Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Okay, I Didn't Mean It Literally

So yesterday, I write my blog post with the plan in mind to go to my office and write for at least an hour, maybe two, before heading in to work at 2:00 (I'm filling in for someone on vacation). I said I would write "at least a paragraph" not so much as a goal, but as a way to lower the pressure on myself.

So I finish the blog post, mouse around a little, then get ready to take my shower...

And the phone rings.

It's one of my employees who's not on vacation, His daughter is sick, and he needs to leave. I have no one else to cover. I bring my daughter home from kindergarten, then go in early, and work from 11:20 a.m. to 10 p.m. Then once I'm home, I quickly check my e-mail before going to bed, because I've got to work at 6 a.m. this morning due to another of my employees being out of town.

So in an effort to not make myself a liar (yet again), I wrote two paragraphs in longhand while I was waiting in line at the school. It wasn't frantic action, but it was from the scene in question, so I say it counts.

On the good side, I was able yesterday to look beyond the end of Act II and begin planning the sequence of events in Act III more clearly. That's been one of my major worries with this book, and what has killed other promising projects of mine.

I seem to plot almost subconsciously. As I'm working out my present scene, my mind is often looking ahead to see what I can do with what I've currently written. When I outline, I'll come up with a general direction I want things to go in, but I'll often fudge the details of how they get there.

This is not an excellent working method. If I am unclear on where something is going, or why something is happening, I end up slowing down, even stopping for weeks and months at a time, while my subconscious tries to make all the pieces fit. This has killed my last two book projects. On Angel Baby, I wrote what I thought was a pretty good first act, but then stopped dead, after something like three aimless pages of Act II. On Flip, I wrote almost two-thirds, then decided I'd made a wrong turn and backed up to the halfway point (after about a year off). I managed to get myself almost up to the place I'd quit again, and it was better, but I still couldn't feel where I was going.

And it really sucks, because there's a lot of good stuff in both books, but if I can't make myself find a believeable way to get from here to there, my subconscious is unable to just "get something down on paper" and fix it in therewrite. I just stop, and no amount of wishing will fix it.

Got to go to work. Another paragraph today, maybe, then real writing tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

All Hell Breaks Loose (For At Least a Paragraph)

So I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I had read a book written by a friend of mine (actually a manuscript written by an acquaintance, but I like to put positive spin on things). So I e-mailed and told him how much I liked it, and he advised me to keep the number of combatants down in my combats scenes, because in his climactic battle, he had 16 major characters (heroes and villains) as well as hundreds of agents, and it was hard to control.

Well, I needed to hear this advice, because the major conflict I'd been putting off since November was a biggie: 6 heroes vs. 6 opponents, and something like 5 civilians in the mix. So off I went, reenergized, writing my build-up scenes, cranking up the tension, getting everything set to explode...

And now I have 6 heroes vs. 18 (that's right, EIGHTEEN) opponents, plus seven named civilians and several hundred bystanders. Yeah, I have a sort-of-plan to get through this, but it's still going to be hard.

See, this is why self-help books never really help me, because I swear, somewhere in the loop between the words and my brain and my eventual actions, things get horribly mixed-up. My daughter does the same thing ("Did you hear what I said?" "Yes, you said don't cut the dog's hair" "Did you do what I said?" "Yes" "Then who cut the dog's hair?" "I did"), and until this moment, I never understood where she got it from. It's like that "Home Movies" episode where Brendon made a video to teach his little sister not to put marbles in her nose; everyone who saw the video ended up doing exactly that.

Anyway, today I'm starting the fight (I actually wrote the first punch yesterday, but it's not really a fight until somebody punches back). It's still overwhelming, but I'm determined to write at least a paragraph of frantic super-violence today, work on it some more when I'm off Thursday, and hopefully finish it up over the weekend.

Monday, March 27, 2006


So over a month ago, I mentioned that I was writing the build-up to the big Act II climax. And I have been: I've written several scenes of rising tension before the villains finally reveal themselves, as well as fitting in some earlier scenes to fill in some backstory and heighten the stakes a bit. And it seemed to be going well; just last Sunday, I said that I thought I'd be into the big climactic action scene by the next day.

Well, it's pretty obvious by the way I worded the last paragraph that it didn't happen. So where am I?

I'm right in the trickiest, and potentially most interesting, part: The Face-Off.

I remember that I used to have a special about Disney animation on tape that I watched over and over. One of Disney's Nine Old Men (it was Frank Thomas, I think) mentioned that Woolie Reitherman was the studio's expert on action scenes. Then they showed Reitherman talking about the tension before the fight, when the two sides are facing off, that last moment of stillness in which it seems like a fight may be avoided, before all hell breaks loose.

