Sunday, March 31, 2013

Following a Passionate Schedule

We writers are funny folks.  We hop from one project to the next, knowing that each one is a plague we cannot escape from.  However, we willingly fling ourselves into the wasteland of writing book after book, sometimes not even waiting until one project is complete before we move to the next one.
(Sometimes it feels like our writing takes us to some unsanitary places)
As the three people who read this blog know, I'm working on a new novel that I expect to be done by the end of April.  Since I'm a big believer in building an inventory, and I won't be putting anything out until I get back to the mainland in about two or so years, I intend to begin working on the novel after Schism somewhere around the 4th of July holiday.  I had plans for exactly which novel that would be...until recently.

I've written many times that the second novel I intend to put out, Salvation Day, is my best work.  And although I was satisfied where the story ended, I always knew I'd go back to it one day and work out the next story in that adventure.  I planned for its sequel to be the next novel I was going to work on.  Now keep in mind that I had no idea how I was going to get from A to B in the story, and in fact had only a vague idea what A would even be, but I felt confident that the story would come to me and I could make it work.
(It just needs the right fuel to keep churning stuff out)
However, a different idea came into my head(I know...shocking).  Lots of my book ideas come from random fantasies that pop into my head, and those fantasies tend to stay there for a long time.  Well, I've been pondering one for a while, and please don't ask how I came up with something so strange - if you can figure that out, you should be making tons of money as a top therapist, not slaving away as a writer.

I've skipped around in a lot of different genres, from horror to paranormal to science fiction.  My next idea goes back to my roots in science fiction.  I started thinking about a world where we were attacked by a swarm of organic machines that sought out life in order to destroy it.  What would happen when they overran our world?  Could humanity survive in the face of total annihilation?

However, I also realized that such a theme had been done lots of times before, so I started fantasizing from a different angle - what if we'd been driven from our planet, and now, several thousand years later, we were back to reclaim it?  What if we'd built an empire somewhere else and now sought revenge, driven by a primordial need to return to our homeworld?  And assuming we succeeded, what would that world look like?  If we didn't take every human with us in our flight, how would the survivors' descendents react to our return?

I realized I'd grown passionate about such a novel.  I also realized that passion isn't something you forsake, so I will put the next chapter in Salvation Day aside for another time.  I went to the well once and wrote a book I hadn't thought out enough in advance, and I'm certain I need to go back and do some extreme revision.  This new project, though, will be something I'm into from day one.

Yes, this is a few months off, but it proved to me that I have to allow the Muse to lead me to stories sometimes rather than force her to go place she doesn't want to go.  After a brief hiatus, I will delve into the next work on an idea I wasn't planning on getting to for a while.  This will allow me to write passionately on a story I believe in, and it'll allow me to marinate the next Salvation Day story a bit longer so it's more ready for primetime when I do write it.

We can all have whatever schedules we want, but we also have to recognize when that schedule is no longer valid.  As was said in the movie The Golden Child when Eddie Murphy's character said he thought he was supposed to stay on the path, the response is always, "Yes, but you have to know when to break the rules."

Thursday, March 28, 2013

End of Act Three

Three quarters of my new novel is now complete.  This one is entitled "The Coup," and much like the movie Seven Days In May, it deals with an unthinkable consequence of the new civil war - the seizure of power by the United States Military.

Some people, I know, stopped reading right there.  They've shouted either, "Whoa, that just can't happen in our country," or "How dare you impugn our beloved Soldiers like that!"  In regards to the second point, given my own background, saying I'm anti-military would be like saying Peyton Manning is anti-football.  It's just a story, so please lighten up.

On the first point, the one where people would say that such a thing could never happen here, that's like me saying because I've never broken my arm, my arm is unbreakable, or that because I've never died, I'm immortal.  There is no such thing as "it couldn't ever happen here," because a lot of societies have let it happen.

The US Military is a very action oriented group.  They're not the kind of folks who sit around and discuss things in committee(well, some are, but not the majority of them).  When there's a problem, they don't just come up with a solution, they implement it.  When an obstacle presents itself, they figure out a way to overcome it.  Now imagine such a hard charging group of people in the midst of a country in chaos, where neighbor is killing neighbor and the legal issues of who's in charge are very murky.

