belong. I was listening to other great music and only dipping toes into punk music when I felt like I really needed it. But riding that barricade again was like coming home, going to church, and finding a time machine. I've wanted to write about the odd connection aging punks have with crime fiction for awhile, before that I spent hours trying to find the right words to communicate exactly what it feels like to be in a sweaty dark club listening, screaming, mashing bodies to bodies. I haven't managed either - but I think we'll get there. Remembering what was so fucking special about it is a good start.

Oh, and I got a new shirt...

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Keep posting your nonsense, authors

By Steve Weddle

So a couple weeks back, Gabino Iglesias, who wrote one of my favorite books of the 2015, wrote a post for LitReactor about author updates on Facebook.

The post, "9 Facebook Posts by Authors We Don't Need to See in 2017," is worth your time and comments, of course. I'm opposed to someone online telling me what I should and shouldn't post, natch. Don't tell me what I can't post. You're not my real mom.

The world is an ugly place, and these posts are not helping anyone.

Sure. I've seen silly posts on Facebook and Twitter and Snapgrab and elsewhere. And I've seen authors going on and on about their writing habits. They'll tell you that they wrote 1,500 words that morning, had a great call with an editor, or enjoyed a phone interview with a podcaster. Many writers enjoy posting about the "authoring" aspect of writing. I don't have a problem with that.

I do appreciate Mr. Iglesias's points, though, even if he is a little harsh.

You're a writer and you wrote some words, so what?

In his LitReactor post, he argues against a number of posts, including:

  • Vaguebooking 
  • Fake blurbs 
  • Complaining about editing 
  • Play-by-play updates

Like I said, I appreciate that some folks don't care for these author posts. I don't mind them. Here's why.

When I see an author complaining about the editing process, I am happy, at least for a few moments. My energy each day is derived from a careful mixture of bold coffee and bitter schadenfreude. I enjoy seeing other authors in pain. It makes my own pain more bearable. Please, post that you have spent all weekend editing your 80,000-word manuscript. That's great. You probably had to spend all that time editing because your writing stinks. Maybe you write too fast. Maybe you should outline more. Heck, maybe the writing life isn't for you.

And posting fake blurbs? Yeah, I've seen authors posting anonymous reviews of their books or manuscripts telling their friends/fans that "a hero of mine" has just "raved" about the new book. That is great. Please post that. The rest of us see your post and know what you're doing, and we're emailing back and forth about you and laughing our asses off. This is great. It makes me so happy to see that. Please, keep trying to prop yourself up with nonsense. That's wonderful.

Sharing play-by-play updates about each scene that you wrote or that you just wrote some "killer" dialog in your murder mystery? That's great. Keep doing that. If I enjoy what you're posting, then I won't have to read it. It will be like when I read a good review of a book. I usually don't have to go out and read the book itself. If' I've read a thorough, 3,000-word review of your new novel, why would I want to read your novel? The paper/magazine loved it and explained why. That's cool. I feel like I've read it and can now fake my way through a discussion of it at a conference or on a panel or if I ever have to be near you at an event. Same with your posting about a scene you've just written. If I like it, great. And if I read it and I think it's dumb, then I won't have to read your book, either. You're saving me time and money. I appreciate that, champ.

Authors should post whatever they want. If it's dumb, I'll be happy for many reasons. If it's great, I'll be happy for other reasons. The key to having many, many author friends is to be positive and optimistic, the way I am. Cheers.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Someone Murdered Somebody in Brentwood

by Holly West

We finished watching O.J.: Made in America last night. A few things about it surprised me, including the fact that it's about eight hours long. I don't know where I've been these many months since it was released, but I thought it was a standard-length documentary film.

Not that it matters. I just point it out because others might not know, either.

It's important to note that the documentary is not just about O.J. Simpson and his murder trial. It examines race in America and Los Angeles and how it intersects with who O.J. was, who he became, and who he is now. It's a complicated story that at least deserves the eight-plus hours it takes to tell. Do yourself a favor and watch it.

This post is likely to be a bit random, because my thoughts about O.J. Simpson and the murders of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman are, to an extent, random. In 1994, when the murders happened, I was in my early twenties and living alone in a one-room bachelor apartment in the Wilshire District of Los Angeles. My boyfriend was black. The world was captivated by the O.J. Simpson trial and Los Angeles was obsessed with it, but my memories of my life then, including the O.J. Simpson trial, are random, as memories often are.

Random Thought #1

I'll begin by saying that on June 12, 1993, I had a frightening dream culminating in this image: SOMEONE MURDERED SOMEBODY IN BRENTWOOD was scrawled in blood in the center of a street. That's all I remember. The dream itself was random--at the time, I don't think I'd ever been to Brentwood, though I'd lived in Los Angeles several years by then. There was also no event that prompted the dream. All I know is that I awoke with serious case of the heebie-jeebies and a racing pulse.

