Friday, November 29, 2013


IN Honor of the recent airing of the Dr. Who 50th Anniversary special, I'm going back in time. This is what I wrote Saturday morning, November 23 on the calendar for those keeping score at home. It was going to run on Monday, but I had a breakthrough shortly after putting these words to paper, recounted here. So here's where I was at:

I'm in one of those funny spots.

My manuscript is sitting here in front of me, open to page 304. There are 68 printed pages left. I have about 600 words to will add in, something I think will make the ending a little more satisfying. The finish line is in sight. My goal: to start querying, with all the excitement, terror and disappointment that that brings. Also the anticipation and, maybe, relief as well.

And yet….On Thursday night, after chauffering the Catbird and her friend down to a movie, I had time: time to write, time to revise, time to make headway toward my goal of having the manuscript query ready by the end of the month—and I got nothing done. Nada. Zilch. And I came home last night and thought, "It's Friday, Friday (sing it, everyone); no Saturday morning obligations, I can stay up all night, I can work on this, I can finish it by the end of the weekend." Instead, we caught up on Revolution (I don't know if you watch this show or not, but I'm enjoying this season more than last. Last season, there was just a little too much 'let's travel incredible distances on foot and somehow make it there before the seasons change' happening. This season has our heroes mostly concentrated in one place, and I think that's to the benefit of the program's believability quotient. But anyway…), and then we watched a couple of episodes of Malcolm inthe Middle, which for my money is still one of the funniest TV shows ever, and I went to bed without working on the manuscript at all. And here I am at 8 AM on Saturday, with no obligations, and I'm writing a blog post. What's the deal?

Well, I know two deals. One, the section I'm working on is a problem. I'm at the end of Chapter 21, though on my last read through I noted that it probably should be its own chapter. The section needs to be in the book, yet I started retyping the opening paragraph half-a-dozen times, and it just feels—wrong. I can't put my finger on it. And trying to rework it gave me that itchy feeling inside my head and made me agitated, so I decided to skip it and go watch TV instead. Oh, wait, I actually worked on the query a little bit, but that made my head even worse.

I've been here before, and I think my probem is I'm afraid of is the next step. I like this manuscript. I like the story, I like the characters, and I think it's got potential to sell. But I know that part of the problem is with that potential. Potential. It's like a rock poised at the top of a hill. Potential. Once I release this thing, once I get the query letter written, once I push the rock at the top of the hill, it no longer has potential. It's going to roll down the hill. It's going to smash into things and run over things, but eventually it's going to come to rest somewhere. It could be in the middle of someone's living room or backyard. Or it could come to rest in a field somewhere, unnoticed. Or it could roll into a lake and sink to the bottom. It's a scary place to be, and I know many of you have been there. As long as I keep the manuscript at the top of the hill, it's got potential. It can be a bestseller. It can be a blockbuster. It can be the next Twilight, I can be the next Stephen King. Once it starts rolling, however….

HEY, TIME JUMP, it's now Friday morning, November 29, and I realize something: the idea I just expressed in those last couple of lines is bullshit. As long as my manuscript is sitting on my hard drive it's nothing more than a collection of words. It actually CAN'T be the next Twilight, and I can't be the next Stephen King unless I put my words out there. It's a bestseller in my mind only. I want it to be a bestseller, so it's going to have to get out there. Even then, the chances of it being a bestseller are slim, but I'd rather have the reality than the fantasy.

Have a great weekend, all.

Monday, November 25, 2013

I'm ON the Motherf***er

(Warning note: repeated use of a Very Bad Word)

If you've hung around this space for any length of time, you'll know that Pulp Fiction is one of my favorite movies, a film I can't get enough of, one that sucks me in every time I come across it on the TV. Aside from the compelling storylines and the interesting way they come together, and the characters that you like despite the despicable things they do, there are all kinds of memorable lines:

"We're gonna be like three little Fonzies here."
"I have to stab her three times?"
"Hamburgers! The cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast."
"Zed's dead, baby."

