Bleeding

Bleeding

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Muse Chose Me, By Process of Elimination

*sits peacefully munching on holiday candy*

One topic I haven't written about on this blog (that I can remember) is why I decided to become a writer (or, at the least, pursue it with the end goal of making it a career option). 

This story begins in olden times, and it's very VERY long-winded. So, set the sails.

This story begins in olden times, the 1990s to be exact. I was a young boy who enjoyed stories, whether it be my father's bedtime tales or movies like Star Wars. Since we didn't have cable television, I wasn't fully aware of what other media had to offer. 

I was in elementary school in 1997. One day, after watching an episode of Arthur, I asked Mom for a few extra minutes before leaving, just so I could see what came on next. 

This is what I saw.

I shrugged and went about my day.

A few months later I was at my grandmother's house (my only chance to watch cable) and stumbled upon this.

I don't remember much. Sailor Moon was the first anime series of which I saw a complete episode. I sat there scratching my head thinking, "Hmm. This sure is different than Loony Toons."

I decided to check out Cartoon Network a lot that summer. Toonami, The Midnight Run, and Adult Swim were at the height of their popularity. Pretty soon I was neck-deep in it.



This



And even this.

My reaction?

HOLYCRAPTHISSTUFFISSOAWESOME!

Look at the animation! The music! The special effects! It's not just a half hour of gags and laughs, there's an actual story to this! It feels so good. The art! The fight scenes! The...hair? And, English names. Yeah.

Don't get me wrong. The American stuff was good too. I loved a lot of 90s shows: X-Men, Spiderman, Batman. It's not that they were bad shows. In fact, I think many of them had superior writing, plot elements, and character development than most animes (I'm looking at you, Dragon Ball Z, but that's another post of its own).

When you're only eight years old and probably won't be around to see the next episode, getting some flashy battle sequences is a major plus. (Incidentally, I find myself watching more of the old American cartoons now that I've grown up). 

There are other reasons why I watched a lot of anime back then. The Marvel and DC shows came on early in the morning. Anime was an afternoon/late night affair. 

Ok, maybe that was the only reason.

Point is, I was instantly a guy driven by visual pizzaz. I decided that I wanted to become a cartoonist. I knew next to nothing about how to draw, let alone animate. Back in those days, there weren't any instruction books on how to produce your own manga, or any sources about how to get into the business. America was caught up in the craze, but all we could do is consume. Those with the time, money, and talent emulated to the best of their ability.

I remember sitting in a class on day drawing a blonde-haired male character in Sayin body armor. There was no plot. No objective. No rhyme or reason. Just a bunch of dudes (and later dudettes) beating the crap out of each other, because hey, that's what DBZ was all about and it was AWESOME. 

Eventually, instruction books were published. I bought several. Lots of money was spent on books, paper, pens, and even a big art desk that I have to this day. Books are good for understanding basic concepts. But when you plan to make something your life's work, as I thought I had, you need a mentor. 

Instruction from someone who's been around the block is the single most valuable use of time you can apply towards any career. Cops have Training Officers. Soldiers have Drill Sergeants. I didn't have anybody. The only person in my family with artistic experience was my other grandmother, and she didn't have any idea what this Japanese stuff was (though I took her to see Mewtwo Strikes Back).

Despite the lack of supervision, I pressed on.

But, in the words of Don McClean, February 2000 made me shiver.

I was eleven, and diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. The pain was excruciating. Holding a pencil or pen for a prolonged period to get the lines of someone's face just right had been a minor annoyance. Now it was downright torturous. It's difficult to explain how a disease can make every movement and range of motion a dreadful event. 

Over the course of the next several years, I went from one hospital to the next. Art was something I didn't enjoy anymore. It was too painful. Physically, yes, but emotionally as well. I couldn't get what I had in my mind onto the page. It was lost in translation. The eyes weren't right. The hair was too short. It didn't look natural. 

It was all wrong. A cycle of diminishing returns.

I was now fifteen and in a dire predicament. I had thought of so many stories, but without a medium through which to tell them, what was I going to do? At a summer camp I sat in on a card game (one of those ridiculous inventions people make so they don't feel guilty for playing anything that resembles poker). 

A girl had a copy of The Last Mermaid. She told me it was a love story set against the Peloponnesian Wars. We said nothing else. I walked out of that room after a few minutes. It was sunny. I stopped, looked up, shrugged, and said "I'm going to write a book."

If anyone tells you that they were inspired by a bolt of lightning, a voice from the heavens, or any other contrived mumbo-jumbo, here's what you do.

1. Slap them in the face.

2. Apologize. 

3. Slap them again.

4. Retract apology.

5. Ask them how it really happened.

Many famous authors had no lofty ambitions about a "dream career." Frederick Forsyth was broke and needed a job. Stephen King was also broke and needed a job. J.K. Rowling was really broke and needed a job (all right, fine; maybe she got inspired by a vision). 

So, in short, my decision was like asking a wallflower to dance after my date stood me up.

I started the first draft of The Eclipse Chronicles on an old Windows computer my parents kept for us kids to play games. I wasn't much of a reader as a child. I knew even less about writing.

My thoughts during the first draft?

HOLYCRAPTHISISSOAWESOMEIMWRITINGABOOK!!!

I got a mentor in the form of an older woman at church who agreed to coach me on the basics. Week after week, I printed off a chapter, brought it to her, and received it about a week later all marked up. 

And then Paolini. 

Paolini's Inheritance Cycle (originally a trilogy) fueled a nation-wide craze for young writing geniuses. Once again, I got caught up in the hype. I'd simply write a book, self-publish, then wait before inevitably being picked up my a major house.

That's when the hard learning began.

I've covered what happened next in my recent posts, so I hope you enjoyed this little origin story. 

To cap off, I thought I'd list the books I've read this year. 

- Of Mice and Men
- Battlecry of Freedom
- Band of Brothers
- Salem's Lot
- Twilight for the Gods
- Jaws
- The Dogs of War
- IT
- Frankenstein
- We Were Soldiers Once, and Young
- Cordell Hull's Memoirs, Volume One

My resolution? Read more!

...and write more.

Power to the pen!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Augh!

You caught me with my pants down! While I call my lawyer to discuss pressing charges, allow me to explain myself. I had the most wonderful weekend with my beautiful and insightful girlfriend. As such, I am thoroughly exhausted and will post again next week after the holidays are over.

Power to the pen! Now, write me a fat check you lecherous perv.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Oh There's No Place Like Home

School's over! Winter's here! Snow! Egg nog! Break time! Writing time! Happy time!

