Monday, June 24, 2013

So Where Have I Been???

Just wanted to give a quick update, since I haven't written a post in nearly a month.  I've been working with my editor friend, Lisa, for quite a while now, but the last month was really a push to finish.

I feel like An Untold Want (formerly known as Counting Crows) is done.  Lisa is doing another run through edit, and there may be some little things, but nothing that should take another year of editing.  I'm happy with the story as it currently exists.  I added some things, deepened some things, and explained some things that make it a richer, more satisfying tale.

I know I've told my friends that I've been working on this novel for nearly ten years, but I thought hard about it the other night, after Dustin teased me, and, really, when I started my current 9-to-5 job six years ago, I only had three chapters written. Today, An Untold Want is thirty-one chapters, plus five diary excerpts [from ancestors], a total of  129,244 hard earned words.  Plus in that six years, I've also taken a lot of breaks, while -- *sigh* --waiting for agents to reject me, including time to write Couillon and to start my new novel.

I had planned on submitting this novel to Amazon on Summer Solstice, but since it's still in the  hands of one last agent, I want to wait and see what happens with that.  If nothing else, I'd love to say I'm in the good-ol'-boys'-club.  I'd also love to have a physical copy [or twenty] of my book to put on my book shelves.

But if I get another reject before August 1st [Lughnassahd], then it will be going on Amazon on that date.

Lughnassahd is the first of the Celtic harvest holidays, the time to reap what has been sown.  Growing time turns to gathering time, which seems like an appropriate time to release a novel.  Maybe it will help me reap some rewards, as in royalties.  Who knows?  It certainly doesn't hurt.  As Maggie says, I'm praying to whichever god/dess is listening.

Holy Crap, I'm Critiquing Stephen King's Work...

In preparation for Stephen King's Doctor Sleep coming out, in which Dan Torrance [as in Danny Torrance] is the protagonist, I decided to re-read The Shining.  

Let me give you just a little background on my favorite writer, before I go on.  According to Wikipedia, he's written eighty-seven pieces [which include novels, short-story collections, novellas, e-books, non-fiction, a screenplay, a couple of comic books, and a poem -- you get the idea].  And if Google spreadsheets can be trusted, those eighty-seven pieces add up to 35K+ pages [not words, pages].

The Shining, which hit the book stands in 1977 [the year I graduated high school], was his third novel to be published. So needless to say, his writing has grown over the years and has changed with the times and the expectations of the publishing world.

Yes, I say 'needless' now, but I didn't think about all that when I picked up The Shining this time, thirty-six years after I'd originally read it.  No, I thought about how much I enjoyed it the first time, about the scene with the topiary animals [which I mistakenly remembered as having happened to Danny, not his father], about the creepy history of the hotel, about how after reading Salem's Lot at sixteen, Stephen King had once again written something capable of scaring the stuffing out of me.

And I couldn't wait to dig into it again.

But this is where my story gets wonky.  I'm about halfway through the book, and I'm thinking, wow there's lots and lots of telling -- not showing.  For example, not even three chapters in [or something like that], Wendy, the mother, while laying in bed [so no action other than her being drowsy] reflects on her life with Jack and what happened to Danny, etc... for a whole chapter. Basically it is a full chapter of flash-backs.  Same with the father, Jack.  Further in, there's a chapter of Jack reading newspaper articles about the hotel.  Even Danny does a bit of looking back on his short five years.  We get the arm-breaking incident from three different perspectives. What hit me was that that type of writing is frowned upon these days.  I was beaten soundly [okay, exaggerating a bit] for things like that when I was a new writer.

Back-story slows the action.

Maybe you should start the novel sooner. 

No one cares about all that.

SHOW us; don't TELL us.

And yet, I don't feel like all this telling takes away from the story. Yes, it could be cleaned up a bit, but it's still a fabulous story.  And when Stephen King shows you something, you can't get it out of your head.   So maybe a little bit of telling from the Master is a good thing. And yes, I noticed the discrepancy in style, a lot, but like I said, I've had it beaten into me that you don't do things like that, at least not in this millennium.  A new -- 'uneducated in the rules of writing' -- reader may not have even noticed.  [I do tend to edit as I read now, re-writing as I would have written a given story.]

So, I'm writing [no pun intended] off this problem that I'm having as a change in the rules of writing over the past thirty-six years, or maybe because so many more people are publishing now, the rules have become more rigid.  I know that Stephen King's new novels fit right in with today's requirements for what constitutes a 'good writer'.  I know that I only wish I could write as badly as Stephen King.  [That's for all the snotty, literary fiction people.  Hey, I read/write literary fiction, and he's still my favorite author. So there!]

With that said, I'm enthralled with Stephen King, and there are parts of The Shining that still has the ability to scare the stuffing out of me.  Oh my god, the old woman in the tub.  How scary is that?  Danny's only five in the story.  If I saw something like that, I'd pee my pants too, even now.

And I'm looking forward to reading Doctor Sleep.  Although Joyland will likely come first. I can honestly say that of the eighty-seven pieces that Stephen King has written, I've read at least half of them, and several multiple times.  [Doctor Sleep and Joyland are included in that eighty-seven.]

You want to know more about Stephen King, you say. Well, let me google that for you.  There are about a bazillion websites out there.  Go look for yourself.

But if you're really lazy, you can start here:

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Who's in Charge: You or Your Writing Tools?

