Saturday, March 30, 2013

Back in the Saddle

My laptop died recently...

It was a real tragedy.

The loss of my old laptop decimated my work output. Yes, I could hook it up to my big, honkin' TV, but the angle was all weird and cricked my neck, the desk was too low and the chair was too high. It was uncomfortable and hard to really sink into the work. Sure, sure, I occasionally managed to pull off the odd brain-melting 3600 word day, but that was usually more akin to a non-drinker suddenly going out on a raging bender, rather than someone who's spending a regular evening having drinks with friends--I paid for it the next day.

I've never considered myself one of those types of "writers", the type that can't get anything done unless they have the absolute perfect writing area set-up with the perfect music and the perfect temperature in the perfect spot with the perfect level of noise. I've always considered that kind of stuff nonsense, nothing but ready made excuses for the non-writing writer set. I believe this because I hold to the idea that if you really want to be a writer, then you will write. I realize it can be tough to make the time sometimes, but... that's the rub, right? If you want to write, you will find the time to right. Granted, I have always been lucky enough to be able to work just about anywhere, at least, as long as I had reasonable access to my WIP, and I guess I can still say I can work just about anywhere really, but sitting on that too-soft ottomon with my head tilted too far back? It was a mile too far for me. I couldn't do it. My writing time suffered.

Yeah... We happy...

Except for Windows 8. What a crapfest, amirite? 

Other than that, it's good to be back and--after a bit of wrangling and wrestling with Windows 8--all set up. But here now, I am faced with a new question: How do I get started up again? Interrupting your schedule and/or routine or having your schedule and/or routine interrupted is a tough thing for a writer. Too much time away from The Work makes it harder and harder to sit down again and get back to things. It's hard to re-capture that rhythm and really dig in again in a really productive way.

So what do you do? What will Ido?

1. Schedule
You have to make time. Make time to settle in. Make time to stare at the screen. You need to force yourself to get back in front of the keyboard, so schedule some time to do it. Plan on it and stick to it. Make sure it happens. Sounds simple, right? Well, in that case, stop making excuses, sit down, shut up, and get back to work.

2. Backtrack
I find it easier to get to work on a normal day, if I spend a little time when I first sit back down going back over the latest stuff from the last writing session. It's kind of like warming up the engines, y'know? Like ramping the power levels back up into the green. It's hard to dive in cold, so instead, take some time, read through a bit of your most recent stuff and maybe fix what will most likely be a plethora of somehow now appallingly apparent mistakes. But it all looked so good the night before...

3. Take off the brakes
The flipside to taking some time each day to backtrack over your most recently completed stuff is that you can't spend too much time there. You don't want to get stuck in that mud, spinning your wheels, covering and recovering the same ground over and over again. Do that and suddenly you're that kid in the Critique Class bringing the same 100 pages to be reviewed that you brought ten years ago. Push, Sisyphus, push! At a certain point, you have to stop looking back and start looking ahead. You have to dive back in and just get started writing. Once you push your giant boulder to the top of that hill, take off the breaks and just go for it. You can always come back later. Keep that in mind: Just start writing. You can always come back later.

4. Consider
But before you do all that other stuff, take a moment or two, or a day, maybe just a little time while washing the dishes, whatever... Take some time and think about your story. Where's it going? Where do you want it to go? Where did it start? Is that the right place? And... if you were going to change something, what would it be? A scene? A character? A chapter? The beginning? The middle? The end? The whole thing? Could you delete it all and start over? Do you dare?

We'll see...

Get to writing,

Friday, March 22, 2013

On Being Thrown Out of the Story - Part II

A couple posts back, Claudia got me thinking about the idea of interrupted reading, of writing that throws the reader out of the story, of good writing that does this.

Not knowing the words the author uses is one kind of being chucked out.
Another is the beauty of the words, which I discussed in my most recent post.

In today's post, I'm ruminating on having to stop reading in order to think more fully about the ideas developed in a work. And for this exploration, like the last, I'm using Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed:

"[Shevek] recognized that need, in Odonian terms, as his "cellular function," the analogic term for the individual's individuality, the work he can do best, therefore his best contribution to his society. A healthy society would let him exercise that optimum function freely, in the coordination of all such functions finding its adaptability and strength. ... That the Odonian society on Anarres had fallen short of the ideal did not, in his eyes, lessen his responsibility to it; just the contrary. With the myth of the State out of the way, the real mutuality and reciprocity of society and individual became clear. Sacrifice might be demanded of the individual but never compromise; for though only the society could give security and stability, only the individual, the person, had the power of moral choice--the power of change, the essential function of life. The Odonian society was conceived as a permanent revolution, and revolution begins in the thinking mind."

Sacrifice vs. compromise; individual, state, society; work and function; security vs. morality; change and revolution. And Le Guin goes on for two more pages. Page after page of idea after idea, incorporating the concepts of time, loyalty, work, humanity, pain and suffering, joy vs. pleasure.

Within the whole of the novel, there are a couple of spots where Shevek engages in this sort of deep, internal reflection. The rest of the novel helps to support these sections by having the characters embody the ideas in their personalities, dialogue, and action.