You've seen it in movies: the two gunfighters facing each other down a deserted street, two kung-fu masters adopting contrasting stances, two samurai, hands on hilts, locking eyes for that interminable moment before the swords are drawn and blood follows. Sometimes before the battle, they talk, just to make sure that every option besides violence is considered.

That's where I am: two sides, facing each other across an empty expanse, one side committed to the fight, the other side not yet suspecting that there will be one. This is a crucial, crucial scene, because it sets up the entire third act, and I've got to get the dialogue just right to set all the dominoes falling.

And more than anything right now, I want to rush past this moment, which needs to be caressed and savored, and get right into the blowing things up part.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

An Interesting Review

I'm kind of interested in seeing "V for Vendetta," and kind of not. I remember really liking the comic (but let's face it, I liked everything Alan Moore wrote, even "Big Numbers," which went nowhere fast). But then again, that dark, cool, angsty, anarchy vibe feels so... 25 years ago, you know? I've moved on.

But the review of "V for Vendetta" in "Entertainment Weekly" has an interesting bit in it that I thought I'd comment on. Owen Gleiberman writes about a friend who expressed surprise that a film like "V" could be released by a major studio:

I was awestruck at his naïveté in a world where fight-the-power anarchy is now marketed as a fashionable identity statement — by the corporations that helped raise a generation on bands like Rage Against the Machine, by the armchair-leftist bloggers who flog the same righteousness day after day. V for Vendetta has a playful-demon vitality, but it's designed to let political adolescents of every age congratulate themselves. It's rage against the machine by the machine.


Friday, March 24, 2006

Random Cool

Another nothing entry today, just a couple of cool links to point you to.

First, this looks pretty neat (warning: it's a pretty long video, over a half-hour, but you can get the gist pretty quickly, but if you're still on dial-up, it will probably be a pain). If you're interested in it, this month's Wired also has a two-page spread about the game and an interview with the designer. It looks like this game will be getting a lot of pre-release hype. Will it live up to the hype? eh...

And then there's this. I especially like the photos at the bottom which show a different angle, so you can see how the illusion is done. I remember reading an article long ago (in National Geographic, maybe) about Renaissance masters who would embed images like this in their paintings. For example, Holbein's "The Ambassadors." There's a light-and-dark smear at the bottom. You can sort of tell what it is, although why would he paint it all stretched out like that? View it at the proper angle, and you get this. For a fuller discussion of hte phenomenon, go here.

What I want to know is, why do this at all. Why embed a skull in the painting that can only be seen clearly when looking at an angle that obscures the rest?

I think it's a secret message, one that was missed or ignored by Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Da Vinci Code. Even "Dogma" got this one wrong. The skull means that the last scion has died, and the conspiracy is over. Everybody go home. It's so obvious.

Okay, so the entry grew a little while I was writing it. Sue me.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Warning Was Right

We have snow. Glad I didn't have to go to work early today.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Spring Is Here

The first official day of spring was yesterday, or maybe the day before. Tonight, we're under a snow warning.

Warm winter, cold spring. Crazy days...

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Excitement & Frustration

I'm incredibly excited and frustrated today.

Excited why?

Because I had a great run of writing on Hero Go Home this afternoon. I wrote several scenes, something like 3-4ooo words maybe, which is huge for me. I have great momentum that I plan to continue into tomorrow, where I hope to bite a great big chunk out of the Act II climax.

So frustrated why?

Word count. I'm still only at like 38,000 words, and I don't envision this climax running much more than 5,000. So I finish Act II at something under 45,000 words, and then I write another 20,000 or so for Act III and then I'm basically done. I may have a few fill-in scenes to write for the earlier parts of the book, but there's also stuff I plan to cut out, which means that the entire book will run somewhere under 65,000 words. Good for a NaNoWriMo book, bad if I want to sell it (which I do).

To sell it, I figure I need at least 85,000 words. I have no idea how I will fill that much extra space without bloating the story insanely. I have a nice, tight storyline right now, and I don't want to kill it with padding.

So I'm basically happy about where I am, but not so happy with where I'm going. Par for the course.

