Monday, April 25, 2011

Inescapable, air quotes

I used to think that I was being spied on, that literally people had installed microphones and cameras into the places I most frequented just to eavesdrop on my ideas. Yesterday I was catching up on one of "my shows" on internet television, and one of the main characters outlined, almost verbatim, a concept I wrote down in my recently published book. I was shocked to say the least. But then, I'd  also long abandoned the notion that people would go that far to listen to me prattle in hopes of a golden nugget. After all, while Newton was brainstorming on falling apples, on the opposite side of the world another guy, little known in the West, was doing more or less the same thing. I like to think that some good ideas are more obvious, they simply follow certain observations of nature, and it's the brave, or perhaps lucky, that are in a position to write them down and show them to others, to claim that they thought of them first. Somehow, I imagine that if given the opportunity, there's many a transient burdened with a useless wealth of cool ideas. They just don't have agents, much less pocket change.

I was sick last week, but I'm proud to say that I did the writing. I stayed in doors all Friday, went to bed early, and powered through two morning chapters on Saturday. Then, for boredom's sake, I did a third that afternoon. That was a bad idea. I can't remember the last time I wrote when I was bored, but I know full well what kind of effort I get from myself when I commit to something under those conditions. When painting a wall, for instance, I'll make a big X first, then work through circles and other designs. I'll yawn, figuring as long as the paint gets on the wall, as long as the words get on the page, then it's a job completed. Yesterday, I was sure not to look at anything I put down, giving myself a full two days of other thoughts and other activities so I could work on the chapters with the freshest mind possible. I might even give it until tomorrow. I'm almost far enough removed that I can't even rightly recall what I put down, only that it was terrible, like peeking into a cracked cellar door to catch a glimpse of a murder scene below.

And speaking of other thoughts, I think I'm going to start outlining the book I'll be working on next. The outlining process is working marvelously, and seems to only require that I prep my mental engines before writing, and then glancing at what I've already carefully written down as a skeleton for the story, a target to aim at. Then when I'm done, I just adjust it, from what I planned on writing, to what I actually did write. The two have thus far been close enough to the same that the story can be steered comfortably. However this has also given me extra time to spout off random ideas about that next book. I work through concepts and talk out scenes and organize timelines weekly, and every now and then I'll realize I've forgotten something.  Or even worse, that a new detail contradicts an earlier one, and even that older thought is a bit fuzzy. Because I don't write any of it down. So, I feel mostly good about planning out a new novel even when I'm writing on others. I guess that's the difference between cheating and "testing the waters."

Speaking of scatter brained thoughts, I remembered the other day, or rather I was reminded, that I could join the electronic publishing's version of sffwa (science fiction and fantasy writers of america). All writing professionals have guilds, little camps where they can feel good about themselves collectively, protect and bolster one another, and when necessary throw rocks at the other groups. I forget what the literati group is called, but they refer to the writing produced by members of sffwa as "genre fiction" and sffwa calls their stuff "contemporary fiction." I have no idea what either group calls the stuff done by the group I'm trying to join. It's an interesting situation because the group is very young, relatively, because the internet has only been utilized to the degree to make e-publishing marketable for a few years. So I'll see where this takes me. That is, if I can make paypal work. I was able to avoid using the service all throughout college but now not only is it how I'll receive my royalties, it's also how I have to pay my membership dues.

Perhaps technology being inescapable will work to my favor?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Moving things, about

It feels like it would be fine for me to say I took yesterday off on account of it being my birthday, however that'd be partially untrue. After all, I worked, editing the weekend's chapters and even writing a story on Bleacher Report, something I haven't done since January. I spent the rest of the day helping a writer friend move, which is to say I spent the rest of the day talking about writing while eating, driving, and moving two pieces of furniture over the course of five hours. A productive pair were we.

It isn't a natural assumption that because the editing went smoothly, so did the writing, but in this case its true. Laying awake last night I came to think that I might've written something out of order, though, or rather that the book would be better served if a few of the chapters were organized differently. I can't really be sure, nor do I have the sort of test readers who would be down for "okay now I want you to read the whole thing again with the chapters in a different order." It wouldn't even be fair to say that I have test readers. I guess I'll wing it like normal and hope to get some air under me. I'm about at the halfway point, and have come to realize that the whole process is a bit like air travel. A lot of work goes into the altitude adjustment, the rising action and the falling action eating up a lot of literary real estate. It isn't like getting 3/4 through the book and deciding that's the time to start easing into the climax. At least, I've found that to be too late if I want to avoid a bumpy landing.

The story on BR came to me while watching the game I wrote about. I haven't really been excited enough about sports to turn the television on in a long time, and even in this case I was over at a friend's. The television was so huge it was almost a crime not to stare at it. I had been afraid that I no longer found discussing sports interesting, when it turns out that I have no problem writing about it: it's the sitting down and watching sports that I've grown more tired of. I think I'm going to try to work on a short story to put up on fictionaut, too. No reason not to, I guess.

In talking with a co-worker, I discovered that the first bit of literature where the characters change was Don Quixote whose full title is The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, translated from the Spanish. That was in 1605, and was strange at the time, how the character was mutable and learned things. Now, in traditions lasted at least two hundred years, people cry foul if a character isn't dynamic. We use bad-sounding words like flat and stilted, when really, it's just a trend. However it's doubtful it will ever reverse itself, given that initially stories were told to change and affect the listener for a utilitarian purpose (don't leave the cave at night because this is what happened to those other children). However I do wonder what the next trend might be...

