400: This is not my beautiful house!

400

Welcome to post #400! While it’s great to reach a milestone, I also have to keep my wits about me. Shaggin the Muse is, surprisingly, not the longest-lived blog that I’ve ever created. It’s certainly getting up there, but I’ve had a few that lasted a year or so longer. That said, I didn’t have any doubt that it would reach this point; what, was I just going to give up on my writing? Hardly. Still, I can recognize my own happiness at having enough ideas to get this far. Ideas are always the toughest part of writing a blog, and so far I’ve had a few slow downs but no major roadblocks.

This has certainly been a strange journey, though, one that’s encompassed two novels (both of which received total rewrites), more than a dozen short stories, an anthology appearance, and even a novelette.  I’m saving some of the navel-gazing for post #500, assuming I get that far, but 400 is still a nice round number to look back and take stock.

Shaggin the Muse opened its doors on February 25, 2011, right around the time that I wrapped up the fourth draft of what would eventually become The Corridors of the Dead. At that time, I referred to it as the Torat series rather than Among the Dead, and the first book would be Torat: Initiation. The series still consisted of three books and had a similar game plan, but featured some key differences, which I’ll talk about in a bit.

This blog exists simply because I felt it had to, as a means of publicity and not much else. My rather unfortunate first post reflects my feelings on the process at the time:

Intend to turn this into an official blog for my works, however, I am currently head-down in trying to get this novel ready for submission to a contest. Will eventually update on progress and thoughts.

dat sum

That’s it. The entire substance of the post. The damned thing is that I had plenty of blog experience at that point. By my count, I’d had something like seven blogs prior to this site and have been blogging in one form or another since early 2005, so it’s not like my reticence had been borne of fear. Truth is, I had few ideas on what I wanted from this site  other than including updates on my works-in-progress, and even then I felt something of a grudging “requirement” to offer those updates.

You see, it’s always been easy  to talk about other people and their ideas, but not so easy to focus on myself and my ideas, especially when it came to writing. Oh, sure, I could blog about emotional issues in my life with very little trouble (at a base level fiction is already pretty much this), but writing about my actual works? Just way too personal, and running too much of a risk that no one cares. I know, I know. It makes little sense to me now, too. I can only surmise that the process of creating fiction showed even more of my soft underbelly than some of those deeply personal things that I talked about over the years.

Today I’m the exact opposite. I’ve gotten so used to sharing my fiction and baring that part of myself that it seems odd that it ever worried me. At the same time I’ve gone back and removed a good portion of those older blogs because they cut too close to the bone. My fiction is still highly personal and incorporates much of my emotional landscape (I think good fiction should do this), but it’s different now – overt talk about emotional issues just doesn’t appeal to me anymore. Two years in the trenches of the publishing wars will do that to a person, that’s for sure. I certainly know that public appearances with my fiction felt unthinkable back then and here I am gearing up for public readings and sales with some anticipation.

Now, to talk about my relevant work on February 25th, 2011. Torat: Initiation would turn out to be a very different book from Corridors of the Dead. Oh, both books shared a majority of characters, save for an angel named Mora (AKA Uriel, the angel of death), a down-on-her-luck diner owner in Vegas. I miss her, but some of her lives on in the character of Omarosa, introduced in The Station and taking a much larger role in City of the Dead.

For comparison’s sake, here is the original opening of Torat: Initiation:

Working as the night porter for the motel really was the best and worst of both worlds. Matty loved having the extended alone time; the quiet time, the time when she could just sit with her charcoals and inks and do whatever came to mind. She hated that stretch between 3 and 6, when the entire world came to a dead stop and the spectre of sleep hung on her bones like a shroud, fended off with regular shots of Red Bull and Mountain Dew.

She dreaded it, but it also produced some of her more surreal works of art, and so she tried to be ready to seize that dragon and ride it all the way to some great art. This night she was working on a charcoal drawing of her lover, transforming her from a pretty blonde with curved, nordic features to a sneering warrior.

She looked up when the door chimed and sat Kristy aside, stepping through the doorway to find a small, hunched old woman who greeted her with kind eyes. “Good to see someone’s still awake.”

Matty rubbed her eyes and smiled. “Yeah, kinda my job.”

“Still admirable. Could just as easily sleep back there, you know.”

Matty lifted an empty Red Bull can from beside the register and shook it. “The magic of caffeine.”

