Monday, September 30, 2013

And It's Over

Last night saw the final episode of Breaking Bad, a show I heard about for two, three years before I finally gave in and started watching it, a show that I found to be a complete, grab-you-by-the-throat experience. In its five season run, I don't think I ever found myself thinking, "Well, that episode was kind of lame." My attention didn't wander, I didn't feel like it got lost and started wandering aimlessly, it never really lost forward momentum--or, if it did, it was so well done that I didn't notice.

I approached the last few episodes with nervous excitement, and a sense of impending doom. That sense of doom was not so much for the characters and their potentially ugly fates, but for the show itself. Good endings are hard to get right, and when you know your show is serious water cooler fodder, and that millions of people will be tuning in and talking about it afterwards it's easy to choke. Executive Producer Vince Gilligan and his team of writers did not choke. They gave us an ending that was both fair and appropriate given the characters and where they were on their personal journeys at that point in time.

Fairness is an important part of getting it right. If there's one quibble I have with the ending ***MINOR SPOILER, but no major plot points*** it's that Walter perhaps got too much of what he wanted.***END SPOILER*** If I say that, however, it's because there was a part of me that was screaming out for justice, But justice and fairness are not the same thing, and I think 'fair' was better.

What say you? Did you watch Breaking Bad? Did you think the end was fair? PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, if you comment, remember that not everyone may have watched the ending yet, and tag your comment for potential spoilers. Thanks!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Didn't I Write This Already?

The problem with being a writer like me is that, upon re-reading my manuscripts, I find places where I repeat myself. A character may make a statement in chapter 1, and then she makes the same statement in chapter 5. I suspect this happens because my little old subconscious thinks this statement is really important. It might be part of a key theme of the story, and my brain is trying to make sure I get it out. The result is very similar passages in several places in the manuscript. On reading, I'll often get to the first instance of one of these passages and think, "Hey, I think I say this somewhere else." If I'm very lucky, I'll have a pretty good idea where in the manuscript the second (and third) instance of this is, so I can jump ahead and write myself a note. "Same as on p.77," I'll write. "Pick and stick!" That means pick one spot for this idea, and stick to it. Of courses, I'll frequently find myself in rewrites thinking, "Hey, this is really important" and I'll start writing that same idea in almost that same way in another place. Oy.

The problem with being a blogger like me is I often feel like I've posted on the exact same topic, using the exact same words as I've done before. I'm in a permanent state of Deja vu. I sit down to write a post and I think, "Wait, I've written this before." Quite often I have; the big question, though, is Did I post it?

I have a folder in my writing folder called, imaginatively enough, 'blog'. Within that folder are subfolders: 'posted' and 'pictures'. It should be fairly obvious what those folders are for. And then there's the loose, unconsolidated part of the folder. It's stuffed full of word documents with meaningful and meaningless titles like, "freudianslip", and "scombrid" and, appropriately enough, "repetition." Some of these documents, like "Extendocharacters", should be moved into the 'posted' subfolder. Some of them, I can't be sure. Did I post 'repetition' or not? What about 'more harm than good' or 'External validation'? If I open those documents, the words seem awfully familiar, and why shouldn't they? I wrote them. I just can't remember if I posted them.

The problem is there are only 91 documents in the 'posted' folder. According to my blogger stats, as of today I have made 253 posts--see the problem? Now, there wouldn't be a perfect match anyway, as some of my posts are strictly music videos or goofy little images relating to my state of mind on any given day, so those don't get dumped in the 'posted' folder, because there is no corresponding document. And some of those 91 documents may have two or more posts contained within. And sometimes I write purely off the top of my head, as I'm doing now. Finally, some of the unconsolidated documents that have turned into posts--like 'Extendocharacters'--have a second post on a different topic as part of the document, some other idea that was working up that I wrote directly in that document rather than start another.

I look at my list of posts and keywords, and that's not much help, either. Titles don't always indicate what's contained within, and they don't always jog the memory enough for me to say, "Oh, right, that's what's in there." And my labeling system is pretty much a joke--half the time, I don't label them anyway! So I sit down to write because something has been tickling at my brain for a while, and I feel like I've written it all before, and I go back through the posts and through my files and, after much searching--I can't tell. It's clear I need a new system, and so I turn to you, my friends: How do you organize yourself regarding your blog, so you don't end up posting the same thing over and over again?

That's it for me, have a great weekend!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Musical Monday: "New"

For once, some new music, though it's from an old source, and has a very familiar sort of sound. Kind of appropriate for our first full day of a new season.

