Thursday, January 27, 2011

WIP Wednesday(ish): A Barrier of Bullshit

First things first, my actual work in progress is still the same, outlining and writing for my untitled MMA / cosmic horror project. Because we have already covered that one, I would like to talk about my other major work in progress.

For as long as I can remember, I have talked my way out of everything. I've sold snow to Eskimos; convinced teachers, parents, advisers, friends and enemies, of my objectives with the value of my words. It's a skill that has saved me in countless arguments and debates, but it has also given me a boatload of bad habits.I have, at times, been an arrogant bastard. Sometimes it could be called cocky, bullheaded, and occasionally, prickish. As bad as these traits are, their damage is minor compared to the next.

Being able to schmooze my way out of problems and blame has made me lazy. Writing isn't a career where this is acceptable. I have to wake up to accountability. I have to accept that I can't weasel my way out of writing and move forward in my career. Eventually the excuses will run dry, and I will have to accept the results of this behavior.

In the context of this post, I would say that eliminating the self defeating aspects of myself is my most important work in progress. I've come a long way in a year, but I must still be mindful of wasted time and talent. I'm slowly phasing the lethargy from my life, but even the lateness this blog post is indicative of its power over me.

In a few moments, I will be sprinting into the 24th year of my existence. I'm working to continue making progress, and to keep growing as a writer and a person. The means to eliminate laziness aren't out of reach, and I hope with the wisdom and patience of age, that I will more clearly see where my actions will take me.

Now, if you would all excuse me, I need to find a cone shaped hat and some cake.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Ideas and Story Commitments

I'm often skeptical to classify an idea as book worthy. Its easy to come up with a few scenes and to define characters, or to pound out some real conflict, but determining if an idea is truly deserving of a full manuscript can be difficult.

Like right now. I've been working on a story concept that has consumed pretty much every non-blog related writing thought. For weeks I have been building up the plot and characters, outlining, taking notes, and occasionally even writing a few paragraphs, and the idea still hasn't left me. I think its a winner, and will have a better idea in the coming weeks.

This is, of course, where the problems start. I allow myself to worry if the project will last for 20,000 words, much less the prescribed standard of 70,000. I worry that the industry and readers will find it unacceptable or cliche. Toxic thoughts try to steal my focus, and it leaves me frustrated and without anything to show for my time spent.

What it comes down to in the end is confidence. As a beginning writer, I am loaded to the eyeballs with self doubt. I constantly second guess the quality of my work, and too often, let uncertainty control my production. I know I will eventually stick with this idea. I will sit down and write it despite the best efforts of my psyche to stop me. For now, I must cope with my concerns over the project, compartmentalize them, and move on. I have to commit to finishing, even if the story only serves as a learning experience. That's what real writers do, and if I am ever to be labeled as such, then I need to follow through.




Thursday, January 20, 2011

First Published Story!

After months of anticipation, I finally have a story to present to all of you. Over at Short-Story.me, my flash fiction story, Zombies Have No Respect for Plumbing is now available. I have been suppressing using exclamation points at every turn this evening. I'm stoked to the point of jabbering, which is probably a bit excessive for such a small success, but hey, I'm going to bask in the non-rejection for a little bit.

I opened my google reader, trying to catch some news and blog updates before the end of the work day, then POW, my story, sitting right there as an update in my inbox. I wouldn't say it was surreal, but it definitely startled me. I hope its a feeling I can get used to.

Anyway, I hope you all take a few minutes to read it. Since it weighs in at a meager 458 words, it's definitely a quick one. Please let me know what you guys think.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

WIP Wednesday: Lots of Leads

In a small fit of inspired starts, I have come across about six separate short stories that need to be written. Most of them have a few paragraphs or a couple pages of notes, but only one has an ending. So far. That one is threatening to not end, and has been screaming at me to about becoming my next novel project. Because of this, the short may just become a proof of concept. It's also written in the first person, and I'm not sure I could make an effective novel from that perspective. If it promised to be more linear and have fewer characters, then maybe, but the story is broad in its ambition.

My commitment to outlining has changed the way I tell stories. I'm not letting these leads run on until they find their ending, but rather I will sit and take notes, argue plot points, and let them develop before I waste two or three thousand words trying to find out what really happens. I'm not sure if my writing style is maturing, or if this is justification for slower, but plodding, word counts, but the framework feels much stronger.

As far as genre, three stories could be simply described as horror, but two are sci-fi, and to my surprise, one is urban fantasy. I used to hate the fantasy genre. I'm not entirely sure why, but I'm not going to argue when a story presents itself. Anyway, since I don't have excerpts, I will end it here. All I have written so far is too first draft to post, so you'll have to wait till next Wednesday.

On a side note, I will be discussing another aspect of horror writing this coming Friday. I have a feeling that it could become a theme around here. For now though, I would like to ask what everyone is reading? I need some good new horror and preferably from someone other than Stephen King. I love the man's work, but I want to find some new authors.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Writing Spaces

My office could use a little light. It currently resides in a concrete basement about two rolls away from my bed. Before some smart ass comments, no, it isn't my parents basement. I just appreciate the cold and happen to like paying less rent. Jerks. I watch enough movies on my computer to justify this set up, but it really isn't an atmosphere that helps me get-shit-done.