However, even that wouldn't necessarily be enough for the Armed Forces to take control.  Those who serve, from the lowest private to the highest general, have service to country and subordination to civilian authority ingrained in them from the moment they take their oath(and most of them even well before that).  Moreover, their oath isn't to any one person or monarch as it is in a lot of countries - it's to the Constitution.  That's right, our military swears an oath to an ideal, and they swear to follow the lawful orders of the civilians placed over them.  Such a system is remarkable when you look at human history.

So what could spark a coup?  I threw in a different variable - what if there was a foreign attack and the nation's government was so paralyzed dealing with its own bullshit that it couldn't act to defend the nation?  Seeing this, how would the Armed Forces respond?  I'm sure they would fight to prevent the aggressor from winning, but what about afterwards.  The military routinely conducts what are called "After Action Reviews" in order to figure out where to improve, even if the mission went well.  Looking back at a shattered country that couldn't even remove its hands from around its own throat long enough to defend itself, would the aggressive Type A personalities that reproduce like jackrabbits in the military just let it go?  Or would they seek a way to ensure such paralysis never again threatened the country?

In that kind of environment, it might take only one charismatic individual, a person whose heart might be in the right place but whose methods are perverted, to come along and impose order.  Are we really so naive that we think that could never happen here?

I focused mainly on the guy at the top's rise to power, most of which happens during the war against a foreign power.  How did he get so many people to readily follow him?  Where did his power base come from?  Was he a victim of circumstance, a man trying to impose order in a chaotic world?  The foreign war took up over half of the act, but it was only a vessel to show how the person who takes over accumulated the power he'd need to take control.

The mechanics of the actual coup were straightforward, and it didn't take a lot of time to write.  Given that the military is the strongest force in our country, once they gained momentum, it was hard for anyone to stop.  In the act, they use their blunt force abilities, coupled with the public's admiration, to muscle out all other competitors and simply impose itself on the rest of us.  The guy at the top might have conflicted feelings about the path he chose, but as he gathers more steam, he learns to rationalize what he's doing.

From a writing standpoint, this was the hardest part to put together.  Not only did I have to write against my normal principles are, there were large pieces of life that got in the way.  Instead of my normal 2,000 words per day, at which point I would've finished about a week and a half ago, I could only guarantee 1,000 words per day.  Sure, there were many days I got more, but with what's been happening in the RD Meyer household, I knew I couldn't do that every day, but I committed to at least 1,000, even if it meant sacrificing sleep or food.  This work needs to be finished by the end of April if at all possible, and sitting around whining about how tired I was just wouldn't get the job done.

I'll start next week on Act Four.  I'm still playing around with a few titles, mostly because I don't want the title to give away the ending.  It's also the most nebulous part, so I need to spend a couple of days outlining.  I think I know where it's going, so my tentative title is Pax Americana, but we'll see if that holds until the end...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Who is the Employee?

Regular readers of this blog, both of you, will no doubt have noticed the shift in my tone regarding traditional publishing over the last year, especially when it comes to literary agents.  I probably need to stop thinking so much about it because all that happens when I do is that I become even more firmly entrenched in the anti-literary agent camp.
(I can be as stubborn as a high spirited horse)
I know that lots of folks out there will disagree with me on this, but in today's day and age, a writer doesn't really need an agent to be successful in the world of publishing.  The only true requirement is some writing talent, and so long as that's present, the rest is how much business acumen you have.  The publishing world used to be closed to only those who could get a deal with Random House or Penguin, but new avenues like Kindle and CreateSpace have made it a lot easier for an author to reach the public.  Coupled with the demise in large bookstores, the market is shifting, and indie writers can make gains once unheard of in getting to the masses.

It's in this environment that I think literary agents and the fawning writers that fall all over themselves to get noticed by them have missed the boat.  I have a basic philosophical problem with the relationship between agents and writers - which one is in charge.  I believe it's perverted the way it's set up now.  The writer is supposed to be the client, relying on the agent to get his or her work into avenues where it can sell, much like the Wal Mart distribution channel is supposed to get products to market.  However, I've heard far too many horror stories where the agent is taking charge from the writer, setting writing/editing schedules and demanding that writers sign contracts that are favorable to few but the agent and the publishing house.
(Who is riding who?)
Some of you will say, "But RD, you're just bitter that you couldn't get an agent."  I can't talk to those people because they're a lost cause.  They won't listen to how I sent out a grand total of ten queries well over a year and a half ago before I had my change of heart and decided to go full bore into indie.  Instead, they'll write me off, and that's their right.  It's wrong and shortsighted, but such people haven't gotten that far into this anyway.

