Thursday, April 27, 2006

I'm So Disappointed

Oh God. First, they put the Big Loser Weenie on the cover of Esquire a few months back (on the "Genius Issue," no less), and now his Loser Sidekick has his huge "I Robot" mug plastered across this month's Wired. There's a big bunch of articles on the new high-teching of the Green Movement. The lead-off is an article titled "The Next Green Revolution" which lists "four key principles" behind the re-energized environmental movement.

Three of them--"Renewable energy is plentiful energy," "Efficiency creates value," and "Quality is wealth"-- I can get on board with. They make sense, and you can get a broad range of people behind them, at least in theory. But I fear the fourth--"Cities beat suburbs"-- is more liberal fantasy than than achievable goal. It's a lefty article of faith that downtowns are signs of progress and prosperity and suburbs are basically the first circle of hell made manifest on Earth.

But the idea that all those people who've been turning downtowns into desiccated wastelands in their pell-mell flight to the suburbs will somehow magically turn around and go back is just silly. Urban sprawl didn't happen because millions of people woke up one day and said "I'm bored with the city. Let's go fuck up some pristine wilderness." It happened because there are very real negatives to the quality of city life, and you can't wave those away with a simple, "It's more environmentally sound to live in a cramped high-rise apartment than in a house."

But that's really not why I'm disappointed. The thing is, I got the Special Edition DVD of Peter Jackson's "King Kong" last week, and I'm really bummed. First off, there's no "Making of..." documentary, just a bunch of Post-Production Diaries that were previously posted on-line at, which are old news if you followed the website, which I did. It doesn't even include all the Production Diaries, because they were sold in a separate set.

It does contain two other documentaries, but there are none of the other great bits found on, say, Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" DVD's. No art galleries. No deleted/expanded scenes. No interactive content.

And worst of all by far, so bad that I didn't even realize that it was missing until I went looking for it last night: NO DIRECTOR COMMENTARY. No commentaries at all. The "Lord of the Rings" extended edition DVD's had four commentaries per picture. The reissue of the original "King Kong" had one. Some movies, like "Spider-Man," have a director's audible commentary and a pop-up text-based commentary. The new "Kong" has nothing (and this is not the basic no-frills disk, but the 2-Disc Special Edition we're talking about).

It may be that the movie is just so damn long that they couldn't fit a commentary on the disk without spilitting it across 2 disks, or compressing the video into unwatchable hash, but cripes! I want some commentary, damn it!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Okay, I Guess Technically, It's Obligatory SceneS

It appears, as things break out, that there is more than one obligatory scene, but the good news is that, after some false starts and editing in the first draft (which I know I'm not supposed to do, oh, the horror, the horror), the worst bitch of them is done and I'm moving forward again. Not writing with the blazing speed and urgency of the big action set-piece I did a couple of weeks ago, but forward progress is forward progress.

The dilemma I'm facing right now, and I'm sure it'll work itself out soon enough, is that things have taken a dark turn in the aftermath of Act II. Everybody's kind of grieving and in shock, even most of the bad guys, and I'm not sure when I can lighten things up again. I mean, they're never going to get as light as they were in the beginning, at least not until the very end, but I don't want to keep everything grim until then.

Number one, it's not the book the reader is promised in the beginning (although, ha-ha, just to piss some friends off, I threw in a semi-grim prologue that I might not keep). And number two, I hate grim. Digger was conceived just as comics were entering the grim'n'gritty phase, and despite the best of intentions, he just could not stay grim'n'gritty. Finally, I just gave up and let him be who he is, and people seem to be responding to that. I just want to make sure I get the balance right.

The ironic thing is, one of my self-perceived weaknesses as a writer is that I rarely, when writing, really dish out the damage to my protagonists. Other writers really delight in turning the screws on their protagonists, but I don't enjoy torture so much, even imaginary torture (except for that one interrogation scene in Blue Falcon which was actually a hoot to write). I generally like my protagonists and don't like them to suffer. Plus, when they're suffering, they're no fun to write.

