Thoughts on the Oscars

Mostly I write about writing books, or reading books, or reading books when I can’t seem to write anything because my Muse is being intransigent (which, curiously, is one of the same things she calls me). The only time I really talk about movies is when I talk about movies made from books, or vice-versa. But I had to share this:

I found that the best way to handle [filmmakers] was to hang medals all over them. […] If I got them cups and awards they’d kill themselves to produce what I wanted. That’s why the Academy Award was created. — Louis B. (“Metro-Goldwyn-“) Mayer

Here’s the source. Enjoy the film.

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Desk of the American Writer

writerdeskLaptop, index cards, legal pad, Parker fountain pen, Japanese teapot, USAnian cup from I think Target, Faberware kettle.

Not pictured: Procrastination, Mild blockage, Trepedation about screwing up the entire book BECAUSE THIS CHAPTER IS FAILING…

Ah well… Plunging back in.

EDIT: For some reason, the thumbnail of the picture I uploaded from my tablet was inverted, while the full version wasn’t. I’ve fixed that. Though since I sometimes  feel tossed and turned upside-down whilst writing, I thought about leaving it that way.

Also, blocked is too strong a word. I don’t think the chapter is failing, and I’m slowly moving forward. I’m told that’s good. The cat says it’s not, but that’s because I use my petting arm to write.

 

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What I’m Reading: The Transcendental Wraiths

It’s Leap Day, but I’m all out of leaping for now.  A friend of mine in Atlanta is celebrating his official 10th birthday, which is odd because he’s been married since the mid-2000s. I had a long weekend at work, and my cat still hasn’t quite forgiven me for being gone Saturday and Sunday, though I’ve at least convinced her to keep her tail off the keyboard, and told her that swatting me in the elbow with it every few seconds is almost as good. I did get some writing and some technical blog work done this morning, though… 3 1/2 legal-size pages, two notebook pages of notes, and a scribbled index card… and I’m going to try to push out another couple pages after lunch.

I also have two books that I’m reading and since it’s Book Date Day, I get to talk about them a little. I’d talk about the book I read last week, but I’m busy writing one of my rare one-star reviews for Goodreads, and I don’t really want to think about it twice.

MY BOOKS:

Mistwraithemerson

The second book will be easier to describe. I usually try to have some sort of non-fiction work on my reading desk at any given time, one I read in nibbles along with the other books I’m reading. A couple of weeks ago, it was The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca (mostly good, though his essay to Nero has a browner nose than a kid wearing a dog costume). Last week, I decided that since I liked his essay on “Self Reliance,” and because I went to see The Old Manse when I was in Concord last fall, I’d finally see what I thought of his philosophy. Verdict so far: Well… I know his essays are better, and he makes some great points in “Nature,” so I’ll give his first published work the benefit of the doubt. God only knows my first published work was ridiculously rotten.

The second book is one I’d wanted to read for a long time. I was a fan of the series Ms Wurts co-wrote with Raymond E Feist (I might… might have even liked her story set in his world a little better than the first trilogy he wrote there) and the Mayfair role-playing aids that we used for our AD&D games back before it was called “First Edition” were constantly being traded and passed around our group. Plus, I’ve heard nothing but good about this intense and involved series, and since I finished the Malazan series last year, I needed something else to move on to. So, last September (around the time I was dealing with a horrible paronychia infection on my right hand… got me to finally stop biting my nails, at least… and traveling up to Massachusetts on our way to Maine, and seeing friends in Rhode Island, and trying to decide if I was blocked on a project and not just stalling) I picked up a copy on my Kindle and plunged into it.

If you’ve read the book, you know that it probably didn’t go well for me. I made it nearly a quarter in before setting it down. This book is filled with wonderful prose and characters that behave accurately, even when you, the reader, can’t understand WHY in the hell they’re doing what they’re doing because any fool can see just what’s going to come of it. (In other words, they do just what we would probably do.) However, there’s a lot going on, sometimes in the foreground and sometimes well offstage, and there’s a lot to keep track of. Like Gardens of the Moon, she doesn’t believe in taking your hand and walking you through. This is one of the features of my favorite fantasy novels that I hope to replicate in my own writing, but at that moment, I couldn’t focus on it. As much as I liked the characters, I was completely lost, and I finally set it down so I could read some shorter, more intense fiction.

I am so glad I picked it up again. I always tell myself I’ll give any book two chances. Sometimes that doesn’t work (like last week) but other times, I’m very much rewarded for my perserverence. If you read this (and really, you should) make sure you have a few hours, or a day, to devote to getting into it. Don’t be afraid to take notes. Also, don’t be afraid to yell at the page… I do that a lot, too. I still only have a bare inkling of what the story holds, but this time through, I feel like a fantastic field is opening up before me, enticing me, and allowing me to enjoy its pleasures, now that I’ve committed to giving it all the time it needs.

What are you reading? I’m always looking for a good recommendation or ten.