Yet the one line that sticks with me perhaps more than any is that one line in the title, uttered twice. And I always hear it in the cool, gelato-smooth voice of Marsellus Wallace. "I'm on the motherfucker." See below, NSFW (jump to 44 seconds; the code doesn't seem to work):

Those four little words (well, three little words and one fairly large one, anyway) have infected my life on an almost daily basis. Anytime someone asks me if I'm doing something that I'm doing or have done, it pops up: "Honey, could you take the garbage out?" asked while I'm tying up the bag. "I'm on the motherfucker." "Remember, your time sheets are due today," as I'm handing them in. "I'm on the motherfucker." "Dad, do you have ten dollars for [insert school function here]?" "I'm on the motherfucker." Of course, I never actually say it out loud, but more often than not, it's in my head.

On Saturday morning I was diddling around, avoiding my manuscript for reasons laid out in what might have been this morning's post if things hadn't gone the way they did. Suffice to say that, since Thursday night, I'd been avoiding a particular piece because, well, I don't know. It just didn't work, and I just couldn't seem to concentrate on it, so I changed one word on Thursday, none on Friday, and was trying to do something with it on Saturday. But I found myself with that same, frustrated feeling, compounded by the fact I was within seventy pages of the end. I don't like skipping with the idea of coming back to it, so instead I took a handful of printed pages to the bathroom.

Now, I'm not a bathroom reader. I'm not a bathroom talker, either. If I had a smart phone I wouldn't be a bathroom texter or IM'er. I prefer to take care of business, so to speak, but I've also long espoused the idea that sometimes, a change of scenery is exactly what you need. So I took three pages with me, started eyeballing the opening of the chapter, got immediately disgusted with the cliché that opened the section, and then the magic happened. I flipped the sheet over and started writing. I wrote three paragraphs super fast, and was out of the bathroom even quicker than if I had taken nothing in with me (my bathroom vice, and yes, we're already into the land of Too Much Information here, is thinking). When I came out of the bathroom, I was super psyched, super pumped up, because at least part of my problem was solved—with the manuscript, that is. And what was I thinking as I made myself another cup of coffee? You guessed it: "I'm on the motherfucker." Only now it wasn't super-smooth Marsellus Wallace. I all-but ran around the kitchen, getting water, setting up the coffee, putting on the kettle, and I'm thinking (and saying out loud, too), "I'm ON the motherfucker." "I'm on the motherfucker." And when the coffee was ready, I sat down and pounded that sucker out, and experienced the rush and the joy that comes with that burst of creativity.

I'm ON the motherfucker. And I love writing.

And allow me to add one more thing: Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends stateside. Heck, to everyone! Be well, see you on Friday.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Home Stretch

At this point, there’s a week and a day left to NaNo (or just a week for my friends down under)--how’s it going? Are you absolutely insane yet? Ready to tear out your hair or chuck your computer (or whatever you write upon) out the window?

Hopefully you haven’t crumbled under the pressure. Hopefully you’ve managed to keep up enough of a pace so that hitting the magic 50K mark is feasible. More importantly, I hope the experience has been a positive, no matter where you stand on the word count curve. Today, I want to talk a little about something I’ve touched on before, but I think it’s important to remember, especially for any of you who may be in NaNo for the first time: Finishing, and what it means.

When I did NaNo for the first time back in 2010 (wow, it’s really been three years), I got caught up in the ideas of ‘winning.’ What does that mean? Well, looking at the NaNo site now, it simply says, “Write a novel in a month!” Digging further into the website, more specifically it says, “On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 p.m. on November 30.” Now, I am guilty on a regular basis of taking things quite literally. For me, a cigar is almost always a cigar. So when I read “write a 50,000 word novel in a month” my brain says, “OK, that’s a complete novel in a month.” This sort of literal thinking played havoc with me as I headed into that final week.

On November 26 I had a 145-page document with a Word word count of 35,000, and I went into panic mode. Panic mode because I had 4 days to finish, 4 days to crank out 15,000 words, 4 days to finish my novel. How the hell was I going to do that?