I believe this week I will begin submitting to agencies. I have three prospects waiting to be submitted to in my inbox, and during slow periods I guess I'll be looking for more. None of the reviews have yet to come in, and it was another writer who informed me that such things can take weeks, if not months. So we move onward and upward, hunting the nefarious Rejection with a confident stride and trusty spear. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

What is optimism; baby, you can't hurt me

Minutes ago, I finished edits on the chapters drafted this weekend. I wonder sometimes at the complexity of some of my sentences. I wonder about why I tend to say things how I say them. I wonder if there's a better way to say what I'm trying to say. But I guess such things are discovered in practice and nowhere else. In any event, I'm somewhat satisfied with what I produced, and am hereby celebrating my reaching the double digit mark on each of the current projects. All told, I estimate that I've drafted roughly 65,000 words since I started this nine weeks ago. I'd have something that looked sort of like a whole novel if I had focused on them one at a time, however I'm not worried at all that I will finish all three. We'll call it confidence.

I finally got the review of one of the first people to read my novel when it came out. He said he would only give it to me in person, which is odd, but he's an eccentric fellow overall so at least he's consistent. He said, and I quote, "it isn't a book I would normally read, or recommend to anyone," and that is a decent summation of his review as a whole. He's extremely exacting though, more critical of my work than even I am, and he isn't the only person I know like that. I think talking with him though will makes me better, and proves that I am better than how I was. His words hurt, but not so significantly that they tore away at my own confidence in myself. Some of his thoughts I even agreed with. What's more, they weren't all bad. He even pointed out the natural expectation that I would improve, and he would read the rest provided I published them.

Saturday I was at a birthday party for a friend, and I was asked about my book. Not that the person had heard of me, but because I was singled out and questioned. I did not react well, I think. I dropped my head and made a face, sort of like I was ashamed or embarrassed. I was singled out for that, too. I eventually got the title out and proceeded to push the conversation onto a different topic with haste. Later the same evening (at a different bar) the same topic was brought up again. This time, I think I did better (and I was equally sober). I smiled and held my head up and said the name of the book a little proudly. In both cases though, the people reacted the same, with the same spirit as whatever friend spoke when they were talking me up. I keep waiting for people to forget and things to go back to the way they were, but I guess the newness hasn't worn off quite yet.

The business side of things remains equally tenacious. Recently, there was a dust up over the presentation of credits for books on places like amazon. My entry is like most authors of the publisher, and the name is listed first followed by a declaration of author, followed by the editor and cover artist listed as editor and cover artist. One person was arguing that this shouldn't be the case, that the only person who should be listed there should be the author, and that the proper place for the editor and cover artist should only be inside the book. I asked a friend about it, having no opinion on the matter. Or at least, I certainly don't mind. Without the edits performed by the editor, the writing wouldn't nearly be as strong. Without the cover art done by the cover artist, people wouldn't be drawn in to read the writing nearly as well. I, of course, did the most work, but that's why my name is first. Naturally, I was confused over why people were so vehement about things.

Then again, I am only a writer. I don't solve mysteries, I just point them out. Today I begin another week after a previous one of riding the dragon's back. I'm still here, so I take it as a net win.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Contribution by Jeff Laubenstein

Sometimes the mountain takes, advice I received from a M:tG card of all places. The graphic is of a great many goblins running for their lives down the side of the mountain. It took me years to even understand what the quote means, and every now and again I'm given a glimmer of insight into the fact that my understanding isn't quite there yet.

A writing friend's prayers were answered in the form of a way out of his miserable work situation. Coupled with his romantic life taking a turn for the better, he's declared the last month or so a "religious experience." I know how close he is to quitting (he works retail), and I know how much his job (and the necessity to make money to live) get in the way of his writing, so I had no room to argue. Another writer I know finally had his book signing. He sent an email to the other authors at the publisher to talk about his experience and used the word discouraged no fewer than four times. There were even some sentences typed in all caps.

I took from these two situations, these two lives (which are echoes of others I know, also engaged in the ebb and flow of things), the repeatedly useful essence of the quote I recalled. Sometimes the mountain takes. The implication, I've always believed, is that sometimes the mountain also gives. I myself could enjoy a better work situation, more money, less stress, and signs seem to be pointing toward the book signing being a go for September (and hopefully more than one person I don't know will show up and buy). Today, I benefit from perspective.

The writing over the weekend went well. One chapter Friday and two on Saturday helped me reach my quota. I had occasion to write about one of the antagonists for once, a character who's fingers are in everything but whose spotlight rarely benefits from the third person limited angle. I always have fun with those bits because everything is mercurial and mystical and metaphorical. Yet a third writer friend is reading my book currently, and he described my style as "direct, but about metaphorical things" compared to his own as "indirect, but about literal things." And lining the two up side by side, that is true, though before I read his work I was worried that people would think some of my passages were too strange and abstract.

The promoting is going less well, which is to say it isn't. I have to admit I'm at a bit of a loss as to what to do next. The hairs on the back of my neck tell me that this is a crucial time to keep pushing, to build momentum, but the tiny follicles have about as much of an idea about how to do that as my brain does. Someone gave me a good idea about contacting my alma mater, which made me laugh, because I have been skulking about my employer's bookstore for weeks, trying to build up the wherewithal to ask them about selling my book on their shelves, and never once did it occur to me to query the school that thought enough of me to give me a diploma. Proving oneself seems to be endless. Reviewers seem about as strict about reviewing one's book as publisher do about publishing it.

I'll pass along some other helpful advice I got from the father of a friend, too: don't let the bastards get you down. Well... it was meaningful to me