On June 12, 1994, a year to the day after I had that dream, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were murdered in Brentwood. It's possible I'm exaggerating for effect here, as I'm not 100% sure of the date of my dream, but I do know it was in mid-June the year before. So let's just say it happened on the same day. When I heard about the murders, the dream was the first thing I thought of and I still think of it whenever the subject of the murders comes up.

Random Thought #2

I mentioned above that my boyfriend at the time was black, and about ten years older than me. I loved him, but even then I knew things weren't destined to work out between us. I'm paraphrasing now, because I don't remember exactly how the conversation went, but in reference to O.J. Simpson's trial, he told me he thought maybe the jury should let O.J. off because he was black. Like maybe O.J.'s guilt or innocence was less important than balancing the scales of justice in favor of blacks, for once.

This conversation isn't why we eventually broke up, but I was surprised he'd suggest such a thing. I wasn't a football fan, but I'd grown up seeing O.J. on television and I liked who I perceived him to be. I didn't want it to be true that he killed Nicole and Ron, but I wasn't prepared to throw reality out the door just because I wanted him to be innocent. To me, an acquittal of O.J. Simpson just didn't seem an appropriate response to racial injustice.

Now, having watched O.J. Simpson: Made in America, I realize how clueless I was as to what was going on at the time and to the events (like the Rodney King beating) that led up to O.J.'s eventual acquittal. Granted, I was young, and as a white girl raised in small town Whiteville, I had only the vaguest notions of what racial injustice actually meant. There's no question I accepted it as truth, but I didn't have an understanding of how it plays out in every day lives. I still strive to understand.

Random Thought #3

Around the time of the trial, my mom was having a conversation about it with some coworkers and one of them (a white male) said something along the lines of "that's what Nicole gets for being with a black man." Horrifying, right? My mom set him straight, but I'm still furious when I think about it.

Random Thought #4

There is very little doubt in my mind that O.J. Simpson killed Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Reliving the trial through O.J.: Made in America hits home just how much evidence there was against him. He's no hero of mine, especially since we also know he routinely abused his wives and probably others. And yet, there's still a part of me that wishes it wasn't him that did it.

Random Thought #5

There were aspects O.J. Simpson's story that reminded me of Donald Trump and the times we're living in now. I'd have to watch it again to be more specific, but just know I saw some similarities/parallels both in behavior and attitude between the two men.

Final Thoughts

It's always difficult for me to write about race because it's a complicated subject and I wonder if my voice is relevant to the discussion. I'm also afraid of saying the wrong thing. I'm aware this blog post isn't any sort of detailed examination of the subject, but I'm not sure I'm prepared (or qualified) for an in depth discussion. I might not ever be. I only want to say that O.J.: Made in America was important for me to watch and I think it's important for others to see, too.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

New Environment

J David Osborne here. I'm housesitting for Scott in beautiful Bed Stuy, Brooklyn. I'm taking care of his dog, this wonderful cockapoo named Sapphire. She's an energetic pooch (she's a puppy). There are also cats, creatures I am not entirely familiar with, who seem entirely indifferent to my existence in their space, save for an incident last night where the orange one decided to knock my books off the shelves while maintaining a very cat-like eye contact.

I'm adjusting to the city just fine. The first few days were tough for me: I'm a kid from Oklahoma, and I've spent the past three years in Portland, Oregon. Portland's got the trees and Oklahoma has the sky, but neither of those environments are enough to prepare someone for the sudden culture shock of New York City.

I had to start off slowly. Little trips here and there: the bodega around the corner, the five minute walk to the grocery store, etc. Before I knew it I'd gotten on the subway. The F train was gone (who stole the F train?) replaced by the D, and so I took the G too far and ended up even farther from my destination (Uptown) than I'd been when I'd started. I corrected it and got to my destination. The lights, the push of people, the horn-honking: I can see how this place could be intoxicating for some. It's easily the most alive place I've been, save maybe Paris.

I've seen friends, I've eaten good food, but mostly I've been thinking about this strange thing that happens when we change our geographies. I know I'm not alone here, but perhaps this feeling is more acute in my dumb brain: any time I move to a new spot, it takes me a long time to adjust. It feels like my brain is trying to fit into a new mold and not quite making it. Overtime, the brain sags down into the mold; things right themselves.

I write in a lot of my books about how architecture and one's surroundings affect their output and their outlook on life. This new experience makes me wonder if there really is something to the idea that there's a thing called a "New York writer." I mean, how can there not be? There's also something called a "Portland writer," and an "Oklahoma writer." We're all products of our environment, for better or for worse.

Anyhow, tune in next week for guest author David Bowles, who writes about his new collection of short stories Chupacabra Vengeance, out this Wednesday from Broken River Books. I'll be fine here, I think. For a few weeks, at least.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Big Love

Tissue paper hearts tucked away in well-loved books. Heart-shaped boxes, at one time teeming with candy, now empty and set on a shelf. Pink. Red. Cupid. Love.  February 14 has come and gone. Safe in our rear-view mirror. The Valentine sweet rush has faded to a drowsy sugar crash.

