Monday, February 28, 2011

When the Truth is Found…to be Lies…

I'm a Crusader badgeI’m late with this, as usual.  I’m supposed to reveal the lie hidden in my Crusader Challenge post.  Some of you got it.  The lie is that I hate history.  I love history.  As Alvie Singer might say, I lurve history, I loave history.  It was all I could do not to shout my love of history from the virtual rooftop of my last post.

Yes, I have watched Parliament on C-SPAN, and I wrote some abandoned manuscripts using the Queen’s English, all “colour” and “Petrol” and the like.  I got over it, thankfully.  I did almost get the Flag tattoo, but I changed my mind and more-almost got a map of Britain on my back.  I haven’t actually ruled that out yet.

Thanks to everyone who commented on post, by the way.  For more Crusader lies, click here.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Oh, What a Tangled Web We Weave, When We Something Something Something (Crusader Challenge)

There is a lie here, somewhere.  Can you catch it?

Fuliguline?  Wasn’t he the Roman Emperor who had all those crazy sex parties?  I don’t know.  I can’t stand history: dead people and dates.  If I wanted that, I’d read a zombie love story.  Speaking of rabbits, I have a dreadfully short attention span.  As a result my speech tends to be peppered (read: overrun) with non sequiturs.  I attribute this to my undiagnosed ADD, undiagnosed because my childhood pre-dates the existence of the disease.  When I was growing up, it was called “lack of focus” or “lazy”.  This is why I consider myself a much better writer than a speaker.  With writing you can craft a sentence, taking your time to get the thoughts just right, unlike speaking.  You can’t backspace a big mouth.

I was born on the wrong side of the ocean.  Then again, had I actually hailed from Great Britain, I probably wouldn’t be obsessed with all things English.  Shakespeare, The Who, Kate Winslet, that thing on C-Span 2 where the Prime Minister and Members of Parliament yell at each other and bloviate when they get in a particularly clever insult.  My affliction’s not as severe as it was, though.  After my visit to Albion five years ago, I almost got a tattoo of the Union Jack stretching from shoulder blade to shoulder blade.  I didn’t.  For a while there, I was using “full stop” instead of “period” and spelling math with an “s”.  I’d still like to live there some day.  Maybe.

I’ll end this with my best trait: I’m loyal.  To family, to friends, even to my job.  I know what it’s like to have someone bail on you or turn against you.  Life’s hard enough trying to dodge the obstacles that are clearly marked without having to worry about the ones in disguise.

The preceding was my entry in the First Crusader Challenge hosted by Rachael at Rach Writes.  It’s a “get to know you” exercise, but with one lie included.  Anyone who knows me will catch it right away.  For the other challenge rules, and to read some better entries, click here

By the way, without even trying, I hit exactly 300 words.  Do I get a bonus point for that?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

When Three People are Talking, Why Isn’t Called “Trialog?”

I did theatre in my early twenties.  In fact I majored in theatre for a little while there.  It was a lot of fun, and I was even pretty good at it, at least on a college/community theatre scale.  I mostly did supporting parts(read: waiter #2), but I had a few leading roles, too.  I even directed a few shows.  I was nominated for a national scholarship named for Irene Ryan, who played Granny on The Beverly Hillbillies.  One might say I had a passion for theatre.  My bookshelves were lined with plays both ancient and new.  I read everything I could get my hands on.

And then I stopped.  I don’t know why it happened.  Part of it was necessity; theatre is a very time-consuming pastime.  More than that, though, I reached a point where I was just done with it, as though it had served its function, whatever that was.

Flash-forward about fifteen years to me today, an aspiring (read: not-published-yet) novelist.  I’ve read countless writing books, as well as the great novels of the past and contemporary works, too.  I’ve learned from reading, and I’ve learned from writing.  Still, I can’t help but think that my time as an actor prepared me being a writer in ways nothing else could have.

