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First Draft in 30 Years. Days! Sorry, days.

So, there was a time in which I collected writer’s guide books. I still have most of them, from Orson Scott Card’s Characters & Viewpoint to Jack Bickham’s The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, novel books like Oakley Hall’s The Art & Craft of Novel Writing and Bickham’s Writing and Selling your Novel (I seem to have a lot of Bickham’s books), a handful of writer’s guides like Police Procedural and Scene of the Crime, idea books like The Writer’s Idea Workshop and The Writer’s Book of Matches, and general writing helpers like Woe is I and Zinsser’s On Writing Well. At a glance, I have more than 25 of these writer’s helper books that promise to make you a published, if not brilliant, writer.

And then one day I realized: I read more about how to write than I do any actual writing! Thanks to the Intertubes, with all its bloggies and podcastings, one thing I learned from a great many actually published and brilliant writers who don’t have writer’s guide books, is that the old chestnut is true: A writer writes. Whether you subscribe to the theory that you’ll be a skilled writer after so many million words written, or so many hours spend practicing your craft–the bottom line is you don’t get better by reading about writing, you get better by writing.

(Well, and also fixing your writing. I mean, you could write a million words, but if you think everything you write is golden–you’re not going to get any better at all! The trick to write write write, and then fix fix fix. Only by doing that that that over and over and over, does one become a better writer!)

That said, there’s some benefit to all these books. I mean, it can be helpful to learn about good motivation, scene beats, dialog tags, the pros and cons of point of view and voice, and other aspects of the craft. And, learning these nuts and bolts might shave some hours and words off the time it takes for the complete novice who would otherwise trial-and-error their way into learning these things. Not everyone can be a naturally brilliant yet unschooled Patrick Rothfus. *grin* (Am completely digging on his Name of the Wind right now. Captivating!)

I suppose it’s somewhat unfair of me to slam these helper books and say “We don’t need no stinkin’ Writer’s Digest press books!” since . . . I’ve actually read them, and I’ve no idea if (once I finally put the books down and picked up the metaphorical quill) I started writing, if I hadn’t read those books over all those years, I’d be writing at the same level as I am now. (Assuming, that is, my current level is a recognizable level and not, you know, a sub-level.) I’ve heard from more than one successful writer that creative writing classes are a pointless waste (can I have those 12 credit hours back, please?), but I wonder if they say that because they’re that rare breed that was able to suss the craft more easily from reading others’ works and emulating it in their own? After all, additionally, many of these same writers claim that being successful takes only a glimmer of talent–the rest is all perspiration! Is there anything wrong with seeking to perspire a touch less if you can learn some technique and skill without the trial-and-error?

Regardless of to writer’s guide or not to writer’s guide, the key is to write! No matter what. Don’t wait, don’t “learn” and delay until you’re “ready,” because no matter how much you read and learn you’ll never just be ready. Not without some sweat equity invested!

And so here is where I get to the point of this post (obviously, some people may need to write less). If some of these books, in moderation and taken with a grain of salt and in conjunction with doing, can help, let’s take a look at what benefit they may offer. And, more to the point, I wanna get some more tangible use out of them. So, I’m going to start reviewing these books here on the blog, in conjunction with trying and doing what they suggest.

I’m going to start with the compellingly titled First Draft in 30 Days by Karen S. Wiesner, because, conveniently enough, I’ve a new book I’m tinkering around with that I need to get a first draft going on! Here we can see what a helper book can offer when it’s one that leads you so directly to do and not read.

(I can tell you right now that I won’t be able to do this book in the strict, consecutive days format it mandates–I’ve a day job, family, and whatnot. But a day every couple, and maybe a couple days in one when possible, will be a pretty good way to keep this active.)

So, this week: let’s start a first draft!

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Clickity-clack!

(Post originally published on my other blog, GrogMonkey, back on Jan. 27, 2011. Still trying to figure out how to divide the work between the two blogs. I only have a couple more to cross-post in a batch after this one.)

One of my English Masters program classmates posted on Facebook that he recently bought an electric typewriter, and posted pictures. My initial knee-jerk reaction was, “Heh, cool.”

Then my first reasoned mental response was, “Wait, what the heck is a typewriter for? Why in the world have a typewriter? Would he actually use it? Do they still make ribbon??”

But in the back of my mind that “Heh, cool” was still echoing around. There’s just something romantic, to a writer, about a typewriter — the tactile sensation of physical objects (keys, be they on swinging arms, daisy-wheels, or IBM character balls), changing the physical world (ink on paper with the barest impression of the letter pressed into the surface of the paper). Much in the same way guns are romantic and carry a mystique, being able to physically affect the world from a distance with an object commanded by your hand. (OK, does the gun metaphor make sense to only me?) Anyway, to someone who all but worships at the alter of the written word, having a machine that manipulates reality to force words into the material world is powerful, heady, and visceral.