I’m not a romantic. When my husband bent down on one knee to ask me to marry him, on a pier, under the moon with water gently splashing the sand below, I nailed him in the chest with my fist, pushing him to the ground like a turtle stuck on his back and covered my face. “Yes. Cut it out!”

My septic heart can’t even enjoy the sweetness of young love for long. My daughter, ten-years old, received a chocolate rose with a sweet note from a lovely young man, also ten. This boy has given my girl chocolate for Valentine’s for the past three years. Christmas presents and Halloween candy, too. Just a treat to let her know he thinks she’s special. Aww.

Blech. For some reason, romance has always seemed manipulative to me. Dishonest. Like the lover with the roses in hand is trying to trick me. Trick or treat? It’s a costume or a mask, romance is not real. It’s an imagined version of ourselves presented on a platter. To entice. Woo. Lure.

Valentine’s Day is a pastel knockoff of Halloween. You act differently than you do most of the year and give out candy but you don’t get to dress up in zombie masks, hang reapers from your oak tree or generally scare the hell out of people. Maybe, we paint over all the pink and start calling February 14th Second Halloween.

There are other types of love that are way better than the idealistic, starry-eyed, Valentine’s kind. “The Body”, by Stephen King, illustrates the painful path away from childhood for a group of forever friends, the insane adventure as well as the ugly, life-changing reality.

It. Goonies. Stranger Things. See the connection? Love of friends. Sure, there are romantic threads through lots of great stories. Romance is a catalyst. A starting point for, hopefully, a long and diverse tale.

My dad is suffering from cataracts and is almost blind. He’s completely deaf and because of his rheumatoid arthritis can’t use his hands to grip. Also, due to the RA, he has a hard time swallowing and can’t keep weight so he comes in at a whopping 100 pounds.

My mother survived stage three kidney cancer. She kicked breast cancer’s ass, as well, and recently had a cyborg pelvis put in to replace her own, wonky structure. She too is a wisp, 98 pounds soaking wet. Still, as they bump into each other inside their tiny kitchen, fetching treats for their new kitten, they are laughing and patting each other’s hands.

“We may be falling apart but at least were doing it together,” my mom grins and stares at the wall, thinking it’s me. It’s not romantic but its real and deep. It’s what comes after the beginning.

Romance is like candy. It’s a delicious treat every now and again but a steady diet is sure to play havoc with your brain and body. Cupid’s big day feels a little forced.

Sitting side by side at the doctor’s office, holding hands during a terminal diagnosis. Standing beside each other, weak and full of grief, while saying goodbye to a dying parent. Loving each other through the ugly. Real love. Epic love.

On this February 14, my husband waited for both girls to return from school and they all whisked out the door to pick up a surprise for me. When they returned, arguing about who chose the best present, they screamed Happy Valentine’s day.

My little one gave me a sweet crystal bear holding a red heart. Not surprisingly, I find this knick-knack on her bed side table more often than my own. My husband gave me the world’s biggest Hershey bar because he is very wise and my oldest passed me a pink and red card with a lovely lesbian couple on the front. Yup, we’ve got a big future ahead of us. I’ve got epic love.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

I Really Made That Mistake Eleven Times?

I got the copy edited manuscript for Another Man’s Ground four days ago. This is the stage when a person of exacting standards and keen grammatical skill scrutinizes every word, punctuation mark, and fact in 338 pages of text. This person is my best friend.
I’m reading through everything – accepting changes, evaluating suggestions, answering questions. I’m about halfway through and so far, it’s become apparent that I don’t know how to punctuate around an em dash. And that I miscounted the number of days that transpire between two significant plot points. And that I call one character different names in different chapters (Bill or Lee – pick one!).
This might sound like painful reading, but I love it. I am very, very picky about details and grammar, and I enjoy delving back into my book at that level. It’s great to have a copy editor who has the same (or greater) level of obsessiveness as I do. I also appreciate not looking like an idiot when the book comes out.
And if a book copy editor can keep a writer from looking stupid, that’s nothing compared with what a newspaper copy editor can do. Having a fictional character with two different names is one thing, but imagine spelling the name of the city’s mayor wrong. On the front page. Or mixing up the numbers of a phone hot line that the copy editors catch because they called it right before deadline and discovered it went to somebody’s Aunt Marge and not the animal shelter featured in the news story.
I don’t think I ever spelled the name of a politician in one of my cities wrong, but I did once spend an entire breaking police story writing that a priceless Aston Martin was stolen from an airplane hanger. Now, a “hangar” is where you park an airplane. A “hanger” is what you put a coat on. Thankfully, one of the best copy editors in the business caught it, and my front page story ran error-free.
Who can ask for a better friend than that?