I’ve always considered dialog my biggest strength, mainly because for half a decade I lived dialog.  Not that I’m saying I’m great at it, but out of all the aspects of writing, it’s the one that gives me the least trouble.  Often I’ll “see” a scene in my head, a future scene from my WiP, or from a future project, and I’ll jot it down.  Most of the time, that scene is straight dialog, with only minimal stage direction that I don’t want to forget.  It’s always been easier to write dialog than, say, description.  Even when I was new at this, and my writing sucked, the dialog would often shine through the crap like a Monopoly token the baby swallowed.

Dialog is tricky.  As everyone knows, it should seem like real speech, but shouldn’t actually be real speech.  (Be careful with exposition in dialog; if the other characters already know the information, then your character probably wouldn’t say it without a good reason.  If you can start a piece of dialog with, “As you know,” you probably don’t need it.)  More than that, dialog carries a function.  Real speech does, too, usually: making plans, expressing feeling, chasing goals.  Beyond that, though, dialog has to take the characters (and the readers) from one scene to the next.  Unless you’re writing something artsy or experimental, every scene, and therefore the dialog of that scene needs to deliver readers from point A to point B, so they can can hop the next transport to the following scenes.  Your dialog should either accomplish a goal for your character or set up a problem your characters will have to deal with.

It’s okay to take the scenic route, in other words, to sprinkle the dialog with niceties and tangents like the neighbor’s dog, or the local sports team, or the politics of Southeast Asia, so long as the trip reaches its destination.  How much “sprinkle” you use depends on the style and the genre (literary, hard-boiled mystery, YA all would present dialog differently), but it still needs to transport.  If the dialog goes round and round and the reader is back where she started, then maybe it wasn’t necessary in the first place.

There’s far more to dialog than just that, of course, like knowing your character’s voice, and using dialog to reveal character.  And of course, there’s subtext – saying something by saying something else or nothing at all – absolutely my favorite aspect of dialog.  I’ll save that for another post.  The basic thing to remember is the purpose of the dialog, and then adding the “sprinkles” and the nuances to taste.

Your turn: What do you consider your writing strengths, and how did you develop those strengths?

This is Totally My Idiom Blogfest Entry

blogfest buttonSorry I’m late, Delia.

It’s appropriate (or ironic, maybe) that I’m two days late posting my entry for a blogfest hosted by a blog titled Procrastination Rehabilitation.  I worked all day Thursday, then yesterday my dog had puppies.  But finally, here it is, and definitely not something worth waiting for.  At least it’s not long.  Oh, and there’s a little profanity in it, just so you know.

And the idiom in question should be obvious.


“Come on, Vince.  Don’t leave me hanging.” 

“Hanging, good one,” Vince said through a laugh without humor.  “You’re a funny guy, you know that?”

“Look, I’m sorry.  I fucked up.  I know that.  I’m really, really sorry.” 

“So how come you weren’t sorry ten minutes ago?” Eddie chimed in.

“Look, it’s not my fault, not entirely.”  Sonny wanted this to be over.  He was starting to lose feeling in his legs.

“Not entirely,” Vince repeated. 

“Okay, I wasn’t thinking, but I can take care of it.  I promise.”

“All right, I’ll let you off the hook.  It’s freezing in here, anyway.”

“Thank you, Vince.  I…thank you.”

“Yeah, shut up.  Eddie, get him down.”

Eddie and the other goon grabbed Sonny around the legs and lifted him up a bit, releasing the meat hook’s hold on Sonny’s jacket.  They set him on the ground, and he collapsed to the meat packing plant’s slick floor.  He’d smell like dead cow the rest of his life, but he didn’t care.  He knew how lucking he was.  It wasn’t often Vincent Spirelli, grandson of Antonio Spirelli, Godfather of the Spirelli family, let something go.  Sonny had some serious sucking up to do.

“Thank you, Vince,” Sonny said as he climbed onto shaky feet.  “Thanks for not holding me responsible.”

“Oh, I am holding you responsible, you worthless pile of dog shit.”

“But you just said…”

“I said I’m letting you off the hook, and you’re not on the hook anymore, are you?  This way you can stand on your own two feet.  Makes it more dignified for you.”

