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. 


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.


My current WIP is not longer IP, 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.


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?


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!