Thursday, December 23, 2010

Agents & E-Books Exclusive Survey Preview

Check out this article at Publishing Trends.

These are preliminary results to a survey that will be published by Mike Shatzkin at Digital Book World in January.

Some interesting stuff in there...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

#reverb10 - Action!

Hokay…

It's now been over a week since I last did one of these #reverb10 posts and that makes it official: I've fallen off the wagon.

I have good excuses though. Really! I was kind of under the weather for a few days there. Then there's the weather itself which has really blown goats and frakked my commute up good. The real killer was last Saturday's family Christmas. We hosted, which means lots and lots of prep work, but it was all good. We went non-trad this year and had Mexican Christmas. We made to slow cooked beef brisket, homemade refried beans, fresh salsa & guacamole, tortillas, and, of course, plenty of liquor. Good times!

Time to get back up on the wagon.

December 13 – Action. When it comes to aspirations, it’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen. What’s your next step?

This is the big one, isn't it? That was rhetorical because, of course it is! It's so easy to talk the talk, but walking the walk is another thing entirely. I'm gonna walk it good, baby! Walk what? The book. What else?

I'm not exactly sure yet how it's all going to go down, but 2011 is the year in which I'm going to start moving ahead on the publication front. I'm putting To Kill the Goddess out there one way or another. My plan is to start with the traditional old-school publishers and see what kind of response I get. Clearly, that's the easy way to go. No, easy isn’t the word I'm looking for. Safe. It's the safe way to go. We all know how that process works.

For those aren't familiar:
1.    query an agent
2.    wait
3.    pray

I think in my case there is going to be a lot of praying. I think my book kicks ass, but like this years Christmas, To Kill the Goddess is non-trad. At its core it's high fantasy, but there's also a healthy dose of suspense thriller, sci-fi, and horror. Add in the multiple point of view storyline, an adult / non-YA target audience, and a complete lack of vampires and, well, you can see how it might be a hard sell. It's going to take someone with vision and while I truly believe there are agents who have the vision to see what I'm trying to accomplish those agents still need to sell my book to an old-school publishing house that is typically more interested in the easy/safe sell than they are taking a chance on something unique.

Add all that together and I think the best I can hope for is a mid-list commitment which translates to selling my book for peanuts and if that's the case then I'm going to take the option behind door two, which is self publication.

Stay tuned to The Scribblerati and see how it goes!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Mark’s Reverb 2010

Mark’s thoughts on the last year and his writing per the prompts from reverb 2010 (in no particular order): http://www.reverb10.com/the-prompts/

1 word to encapsulate my 2010:

Full. By full I mean both busy and blessed. Work, classes, writing, editing, a new book started, parties, time well spent with friends and family, lots of books, movies and other diversions—but full. In most ways good: gainfully employed, creating, and trying new things, hanging out with people I like and love. In some ways bad—every day, weekend and most weeknights booked or over-booked. Full.

1 word for 2011:

Who knows until the fat lady of 2011 sings? But—I hope: FOCUSED. In particular being focused on completing both my novels (done in a form so I can finally look for an agent). Being focused on being present in all the things I do: my day job, my writing, my roles as a spouse, parent and friend. Yeah. Focus for me in 2011.

Thing I could do daily that I could eliminate (or the 11 things my life doesn’t need in 2011):

1) Organize and thin down all the incoming digital input I receive daily: e-mail (no less than 4 accounts); twitter (over 1,000 people I’m following); a dozen or so blogs that I follow at least, etc. It all becomes information overload that I’m not very good at keeping up with. Some of it has got to go. Not sure my strategy yet, but I’ll get there.

2) Time wasters: A chronic problem for me: games, video games, online poker, TV, digital news feed (per above). I took a month off from just online poker and made quantum leaps with my writing during that month. January 1 I’ve decided to kill my poker account. Trying for four aces and millions of fake chips is just another form of procrastination for me. It’s gotta go. This gets back to the “focus” plan for 2011.

Make. What was the last thing you made?

Sweet, sweet love.

TMI? Sorry, you asked (or rather those Reverb 2010 people did).

OK, so of course as a writer I have put down lots of words on paper this year, creating fictional characters and worlds that I hope someday others will want to pick up and read.

Besides the writing (and other pastimes as noted above) I am blessed with a creative 7-year old kid. Some mutual friends recently gave us a stop-motion camera setup—so this is the movie that I helped create. We hope you find the storyline enthralling. I am sure it is just the first of many. (Thanks Jerry & Janette and family) Hope it plays for you... it was a challenge to post it to blogger.

video

Body Integration This year, when didyou feel the most integrated with your body? Did you have a moment where there wasn’t mind and body, but simply a cohesive YOU, alive and present?

I took a fencing class last winter with my son. This was his first foray into that sport, but for me it was a refresher course. It turned out I was the oldest pupil in class (the 21 year old instructor usually referring to me as “Dad”), mostly fencing with teenagers. I was sadly reminded how long it had been since I had last fenced by my initial attempts at catching my breath and legs that burned from muscle fatigue after the classes. BUT I was also was pleased to find I could keep up with the class—doing footwork up and down the lengths of the gymnasium and scoring points against the much younger, more fit fencers. I was also usually was the number one pick for team games where often half of the class fenced against the other half of the class. It was a lot of fun, but I found I continued to enjoy the mind-game/strategy/concentration part of the sport just as much as the physical work out. I even found out that fencing with the épée—the one type of sword I had never tried to fence with before—was something I was really good at (class champion). Yes, I am adept at stabbing people in the toe and hand. Watch yourself.

Lesson Learned What was the best thing you learned aboutyourself this past year? And how will you apply that lesson going forward?

I broke my arm in September. For the first couple weeks it was really inconvenient. I couldn’t do little things like tie my own shoes or button my own work shirts. (This made me thankful for my helpful family). I found I really don’t like having to rely on others or ask for help (but I already knew that).

This broken arm happened on my second day of my “book in a month” class at the Loft (it was actually a six-week class, so the title is a bit misleading). I missed that class—and for the rest of that class I was also reduced to half-typing speed at best. Despite this injury and my reduced physical capabilities I found that it really wasn’t slowing me down much. I only missed one day of work due to the broken arm. In the writing class I hit all my goals I set, and ended up creating more material in a month than I ever had—around 30,000 words (and more words than anyone else in this class). My learning? If I focus (there’s that “F” word again) I can overcome any obstacles to accomplish whatever I set my mind to. So can you.

Wishing you great success and happiness in the year ahead.

Back to writing.

Monday, December 13, 2010

#reverb10 – The Catch-up Post! (Shawn's 9-12)

I’m a wee bit behind.