“But…but Vince.  Come on, Man.  You said…”

Sonny tried to fight tears as his pleas to Vince fell on deaf ears, ears deafened by the crack of gunfire, the last thing Sonny would ever hear.


For better entries, click here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Leave it to Neil Gaiman to Make You Feel Better

American_godsI just finished reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman, which is a fantastic book, by the way.  I haven’t had time yet to read the online journals he kept, but I did discover something from an outside source that in a tiny way brightened my day.  Apparently his original idea for the book involved a different god for each day of the week.  He’d put some research and effort into it before he had to scrap it because someone else had already written a book with that exact concept.  Gaiman shelved the idea and came up with what became the final version of American Gods.  I don’t remember where I read this, so I can’t verify the truth of it, but we’ll say it’s true.

Why does this story make me smile?  Do I take delight in the minor inconveniencing of the Sandman’s creator?  No, it’s because now I don’t feel so bad.  Last fall when I was putting together my NaNo project, I shared the idea, which I thought was just so original and so awesome, with a friend.  She promptly told this was just like something she’d seen two years ago.  More on that story here.  That’s something that’s happened a lot to me over the years.  At least now, with the internet, it’s easier to discover early if someone stole your idea, then traveled back in time two or three or fifty years to publish it themselves (that’s what happens, right?).

Knowing that kind of thing happens even to established writers takes some of the sting away when I discover the MS I’ve been slaving over for weeks is actually sitting down the street at the library in a slightly altered form.  So no offense, Neil (I call him Neil), but you made feel a little better.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Amazon Shout Outs

Roland D. Yeomans at Writing in the Crosshairs has released his debut novel, The Bear with Two Shadows.  It’s available at in Kindle format.  If you don’t have a Kindle, don’t worry, you can download a Kindle app for you computer, free of charge.  The cover art is by Michael Di Gesu, another fellow blogger.  Go check it out (click the pic for the Amazon link).

And while you’re there, check out “The Secret Passions of Twins,” the latest short story by Jaqueline Howett, also available on Kindle.  And check out her self-titled blog, too.

Congrats to all three of you!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

104 and a Crusade

I wanted to address both of these topics a couple of days ago, but I’ve been both sick and busy.  For those of you who read this blog regularly, the busy part will come as no surprise, and since I was outside working on the ambulance during the worst of Snowageddon or Snowpocalypse, the sick part should be expected as well.  Anyway, on to the fun stuff.

This past Sunday I got my one hundredth follower.  As of right now (Wednesday morning) I’m at one hundred four.  Don’t ask me how that happened.  I’m still amazed that anyone would want to read my little ramblings.  When I started this blog four months ago and I stared holes into my single follower, me, I wondered what the magic formula was to generate the kind of readership I saw elsewhere, what potion or spell I could use to conjure a triple-digit following.  I still don’t know.  Maybe it’s because I don’t know, or at least because I haven’t worried about it.  This blog is a much for me as for anyone else, and the fact that even one person would want share in my personal musings can counteract even a thousand impersonal form rejections.  Thank you all for taking this ride with me.  It means a lot.

Now onto the Crusade.  Rachael Harrie at Rachael Writes is hosting her Second Annual Platform Building Crusade, which is in full swing now until April 30th.  The idea is to have a list of like-minded blogs that we can link to, make connections, and build our platforms.  It’s a great idea, really.  Click on the link above for what to do (not much, really) and then sign up.  Really, why wouldn’t you?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Top Ten Horror and Science Fiction Movie Quotes

Today is the Top Ten Horror and Science Fiction Movie Quotes Blogfest hosted by Ellie Garrat and iZombie.  Wasn’t going to sign up, since I’ve been in blogfest overload, but I saw that I could be number thirteen in a horror-related event.  So why not?