Needless to say, I really like this typewriter idea.

It’s not the same with a computer. Sure, you press buttons and words appear on a screen, and that’s powerful in its own way. And knowing that those words, heck, these words, can instantly be seen by someone mrs away or even by millions of people (heh, ok, not these words by millions, but you get my point), is awesome and sublimely powerful! But in a very abstract way. A higher-order way that requires a certain amount of sophisticated thought to really appreciate the power of kinetic force translated into 1s and 0s and retranslated into understandable language by a remote viewer. The typewriter affects a more immediate, primal connection in the mid-brain, in the right-brain, and in the “gut.”

OK, enough babbling — typewriters to a writer is just freakin’ cool!

Naturally, I’ve started looking for one. :) eBay, of course, has many for very cheap prices! Craig’s List has a few listed, for a little more ($50 to $100), but has the benefit of locality so I can see and try before I buy. I’ve looked, and people still make ribbon for a great many machines, and cheaply priced, too!

The problem is, of course, besides the unnecessary cost when I could spend that money on a week’s groceries, is space — we have no space in the house for unnecessary luxuries like that. And it is an unnecessary luxury, sadly. After all, after I typed a story on it, I’d still scan it in to an OCR program so I could edit it on the PC; no way I’m retyping something line that. I hate retyping stuff! With a passion. But, that experience of putting thought and imagination, fresh from the brain and never before exposed to the light of day, tattooed into the surface of the page, is a cathartic, almost shamanistic experience! Well worth the time to scan the result, page by page, into a doc file.

I didn’t always have this feeling about typewriters, back when I had no choice but to use them, in high school. Ugh! Writing on them was miserable! I always wrote everything, both fiction and school papers, longhand (something my pasty and soft hands actually can’t do for more than a minute any more). I’d erase and edit and erase and edit, and then have my proficient mother type the school papers for me. The fiction tended to stay in many lost notebooks.

I had a HS typing class, which I was miserable at. Miserable both in skill and mood. Much to my current chagrin! Twenty years later of obsessive computer use both for business and pleasure, I can type more than 60 w.p.m., and with little error, but in such a way that would make a touch-typist roll with laughter.

Perhaps the years of being disconnected from the physicality of creating words has turned my hate for the machine into a nostalgic adoration. Truly, Baudrillard-ian nostalgia for a thing that never existed. But, I feel it none the less. And I do hope I can find the space and money to get my own typewriter so I can feel that connection and embody that stereotype of the classic 20th century portrait of the earnest writer. But I think I owe my wife a scrapbooking table first….


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Berries! Why, flappers are the bee’s knees!

Just saw on BoingBoing, that site for all things wonderful, a link to a page detailing a Flapper’s Dictionary compiled in 1922.

First thing I thought was how fascinating this is from a linguistic point of view! To have slang of the day compiled and explained is an amazing source for those of us interested in language and vernacular and how it comes about and changes. I was intrigued by what slang has survived to today, both ironically (“cat’s pajamas”) and sincerely (a party “crasher”).

But then, what also came to mind was how even then someone was quick to jump on a trend, catalog it, condense it, and commercialize it and sell it back to the supposed participants in the subculture. Usually, today, when that happens, the subculture has already peaked and the original participants are moving on while the masses start buying the “Guide to…” and “Dictionary of…” and “How to be a…”

As a writer, it’s still an amazing and wonderful source! I’m reminded of the Coen brothers’ film, Miller’s Crossing. As usual for the Coens, a stunning film that has an ability to make language, usually some subculture of language, come alive! In the case of Miller’s Crossing, they took the vernacular of the 20s (though, I see, not too much of this dictionary was in it, though a lot of words that have come out of use, like, “What’s the rumpus?” “That twist!”) and carefully avoided what could have been comical and made the dialog become real.

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Farm-grown Spam

SF novelist Jim Macdonald has an article, “Fence Your Stolen Content at Amazon.com“. He discusses the threat of e-books as becoming the new breeding-ground fir spammers and search engine scammers:

“With the cost of self-publishing approaching zero thanks to e-publishing, and with content-farms being depreciated by Google, it seems that spammers have taken to e-publishing.”

As someone seeking to start a career with e-publishing as a significant cornerstone in the foundation, this bothers me a lot. As a user of the Internet since around 1995, I’ve seen the war against spam and pernicious Web advertisers get messy. As someone who has worked in IT in some way since 1998, I’ve been on frontlines fighting spam and blocking advertising. And, as a Web designer, I’ve had to fight hard to get sites as high as legitimately possible on search results while competing with unscrupulous content farms.

