Thursday, June 30, 2011

Running with Geeks

My wife and I had the pleasure to attend WITS last Saturday night at the Fitzgerald Theatre in St. Paul. I have to say it was steeped in Geekiness from the get-go, complete with Tweets up on the big screen, an accordion player who knew “Smoke on the Water,” Neil Gaiman’s dogs and lots of other fun stuff. I believe one of the tweets described it as a “hipster sweat lodge” which seemed kind of appropriate. It was one of the more unusual shows I’ve gone to in a while, but I loved every minute of it.

In no particular order, here are some of the things I learned and bits and quotes I liked, all filtered and paraphrased through me, a slightly intoxicated writer/audience member. My apologies in advance for any inaccuracies—and for my inability to recall necessarily who said what when. Q (Claudia) from our very own Scribblerati was there too, as well as her musically gifted husband up on stage. Q please do pipe up about anything I missed or got wrong.

The host told an amusing story about John Clarkson, his invisible friend.

“Have an inner life that goes outside the lines.”

“Allow other worlds in.”

Neil Gaiman talked about how his novel “American Gods” (to be made into a TV miniseries soon) is about the “immigrant experience”

“Funny books take people places and have them see things with new eyes.”

“Geography Sucks”

As a child Neil Gaiman worried about Daleks. Who can blame him?

Neil says he has at least 7 unfinished story ideas in his head now. It sounds like he may work on his books for many years. This makes me feel a little better about my book in progress (also taking years and years)

Some people think you are a particular character in your book—but the truth is the author is ALL the characters in their book(s). You must connect with all characters as you write and give them some little part of your soul for them to come alive and be believable.

Neil read from “American Gods” (The “I believe” speech)

“There are no second acts in American lives.” F. Scott Fitzgerald (Wil Wheaton doesn’t believe this)

To succeed in writing you need other people/writers, hand holding and luck

According to Wil Wheaton the actors on the Big Bang Theory are not really nerds

Josh Ritter sang. I was unfamiliar with him, but really liked his stuff; he performed “Galahad” and “The Curse” and “The Temptation of Adam.” I was impressed by the way his songs all embodied stories.

Which monsters are these celebrities?

Marilyn Monroe = Cave Troll

Thomas Edison = Elf

Benjamin Franklin = Were Turkey

Emily Dickinson = Cthulhu

Josh Ritter = Elf Slayer

The form dictates the story

“Writing a novel is freeing. They don’t have to rhyme” Josh Ritter (song writer)

“Novels have to answer questions—songs don’t” Neil Gaiman

My personal bummer of the night: I failed to bring any device to Tweet with; also I did not win any Neil Gaiman honey during the Intermission

A good story (novel) resonates with other things you know and have read—but takes you someplace different

Neil Gaiman sang his song about Joan of Arc (I’m not sure of title)

Bigfoot has a facebook page. Friend him. He’s probably lonely.

“Believe in giant man-beasts. It’s OK.”

“Witchcraft is involved in Rod Stewart’s career.” Neil Gaiman

“Raising women is difficult.” Adam Savage (MythBusters)

“Liquid Oxygen is some of the scariest stuff on Earth.”

On the MythBusters TV show when nothing happens with one of their experiments, “it’s the scariest thing possible.”

Adam Savage is a bleeder. He also did the most awesome imitation of Gollum I’ve heard. Tremendously funny! Here it is: SavageGollum

Neil read his poem, “The Day the Saucers Came.” Awesome.

The show ended with a group sing along of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” I now get to say (like anyone in the audience) that I’ve sang with Neil Gaiman (as well as the other awesome people there that night).

My wife got to pet one of Neil Gaiman’s dogs. I did not. They didn’t even growl at me.

So what’s my point in all this? Thank God for writers, entertainers, comedians, thinkers, artists, people who think outside the box. This evening was a silly, fun romp and I’m glad we were able to attend. I heard somewhere that “Wits” was sponsored in part by the Minnesota “Legacy Act.” As a taxpayer in Minnesota I think it was money well spent. I find it hard to put a price tag on creativity and joy--and both were in high quantity at this event.

I was also inspired to dig out my copy of "American Gods" and get to reading.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Starting Over Redux

I, like Jon, have been thinking a lot about the concept of Starting Over.

Last month I had my annual fabuloso trip to Wiscon. The Con for me was bookended by Starting Over.