So here I am, writing a book that is ostensibly a comedy, and now is the time I choose, finally, to reach deep into my gut and really hurt my protagonists.

Oh, and speaking of irony, here's one: yesterday, I finally decided, "What the hell, I have an extra dollar. Let's buy a lottery ticket." Now, I was actually thinking of getting one of those scratch-off cards, but I said "lottery ticket," so what I got was a Powerball ticket.

So at one point last night, before I lost, I was digging around the floorboards of my car and under the driver's seat, looking for change to buy a Coke from the vending machine (and before Coke's trademark lawyers get all over me, it was technically a Diet Coke, but still a Coca-Cola brand soft drink, and by the way, gee, I guess I didn't have an extra dollar after all) while in my head, I was spending the $28 million I could potentially win.

Weird thing about the lottery; even though you know you don't have a chance in hell of winning, while you hold that ticket, you feel rich, even while you scrabble for change. The feeling even persisted for a while after I had checked the numbers and knew I had lost. No wonder people get addicted.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Obligatory Scene

Okay, first off, this rules. Go look. I'll wait.

Back? Good. After my Act II exhilaration, I'm now stuck in early Act III, writing The Obligatory Scene. I've read this term in reviews and things all my life, kind of understanding what it meant, but I'm not sure I've ever really understood it from a writer's perspective before (although I must've during Blue Falcon - it's just all such a blur now).

The Obligatory Scene for me now is one that I don't want to write, but that I feel I have to write. Not because it's good or entertaining, not because people will enjoy reading it, but because I'm afraid people will feel ripped off if I don't write it. Characters who were separated during the climax meet up and basically fill each other in on stuff the reader knows but the characters don't. Writing it feels repetitive and boring, but if I don't include it, people will be all, "Wait a minute, how did he know that?"

So even though I'm trying to write 25,000 words in six weeks, I'm lucky right now if I can grind out a page at a sitting. Rrgh.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Mosquitoes (Figurative) Revisited

So I know you've all been on the edges of your seats, wondering about this. My snippet was posted today on the Baen's Universe Preview site. The final count: number 24 out of 27. The waiting is over; the suspense has lifted. I'm so relieved.

If you'd like to take a look, it's here. And feel free to read some of the other snippets as well. I don't mind.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

At Least I'm Not the Only One

Okay, so Jay Lake's blog pointed me to Tobias Buckell's blog which pointed me to this by John Connolly. Connolly said this...

...there is a wall that I hit during the writing of every book. The point at which it occurs varies from book to book, although it’s usually around the halfway stage or just beyond it. I start to doubt the plot, the characters, the ideas underpinning it, my own writing, in fact every element involved in the process...But there is always that fear that this book, this story, is the one that should not have been started. The idea isn’t strong enough. The plot is going nowhere. I’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way and now have to try to find the right path again.

To which Tobias Buckell added...

I think most of the unfinished short stories I have are that way because I took too long to write them and hit the point where I realized how bad they were and just… stopped...With a novel I think it takes about 4-5 months to talk myself out of it. With Crystal Rain there was a 2 month pause in the middle of writing it where I lost all confidence in the book and had to bring myself to terms with just finishing the damn thing.

And Jay Lake said... well, he's got pieces of this idea scattered all over, but the gist is, he writes really fast, so he finishes stuff before he ever hits the wall. It's not a problem for him. He's the guy the rest of us hate. He's the woman who complains that no matter how much she eats, she never gains any weight. He's the rat bastard I went running with one day in the Army, who stood around smoking for twenty minutes right before we went running, then took off like a shot and left me in the dust.

And what really pisses me off is that for most of my life, when it came to writing, at least, I got to be that guy. I was almost always the smartest guy in the room, and definitely the best writer, even if I rarely finished anything. And now that I'm trying to swim in the larger pond, I'm surrounded by people as good as or better than me, and it's intimidating. (edit: I may be making this sound worse than it is, just for effect - fact is, even in my local writer's group, which is full of published writers, award-winners and just plain smart folks, I split my time between being intimidated and being inspired, so it's not like I just sit around hating people who are better than me - I just have some deep-deated emotional glitches that I'm working on).