It all started with Friday. Hey, it was Friday people, and Friday means beer, not blogs. Plus, Claudia posted and I was having fun arguing with Mark about Lucifer. Yah, THAT Lucifer.

Then, there was the snowstorm, or #snownami as it’s called on Twitter. 17 inches or so in these parts. Let’s just say I had a lot of quality time with my snowblower.

But I can’t blame it all on #snownami. There was also a lot of fun. Baking cookies with the lovely @mplstravelkitty and devouring a delicious slow cooked pork roast were among the highlights.

Now it’s Monday – back on the horse and all that.

Let’s get cracking!

December 9 – Party. What social gathering rocked your socks off in 2010? Describe the people, music, food, drink, clothes, shenanigans.

I know this is going to be a huge surprise to those who know me, but I’m not big into the party scene. For me, my favorite social gatherings are small, intimate affairs with friends and/or family.



My favorite times are when it’s just the lovely @mplstravelkitty and I. I’m thinking summer. A trip to the farmer’s market and then grilling, throwing together a spread of veggies, grabbing a bottle of wine, and enjoying it all on our deck.


Sorry, a gentleman doesn’t give details about shenanigans.

December 11 – 11 Things. What are 11 things your life doesn’t need in 2011? How will you go about eliminating them? How will getting rid of these 11 things change your life?

OK, seriously? 11 things?  11?!?

I don't have all year, you know...

PS  Yes, I know I skipped #10! Wait for it!

December 12 – Body Integration. This year, when did you feel the most integrated with your body? Did you have a moment where there wasn’t mind and body, but simply a cohesive YOU, alive and present?

Oh, this one is easy. Almost every time I go to yoga.

December 10 – Wisdom. Wisdom. What was the wisest decision you made this year, and how did it play out?

I saved this one for last because it’s actually related to writing – shocker!

(To be fair, the Scribblerati will probably remember that I half made this decision in late 2009, but it wasn’t until this year that I actually went full in.)

The wisest decision I made this year was to rewrite my book. From scratch.

You see, naive me had this notion that I wanted to write my book a certain way. I wanted to write a fantasy loosely based on the same event timeline as 9/11, a timeline where the characters didn’t understand what was happening or what the stakes were until the big event at the end of the book. So I did. I did it perfectly. So perfectly, in fact, that not even the Scribblerati understood.

FAIL.



So, I took their comments and reactions in stride and reassessed. I knew I couldn’t change the major plot arc, not and still be true to the story I wanted to tell, but I could tell the story in a different way. I could still have the same loose 9/11 concept, but this time I would need to make sure the reader understood what was at stake and what the consequences were, even if my characters didn’t.

As a result, I’ve changed a ton of things. Some characters are gone completely while other have been introduced. As for their arcs, they all start and end in the same place, but the way they get there is almost entirely different. All told, I’ve kept maybe 10-15% of what I had in the previous draft. The rest is entirely new.

People, especially writers, tend to look at me with a wide-eyed ‘you did what?’ reaction when I tell them I did this, but truthfully, it was liberating. It’s also been a lot of fun because this time I know I’m doing it right and comments from the Scribblerati – so far – have been largely positive.

The last 1/3 of my book is just starting to work it’s way through the Scribblerati right now. My fingers are crossed!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

We Can Be Heroes

"Look at what's happened to meeee....eee, I can't believe it myself!"


In my last blog entry, I talked about villains, so this time I thought I’d give their counterparts some equal time. As I said before, I tend to prefer the villains; they have way more fun, but nevertheless, I love me a well-written hero.

Last time, I came up with some possible categories for types of villains, so let's see if I can pull off the same feat for our heroes (the way I’m defining them, they don’t have to be the protagonist, just someone, to put it simply, 'on the side of good'), again, sticking somewhat, but not entirely to the sci-fi/fantasy genres.


Hero as the Perfect Person: This category was more common back in the day – especially in comic books and young adult literature. Superman, Nancy Drew, Aragorn (in fact, many of the characters in LOTR)… you get the idea. It’s harder to pull off today, because we 21st century denizens tend to like at least little darkness in our good guys (look at the majority of television drama protagonists these days).

I can think of a couple of exceptions, keeping in mind that these people have little moments of imperfection, but for the most part, it’s the outside forces in their lives that are messed up, not them:

Jack Bauer from 24 (I’ve only seen the first 2 seasons, so I can’t vouch for subsequent episodes) – the writers can afford to make him perfect, and by that I mean beyond smart, quick, capable, moral, brave, etc., because the whole season takes place over only 24 hours, and therefore everything moves very quickly. There’s no time for deep introspection or character development. In fact if our hero were flawed, it would get in the way of the action, and he’d be less fun to watch – part of the appeal of the show is that, no matter how dire things get, you know the hero is going to triumph in the end.

John Crichton from Farscape: Crichton is an earthling stuck in another part of the universe, far, far away. The big joke of the show is that he is the very best of humanity: he’s a genius (literally a rocket scientist), unbelievably brave, unfailingly moral, athletic, attractive, kind, funny, etc., but the aliens he encounters all think he’s about as evolved as a trilobite. (Okay, more accurately, an ape.) So, the writers have fun playing with everyone’s incredibly low expectations of him (his morality especially is seen as a weakness), and his constant struggle to prove himself, and gain the trust and love of these strangers.

Pretty much every main character in Star Trek: This is, in fact, one complaint that many people had about the shows; everyone's too perfect. At least we’ll always have Lt. Reginald Barclay.


The Superhero with a Couple of Flaws and/or Weaknesses: These folks are either literally super-powered in some way, or far superior to any living human being, and therefore might as well have super powers. Most modern comic book superheroes fit into this category, as does Sherlock Holmes. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Oh, man, she can kick some undead patookis, but put that girl in a romantic relationship, guaranteed it'll eventually fall apart, and then she’ll fall apart.

Veronica Mars: (Great show, by the way, go rent it if you haven’t seen it). Veronica is one of those not-really-superpowered-but-no-person-could-possibly-be-that-clever-in-real-life types. So fun to watch her big brain work, and she always gets her man, however, like Buffy, she acts a little screwy when it comes to the boys. More than that though, she’s itty bitty teeny tiny - pocket-sized, even, and not in the least bit kick-ass. Put her in physical danger, and she’s fairly helpless. Also, she's a little - vengeful, a little hard.

As a subcategory, I’d go so far as to say that most protagonists in Hollywood films fit this bill, sans the superhero part. (He’s great, but he: lacks self-confidence/doesn’t connect with his son/can’t commit to a relationship/can’t forgive himself for his wife’s death, etc. etc.).