It’s a testament to my growth that I can read that and immediately see why the book struggled to place with an agent; I hadn’t done much real work done to build a connection with Matty. I don’t blame myself, though, as I had very little idea of how to do such a thing. Thankfully, that’s changed over the last two years, and I know that I could do a fairly effective job of connecting the reader with that incarnation. Continue reading

Inside the Black Lodge: Emotion and Symbolism

You probably recognize the work of David Lynch, the creator of Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet, Lost Highway, etc. etc. I’m a huge fan, and have learned so much from his works, but it’s kind of funny that I discovered Lynch in such a roundabout way. I’ve written before that I was a huge Smashing Pumpkins fan in the mid-to-late 90s, and when the band did a song for the Lost Highway soundtrack, it drove me to check out the movie. I was enraptured with what I discovered.

While on the surface the story seemed confusing and non-sensical, essentially about a man who is accused of killing his wife but didn’t do it, yet goes to prison and becomes someone else then circles back around to being himself again at the end (a parable of the denial and insane logic that murderers often go through), I realized that there was something much deeper going on there. I realized that Lynch was using something that I’d wanted to use in my own work for some time, a sort of allegorical storytelling.

It’s tough to recall at the moment, but I have certainly written entire stories that were a meta-narrative for something that was going on below the surface. On the surface, it might seem like a simple story of a knight rescuing a princess, but in truth the story is about a man fantasizing about overcoming his failings and how in that process he is letting his wife down. That’s just one off of the top of my head.

At the time, I was a fairly young writer, late teens, early twenties, so my ability to pull this stuff off was not very good. Seeing Lynch at work, though? Wow. It was inspirational. The problem, however, is that Lynch works in a visual medium, where it is a hell of a lot easier to use symbolism. That’s not to say that you can’t write an entirely allegorical, symbolic story. Plenty of authors have done so.

The problem is that I think it becomes a lot more difficult to do when you’re working in a written or oral tradition as opposed to a visual tradition. I can confirm this in my own life because when I attempted to be a painter, it was a lot easier to carry out this sort of thing as compared to executing it in my writing. Paint two items in tandem, an odd juxtaposition, and you’ve told a small meta-narrative.

Now that’s also not to say that what Lynch is doing is easy, because the history of film is littered with people who tried to do what he does successfully.

If you check my about page on this very site, you’ll see that my goal is to try to bring some of that sensibility to the written word. I’m not quite there yet. In the original version of my book (originally called Torat, almost a different entity from what now exists), I attempted to really dig in and get my hands dirty with the symbolism. The problem is that I found I was losing readers with it. I’ve learned that in such situations, the goal isn’t to say what is wrong with these readers, it’s more to ask why am I not reaching these readers? The problem is that I was coming at it from a purely symbolic point of view and seeing that while these symbols may have been cool and heavy with meaning, it was only personal meaning. The problem is that that symbolism wasn’t resonating with others and it was also important to build a good story structure to engage the reader and make that symbolism emotionally charged.

You can be as symbolic as you want, but if your story is flat, no one is going to give a damn.

This makes me realize that I could probably start building some symbolism into things once I’ve already written the story. Perhaps build in some allegory once the story itself is ready. Maybe, like theme, it’s something to be captured in later drafts, say the second or third draft.

As I write that, I realize that the story I’m writing does have symbolism built into it, and it’s still pretty successful, I think. I’m drawing on some steampunk imagery and some images that I’ve had in my head for years and years, pouring them out onto the page. They do have some significant meaning for me, but they may also translate to others. The steampunk…well, maybe not so much, but some of the imagery used in the Corridors of the Dead certainly resonate. They go back to my initial inspirations reading horror, my experiences with Clive Barker and Stephen King, as well as some of the stuff that Lynch has shown me over the years.

Now, using symbolism and allegory in a story is certainly not for everyone. There are some great, straightforward, mainstream writers who would absolutely suffer for its usage. It’s just not in their wheelhouse.

But those artists who get it right? They get my seal of approval. Maybe one day I can be one of them. But for now, I think I’ll just learn what I have to learn.

 

Good News

Good morning, everyone. Today’s entry may be shorter than anticipated, as many outside events press for my attention. The most important of these events is that a publisher has requested the full manuscript of the original version of Torat. You can imagine my happiness when I read the email this morning, and I have already cleaned up the manuscript and sent it off to the publisher, along with a note concerning the overhauled version of the novel. No worries, however; if they choose to go with the original version, I will simply re-purpose the overhauled version into a completely new novel. The story is different enough that it would work just as well on its own; the original features a woman dragged along into a strange world, while in the new version, there is a far higher amount of agency on her part. It wouldn’t take much to rework that into a new novel.