From guest blogger Dustin Higbee:

By day, I’m a software developer.  By night, I’m a sleeper.  The spaces in between are filled with family and writing.  There are many parallels between software development and writing.  You need to know a language, but more importantly, you need to know how languages work.  You need to learn the fundamentals of good structure.  You need to adopt a work process that suits you.  This can be planning via outline or model, or you can iteratively write and revise.  No matter how you get there, the only thing that matters is the working code you ship or the finished manuscript that you publish.  But I’ve noticed that there is one part of the process that keeps both developers and writers from getting to done: tools.

It starts with an unmet need.  The project has grown too large to organize, so you search for a tool to help with organization.  The tedium of a repetitive task drives you to look for a tool that can automate the task.  Pretty soon you are auditioning tools instead of cutting code.  You are testing features instead of putting words on the page.  A little of this is ok, because a legitimate productivity boost is possible. At least that’s what you tell yourself.

Enter phase two.  You’re comfortable with the new tool, blissfully hacking away at your project, when a friend (or your stand-in, the Internet) mentions a useful feature that hadn’t occurred to you.  New tool X has it, your tool does not.  You decide that you don’t need it and continue working with what you have.  But the knowledge nags you from the back of your mind, tells you that you’re incomplete without it.  So you switch.

Again, you’re blissfully hacking away at your project.  But alas, you find that New Tool is missing features that were available in Old Tool.  In a brief moment of insanity, you contemplate using both tools at the same time.  If you are a software developer AND a writer, you are permanently insane, so you contemplate coding up a new tool that has all of the “required” features.  Maybe you are lucky enough to find a third tool that has everything.  But at some point, you catch on to what others in your profession have already discovered: the tool is a distraction.
If you’re a developer, you switch from Eclipse to Sublime Text.  If you’re a writer you ditch Scrivener for WriteRoom.  These tools hide the features they contain when placed in “distraction-free” mode (Scrivener tries to do this too), but in many cases these tools are simply missing features.  So you are almost back where you started.  From here you have options. 
  1. Repeat the cycle until vomiting ensues
  2. Retreat to quill and parchment
  3. Plan your process
Option one is obviously bad, but many great works have been created with option two.  If it works for you, I am impressed.  But I will still think of you as a Luddite who is missing out on the progress of humanity.  What about option three?

Option three starts with recognizing that the tools have taken over your writing process and that you need to regain control.  A little Project Management can help here.  Many writers think about the steps of their projects as Plan, Write, Revise, although maybe not always in that order.  In this view, the Plan task is focused on the real work of researching and outlining that happens during the project.  I’m suggesting that you add a pre-planning step in which you create a project plan.

The project plan describes your process for completing the work.  The key for this discussion is that you are choosing the tools you will use for the duration of the project.  You are setting aside a specific time for selecting tools (before the project begins), and then making an agreement with yourself to stick to them until the project is complete.  When you start the project, you simply Plan, Write, and Revise using the tools you have in your toolbox.
There are, of course, other parts of the process that you can lay out ahead of time and it is easy to fall into the trap of planning so much that you never start.  But if you know that tools flip on your ADD switch, then a little planning ahead may just help you maintain your focus.  

Friday, June 7, 2013

5000+ Hits, Another Milestone

Sometime during the night, I passed the 5000 hits mark on this blog.  I can tell I'm getting more of a following -- thank you all -- because I went from 4000 to 5000 in a little over a month.  Considering it took me a year and a half to get to 4000 hits, I consider this a huge accomplishment.

Keep your cards and letters coming, and keep coming back, please....

Love you all!

Reflection and Images as Writing Tools

Guest blogger Alan Brewer muses:

In my personal life, I allot time to reflect.  As a talent development leader and executive coach in my professional life, I spend inordinate amounts of time teaching executives to reflect and to capture those thoughts in a journal.  I ask them to think about what was, what is, and what can be.  There is no better window to the soul than a private, reflective journal.  I tend to keep two; one is an appreciative journal to remind me how wonderful life is, and the other is dark--- filled with vicious thoughts and evil.  I find that love and hate are two strongly connected emotions and sometimes when one is developing a character profile, the best emotions and most prolific characters can be found when I cull through my own journals.

While working in the media and entertainment industry, I became acutely aware of the value of images.  Think about a movie poster.  How does one create / capture one image that communicates the theme of an entire movie with all its twists, plots, characters and layers?  Creating an image with words can even be more challenging.  How does one create an effective, compelling image using only words?  Images, however expressed, are powerful storytelling tools, and there is a delicate balance to strike in getting them just right.

I recall two exercises from my undergraduate coursework that I still find helpful.  Exercise 1:  Take an ordinary red-tip kitchen match and strike it, watching it burn until it reaches your fingertip.  Blow out the match, inhale and observe the gray smoke unfurl and disappear.  Then, describe that activity in minute detail, writing a minimum of 5,000 words.

Exercise 2:  Take any horrific headline from the television news (destructive tornadoes, building collapse, plane crash), and tell that story in 3 or fewer paragraphs.  Get all the facts, and tell the story concisely as though you were writing the newspaper copy.   Those two exercises force your brain into mental Olympics, expanding and contracting your memory and thinking faculties.  Free thought and discipline are both valuable in character development and experienced writers learn how and when to use each tool.

Next, I’ll explore how a vivid imagination can fuel character development when “with that said” continues…