Reading these sections, I was torn by wanting to go on, but also wanting to stop. To savor. To think about how these ideas fit into my own life. Were they true? Were they helpful?

Not only did I want to slow down to savor the ideas themselves, I also wanted to stop and marvel at how Le Guin wrote the novel so that I could understand those three pages more fully. "Cripes! Everything's she's written up until now has been aiming right here!" Flip, flip, flip. "See?" Flip, flip. "And here? See!" Flip "And here!"

I like to believe that Le Guin would not have taken it as a compliment if someone reviewing the novel had said it was so engrossing that it never shook them out of the story. For me, the very reason the reading was so engrossing was because it invites reflection. Reflection on the reader's own ideas and commitments. It's like inhabiting a three-dimensional mobius: being pulled out of your life and into the story while in the next moment, the story inviting you to pull it into your own life. A two-way engrossing, wrapping and warping. Being pulled in and enclosed by the novel's left hand, while being released and gently nudged back by the right.
By David Benbennick

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Veronica Mars and the Case of the Kickstarter Kerfluffle

Republished from Q's blog, Finding the Yummy.
So then. Veronica Mars. I just wrote about the virtues of  that very show in my last blog, Small Screen Gems - and low and behold, a short time later, it’s become the Show that Made History – that is, creator Rob Thomas gathered, on Kickstarter, as of March 16 at 3:12 PM Central Time, $3,517,129 toward making a Veronica Mars movie. With 27 days to go.  Sure, there are some big money donors in there, but for the most part, we’re looking at a lot of folks donating smaller amounts… last I heard, the average donation was $61.
There’s been some backlash. Let’s take off the table the idea that maybe this money could be better spent on more humanitarian causes, and stick to the subject of artistic projects, specifically.
Plus – cute as a bug in a Snuggie.
The argument, from one section of the virtual roundtable, is that fans’ enthusiastic response to the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign sets a terrible precedent for the way movies are funded, the future of independent cinema, etc. I’m not going to get into that. For a good article on the subject, check out Sam Adams’ piece in Slate.
What I will get into is this: There are two sentiments I’ve heard repeated most often… 1) “What’s next.. a movie version of ____?” <–fill in your choice of marginal TV fare. Clever, albeit snarky folks are hating on the VM. I honestly believe that most of them have developed a perception of the show, and have never actually given it a fair chance. Because it’s decidedly not marginal fare.  And 2) “Why can’t people just let go? How about funding something NEW?”
Next up, Manimal the movie!   

Hmm. It’s true. We geeks don’t like to let go. This is, essentially, why the film Serenity got made. And certainly, Hollywood is not the best purveyor of Things New – and this is often goes very badly. Look at every movie version of a 70′s TV show designed to pander to Gen X viewers, every ill-begotten ‘re-imagining’ or sequel (Bruce Willis Dying Hard yet again), and the poster child for Not-Knowing-When-Enough-Is-Enough-Already, George Lucas. I’m often frustrated by these trends as well – and I love the rare book or film that is truly original, truly Something New.
Also, sometimes an author or auteur needs to understand that the story is, in fact, done, and trust the imagination of their readers and viewers. For instance, the final chapter of the Harry Potter books. I freaking adore that series, but I’m not a big fan of the way we’re handed a neat little package of an ending, a peek into the future of our favorite surviving characters – instead of being allowed to imagine all the possibilities. The crux (or horcrux, amirite?) of the story was complete one chapter earlier, after all.
But what about those artists and authors who can’t let go… of a world, a character, a story, and the result is something great? I defeat the haters’ argument with 3 examples: Evil Dead 2Lord of the Rings (books), and The Jeffersons. BOOM! Not to mention Cape FearFrasier, Updike’s Rabbit books, Godfather 2, The Colbert Report, several terrific Jane Austen movies and miniseries, Legend of Korra, many mystery series, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Clueless, Moulin Rogue, Angel, Nosferatu, the occasional Batman show or movie, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and let us not forget Gremlins 2. And here’s the deal… sometimes we viewers are not ready to say goodbye to beloved characters or worlds, and we relish in the idea of closure, or a peek into their future.
Veronica Mars is such a show. Due to producer manipulation, and some floundering on the part of the writers, season 3 wasn’t all it should have been, and we were left with a bit of a cliffhanger, not to mention a lot of question marks where characters’ lives were headed. It’s a show that deserves more, and Veronica is unquestionably someone whom I want to meet at age 28. Rob Thomas created an interesting world packed full of complex characters, some beloved, some nasty as hell, many deliciously in the middle- and I, for one, am looking forward to seeing them all again.
I plan on donating at the $25 amount, so I can get the t-shirt.

PS. If you haven’t seen Kristen Bell’s sloth meltdown, you need to watch it. It might just make you want to fund her movie.
You’re Welcome.


It’s – not quite spring.

You can tell it wants to be. I saw my first robin three weeks ago. The sun is strong and melty. The porters and stouts are slowly disappearing from the taps.

It won’t be long before buds will start to pop, coats will get stowed away, and our pale Minnesota skin will get its first splash of color.