Hero as Everyday Schmo: Pretty self-explanatory. In sci-fi/fantasy, this person is usually tossed into extraordinary circumstances. Sometimes they become great heroes (Luke Skywalker), sometimes they just survive (Arthur Dent from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). Who else? Frodo and Bilbo Baggins. Many of Neil Gaiman’s protagonists. Harry Potter (despite the magical powers, I’d put him here. Everyone in his world has magical powers, and he’s hardly exceptional). Simon from Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series: In fact, a lot of fantasy books use this type of hero.


Hero as Redeemed Rogue: Han Solo! Han Solo! One of my favorite types of heroes, they’re so fun to watch/read about, and for some reason are often quite sexy. Must be the bad boy/girl thing.

Of course, it all comes back to Buffy with me – and the show excelled at portraying the Redeemed Rogue - Spike, Angel and even Anya and Andrew fit this bill. Who else? Xena, Warrior Princess. Artemis Fowl. And one of the best: Severus Snape from Harry Potter.

A subcategory might be ‘Misunderstood hero’ – folks we think are bad, but actually turn out to be good. Serious Black springs to mind, as does Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. For obvious reasons, though, these folks are almost never the main characters.


Hero as Seriously Damaged/Flawed Individual: This is a late addition, due to Jon's comment on my Batman neglect. I had thought of Mr. Batman, but didn't know where to put him... now it occurs to me that I was missing a category. Far from possessing "a couple of flaws," but not quite an antihero, these folks show up most often in ongoing series (otherwise they tend to end up a Redeemed Rogue), and they usually are extraordinary in some way, otherwise we wouldn't put up with their antics. Tony Stark (narcissistic, womanizing alcoholic), Batman (brooding vigilante), and House (jerk) all fit the bill.


Antiheros: I thought I’d give a nod to this type of character, even though they’re less ‘heroes’ and more ‘nasty protagonists’- your Taxi Drivers, Clockwork Oranges, Catchers in the Rye and the like. If they turn out to be actual heroes in the end, like Thomas Covenant (even though it takes a LOOOOOOONG time for him to shape up), they’d belong in the Redeemed Rogue category. I can think of two possible exceptions (you be the judge), and both are sociopaths:

Dexter: Sure he’s a psychopathic serial killer. But he DOES rid the world of bad guys.

Kate Mallory: She’s a cop from a wonderfully suspenseful series of books by Carol O’Connell, and although she’s a diagnosed sociopath, she does right in the end because of a code set up for her by her adopted cop father and his wife. (Sound familiar, Dexter?)


So then. There’s a bit of Hero sandwich for you to chew on. What are your favorite types of heroes? Name your favorite all time heroes!....GO!

#reverb10 (Shawn's # 7 & 8)



So, I have to admit, I was starting to get a little gun shy about these #reverb10 posts. My first one garnered a few comments and that was cool, but my second just kind of sat there getting all stale and moldy. My third one -- well, that was a punt so whatever.

But then today – BOOM! Comments from the Scribblerati!

Which is a wonderful segue for my response to the next two prompts.

December 7 – Community. Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011?

December 8 – Beautifully Different. Think about what makes you different and what you do that lights people up. Reflect on all the things that make you different – you’ll find they’re what make you beautiful.

First, we need to get one thing straight here. I get the whole Beautifully Different thing, but whoever wrote that wasn’t Minnesotan. You see, here around these parts we come from good old Puritan stock. Now, I'm the furthest thing from Puritan, but for most of us true Minnesotans those sensibilities run deep in the blood and it just isn't seemly to talk about oneself in that manner. It isn't Minnesota Nice to write a blog about ourselves stating why we are beautiful and wonderful. I mean, I totally am, but I'm not going to wax poetic about it.

So I'm taking a different tack. I'm breaking the rules. I'm going to do the cool, hipster Minneapolis thing and mash these up!

I would like to propose that The Scribblerati is a Beautifully Different Community.

As the banner says, The Scribblerati wasn't actually formed in 2010, but I think this is the year that we have truly come together as a Community. I think I can safely speak for the whole group and say we all consider one another to be good friends, but even more importantly, we have all built up a level of trust that, at least in my experience, is somewhat unusual amongst those I consider my friends.

Let me give you a little background. As a writers group, we meet regularly, every two weeks and we critique one another's work. What does that mean, you ask? Before each meeting, we read as much as 50 or more pages of a fellow group member’s writing. At the meeting, we go around the table, one by one, and provide in-depth feedback. We talk about the things we like, the things we don't like and we do it in detail. Point by point.

Speaking for myself, when I write I put my heart and soul into the effort of producing the best possible piece of art that I can. Sure, I recognize that I'm going into the critique knowing that I will make changes based on the comments of my colleagues, yet I always have serious skin in the game and the experience of sitting there and listening to what other people think about my efforts can be a terrifying and humbling experience.

In my mind, the thing that makes The Scribblerati Community Beautifully Different is that I have never once walked out of a critique session feeling worse than when I walked in. I always leave feeling upbeat. Believe me, this isn't because The Scribblerati shower me with praise and tell me everything I have wrote is perfect. It's because the feedback I get, however hard to hear, always makes my writing better, and it makes me a better writer.

I think there are many reasons why The Scribblerati is such a wonderful critique group. I've been sitting here for a while, trying to figure out how to describe it to you, but I think that in this case the simple approach is the most effective.

The Scribblerati Community is comprised of a group of diverse, unique, talented, passionate, compassionate, intelligent, geeks.

We are awesome.

We are Beautifully Different.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Reverb10 - Claudia's #6


I can answer this one!
I sure haven't made good with the writing this Holiday season, but I have made with the making things for presents. (Thanks, Economy!)
I don't know if this is what the creators of reverb10 had in mind (From the way Shawn puts it, I picture the sawing of boards and the banging of nails, and perhaps a touch of decoupage), nevertheless-
I made, among other delightful infusions, a pear/vanilla infused vodka. (The tools I used? Pears. Vanilla Bean. Vodka. Knife. Glass container.)
I also made this label to go along with it. (Tools? Photoshop. Picture of a pear. Picture of a toy Godzilla. Keyboard. Fingers.)
Yay Makey Stuff!

Monday, December 6, 2010

#reverb10 (Shawn's #6)

December 6 – Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?


Uh, anyone? Help?


I'm not a maker. Alvin's a Maker, not me. This is why I have to hire everything done.

The only thing I've made is the book, of course, and parts of a data warehouse, but I don't think that's what they are going for here.

Anyone make anything?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

#reverb10 (Shawn's #4 & 5)

What? Another blog already?

Didn’t I warn you there might be a lot of activity around here with this #reverb10 thing?

Yes, I believe I did. I think.

Anyway, after my last post geeked out on football, I decided I wanted to real this thing back in a little bit and keep things as focused as I can on writing. After all, this is a writing blog.