When I hire someone - and as a writer, you are indeed hiring an agent - that person works for me.  That means that I expect them to follow my schedule, not the other way around.  I expect that they'll keep me informed and have my best interests at heart when negotiating contracts rather than ingratiating themselves to an industry that's more worried about itself than its stable of writers.  It's one thing for an employee to make suggestions on how to improve a product, but it's a whole other ballgame for that employee to demand I do what they want, and lots of friends of mine have confided that's exactly what they've encountered in agents - they get indignant if you don't make the changes they want(prior to even submitting to a publishing house) or upset if you question their procedures for monetary accounting.

I get that all of this is predicated on talent, but if we grant that for some folks, then the agent needs to remember who their boss is.  Yes, I can be demanding, but I expect results if you expect me to fork over some of my hard earned money.  I expect value for what you get from me, and the fact that you have an MFA doesn't mean squat to me.  What does mean squat is how vigorously you work on my behalf and how much you can get me - that's the way capitalism works.

There are some hard working folks out there who do have their clients' best interests at heart, but a growing number don't.  They are worried about an industry changing in ways they don't understand, and rather than adapting, they dig in their heels and hope that'll hold back the steamroller of history.  Please keep sitting on high and thinking writers work for you rather than the other way around - it'll make the echo all that much more sweet sounding when you discover one day that the only control you retain is over the dark you're shouting into.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Searching for Inspiration

There's a difference between motivation and inspiration.  Motivation is what drives you, what makes you sit your butt in a chair and type out several thousand words each day.  Motivation urges us to get past that critic who hated our work or that editor that ignored us.

Inspiration, on the other hand, helps us create.  It provides us with ideas and sets the table for us to figure out how we can best bring words to life.
(This picture doesn't motivate me, but it does inspire me)
It's a two pronged task as a writer, staying motivated and finding inspiration.  I find inspiration in things both great and small.  It can be in the dreams I have for my children, or it can come from a goat I see attacking a chicken.  Whatever sparks an idea that you can expand on is inspiration.

Like love, you have to be ready for it without looking for it.  When I go looking for inspiration, my level of cynicism goes up, and I rarely find what I want.  Even the few times it happens, the inspiration takes me off on a tangent I didn't want.  However, by being receptive without searching, I find that it can come from the strangest places.  I got inspiration for my first novel, On Freedom's Wings, while sitting in English class over 20 years ago, looking out of the window, and seeing a jet fly overhead.  I remembered thinking, What if that was an alien spacecraft coming to bomb us all?(I know, I'm a dork)

That line of thinking led to my first (admittedly horrible) full length novel.  While watching coverage of the 2004 Presidential Election, I got the first inkling of the idea for the book I'm currently working on.  Each of these times, I drew inspiration from something totally off the beaten path, and it wasn't something I expected.  However, I've also searched for inspiration and come away wildly disappointed each time.

As writers, we have to look at things and always think, what if?  That's how we turn the most bizarre or serene inspiration into a story that people want to hear.  Once that inspiration waters the seed of creativity, we then have to use our personal motivation to craft it into something readable.

What's the most bizarre thing that's ever inspired you?  Do you like for the surreal or the beautiful to start the cycle?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Life Intrudes

I obviously didn't post much more than a placeholder for my last post.  This has been a very hectic week in the RD Meyer household, and I'm not sure it's going to get any less hectic over the next little bit.  Before you ask, no, this isn't the life-altering event(s) that are scheduled to take place starting in a month or so.

This is just life.
(Is anyone ever really ready when you have to do things like tear into a wall?)
Just when we think we're in a rhythm and finally have a few things figured out, life throws us a curveball disguised as a fastball.  One of these events happened this past week, and it has severely limited my time to pursue other activities, this blog being one of them.  I'm hoping to get back to a more normal schedule sometime soon, but it just smacked me in the face on Monday.  Dealing with life's little emergencies make you take stock of what's important, and as much as I love you guys, this blog is pretty far down there on the list when matters of family butt in.