I wish I could say it was just the weather.

I’m very much a creature of habit – a fussy Virgo. I like my things just so. I like to know what I’m going to do each day. I want to know where I’m going to get my coffee. I don’t want the day to suddenly get one hour longer.

So why am I an IT consultant? Why do I have a job that can change on a dime, and take me to God only knows where?

Why am I choosing to move? Why am I cleaning out, digging through old memories, sorting away those I want to keep and wincing as I throw away those that no longer hold the meeting they once did?

And what am I doing with my writing? I’m so close to done – months away from being a bona fide published author – and yet my day job and the move pull me away and into chaos.


And yet I’m thankful for all of it.

I’m blessed to work with good people, to have the means to move, and to have the time – however little it seems some days – to write.

Here’s to transition – and may it settle the fuck down.

Friday, March 1, 2013


A PRIMER (for the zombie apocalypse)
by Mark Teats

During the zombie apocalypse, circle your house, inspecting that every board is hammered tight. Shutter the first floor windows, but not upstairs. Zombies are terrible climbers, and the sunshine will boost your spirits on those lazy afternoons. Inside, keep all unnecessary doors locked. Unlocked doors only invite zombies. Memorize your escape routes, load your guns, safeties are optional. Always wear shoes or better yet, boots. Cultivate relationships with slow runners. When crossing midnight playgrounds you may hear the laughter of shadow children echoing off the empty swing sets. Move quickly. If you are followed by ankle-biters, literally, do not spare the rod, for the child has already spoiled. Can’t you smell them? Apply your baseball bat liberally. Aim for the head. It’s the kind thing to do. But don’t strain yourself. You can’t afford a sprained arm or shoulder. 

For entertainment, books and comics are best. Archie, Howard the Duck, nothing too deep,  nothing too heavy. If you have a portable generator then a DVD player and a stack of Jim Carrey movies will really make all the difference, between wanting to go on, and wanting to put in a good movie. Laughter is the best medicine. It cures what ails us. Except for Zombie virus Z strain 17, apparently. Generators will call in zombies, so in the slow parts of  the show, you can take a break, and put a few down. With gunfire, no ethnic slurs, or criticism over fashion mistakes. They can’t help how they were made. 

After hand-to-hand mano y zombie combat, feel for fresh wounds. Strip down; leave your bloody clothes behind. The epidemic crawls there. Go to clean water. Bathe, pray, lather, repeat.  Bathe, pray, lather, repeat. Make visual confirmation  there are no cuts, scratches, bite marks or unwanted blemishes. Leave your feminine side behind. Makeup, lipstick, perfume, tears, shows and books about angst filled vampire love and clumsy teenagers don’t belong here. Nor English royalty. That bullshit is left behind. Don’t accept “new kinds” of meat from strangers. Be wary of strangers in general, especially those that drag their feet, moan, have rotted body  parts, and who wear cloying cologne. Beware, also, of the happy. There is no time for giggling now. Although, maybe it was just one of those Jim Carrey flicks that set them off. 

Know where to find fresh water. Reload. Know how to hunt, fish, camp, steal, read instructions, climb a light pole, deliver a spleen rupturing punch, and sew. Knitting is of no use. Knit garments get caught on things, like grabbing, gnarled hands, or yellow, infection-clotted teeth.

Sing. Something popular, preferably something mindless with Spanish or Korean lyrics. “Gangnam Style” comes to mind. Enjoy the new financial utopia. No one cares about your mortgage payment, your credit card debt or your money now. Gas tanks are best kept full. Slant the nose of your parked escape vehicle down the driveway, like a plane ready for a bumpy, emergency crash landing. Keep on eye on the exits, have piles of maps. Leave the GPS behind. They’ve become less and less stable since The End. 

Once you’ve killed all the zombies in your neighborhood, clear the land around your stronghold. 550 meters is the effective range of an M16 rifle. Fire is a good clearing agent for pesky buildings that block your view. Plant killer and dynamite have their places, too. Use as needed. Don’t think of zombies as humans. Sure, some of them were once like you. Once your friends, perhaps. But then some of them don’t give your books back (Nancy). Some of them spill soda on your rugs and don’t offer dry cleaning (Tony). I repeat: Zombies are not human. To think otherwise is dangerous, it’s loser talk.

 Cock. Aim. Fire. Reload. Cock. Aim. Fire. Reload. Know how many grains of gunpowder work best in a 9mm bullet. Six is best. You want that extra punch. Have a reload kit, 5,000 rounds of empty brass,  and five pounds of premium gun powder. One thing is still true as it was before the zombies: avoid condominiums. Three gallons of clean water per person is a good start, but you’ll be thirsty in no time. Consider a solar still. Do not make out after beating an undead mob to death with a hatchet. It’s icky. However, if you’ve taken all the above to heart, fornicate. A lot. In interesting positions. The best lookout on top. It passes the time. And unlike zombies, babies don’t make themselves. And without babies, this has all been for nothing.
     ~ Mark Teats / @manowords

*Explanation: This is my attempt at a "prose-poem." I hope you enjoyed it. 

**Watch out for zombies.