But it's comforting to know that other people go through the same things I'm experiencing. Well, except for that bastard Lake...

I'm so jealous.

And, of course, the thing is, writing fast works for me, too (I've mentioned this before but I can't find the link right now, and I've got to wrap this up fast). "Frame by Frame" was very carefully developed and crafted over a series of weeks, and it's been making the rounds for over two years now. I've submitted quite a few stories for publication, and so far, the only two to find acceptance were one-day jobs, plotted in a couple of hours and written in three or four, with minimal revision after. Now, the character had been developing on paper and in my head for over twenty years, but the stories themselves were produced really quickly.

But real life doesn't really allow me to use this as a regular working method, so unless and until I'm making my living completely from writing, I can't just set aside four or five hours in a day to bash out a full draft whenever I feel like it. I have to catch it when I can. I hate to think that, even though I'm still writing, I might be doing the writing damage by doing so.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

People Suck

Got over the elation I felt yesterday by actually reading the longhand I'd written the day before. It kinda sucks. I can massage it into something readable, but the giddy momentum I felt yesterday has abated.

Then as I was driving home last night after thirteen hours at work (someone else called in sick - surprise, surprise), I ran over a car battery. Somebody, teenage boys probably, left a car battery sitting in the middle of a darkened street, and I hit it going about thirty miles an hour. I drive a Miata, which rides really low to the ground, so I hit it hard, and then it got caught and dragged underneath my car. I had to run my wheels up onto a curb going backwards to dislodge the thing.


Monday, April 10, 2006

Motivation Is a Wonderful Thing

Act II is finished, and I've written several short scenes to start Act III. Don't have an official word count, because some of it is still in longhand, but I'd guess a little over 54,000.

I feel such a rush of relief and confidence now. Act II is where so many attempted books have died (okay, maybe not many, exactly, but of the six I've seriously attempted, three have died in Act II, one got lost in Act II but had a quickie ending tacked on so I wouldn't feel like I'd failed completely, one was Blue Falcon, and one is this). Getting past that huge daunting fight scene and wrapping up that part of the story makes me feel as if successful completion of the book is now guaranteed.

Which is not to say that there are no challenges left. The finale of the book of course needs to be bigger and more spectacular than the Act II climax, but I plan for it to be simpler. A big piece of the Act II climax was the heroes finally identifying who their enemies really were, so there was a sequence of misdirection, action, revelation, action, more revelation, more action, etc.

None of that is a factor in the finale. The sides are clearly laid out. The agendas are clear. It's just a matter of getting the heroes through the obstacles to final victory (or defeat, but this being a superhero story, what are the odds of the latter?).

So yeah, I'm getting excited again. I'm trying not to get too excited, because there are still a lot of words to write between here and "The End," but I'm a lot more confident of getting there than I was two weeks ago, and worlds more confident than I was, say, two months ago.

I wonder if I should get one of those word-counter things?

Sunday, April 09, 2006


Just got home from pulling another all-nighter at work (last one for a while, I hope). Yesterday was a double-milestone on the book. I finished the Act II climax (a first pass at it, anyway) and I broke 50,000 words. I'm now over 51,000, in fact. which is funny, because three weeks ago, I was thinking I'd be lucky to stretcth the climax out to 45,000.

Now, part of that is me going back and adding some stuff in earlier in the book, but most of it comes from turning the Act II climax from a simple, brief fight scene into a complex event worthy to be called a major plot point. I haven't read it all through, so I don't know how well it works, but I've got all the pieces down now, and I'm ready (after one more little stinger scene, or maybe two) to push on to Act III.

I don't have a very complicated structure for Act III, but I figure at least 10,000 words of it will be dedicated to the final big fight, so how complicated does it need to be? Ten thousand words to establish what happened to everybody in the aftermath of Act II, ten thousand words to get them all back together, then ten thousand words to fight it all out, brief epilogue, and the book's over.