Life affects not only what you prioritize, but also how much of some of your priorities you can accomplish.  As I've written recently, I'm working on a new novel.  I flew through Acts One and Two, and I wanted to do Act Three at a similarly rapid pace.  The initial goal was to do 2,000 words per day and be finished by not later than today.  However, due to the things that have crept up, I've been lucky to write just over 1,000 words per day, and it's even been a challenge to find the time for that.  I think I can still finish before the end of the month, but it'll be challenging.  A lot will depend on the depth of the story in Act Three, which I'm still figuring out.  It seem to be getting to where it needs to go, but there are pieces to place, and I won't sacrifice depth for finishing on some arbitrary deadline.  After all, it's my deadline, and I'll alter it if need be.

The key question for we writers is, how do we take advantage of life?  I did this in spades for my first novel.  However, one thing I learned from writing Salvation Day is that it's much easier to take advantage from what life hands you once you're able to look back on it with hindsight.  In the moment, digging out those kernels of truth are difficult because our vision is limited to the immediate.

I need to start keeping a journal.  I should carry this around so I can jot down thoughts and emotions when I'm in the moment(or close enough so as to make no difference).  What I capture may be meaningless, but there could also be a few nuggets in there that I can expand on in a future story.  I took copious notes during another of life's little adventures a couple of years ago, and I hope to use them in a novel I'll probably begin in the Fall, but that was a unique circumstance...or so I like to tell myself.  What I mean is, aren't all of these things that happen "unique" circumstances?

Great writing is born from extraordinary moments.  As writers, we have to be ready to capture those moments when life throws them at us.  Still, it's hard to catch them when you concentrate on ducking so much.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

An Unexpected Break

Unfortunately, I won't be posting anything today.  I know I've said in the past that consistency is the key to a blog, which is why I showed up today to let you guys know I can't post on a topic.  Life has gotten in the way, and I don't know if I'll be able to post on Friday morning either.

I promise a full report and back to the witty dialogue you've come to expect when some stuff gets resolved.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Matters of Motivation

First of all, quick technology update - the Dell POS has been returned!  Since the hard drive was still under warranty, they had to ship it back to California, fix it in their special, super-duper factory warehouse(which means they had to pry out the old one and slap in another), and then rush it back to me in Hawaii.  As a bonus, they managed to save all my data, so I still have all my old books and short stories(I'd have only lost the short stories...all my novels are saved in multiple backup locations).
(Yay, everything works again!)
Now, on to the next topic!

Finding motivation as a writer can be hard sometimes.  It can be late, you haven't had a decent idea in a few days(or weeks), the rent is due, and those you've mailed stuff to for them to look over have unfailingly ignored you.  It can be easy to get discouraged and wonder what the point os it all can be.

It's in times like these that I reach for my inner motivation mojo - anger.

That's right, I said it.  I use anger to propel me forward.  Some would call this a destructive behavior that's unworthy of being an "arteest."  Why, we're supposed to be above such immature emotions and allow ourselves to create simply for the joy of providing it to the world.  To that, I say...


Throughout my entire life, I've found one of the easiest ways to get me to do something is to make me angry enough that I have to go forward to relieve the burn.  The quickest way from A to B in that regard is to intimate I'll fail or that what I'm doing isn't good enough for you.  When I get written off, I get madder than Bela Lugosi at a Twilight convention.  The imagined conversation in my head usually goes something like this:

"Please stop bothering me.  You're not talented enough for me to waste time on."

"I'm not talented enough?  Fuck you and the elitist jackass you rode in on."

"Sorry, I'm busy."

"I'll show you busy.  I'll show you how much you'll regret ignoring me.  I'll make it so far you'll beg for me to be seen in public with you.  And when you show up at my door, begging for a scrap of paper I once wiped my mouth with, I'll brush you off and laugh at how untalented you thought I was."

Maybe not the most healthy from a psychological standpoint, but it works.  Someone I knew several years ago has recently become a fairly prominent figure in political circles.  He's even written several books, and I wrote him a while back to let him know that I was also breaking into writing and that I was gratified by the success he was having.  He immediately wrote me back and wanted me to call him(I was out of the country for a while at that point and couldn't do it).  He advised me about Thrillerfest and told me about all the great literary agents that would be there.  As an aside, was my book an action/thriller?  Was it based on shadowy spies that lurked just out of sight before running in to save America?