So, good news, but still just a step on the path toward publication. Excitement abounds, but I have to remember to temper it with reality – there are several hurdles still to be cleared.

Re-reading the manuscript, however, it is quite obvious how far I have come since completing that version. That alone is reason for excitement; being aware of growth and expansion is a good thing.

I’m afraid that’s all I have to say for today. I’ll get back to the regularly scheduled posts tomorrow.

Fighting the Good Fight: About Planning

And generally my generation wouldn’t be caught dead
Working for the man and generally I agree with them
Trouble is you gotta have yourself an alternate plan
Ani DiFranco, “Not a Pretty Girl

I had so many ideas about where to begin, but it seems to start right here with these lyrics. After talking so much about following the passion of characters and your own life, it might be time to step back and talk a bit about the planning process and how it fits into life and writing. I saw Ani in concert back in the Summer of 1999, on the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, and though I was only a casual fan to that point, I found the evening quite inspirational. The passion in her performance, the fact that she was quite clearly having fun and doing something she loved – it spoke to me. It pushed me farther in my own art. Yet I never lost sight of how she had arrived at that point.

For those who aren’t familiar with her, she built her career from the ground up, starting her own record label as a way of avoiding major label interference, and has turned down lucrative offers to record for the major labels. She’s also been an outspoken critic of the major label system, and has successfully jump-started the careers of several other artists via her record label. That, combined with her passion, really made me think about how she fused her passion and love for her art with a business and planning acumen – the essence of the DIY ethic that I’ve spoken about, but for now let’s leave the DIY discussion in the past.

Continuing down this path…I don’t often watch television, but when I do, I watch shows like Intervention. Blame my fascination with abnormal psychology; there’s something about the recurring patterns and trying to read the situations that appeals to me. I’ve been accused of being a natural-born therapist, and perhaps I am, but let’s not forget that these skills also come in extremely handy when writing fiction. I’d be lying if I said some hints of these people don’t slip into the characters that I write, even if subconsciously, but that’s a topic for another time. For now, let’s talk about one of the traits that so many of the poor addicts on the show have: the delusion that somehow everything is going to work out. For instance, on a recent episode a girl in her late teens talked about how she and her boyfriend were going to end up with this large house with a lot of dogs and a perfect life, but I was absolutely perplexed as to how she planned for this to happen.

Granted, she was young, and the addiction had frozen her at an even younger age – something that I suspect happens to many of the addicts with this form of denial. The thought process is not unfamiliar to me, as I suffered from it myself for many years when I struggled with my own codependency, but again, that’s not my focus here. My focus is how many people who are otherwise reasonable and don’t seem to have addiction or co-addiction problems think in this same fashion. They don’t see how much power they really have over their own lives and remain stuck in “everyday life”, wondering why others “have all the luck”.

This is the point in the tale where everything starts to come together. We take the information from Point A – DiFranco’s savvy blend of planning and passion and blend it with Point B – the lack of planning that leaves people stuck in the rut of everyday life, season with a little bit of inspiration, and we start to see an answer emerge. Perhaps the answer to the doldrums of everyday life, to living on the treadmill of life, is to mix the passion of whatever it is that you truly love with some measure of planning to help dig out of the hole? Hell, with this approach, even if you fail, you can say you’ve done something truly exceptional in your life. Everyday that I practice this approach, I feel more alive and in touch with both who I am and the world around me.

But the nuts and bolts, the nuts and bolts, that is the true crux of the problem. Where to begin with the plan? How to harness all that excitement? I can’t tell you what will work for you, but I can tell you what works for me. Maybe you can take some of that and translate it into a workable idea for you.

Today, I will give you the outline of how I do it, and tomorrow I will expand on those points, as we’re already running a little long. It’s nothing earth-shattering, which makes me wonder why so few people really seem to pursue their dreams. The five steps are as follows, though they do have their own sub-steps, which we’ll examine tomorrow:

  1. Concept Creation
  2. Concept Growth
  3. Execution Plan
  4. Execution
  5. Checklist for Follow-Up
Check in tomorrow for Part 2.
Today’s featured link is Livin’ Life Through Books, a book review blog that seems to focus on young adult and supernatural romance books. She also interviews authors and has a feature that seems unique so far in my travels through book blogs: she includes short blurbs about books that are releasing on a given Wednesday. I’ve already learned about some new releases just through this feature. She also includes a song of the week, a nice little feature that makes me wonder…would it be a good idea here? Hmmm. Anyway, give her a read!