I love fall. One of the things that's so great, aside from the colors, is how much everything seems to change from day to day. Of course, every day is something new, but it's really evident in fall.

Of course, there is one bad thing about fall: with the kids back in school, colds start spreading. Within the first two weeks of school, the sniffles and coughs and low grade fevers are passed back and forth among the kids, and then on to everyone else, and sure enough, I've got one. It's not too bad, and I'll get over it fast, but bleah.

How are you all doing?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Bits and Pieces for a Friday

It's Friday morning, and I'm once more not ready with a well-organized, deeply thought out topic. I have ideas, mind you, but I don't have as much time during the week as I used to so it all kind of gets put off and we end up with this sort of loose collection of nonsense. Here goes.

-Well, it finally happened. The spammers, the bots, the spam-bots--they've gotten to be too much. This week alone, 8 Anonymous spam-bots tried to leave comments on the blog. They go in blogger's built-in spam filter, but they also come straight to my e-mail. I decided against 'no moderation' for a reason--I hate when I can't see the comments other people have made on a blog while I'm leaving my own--and I allowed anonymous posts for a reason, but no more. I suspect once the bots realize they can't leave their little self-promotions for virus inducing websites here, they'll go away, and the recent boom in visitation will come back down to normal levels. I hope the change doesn't cause any issues; if it does, leave a comment (hah hah!). Actually, if you want to leave a comment on this or other blog posts but can't, check my profile, my e-mail is there, and send me a nasty-gram that way.
Hoochie mama, that's a lot of spam!

-Interesting posts this week from Chuck Wendig and Stacy McKitrick on reviews this week. Now, if you've read this before from me, feel free to skip to the next block--maybe there's something new there. Everyone is free to make their own choice about whether to review or not, and how and what they review. It bothers me quite a bit, however, that people who do review feel like they can't always be honest in what they're saying. If you don't like a book, there should be no fear whatsoever that the author or their legion of fans is going to come after you, or launch a smear campaign against your own book when it comes out. As I said there, it's outrageous that people get outraged when their books (or their favorite books by their favorite authors) get less than four or five stars.

I find myself thinking of a routine I saw done years and years ago by comedian David Brenner. He was talking about mosquitoes, and how horrible it is to wake up in the middle of the night with that nasty little, whiny buzz in your ear, the sound that a mosquito is closing in for a bite. But, noted Brenner, it's the male mosquito that buzzes, to attract a mate. Male mosquitoes don't bite. "So," said Brenner, "if you wake up and you hear it--bzzzzzzzzz--just turn over, go back to sleep, it's nothing to worry about. But," he said, and paused. "If you hear nothing...."

I think you can figure out the implication of that.

-Jonathan Franzen made the news for a 5600-word rant against e-books, Apple, Amazon, and Jennifer Weiner in the Guardian this week. Ironic, considering his new book is available as an e-book from Amazon. See Porter Anderson for a great round-up on this.

-And for my own technology rant: yesterday I made a phone call for work, reached my target, introduced myself and why I was calling (the guy I reached is no stranger to my organization). He let me get through this spiel, then said, in a very impatient, snippy way, "I'll have to call you back. I'm in a meeting." This last was said in a way that made it sound like I had a lot of nerve, bothering him while he was in a meeting. I was properly apologetic and professional (I strive to be like Mr. Pink, if you know what I mean) and hung up without taking more of his time, but after I did, all I could was, "If you're in a meeting, why the f*** did you answer the phone?"

-I'm beta reading for a friend, and loving it. Not just the story, not just the fact that it's out of my genre (and, truth be told, I still struggle a bit to figure out what it is I'm writing), but the fact that I see things that will help me. Word choices, sentence and paragraph structure, pacing--once more I say, if you haven't beta read, you should. Help others while helping yourself.

-More on the writing front, I'm working on a short for the next anthology from Elephant's Bookshelf (and here's a great interview Matt Sinclair did with Richard Pieters, author of one of the stories in Summer's Double Edge), and, slowly but surely, I've been cracking into BARTON'S WOMEN.

That's it for me, how's it all going for you? Have a great weekend!

*Spam wall by Freezelight

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Quote

"The Beatles haven't got any magic you haven't got."--John Lennon

It's easy to be discouraged by the works of others. "I'll never turn a phrase like that one," you think. "I wish my descriptions were as lush and full." When we read a finished product, those phrases, those descriptions, those characters seem so natural, so easy, so the result of talent or genius. Talent plays a part, yes, but there's no magic there--there's hours and hours of work, determination, grit, experience. In the end, you want it to look easy, to look like magic, and to be magical for a reader.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Still The Same

First, some music, taking you way back to 1978....