Meditative Monday

writers-block-graphic-how-to-cure-uncreative-periods-hemingway

I had a busy two-day working weekend, but I feel good about it. Not only did I make a good bit of money for our family business, I got further in my book project than I would have said I was going to, if you had asked me last Thursday. Today, I have to balance some more of that writing, along with paying a couple of bills, laundry, dishes, and some kid time as well… I was mostly gone from one this weekend and completely away from the other. And, I miss my sister and need to go see her. And my fiancée is still working and I won’t get to see her til Thursday. And I’m about a quarter into an amazing book. And…

All of those are amazing excuses, and also representative of the constant chatter in my head. Toss onto that pile of things my characters are saying about me and my own writing…

What about my scene? When are you getting to my chapter? OOOH, and then THIS part is coming up, and then this one, and don’t listen to what that other guy said, THIS is what really happened, but you should write it like this, and this and…

…and it’s kind of amazing that I get anything done. But, I have that writing mantra on my desktop background, and I’m determined to push out a little more. This book is not going to come easy, but it won’t come out at all if I’m not insistent.

What I’m Reading: The Transcendental Wraiths

It’s Leap Day, but I’m all out of leaping for now.  A friend of mine in Atlanta is celebrating his official 10th birthday, which is odd because he’s been married since the mid-2000s. I had a long weekend at work, and my cat still hasn’t quite forgiven me for being gone Saturday and Sunday, though I’ve at least convinced her to keep her tail off the keyboard, and told her that swatting me in the elbow with it every few seconds is almost as good. I did get some writing and some technical blog work done this morning, though… 3 1/2 legal-size pages, two notebook pages of notes, and a scribbled index card… and I’m going to try to push out another couple pages after lunch.

I also have two books that I’m reading and since it’s Book Date Day, I get to talk about them a little. I’d talk about the book I read last week, but I’m busy writing one of my rare one-star reviews for Goodreads, and I don’t really want to think about it twice.

MY BOOKS:

Mistwraithemerson

The second book will be easier to describe. I usually try to have some sort of non-fiction work on my reading desk at any given time, one I read in nibbles along with the other books I’m reading. A couple of weeks ago, it was The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca (mostly good, though his essay to Nero has a browner nose than a kid wearing a dog costume). Last week, I decided that since I liked his essay on “Self Reliance,” and because I went to see The Old Manse when I was in Concord last fall, I’d finally see what I thought of his philosophy. Verdict so far: Well… I know his essays are better, and he makes some great points in “Nature,” so I’ll give his first published work the benefit of the doubt. God only knows my first published work was ridiculously rotten.

The second book is one I’d wanted to read for a long time. I was a fan of the series Ms Wurts co-wrote with Raymond E Feist (I might… might have even liked her story set in his world a little better than the first trilogy he wrote there) and the Mayfair role-playing aids that we used for our AD&D games back before it was called “First Edition” were constantly being traded and passed around our group. Plus, I’ve heard nothing but good about this intense and involved series, and since I finished the Malazan series last year, I needed something else to move on to. So, last September (around the time I was dealing with a horrible paronychia infection on my right hand… got me to finally stop biting my nails, at least… and traveling up to Massachusetts on our way to Maine, and seeing friends in Rhode Island, and trying to decide if I was blocked on a project and not just stalling) I picked up a copy on my Kindle and plunged into it.

If you’ve read the book, you know that it probably didn’t go well for me. I made it nearly a quarter in before setting it down. This book is filled with wonderful prose and characters that behave accurately, even when you, the reader, can’t understand WHY in the hell they’re doing what they’re doing because any fool can see just what’s going to come of it. (In other words, they do just what we would probably do.) However, there’s a lot going on, sometimes in the foreground and sometimes well offstage, and there’s a lot to keep track of. Like Gardens of the Moon, she doesn’t believe in taking your hand and walking you through. This is one of the features of my favorite fantasy novels that I hope to replicate in my own writing, but at that moment, I couldn’t focus on it. As much as I liked the characters, I was completely lost, and I finally set it down so I could read some shorter, more intense fiction.

I am so glad I picked it up again. I always tell myself I’ll give any book two chances. Sometimes that doesn’t work (like last week) but other times, I’m very much rewarded for my perserverence. If you read this (and really, you should) make sure you have a few hours, or a day, to devote to getting into it. Don’t be afraid to take notes. Also, don’t be afraid to yell at the page… I do that a lot, too. I still only have a bare inkling of what the story holds, but this time through, I feel like a fantastic field is opening up before me, enticing me, and allowing me to enjoy its pleasures, now that I’ve committed to giving it all the time it needs.

What are you reading? I’m always looking for a good recommendation or ten.

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Meditative Monday

writers-block-graphic-how-to-cure-uncreative-periods-hemingway

I had a busy two-day working weekend, but I feel good about it. Not only did I make a good bit of money for our family business, I got further in my book project than I would have said I was going to, if you had asked me last Thursday. Today, I have to balance some more of that writing, along with paying a couple of bills, laundry, dishes, and some kid time as well… I was mostly gone from one this weekend and completely away from the other. And, I miss my sister and need to go see her. And my fiancée is still working and I won’t get to see her til Thursday. And I’m about a quarter into an amazing book. And…

All of those are amazing excuses, and also representative of the constant chatter in my head. Toss onto that pile of things my characters are saying about me and my own writing…

What about my scene? When are you getting to my chapter? OOOH, and then THIS part is coming up, and then this one, and don’t listen to what that other guy said, THIS is what really happened, but you should write it like this, and this and…

…and it’s kind of amazing that I get anything done. But, I have that writing mantra on my desktop background, and I’m determined to push out a little more. This book is not going to come easy, but it won’t come out at all if I’m not insistent.