Enough foreplay -- let's get to it!

December 4 – Wonder. How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year?

I have to admit, my initial reaction to this one was underwhelming. The first thing I thought of was that wide-eyed kind of little kid wonder and, let's face it folks, that's just a little bit too Oprah Book Club for the kind of goings on around here.

Naturally, in the long and steadfast tradition of those made uncomfortable by something, my first inclination was to write a blog making fun of it. I thought of doing something like this.

Wonder. I wonder why all the batteries in this house seem to be dying all at once. (Anyone else having that problem?)

Or maybe…

Wonder. I wonder if the world really will end when the Mayan calendar runs out in 2012 and, if it is going to, would Jessica Alba consent to swinging by? (It's okay people. She's on my free five card.)

But then I had a realization: wonder is what we writers do every day.

For those of you who don't write, I'll let you in on a secret. Half the time you see a writer they aren't there. Oh sure, they may be sitting right across from you with a beer in hand but I'll bet you dollars to donuts that there is a part of their brain that is constantly observing, taking notes, speculating, wondering. Now, don't get all angry. This is just what we writers do. If we didn't sit around spaced out half the time the rest of you wouldn't have any stories to read.

December 5 – Let Go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why?

This was an easy one for me. I let go of my need for control while writing.

That may not seem like much, but it was huge, at least for me. You see, it's taken me a long time to really learn how to write. There was a long, long time where nothing I wrote was good enough. I would struggle to make early drafts as good as I could. I would wrestle with the words as they tried to come out and the result was words flowing onto the page with all the rapidity of dishwater seeping through a clogged drain. Writing took forever, and the result was almost always disheartening.

Somewhere along the line, and I don't even think it was a really conscious thing, I just began to let go. Instead of fighting the words, I just let them flow out any old way they wanted to. I didn't care if they were crap, or if there was no punctuation, or if I shortened whole paragraphs into “so-and-so walks across town thinking about the bad guy.”

The result has been both surprising and liberating. In my last post, I briefly mentioned getting caned from my day job. During the two months I was unemployed I wrote close to two thirds of my book in exactly this fashion, just letting the words pour out any old which way. It was amazing.

So why do I think this change took place? The only thing I can think of is yoga. In yoga, you are constantly being instructed to let go. Let go of your fear, your resistance, your thoughts that you can't do what you're being asked to do. Somehow, I think all that leaked into my writing and I am now the better for it. Yoga, as they say, isn't a practice, it's a way of life.



PS. I can't do that - yet.

Friday, December 3, 2010

#reverb10

I bet you I know something you don't know.

Well, I didn't know it either until yesterday but I like feeling important so play along with me, eh?

So yesterday I was sitting on the couch, watching a spot of TV with the lovely @mplstravelkitty and she asked me if I'd heard about Reverb 10. I was like, what?

Actually, it's #reverb10

And what in the name of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas is #reverb10? 

My synopsis: it's a big, writerish, end of the year blog thing.

This says it much better:


Go ahead. Check it out. I'll wait.

Kind of nifty, I think. Don't you? Although, I have to admit, it is kind of touchy-feely for what goes on around here. We Scribblerati are all about gritty fantasy, bad-ass angels, zombie apocalypse mayhem, redemption seeking bear-girls, sassy time travel, and the occasional rainbow farting unicorn. That's just who we are. I'm not sure that will really fit in with the majority of the #reverb10 crowd, but what the hell. Cyberspace is a big place. Certainly there is room for a Midwestern geek in along with all those mainstream bloggers, right?

So here goes.  And I'm behind, so don't expect a treatise on each one of these.

December 1 - One Word. Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?

2010 word: Progress

Yeah, I know, it ain't the snazziest but it is accurate. In 2010, give or take a month or two, I have completely rewritten To Kill the Goddess and I'm closer than I ever have been to being finished. On top of that, this has been my second year of doing yoga on a regular basis. Yoga has rebuilt my body and has given me a focus I previously lacked. I am strong in body and mind and I feel like I can do anything.

2011 word: Launch

I'm going to finish To Kill the Goddess.

I'm going to launch and who knows where it will take me.

December 2 - Writing. What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?

I go to my frakking day job. I'm working on it.

December 3 – Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors).

There's so many places I could go with this one. On the plus side: sitting on the beach in Aruba with the lovely @mplstravelkitty. On the minus side: getting canned. And, of course, countless moments in between.

But I'm going to take this one: Success!




That's the University of Minnesota Golden Gopher football team and a whole bunch of fans storming the field with Floyd of Rosedale in hand. Those of you who don't follow college football, much less the Gophers, will find it difficult to appreciate what a moment like this is like. Sure, we can all understand the excitement that comes with winning a game, but this one was special. The Gophers have had a number of horrible seasons in a row and this year they have had some absolutely dreadful losses. I'm a season ticket holder and I haven't seen them win a home game since sometime in early / mid fall of 2009.

So this moment?

My throat is raw; hoarse from screaming and yelling. My head is buzzing from the realization that we actually won a game - and from a nip or two (or ten) of Jameson. My hands are wet and cold, fumbling at my phone and trying to get the camera to snap a picture. My ears are ringing with the shouts of those around me: startled cheers, hoarse shouts, and my dad, a disgruntled Iowa fan grumbling, “Come on! Let's get the hell out of here!”

Success!


PS. there's likely to be an avalanche of these coming from me so prepare yourself!

PPS. Any of you Scribblerati want to join me? Hop on!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Conflict: Man vs. Winter

News flash: it’s winter out there. At least where I live. According to the official calendar, winter doesn’t start until December 21st—but here in Minnesota it’s on.

Not to get all Keillor-y on you, but we Minnesotan’s deal with Man vs. Nature (or Woman vs. Nature, or Child vs. Nature) all winter long, every year. It’s the reason we’re a hardy lot. It’s why during the civil war the Union regiments from places like Maine and Minnesota were good at kicking some butt. When you spend six months out of the year with nature trying to kill you, you have to toughen up—or at least plan ahead. Forget your boots? Lost your hat? It just might kill you.

It’s not that other season’s won’t try to kill you—they will—they just take their time. Summer has been trying to kill me through harsh sunburns and excessive beer for years. To summer I say—bring it on—now!

But Winter, unlike the other seasons, has the teeth to do you in and do you quick. I don’t mean to make light of this—it’s just true. During this season you can fall through the ice, freeze to death walking back from the bar or slide off the icy road into a moose. None of it pretty, none of it anything I wish on you or anyone else. All thanks to winter.