As a Wingman, I had no real idea of what my story was when I started. I had a beginning, and a broad idea of what happens: slacker type ends up in county jail for a short sentence stemming from a combination of traffic accident (leaving the scene) and insurance (driving without). Further, I knew he was going to get in trouble because of an unwillingness to take responsibility for his actions--he was always blaming someone else for his troubles (in this case, it was a turtle, of all things). But as a Wingman, I can only see so far ahead, and as this was also my first attempt at writing, I was jumbled and out of sorts. I wrote the story very much out of sequence. In fact, I had the beginning, and by this day in 2010 I also had the end in mind (and mostly written). What I was missing was a crucial piece of connective tissue that hooked the middle up to the end. And I had four days and 15,000 words left to put it together. In my obsession to win, I did something quite bad: I shoehorned. Like the Prince’s servant trying to squeeze Drusilla's foot into Cinderella’s glass shoe, I did everything in my power to not only hit the 50K mark, but to ALSO make the two ends of the story fit nicely and neatly.

I'll make it fit!

On November 30 I wrote my final words on my NaNo project. It clocked in around 52,000 words, beginning, middle and end. I had won, and I felt good about it, but at the same time, I knew it was not quite right. As inexperienced as I was in the art of novel writing, I knew this untitled work didn’t fit together quite right. But I was done, by God! I had slain the NaNo dragon! I could proudly claim the nifty little badge they offered and put it...well, I didn’t know where, I didn’t have a blog or anything at the time, so I didn’t do anything with it, really, but I was damn proud to have it.

Looking back, I see where I went wrong, and I encourage any of you who are staring at the calendar, and staring at your NaNos, and thinking, “How can I wrap this up in around 50,000 words?” to do this: don’t. As far as I know, there’s no requirement to conclude your novel in or close to 50K. Your story might be bigger than that. It might need 60, 70, 90,000 words to be told properly. It might need another month of writing to hit that point, or 2 or 3. Keep working away at it, let it take the time it needs, but don’t grab the shoehorn. Aim for 50,000 by next Saturday, by all means (but don’t abandon your family for all of Thanksgiving, you American types, you), but don’t wind it up with a sudden, “And then the deus ex machina arrived and saved them all and they lived happily ever after until the sequel or I have time to write this properly, the end.”

That’s all I’ve got for today. I hope you’re enjoying your NaNo process, or your revision work, or whatever you’re working on. Have a great weekend!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Weekend Updates

Nothing especially organized about today's post, just the ramblings of a confused mind still waiting for his first cup of coffee.

- The high school musical was this weekend, an ambitious one this year: "Les Mis." 2-1/2 months of often grueling rehearsals (the directors of the musical for the past six years in our school are Broadway veterans, so they often seem to forget that these kids are students) really paid off--everyone did a fantastic job with the material. The Catbird was a chorus girl, though she got two or three solo lines and did great! I'll add that a number of the performances were revelatory--I sat there and thought, "Who knew [insert kid's name here] could sing like that?"

-Along those lines, I found it amusing that the school felt the need to post content and language warnings at the entrance and on the program. Of course, there is some 'rough stuff' involved.

- The Magpie came home for the weekend (or, more correctly, we went and fetched her) so she could see the musical. It was really nice to have her back, and real nice to see my girls together. They get along so well.

-Enough of that mushy stuff. You ever notice that, in car commercials (and probably not necessarily just car commercials) where there's a hetero couple driving, it's almost always the man behind the wheel? I do most of the driving in this family, especially at night and in winter (which is roughly 8 months here--okay, I exagerrate), but that's because the girls don't have licenses and my wife doesn't like the roads. I wonder if this is the case in most places. Do share.

-Despite the craziness of the weekend, I managed to get in some decent work on BARTON'S WOMEN, working through about 50 pages of manuscript. Ah, the benefits of getting up before everyone else! It shrank by almost 500 words and one manuscript page, though I'm finding myself struggling with one particular section--not so much in the writing, but with whether the segment belongs where it is or needs to move up from the back of the chapter to the front. I think I can still trim a bit from the front edge of the story as well. I'm about 100 pages out from the end, and am still hoping to start my query by month's end.