7 1/2 weeks to write 29,000 words. Let's see if I'm really up to the challenge.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

More Cowbell

Finally got my acknowledgment of receipt of my Writers of the Future entry. This one is not a contest winner. It's too lightweight, breezy. It reads almost like an episode of some silly TV series rather than a serious literary story.

On the other hand...

It explores its subject a lot more fully than my last entry ("Shell") did. "Shell" was a cool little story, but it was almost a haiku; an incomplete little fragment designed to produce a feeling of vague melancholy without going into detail. It worked really well for what it was, but what it was was not what the judges were looking for. And what they're looking for, from what I've read of the anthologies, is worlds created with quite a bit of telling detail. My vague little urban fantasy was too modern-day, too "right here and right now."

Also, M.T. Reiten says that the story that won it for him was a story he'd just sent in as filler, because he was entering the contest every quarter and he had to send something. So maybe I'm wrong. In three months, I'll either be proven right, or I'll be really happy.

Still scraping along on the Act II climax. It's difficult, because I have a lot of characters who all have to stay busy while I get four or five key characters into specific positions for what I know is the climax of the scene. And it's going to be a biggie.

So writing the scene has been sort of like pulling teeth. I write a few pages of action, get to a pause, read it over. Realize I'm losing people here and there, so I add a couple of lines in strategic places to keep everyone in the mix.

Today was spent writing dialogue for a big mid-fight pause as the antagonist's true identity is revealed, plus going back to earlier parts of the fight for "more cowbell." Basically, I realized that the fight was a little bland ("she hit him, he hit another guy") and decided to add some production value (and yes, in this case, cowbell=explosions).

Can't remember if this is the way I worked on Blue Falcon. I had some pretty intense action scenes in it, but it seems like I wrote my way through them pretty quickly. Then again, with the exception of the big finale, all of the scenes were written from the viewpoint of a single protagonist with a very limited view of things, so I didn't have to juggle large numbers of characters taking simultaneous actions within seconds of each other.

I'll have to wait until I'm done to see the results before I decide whether it's a good working method or not. But the pattern seems to be:

-block action roughly to establish a timeline and emotional dynamics

-rearrange elements for smoother flow

-add detail for enhanced production value

Hope to finish this fight by Monday morning, plus the dialogue sting that carries us into the third act. Then, with any luck, I'll have enough momentum to finish the first draft by the end of May. That's my goal, and I'm stating it out loud for the first time. 80,ooo words (by the MS Word counter) by the end of May. Then reading, revision, and in an editor's hand by the end of the year.

Anyone reading this, help me out. I'll probably need a whip cracked in my direction a time or two to actually do this. But if you help me, and I finish the first draft by May 31st, I'll buy you all a beer*.

*if you live in or happen to be in the Tulsa area on the designated "Tony buys everybody a beer" night. Substitutions allowed, as long as it's not, like, super-expensive brandy or something. I'm absolutely serious about this. First week of June, drinks are on me.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Lost World

One thing I haven't seen mentioned about Lost is its international flavor. It's maybe the only television drama I've ever seen that makes people of different nationalities and cultures an integral part of the storyline.

I mean, think about this for a bit. Besides the American, English and Australian passengers, there are two Koreans, an Iraqi, and a Nigerian. At least two, perhaps three, of the Americans have lived abroad (Walt in Amsterdam and Australia, Shannon in Paris, and maybe Jack in Thailand), and another two (Hurley and Ana-Lucia) are of Hispanic descent. They're all stranded on an island in the South Pacific along with a French woman and a secret project founded by two American researchers with Dutch names and funded by a Danish arms magnate. The secret project takes its name from a Hindu (Indian) term; its logo is Taoist (Chinese) in origin. There is a computer that counts down to zero, and if the proper code isn't entered in time, Egyptian hieroglyphics appear. A map to the island on a blast door is covered with inscriptions in Latin, along with at least one name in Greek. And somewhere on the island, someone is raising genetically modified polar bears.

What other show pulls so freely from so many cultures, and explicitly acknowledges that we no longer live in a segregated world? Not sure what it all means, but it's worth noting.