Now that you know you know how I feel about winter, it should be no surprise to you that in my first novel there is a major storm taking place. Not just any storm BUT a snowstorm, a blizzard. Not only are my main characters trying to find a missing child while battling a swarm of nasty demons—but they get to do it in a snowstorm. Nature become bad-guy.

Including winter in my book has come with a few challenges. Maybe the toughest has been trying to find new and interesting ways to describe it. Snow—despite what your weatherman friends may tell you—is not always that interesting. It’s white like a blank page. A really big blizzard obscures everything from view. So how to describe it enough without losing the reader in a complete whiteout of description? Or too little to where the reader starts to wonder—oh, has the storm let up? I guess that has become my own war with winter: How to bring this chilly season to the page.

Here is an example of how I’m trying to incorporate wintriness into my book.


BLACKHEART (by Mark Teats - Chapter 20 excerpt)

Blackheart stripped off the unconscious ice fisherman’s boots, jeans and flannel shirt and got dressed. The boots were one piece, slip-on jobs with liners that scratched at his feet. He also put on a pair of extra-large, black snow pants with suspenders that he’d found on a hook near the door of the icehouse. The clothes weren’t a perfect fit but they’d offer great protection from the cold.

Blackheart grabbed the spear-like ice-spud and stepped outside.

The cold hit him immediately. The night was black; snow fell in big, dime-sized flakes. Out across the white expanse that was the frozen river the sound of a racing car engine and a pair of headlights cutting through the night grabbed his attention. It was maybe 100 yards away and closing. The car fishtailed recklessly, straightened out and aimed directly at him and the icehouse, going close to fifty miles per hour.

Blackheart took a few steps away from the cluster of icehouses on the frozen river’s surface toward the speeding car. He hefted the ice spud in his right hand, lifted it back, and prepared to launch it blade first. His left arm pointed straight in front of him for balance and aim. Throwing such weapons was something he was innately good at. Muscle memory was a wonderful thing. Idaeus had been a master of the thrown spear and javelin; all these years later that skill stayed with him.

The night and storm obscured any meaningful details of the oncoming car. Maybe the Lesser up to their tricks? Its interior was pitch black, the snow and ice-caked windshield revealing nothing of the driver. As the car zoomed closer Blackheart ran forward a few steps as if to meet it, cocked back the rough spear, and prepared to let it fly.

His aim was expert; he would easily kill whoever was behind the wheel. Just as he was about to release the shaft there was a wall of sound, a voice, no a chorus, shouting to him:

NO! Do not let fly your lance!

The Hafaza? In his head? What? How—

He felt momentarily blind, disoriented, but he listened to the voices, trusted them, and changed the aim of the ice spud as he released it. The spear barely missed the car and drove itself to stick at a 45-degree angle in the thick river ice.

The Hafaza, giving him a message? That could only mean—

“Noel.” He said as the car bore down on him, sliding, trying to brake.

He sidestepped and it slid past, narrowly missing him, going into a series of slow, circular spins. It was the same unmarked police car that belonged to the meddling detective, Clay. The rear passenger side was busted out and he watched it as the momentum of the last 360-degree spin took out a row of three dark and empty icehouses, knocking them akimbo as it came to a stop.

Blackheart retrieved the ice spud and ran toward the idling car.

The airbags had gone off, and the driver thrashed against the white mound. A driver with girl’s hands and short, mussed up red and black hair. He opened the car door.

“Missed me,” Blackheart said, his breath white on the crisp night air.

“I should have ran you over,” she said, pushing the airbag aside to look at him with teary eyes.

“Maybe you would have done us both a favor.” He said.

“Maybe,” she said. “Don’t just stand there, help me out.”

He did. When she was free she threw her arms around him. For once he returned her hug. She felt too thin, wasted. This had been hard on her. Too hard. Afraid to break her, he let her go.

“Good to see you, Kid.”

She nodded. Then started laughing, pointing at him, nearly doubling over. Blackheart looked at her quizzically.

“Nice snow pants,” she snorted. “You look like a dork.”

“Better than freezing my ass off.”


Thanks for reading. A couple links to help you fend off winter:

Stay Safe

Fight Winter Blues

Don’t Break Your Arm

Just for the heck of it: Minnesota Perspective on Civil War


Friday, November 19, 2010

Philosophy of Art 1.1: Quiz #1 revealed


In my last post, I closed with a quiz.

Jon and Mark quickly answered that this uber-craftsperson who can create everything that grows and lives, and heaven and earth, and the gods and everything in Hades is...

THE ARTIST.

But before we get to that concept in the Platonic Dialogue, we get an amazing image of a person holding a mirror up to the world. Here's Plato from The Republic:

"Perhaps the quickest way of all [i.e. to make the whole of reality] would be to take a mirror, and turn it round in every direction. You will not be long in making the sun and the heavenly bodies, nor in making the earth, nor in making yourself, and every other living thing, and all inanimate objects, and plants, and everything that we mentioned just now."

I love this image: me, the writer, turning slowly with a nice big mirror in my hands, arms outstretched, a penetrating stare, and a sheen of sweat on my brow (think Sally Field in Norma Rae). "Look! World! I present yourselves to you!"

Clearly, the idea that art is like a mirror of reality has been around a long time--at least since around 380 BCE.

But before you get all high and mighty, you writers out there reading this--I'm the creator of the world! I rule all I see! I destroy, I make live! I am a god(dess) among mere mortals!--yeah, before you go there with your spunky, I-am-a-writer dance: read on. Plato didn't think that only good art is like a mirror, he thought that all art is like a mirror, and because of that? All art is bad art.

Wait--all art is bad art?

Yup, Scribblerati and all fans of fiction: it is all BAD! Because it's only an imitation. But that's not the worst of it; not only is art fake, art can only ever be a fake representation of a shadowy, unreal world: it's double-fake. The real world is made up only of ideas (of couches and tables and...). The physical, not-so-real world contains physical couches and tables which are couches and tables because they conform closely enough to the ideal of couches and tables (the ideas of them). They are like shadows of the real thing. So not only do artists create fake couches when we draw or describe them in words, we create a fake of a fake. A double-fake. I'm a double-fake faker!

Last quote and it's a doozy. Hang it near your work space all you artists, for a wee dose of humility:

"The art of imitation is the inferior mistress of an inferior friend and the parent of an inferior progeny."

This double-fake faker is signing off. If you need me, I'll be snuggling with my cruddy, misbegotten child of a novel, bemoaning my crummy, defective nature.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Motivation

Hi-ho, Jon here!