I'm not the least bit excited, as you can tell. I'd almost forgotten how beautiful the world looks clothed in white. When I was a kid, they used to show me calendars with the four seasons beginning on the first day of certain months. March for spring. June for summer. October for autumn. December for winter. I used to pretend that our car was going through hyperspace, if we were lucky enough to be out when it was snowing.

Then I grew up. Years passed without seeing so much as a spit of a flurry. I despaired at the notion that my teachers had lied to me. 

But then we got a foot of the stuff in one day. And a lot of it is still here!

Taylor is pleased.

Meanwhile...

I've been writing one book and outlining another. Eclipse Part Two is finally in the works! Might not get it done in 50 days like Hammer and Keys, but that's ok. As was the case last week, I don't have a lot to say, but hopefully what I do say will be interesting.

I was told of a website called Rejectionwiki. For those of you submitting your work for publication, this will help you determine how far your MS made it with the editors. 

From their website:

The goal of the RejectionWiki is to house the standard (or “boilerplate” as they are often known) rejections as well as upper-tier rejection letters. These upper-tier rejections are usually still forms, but knowing that you made a few rounds to that upper-tier can be encouraging. The more different tiers of rejection letters people share, the more transparent the whole process will become.

Rejectionwiki was started by a group of poets. It seems that the website only includes journals or other related publications, which makes sense. That's where the biggest traditional poetry market is.

I decided to give it a go, seeing as one of my pieces was turned down by One Story. If their data is accurate, I got a high-tier letter. Not bad for a guy who hasn't submitted anything in over six years. I tried to make a Christmas list, but no luck. I can't think of much that I really want, except a few more books, maybe typewriter supplies. My, one's perception of Christmas changes a lot over the years. 

When my brother and I were growing up, we used to compete to see who had the longest list. We were inspired by a strip from Calvin and Hobbes. Most of Watterson's adult humor went sky high over our heads, but not the Christmas stories.

Note for Novelists: We are not allowed to pair question marks and exclamation points. Cruel world.

We never got that far along, but I did include a light saber on my list ten years in a row, blue of course. Santa always had to apologize for "not having the magic" to make that dream come true. But I never faulted him. After all, everyone knows you need Kunda or Illum crystal that's been properly attuned to the Force. I wouldn't expect anyone at the North Pole to have access to a mineral deposit banned by the Galactic Empire. Stupid Empire. Stupid quicksand.

But snow is never stupid.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Weather Outside

I had convinced myself that I'd never see snow again, that I would only have my childhood memories to remind me of how beautiful the world looks sitting still, clothed in white.

But no.

Friday we got a whole foot dumped on us, and we're on the third day of isolation. Not bad, given that we still have electricity and running water. Bad, once I considered that the semester might be extended as a result. We live on a country road. The interstates are the first ones to get salted and sprayed. Ours has been plowed and raked a few times, but no salt. Not sure how long it takes the county to get around to this kind of thing.

Meanwhile, I've used the extra time to transcribe "Hammer and Keys." I've got about 50 pages left and it just hit the 80k word mark. Might not be as high as I originally thought, but no matter.

The Brandon Sanderson lectures have been amazing, along with his podcast Writing Excuses. They provide the sort of professional guidance I wish I had had years ago when I was first starting. But no matter.

Truth be told, I didn't put a lot of thought into what I was going to write about this week. I've been brainstorming a lot of different ideas, one of which I hope to turn into a series later in life. I found two more writing contests that I plan to enter. Still no word on any of my submitted stories.

As disappointing as it is for me, all I can come up with is another rendition of Reject a Hit.

Dear Mr. King,

We've read the finished manuscript of your novel It. I regret to say that we are unable to accept it for publication at this time. Well, no. Honestly, I'm not sorry! I hated this book! Wanna know why? The clown. You've turned a classic icon of children's entertainment into a bloodthirsty monster. I married a professional clown and she threatened to divorce me if I accepted this...thing. Ok, maybe clowns can be scary, but you provoked her. There's an anti-clown agenda in this thing and I won't be a part of it (no pun intended).

For posterity's sake, I guess I have to come up with a legitimate reason to reject the book. Fair enough. The chronology is ridiculous and confusing. The novel begins in 1958 and we get a chapter per character as they live in Derry, which might as well be called StephenKingstan since it's yet another one of your small-town-nightmarish-festering-armpit-wounds whose people have no redeeming qualities (except the Irish cop, I liked him). Then we jump forward to 1985 and get a chapter per character in their grownup lives. In between, we get the diary entries of one of the main characters as he records bits of evidence to prove that It has returned.

And speaking of It, why would any sensible author use a pronoun as the title of their work? Are you trying alienate all of the English teachers in your audience? You yourself were a teacher, which intensifies my disgust. 

Sincerely,

Editor


Power to the pen. 

Hopefully I'll be more on my game next week.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Let the Countdown Begin

Happy December!

I hope you all had a fabulous Thanksgiving. I have a whole bunch of things to be thankful for. I'm still in a happy stupor on account of the feasting, so all I have for you this week is a series of lectures by the one and only Brandon Sanderson.

Some of you may recall that Sanderson was the one who helped finish Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. He teaches creative writing and I've found these lectures very helpful.

Here's the first one.


Power to the pen!


By the way, NOW it's legal to sing Christmas songs and decorate....

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Front to Finish: Writing Stories on a Manual Typewriter

A very bright and sunny good day to you! It's 24º F outside. How did people wake up in the morning without coffee? That's too scary to think about, so let's move into this week's discussion.

I've collected two rejection slips for a couple of essays I submitted to The Missouri Historical Review a year ago. Each piece came with some feedback, and in both cases, they said the quality of the writing itself was good. The scope of the research is where they suffered. I knew this before submitting, since I didn't have the time or the resources to broaden them.

Still, they said my writing was good! That's what I call positive rejection. Lots of authors get rejected but the agent or editor is so impressed by what they see, they write something beyond the usual form letter. Maybe I'll revise the essays and resubmit sometime.

Last week, I finished another short story. It's the longest one I've written to date: 7500 words. The online workshop Zoetrope puts the cap at 8000. Some magazines publish stories up to 10,000. Three of my favorite short stories (Children of the Corn, Paycheck, and The Most Dangerous Game) push the envelope between 11,000-13,000. Considering the amount of ground I covered, I'm pleased with the length. It's not too long, but crammed full of dark goodies.

A lot of people ("a lot" being two or three...) are surprised whenever I tell them that I use a manual typewriter for my creative works.

"Sounds tedious," they say.

Truth be told, it certainly can be.

Hemingway revising a manuscript.


Back in the old days, authors didn't have access to scanners, laser printers, or electronic word processors. For every draft of every work they produced, there was a rewriting phase and then the retyping.