10. “It’s alive. It’s…alive!”Frankenstein  Watch Colin Clive deliver this line.  Eighty years later, this is still one of the most chilling films ever made.


images9. “I have a bad feeling about this.”Star Wars Trilogy  I love the running gag through the first trilogy with nearly every central character from Han Solo to C-3PO delivering this line at some point.

images (1)8. “You can’t fight in here! This is the war room!”Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb  You don’t even need a context to love this line. 

images (2)7. “Give him the seda-give!”Young Frankenstein  A horror spoof still counts as horror, right?  Marty Feldman is one of those great comic actors hardly anyone’s heard of for some reason, and never is he better than during his master’s impromptu life-or-death game of charades.

images (4)6. “This means something.”Close Encounters of the Third Kind  Could you look at a plate of the mash potatoes the same way after seeing this movie?


images (5)5. “Come with me if you want to live.”Terminator/Terminator 2  A great, well-written line of dialog.  It sums up the urgency and the stakes for both films.


images (6)4. “We should go inside. They mostly come out at night. Mostly.”Aliens  I imagine most people are going to use the “Get away from her you bitch!” line, but for me, this is far and away the best line of the film.

images (3)3. “Gort, ‘Klaatu Barada Nikto’.”The Day the Earth Stood Still  Any list of science fiction movie quotes should come with this line pre-installed.  The most memorable line from the greatest of all SF films (the original, of course).

images (7)2. “What are you doing, Dave?”2001:a Space Odyssey  Didn’t care for this film all that much as a whole, but I loved the middle part with Hal, especially his desperate attempt to smooth things over with Dave after his attempt to kill Dave fails.  Anything creepier than a dying homicidal computer singing “Daisy”?  Only one thing I can think of…

images (8)1. “They’re coming to get you, Barbara.”Night if the Living Dead  As nasty (in a good way) as the rest of the film gets, there’s not too much that matches the creepiness of the line from the early going.  Forty plus years of advanced visual effects, innovative storytelling, and surprise plot twists have not been able to unseat this film as the most disturbing horror flick of all time (although Audition comes close *shudder*).

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Blues-ing it Up and in Search of a Literary Legacy

imagesI’m heading to Memphis today.  In fact, by the time this gets posted, I should already be on the road.  If I screwed something up, it’ll just have to sit here like an unzipped fly until I can check in tonight.

What does this have to do with writing, you ask?  Well actually, I’m going down there to cover a story for my paper.  A local band won a Chicago-wide blues contest, and they’re playing in a national showcase on Beale Street.  At least that’s the impetus.  The wife and I need a getaway, especially since the doggy chastity belt didn’t work, and we’re probably going to be ushering six to eight more puppies next week.  Joy.

Not that I blog consistently enough for it to matter anyway, but I’ll likely be out of commission the next three days or so.  Unless something really strikes me in the meantime.

The way I want to really tie this into writing, is that Memphis is above all else a music town.  Tourism revolves around that.  There are several other obvious music towns: Nashville (country), New Orleans (Jazz), Seattle (Grunge/Indie), Chicago (blues, again) and a lot more I can’t think of right now.  And of course, London, Berlin, Liverpool, and just about every other major city in Europe.  But where are the Literary towns in the US?  The ones whose legacy revolves around great literature rather than great music?  Where in America are the London of the 1800’s or the Paris of the 1920’s?  Where were the hotbeds of literary genius in America’s past?  Where would you go as a literary tourist?

There really isn’t any place that comes to mind.  Outside of New York, which is always a center for something, I can’t really think of anything.  Perhaps I’m missing something, since I’m not as up on my literary history as I should be.  Help a wanderer out: where’s a good spot to explore America’s literary past?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Present is Making me Tense

T7942So I’ve read six novels this year (2011), and through no fault of my own, they’ve all had one thing in common: They’ve been told in first person present tense.

When did this become a thing?  I know it’s nothing new; one of the books is A Handmaid’s Tale, which is from the 1980’s if I’m not mistaken.  But the tense works in that book.  In the others, not so much.  Three of the books are The Hunger Games Trilogy, which just aren’t very good books anyway (I’m ducking until people stop throwing things at me).  One of the other two is Water for Elephants, which would have been a great novel if not for the present tense.  It reminded me of Dune, which was otherwise fantastic, but I couldn’t finish because it kept switching POV within the same scene, sometimes within the same paragraph.