Wow, I haven't been into Bob Seger since…well, I've never really been into him all that much; I liked few of his songs when I was younger, but it didn’t take long for songs like Betty Lou’s Getting Out Tonight or Her Strut to lose their appeal, and don't get me started on Old Time Rock and Roll. If I see one more Risky Business, Tom Cruise-dancing-in-his-underwear parody, I might pop a blood vessel in my brain. Still, there are a couple of Seger songs that are not Automatic Dial Turners (heh, showing my age. I guess that would be ‘button pusher’, not dial turner these days), and this one is not inappropriate given the subject matter.

On a fairly regular basis, people throw out on forums and blogs the dread question, "What motivates you to write?"  This is most typically asked when they’re feeling particularly down about things, or have hit the ‘saggy middle’ of their work. My answer has pretty much always been the same, and I did a post about this once before. Since didn’t label that post, I can’t find it now, so I’ll summarize: My motivation is that I want you to read what I write, and I want you to buy what I write. The only way for that to happen is for me to keep writing, to get it done, and make it good. That hasn't changed from the first time I wrote it, and it still hasn't changed. It's still the same.

What's also still the same, however, is the problem I have reading my writing. A few weeks back I received a critique on Barton's Women from one of my valued crit partners. It took me a good twenty-four hours to work up the nerve to do more than skim the e-mail through squinty eyes (yeah, it makes no sense, but that’s how I always look at those critiques--through squinty eyes or kind of sidelong, or sometimes both). Now, there were some very, very nice things said, and the things cited as issues were all fair and, if when worked on by me, will make this manuscript even better. Now it’s up to me. It’s time to read it again, make more notes, and do some rewriting. And yet….

And yet, though 3+ weeks have passed, I find myself really struggling to crack the manuscript open and start the process. It's not because I hate the manuscript--quite the contrary, I think it's good. Unlike the name I’ve given to this blog, and my general approach to so much in life, I think Barton’s Women is good. Get-an-agent good. Hook-an-editor good. I’ll be honest, when I was writing the first draft, I didn’t love it as much as Parallel Lives, but I’ve believed for quite some time that this has much more potential for commercial appeal. (I could be deluding myself, of course, but I don't think I am on this one). It's also not because I don't like the work of revising. Quite the contrary. While revising doesn't necessarily match the exhilaration that can come with whirlwind drafting, the act of crafting brings a different sort of satisfaction. I like watching word counts expand and contract. I like the feeling of knowing I just sanded off the rough edges from a scene and have made it smooth and not likely to give splinters when you run your hand over it. There’s drafting, which to me is more of a rush, and crafting, which is a
slower sort of satisfaction.

The simple truth is, I just really hate reading my writing. Part of it is simple fear that another read is going to smash my dreams of agents and editors, of book deals and readers. It’s embarrassing, somehow, in a way I can’t explain. When I got my copy of Summer’s Double Edge, I read every story in the book (they’re quite good, by the way)--except my own. I looked at it, and reveled in my title and name in print, but I didn’t read it. I can’t. Even though I think that story’s good (and it was a lot of fun to write), and it’s been deemed worthy by an editor and been positively received by folks who’ve read it, I don’t want to read it.

I know, I know, you’re saying, “Get over yourself already.” I will. In fact, I have a half hour to spare in my day today, and I have the first 50 or so pages printed out, so it looks like it’s time. Just let me make some coffee first (hah ha, kidding!). Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Regrets--An Anthology Announcement

In case you haven't heard, Matt Sinclair and the fine folks at Elephant's Bookshelf Press are open for submissions for their next anthology. Now, if you're as observant as I am, you will have noticed a bit of a theme: their first anthology, Spring Fevers, came out in spring of 2012. It was followed by The Fall, released the following--you guessed it--Autumn. They skipped a season and released Summer's Edge and Summer's Double Edge this past summer (that's the one with one of my stories in it, ahem), leaving one season yet uncovered.