I've had to learn a lot of things about typing on manuals by trial and error. I couldn't find any instruction books or videos, so I had my fair share of accidents along the way. I've developed a process that helps me get my work done in good time while also ensuring maximum enjoyment.

So here it is! From front to finish, how ideas get from my head to the final draft.

1. Ideas and Outlines

I'm not going to talk about how I get my ideas. That's a whole post on its own. So let's fast forward and say that I have an idea and I've got a raw concept that I've molded into something that can serve as the basis for a narrative.

The first thing I do is sit down at the computer and type an outline. It's not a bulleted list, more of a synopsis, and written in such a way that makes sense to me.

Here's an example.

Working Title

Concept:

What if (X) happened and someone had to do (Y)? What would that look like? Who would it affect?


Background and Setting:

(This is where I talk about everything that's happened before the story takes place, and the location. Characters A, B, and C, did this and that, which has brought them to Story Starting Point).


Plot:

(This is what I actually write the events of the story. Background info is related via conversation or narration, but it is not the focus of the text. It's in the past. Characters with this Background begin at Starting Point after being confronted by X. Now what? Now I tell the story.)


Characters:

(Biographies of each named character)


2. First Draft

After I've got the outline finished, I'll get the manual typewriter and peck out the first draft. My newest story took me two days to finish, which is the longest amount of time I've ever needed for a first draft of a short. Novels can take anywhere between three months to a few years. The Hammer and the Keys took me 50 days. It depends on a lot of things, and varies between writers.

3. Revisions 

After I've finished the first draft, I put it away and don't look at it for a few days. This gives me time to forget specific details. If I try to edit while anticipating every line of every page, my mind tends to skip over words and then I miss things that need to be corrected. I try to wait at least three days before looking at a story again.

When I decide to revise, I get the hard copy and mark it up with a pencil. Not only is it fun, it helps me keep track of the changes I've made. Once that's done, I'll sit at the typewriter and type a second draft with the applied corrections, then repeat the process until I'm satisfied with how the story flows.

4. Digitize

When I think the story can't be improved any more (or the story is so long I don't want to transcribe it to the computer) I'll scan the pages.

My scanner is an HP Deskjet F300. It's old by computer standards, but it gets the job done. When the pages are scanned, I save the file as an RTF, then copy it into Mac Pages (MS Word for you Windows people).

But this step is fraught with technical difficulties.

The most difficult part is making the scans as legible as possible. My Remington De Luxe 5 has a new ribbon. It prints clear as day.

Picture of a typed page. Not bad!

The quality of the printed page and the scanner will affect the digitization.

YIKES!

When I wrote The Hammer and the Keys, I was using an old ribbon that didn't print well. I thought the scanner would compensate for that. It didn't. It was far worse than the example above. The text was jumbled and the structure so miserably distorted that I couldn't read it.

The computer doesn't know how to translate certain characters. A quotation mark often comes out as II.  Periods and commas appear where I never intended to put them. If you compare the two examples, you'll notice that the paragraphs have been destroyed, the text is lumped together. I don't even bother with headers because the scanner doesn't know what to do with them (but I still number my pages; the "BL-2"is an abbreviated title with the number).

It might look horrible, but it saves me a lot of time. It took my printer 36 seconds to scan each page. 7000 words of a draft equalled 25 pages. 15 minutes to scan the whole thing. That's a lot faster than transcribing the whole thing word for word (for me, at least). Since Hammer and Keys didn't scan properly, I had to save it as a PDF, and am now in the process of doing just that (with a little help from my loving and insightful girlfriend, of course).

Now think about this: In the old days, a writer had no choice but to retype every page, incorporating the changes to the story, along with spelling, grammar, and watching to make sure the sentence didn't break off at the bottom of the page (what's known as a 'widow'). In the business world, using White Out to correct even minor errors was seen as a cop out and lack of professionalism. Authors have to abide by the same rules.

In one of his interviews, Frederick Forsyth said that he types his books on an electric typewriter and hands over the manuscript, with errors, to the editor. The company secretaries correct all of it for him.

Don't do that.

Forsyth spent his years in the trenches, like all beginning novelists, and earned whatever he's got. It'd be unreasonable for me to expect that from a company. But I won't lie, it'd be really nice to have a team of secretaries on speed dial.


So that's it! From front to finish that's how I get my ideas from my brain to the final draft.

Now think about THIS.

The longest published novel ever written was In Search of Lost Time, my Marcel Proust. He started working on it in 1909 and kept at it until his death in 1922.

The novel is 4200 pages long, containing over 1.2 million words.

It was published in seven volumes, first in French, from 1913-1927. The final English translation came out in 1931.

Proust, circa 1900.


Can you imagine typing and then retyping 1.2 million words?!

Some pages from one of the drafts, with Proust's handwritten notes.

But there's only one thing more difficult than typing a colossal novel.

Summarizing it!




Power to the pen!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Novel With A Key and a Good Cover

Top of the day to you!

A storm blew in last night. Temperatures went from 50º to 69ª. Too warm for November!

But that's not important. You came here to read about writing, write?

No updates on any of my submissions yet. Currently working on yet another short story. A scary one. This is taking me in a new direction. Can't wait to see the results.

I had the raw concept in my head. It was a short dream, but I didn't get the breakthrough I needed until yesterday because I was too focused on the wrong story idea. I was trying to plot another novel and getting frustrated when I couldn't come up with anything that satisfied me.

The idea was spawned from a large chunk of my own life. I've never tried to use real-world experiences for the basis of a work before, but the more I've learned about Hemingway, the more tempting it became.

My internet searching pointed me to this phrase: Roman a Clef (pronounced roman a clo)

The Roman a Clef is a literary device that was invented in France sometime during the 17th Century. The individual often credited is Madeleine de Scudery.

Roughly translated, it means "novel with a key."

Lady Madeleine herself. 1607-1701

Madeleine lived in an era when the salons were the place to go for exciting stories, usually in the form of gossip. However, since most of these stories revolved around the king, his court, the clergy, or other special persons, writing about them was illegal (especially if the document was meant to criticize or satirize).

In order to protect themselves, Madeleine and her fellow writers changed the names, dates, and places in their stories. Madeleine herself wrote a work of over 2 million words called Artamene ou le Grand Cyrus. The novel (considered one of the longest ever written) is set in a region known only as "The Orient," but the characters speak with 17th Century ideas. Madeleine's contemporaries are disguised as Classical figures, such as Cleopatra, Mark Antony, and various Greek heros.

In the 20th Century, many famous American novels have been written in this fashion. It's no surprise that Hemingway's first published book, The Sun Also Rises, was written with a French device after the young author visited Paris in 1925 with several known figures. He did this again and again throughout his life.