-Coffee's kicking in now. Look out.

-Comet ISON--have you seen it? Have you looked? Sadly, we have two obstacles to quality viewing (three, if you count today's clouds): hills to the east that get in the way, and a street light about 200 feet up from my house that's quite bright and glary. I'd like to see it before it's gone.

-A college campus early on a Sunday afternoon is like a ghost town.

-I also got through a number of pages of reading for a friend (you know who you are!). I'm happy to say I'm almost done, and happier to say that it's quite good! I aim to have it for you by Thanksgiving!

-Two weeks ago I turned in five (or six) printed pieces for the Writers' Circle anthology. Yesterday, I e-mailed the project leader four of the five (or six) pieces--I can't remember what the extra one (or two) was. That's pretty sad. There are at least three possibilities. Why didn't I write this down?

-I appreciate the input you gave me on my question of two weeks ago. Your responses made me think quite a bit, and I'll likely have more on that subject when I can devote a bit more time to things.

-And in closing, this one may be a little mellow and melancholy for a Monday morning, but I love the song and I love the performance, acoustic Dead in front of a rowdy Halloween crowd at Radio City Music Hall. See you Friday (I hope)--how was your weekend?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Tag, etc.

First, my apologies to all of you. I know you sat around all day waiting for my usual Friday post. Workplace productivity suffered, the market took a tumble, men and women beat their breasts and tore their hair....Or not. Anyway, because I never quite pre-write as much as I want, so that posting is a matter of a few minutes of edit and voila! I ended up running out of time yesterday morning, and I was out of the house from roughly 7:30 AM until around 11:15 last night. Here, instead, is the Saturday edition.

On a second note, I missed the initial announcement, and the day, but my condolences to fellow blogger Nick Wilford on the passing of his son, Andrew. I am very sorry for your loss, and though it's now a day late, better late than never:

Now, last week my pal Lisa Regan tagged me, and while I haven't played along in a while, I didn't have a whole lot else ready to go so I thought, "Yeah, I'll play along." Of course, it turned into a bigger production than I expected, part of why this is coming to you on Saturday instead of the usual Friday. The rules are simple: Answer four questions, tag five three people, and Bob's your uncle.
God, no, not him!

So, here we go:

1. What are you working on?

Well, there are these four questions I have to ask, see, and...oh, right. I think just about anyone who's been reading this space for any length of time knows I'm elbows-deep in revisions for my novel, BARTON'S WOMEN (p. 213 out of 369 and shrinking--Bob would not approve). And now you're going to know why I didn't get this posted. Lisa put in a nice write up of her current project, so I kind of feel obligated, as well. Plus, you've been hearing bits and pieces about this thing for almost 2 (!) years now, and if I  can't summarize it fairly quickly, I've got a problem. (Funny, I had a sheet full of potential log lines for this monstrosity, and I can't find it now. I've also got half-a-hundred query versions floating around out there. This isn't quite the latest query, but it's pieces of it.

Sunspots, Al-Qaeda, the government--Kevin Barton doesn't know why the power goes out in the little town of Harpursville, or why it also takes out phones, cars, practically everything. What he does know is he's got a family to feed, and their food and water won't last forever.

He's also got a problem in the form of Dina McCray, his daughter's best friend. Stranded at the Barton house, the sixteen-year-old helps with everything from hauling water to digging a garden. She's also another mouth to feed, and that puts her at odds with Kevin's wife, who counts every crumb and would love to get the girl out of the house. Then there's David Sobchuk, the man who keeps Harpursville from sliding into every-man-for-himself chaos. He makes Kevin an offer for Dina's 'services', but Kevin's not about to pimp her out for a few bundles of wood and some deer steaks. 

As pressure mounts from inside and outside the Barton home, Kevin must find the power within himself to keep his family together and keep Dina safe. Their survival depends on it.