I can't help but notice, on this fine and overcast morning, the near constant tittering blurts of "TGIF!" echoing up and down the long gray rows of cubicles here at the day prison, the gasping voices tinged with equal parts desperation and a sickly relief, and that can only mean one thing... it's Friday! Yay! Which also means... it's New Blog Day! Double yay! Not only that, but the spinning bottle has finally wobbled its way down to a slow stop and it's pointing right at me again, so strap yourself in, you lucky ducks, because you're about to spend seven minutes in heaven with yours truly, no ifs, ands, or buts about it...

(wink)

The bad news is, I wrote something up just the other day on my own personal blog: This is Mine, mostly concerning the status of my current projects, so I'm a bit tapped out. Consternation, folks. Consternation has nearly been on my mind for almost the last day or so... what shall I blog about...

And then... inspiration struck! Suddenly, I recalled the little conversation the Gentleman Scribblerati had at the end of our last meet! We talked and we chatted, mostly concerning the status, level, consistency, and quality of our group in general (In short: Good!) and the effort that we've all put into obtaining that level, (in short: A lot!) and that put me in mind of a blog posted by Sci-fi writer and longtime blogger Jon Scalzi.

He put this up a few months back and it stirred some muck up and down the internet for a bit. It was funny watching the camps square off. One side agreed with him, the other most vehemently did not, offering a litany of excuses as to why, and in the end, somehow missed the irony, while a third side complained about the swearing. I fell in with the formers, as Scalzi's stance is really just a longer version of what I've decided, after taking various classes, meeting multiple authors, and reading countless blogs, is actually the only real, practical, and applicable piece of writing advice out there, the only real way to "become" a writer, which is...

The only way to "become" a writer
as learned by Jonathan Hansen

1. Sit down
2. Shut up
3. Pen to paper
4. Repeat

Everything else seems to be details which may or may not apply to your own personal situation. It seems like every author has started differently, they've learned differently, they've written differently, and they've edited differently. It seems like every one of them advises you to follow the querying guidelines and yet, it also seems like every one of them has specifically NOT followed those guidelines on occasion. Every person you talk to, every account you read, it's all different, except for one thing.

1. Sit down
2. Shut up
3. Pen to paper
4. Repeat

In short: If you don't have a product, no one's going to buy.

Here's Scalzi's blog. It's good and funny and profane and insightful, like most of his stuff. Go check it out, if for no other reason that he is current SFWA president. If you don't regularly read his blog or his books, you should.. I recommend Old Man's War, which has one of the best opening lines ever:

"I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife's grave. Then I joined the army."

Nice. Anyway, here's the link.


Until next time, kids,
Jon


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hump Day Surprise - Villans Part 2

Yes, I am shamelessly jumping onto the villains bandwagon AND I DON'T CARE!

(Mostly, it's just that I haven't done a Hump Day Surprise in a long time and I thought what better way to get back on that horse then by stealing someone else's idea. Clever, eh?)

So here it is, as promised in my comment to Claudia's original post, the fourth type of villain:



I don't know what you would call this particular category of villain, but The One Ring most certainly is a villain. It does all the things a good villain should do: it propels the story, creates conflict, and is a real Bad Ass!

And since were on the subject of an inanimate antagonists (Hey, is that my category name?), what do you think about this one?


I don't know that you can really call The Dark Tower a villain. It's not evil, like The One Ring, but I think one could certainly make the argument that Roland hated The Dark Tower every bit as much as he desired it.

So what's everyone think?  Good villains?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Villains

I love villains. I always have. I blame Disney.
As a child, I was always much more compelled by the Disney baddies than the insipid trilling protagonists. The villains always had the wittiest lines, the best costumes: the most fun. Remember when the queen from Snow White discovers the skeleton she’d left in the dungeon, forever stretching for a water pitcher just out of reach – and she laughs, asks, “Thirsty?” and kicks the pitcher at the skeleton, breaking the bones into pieces? “Have a drink!” she cackles. Ah, yes. Horrifying sadism, even after the poor soul is dead, plus killer bon mots. Meanwhile, Snow White is ululating about singing bees and wedding bells, and praying that her prince will come.

Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty was my favorite. Don’t get me wrong, she scared the crap out of me too, but man she cast an impressive figure in her sweeping purple robes and giant horns. Plus – pet crow. Plus – demon minions. Plus – can turn into a dragon. Let’s face it, those evil broads also had all the power, all the confidence, and in the case of Ursula the Sea Witch, a great rack.
I think my love of villains has also been supported by the fact that, most of my life, I’ve rather looked like one – when I was acting I’d always be cast as the murderer, the vampire, or at least the man-stealing bitch. An excellent ‘curse’ – not only are villains more fun to watch, they’re more fun to play.

I was pondering how one would categorize baddies, and came up with three general types, at least in the realm of sci fi/fantasy.
  1. Villain as monster/ mindless horde. Arachnophobia. Alien. Jaws. The Reavers from Firefly. And as fellow blogger Jon Hansen would tell you, best of all: zombies. These villains don’t think, have no ethical considerations, really no motivation, they just want to kill, kill, kill. They are unstoppable because of their supernatural powers and/or their sheer numbers.
  2. Villain as nigh on invincible, devil-like symbol of pure evil. Sauron from Lord of the Rings. Voldemort from Harry Potter. The Emperor from Star Wars. I think I’d also include Big Brother from 1984, and other governments/corporations. There usually is only one very specific, very difficult way to kill these nasties, and they often loom over the book or books, more as a feeling of dread than an actual person. Co-blogger Mark has created one of these devilish (in his book, quite literally) villains, but also many demons who fit into category #1.
  3. Villain as complex human. Saruman from Lord of the Rings. Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter. Our own Lisa’s villains in her book fall into this category (a bully of a schoolgirl, a power-hungry, censoring schoolmaster), although you could argue that the real villain is the human race, in which case: category #2. Some of Shawn’s villains are deliciously human, but Shawn also has the horde of beasties AND the insurmountable lurking evil. All three evils! Well done Shawn! This is doubtless one of the reasons his story is going to take 3 books to tell.
In mulling this over, this villain classification, I realized that the only kind of villain I get emotional about is #3. Don’t get me wrong, I love the first two types, but…as a reader, for instance, I don’t hate Voldemort. I don’t hate Sauron, and I don’t hate zombies. You know who I hate? Dolores Umbridge. The more relatable a villain is, the more human they are, the more detestable they are. Voldemort, as mentioned earlier, is an inhuman, super powered, looming super villain. (Okay, for the most part. The more we learn about his humanity as the books go on, the more relatable he becomes, and therefore the more loathsome, and serial-killer like – but also, we start to see him as someone who could actually be defeated.) Dolores Umbridge, for those who haven’t read the Harry Potter books, is a petty bureaucrat, a censoring, controlling, power-hungry, child-abusing sadist. Oh, man, do you end up hating her. I mean, really hating her.