Not exactly.  In fact, when I mentioned what I liked to write about, communication suddenly ceased.  It was like I was a leper.  I tried contacting this person just a couple of months ago to let them know about my switch towards the indie side of the spectrum, and I met a similar wall of silence.  I know that this individual is busy, but I also know his personality quite well, and I have no doubt in my mind that my subject matter would make him think I was a bit of a fruitcake.
(Yup, I'm a little nutty)
Yes, the anger at such an elitist attitude, whether this person actually is that way or simply had better things to do all of the sudden, has spurred me towards wanting to prove myself, to show that it's not me that's out of the mainstream.  Had our conversations just petered out, that would've been one thing, but to get snubbed like that gives me an "I'll fucking show you" demeanor that means I'll either succeed or I'll die of a stroke while trying(probably penniless in the process).  It makes me work harder, whether that's in finishing up another novel or preparing a business plan, and that will lead to greater success.

I've also had some friends of mine look at my work, and I usually get some great feedback.  However, even with a copy in someone's hand, I get ignored from time to time.  I realize that life gets in the way, but my brain automatically interprets that to either "you sucked and I don't want to hurt your feelings" or "you weren't worth my time."  If I sucked, I would like to be told how I sucked, which would give me the opportunity to fix problems.  However, if I wasn't worth someone's time, especially after giving them a first run copy that not many people had seen before, that eats me alive, and it kicks off that same "I'll show you" feeling as above.

Maybe I should be glad that these people have made me angry.  I've been able to turn that anger into action, and as my stuff starts to come out, it'll get me to work myself to the bone becoming successful at it.  Whichever way it is, none of them will be invited to my "RD Meyer is an awesome author" party in a few years.

Unless they bring pie...chocolate pie...mmm...
(Just waiting for the critics to die so I can pick their bones clean)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Fictional Reality

How does one get an audience to buy off on what's being sold?  How can a writer get a reader to suspend disbelief just enough to lose himself or herself in the world we're trying to sell?  The answer is as simple as it is contradictory - make the unbelievable believable.

The best way to make fantastic tales seem more plausible is to create realistic characters.  No, I don't mean that there really are elves out there who want to take down the great dragon, or that a power mad space tyrant who wants to destroy the galaxy really exists.  Rather, I mean that the people we place in our stories have to seem real to the reader.  They have to be people we can relate to.

All great stories have heroes.  However, those heroes, in my opinion, need to be flawed.  They shouldn't be these holier-than-thou-never-make-a-mistake-or-have-doubts kind of guy.  Most can't relate to someone like that.  Every one of us has doubts and foibles.  Overcoming those failings is what makes us heroic.  We want to see people reach beyond their doubts and overcome great obstacles within themselves, because that's the ideal we truly strive for.  We want to imagine that we can be greater than we are, and those with nothing inside themselves to overcome seem too far out of reach for the average reader to sympathize with.

Our characters need to have real human trappings as well.  Give your protagonist a quirk of some kind, like always checking the mail slot or an affliction for porn(that he promises to give up each and every week).  Maybe the main character never dealt with the guilt of not spending enough time with his or her father before that person's death, and it's affecting how they deal with loved ones now.  Whatever it is, it should be something that lots of people have gone through.  When someone can see themselves in the role of the main character, dealing with the same things, that lets them truly become part of the story.

And isn't that a large part of what readers want from a story?  When you read Harry Potter, doesn't a small part of you imagine yourself trying to smash Voldemort's horcruxes?  Isn't part of the appeal of Twilight that a lot of women would like to be the vulnerable when she wants to be but strong when she needs to be Bella Swan?  It's that feeling of becoming the story that exemplifies most bestselling novels, and that's more of what we should be shooting for.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Creative Opportunities

To some people, the changing landscape of publishing is nerve racking.  There are fewer publishers competing for less space in fewer bookstores.  As a result, literary agents are taking on fewer clients, making breaking through as a newbie that much more difficult.

However, I think that although this would've been cause for despair just ten years ago, news ways of doing business have opened up opportunities that many of us barely dreamed could exist.  By expanding the market, a career as a professional writer without being signed by a major publishing house became a viable option.  Further, it allowed writers to be able to express themselves in ways they hadn't been allowed to previously.