The Best-Laid Plans

This morning was an excellent reminder of how our plans can be sidetracked. I went to my car to go to work, the usual morning routine, but when I opened the door I noticed that my dome light was a little dimmer than normal. Hmm. Okay. Turn the ignition, dash lights up with a weak glow, but the engine will not turn over. Two things go through my mind: one, I’m going to be late, two, how is this going to affect my bottom line, because I’m in an awkward transition stage with my job and money is tight at the moment.

Now, I have AAA thanks to my beautiful and loving fiancee, so the experience was nowhere near as bad as it could have been, but of course I was annoyed and lost a significant chunk of time and money. What it really reminded me of was how, no matter your plans or schedule, life can always pop up and surprise you.

Writing works the same way. How many of you have had a story all plotted out, with a nice neat outline, ready to go, and had a character just refuse to follow a certain path? Recently I’ve experienced this, several times, as the main character of my novel, Matty is a very strong-willed young woman who wants to break free, explore, and take the story in a different direction. It’s turned what was supposed to be a simple rewrite of my novel into a complete overhaul.

But it hasn’t been easy. You see, despite my ADD, I am a creature of routine. I’ve struggled most of my life to understand why I think that change is a great thing and am willing to embrace it on a macro scale but have so much of a problem accepting it when it pops up in my own life. Perhaps it’s part of being a writer – the regimen becomes so important that it can become a part of our lives. I don’t know, it’s been a difficult thing to puzzle out, but in the end I have just accepted it about myself and learned to work within my limitations.

With my writing, it’s certainly a matter of control; execution is easier when everything is accounted for and all questions are answered up front, but it can just as easily suck the life out of things. What is neatly planned is also often very dry, much like powdered milk. It’s becoming clearer that the excitement in a story comes from the excitement of life. The messiness, the chaotic nature, the unpredictability. Just as we need to be aware of opportunities around us and accept them when they come our way, no matter how far out of our comfort zone they may take us, so too do we need to be aware of storytelling opportunities, no matter how far afield they may take us. Often when I find that a story refuses to budge, freezing up like an old set of gears that needs to be oiled, it’s because I am not listening to the needs and wants of my characters. The same thing happens in human relationships – when we ignore the needs and wants of our friends and partners, things freeze up and become very cold and distant.

This is why writing is a spiritual exercise for me; because in a lot of ways it mirrors the connections that I make to others and the world around me. Like a fractal, the smaller portions of what is represented in my writing is the whole.  Which says a lot about why, during one of the darkest periods in my life, I abandoned my writing.

It’s easy to let things go, to just let the inertia of life (or the plot) bind up our controls and drag us along, but it’s more fulfilling to take control back. While we may open ourselves up to more errors, we also discover the joy of living (and writing) that’s hiding there all along. It’s as simple or as complicated as we make it.

Oh, on a side-note, I finally settled on a title for the overhauled version of the novel yesterday. While the original title was “Torat”, both a play on the Tarot and the Jewish mysticism of the story, I decided that was a little too plain and decided to buy in on the cheesiness of what I’m attempting with gusto. The novel will be called In the Corridors of the Dead, a nod to H.P. Lovecraft. The upside is that this makes naming the following novels much easier. I already have the title to the second novel in mind.

Today’s featured link represents something of a departure. I find the line between reviewer and writer to be a thin one (they’re all somewhere on the continuum of reader and writer), so I’ve decided to start including review sites on my featured links. Today’s link is E & K Family Book Reviews. I was just too damned charmed by the concept not to include them: a mother and daughter review books for kids to help families get a better grasp on what’s out there. Who can’t support that idea? Monsters, that’s who.

Turn and Face the Strange – Changes?

So let’s just get full disclosure out of the way first: today’s entry is based on a writing prompt from tomslatin.com. I stumbled upon that prompt thanks to an entry on reddit’s writing subreddit, so it’s followed a somewhat tortured path to get here, and I’m going to torture it a little more before we’re finished.

The prompt, paraphrased, was this: if you could change one thing about your writing, what would it be, and what would you do if later on you changed your mind?