And so Matt recently announced that they are accepting submissions for the Winter anthology. Allow me to shamelessly lift some text off the EBP site:

Regrets, I’ve had a few…
To be human is to have regrets, to question decisions, even to doubt our own abilities and capacities. Whether it’s because of a path not taken or a decision made for selfish or –  perhaps worse – unselfish reasons, we all have had moments we regret. We might regret not recognizing an opportunity. Or we regret being too quick to clutch a seemingly easy victory that left us unable to grab the better opportunity behind it. I’ve known folks who have later regretted making the right decision. Of course, like most things in life, the difference between a right decision and a wrong one can be a matter of perspective.
That’s where you writers come in. The theme for the winter anthology is “regret.” We’re looking for stories that, in some sense, convey regret. As always, we’re looking for quality short stories, but this time the theme is a little different. As in the past, stories can be in almost any genre: no erotica.
The rest of the details are at EBP's blog, but I'll add a couple of things here: word count is limited to 5,500; they're open to any genre except erotica, and the deadline is a rather tight one: October 15th. Oh, and let me add that, based on personal experience, Matt and his editorial  team do a great job, are easy to work with, and release a quality product.

So, what say you? Are you up for the challenge? I'm trying to polish something up now for this, how about you?

Friday, September 6, 2013

I Don't Know What To Call It

Last night I found myself for a short time at Anita Sarkeesian's blog, Feminist Frequency, watching a video about the persistent use of the 'Damsel in Distress' trope in video games. Sarkeesian does high quality production on high quality topics, and this was no exception. But I found myself flashing back to a post I had started writing a long time ago, and never managed to finish, and here I am, trying to push out a post on Friday morning before the chaos erupts that is getting ready for school and work.

My first video game was…wait for it…Pong. Yes, Pong. It showed up in the lobby of a toy store we had in our neighborhood, and I remember it sucking us in immediately. It was so exciting! So different! So unusual!

so lame!
Yes, it was Pong, a game of tennis played on a gray TV screen, where your objective was to twist a knob to control a vertical dash of white to knock a dot of white past your opponent in a a video version of tennis, or Ping Pong. It sounds silly, but it was instantly captivating. I don't remember the year we first saw it (Wikipedia says it came out in 1972, which might be about right), but it was all the rage.

Pong was soon followed by other video games, most of which I don't remember. We had a little store in a plaza near us that we always called the Candy Store. It was a luncheonette on the corner of a little strip plaza. At the front of the store they sold newspapers, magazines, and, yes, candy. The middle had a luncheonette counter. Way in the back were some pinball machines which my friends and I avoided, because The Big Kids hung out back there and we were afraid of them. At some point, we became big enough to venture back there (or maybe The Big Kids were off in the woods getting stoned or something, leaving the space empty) and we found, at first, 3 pinball machines and one car racing video game where the car you controlled looked like a sort of squat I-beam in cross section. But it had a steering wheel and a gearshift (fast or slow), not even a gas pedal. It was crude, but awesone—we didn't know any better.

In the next couple of years, the games got better—gameplay became a little more complex, the consoles developed more controls, and the graphics, little by little, improved. But the two games that really seemed to launch video games were Space Invaders and Pac-Man. Space Invaders was the Elvis of video games. Pac-Man was the Beatles. If you lived through it, you remember.
Did I say the graphics improved?

The funny thing about those early arcade games, though, is there wasn't much to them. Yes, they had compelling, highly-addictive gameplay, and top shelf (for the time) graphics, but that was it. Shoot down the aliens before they land! Gobble up all the power pills without being eaten by ghosts! Save your cities from nuclear annihilation! Shoot up space rocks so they don't destroy your ship! Arcades were full of games that had people mashing buttons, spinning wheels and going wild-eyed in frustration for no real reason. Again, the gameplay was fun, but what was the point? Oh, right, to keep you playing, to keep you feeding quarters into the slot over and over and over.

What these games lacked was story.

Around that time, home game systems started coming out. Colecovision. Magnavox. Atari. We had an Atari. It was fun being able to play all those arcade classics on your TV, for free! (Hey, we were kids. We knew it cost money, but it wasn't costing us money!) Essentially, all the same games were ported to the system, Missile Command and Frogger, Centipede, Pitfall, and newer games, too. Again, compelling gameplay, but a whole lot of fluff.

