Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Hump Day Surprise #2!

Or, A Couple of Thoughts about Comics

For those who don't know, I'm a pretty big comic fan. I used to be one of those novel readers who snubbed comics, deriding them for not being worth reading.

How wrong I was.

Comics are awesome. Sure, there are some that are little more than an excuse for superheroes to beat up on one another but there are others with real depth, character motivation, fantastic art, and a plot every bit as exciting as something you’ll find in a novel.

That said, here's today's thoughts about comics.

Thought numero uno

I recently read this article talking about digital comics distribution. I have always thought that if any printed media had a real shot at making it big in a digital world, it was comics. It seems like the big comics makers think so too. Both DC and Marvel embraced digital distribution long before most traditional publishers.  Today, you can get digital subscriptions to comics and read them right on your computer.

But why would I want to do that? I don't want to do that anymore than I want to read a novel on my computer.

Comics, IMHO, were made for something like the iPad. The day I can get a digital subscription of The Gunslinger, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Powers, or anything that Brian Michael Bendis writes is the day that I'm one step closer to handing a chunk of cash to Apple.

Thought numero two-o

I want to give a big shout out to Things from Another World.  TFAW is where I get all of my comics. Yes, I know I should support a local comics shop, but I live way out in the burbs and while Minneapolis does have some fantastic comic shops none of them are even remotely convenient for me. So, I buy online.

Recently, I had a problem with my order. I e-mailed TFAW asking them to send out the correct comic with my next shipment. But no, that wasn't good enough for them. They are immediately shipping the correct comic, at no cost to me.  Pretty nice. Almost like they were my local comics shop.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Mark's March Writing Update

My novel BLACKHEART (3rd revision) progresses, ever slowly. I’m working on Chapters 3 – 5 now. Progress has been impeded as usual by life (an anniversary, work, sick kid—all important stuff) and my nature to procrastinate—but I’m doing my best to get back to the editing grind.

Beyond editing I’ve also managed to squeeze in a screenplay workshop at the Loft ( and a reading at the University of Minnesota ( ).

I enjoyed both and give full credit to the talented instructor (in the case of the class) and the entertaining poets, memoirist and novelist (in the case of the reading).

Here are a few tidbits I took away from both these experiences:

  • Less is more. Overwriting is bad form. (No need to choreograph or describe everything that happens in a scene.)
  • Write something that you would want to read or see. Don’t write toward trends.
  • Money can be hard to come by as a writer, so write it for yourself, write what you love.
  • I am more original than I think I am. So are you.
  • Structure, premise, dialogue, character attitude and voice all matter in good writing.
  • Your main character is always best when she/he is strong, is smart, takes chances, acts upon the world and overcomes obstacles and conflict
  • We in the audience are sophisticated. We’re willing to piece things together to figure things out.
  • Never use two words where one would suffice.
  • When proofing, read it out loud.
  • Try to make things clear the first time—so your viewer/reader doesn’t have to try to “rewind” to see what they are missing.
  • To make your work stand out to agents and editors: write well, be in a critique group, and rewrite as needed
  • Novels can be subtle; screen plays are not.
  • Novels can ramble on forever, screenplays are expected to be 120 pages.
  • Detail is for novelists, sparseness for screenplay writers (I have come to the realization I am much more of a novelist.)
  • Can you name any famous screenplay writers? Name any that aren’t directors? (Not sure I can, but I certainly know I appreciate them every time I see a movie that blows me away.)
  • At the U of MN reading, it was fun hearing the guest agent’s perspective on publishing. She was happy when the writer decided to work with her over a rival agent. She also said she got great enjoyment (and sounded very sincere) about helping first time authors get published.
  • “Everything,” was the reply one of the authors had to say about what was hardest about writing a book. I have to agree J
  • What’s selling now (again, per literary agent): short story collections are gaining some minor popularity; vampires are big (and sexy); zombies are the next vampires (although, not sexy); there is a resurgence in historical fiction now; post-apocalyptic/Sci-Fi has been gaining more acceptance.
  • The biggest hurdle to getting published for the 5 authors at the reading? Getting an agent.
  • On getting published in the face of many potential rejections? “It only takes one Yes.”
  • On being a beginning writer: Savor the little things, the small moments.
  • Advice on books? Buy them. If you truly love reading or one day want to be an author, support authors.

Until Next month!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hump Day Surprise!

I have decided, all by my lonesome and without permission of the rest of The Scribblerati, that I'm going to start a new weeklyish column. This column will probably have nothing to do with writing and everything to do with me (or other Scribblerati) sharing too much information on things no one cares about.  Now, I know most of you are already thinking, "Shawn, the weeklyish writing oriented posts on this blog already leave me in a state of blissful contentment. Why would you want to ruin that?"

Because that's the way I roll, baby.

So here goes.

Today's topic: Two Songs Rolling around in My Head.

1. Turn it Off by Phantogram.  I just recently downloaded this album and it is either pure genius or complete crap and I can't decide which yet. The one thing I do know is that this song WILL NOT STOP playing in my head.
2.  The Cure by Tegan and Sarah.  The album this song comes from (Sainthood) is yummy. There are even better songs on the album, but 89.3 The Current has this in rotation right now and I can't escape it!

What's rolling around in your head?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Rules to Fiction

I think that by now most everyone on the face of this planet has either heard of Twitter or has Tweeted at least once. Correction, let's make that everyone in the solar system because there is that astronaut on the space station who Tweets.

Twitter isn't for everyone, but I'm a big fan and have been pretty much from the beginning. It's an interesting place. At its best, Twitter is a fantastic medium for quick, efficient, real-time communication. It allows you to be a part of events as they unfold, whether that's the Olympics, the MacMillan / Amazon fight, or the Iranian protests. At its worst, Twitter is a great place for allowing people to share every mundane, inane thought that crosses their minds.