It wasn’t about writing originally, but you get the picture. Applied to writing, the concept intrigued me. What would I change? It seems the obvious thing, the thing that all of us would wish for, is a heightened sense of execution. I think you know what I mean – that ability to take the great ideas we have in our heads and turn them into a finely tuned machine of a story. Given how these grand ideas become muddled between head and page, that’s #1 with a bullet, but that seems to be something that improves both with age and experience, so it’s hard to wish your life away for that one.

The second, I suppose, would be to have a keener eye about content, which could also fall under execution. By that I mean that I often get bogged down in the technical issues of grammar which are, of course, important, but I can sometimes hone a fine sentence without paying enough attention to the content itself. It’s certainly a forest-for-the-trees situation, and I think why I was having trouble capturing an agent during my first go-through. This is something I’m changing in the overhaul version of the novel by casting aside all formality and the patina of professionalism in favor of a rawer, more emotional form.

Style, of course, is still a consideration, as it should be. That will come later. For now, it’s all about hurtling the story forward. But I get sidetracked here.

I think my point is that I understand now why so many successful novels come across as a little rushed and sloppy: because the authors have focused on the content itself and left the technical considerations to one side. I had become the equivalent of a Malmsteen or a Satriani: highly technical, but without the broader view of what the work might bring to the table. I’d like to be something more like a Ramones and bring some more passion to my work. Perhaps that is what my response boils down to: I want to be able to bring the emotion that I feel for a story out on the page. It’s there. It always has been. The question is, how to get that out?

That’s my next-fondest wish, which, I suppose, comes around to execution after all. It’s the circle of liiiiiifffeeeee….

Oh, and by the way, per a Newbie’s Guide to Publishing,  JK Rowling is going to be self-publishing the Harry Potter books online. That’s huuuuuge.

If this doesn’t legitimize self-publishing, nothing will. Great news.

Today’s link! Brainpan Leakage, by M.R. Sellars, author of the Rowan Grant Investigations. The site has some great style and self-deprecating humor. A must-read!

Life is a Cruel Mistress – On Fairness

I was driving home yesterday, and I couldn’t get these images out of my head. You see, I read yesterday about this new drug in Russia, Krokodil – it’s literally a poison, one that eats away the flesh from the bone of its…for lack of a better word, “user” (victim seems like the better choice here). I’m not going to link to it, but you can find information about it on your own. I’m not going to be responsible for people going through what I went through when I saw the effects that it has on the user’s body. Those images still aren’t out of my head, by the way. But a combination of that, thinking about how addiction and the need to numb out emotional pain, and the thought of animals that are suffering in the world right now, led me back to the conclusion of the cruelty of life.

I’m not a stranger to the concept. Much of my early life was about that cruelty, though I maintained a sense of naive wonder even through it all. It informs my writing as well, infusing it with a streak of cynicism that I battle back on a regular basis. But there’s also beauty in life – good things, things that make us happy. The things to which healthy people cling, as they should.

But this relates in a broader context to my monologue yesterday on blue-collar jobs versus white-collar jobs versus creative jobs. In the face of the wanton, pointless cruelty that life can heap upon us, from something as minor as the everyday irritations we face all the way up to losing loved ones, limbs, jobs, housing – is it really so difficult to begrudge a living to someone who brings a little joy to our lives? Who examines the pain that we suffer and tries to make it relatable?

That begrudging seems to speak to a pettiness in the person, an inability to see the bigger picture. Sure, it’s entertainment, but I also think entertainment is not the overarching evil that some seem to perceive it to be. Yes, entertainment can be used as a drug to distract, to relentlessly avoid the realities of life and work to make them better – but that’s using it as a drug rather than a temporary escape from the pains of life.

Such a fine line, isn’t it? Where does one cross over from simple, fun escapism to a relentless drive to avoid the realities of life? It’s the crux of addiction and it’s the real question that needs to be examined, not whether someone who provides that temporary relief deserves a living based off of their labors. It’s not a question that I can answer, but knowing that helps me to feel a bit better about my chosen vocation.

Changing gears. I’m now 40,000 words into the draft rewrite, and am rapidly approaching the end of Book 2. My goal is to have a polished end product, with a professional copy edit and cover, up and ready for purchase by the beginning of the holiday season. That leaves four months or so, more than enough time to put things together. The decision of whether to kill a key character kept bouncing back and forth up until the last minute, the minute of actually writing the part where she was slated to die. In the end, it just didn’t seem right to kill her there. It cheapened some of the sacrifices made earlier and removed some of the mystery of a new character. In the end, I found a much better impetus to drive things forward. There was even an opportunity to give a nod to two major influences within one scene and leave the characters hanging in a very bad place at the end of Book 2, much like the end of Act 2 in a play. I’m very excited about how this is all coming together; I can see how the process of going through the first take on the novel was a necessary stepping stone to build a new process and a new paradigm for my writing.