Hemingway's book, published in 1926.

Numerous authors have used their own life experiences and acquaintances as the basis for their stories. Ray Bradbury wrote over 600 shorts and over a dozen novels. Never sued. However, the laws concerning libel, defamation, and invasion of privacy have changed a lot. Most of the writing advice I've been given involves "basing" a story around something, but not as explicitly as Hemingway or the others.

It's a vigorous debate. Some say "just write the piece and then see what the editor thinks." Others insist that it's either too risky or not worth the potential fallout.

Defamation means you're saying something negative about a person. It's close to slander, which is basically lying. So....don't do that.

But what if you've lived a story that you are sure would make a great narrative?

Some things to think about. Life doesn't follow a story arch. Daily routines are boring. Even the most exciting events in your life are often unconnected.

And then there's the issue of putting it in writing. I found a great example on how to do this in the following article by Susan Breen.

See what she did there? She wanted to tell the story about her relationship with her mother.

But fiction can't just be about that. She threw some other elements into the mix, significantly altering the characters and circumstances to the point where it wasn't really her story anymore.

And that's the whole point. We're back to the notion of "basing" your story on something.

Even Madeleine's gargantuan novel mixed it up. The female characters were used to perpetuate the idea of women's equality and arguments for why they should be allowed to participate in literature and political discourse.

So while my novel idea still borrows considerable detail and feeling from my life, it won't, in all probability, be a roman a clef.

While researching the subject matter for this post, I came across several vintage book covers. Those things are great, aren't they? It's how you sell the story to readers. I've always been a huge fan of simple designs. Today, most book covers look like the artist tried to paint the Sistine Chapel in a space that's not even six inches across.

You've seen 'em. Sweeping landscapes. Multiple character designs. A giant title that's been lavishly painted onto the front. And of course, the obligatory reminder that this work (or the author) was a NY Times Bestseller

In ye olden times, most books didn't have covers at all. They were sold as loosely bound bundles of pages. However, around the 19th Century, dust jackets became popular. This paved the way for illustrations on the cover itself.

Vintage book covers, to me, do more to encourage reading. You only get a glimpse. The story is only hinted at. As if the book says, "You want to know more? Well, pull up a chair and crack me open."

I've thrown together a list of ten covers that I absolutely love. Ten. Because it could have been a lot longer. I thought about adding my own comments on the artwork, but I think you get the idea.

1884


1988 
1961

1978

1974 
1990

1989

2008

1972 
1940

Power to the pen!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Lucha Libro

Greetings. 

Due to circumstances beyond our control, this week's episode of "How To Get Everything You've Ever Wanted Right Now," will not be shown.

Instead, we present this blog post that was hastily assembled at the last minute with no budget or product safety testing. We apologize for any inconvenience or discomfort, but we ain't liable. In fact, we'll probably laugh.

This week has seen more rewriting and submitting than creating new material. I've got two stories entered in two different competitions. I won't know the results until next year, but it feels good to be doing it. Both contests make room for several honorable mentions along with the top winners.

For most American writers, winning a competition is a great way to pad their publication credentials. It gives them exposure, prestige, and valuable experience. However, many successful writers have never entered competitions.

But for the people of Peru, they don't have much of a choice.


Take a look and see what I mean.


Is that hardcore or what? There have been days when I'm working on a novel or other long term project and I struggle to make the daily quota. It's usually no less than 1,000 words. But a whole short story in just a few minutes, and a book contract at stake? Talk about pressure!

Peru has been through some really bad times, like many South American nations. But that's no reason the voices of her people shouldn't be heard. However, as many American writers are beginning to learn, money troubles equals book troubles. Publishers get really protective of their assets and only publish material they are convinced they can sell.

It's a business, and in a nation like ours that enjoys unprecedented riches, we tend to forget that. The editors and agents have to feed themselves and their families. They might love your work, but if it won't sell, then we can't hold it against them for rejecting it.

I got you in the ring for three minutes. Three minutes of play time!


Peru's example shows how a little ingenuity can keep people's dreams alive. I predict that the writers who participate in this contest year after year will have razor sharp skills.

Something else I talked about last week was using real life and casting it in fiction. I mentioned Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Kerouac. But someone I didn't mention was Ralph Ellison, author of "Invisible Man." The book has been consistently rated as one of the most influential novels of the 20th Century for its portrayal of race relations.

I found this video where Ralph talks about his work and a number of things (including a book in progress which he never managed to finish, it would be called "Thee Days Before the Shooting").

I found it interesting that he used a tape recorder to test the feel and rhythm of his words. Just goes to show that you ought to stick with whatever works. If any of those recordings survived, I imagine they're very valuable.

My final thought this week regards the "banning" of certain books. I remember when I was in 7th grade and the Harry Potter series was published in the U.S. People were up in arms over "that story about witchcraft." They were sadly disappointed when their kids didn't turn into blood-drinking pagans. My generation proved that kids (or any reader) aren't stupid. They can invest a lot in a story without confusing it with reality.

I don't know what half of these words mean, but they speak to me...


Books are usually banned for a variety of reasons. They might challenge a social norm. They might contain profanity or other questionable content. They might attack one of our society's sacred cows.

In an interview, Kurt Vonnegut once gave his opinion on why people get offended by works of art. To paraphrase, he said: People are conditioned by advertisements. These ads always tell them something nice because they're trying to sell things. Art doesn't appeal to what you want. It speaks a message that you may or may not like, but that's not the point.


Power to the pen!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Impossibility of Writing

Greetings, and welcome November!

The week began in drudgery and ended with enlightenment. How did I manage to do all of that?

I'm glad you asked.

This week began with my full intention to take a break from writing. I had some school work coming up near Thanksgiving and I decided to blitz and get it done rather than procrastinate. Several article readings and three papers later, my mind was thoroughly deflated. Then I got an email from Writer's Digest about their upcoming short story competition.

The challenge: 1,500 words. Submit by November 15.

Yikes! Better get started. Which I did. My mind spun round and round trying to think of an idea. Of course, the golden standard I kept going back to was Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants." How could I possibly pull off something like that? I turned out a draft of a story that I thought had a good premise, but wouldn't work with just 1,500 words.

Once again, my beautiful and insightful girlfriend came to the rescue. "Why don't you do something different in your routine?"

I figured it was worth a shot. I went down to a local park and sat, reading a chapter from "Twilight For the Gods" by Ernest Gann. After which, I took out my typewriter and pecked out four pages. And what did I write? Well, a vignette, more or less. The story is about a protagonist (me) trying to find something to write about. He thinks and thinks and thinks, but can't come up with a premise that satisfies him. The story ends with him opening his eyes and realizing that something to write about was there all along, waiting for him to discover it.