I’ve written in the present tense before.  I wrote a short story about a gay teenage boy the night of the Homecoming dance in which he planned to come out.  I wrote part of a zombie novel from the zombie’s POV.  In both cases, the characters are stuck in the moment for completely different reasons.  The same applies for The Handmaid’s Tale.  The MC lives in the present; she has no future or past, at least none of either that she can latch on to.  She’s a puppet of the state.  All she can safely focus on is the moment at hand.  That’s why it works.

In a story that takes place over several years or worse, one in which a character is remembering the past (talking to you, Elephants) it’s completely inappropriate.  There’s something grounding about the past tense.  This is what happened to me, and now I’m relating it, as opposed to, this happens, then I do this, then something else happens.  It’s like listening to teenage girls.

“So, like, I go, ‘blah, blah, blah.’  Then he’s all ‘blah, blah, blah.’  Then Bethany goes berserk and drives away.  And then later, she comes back, and she’s all…”*

Reading Elephants was like walking on ice or trying to scale glass; there just wasn’t anything to grab on to.  I kept slipping out of the story.  It was a good story, too.  I really liked the characters and the world they inhabited.

Anyway, this is totally a personal preference.  Apparently I’m in the minority since Elephants received a ton of critical praise, and The Hunger Games books are ridiculously popular.  So what’s your opinion?

*No offense to teenage girls, of course.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

ABNA Cadabra

So I entered ABNA last week.  I did within a few hours of the contest opening, so I’m pretty confident I made the cut off.  I been reading other people’s posts about prepping their novel and grinding their query into game shape, and I realized something. 

I really didn’t do anything.

I could tweak, revise, and line edit my MS for the next twenty years and never be completely satisfied with it.  Not only that, but I think I hit the point of diminishing returns, where it’s about as good as it’s ever going to get, and the more work I put in will generate a smaller and smaller result.  So basically they got what I gave them, and if they don’t like it, so be it.

I wouldn’t have entered the contest if I didn’t think I had some kind of chance, but realistically, I’m going up against 4,999 other novels, many of them literary fiction.  I’m rooting for myself, and since anything else is now out of my control, I won’t gnash my teeth or rend my clothing if I don’t win.

A publishing contract and a trip to New York would be sweet, but what I know I’ll get from this no matter what happens, is a definite assessment of my query.  I really think my story is appealing enough to make through the first round, which is judged solely on the pitch, which is essentially my query.  So if I don’t make through, I’ll know for sure that my query isn’t going cut it no matter who I send it to.  If it passes, I’ll know I’m on the right track, and I’ll just widen my agent net a little more.

Here’s the pitch that I sent.  The main problem is that it feels long, even though it’s less than 250 words.

Seventeen-year-old Theadne Adir dreams of using her gift of speed to escape her bleak future on Qalon and to build a better life for her family. She’d even escape being Qalonian if she could. Her little brother is dying, her mom works two jobs just to provide scraps, and her entire universe is a sixteen block nightmare called the Pit. For decades, Qalon has cowered under the grip of the Sarall Supremacy, and through the aliens’ occupation, she’s learned to believe what the Supremacy teaches: Qalonians are the most wretched and pitiful life forms in the solar system.

When the Supremacy’s war with the planet Muer reaches Qalon, Thea’s way out seems shut until a midnight swim brings her face to face with an enemy not at all what they seem. Mistaken for a Muer collaborator, Thea finds herself running not for ribbons but for her life in a desperate trek through the darkest reaches of Qalon and into the arms of Talus of Raal, the captivating son of a Muer noble.

Thea and Talus’s obvious affection runs afoul of the Muerlings’ xenophobic sensibilities even as the Muerling Army launches a desperate assault on the full might of the Supremacy Military. Forced into a covert mission as a native guide on the streets of her home, Thea finds herself caught between enemies on both sides of the battle lines and suddenly torn between self preservation and the survival of a planet, and a race, she’s slowly learning to love.

So basically, I’m hoping on the first round; anything else is cake.