On to today’s link. Discovered this one through WordPress’s Related Links feature yesterday, and have been thoroughly fascinated. The site in question is Project Steph, a blog that blends writing and science in such a fascinating mixture that I never really thought possible or even considered. It makes me wonder how my own interests could be combined with my writing on this site. Hmmm…something to ponder.

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A Little Tidying

I was half in and out of a dream this morning when I realized that I had once said I would review Ommwriter and a few of the other full-screen writing programs that I’ve installed, like FocusWriter, and yet hadn’t gotten around to doing so. I haven’t done so to this point because I’ve honestly found little use for them. The concept is fantastic, and I’m sure it works well for other writers. My problem, and this became clearer with extended use, is that I harness my ADD into the way I write. It’s often best for me to jump around from one item to another as I write; some of my greatest inspiration comes from following this method, so going full-on with focusing on my writing may not be the best choice for me.

Of course, then I have mornings like today when I question the wisdom of that approach. The words just aren’t coming to the surface like they usually do, but there are some stressful things going on elsewhere. That could be interfering with my ability to really loosen up and get the words flowing.

The good news is that there is now a clear path straight on to the end of Book 2, and getting the group out of Bakersfield at last. Well, practically a clear path. I’m still debating on whether a key character should be killed here or not, and why that death occurs. I think I’ve sorted out the answer to the question (never put a gun in the hands of a 12-year old), but the entirety of the “how” issue is still outstanding. It’s still some ways down the road from being dictated, though, much less being put into the novel itself, so there’s some time to figure it out. No reason to panic just yet. As for Book 3, I’m very intrigued – Book 2 ends with them opening an ancient door to another world, and I’m not sure what’s on the other side. Oh, I have some vague ideas, and I know the most important parts of where they go from there – especially up to the ending. I’m not totally operating in the dark here, but I’m not 100% certain what happens once they’re on the other side.

Took the weekend off, but I had easily made my word goal for the week, and continued to read with an eye toward the writing itself. I have always read and watched TV and Movies with an eye toward how a given writer crafted a character and wove that character into the plot, but since becoming more active with my writing, it’s almost become a new hobby. Definitely recommended for other writers out there.

Okay, I think that’s all I have for right now. More tomorrow…

Fork In the Road

Having a bit of a difficult moment with my protagonist changing her mind on her approach to a dilemma, but I’ve come to realize that the approach is borne of something that makes her more human, and not just a puzzle piece for a story: she doesn’t want to injure or kill others. Now, however, I’m finding myself in a quandary. Do I force her back onto the old path, or do I continue to follow what she’s up to, even if it means a dichotomy between what she’s said she wants to do in previous scenes and what she’s doing now?

To elaborate, as I said yesterday, the character decided she wanted to go into a pawn shop. This put her in a position where she was separated from the group when a roving band of marauders attacked. It also afforded her the ability to rescue one of the members, who was a conscript, and borrow his uniform to infiltrate the group while hiding the conscript away in safety. This is the opportunity to become more compassionate that I was talking about yesterday. She tells this conscript of her elaborate plan to slip behind enemy lines and then get back to tell her friends of the marauder’s strengths and weaknesses: one, that the marauder uniforms are bulletproof, and two, that they’re weak to a direct attack from a blade of some sort. So far so good, right?

The problem however, was that it would really be the easiest for her to get the drop on the group and kill them all en masse – she has the ability to drop in behind these people without being detected. She could save everyone without having to put herself in danger. Why would she not have done that instead?

Because, I realized, she’s an animal lover, a vegetarian, and even though she harbors a misanthropist‘s point of view, the idea of killing someone, even in self-defense, is repugnant to her. The idea of killing like that wouldn’t even occur to her.

Here’s where we run into the problem. She is going to be forced to kill within the next few pages, and it is in character – she’s defending her lover. Now the door for the scenario that I described is wide open; she’s in shock after having to kill this guy (and it turns out she’s quite good at it, she studied anatomy in art school and knows where to strike), and it would be the perfect opportunity for her to solve the entire messy conflict. It would also show why she has such potential as “the Chosen One”.