In other stuff, naamah_darling continues to blow me away. I won't give you the link, because I'm not sure how many people she wants reading the whole thing (I'm sure you can find it if you look), but I must quote:

This is a room, recently vacated, where refined men have sat planning a terrible thing. The room is upholstered in leather. A thick carpet covers the floor. Long curtains frame a window that looks out on a moonless night's blackness where the only sign of life is one glowing star low on the horizon. Smoke lingers in the air in feathered layers, along with a trace of perfume risen from someone's naked body. A fire smolders sullenly in the hearth, no more than glowing coals. Empty glasses still fumigate the air with the dregs of a good brandy. The scent of incense is old and a little stale, as though the books crammed onto shelf after shelf are slowly exhaling the odor of vanished incense. The room is warm and almost unbearably close, and thick with the smell of bodies gathered in close cabal. This is not the scent of one man, but of several. They were here, not a minute ago. The chair, this gorgeous leather chair, is still warm. It's really quite comfortable. Sit down and wait. They won't be gone for long.

You know what this is? It's a review. Of what? Perfume. The woman writes better than I do even when she's reviewing perfume. You can imagine how good her stories are.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Friend Pimping

So I haven't done this before, but I figure I ought to start. One of the members of my writing group has a new story up on The Edge of Propinquity, and it's a really good read. So follow the link and read "The End of Memory" by Amanda A. Gannon.

I just finished reading another superhero book, and it has left me pretty energized to get back to work on Hero Go Home. On the one hand, I think his is a lot better than mine in a lot of ways. On the other hand, mine is trying to accomplish different things, and I think I'll have enough coolness in there to satisfy most readers. The coolest thing is, his book is giving me ideas I can use in mine without making me feel like I'm stealing, because unless you knew which parts of mine were inspired by his, you wouldn't know. It's going to be that different.

Here's the big secret about writing that good writers know, and wanna-be writers don't: Ideas are cheap. Execution is everything. Give two really good writers the same idea, and they're likely to write two completely different stories. The idea has to filter through each person's unique mind and voice and experiences and interests. Each writer will have a different goal and a different approach to character and dialogue. Some writers plan carefully and rewrite extensively; others just sit and let it flow.

Which is not to brag that I'm a really good writer, but I am pretty good one, good enough to have learned this lesson, anyway. So I can steal shamelessly from Sargon, and no one will ever know but me and him, and maybe just me.

Then again, I can come up with stuff completely independently and look as if I'm stealing. Example: his book has a superhero who is embarrassed by his real name and goes by his superhero name, which is often shortened to Van. My book has a superhero who is embarrassed by her real name and goes by her superhero name, which is usually shortened to Val. Looks like a total rip-off, but it's not.

Anyway, the point is, I'm excited again. And go read Amanda's story. Not thrilled with the 'zine's name, but the story is really good.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Writing the Funny

So I'm at this book signing for a few friends, which turns into almost an unofficial second OSFW meeting for the month (we'd had the official meeting the night before). And somebody brings up the fact that the writing in the group seems to be taking a funnier turn lately (I believe the term used was "arms race").

And I felt kind of put on the spot, because I'm the most prominent among the "funny" writers, I think.

Which is to say, I'm not the only funny writer: Sargon the Terrible, K.D. Wentworth, and M.T. Reiten have all presented side-splittingly funny stories over the past couple of years, and that's not even counting the flood of humor that has poured out of the annual Christmas fragment contests.

But I'm the only one who seems to be almost exclusively funny, which is odd, because for most of my life, I've been a pretty serious writer. I wrote action or suspense with only occasional touches of humor (at least intentionally). I tried to be funny in person (often tried too hard, as a matter of fact), but even when I thought to myself that I ought to try channeling that humor into writing, it seemed that all my good ideas were serious ones.

It wasn't until I began writing Blue Falcon that I seemed to break through the seriousness barrier, and even Blue Falcon ended up being mostly dead serious with light-hearted moments. The first four pieces I presented at OSFW meetings were:

Prologue to Blue Falcon - funny opening to funny/serious book

Opening to Cybersorcery - scene from sci-fi action screenplay - the overall story is serious, but this scene happened to have humorous moments and a funny punchline - Christmas fragment

"Skins" - serious science fiction short story

"Frame By Frame" - horror short story (novella?)