 

Draft Zero (Or Perhaps, Orez Tfard)

Lots of smoke, lots of shrapnel, lots of life changes over the last year, but I’m still here trying to put one word in front of the last word, whether or not those two words are friends, regardless if the second word once said something bad about the first word’s mother… DAMNIT, it’s MY project, and I’m going to make those words get along.

I’ll write more about the demise of my last  project, but tonight, I have to talk about the status of my new endeavor. For years, I’ve wanted to write a Southern Gothic novel. The fact that I had only lived in the south for a year when I first decided this meant nothing. The fact that I wrote primarily magic realism or fantasy with modern twists (the Dwarfs with Steampunk technology) also meant nothing. This might be linked to my early, impressionable years spent reading Stephen King and John Irving (New England Gothic, if that’s a thing) and my early writing years with Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner. No matter. After a couple more years of working on a lot of different things, including moving and traveling for a living and spending my time with three people weirdly creative and respectful of my introversion, I picked up a pen last August and wrote 100 pages and four chapters about a family in northern Georgia, where I’ve hiked since first moving to the south, and kept going until I wrote into a hole. So I decided to read it from the beginning.

It sucked.

A vacuum cleaner running Windows Vista in the middle of a black hole could not have sucked harder.

But writers are nothing if not stupid… I mean, persistent, and I kept that on the back burner. After sending another project to oblivion, I went back, and thought, “I need to outline my characters and chapters and try again.”

Ten failed pages.

“Okay, how’bout I set this in northern Michigan, where I grew up? Okay, well, where I spent a lot of time about three hours to the north of where I grew up.”

Fifteen failed pages… wait, NO!

The prologue, all twelve and a half pages of it… which somehow emerged from my head after simultaneously thinking of The Brothers Karamazov and The Princess Bride… actually worked, when I reread it. It worked well. I yelped and jumped for joy. Actually, that was the other way around… I live in a house with low overheads. If you’re 5’13” like me, don’t ever jump for joy in such a place. Anyway, there I was, with a satisfactory prologue in front of me, and “Chapter One” at the top of the page.

Then at the top of another page.

Then at the top of a third page, with three pages of blah blah blech in front of it.

I’d thought that cutting out the first two chapters of my original attempt would help. I could start the story where the action started, and only insert those details that needed inserting, something that editing coaches and Lower GI Tract Doctors both advise. But that still didn’t work. I felt like I did the second day I drove a stick shift in San Francisco on a hill in stopped traffic… I was stalled, gunning the engine, and rolling backwards. At least in that case, I figured it out. I learned how to drive a stick shift in about two seconds. In this case, I think I have it.

There’s a writing technique called “Draft Zero,” though I’ve also heard it called “Expanded Outline” and I think I called it “Summary Outline”  myself, once. The object is to write out your story as absolutely fast as you can, skipping details unless they’re immediately there in your head. The result is something like a long outline (like, half the length of your finished project) or a stripped down draft. Then, you go back and rework it into a proper rough draft. I myself have usually called my first draft “The Raw Draft” and the second pass-through “The First Clean Draft.” (If nothing else, it’s clean because all the profanity I sometimes scribble in the margins doesn’t make it.) I thought… maybe if I try this technique and do a Draft Zero, or a Raw Draft for my Chapter, it will…

Well, it didn’t. I couldn’t even get out a sentence.

But something else stuck in my noggin. A lot of things do. By the end of a writing day, my superior temporal gyrus looks like the underside of a bus seat. A lot of it is crap, but just like that bus seat, some of it is tasty and useful. (Hey, I’m willing to try anything to get a book out.)

A few other writers, Margaret Mitchell among them, wrote backwards. Not word for word, but chapter for chapter, or even scene for scene. “What if,” my Muse suggested, “what if you write a rough outline-like raw draft for your first chapter, starting with the last scene?” Because, I knew how the chapter was supposed to end. I could see that vividly in my mind, and there was even a possibility that it was vivid enough for other people to see it as well, leaking out of my pores. But getting there… every time I tried, I just wrote around in circles. But… write what you know, right? And so, I did just that.

I doubt I’m the first person to ever think of that, but I’m definitely glad that I did. I now have a stack of index cards numbered from 0 to -5, and I’ll keep writing them, backing up a scene each time, until I’m at the place I think my reader wants to begin. Each card has about three sentences on it… I didn’t completely fill them up. Next step is to write a zero draft of the cards, probably going in the same reverse order… I still need to work from that ending. But then, then I’ll get to write from the beginning to the end in my manuscript, and for the first time since first thinking “Southern Gothic sounds fun,” I don’t dread working on this project.

It feels nice. Frighteningly nice.