My first three hours were spent in a writing workshop, offering critiques of three other women's first 10,000 words, and getting feedback from them, as well as our pro, Catherynne Valente. The session was a good one; I left it with more confirmation that what I'm trying to pull off with the three intertwined stories is extremely difficult, that I've pulled off Beryl's voice well, but the other two story lines need more polishing. For me, the harshest thing CV said was "Revise the hell out of it and then get yourself an agent."

Every time I do one of these workshops I go in thinking, alright, the novel's pretty much ready now. We'll just get that confirmed by the pro and then we'll send this bear off.

Never happens.

In the moment, when you've revised and revised and revised for years, it is a wee bit heart breaking to take in that it's not enough yet: Revise the Hell out of it! But, you know, I've always gotten through the bruise pretty quickly, more committed to writing better than I know how to. (Here I'm borrowing from Kelly Eskridge's amazing story "Dangerous Space" a meditation on gender, music, creativity, and vulnerability: "He smiled; the artist's private smile, the power and pride when the work is good. 'You know what's amazing?' he said. 'I knew I couldn't write these songs. I knew it. And then I wrote them anyway.'")

I'm sure like many writers, I don't feel as though I created my protagonist. I feel as though she's creating me; she's making me write her into being. And because I find that I'm at my most sane when I'm consistently writing, and because I really like Beryl, I feel an intense loyalty to her. Hell Yes, I will Revise The Hell Out of this thing, Beryl deserves it.

So that kind of Starting Over is good. It's good for me to feel like a brand new spark plug again, it's good for the project, it's good for Beryl.

But now we turn to the other bookend: the very last session I went to at Wiscon, and another sort of Starting Over--Jon's Starting Over. Not Starting Over as in, I'm going to revise this project again, but Starting Over as in, I'm going to set this one aside, and start a brand new project. Members of another Twin Cities Writing Group, Wyrdsmiths, made up the bulk of the panel on being a resilient writer. Kelly McCullough talked about not selling his first four (I think four) novels, but nevertheless going on, writing the next, getting better at his craft, until he final made his first sale (of many.)

Let me tell you: After this session I was depressed. Because I want this one to sell. Because I owe it to Beryl. Maybe that day will come: I've put my all into the story, I'm no longer inspired to rework it, and I realize it won't sell. Clearly I'm not there yet. But I do feel the grief that that image of the drain in Jon's blog radiates. Especially given that Jon's a great writer - even his first drafts are enviable with their attention to human emotion, getting the full feel of a scene, the smells, the textures, the tensions.

So here's to Starting Over and Starting Fresh. Hats off to you, Jon. You'll break through. You know it; we know it.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Starting over

Recently, I have reached what I feel like is the end of the line, as far as my book being a viable product is concerned. It’s a whole thing. Anyway, I’ve come to my decision and as such, I have stuck the proverbial fork in it. But this leaves me with a question: What next? The obvious answer is, of course: Start a new book. But what about? And more importantly: How?

I’ve never done this before.

From inception to trunking, I worked on my last book—my first book—for six years or so, give or take 6, 7 months. Sure, sure, it’s not as long as some, but I’m not arbitrarily abandoning my book. I’m not setting this book aside because of a few stagnant years and a few more rejections… well, not entirely. I’m setting it aside because I’ve looked at the market, the saturation, the interest, the responses I’ve received and not received, yadda, yadda, yadda. I’ve taken all that and I’ve sat about and thought and thought and thought and basically, I think it’s just time. I think, for the moment, the project has run its course. Will I keep querying? Yes. I still have some names I haven’t tried and there are a handful of queries out there still current and there is also an agency that has the first three chapters, but I haven’t heard a peep from them since February, so I’ll just go ahead and hazard a guess as to their interest level… pppphhhbbbttt, but yeah. I will finish her up. I will let the clock run out, as the kids say.


Because it’s done.

It’s sad, like I said over at my blog: With this book goes three more stillborn, but I’ve still got things to do. I’ve got some short stories I need to work on still. 2 or 3 still need that second and third draft attention. A similar number might still exist in the ether of pre-creation floating about within my laptop, so that’s good, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about...

I’m here to talk about: Where do I go after that? What’s next?

I want another novel project, but how do you start?

This is my question. You see, I want to start it off right, get me? It has been a long time since I was last in this position and a combination of accidentally stumbling into the last novel project in the first place and barely remembering the beginning parts of the process at this point means I have no clue as to how to get started again. I hazily recall working on a first chapter that somehow became two and then it was three and… after that, I don’t know. I’ve got an idea for a book. Two, really. And I’ve got the Scribblerati. I didn’t have them last time, so that should help, right? Of course, that help will probably kick in more AFTER I actually get started again, I would think, since none of them are on their second book either, so… so, I googled it. (Actually I Binged it, since the crap temp job blocks Google for some reason…)

344,000,000 responses.