It was one of those "ah ha!" moments followed by a "you dummy, of course that's how it's done" moment. I've never written anything that was explicitly based on anything that happened to me in real life, though authors like Hemingway became famous for it. His first published book, "The Sun Also Rises," follows his journey to the artistic community in Paris almost verbatim. He offended various acquaintances throughout his life because of the way they were portrayed.

I'm not going to discuss "how" one should use their own life experiences to make fiction, but this little episode was very enlightening. And the enlightenment continued. When I got back to the house, I watched a lecture given at Yale by Dr. Alberto Manguel on the Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges. It was entitled: "The Impossibility of Writing."

Here's the video. 

If you don't have an hour and twenty minutes, let me summarize the main points.

Borges was an Argentine writer who almost lived through the entire 20th Century. He wrote poetry and non-fiction before turning to short stories and novels. This lecture was the first time I'd ever heard the man's name, and I doubt many American readers know him. You might notice the quote that I put at the bottom of my blog from his work Dreamtigers.

In essence, the lecture deals with the limits of the human language. Words are incapable of completely conveying the true and full nature of something because language is an imperfect creation used by humans, imperfect creatures.

Jorge Luis Borges, 1899-1986

Therefore, it is impossible to write a conclusive or comprehensive work of literature because the language and mind of the writer are inherently flawed. That's not to say writing is useless or shouldn't be attempted. Borges, in one of his many articles, declared that it was the opposite. He illustrates by mentioning the golem. The most famous account of this mythological creature is from the 16th Century.

In Prague, a rabbi forms a creature of clay and brings it to life by writing the word "emet" which means "truth." The creature was formed to protect Jews from pogroms, but it soon slips from the master's control and begins to wreck havoc. The rabbi destroys it by striking the first letter from "emet" and changing it to "met" which means "death."

Borges comments on the legend by saying, "The rabbi looked at the pile of clay that his creature was, but no one can tell us what God felt as he looked upon his rabbi." Borges felt that all human writing was imperfect, but the closest work that came to perfection was Dante's "Divine Comedy." And yet, Dante himself admits this in a way because his love, Beatrice, escapes him after casting a fleeting glance in his direction, which he said no man or poet could ever hope to portray with language.

We have a number of expressions in our modern time for this feelings.

"Words fail me."
"I can't put my finger on it."
"I'm getting a vibe."
"I'm going with my gut."

So, does that mean that writing is a waste of time? Hardly. Borges said that the act of writing a story (or participating in any facet of the arts) was "the imminence of a revelation that never takes place." As Dr. Manguel elaborated, "To accept this paradox is to reject the temptation of the serpent, that man can be like God. Instead, we are content to reflect His creation back to Him through luminous pages that show His world."

Deep stuff.

James A. Michener also touched upon this idea in his work, "The Novel." Two of the characters are literary critics that are disheartened by the rise and dominance of commercial fiction. In their minds, the only true form of fiction is that which converses to another author or reader some higher ideal. They believe that no matter how many works might come about with their cheap thrills, boring characters, and overused plot devices, a vanguard of "real" writers should continue the conversation.

A final example is what Stephen King and many other authors have said: the act of reading a book is taking part in a two-way conversation between the author and the reader.

Bill Waterson's thoughts on the subject.

This is all very deep stuff, but I think every author needs to hear it because it puts them and their work in perspective. Whenever you write a story, you're not trying to reinvent it. When the Harry Potter series was published, many praised it as a wonderful coming-of-age story. That doesn't mean Harry Potter invented the archetype. We came up with archetypes because we realized long ago that artists are taking universal truths and presenting them in different ways.

Gary Larson, ladies and gentlemen!


That's why language changes with time: to accompany the readers' comprehension so they can participate in this conversation.

That's why you and I should never give up as writers. We all have something to say in our own, unique, imperfect way.

In that sense, writing is not impossible.

*phew*

Ok, other business.

In addition to writing something for the WD short story contest, I've submitted another work to six magazines electronically. If they reject it, I'll submit the document to some more via hard copy.

While doing this I couldn't help but get drawn into the controversy surrounding submission fees. It seems that literary journals have come under fire for charging authors to pay money to send them their work. I'm new to the market, so my opinions are half-baked.



Traditionally, literary agents and publishing companies do not charge for submissions, even unsolicited ones. They get paid based on sales revenue.

Literary journals seem to be in a different boat. With the rise of electronic media, subscription rates have been going down, but there are now more writers wanting to be published. Even online-only publications have considerable expenses.

Most of the journals I saw that charged "service fees" want the author to use a service called Submittable. This isn't free either. You have to pay $10 a month or $100 a year. On top of that, the submission fees are usually three or four dollars, though I read a scathing attack on Narrative Magazine for apparently charging as much as $15-$20 per manuscript.

These fees do not get your work to the top of the slush pile, and it certainly doesn't mean you're getting published. As you might guess, the practice has generated a lot of hard feelings that you can explore with a quick Google search.

Contests are different. You can't buy prizes for the contestants if you don't have money and the best way to get money is to charge an entrance fee.

The thing that confuses me is that journals are charging for electronic submissions only. I could mail a manuscript to Boulevard via USPS and actually save money because I can buy manilla envelopes and stamps in bulk.

For guys like me that are in school, with no income, and trying to break into the market, submission fees don't appear very logical, especially in the worsening economy. But then again, I suppose that's why they're doing it. Even resource websites like Duotrope recently began charging members because so many people had signed up.

Until the situation changes, I'll probably be submitting to as many "free" places as possible. There are magazines that charge a fee and do not use Submittable, and I'll probably consider them.

All right, let's do something fun to wrap this week up.

One of Writers' Digest's articles encouraged its readers to "reject a hit." The game is simple: in 300 words, reject a well-known book and give your reasons. They can be actual errors you found in the text or completely absurd and made up.

For my choice, I selected "The Dogs of War" by Frederick Forsyth. Although not nearly as well-known to American audiences as Robert Ludlum or Tom Clancy, Forsyth became famous in 1971 with his classic "Day of the Jackal." "The Dogs of War" was published a few years later, based on his experience as a correspondent covering the Biafra War in Nigeria.

The book has been hailed as a "manual for mercenaries," and I thoroughly enjoyed it.



Having said that, here is my satirical reject of a hit.


Dear Mr. Forsyth,

We've read your manuscript, "The Dogs of War." I regret to inform you that we are unable to accept the work for publication at this time. I would like to offer a few editorial suggestions if you intend to pursue this with other companies. 