That's the first time I've ever gone quite so public with this. Gulp.

2. How does it differ from other works in its genre?

And here I play the special snowflake card. On the surface, BARTON'S WOMEN probably looks like Post-Apocalyptic or Dystopian fiction. I don't read either of those as a general rule; however, my impression of both those genres is that there's a lot of attention paid to the world. BW doesn't quite fit neatly into that mold. The emphasis here is on family and the dynamic among the characters. It's a little more literary in style, and I will likely pitch it as 'commercial'.

3. Why do you write?
Because it's fun. It's a kick. I write for the moments when I surprise myself, for the moments when I say, "Whoa, that's good." (yes, even I have those moments) I write because for the moment the light goes on, and I write for the feeling I get when I push back from the desk wrung out, exhausted, weary, but feeling great.

Man, am I selfish.

4. How does your writing process work?

Slowly, hah ha. There's an idea phase where something occurs to me. Something triggers a thought or a question--"what if?" or something like that. There's usually a stewing period (see this post), then something kicks the idea into the front room of my brain.

Once I start writing, it's Wingman, baby. No outlines, no snowflake sheets, no character interviews or charts, no beat sheets. BUT there is a lot of time spent in 'headspace', thinking about things, hearing dialogue, seeing action. When I sit down to write for the day I've spent a lot of time thinking things over, trying to make things fit, putting pieces together so they fit right.

And that is it. So, who do I tag? I tend to tag the same people over and over again. Let's see....

Stacy McKitrick
Patrick Stahl

Please note, if this is an inconvenience or bother, or you don't participate in these sort of things, you are under no obligation to participate. Otherwise, consider yourself tagged! Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Musical Monday: Kaleidoscope Heart

Another entry from the marvelous Sara Bareilles. The video is jumpy (no, I wasn't the one who shot it), but man, can this woman sing. And hearts do have colors, don't they?

I appreciate the input I've received so far as far on Friday's post. Please, keep it coming! Blogger is not exactly great for dialogue, but we can manage a discussion of sorts. I will follow up on that a bit sometime in the near future. Hope you're all well, and had a pleasant weekend.

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Question...

...for my writerly friends out there, specifically those of you who have been published, who have people reading your book(s), who might actually be receiving some form of fan mail:

What question is most frequently asked of you by your readers?

And when I say 'readers', I'm not talking about people like me, i.e., someone who is working on joining you on the 'published author' side of the line. I'm talking about actual readers, people who don't necessarily read with one eye on sentence structure or character development, people who aren't parsing your words because they're reading to improve their own writing even as they read for enjoyment. I'm talking about people who read for the sake of reading, goshdarnit, people who have no ulterior motive other than enjoying a good story. What is it they want to know?

Earlier this week, agent Rachelle Gardner did a post over at her agency's blog about privacy, and she talked a bit about the connection between reader and author. That made me ask a question in the comments section (one that she hasn't answered yet, though I've found her to be responsive in the past), which I'll repeat here:
  "Does the average reader really care that much about making connections with authors beyond what's on the page?"
I really wonder about this, hence I asked the question, and hence I asked the question of my published friends up top. See, here's the thing: when I finish a book that I really enjoyed, I don't immediately hop on to social media and seek the author out. I don't look for their website, or their twitter feed or stalk their facebook page. What do I do? I move on to the next thing in my To Be Read pile. If the book is by an author I've never read before, and that book is more than a couple of years old, I might go to the web to see if they have something newer--which will probably lead me to Amazon or Wikipedia, maybe an author's personal webpage. But even if I do go to said author's webpage, I'm not off to follow on twitter, etc.

Am I just a holdover from a bygone era, a dinosaur in a world of mammals? Am I totally off my rocker? Does the average reader really want something more than just a good book from a favorite author? I'm curious what you all think about this, and I'm curious about your experiences with actual readers (who are not writers).
Yeah, this could be me.