With the rise of the home computer, gaming began to change. It had to. Arcade games needed to hook you enough to put just one more quarter in the slot, to try one more time, to see if you could clear that level, or get your name to that #1 slot on the leaderboard. It wasn't enough for the new world of home computers, however. Home computer games came with a heftier up front price tag, and no one wanted to sink big money into a game that offered little reason to play. Blowing up asteroids and eating little glowing energy pills wasn't enough, nor was thirty seconds of game play. And to get people playing longer, you needed…


When we got our first computer in this house, it wasn't long before someone slipped us our first computer game. It was crude by comparison to today, a first-person, point-and-click game where you had to solve puzzles (puzzles that could be maddeningly difficult, or completely illogical) to solve a mystery. And that's pretty much what all those early games that we played were, but what set them apart—or the good ones, anyway—was the writing, the story. The new addiction to video games for us wasn't in repeated button mashing and blowing things up and trying to score higher than last time, it was in uncovering the story, solving the mystery, finding out what happens next. The good video games were much more like reading a novel, where you hit the end of the chapter and want to keep going on. They're still like that today. The biggest games, the games like World of Warcraft or Star Wars: The Old Republic and whatever else is popular, put a lot of time and effort into writing and story. Yes, the play has to be fun, but we need reasons for plunking down the cash and for spending hours in front of the screen, and more often than not, it's the story that keeps us coming back.

And to think, it started with a goofy game like Pong.

Pong image from Wikipeda
Space Invaders from MisterSnappy

Monday, September 2, 2013

Child's Play

Yesterday morning a post turned up in my Facebook feed from my friend, Lisa Regan, and I consider myself lucky to have seen it, because it's Facebook, and things get shuffled, ordered and reordered, with no rhyme or reason, kind of like Amazon rankings. At any rate, this was close enough to the top of the feed Sunday morning that I saw it. Tomorrow, it may be lost seemingly forever, only to show up again next December, even if no one comments or likes it. Who can say?

Anyway, Lisa relayed how she sat in her car with her 5-year-old daughter, waiting for her husband to come out of the store. The daughter is playing with a My Little Pony figure and invites Lisa to play along.

"Sorry, hon, I don't have a pony."

"Do you have a pen?"

Lisa hands a pen to her daughter, who takes the pen, grabs Lisa's hand, and draws a smiley face on her fingertip.

"Now you've got one," she says. "Let's play."

That picture of Lisa's smiling fingertip and her story made my day. It's so typical of kids to think this way. They have not been trained by the world to look for the faults first; instead, they see possibility and potential, and they're typically not afraid to try out their solutions and have them fail. Kids are unabashed imaginators and problem solvers.

Lisa's story also triggered a thought process about what got me back into writing fiction. I had never really considered the possibility that my kids played any role in resurrecting my long-buried desire to write fiction, but maybe there's something there.

When the Magpie and the Catbird were little, my wife and I made sure we read to them every day. We read to them at bedtime, we read to them while we were feeding them, we read to them as we were putting them down for naps. We read board books and Boynton, Dr. Seuss and the Berenstain Bears. When they got older, it was Junie B. Jones and the Magic Treehouse, Harry Potter, Where The Red Fern Grows. When they were old enough to read on their own, they read to us. And in addition to reading, we played. And we played, and we played, and we played. We played board games and card games, and we built with legos and blocks, but probably the most popular game were variations on games with ponies. The girls had horses. Lots of horses. And we played with them all the time.

I never got to be Wonder Pony.

For an adult, kid play can sometimes be remarkably frustrating, especially when the kid dictates everything. "OK, he's going to do this…" says the kid, and you have to make him do THIS or it all falls apart. But it's also amazing and creative and limitless. I spent hours with the girls, bending to their will while trying to maintain some degree of autonomy, while horses flew and ran and escaped the clutches of the bad guys who were trying to kidnap them. As frustrating as it could be at time, I admit I had a lot of fun. It was the sort of play that I hadn't really experienced since before I was a teenager.

Eventually, of course, that sort of play tapered, then stopped. In all honesty, it was partly relief and partly sad. The girls both became more solitary (or, perhaps more accurately, their social activities were directed in different ways), more mature in their pursuits. It's a natural progression, one that I had gone through, and my parents too, and their parents, on and on for millennia. Some day, their children will do the same. It's the natural order of things.

But where does the writing come in? The desire to write really seemed to kick in again around the time the Catbird, being younger, moved out of that "let's play" phase of life. There were other factors involved, too, but Lisa's post made me rethink the connection between my kids and my writing. Playing with my kids as much as I did, I think, tapped some well of imagination that had been largely covered over. Once they stopped needing me for that kind of play, the connection, fortunately, remained open, but it needed an outlet. Perhaps if I had studied music more seriously as a kid, I'd be playing piano or guitar now, or maybe I'd be painting or joining the local theater company. But I've always gravitated toward the written word, so it's natural that the creativity would leak out and be satisfied in that direction. I'm glad it did because, as frustrating as writing can sometimes be, it's satisfying and fun. Thanks, kids!