So then, it’s interesting, as a writer, to ponder the use of the different kinds of villains, and how the different types can affect the psyche of your reader in different ways. The horde and the godlike villain – it’s hard to envision ever surmounting the odds, or the sheer numbers, to obtain victory over them. The human villain, we can picture them going down, but more than that, we really, really can’t wait for it.
Since my book is a murder mystery, it’s tricky. My readers don’t know whodunit until near the end (unless, of course, they suss it out for themselves). My baddie definitely falls into the #3, Villain-as-Complex-Human category, but their villain-ocity is not revealed until long after all character development has occurred. They’re hiding their true nature… and it’s a tricky balancing act. Because once they are unveiled, and their true evilness is revealed, I really want my audience to say “OH! That’s a surprise, but it also makes sense.” It’s up to me to plant little clues to the person’s snaky nature throughout the book, without giving the goods away.
I think, next book, I’m going to create a less complex villain. Perhaps a giant blob, or fog, or herd of rabid bunnies. But then again, blobs rarely have delicious one-liners.*
So then: Who are your favorite villains?

*Although the occasionally have awesome theme songs.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Oh the Horror


It’s 3AM.

It’s also almost Halloween, which is the perfect time for me to inform you, if you didn’t already know, that I’m a horror writer. That’s right, horror. Considering that many literary agents, per my handy copy of “Jeff Herman’s Guide To Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents,” lump horror into the classification of things they DON’T want to represent, along with sci-fi, fantasy, westerns and porn--I think this is a brave thing to come forward with.

In the recent “book in a month” class I took at the Loft, I was the first writer to volunteer to read a chapter in class. Afterwards, there was a stunned silence. The teacher was the first to break the ice saying:

1) “Looking at you, Mark, I wasn’t expecting that type of story.” And

2) “That was genuinely creepy.”

Some writers when told that their work is creepy might be discouraged, but well, that’s where us horror writers differ: guy-next-door types who blend in pretty well until you see what we put on the page. The rest of the comments in class generally concurred. Chillling, scary stuff. I made a note: Keep doing more of this.

Recently I was amused by a fellow writer who shared that while writing a climactic and scary scene for his mystery novel in progress that his imagination got the best of him and he imagined a raccoon, yes, a raccoon, entering his basement and was unable to finish any writing that night. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that in my last writing session (plenty late at night) the body count had added up to six dead in that session alone, or six billion, depending on who you want to consider dead--or undead. Raccoon? Us horror writers aren’t afraid of no stinking raccoons.

So why do I write horror?

There are probably lots of reasons, but for starters, blame my parents, or more particularly, my father. I have some strong childhood recollections of sitting in my father’s den playing while he smoked Carter Hall tobacco and read the latest Ray Bradbury book or Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery magazine.

When I finally started doing my own reading I was hopelessly lost, drawn to books by Stephen King and Ray Bradbury and short story collections with titles like, “Book of the Dead” and “Horror Times Ten.” (The latter contains a really good August Derleth story called “The Lonesome Place” that still gives me chills when I think of it).

My parents taste in literature didn’t fall far from their taste in TV and movies, either. I have just as many memories sitting between my parents on a weekend with a bowl of popcorn watching black and white Twilight Zone episodes and Saturday afternoon Creature Features like “The Blob,” “The Island of Lost Souls” and “The Fearless Vampire Hunters.” My parents also managed to expose me to my first ever walking dead movie at the age of seven. I was supposed to be sleeping while they watched “Night of the Living Dead.” I managed to see most of it in its entirety—which ultimately kept me, and them, up most nights for the rest of the month with nightmares.

In a screenplay class (another Loft offering) I took within the last year another student asked the instructor: “So what is the point of all the really bad horror movies out there? Or for that matter, the point of horror at all?”

I wasn’t about to defend some of the crap movies that the class started to name, but I did feel compelled to mention box office hits like Jaws, Alien, Seven, Psycho, Silence of the Lambs, and so on, that were well written and directed and contain not just terrifying villains but equally strong main characters who must overcome horrifying creatures and circumstances to live, survive, grow and hopefully make it out of their stories alive. To me, good horror follows all the other rules of good story telling. Just because it’s scary doesn’t mean it can't be damned good writing.

Getting back to those agents who openly say they don’t want to agent horror—it is interesting to me just based on the sheer success of many horror books and movies. What publishing house wouldn’t want another book like “The Stand” or a series (even though I’m no fan) like “Twilight”? (If it’s got vampires in it, it’s got to have some horror elements, yes?) I can only guess that maybe it’s because of the sheer number of bad/unoriginal stories that are out there for every truly good one.

So there are probably many other reasons why I enjoy reading and writing horror, but I suppose ultimately it’s because that’s how I’m built. These are the sorts of stories that interest me and I want to tell. Supposedly when Stephen King was asked why he writes horror, he replied, “What makes you think I have a choice?”

Ditto for me.

Below are some links (sorry, I’m not taking the time to make them pretty), a couple of them to some of my favorite scary stories.

Happy Halloween. I’m going to bed.

One of my favorite Halloween stories, Ray Bradbury’s October Game:
http://www.october-country.com/wychingwell/ww-bradbury_01.html

GoodReads scariest book list: http://www.goodreads.com/list/show/121.Scariest_Books

(I’ve ready about half of this list)

Supernatural fiction database: http://freepages.pavilion.net/tartarus/d9.htm

The Monster Club.Com sci-fi horror collection: http://www.themonsterclub.com/radiolibrary.htm

Per their own instructions, use the password Boo13 (I notice another of Bradbury’s stories in the mix: Zero Hour)

Note: The image accompanying this post is part of one of my paintings. Scary art is fun, too.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Philosophy of Art 1.0 with a Quiz and a Cliffhanger

I’ve been preparing to teach a philosophy of art course this coming winter, and there’ve been a couple of images from my readings that have stuck in my head.

One of them shows up in Plato’s Republic. But rather than just describe the image, I’m going to add a little drama by having you, dear reader of Scribblerati’s blog, work toward it yourself. And I’m going to do that by putting you into a Platonic dialogue, which basically means Plato is now going to quiz you.

If being quizzed by Plato scares the pants of you—as it rightly should—just think of the quiz as a writing exercise: describe in words the following mental images. Or draw them; drawing’s fun, right?

Ok. Quizzing starts now--

Plato: Imagine a craftsperson, say, a maker of couches.

[Have you got the image in your head? or got it written down? Good. Not so hard, right.]

Plato: Now imagine a carpenter, that is, someone who can make not only couches but chairs, and beds, and cabinets, and all those other nice wooden things carpenters can make.

[Again, the mind can comprehend, no?]