I'd be willing to wager that this is, at least in part, due to two twenty inch monitors. When you are staring at more than 300 square inches of screen real estate, it is far too easy to find shiny things. Twitter posts just meander accross the screen next to your word document, promising a much needed break. That break turns into an evening, and before too long, it's time to get to sleep.

Yet when I am in an office setting, focusing on one screen is simple. Notes and outlines pile up seemingly on their own, and my words per minute actually jumps into a serviceable range. In order to maintain efficiency and word count, I have come to the conclusion that I need a neat and serviceable office, somewhere other than my bedroom. I know most writers / self employed / practical people have already figured this out, so I feel a bit late to the party. Has anyone else experienced this? What are your battle stations like?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Amazon's Kindle App and Flying Cats

Up until this week, I had only purchased ebooks through my Nook. I don't own a Kindle, but a particularly awesome release by Chuck Wendig left me with a choice. Either read his short story collection, Irregular Creatures, on my Nook by PDF, or try out the various apps on my phone and computer.

I've had a hard time with PDFs on the Nook in the past. Every apostrophe seemingly turned into a block character, sometimes even creating page breaks. I was not impressed. Perhaps I should blame the person doing the formatting rather than the device itself, but I am petty and impatient when it comes to electronics not doing their job.

Anyway. The Amazon phone app is a lightweight and finely crafted delivery system for reading. I love synced bookmarks, so I can switch from my HTC G2 to my computers seamlessly. Across multiple OS's it worked for me. I ran it on Windows 7, Mac OSX, and Android 2.2 depending on where I happened to be at the time.

I didn't think I would enjoy reading a book on a back lit screen. I bought into the e-ink hype and thought it would hurt my eyes and be an unpleasant experience, but it worked extremely well. Especially for short stories. I still have a few concerns about novels on this format. More often than not, I am a compulsive reader who wants to finish a story in as little sittings as possible. Staring at a screen for that long might cause a few problems.

It is unfortunate for my bank account that I now have to buy an iPad or one of the many, many tablets coming out this year. I can honestly say that I will be buying books again through Amazon's Whispernet, and my choice will probably be decided by market factors more than the device itself.

One last note. If you haven't purchased Chuck Wendig's Irregular Creatures, you really should. If you are too cheap to spend 2.99 on it, then I would ask you to at least look at his blog over at Terrible Minds. This man is made of funny and pumps out excellent writing advice.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Nightmare Fuel and Horrific Inspiration

Sometimes, the stuff of nightmares find you. This might be the creepiest damn postcard I have ever received, but more on that in a minute.
In speculative fiction, its hard not to write the gruesome and visceral, but so often, that becomes the focus. Without care, a story can get lost in the details of pain and tragedy, and ignore the real goal, which is to scare people. Describing a scene of violence or terror is simply not enough. I want people to leave the hallway light on at night after reading my stories.

This is where Nightmare Fuel comes in.

Nightmare fuel is taking something that isn't meant to be scary, but corrupting it into something terrifying. Usually it involves the familiar and comforting aspects of everyday life, or an object of childhood memory. Sometimes it is simply a mannequin that creeps a little too close to the uncanny valley, or a clown toy, smiling insidiously as you try to sleep. Oftentimes the complete unknown isn't enough to leave a resonating scare; the tainting of normal objects and perceptions can leave a much deeper impression.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are plenty of real life terrors out there. Some far worse than our imaginations have come up with. We only need to look at the events in Tucson this past week to see that. Beyond the psychopaths, there are limitless amounts of fuel for horror and despair.

The postcard at the top of this post is a little beyond nightmare fuel. It has its own reasons to be scary, and not because it is a disturbing picture. I found it while going through some of my Grandmothers things. According to the back, it was made in the late 70s, and comes from a small museum in Mexico that displays the bodies exhumed from a cemetery. The reason for the exhumation was the families being unable to pay the three death taxes that the church levied on the residents.

Imagine it, a child dies of small pox or an accident, and through the family's grief, someone sticks their hand out demanding payment. And then they do it once a year for the next three years, and if you don't pony up that dough, they dig up the deceased, and put them on display. They become immortalized as tourists from richer countries come to gawk and take pictures of their leathered skin and hallow eye sockets.

This story does not have the immediate danger or survival element that is needed for a good story, but it can still be terrifying. Adapting these real life horrors into writing, even if the truth and eventual fiction are worlds apart, can lead to more believable and influential stories.

Often tiptoeing the lines between horror and the surreal is the nature of our waking lives. Inspiration for the audacious and the terrible can be found on the news, in our bedrooms and closets, or the dusty museums of other countries. Images of the dismal exist right alongside the comforts of civilization, and it would do all of us writers well to keep our eyes open to them.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Hookah Headed Writing Frenzies

I once decided that I was tired of not being able to blow smoke rings, so I sat at a hookah and made strange faces for about ten bowls until I got the hang of it. The problem is, now I find it awkward to exhale without blowing about three lingering smokey donuts.