I got home this morning at six a.m. after working for my tenth consecutive day. I know, ten days doesn't really seem like all that much, but between the high stress (we had a software change that threw everything behind for several days), the odd hours (I was subbing for people who were either sick or on vacation, so I worked all three shifts at one point or another - the last two shifts were overnights), and the lack of sleep, I am now seriously fried.

And I've got two employees that I've got to replace, like, immediately, so things could well get worse before they get better.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Neon Genesis Evangelion

Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of the most popular anime shows of all time, I think. It only ran 26 episodes (and even some of its fans sort of wish it had only run 24, but I'll get to that later), but it had a huge impact, and a legion of fans who are still around today. Which is understandable, to an extent, because technically, the show is gorgeous, and the storytelling style is compelling.

But on another level, it's weird, because it plays out almost as a very bitter joke on its audience.

Evangelion starts out with all the standard trappings of a typical genre giant-robot show. Monstrous alien beasts threatening the future Earth. The only defense against them: giant robots piloted by teenagers. Our hero, the teenage son of the head researcher and inventor of the robots, has a special connection with one of the robots, so that only he can pilot it. Problem is, he's young and inexperienced, in over his head. Working with him are two other pilots, with their own unique robots, and a crack support team of technicians, scientists and soldiers.

The robot and monster designs are awesome, the animation and character design are first-class. The show lurches from awesome action to clumsy comedy, with characters that seem to be strict genre stereotypes: the restrained commander, the loudmouthed rival. But even at the beginning, something feels creepy and out of place. The robots look sort of mechanical, sort of alive. There is all this religious imagery and symbolism, and a sense of foreboding about the whole enterprise. Even the music is odd, with a frightening martial symphonic score instead of the usual rock/pop you'd expect in a show of this type.

And as the show progresses, it begins to twist and corrupt every expectation. The hero is a whiny brat who only pilots the Eva in a vain attempt to gain his father's love. The other members of the secret task force all turn out to have dark secrets in their pasts. The secret project itself turns out to have a dark past and a perhaps sinister purpose.

In the beginning, we expect to see this odd assortment of characters pull together to combat a terrible menace, with the hero maturing and developing his inner strength as the show progresses, with good finally triumphing over evil. Instead, over the course of 24 episodes, we see the characters slowly unravel, retreating from each other and succumbing to depression as their struggle begins to seem more and more futile (and we learn that perhaps we've been rooting for the bad guys all along).

It's depressing, yet you can't stop watching . It's compelling, hypnotic, because you can't believe they're doing this, making these characters that seemed so cool in the beginning turn out so miserable and ugly and bitter. You keep watching because maybe the filmmakers are just following the rules a bit too well, turning the screws on the characters a bit too tightly before letting them redeem themselves in the end. And yet, you can sense, well before the 24th episode, that perhaps there will be no redemption for these characters. They are doomed. But you keep watching because you just can't believe they'll let things go that far.

Then come the final two episodes, in which the plot basically stops, and we spend an hour listening to various characters psychobabble about philosophy. Imagine if they cut out all the cool stuff from the Matrix trilogy, and only left in the philosophical speeches about perception and reality and such. That's the final episode of Evangelion in a nutshell.

There was such a negative outcry from the show's fans at the ending that the producers did a truly unprecedented thing: they produced a feature film, The End of Evangelion, that basically starts at the end of episode 24 and retells the ending in a more conventional manner. But if you think that means that there is any hope of redemption, or a happy ending, you would be mistaken. When I got to the end of the movie, I felt soiled, literally used and dirty inside.

Yet I watched the movie at least three more times over that weekend, and watched one sequence in the middle maybe twenty times. It's so well-made, beautifully animated and edited, yet to such depressing purpose. Whenever I think about Evangelion now, I think the emotions I feel must bear a small resemblance to how abused kids feel about their parents: so much love and hatred inextricably linked together (not surprisingly, neglectful and abusive parents play a huge role in Evangelion).