Now (Plato asks) imagine a craftsperson who can make all of the things that humans can make.

[Harder to imagine, but perhaps, just perhaps, there could be someone that talented.]

Last question, and I’m sorry but here I’m gonna have to quote coz it’s just so nicely worded in the original: Now, imagine that this super talented craftsperson who makes all humanly manufactured things also “makes everything that grows out of the ground, and creates all living things…and the gods and all the heavenly bodies and everything in Hades under the earth.” Can you imagine it?

"Oh, sure, easy," you say (if you’re religiously inclined), "you’re just talking about the divine being who created everything."

"No. No. And No," Plato would reply. “I am not talking about a Craftsgod." (Word of the day: Demiurge, The Divine Craftsperson.) "I’m talking about the Craftsperson. As in human person."

Can you picture him or her? Can you? Huh? Huh?

That's the quiz. Post your final answer. A philosophical star for figuring it out. Tune back soon for the big reveal (or, if you can’t wait, find yourself a copy of the Republic and snuggle up.) And no wikipedia-cheating, guys and gals.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Few Thoughts About Art

This is supposed to be an apolitical blog. That said, this post is going to tread dangerously close to that line.

Don't say I didn't warn you!

Two weeks ago two rather stunning events occurred in my life. The first was that I received one of those anti-gay marriage DVDs Catholic Archbishop John Nienstedt has been sending out to Catholic households. The second, was that the church I belong to, the Basilica of St. Mary, fired their Artist in Residence, Lucinda Naylor. She had held that position for 15 years. I don't know Lucinda personally, but having been a member of the Basilica of St. Mary for well over a decade, I'm intimately familiar with much of her religious artwork.

Now, if this blog wasn't apolitical, the rest of what you would see on this post would be one frakking shit storm of a rant about how much I disapprove of this whole thing. But it isn't, so we'll leave it at that.

Among the many topics these events have prompted me to dwell on over the last couple weeks, has been the nature of art and what it means to be an artist.

Art, as we all know, can come in many forms. To name but a few: music, film, literature, sculpture, etc. Within all of these categories, art can range from simple fun, like an Iron Man movie or a good pop song, to something that is deep, long-lasting, and thought-provoking.

Good art, in my opinion, challenges our preconceived notions of what is right, or just, or appropriate. The best art, does that in ways that are nonthreatening; ways that make us think about a topic without being unduly provocative.

Maybe I'm biased, but I think that fiction writers are as well tuned into that notion as anyone. If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you can probably rattle off several stories (novels, novellas, TV scripts) that have surprised you with their content and stuck with you long after first reading or viewing them. If you're a writer, then you inherently know that a story cannot function without conflict and that your better stories are those that integrate that conflict into the social and/or societal issues that affect us every day.

Lucinda Naylor was fired because she wanted to take Archbishop John Nienstedt’s DVDs and form an artistic work protesting his actions. My understanding, is that her vision is to shape these DVDs into an image of the Holy Spirit moving through the church and effecting positive change.

That, my friends, is the very definition of the best art.




For more on Lucinda Naylor check out her Facebook page DVD to ART

Friday, October 8, 2010

Musical Musing

If a composer could say what he had to say in words he would not bother trying to say it in music. ~Gustav Mahler

Ah Mahler, he of the 90 minute symphonies, you certainly had a lot to say.

Herr Mahler’s bon mot really got me thinking about writing, and whether the opposite of his statement is true. Okay, not the opposite, say, the oblique - whether the oblique of his statement is true. Let me ‘splain.

I’ve worked in theater; I’ve studied film; I watch a lot of narrative TV. All of these mediums utilize music to enhance the other aspects of their scenes: the visual, the emotional, the passing of time, the suspense.

When a song, or a soundtrack, is perfectly melded with a scene in a movie or TV show, it often induces chills. There’s a moment in Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring, where Gandalf is stuck at the top of Saruman’s tower, and he whispers to a moth and then lets it go. The music starts as soft singing - lovely, ethereal voices in synch with the fluttering of the moth’s wings, and then it morphs into guttural chanting and tense drum rhythms as the moth flies over Saruman’s factory of war.

Directors such as Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarentino use pop songs to great effect in their films: Think of Nico’s These Days playing as Margot Tenenbaum gets off the bus in The Royal Tenenbaums. Or the gang from Reservoir Dogs walking in slow motion to Little Green Bag. I love these moments in film, because film is about the blending of mediums, and when done well – well, chills.

Books don’t use music, can’t use music, at least not in the sense that the reader can literally hear it. Of course one could argue that books don’t use music in the same way that books don’t use elaborate sets or talented actors. Everything in a book is filtered through the reader’s imagination, and music is no different than any other element: sights, sounds, smells, tactile experiences.

Then why is it so difficult to convey?

Well, conventionally anyway, the music that appears in a book is going to be organic to the scene, and not permeating the action from the heavens, as happens in TV or film.

I say conventionally, because I can think of a couple of exceptions, and I’m sure there are more: Chynna Clugston, in her comic Blue Monday, does a fun thing, where at the beginning of a new chapter or scene, she tells us the name of a song that is meant to be playing in the background while the scene is taking place. The reader, if they wanted to, could actually listen to the soundtrack as they read.

Our very own Jon Hansen, in his terrific zombie novel, Gunslingers of the Apocalypse, does something much less literal, which is to put a quote from a song at the beginning of each section of his book. Not an uncommon practice, and a good one: it puts the reader in mind of a song with a particular tone (in Gunslinger’s case, hard rock or heavy metal) before they start reading. This works very well – if they know the song.

Which brings me back to the difficulty of conveying music in a book. There’s a lot of jazz music in my novel, Ursula Evermore. Since the book takes place in 1928 (well, most of it – it’s a time travel story after all), all of the music is from that year or earlier, and unless you’re a big early jazz fan, you most likely won’t know the songs that are mentioned. Huge obstacle. If I were to insert the Rolling Stone’s You Can’t Always Get What You Want, or Bing Crosby’s White Christmas into my story (although both would be anachronistic), most people would be able to hear the music in their heads, no problem. But, instead I have Louis Armstrong’s West End Blues playing a major role in a romantic scene, and how many of you can hum that?

Ultimately, I’m left describing it the way I’m left describing anything else in a book – from scratch. I describe Louis’s voice and the tone of his trumpet, two aural pleasures with which most people are familiar. I describe the tempo, the build of the song, the surprisingly soft way in which it ends. But mostly, I describe how the music makes my main character feel, and how it alters the mood of the people in the room, alters the emotional landscape of the scene.

At least I hope that’s what I achieve.

And now, for you trivia buffs out there… a quiz on music in TV and film.

Somewhat Difficult Music Quiz - Click Here!