In the traditional world, the publisher is the boss.  Unless you're a superstar like Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer, your flexibility as an author is limited to what your editor will accept.  Sure, you could hold out and hope either to wear down a stubborn editor or try to take your work somewhere where another person might be more amenable, but your chances of getting your stuff in front of audiences without someone buying off on it were pretty slim.  The publisher put in all the monetary risk, and so they had the final say so over what readers saw.  The writer was but a cog in a much larger machine.

In the indie world, on the other hand, writers get a greater shot at sinking or swimming on their own, and this allows for a greater flow of creative ideas than previously thought possible.  Want to vary between perspectives, going from third person omniscient in one chapter to first person limited in another?  Go ahead!  Think that putting in different font types will help convey the thoughts of a character better than mere description?  Try it out!  These things would never be allowed in the traditional world, but when the indie author has final say over the product, more things become doable.

The key in this is to remember that it means the burden for success or failure falls on you as well.  The market can be a fickle place, and if readers decide that what you're doing is stupid, your work will flop.  There are enough stories out there of writers who tried a new concept or a story they felt was something unique yet failed miserably to fill the Library of Congress.  However, there are also concepts that not only survived, but thrived, that would have never gotten a fair shake in the traditional world.

And that's the point.  The possibilities for doing things a different way are now out there as never before.  As an author in the traditional publishing world, your idea or the way you want to present it might have died on the editor's desk.  That might have been a good thing, but it also might have prevented a great success from taking flight.  In the indie world, you get to find out whether or not you truly struck gold, or if your idea was just another bust.

Those that can handle that kind of acceptance or rejection are the ones who can and do thrive in the indie world.  They're the ones who find out if they truly have talent, or if they would be better off cleaning toilets(or whatever other menial jobs they might have in mind).  It puts the risk of failure squarely on the writer's shoulders, but it also makes greater success possible by allowing that which the more staid parts of the industry might reject.  Yes, the traditional world might not let your idea blossom, but it also provides a built in excuse when you don't soar to great heights.

Are you ready for the risk...and the reward?  Only you can answer that question.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Balance While Under a Deadline

First of all, quick technology update - my home computer is still being held hostage by the Geek Squad.  According to my email, my hard drive has been fixed and is being shipped back to Hawaii as we speak, but I don't yet have it, so I'm continuing to use a temporary one.  Why is this important?  Because I don't have access to those wonderful and witty pictures you have all come to enjoy.

Anyhoo, on to the topic at hand...

I'm under a deadline.  There are a pair of major events that will occur in my life in April/May which will significantly restrict my writing ability for a period of time.  However, I also have a new book that I'm trying to finish, which means I have basically the next seven weeks to get the first draft complete.  Schism is a four act novel, and Acts One and Two are finished.  I'm trying desperately to complete an act each month, and the target for each piece is 35,000 words.  I've exceeded that with the first two, but not by so much that they're gargantuan(Act One is 42,000 words, and Act Two is 38,000 words).  I figure I'll cut 6,000 to 7,000 words out of each, so there'll be enough depth to convey the story.

In order to reach this goal and not go insane, I'm trying to write 2,000 words per day, which takes about an hour.  However, with the limited number of hours in a day, this can be difficult sometimes.

Were this a full time gig, reaching 2,000 words per day would be a snap.  In fact, I could probably double it and take a couple of days off completely, still reaching my goals with ease.  However, there are tons of other things to do, not least of which is my current career.  Beyond that, I have a family and like spending time with them(I took my wife and daughter to see Oz The Great and Powerful yesterday).

Since my career and family time are non-negotiable(I like to eat and my family will be there whether this writing thing works or not), I have to prioritize time with my other two activities.  The first is my time on the Internet.  I love browsing both Facebook and news/opinion sites, and those take time.  I get into a rhythm where I feel it's hard to get away from browsing, so I have to pay attention.  However, I also love to look around and engage others on several forums, so it's not something I want to give up completely.  The other thing I need to figure out in priority is this blog.