There, just writing that out solved the problem. I was tempted to impose my own will upon things, but ultimately the answer is that no, she would not go on to attack like that. It’s not at the core of who she is, and though it makes things a lot more difficult to resolve, she would follow through with her original plan. Not to mention that going on a killing spree would invalidate what I just established with her becoming more nurturing. It would also lessen the impact of her having to take a life.

So, lesson to those who might still be with me here: trust your characters and listen to them.

The book that I mentioned yesterday? It’s Writing Fiction for All You’re Worth: Strategies and Techniques for Taking Your Fiction to the Next Level by James Scott Bell. Pretty intriguing book so far. What I’ve found most interesting so far is his tips if one decides to pursue self-publishing. His list is strikingly similar to the goals that I listed on this page once upon a time. I’m not going to recreate it here because you owe it to yourself to read the book, but his tips all really boil down to professionalism. Making sure you (and your work) are ready for prime time. Maybe an even better distillation of his tips would be “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”. That has been the source of my hesitancy with self-publishing this entire time: good fiction cannot be created in a vacuum, and there needs to be input from others before you know you’re ready.

On that note, Bell’s writing page is today’s link of the day. He has some great little freebies out there and it has some information on his other books that you might find interesting. I’ve already purchased The Art of War for Writers and it’s next on my list. The guy knows his stuff.

You Want to Sink

Another day, more words. We continue to trudge forward, I suppose, but as Mary always says, the time is going to pass one way or another – might as well pass that time with writing, with a mission to continue to get better at what I love doing. I’m reading a new writing book that I’ll talk about in the coming days, but in the intro he says that writing books can help a writer to get better (I agree), but also that he believes just sending words out into the void can’t make one a better writer. I’m not sure I agree with that second assertion, because the act of writing – just solid writing – for the last seven months has certainly caused some huge growth. When I look back at works from that period I can see how I was not only rusty and needed the regular work, but that my style was less polished and…hm…how to put this?

When I came back to writing in November, I was still following a very strict outlining and drafting process, and it was certainly necessary – I couldn’t trust in stories to tell themselves, for character motivations to reveal themselves, for themes to bubble to the surface. As I’ve gone on writing on a regular schedule, these things have become not only easier to plan on the spot, but also to see a way through. I’m still not quite capturing what I mean, so let me use an example. Yesterday, in the middle of a heated dictation session, my characters set off for a destination, one that I had planned for a few weeks ago, one that the story pointed toward. In the process of going toward this destination, the main character decided she didn’t feel safe going with the group as-is, and wanted to make sure everyone was armed, so she decided to stop at a pawn shop and try to get the guns from inside.

Not only did this introduce the possibility for new conflict, it also presented organic character development. When I came back to this, I would have pushed the character away from making that move for fear that it would derail the story – and it likely would have been the right call, because I didn’t trust the characters. These characters had been created as cardboard props in a story that I directed. Now, I feel, there is a bit more of a rapport with the characters, and I know that they will do the right thing in a given situation. So the scene is being written into the story and has already resolved itself in my head. It added a nice little opportunity to show the main character’s continuing growth from selfish introvert to a more compassionate, balanced person when she’s presented with a situation in which she faces the enemy.

I had a thought yesterday afternoon about this being the true key to breaking through for my career – learning to balance the character-directed moments and allowing characters to live and breathe within the framework of the overarching plot that I’ve outlined. It was missing from the first take on this novel, but keeping at the daily writing will keep it alive in my fiction. Just have to hang in there.

Have two featured items today. First is Lewis Shiner‘s Fiction Liberation Front. I learned about Lewis from my friend, Rob, who introduced me to the novel Glimpses, which is about the main character’s attempt to reconnect with his father through revisiting great lost musical works, like the Beach Boys‘ “Smile”. The book is part of a “pantheon” that we created as a joint effort – a set of books that are interlinked thematically and provided a blueprint for changing my life in my early 20s. We speak a little of it in this week’s forthcoming podcast, and are tossing about ideas for maintaining the list online. Anyway, Lewis’s site is a “liberation” of his works, offering all of his stories – including Glimpses – as free downloads, released under the Creative Commons license. I salute Lewis for this!

Second link is to Galley Cat, who brings all the latest news from the publishing universe. Sure are a lot of celebrity memoirs being signed these days. Hmmm….