I searched: How do you start writing a new novel and I got 344,000,000 responses.

And every single one of them (that I bothered to look at) concerned starting your FIRST novel… Great, thanks Bing, you stupid bastard… hmm… well, maybe it’s still applicable. What else am I gonna do with my time? Work? Shyeah, right… Okay, so the first link is blocked by the crappy Temp job internet filter… so is the second. And the third. And the fourth (fuckers…). And the fifth… Christ...

Ah! Finally! Ehow is apparently okey-dokey A-ok with the Internet overlords here at the salt mines, so let’s see what they say.


The hardest part of writing a book is starting.

O RLY???

You want to write a book.

I do.

You have ideas and characters bouncing around in your head but can not find the time to put them onto paper.

Well, that’s not really the issue, but…

Your book will not be written until you start.

Uh, yeah. I suppose that’s true. It will also not be done until I finish.

The hardest part of writing a book is time.

I thought it was starting.

Give yourself consistent time to start and write your book and you will be able give those characters life.

Able give?

Here are some tips and suggestions to start writing your book

Can’t wait…

Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

Is that kind of like ordering “Minnesota spicy” in a Thai restaurant?

Things You'll Need
• Time set aside to focus on writing.
• A desire to write a book.

What about an idea? A beginning and an ending? …Paper? …You know what? Forget I said anything, that’s my baggage. Please continue…

Start Writing or Does Writing a Book Seem Overwhelming

Is that a question?

This is the book you have always wanted to write.

Uh… I guess…

You may have slips of paper with notes scattered throughout your home and office.

I haven’t had time to clean lately, alright? And I don’t appreciate you judging me.

What is holding you back?

I don’t know. Work, life. I mean, where does the time go, right? Really, I think this is less a reflection upon my own inability to pick up after myself and more of an indictment of the ingrained expectations of American work culture. Did you know Europeans get nap time every day? I’ve heard that’s true.

Is it that writing a book seems like an overwhelming project, or you do not know where to begin, or your plate is so full you do not have the time?

Those all seem like the same thing... The middle one, I guess.

Compare writing your book with the prospective you received at the beginning of your first college course.

My first college course? Uh… Okay, but I fail to see how Introduction to Anthropology has any bearing whatsoever on my idea of writing a noir book about a super villain heist...

How were you going to get all those assignment done?

What assignments? What’s going on? What are we talking about? Are we still talking about novels? This better not be a trick where I’m suddenly a Scientologist at the end of this thing…

As you worked your way through the semester, finishing one project or paper at a time, it created a sense of relief when the end came and all assignments were complete.

Are you…? What…? Is that a question? You’re totally about to bring up Jesus, aren’t you?

During your coffee take some time to jot ideas down.

Coffee? What? I was told all I needed was time set aside to write and a desire to write a book. No one said anything about coffee!

Writing a book -Break it Down Into Steps.

What? Are we back to writing again?

All big projects seem overwhelming when you view them in their totality.

You know, that is so true.

If you think about the end before you start the immensity of the project will hold you back.

Uh… Well, I think it’s good to know where your story is going, at least in the abstract. You might want to reconsider that stance.

The first thing you need to do to when you want to write a book is to sit down and start.

Ah yes… the hardest part…

You do not have to write the entire book in one sitting.

Yeah, no shit. You know, sentences like that really make me begin to doubt the validity of your advice…

Take the time you need at intervals you can spare. Use a tape recorder so your thoughts, especially when driving, can be documented. Take all the 'small amount of times' such as waiting for your child's lesson to finish or use you lunch break as 'think' or 'write' time. You could get up an hour earlier and/or go to bed an hour later. You do have the time needed. You just need to set aside time to write, just like you do for other activities

So, what you are saying here… in a nutshell, is that I should treat writing like any other activity and make time to do it when I have the time available to me? That is some Zen shit right there, man. My mind = fuckin’ blown.

Use this process to start writing a book:


Make writing your book part of your schedule

Uh, yeah, I think that’s been sufficiently covered.

Take out your calendar, now, and mark "I Want To Write a Book", "I Want To Write A Novel" or whatever your ultimate goal is on a date and in a time slot, just like any other important meeting or activity.

I want to eat ALL the ice cream!

Ask For Family support to give you time to write.

“Family”? You mean, like the mafia?

Make sure that everyone in your household knows this is your time to write a book, they do not bother you, and you put all thoughts or excuses out of your mind. Let your family know that everything they need your attention for will get done, also, but this needs to be your time uninterrupted.