I love to write this blog, but I've found myself many times without any posts ready late on a Sunday night.  I think consistency is important, so I force myself to sit down and crank out something to engage those who drop by on a regular basis, but that cuts into my writing time.  Every minute I spend either blogging or on the Internet is a minute I spend not working on my novel.  I used to think that JA Konrath was a bit of a pussy for not blogging more often, saying he needed to write his book, but I now understand completely - writing a novel is time consuming, and that restricts what you can spend time on.  However, Konrath is also an already established professional with an audience who gladly comes back for more, so he can get away with more of an absence than I could.

Does all of this sound whiny?  Yes, and I understand that.  However, it's not meant to be.  Instead, it's meant as a bit of self-reflection.  I have to find ways to balance my time between my blog, my novel, and my Internet engagement.  In that mix, my Internet browsing will have to take more of a backseat, which is going to be hard.  Like a crack addict, I get edgy if I haven't been online for more than a day.  But I can't let this blog or my novel go if I want to begin my professional writing career where I would like.  That means exercising some self control, no matter how difficult.  On Sundays, it means blogging first.  During the week, it means pushing through 2,000 words before getting on Facebook or an online forum.

How do you achieve balance?  Are you able to put aside the distractions you find so tempting?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Bad Advice

Nope, nothing new on the desktop computer front...grrrr...

I've written before about knowing when to break the rules, but there's also advice I think is crap.  Lots of very learned and successful writers have made fortunes by sticking to a specific set of guidelines and rarely deviating, but I honestly believe that such strict adherence to these things is hurting the book world.  One of my frustrations with literary agents is that it sometimes doesn't matter if they like a story - they'll pass on it if it breaks one of their sacrosanct rules.

Well, here's some advice I've long thought is garbage:

1.  Start off in the thick of the action!
Yes, there should be a hook to your story, but dropping me in the middle of the action when I have yet to care about the story or the characters does almost nothing for me.  Yet I can't count the times I've heard people say that you have to start with a bang.  The Old Man and the Sea isn't known for its gripping opening, nor is The Red Pony, but both are seen as American classics because they give us characters we care about, and they know how to set the scene.  I believe that readers want to be dazzled, but they can be confused by starting off in the middle of a situation they know nothing about.  To me, a hook isn't always about a chase scene or an opening battle - it can be, but not doing so doesn't ruin the story.  Setting the stage is important for the overall feel of a book.

2.  Limit your perspective.
This is a relatively recent development.  Third person omniscient used to be the preferred style, and it didn't hurt such classics as Charlotte's Web.  However, stories in recent years have eschewed this form for a more narrow perspective.  This can be useful, especially if you're trying to build tension.  However, there are times and stories when readers want insight into every character's thoughts, and locking them out can be unfair.  By trying so hard to create gaps, writers risk eliminating points of view the reader might find illuminating.

3.  Cut, cut, and then cut again.
There are some writers who are too verbose.  However, a lot of agents and publishers ask writers to cut and shorten simply for the sake of doing so.  While this advice has its place, using it as universal is asinine.  Some of the best readers are exceedingly verbose, like Stephen King and JK Rowling, yet nobody tells them to shorten their stuff.  They even have it in their contracts that they have final say over edits, and they can leave in as much as they want.  Yes, by being bestsellers, they've earned this autonomy, but a lot of readers enjoy following their favorite characters and storylines into heretofore unexplored areas.  Unfortunately, in the traditional publishing world, that's rarely allowed, and I think it limits novels, making them into less than they can be.  A writer must, of course, have talent to do this well, but those who suck won't sell anyway, no matter how short their stuff is.  Good writers should have more freedom to provide us with the longer stories we're looking for.  After all, few people claim with a straight face that 11/22/63 or The Dark Tower series is too long.

4.  A writer should stick to one genre.
This one mostly applies to writers who are already published, but it might be the most frustrating.  Publishers try to pigeonhole writers into only writing one kind of story, despite most writers having enough imagination to branch out.  Yes, most have a strength, but that doesn't mean they can't do more.  JK Rowling, William Fortschen, and Stephanie Meyer have all written outside what originally made them famous, and those stories have all done well.  The great thing about the indie market is that the readers can decide if a writer has what it takes in other genres, and if not, those works won't sell.  Writers should be able to branch out, yet those "in the know" like to limit people.  It seems, to me, more a fear of not having a guaranteed bottom line is what prevents them from experimenting, and in doing so, they're missing out on a whole range of possibilities.

