Thursday, September 23, 2010

Old, New, Different and Broken

Today I finished my latest revision of Blackheart Chapter 13 and sent it off to the Scribblerati for feedback. I’m excited because this marks my crossing over into the last half of my book both page and chapter-wise for this revision. Slightly over-half way there. Whew. I’m a happy guy.

I’m taking a six-week “book-in-a-month” workshop from the Loft
So far it is going well, so well it nearly brought me to tears today (well, almost. I can’t say why, it would be a “spoiler”). It’s a good workshop so far with lots of other interesting, talented fellow writers. I’m mostly happy about the volume of material I’m producing. 6500 words in the last 8 days. My goal for class is 50,000 words, or in the words of Ann Lamott, one shitty first draft.
(I’d even be happier yet if it’s a good first draft). We’ll see how it goes.
Here’s my rough premise of my second novel I’m calling SUNLIGHT (so far):
Job, a police officer, races to deliver a military secret across post-apocalyptic, rural Minnesota, avoiding the nocturnal, undead creatures that stole his family.

Another cool thing about this class is that it has reminded me of three things:
1) If you are going to write you need to allot some time and make it a priority
2) If you set a goal you might actually reach it, and—
3) It’s good to sometimes evaluate where you are wasting time. For the duration of this class I decided to give up online poker. Online poker is something I’m pretty good at. I’ve won a couple tournaments and have won over a million dollars in fake-chips. My official title is “Champion”—But—I’ve also wasted weeks of free time playing it (a few minutes at a time) for nothing other than fun. No more. I’ve gone cold turkey.

SEGWAY… or time to try something completely different
So this week my wife and I decided to go on a Segway tour. You know, Segway, the two-wheeled devices that were supposed to revolutionize all human transportation? Yeah. Right.
It was kinda fun, mostly, and something different—which I think is also an important part of being a writer—living, trying something new, avoiding ruts, trying to look for new perspectives. If I don’t live and experience new things, even in simple ways, how can I truly bring my characters alive in my writing?
The problem with trying something new is that sometimes you get hurt. That is an experience, too, I suppose. Now I will know how to write a character with a broken arm. I’ve also come to appreciate just how useful a second arm is for say, tying a pair of shoes.
For you see, when riding a Segway, that is based on following your body’s motions to decide which way to go, it is bad form to make a sudden movement southward on an eastbound Segway. What I learned, to make a long story short, is that if you do such a thing, gravity and cement, even at low speeds can be unforgiving. My left arm is now splinted and my typing speed has been cut in half for the immediate future.
The funny thing is that the day after I had this accident one of my co-workers told me, “You can’t fall off a Segway.” My arm and this video say otherwise:
(My accident is best recreated by the chimp. We had the same color helmet.)
Someone told me even Obama has fallen off a Segway and there have even been some deaths from falls off these harmless looking devices. That being said I’d do it again sometime—but I’d pay more attention and might bring my elbow-pads.
Now to mend…

Friday, September 17, 2010

Cruel, Cruel Authors You Must Read

In my last two blogs, I wrote about authors who have influenced my writing. Much of whatever is good in my WIP owes a great debt to these foremothers and fathers. As a newbie writer, there's still I lot I don't know about crafting a great novel, so this time around I'm writing about some folks who I need to learn a lesson from.

A while ago, Claudia wondered what it would mean for the story if my main character, Beryl, died. A (small) part of my brain can see the merits of her suggestion, but honestly, at the time I came very close to crying into my tea. (Just to be clear: we are a very congenial bunch and I can't imagine any of us ever bringing another to tears over our critiques of each other's writing.) "But I love Beryl!" my brain screamed, "I can't kill her! I would miss her! I couldn't! I couldn't possibly!"

In the Loft class out of which Scribblerati formed, Lyda Morehouse gave a graphic representation of her plots. Picture a big u-shaped curve. The protagonist starts out fine, but then bad things happen, and more bad things, and more and more and more, and with each catastrophe, the protagonist refuses to learn/change/grow/act until she or he hits the bottom of the curve. Then they start actually learning from their mistakes, or start protaging rather then passively accepting their punishment. At which point they climb gradually out of the hole. In other words, Lyda likes to beat up on her protagonist. A lot. I took the class, I listened, took notes, respected Lyda's advice, after all, she's not only a published author, she's a really good one. But even so, I clearly didn't really learn this lesson, because I still catch myself being too nice to Beryl.

A number of the books I read over the summer have helped me see more clearly how my own tendency toward not wanting to hurt, while likely a virtue in real life, is not always a virtue in fiction. The best two, and the ones I demand/suggest/plead that you all read, if you haven't yet, are as follows:

1. The Knife of Never Letting Go. Patrick Ness. I'm a slow reader. It's a pretty hefty book. I read it in two days. I never read anything in two days. It is non-stop. Lyda's u-shaped curve becomes a cliff that Todd Hewitt free falls down. Patrick N. is cruel--very cruel--to Todd, but I'm not sure I've ever rooted for a character like I rooted for Todd. Plus, the language is amazing. The talking dog? He's incredible. Please, please, read this book.

2. The Name of the Wind. Patrick Rothfuss. At this year's Wiscon, I went to a session that was facilitated by Patrick R. He was so funny and charming that I decided to read his book. Where Knife is a frakking adrenalin rush, Name is a book for savoring. It does have lots of action and suspense, but paired with an intricate storyline, and a careful, detailed telling of the wizard Kvothe's coming of age. While Todd Hewitt plummets into the ever-deepening abyss of badness, Kvothe has many good things happen along his journey. But the material benefits of each success are all very short-lived; we think that now, finally, things will work out for Kvothe, but no, the benefits keep disappearing, and more obstacles arise. It's kinder and gentler than The Knife of Never Letting Go, but Patrick R. still knows how to kick his protagonist and keep him down. I haven't done it justice here, so I'll just repeat: please, please, read this book.

Both these Patricks have mastered what I am just learning: that in order to have your readers fall in love with, care about, root for, and feel like they want to protect your main character, you have to hurt them. You can be gentle, you can be fierce, but you need to cause them pain.

It's so unlike real life, this being mean to someone so that other people will love them as much as you do. Warped.

And so I struggle.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Hump Day Surprise: Part One is in Beta!

Huge milestone people! Part One of my WIP, To Kill the Goddess, has been through the Scribblerati, revised, and is now in beta draft. Wooooohoooooo!

Part One is the logical first third and opening act of my book. It is twelve chapters in length and clocks in at around 46,000 words and change.

Yes, it's a bit thick, but that's down about 7000 words from the last draft and I expect the average chapter length to decrease as the book progresses. In all, there are a total of 38 chapters and I'm targeting a total length of 120,000 to 130,000 words. Big, but not too big for an epic fantasy.

So what's next? In regards to Part One, I expect to begin distributing it to an as of yet undetermined group of beta readers. I do plan on letting the Scribblerati have another go at it, but I would also like to get some opinions from people whose perceptions aren't burdened by the original draft of To Kill the Goddess, a draft that I completely scrapped and rewrote based on the feedback I received from the Scribblerati.

As for Parts Two and Three, Part Two has made it through the Scribblerati and I intend to begin beta revisions soon. Part Three is in what I refer to as ‘solid draft’ form, meaning it's written, but not polished. I will probably begin working on that too, alternating with Part Two revisions.

So who's awesome?  ME!