So about fifty-fifty serious to comedy ratio. Since then, the things I've read have been:

"The Night They Raided Pulinsky's" - supposed to be funny-ish, but mainly, just bad

"Out of His League" - superhero comedy

First three chapters of Flip - comedy suspense novel that's stalled at about the 2/3 mark

"Deep Shit" - military sci-fi comedy

"Astromonkeys!" - more superhero comedy

"White Rose" - kung fu action - Christmas fragment

"Haunted" - Horror comedy - summer fragment/flash contest

"Double-Secret Weapon" - even more superhero comedy

"Shell" - science-fiction, starts out funny, ends up serious

"Fischer's Wild Goose" - light-hearted suspense - an extended car chase

"Timestorm" - sci-fi comedy - Christmas fragment

Another funny story that I cannot name here

First two chapters of Hero Go Home - superhero comedy novel

So out of the last thirteen things I've presented, all but maybe three were comedic in nature, and two of those two had funny moments.

Now, this isn't all I've written, although it is most of it. But the other, more serious stories, like "Pushing," and "Wolf in the Fold," and "Lurking Beneath Red Blossoms," I haven't read publicly. Some members of the club have seen them on our critique list, but I haven't presented them to the group at large.

I know why I do it this way. I am very insecure about my writing at the best of times, but especially when I'm trying to be serious. If I'm going to be laughed at, it might as well be on purpose. And let's face it, I love the attention and the positive feedback.

And I think it's making me a better writer. I've needed to write the humor to get excited about writing again. That list above represents the greatest creative output I've had since my years at the Oklahoman in the mid-Eighties. In the last three-four years, I've written substantial amounts of three novels (one of which I may actually finish), and something like fifteen or sixteen short stories, plus other fragments that may yet get fleshed out. I'm not super-prolific, but compared to my past, I'm really churning stuff out.

But now I'm seeing that, yeah, I've been turning the writer's group into sort of an entertainment venue, and that might sour the mood for more serious, contemplative work. If I decide to do something about that, I've got basically two choices: stop reading so much, or write more serious stuff. But it's hard to force a serious story if a funny story wants to come out.

So I should probably stop reading for a while. I need to buckle down and finish Hero Go Home anyway, so the shorts will probably get put on hold for a bit. We'll see.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Full Metal Alchemist

So I've been wanting to write about this for a while, but it's been hard. So here goes.

Toonami kicks ass.

There, I said it. Saturday night on Cartoon Network has become appointment viewing for me in almost the same way that Thursday nights on NBC was twenty years ago. I like Naruto, I like One Piece, I love Justice League Unlimited. I even like Zatch Bell. And then, an hour after the Toonami block has ended, comes my current favorite Japanese show, Fullmetal Alchemist.

Here's the deal with anime in general: a lot of it is crap. And even the stuff that's good is, like, formulaic good usually. It's very striking visually, often doing dynamic things with layout and moving cameras (part of the striking look of the Matrix films is the attempt to recreate an anime look in live-action, with the time-shifting and the camera swirling around the characters, going from wide-shot to extreme close-up and back out to wide shot in one take).

But the thing you figure out if you watch a lot of this stuff, as I have, is that a lot of those things that originally drew you, that amazing audacious visual invention, is actually pretty ordinary. The bold artistic splashes - the crescendo of sound followed by a silent pause at the climactic moment, the split screens, the calm, quiet characters who can explode into sudden, stylized violence - these things are commonplace, even cliched. And if you can get past the "ooh-aah" factor and really look at the story, you realize that most Japanese writers are as bad as Americans. For all the hype about Japanese story sophistication, for the most part, it's not better, just mediocre in a different way.

And then there's Fullmetal Alchemist. Like most shows, the early episodes are a mixed bag, combining clumsy humor with rip-roaring magical action. But once the deeper storyline gets going, this becomes one of the best animated shows I've ever seen. There's no easy way to summarize the show, but it revolves around two brothers who study alchemy in a fantasy world. Their alchemy is different from that of our world, but it revolves around a single law, the Law of Equivalent Exchange, which is the magical equivalent of the Laws of Conservation of Mass and Energy. The brothers want to reverse a ghastly mistake they made when they were younger, a mistake that has left both of them scarred in unique ways. Along the way, they are drawn into conspiracies and political intrigues that will change the course of their nation and perhaps the world.

The show has the usual Japanese eyecandy - gorgeous production values, appealing character design. And like a lot of other shows, it has a huge story arc with an epic feel, punctuated by kick-ass action sequences. But unlike most shows, it plays on several levels at once, combining profound philosophical and ethical questions with complex character development and intricate political maneuvers. There are few shows that can excite me, touch me, viscerally creep me out, and get me thinking about the big questions, all in one episode. This one does, with very few missteps.

I only wish they would put out an affordable all-in-one boxed set. There are 51 half-hour episodes, which equates to 25 1/2 hours. That's one season of Lost. If they put out a boxed set of Fullmetal for the same price, I'd buy it in a heartbeat.