This is some of the conventional advice I think stinks.  Do you have any that you think needs to be tossed?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


First of all, a quick update - my desktop computer is still in the crapper, so I'm posting from a laptop I don't normally use.  I bought a Dell last year in the hopes it would run at least as well as my last one, and it has been nothing but trouble from the day I brought it home.  The only solace I can take is that I'm not the only one who has had trouble with this company's computer.

Anyway, on to today's topic.  As I sat pondering how to impart my latest bit of advice - you know...from a guy who has written several books but hasn't yet put one out - I ran into a problem I suspect a lot of bloggers have.  I wondered if there was a new angle on how to set the scene or how to create believable characters with wonderful dialogue, and then it hit me - there are only so many ways to give the same advice.

In short, I was starting to repeat topics.

This was probably inevitable.  Those who comment on current events have a wealth of events that are always evolving, so they rarely run into the problem of needing to brainstorm.  However, while the writing industry is in flux, the basic process of creating a story doesn't shift all that much.  Sure, our writing improves as we do it more often and learn from the process, but the basic premises don't change from week to week.

So, what to blog about?  I don't want this blog to become repetitive, where people stop by and read the same subjects over and over, wondering if they've come across this before.  Eventually, people will get bored and/or pissed off, so I have to find a way to stay fresh.  And since there are areas I won't go into unless they pertain to a particular story, keeping things new is one of my greatest challenges.

I walk my dogs every weekend for about three or four miles, prior to my family waking up.  I use this time to fantasize, and if I don't yet have topics for this blog for the next week, I'll use that time to figure out what to discuss.  I've come up with great topics, only to look back through my site and discover that I've already done that in some form or fashion.  That can be very frustrating.

It gets difficult to find new subjects week after week.  I'll have a virtual cornucopia of new topics once I start putting books out, but that's a little ways off.  Until then, it's going to take some stretching.  I can only hope things don't look recycled.

Plus, I can only hope things don't look recycled.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Crawling Forward

This will be a bit of a departure from the things I usually write about.  Instead, I'm going to talk about what a Neanderthal I can be.

I recognize that technology is one of the driving forces of our world.  It keeps us connected, allows us to broaden ourselves, and generally makes today's First World go 'round.  That being said, I despise technology.  I hate most of it with every fiber of my being, and I use only what I have to in order to survive in this rough and tumble world.  To me, technology peaked with the frozen pizza, and Lord knows I sure do enjoy a tasty Totino's on a Sunday afternoon.

I have a few reasons for my distaste.  First, I don't understand most of it, nor do I see the need for it.  Being a writer, my mind isn't formed around the algorithms necessary to spin off on a technological bent.  My mind simply doesn't go from A to B to C the way some folks can with this stuff.  When you ask me how something on the Internet works, you might as well be asking me to untangle a DNA strand.

As a Gen X'er, I'm kind of in that weird in-between cycle where leaps in technology were just coming into play as I grew up, but I wasn't so ensconced that my life was defined by it.  I still find comfort in using a VHS VCR, and I can do mathematic computations by hand.  I don't like turning over so much of what's important to a machine, and since I'm a control freak, or maybe their king, I enjoy that comfort I find in doing things myself.  When I have to rely on technology to do it, I feel incomplete.

Another frustration with technology, however, is its unreliability.  I bought a new computer about 14 months ago, and it has been nothing but trouble.  It crapped out on me again this past week, and when I took it down to the store I got it from, they told me the hard drive was tits up.  It's still under warranty, so that'll get replaced for free, but I didn't always back everything up, and data recovery will cost me a few bucks.  And yes, it'll be like getting a new computer, but shouldn't something so expensive that we rely on so much not break so quickly?

I imagine a bunch of guys sitting around a room and saying, "We have the perfect product, but people won't ever buy new stuff or another system if it's too good, so let's build in a few flaws.  We can call the fixes for those flaws 'upgrades.'  And then let's make sure that the model is outdated after a year so they can give us another $1000."

Bottom line - I hate this stuff.  I didn't even get an iPhone until January(and only because my old flip phone finally gave out after almost seven years).  My latest computer issues just have me frothing at the mouth about technology's unreliability and cost, so I used this space to vent.  It's my space, so yes, I'll use it to vent.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to make another post to Facebook with my phone.