First, your inconsistent use of small arms cartridge designations made it difficult to read. Most professionals use the common form: 9mm Luger. There is no reason to write it as nine-millimeter, 9.mm, 9x19mm, 7.63 millimeter, 9. millimeter, or any of the other twenty variations that you employed in the text. Pick one and stick with it.

At one time you refer to the protagonist's young lover as a Lolita. While it's encouraging to see that you are a well-read man, I am confident that no one who reads "The Dogs of War" will get the reference to Nabokov's novel. Therefore, I recommend that you replace it with something more identifiable with the modern generation. You can find countless ideas in the celebrity gossip magazines at your nearest supermarket.

Concerning the South African character. I find it highly improbable that any team of professional soldiers would recruit a member for whom they had to translate every word of conversation. The character dies, proving my point.

The biggest crux, by far, is your not-at-all friendly portrayal of western Europe. Your characters display an incredible amount of historically-informed distrust of nearly every democratic nation that they visit. Yet, they're judgements are hypocritical because they're more than willing to procure illegal arms from a company in fascist Spain. 

Really, Mr. Forsyth. We've decolonized Africa and India. I honestly believe that publication of this work has the potential to reignite international tensions that we've spent so much time trying to bury.

Cut us some slack. Nobody wants to conquer other nations or segregate people based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or political ideology. That went out of style ages ago.

Sincerely,

Editor


See you next week! 

Power to the pen.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Smoldering Press

The typewriter has been working over time! Since last week's post, I've churned out a total of four stories. One of the drafts is a story I'm strongly considering for submission after the beta group replies to the latest draft. The POV changed less than five pages into the narrative, and looking back, I'm glad I revised it. Makes a lot more sense and it heightened the emotional impact.

I've also been reading a lot of stuff from Writer's Digest website. Very helpful. Here's an example. I signed up for their free newsletter, so next time they have a competition I'll be ready.

Lots of writers talk about establishing a routine. Some suggest working on no less than four or five short stories at a time. With my shorts, I've found this not only to be possible but rather exciting. The process developed on its own.

1. Write the raw concept/idea, then the background information, character profiles, setting, plot, etc.

2. Write the first draft.

3. Edit for spelling (I've grown to love going over hard copies with a pencil).

4. Let it rest. Length of time varies. Work on other projects. 

5. Re-read draft. Mark instances where things should be added. Cut fluff or reword sentences. (I deleted half of one story to change the POV; ended up making it longer than the first three drafts)

6. Submit to beta group, wait for reactions. Transcribe story to computer.

7. Take critiques and apply. Repeat process until satisfied. 

Yesterday, I found it impossible to make any meaningful progress on my story revisions. It took nearly an hour to hammer out a measly 300 words. I had an appointment to keep, so I took it to the typewriter. 

BAM

Out came six pages, good pages, with time to spare. My Remington De Luxe 5 has been a pleasure and delight to work with.

Lesson? Find whatever is best for your muse and never ever deviate from it. I think my typewriter's magic. My girlfriend insisted that it was me all along (tee hee, gotta love her). Henceforth, I shall no longer be stingy about paper consumption, even if I've starting mid-way through a story with a new scene. I produce my best work using the magic manual. 

So, now that I've got four stories in draft form and in various stages of revision, it's high time I try to submit to someone! I don't expect acceptance right off the bat (though that'd be great). I'm more focused on learning the submission process. It's similar to trying to sell a novel: pitch, wait, assume rejection if you've waited long enough with no reply, try again.

I figure I can crank out four stories every two or three weeks, revising the drafts and zeroing in on the one I want to submit the most. Since the magazines I've got in mind don't like multiple submissions until they're replied to one author (or a certain amount of time has passed), submissions will be made accordingly.

On a sightly different note, I'd like to take a moment and discuss a film I watched not too long ago.

"The Lost Weekend."


Made in 1945, starring Ray Millard, "The Lost Weekend" is a film adaptation of a book of the name by Charles Jackson. According to what I found, the story is semi-autobiographical. 

Millard plays the role of a conflicted writer name Don Birnam. He's going through the same struggles that most writers do: can't finish a project, questions if he's got what it takes, longing to pen that definitive masterpiece. 

Birnam's also a raging alcoholic in recovery. In one of the most memorable scenes of the movie he tells a bartender how it "helps" him.




I like this monologue. Eliminate the references to drinking and replace it with imagination or creativity and you've got the job description of a writer.

I have a personal commitment against drinking and other substances (religious reasons, as well as financial and health). Throughout the film, Birnam is convinced that he cannot channel muse without a few drinks. Lots of artists, Stephen King, H.G. Wells, and John Lennon to name a few, also turned to narcotics for some inspiration (a few others, like Mark Twain, just did for fun).

I watched a documentary on John Lennon after he left The Beatles. One segment shows that while doing cocaine, the music got progressively worse. Birnam later states that the internal editor (whom he refers to as "the other guy") keeps egging him on to drink so that he can work, only to convince him that his time would be better spent drinking than writing. 

The great irony is that Birnam smokes during the whole film. My grandfather once told me that nicotine helped his mind focus and get energized. He said there wasn't anything better than a fresh cup of coffee and a cigarette in the morning.

What happens to Birnam (and the other three artists) is that the substance he thinks is helping him is actually killing him. While physically destroying his body and mind it's also destroying whatever creative drive he had. By the end of the movie he's trying to kill himself because he's convinced there's nothing left...until his girlfriend Helen urges him to write about his binge, hence, the story you've been watching becomes the novel.

I really liked the film, but the soundtrack was kinda weird. Whenever Birnam is on a binge they started playing a woo-woo effect that reminded me of the Twilight Zone.

Being a movie from the 1940s, I always take notes on how much things have changed.

1. Birnam is able to purchase cigaretts on a budget of .50¢ a week. Ha!

2. Birnam can get a quart of rye whiskey for $2.15. Ha!

3. The local movie theatre has a coat check.

4. Milk delivered. Every day. In glass bottles. To your doorstep.

5. Every business is closed on Sunday. Ha! (This part led to a rather funny moment when Birnam, in a last ditch effort to buy more booze, tries pawning his typewriter on a weekday. He finds that a shop owned by Jews is closed for Yom Kippur [which the actor pronounces as yom kipper and not kip-oor]. The man tells Birnam that the Irish-owned places have also agreed to stay closed if the Jews will not open on St. Patrick's Day)

Speaking of typewriters, here's a shot of the one featured in this picture. 


If you zoom into the lower-left corner, you can see the machine. The type bars are elevated! What's the deal? To the best of my knowledge, this is a Remington Portable of some kind. It's different than the ones I own. Mine just happen to be portable, but the company had a series of machines that were marked as portable. Yeah. Seems legit.