On Saturday, in an effort to force myself to relax and get some writing done, I loaded a mighty bowl of pomegranate shisha, and sparked up the coals. Smoke billowed in from my desk, and filled my bedroom like an old Cheech and Chong movie. In the haze and the cold, I actually found a way to break my writing stupor. I was able to focus, and pound out the first 1500 word session in weeks. I know it isn’t that impressive number wise, but when you are only posting 200 to 400 words per session, it is a spectacular feeling. Until I stood up, and promptly stumbled into my bed.

For the sake of my health, I really shouldn’t make it a habit, but I think a few sessions a month like that are in order. Does anyone else out there have obscure methods for breaking writing slumps? I’d love to hear them.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Ancient Mummies and Probably Tentacles

King Tut might be threatening my first week's participation in Write 1 Sub 1. I am about half (probably a bit under half) way through my newest and still unnamed MMA story, but in order to finish and edit it, I really don't think it will happen before I have to get to Denver. I would normally say shame on me, but I always feel like writing after I hit up museums and art galleries, and getting to see the Boy King's sarcophagus might give me some inspiration.

On the subject of strange beasts and curses, I'm not sure why I avoided H.P. Lovecraft for so long. I'm not sure I will ever be a cult level follower, but I might have to buy a few anthologies. I need to research his writing for a while longer so I can attempt to get into the Innsmouth Free Press. While it is a fairly new publication, they have some excellent content. Their magazine is also free, so if you are a Lovecraft fan, you have no excuse to not check them out. No seriously, click on the link, this blog post is over.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

WIP Wednesday: Prizefighters and Curses

So I have this obsession with Mixed Martial Arts. I've often wanted to write a story set in the MMA world, but I didn't want it to be the standard underdog wins it all type of story.

While doing a 50 first sentences exercise, a supernatural spec fic MMA story jumped off the page at me. I promptly stopped working on the exercise and plopped right into this new short story. I'm not sure how it ends, but here is a short and completely out of context sample:


Laymen will never understand the fighting life. Average people can’t really, because they have never known suffering. Not like this, anyway. I’ve waded through the trenches of anguish, and weathered the dethatched retinas, the cumulative concussions, and the broken knuckles. I’ve fought with the will of gods and devils just for that silent moment, that mere instant, before the crowd knows what they have witnessed. For the uproar after as hulking men, covered in my own blood and sweat, plummet toward the canvas. I can feel the ring shake with their impact.  
I see with absolute clarity in those moments, when that razor thin line between the body and soul flow through one another. The physical pain drops away, and the body moves like water. My hands always find their mark in that place. For a few brief tendrils of time, I can see these agents as well, these demons or angels, sitting with my corner man, or on the rim of the cage. Wisps of smoke envelop my hands, being drawn from the long cloaks of the hidden intruders. They grin at me, teeth glistening like polished black marble, but I have never understood their intent.

I'm always a bit too high on my own writing, so its hard for me to be entirely objective. If this is all terribly unclear (I'd hope because of context and not bad writing), please let me know.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Renewed Structure

My desk is a menagerie of wild note cards. I have apparently acquired a new obsession with structure, mostly due to Kristen Lamb's blog. I read the 8 part series on novel structure, and it illuminated the many, many mistakes I made on my last two manuscripts.

I'm still pretty new to the writing game, so I will chalk up my mistakes as learning experiences. I let myself run with scenes and ideas, simply trying to force the action from point A to point Z. I had an ending, and a beginning, but also about 50,000 words of unstructured fluff in between.

As of now, I have about 20 scenes plotted, all with consistent time and dates. I would guess that this is somewhere around 30,000 words. I also made a more visible antagonist (instead of, you know, a shitload of zombies), and have done work to make the characters more believable.

Another topic on the same project (Human Echoes), I have been debating with friends about the viability of a zombie novel. It seems that their time has passed, and it might not be the best time to write a novel on the subject. I believe that I need to finish this novel regardless of the market. At this point, it is as much about making a cohesive novel as it is about trying to sell it. I may not be able to do anything with this manuscript, but the experience and the hours will not have been wasted if I learn and grow from it.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Only Resolution that Matters

I have one resolution this year. One that applies to both writing and life in general.
"I will finish my shit, because I am a goddamn writer."
Maybe this isn't penned in some subtle eloquence, and blasphemy never really helped anyone, but I can't tolerate the quiet incantations any longer. I'm rarely influenced by polite banter, or the soft touch of my own prose. I need a forceful and clear thought. An idea that cannot betray its premise, and can be worked over like railroad spikes under the hammer of John Henry.

This blog will have a new and more consistant schedule as well. Three posts a week, two of which will be regular posting, and the third is a free day.

I wish all of you the best this New Year. Lets start it off with heavy word counts and fine swift hangover recoveries.
 
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