Right, yeah, that’ll work. I can’t even go to the bathroom by myself…

Adhere to your book writing schedule.


When this date and time have arrived sit down, pull out your slips of paper, notes, a tape recordings and start writing.

A tape recordings? You keep adding shit! I didn’t know I was supposed to make a tape recordings! Who even has a God damn tape recorder anymore?!?!

Your starting time is the most important part to get past any overwhelming feelings or excuses you have had. Start writing your book and nothing will get in your way.

Possible exceptions: Meteor strikes. Free doughnuts. Lactose Intolerance.

Start Writing A Book Just like any other habit the first time of setting time aside for writing a book will lead to the second time and it gets easier each time you sit down to write your book. Once the habit is formed take your book writing one day at a time. When you work on it a little at a time you will eventually have written the book that has been inside you wanting to get published.

I wonder if it’s possible to say the word “time” more often in the space of three sentences… So, basically: If you want to write, then take the time to write and you will be writing. It’s just that simple? Well, then... That was very helpful, wasn’t it?

Thank you, Internet.

You’re welcome,

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Book Review: Lyda Morehouse’s Resurrection Code

I used to be a voracious reader. I wasn't a fast reader, but I was dedicated, and like the proverbial turtle, I made the finish line more often than most. I couldn't even tell you how many books I've read in my lifetime, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if that number is in the high hundreds.

Writing has changed all that. I now spend the vast majority of my time writing and I bet I haven't read more than a dozen books in the last three years. So you can understand how excited I get when I actually have an opportunity to do some serious reading, like on a vacation. I try to choose my books carefully, but more often than not I find myself underwhelmed or flat-out disappointed.

My latest read, consumed by the pool in Vegas, was Lyda Morehouse’s Resurrection Code. Resurrection Code is a fun, exciting, thought-provoking dose of boo-yah! in a marketplace overrun by safe, unexceptional, and unoriginal fare. It's also, in my humble opinion, the best book Lyda has written in several years.

Resurrection Code is billed as a prequel to the other four books in her Angel Link universe but it also works as – if not quite a sequel – a coda to what came before. The book starts out in the present with Mouse (international hacker extraordinaire), Page (the sentient AI Mouse created), and Dierdre (PI with an Angel fetish) but doesn't waste time before flashing to the prequel. The story weaves back and forth between coda and prequel, and Lyda manages to intertwine the stories with polished ease. The coda story starts like a walk in the park with old friends, then quickly develops into a story in its own right, but the heart of the book is the prequel, which takes us into a part of the Angel Link universe that the previous books only gave us the barest glimpses of.

That this was the first book in the Angel Link universe in several years was immediately obvious. Maybe it's just that I haven't read one of those books in a long time, but I felt that the tone of Resurrection Code was colored by Lyda’s experience writing as Tate Hallaway. Turns out that color is a good thing. I felt like there was a new, natural whimsy to the writing that enhanced, rather detracted from the serious nature of the underlying themes.

Did I say themes? All good science fiction has an underlying theme and Resurrection Code is no exception. In this case that theme is gender, or more specifically, transgender. Without giving anything away, the prequel story features a heretofore unknown transgender character. There's a bit of romance, and while it's sweet, the story doesn't shy away from the realities faced by our transgender brothers and sisters. This story challenges your preconceptions and makes you think. That also is a good thing.

Is there anything didn't I like? I could've done without some of the pop culture nods, particularly the zombies, which felt a little crowbarred in, but that’s a giant nit pick among nits. And now I'm remembering the Battlestar Galactica reference - that was full of awesome, so I guess I’m Mr. Inconsistent.

What was my favorite thing? I have two. The first was Page’s commentary to the Mouse interviews that begin each chapter. Hilarious! The second is Morningstar. That’s Satan to the rest of you. Not a pitchfork and horns Satan, but an approachable – dare I say sexy? –Satan who all too often reminds us of ourselves.

In closing, go buy it. You won't be disappointed.

Disclaimer: I know Lyda. Were not bosom buddies (heh, I said bosom) but we’ve shared a laugh or two, so take that for whatever it's worth. Even so, I'm not afraid to dish out criticism where appropriate. Just ask my fellow Scribblerati!

** UPDATE 6-5-11: So, while this comment was fun to write "in a marketplace overrun by safe, unexceptional, and unoriginal fare" it's not fair to those of you working hard to write, publish, etc. I'm sure there's great stuff out there, I just haven't stumbled on to much of it and that's more my fault than anyone else's.

I feel better now - conscience absolved! :-P