Anyway, I'm not sure what specific variation was used for the movie, but here's a video I found demonstrating the mechanism.

Something else I've been practicing, but haven't mastered, is centering text on my magic manual. Birnam does this with ease. Makes me wish I could take a class.


Just like mine, the typewriter has only one triangle on the aligning guide. I've tried counting individual spaces to get it right, but I'm going to have to work on it a bit more.

Fingers crossed for good beta feedback and impressing an editor!

Power to the pen.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Assembling the Minions

This week has been rather exhausting, but progress was made and enjoyment was had.

The first half was spent writing and drafting two short stories. Additional ideas have materialized and I will begin on those at the earliest opportunity. The objective for last week was to assemble a group of beta readers who would be willing to read my work and give me their initial impressions. The group is made of about a dozen individuals with various tastes and a broad age range. I sent them a 1,500 word story called "Inside Voice." So far, only three have replied. Two "yays" against one "meh." Further comments forthcoming.

I've also spent the week compiling a list of magazines to submit my work to when the time comes. My favorite resource, Predators and Editors, couldn't provide me with a lot of "recommended" listings. Those that were labeled as such have defunct links. No matter.

I noticed that a good number of the magazines charge fees for submissions, even electronic ones. I thought this was a bit strange. In the world of agents and book publishers, most people don't charge the author a fee to read their work. It's considered unorthodox. You can get around the fees by using snail mail, but sending a manilla envelope and including a SASE can add up quickly. The word count of all the magazines I looked at ranges between 1,500-8,000. Some accepted novellas up to 15,000 and some listed preferences within their range (i.e. we accept short stories up to 8,000 words but prefer 4,000).

I've found the practice of writing short stories to be very liberating. It'll take some getting used to. Lots of rewriting and revising.

Speaking of rewriting, my Remington Rand Model 1 is starting to show signs of...something. The carriage is skipping whenever I use the characters "c", "e", "b" and "p". Not sure what the problem is, but to put my mind at ease I decided to purchase a backup machine.

Say hello to my newest friend. The Remington Rand De Luxe Model 5



I never intended to purchase another typewriter. One was enough. But over time the Model 1 has developed a few kinks that make it hard to write without having to go back and correct an error. I still love that machine dearly, but I'm overly cautious about mechanical devices. I change my oil every 3,000 miles on the dot (or as close as possible). The Model 1 will be put away until I can take it to a qualified repairman. Sadly, there are none within 3 hours distance of my house, so it'll have to wait until the semester is over with.

My new partner is an interesting machine. Built at some point in the 1940s, I haven't been able to find a lot of information on the De Luxe Model 5. It has all the makings of a wartime product. Not a lot of glossy, flashy features or paint. It's all about function, baby. For $60, it was a real bargain. All of the parts function flawlessly, even the tab button! It has a touch regulator that increases or decreases the resistance on the keys themselves. I can lightly peck on these keys like I am doing with my laptop keyboard, and the text still prints clearly!

The second half of the week was spent with my wonderful girlfriend and her family. I'd talk about it here, but frankly, that's none of your business. ;)

This week's post is a bit short. Hopefully, I'll have more updates later as the stories continue to flow.

Power to the pen.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

One Fine October For Writing - It's Done!

On Friday I wrote two words that haven't come from my fingers in a long, long time.

THE END

My current WIP is not longer IP, er...in progress. It's finished! My second novel! Yay!

Working title? "The Hammer and the Keys."

I won't know the exact word count until I digitize it (which will hopefully happen tomorrow). Using the dead-recoking 250 words per page rule, I estimate that at 326 pages the book stands around 81,000. Definitely within the accepted novel range. It might even be a tad longer, given the generous use of block quotes.

Was I excited to finish it? Of course! It's been 4 years since I completed a novel without stopping due to writer's block/lethargy or life circumstances getting in the way. I learned a lot about myself and being productive. I was very happy to reach THE END, but it was something I was prepared for because I knew I was going to finish the book. It was kinda like the mastermind watching a plan with all of its loose ends and different threads coming together.

My plan is to now gather a group of beta readers and gauge their reaction to the story. The only corrections that I'll make are spelling errors and other things. I recall a few carriage skips (words coming out as "c ame" instead of "came") which might not get picked up by the word processor. Nothing to alter the story, only technical stuff.

For a visual representation of how I felt during the last two months, I give you Snoopy.

Day 1, Page 1

Half way through, resisting the urge to talk about it.

Finished!!!

I'm going to give the brain a break from such long-term projects for awhile. The draft will sit in its shoebox until I have largely forgotten the details. When the noggin is fresh, I'll sit down and begin to seriously edit it myself. 

Meantime, I've gotten the hankering to take up short stories again. I haven't written one in a year, and those were all for college classes. I have never put for a lot of effort into trying to market short pieces, because frankly, I thought that market was all dried up. Over the last few hours I've been pecking around the interwebs and found out that I was wrong (not surprised one bit).

The market hasn't dried up, it's simply changed venue. Guys like Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Ernest Hemingway, and Kurt Vonnegut all made a name for themselves with books and short stories. Back in ye olden times before digital media, they'd type up a manuscript of 15-30 pages or so and send it to a magazine. These magazines would often specialize in a particular genre. You can find them in thrift stores with a big 25¢ stamp on the front. Serialized novels also came about through this form, like King's "Shawshank Redemption." 

Now, magazines can't afford to publish so exclusively. Most of the old players went out of business years ago. Lots of short stories are online, via Amazon or a magazine website. 

So why am I even thinking about this? Books are where it's at, right?

Eh...depends.

If I had to do it all over again there's one thing I would change about my journey through the craft of word-binding thus far, I would start with short stories and not novels.

I started writing The Eclipse Chronicles when I was 15 with no real grasp of how to write or even taking a class. All I knew was that I had a story to get out and I was going to do it! It took my six years to get "Lunar Dawn" to where it is now because I didn't learn to write before I started writing. 

Shouldn't have done that!

Instead of starting with a burden of 80-100k words, I should have started with just 5k. Could have saved myself a lot of time and effort learning characterization, background development, description, showing vs telling, and dialogue. But thankfully, I started out young, so I'm not too late to get in the game.

Short stories are still a valid medium for writers to indulge in. I watched a film on YouTube the other day called "Story of a Writer." It was about Ray Bradbury, made in 1963, at the apex of his career. One scene shows him typing a story called "Dial Double Zero." The film follows him through the process of writing, revising, and getting the thing critiqued. That part stuck with me.

Later, I saw a video by Ann Rice who said all writers should keep their chapter fragments, scenes, ideas, and other "junk" because it could be used in different ways like a short story.