It's strange how one show can be so mindlessly fun, so thought-provoking, so exciting and yet so viscerally unpleasant. It was far from a perfect show, and yet, it's absolutely unforgettable.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Lord, Save Me From the Mosquitoes

Okay, this is like, totally petty, but I'm pretty tired from working eight days straight, so I'm going to vent a little, just cause I can. That's what blogs are for, after all.

So they've had this preview up at Jim Baen's Universe for a month now. They put up snippets of the stories, a new one every other day or so. Out of the twenty-seven stories listed in the full table of contents, they have seventeen snippets up so far, plus one audio snippet.

My story isn't among them.

Now, one could argue that this is a good thing. After all, of the stories that are left unsnippeted so far, several of them are the big names: Alan Dean Foster, Gregory Benford, Gene Wolfe. So maybe I can look at the fact that mine has been held back so far as a mark of quality or something. And let's face it, somebody has to be last. It's simple math.

But there's something about the waiting, the tension, that's... It's like being in a contest, where they're announcing the winners, and they start with, like, fifth place, and you're waiting, hoping to hear your name, but also hoping not to hear your name, yet. And with every name they call that's not yours, your anxiety level goes up, because while the potential reward is increasing, the odds of you being one of the winners are going down.

And that's kind of how I feel here. I'm thinking, yeah, I should be flattered that they've held mine back, I'm going to come out with the A-listers. But there's another part of me that's saying, "Geez, all the other Introducing authors have their snippets up. And several of the bigs, like David Drake and John Ringo, also have snippets up. They've even snippeted a story that doesn't exist yet. Why don't they want people to see my story?"

Now watch, somebody at Baen's will read this and say, "Put the crybaby's story up next." Which is not really the point of this post. Really, sometimes it just feels good to complain about something.

Neon Genesis Evangelion tomorrow...

More Anime Musing

Okay, so I've written at length about Fullmetal Alchemist before, but I have another tidbit to share. Since I know that my wishes concerning the DVD collection will probably not come to pass, I've been thinking of compiling all the episodes on my media center PC. I've got four episodes collected so far, and Cartoon Network has recently started over from Episode One, so I was really excited to get the entire series collected.

So Saturday night, I set the computer to record Episode Two, and what happened? Saturday was April Fool's Day, so for some asinine reason, Cartoon Network added fart noises to the soundtrack. The entire freaking episode, after almost every single line of dialogue:

*"So you're the alchemist they call Fullmetal." *thp*

"That's right." *phrp*

"You don't look like much to me." *braaaaap*

*not actual dialogue

They were scheduled to air the episode a second time later that night, but then, of course, Daylight Savings Time happened, so they ran Chuck Norris's Karate Kommandos or something instead. So I deleted the recording, because watching the episode with non-stop fart noises was just too offensive. Although, if it had happened with, say, Neon Genesis Evangelion, that might have hilarious.

Speaking of which, I was sure I had talked about Neon Genesis Evangelion before, but I can't find an entry, so I guess I haven't. Before Fullmetal Alchemist came along, Neon Genesis Evangelion was just about my favorite anime. Which is weird, because I find the anime very uneven and depressing. But I'll talk more in-depth about that tomorrow.

I'm maybe halfway through the big Act II climax. Word count is 45,000, so I'll actually come out closer to 50,000 when it's all completed. So I'm feeling a little better about that, plus I realize that publishers count words differently than MS Word does, which means my word count may be at a publishable level by the time it's all finished up.

I had exactly the opposite problem with Blue Falcon. The manuscript for that was pretty big, something like 550 pages. I read an article about estimating word count for publishers, and tried it with Blue Falcon, for which I'd been using the MS Word counter. The count came out way higher, which was disturbing, because the manuscript was already in the high range of what was publishable by a first-time author (something like 125,000 words). So I kept using the MS Word calculation, hoping no one would call my bluff.

Of course, it didn't matter, because not only did I end up not selling it, but I also cut out something like 50 pages on the final editing pass before turning it in to iUniverse. I hated to lose some of the details I'd written in, but I think the book benefited greatly by it. It had always been kind of flabby and ponderous, and it ended up pretty tight.