More Grumbles About Advertising

I know that life's too short to get all worked up about little stuff and yada-yada-yada, but since I've started a trend complaining about the copy on fast food wrappers here and here, I might as well do one more.

We were at Burger King last night, where they're still using old tray liners from the launch of Chicken Fries. And the gist of the thing is to make a game out of eating your fried chicken bits by, you know, nibbling them like a carrot or eating them with your pinky extended like some society matron.

And they've got one idea under the heading "Professional." And this is what it says:

Self explanatory. Don't use your
hands. We know it's hard for
finger food stuff. Get creative.
Tip 'em back like a drink. Or
maybe use chopsticks.

See what bugs me? If you can't, read it again and see if there's anything a little, well, idiotic about that statement, besides the fact that Burger King doesn't have chopsticks.

Okay, here's the thing. They open the description with "Self explanatory," and then go on for five freaking sentences explaining this thing that doesn't need to be explained. And the kicker? The reason they had to explain "self explanatory" is that "Don't use your hands" is not the first thing that jumps to mind when you read the word "Professional." So it's most certainly not "self explanatory."


Okay, I feel better. But only slightly, because now we move from fast food to TV, where I must sadly inform you that UPN has decided to dub their hit reality series "America's Next Top Model" a dramality series.

What is dramality, you ask (assuming you're able to pronounce it - it does not trip easily off the tongue)? I ask, as well.

I know that one complaint about "reality" series like "Survivor" is that they are not real, in a very basic sense. They take a carefully selected group of people, place them into an engineered situation and painstakingly edit the resulting footage to create a compelling storyline. So in that sense, you could say dramality is a show that engineers drama out of unscripted material.

But then, there are also the dark rumors that "Survivor" cheats. They restage challenges with stunt doubles in order to get more dramatic camera angles, they cut backroom deals with favored contestants, they even arrange a call-in contest so that one of their most popular players (though far from the best) gets his own million. I've even heard a story that at least one player's ouster was set up by the crew off-camera. I'll give details if anyone comments wanting to know.

In short, could dramality be a tacit confession that, if nothing interesting is happening on the show, then the producers will engineer something? Could, say, Shandi's illicit Italian hot tub romp on "America's Next Top Model" (and all the ensuing long-distance drama with her boyfriend back home) have been set up by the producers just to wring some interesting TV out of her agony? Is that what dramality really means?

It's possible.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Plate o' Shrimp

So I'm freaking out yesterday about all the authors I'm sharing web space with in the new e-zine, and this morning when I check my email, I've gotten a comment from one of the writers I mentioned, specifically Elizabeth Bear. I felt a little odd that one of them had actually witnessed my little geek fit, but it's cool.

Then I visit my friend Matt's LJ blog; he has a bunch of writer friends, so I tend to read their blogs through his friend list. And I'm reading Jay Lake's entries from last night, and he's talking about guess who left and right?

That's right.

According to Jay Lake, she's, like, one of the smartest, coolest women on the planet right now. But in one of those strange serendipitous timings that I'm constantly encountering, he chose last night to wax rhapsodic over Ms. Bear, so that I would read it today, right after she contacted me from out of the blue (and of course, why did she contact me? Because she got a Google Alert that someone had used her name - which means that she's probably also reading this right now!!!).

Brrr... It gives me one of those shivers you get when you're watching TV late at night, and they're demonstrating backward masking or EVP, where you hear the ghost voices on the tape, and your skin draws up in goosebumps as one side of your brain screams, That is so weird! and the other side screams, That is so cool!

Okay, I'm done.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


So I finally get my first look at the e-ARC (advance reader's copy) of Jim Baen's Universe, and there's my story, "Astromonkeys!," in the Table of Contents.

Now get this: I share this Table of Contents with Alan Dean Foster, Gregory Benford, David Drake, Elizabeth Bear, John Barnes, Gene Wolfe, Bob Shaw (whose name you may not know, but who wrote one of my favorite short stories of all time), Mark Twain (yes, that one), David Brin, John Ringo, and Eric Flint. I mean, holy crap. Holy. Freaking. Crap!

Now granted, I haven't really read all of these authors, but I've read several of them and heard of all of them, and I am just amazed that I'm published alongside them. It freaks me out that I might, just might, possibly, run into Gene Wolfe some day and have him say, "Oh you're the guy that wrote that monkey story. I loved that story."

Yeah, I know, probably never happen, but what if? I'm freaking myself out.

Man, I need to start writing again. I've been on a break for too long.