I'm looking forward to hearing what you think. Meanwhile, how are your NaNos or other projects going? I hit chapter 10 in BARTON'S WOMEN last night; it was a slow night due to other things happening, but I've shaved about 1500 words from the manuscript so far--and I still like it. Have a nice weekend, all.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Project

An interesting project has finally come up and started rolling.

As I think I've said before, I'm part of a writers' group that meets at a local arts center every Sunday. It's a nice group of people. We have fun, and once in a while I actually produce something worthwhile ("Last Man Standing", published this past summer, was born in my writers' group, as I think I have said).

The director of the arts center has been talking for at least a year now about trying to publish our work in a book. As it stands, we've already had 'featured writers of the month' in the newsletter the center puts out. The book idea has largely not gone anywhere--we are not publishers, by and large, and she's too busy. So for the last year or so the talk would surface from time-to-time, but it wasn't going anywhere. Until now.

Yesterday we sat down with a person who is a new employee of the center, a young lady who has a freshly-inked piece of sheepskin in the field of creative writing and publishing, and is in charge of making the book happen. She handed out a production schedule, we talked a bit about what needed to happen, and when it needed to happen by, we talked contracts and rights--and then I had to leave for a potluck dinner for the Catbird's Cross Country team.

I have to say, I have mixed feelings about the venture.

On the one hand, it's always nice to claim publication, isn't it? This will not be a paid gig; I will not make any money off this, but that's okay, even though I want people to pay for my writing. Also, this will be a self-published book. As of now, our Editor-in-Chief is looking at Lulu for printing. As all of us will be involved in the project, this is a great opportunity for me to learn about the process, should I ever choose to self-publish. It's a low risk situation for me, submitting a few short pieces that likely wouldn't see the light of day anywhere else, anyway. And, of course, it's a way to show my support for what I think is a great organization.

But I am the doubting writer, so I have some doubts.

First, I am a notorious non-completionist when it comes to writers' circle. Most of what I write in the circle are fragments, bits and pieces of things picked up from here and there. Some of them are fun, some of them could be good, but most of them are not. The things that really grab me, the ones that I come home excited about, and actually do more with, are things that I aim at publication. And it often takes me time to get there. "Last Man" was initially drafted in about a week. It then sat for over a year before I dusted it off and started playing with it again. Yesterday, I printed out five pieces that I thought were kind of fun, that I thought had potential for this book. Two of them were pieces I submitted here and there, the other three were things that I liked well enough, but never polished to a high shine. To get all of them ready, I'm going to need to spend more time with them, and time is in shorter supply than it had been.

Second, I do have to say I worry a bit about quality. There were eight of us around the table yesterday, most of whom have been in this group for at least a year, some for longer. The skill level varies greatly. I'm no Tolstoy, but I do consider myself one of the better writers in the group (Yes, I actually said that; can you believe it?). At the risk of sounding like a complete ass, I worry a bit about having my work surrounded by things that may not be as good, quite frankly. There's a fear that someone may buy this book, read a story or two, and throw it against the wall--after putting all the contributors' names down on a blacklist. There, I said that, too. Could this hurt me in the long run?

No. I suppose that's my fear for the day, my doubting self coming up to the surface. This will be an interesting look at the book production process from the inside, and now that I've vented my fears, I can move forward.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Unsolicited NaNo Advice

I feel uniquely qualified in offering up unsolicited advice for all of you intrepid NaNo'ers out there. First, I've 'won' NaNo, so I have a good idea of what it takes to complete this Herculean task. Second, I've lost NaNo, too, so I feel quite confident to call myself an expert. I've also been known to dispense NaNo advice in the past (I think this post is particularly good if you really need it after we're done here today), so there you are. Anyway, here we go:

As you go forth on your NaNo journey, remember that there are more ways to win than pumping out 50,000 words in 30 days, and that you can lose NaNo by not meeting the goal, yet still win. It's all in the journey and what you learn from it. So while you're mainlining your coffee or Mountain Dew or green tea and plugging in your daily word count to watch the histogram rise, keep in mind there's a bigger prize at stake than a novel in a month.

Wasn't that simple? Have a great weekend, everyone!