I felt pretty silly after hearing that. I have lots of ideas that I've been mulling over for years, but never put to paper. Maybe that's what I've been missing the whole time. Just because I'm letting my brain rest after finishing "Hammer and Keys" doesn't mean I have to (or should) be on a vacation.

So, within the next week or so, I hope to produce a short story and try to get it published however I can through traditional means. By traditional, I mean send it out, have it read, critiqued, probably rejected, and then published by an editor.

It won't be a long story, probably 15,000 max, though I doubt I'll come close to it.

I should confess that I'm addicted to the sound of my typewriter, so that serves as an added incentive to get back to work. Bradbury had a whole filing cabinet of stuff he'd written over the years.

I want one. Only one way to get it.
Me, ready to begin the next project!

Power to the pen and those with a well-worn ink ribbon!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

My Current WIP and a Very Interesting Week

Recent happenings have distracted me, but not enough to keep me from updating this blog!

For those of you unaware, the writing world lost a great figure in the death of Tom Clancy.

Of course, being a veteran gives him extra brownie points.

Clancy's best known for his works of military fiction, such as "The Hunt for Red October," "Rainbow Six," and "The Clear and Present Danger." He inspired a number of spin-off series (most of them made into video games, like Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell) and entertained people for generations.

This made the release of Stephen King's long-awaited book "Dr. Sleep" harder to celebrate. I haven't picked up a copy of the book yet, but so far the reviews I've read are throughly positive. I was actually quite surprised that it didn't get as much fanfare as one of the latter Harry Potter books, owing to King's legendary status and "The Shining" often cited as one of his best works.

Moving on to personal notes.

I was pleased to learn that my body weight is now a mere 212 pounds and my fat percentage has dropped 4% since July, from 26-22%. Yesterday, I ran 6 miles for the first time, the hardest physical endurance challenge I've ever undertaking to date. I can't tell you how proud I am to have accomplished this, though I was wiped out for most of the day and didn't get to writing until 5pm.

Moving on to minor business.

You may have noticed that I conducted a mass purge of my older posts. All news-realted pieces were deleted, along with the short-lived Youtube experiment called The Portal. It was fun doing videos for awhile, but I rapidly began copying other people's style and doing things I wasn't very much interested in to begin with (like video game reviews). It had nothing to do with writing, which is what I do. Furthermore, although history is a passion of mine (and I follow current events as a result) this blog was never meant to be a springboard for any kind of discussion. Yet, I chose to post those things because I was too lazy to commit to my real love.

Lesson learned. Goodbye fluff. On to major business.

Last week I promised to talk a little about my current WIP (Work in Progress). Today, I shall!

Inspiration is a tricky thing. Some of the ideas I get the most passionate about are spontaneous, and don't take much thought on my part. This new book, which is rapidly approaching the 80,000 word mark, was touched off by my typewriter hunting experience.

Historians and antique hunters often see an old relic of the past and sigh, mumbling, "If only it could talk, the stories we'd hear." Indeed, I'm one of those people. Most manual typewriters out there today are well over 50 years old. The used Royal and Remingtons you see going for $25 in a pawn shop may have at one time been used by a secretary working for the Navy or Army Ordinance.

The basic, raw idea behind my current WIP was about a young graduate student who loves historical artifacts. He becomes infatuated with a typewriter he finds in the home of an old woman he's interviewing for a term paper, and learns an amazing story about its pervious owner: the town's first black newspaper reporter. He makes a deal with the woman to tell the man's life story in exchange for the machine. From there, the idea was quickly molded into a much deeper story involving America's difficult past and how, as Faulkner said, it never really dies. The protagonist finds himself being pulled into a long-standing feud between three people, each wanting him to tell the story their way.

Besides that, I found that I had a wonderful opportunity to show readers what it really means to be a historian outside the realm of teaching middle and high school. Most people don't know it, but an entire industry of professionals thrives preserving old buildings, archeological sites, and conducting ground-breaking research. That's the kind of historian I want to be, and the kind that you find in the novel.

Writing the book has been comparatively easy to writing "Lunar Dawn." I was 15 when I started that book, but now I'm 24 and have grown up a bit. This time I did a lot of things differently. I wrote detailed character backgrounds and a solid working timeline. I also wrote a rough outline of what I wanted to accomplish in each chapter. These notes have been the most helpful thing for my continuing progress.

Well, not this kind of plotting....maybe in another book.


The book was plotted around a 3-month series of events, roughly one semester. My experiences as a graduate student helped me write, in wonderful, lavish, insider detail, what it means to really research something. Only at this level do you truly come to appreciate how useless the internet, particularly Google, can be in finding sources. Most of the good stuff has not, and probably never will be, digitized to the point of making it that easy.

And so, there's lots of microfilm browsing, newspaper hunting, and meeting people who were there. While the subjects I have covered in my university career are not nearly as exciting as the ones encountered by the protagonist, the methods by which he gets his information are real. That's been the easiest part.

The most difficult part is filling in the "real life" segments. My class schedule is so light this semester that I have more free time than ever (hence how I've been able to accomplish this much). My character follows a similar life pattern, but I can't spend pages upon pages telling the reader how he surfed the net for two hours and then read a novel till bedtime. Great for relaxation but it makes horrible storytelling.

To rectify the problem, the novel skips periods of time when nothing important happens. One scene transition has the protagonist out for two weeks with the flu (based on a real bout of sickness I endured this spring). It helped build tension for the scenes ahead. I think the pacing is very good, so hopefully the beta readers will feel the same way.

As I said last week, this will be the first novel I've written on a typewriter. I didn't write down the exact date I began, but it was in the final days of August. I started right after a 10-day vacation in Utah, so shortly after I got back on the 17th. Today is October 6, so I've spent somewhere around 50 days writing this thing and the page count currently stands at 270.

Not bad, if I do say so myself.

I just finished reading "The Dogs of War," by Frederick Forsyth. He's often said that he meticulously plans everything in his books before striking a single key on the machine, and that he churns out 10 pages every day. That means he can get 400 pages done in just 40 days, or a little over a month.

To me, it's not how fast I've been going that's important. I've maintained a minimum quota of 1,000 words each day, but if I can't do that, I at least get one page. My ultimate minimum is to never ever go a day without writing something on the book. If I'm away from the typewriter, I try to use the laptop and then transcribe it once I get back.

Amazingly, all of these things have contributed to an excellent work schedule. I've changed a few things here and there, surprises come up that turn out to be wonderful accidents and move the plot along. The rough outlining made room for this, and I'm glad I added the little snippets.

I'll continue to update the blog as things progress. Once I get to page 300, I intend to celebrate with an ice cold soda.

Power to the pen and those who use it!