Now, I wouldn't necessarily classify the following Tweet as inane, but, well, see for yourself.

“There are NO rules to writing Fiction. None. Zero. Nada. Nyet. Zilch.”

Taken literally, that is true. There are no rules for writing fiction. Now, insert the word “good” before “fiction” and we are rapidly approaching Inane Land.

Speaking from experience, I can most definitely say that there are rules to writing good fiction. You can bend some of them, even break a few here and there, but there is a basic flow and structure that must be adhered to in order for people to comprehend what it is you are writing.

Case in point: the previous draft of my book, To Kill the Goddess. That draft was the culmination of several years of effort where I was bending the rules of fiction as far as I could.  I wanted to tell the story in such a way that the reader and the protagonists were in the dark up until the very end of the story. I wanted the reader to feel what the protagonists felt upon the revelation of what was happening to them. It's a neat idea, something different from most other things I've read, but…  I wouldn't say it flopped, but there was a definite similarity between that draft and a fish lying on the shore, gasping for air. I was so successful in keeping the reader in the dark that not one of mine fellow Scribblerati knew what was happening. They missed the vast majority of the clues I dropped throughout the book and their commutative reaction at the end was: huh. OK.

Not exactly what I was going for.

So let's revisit that tweet for a moment.

“There are NO rules to writing Fiction. None. Zero. Nada. Nyet. Zilch.”

Um, sorry, but yes there are.

I’m now I'm about a third of my way through my next draft. The cards are on the table this time. Those clues that everyone missed are now front and center and the result is astonishing. The comments have turned from “I didn't get this” and “what's up with that?” to “this is a really strong chapter.” Sure, I still get suggestions and there is room for improvement, but this time I'm following the rules and it shows.

As for the unnamed Tweeter who I have just drug through the mud, I hope, for his sake, he figures this out quicker than I did.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Can’t talk, working…

A bit late, but better late than never, right?


So, anywho, I finished my book… oh, in March or so, as all of you regular readers probably know by now, and then I took about six months off from it. I queried around a bit, I wrote some other stuff and I collected some rejections. I’ve sent 12 out so far—queries, that is… and I’ve had a couple of partials and a full request, but ultimately, six Nos have returned.

Them’s the breaks…

But somewhere around the turn of the year, I got a wild hair and I lifted my novel from the dust it lay in, creaked open it’s cover, and then I started cutting. Cutting like a mad man, a MAD MAN, I say! And the results? Stupefying. That's when I had the thought. It was a good thought, a dangerous thought, and as I had precious little time, my plan formed quickly. I figured, if I moved fast enough, what with the Holiday lull of office closings and all, I could cut, I could strip down, I could pare, and then I could re-assemble… and all before I received (fingers crossed) more requests for additional pages.

So that’s what I’ve been busy doing and you know… so far, so good.

I’m nearly done now, so very nearly done (last chapter, twenty-ish pages...), and with only one response having shown up in the interim to boot (and who cares since it was a No). I still need to implement the changes I've made, of course, but that’s okay, the heavy lifting is basically done and I still have the original doc saved in a different file and ready to go out at a moment’s notice, just in case.

I’ve got to say though, I am dead excited for these changes. Dead excited. Really. I can’t wait to see my book's new form. I have been hacking, people, broad strokes, and frankly, I am shocked at what I am so easily willing and able to cut loose. Six months later and I can see it clearly now: Those old bits that were always meant to lead somewhere but then didn’t, the moments that might have almost come together into something, but never quite did, and those meandering tangents and flights of fancy… GONE!

It’s hard to describe the feeling, if you haven’t ever worked on a long project like a novel, that feeling where you know something isn’t working, and you eventually just move on, returning again and again to hack at it and hack at it and hack at it, and sometimes, if you're lucky, it suddenly all becomes clear, sometimes your mind just opens up and you realize: “Why don’t I just say what I want to say here?” and then... it totally works. Totally, it's golden and it’s perfect and you just kind of shake your head and wonder why you were having such a problem in the first place.

But sometimes?

Sometimes you go through that exhausting process… and nothing. Nothing! It’s so frustrating. You know it’s not working, but what do you do? It's just sits there, awkward and ugly, an ungainly bastard squatting there and ruining your rhythm... bastard! And then one day, you just cut it loose, excise it like a festering wound, and...

It’s an instant and complete sigh of relief. As soon as you hit that delete button… you just know. You feel better right away, you know it’s the right decision—even if you liked that one little turn of phrase in there… It’s just better this way. It even looks better, you know? Well, that’s how this edit has been. It’s just been right and I think the end product is going to be really good. Like I said: Dead excited. Of course, no one’s really going to notice the differences as much as I do, but still…

I'll come right out and say it: I’m expecting the Dewey Oxberger of WIPs here, people: A lean, mean, fighting machine.

Hand in hand with all that of course, is the tantalizing prospect that I will soon be done. Thank God! The thought that I will soon be done and moving on, man... finally? It's brilliant. And I am ready too, believe me. After three-ish years, I am itching to get writing again. Book Two waits patiently for me, of course, but before I dive back in there, and once Gunslingers is put to bed forever and ever (hopefully), I'm going to work out a bit, limber up, stretch out the old writin' muscles. I’m feeling the urge for something a little different, so I think I'm going to try out a few short stories… and buddy, I got some ideas. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, I got some ideas.

And best of all?

There are still six unanswered queries out there... Dewey Oxberger, man, Dewey Oxberger...