As someone who has spent his entire adult life, both personally and professionally, fighting with spammers and scammers, the prospect of having to continue the fight as a writer, wearies me greatly.

On the glass-half-full side, I have seen a great deal of improvement in the last 15 years in the war over e-mail spam. There was a time, before client spam filters and ubiquitous e-mail server filters, when I considered giving up e-mail altogether as the ratio of spam to ham in my inbox was 75/25. Now, the amount of spam I get barely annoys me.

The current hated weapon is the content farm. Do a search on Google for nearly anything and many of the hits you’ll get back will be to About.com or Suite101 or similar pages that have simply copy-and-pasted a page of generic info about your desired topic, and then filled it with product links and ads. Sadly, the war against these isn’t going too well.

And that’s the threat Macdonald sees in e-publishing — do a book search on Amazon.com for a particular topic, and find several cheap e-books… that have the same generic, boilerplate content as seen in similar pointless works across the ‘net. The legitimate author becomes a squeak in a sea of static.

Things change, and e-mail spam is a surprising example of things changing for the better. I have hope. Sadly, I don’t think it’ll improve until it gets much worse — and I have the impeccable timing to jump right into the fray.

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“The End of the Beginning” now released!

mbrane10

M-Brane #10

My new short story has been published! I’m, oh, just a little excited.

The story, “The End of the Beginning,” is in the latest edition of M-BRANE SF magazine, issue number 10. You have a few quick, easy, and inexpensive methods of getting it:

Visit this URL: http://mbranesf2.blogspot.com and on the right-hand side you’ll find the options:

  • Buy it in print through Lulu for $7.95 (direct link)
  • Buy a single PDF copy for $2.00
  • For the Amazon Kindle for $2.99 (direct link)
  • For the MobiPocket version for $1.99 (direct link)
  • Subscribe to a year of M-BRANE SF for $12! (A real steal!)
  • (You can also just donate to the writer’s fund; I’m sure they’d really appreciate it!)

(NOTE! As of this writing, the Amazon and the MobiPocket versions aren’t yet available. If you want it for Kindle or Mobi-compatible reader, please check those sites in a couple days or so.)

“The End of the Beginning” was a fun story to write. It started with my musing about the eventual heat-death of the universe and just flowed from there in just an hour. (Plus, of course, some significant time editing to make it at least slightly readable.) As for the rest of the stories in issue #10, can’t say. I haven’t read it yet as the second it came available ti started writing this post. :) But the stories found in issue #1 (which you can get for free) and #9 are varied and interesting!

Anyway, if I may beg, please support struggling authors and the publishers that give them a voice and buy yourself a copy! :)

Moon City Review 2009Don’t forget, you can also get my first published story, “A Price in Every Box” (huh, I’m sensing a theme in my titles) in Moon City Review 2009. It’s available for $15.95 or through Amazon for $12.44. That story is kind of a contemporary fantasy, or maybe slipstream if you will. The book itself is a very eclectic collection of all different genres, including poetry and photography. So if you don’t like all SF, give Moon City Review a try!
(And keep your eye open, sometime next year the book Confederate Girlhoods: A Women’s History of Early Springfield, Missouri will become available. I helped edit it and contributed a little original text for it.)

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It’s a novel, folks!

quillMy Master’s thesis is a “creative thesis” since my focus is on Creative Writing, and I finally passed 60,000 words (aprox. 190 MLA formatted pages or 240 mass market paperback pages). Technically 50K is the minimum publisher accepted length for a novel with 80K being the generally preferred length especially for a first novel. By the looks of it, I should have at least 90K when I’m done. That is, according to my loose outline and my gut feeling of how it’s turning out.

I reached a point recently where I got “that feeling” that authors sometimes talk about where the story writes itself (I’ve been writing, unpublished, for like 20 years now, and I’ve had those moments before but in a very superficial way). I have this feeling of impending doom that one of the main characters has to die. It’s a really weird feeling, almost like a premonition (if I believed in such things) which is doubly weird since I’m “premonitioning” a fictional event in a narrative I’m writing! But I’m actually filled with anxious anticipation as I really don’t know what her fate is going to be and I know it will have to work as an appropriate result of story events.

Anyway, it’s all very exciting…for me. :)

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Writing on track.

I wrote 25 new pages on my novel/thesis this weekend. A huge burst of productivity!
And best of all, it got me past a certain bit of creative block and got me to an area that’s progressing the plot again. And it takes me to the beginning of a character development that the novel really needs.
So now I’m at 29,000 words, of what I estimate to become about 95,000 word novel.

Meanwhile, other projects in the works:
♦ Possible JFA article: sent to my professor/advisor for suggestions before sending it to JFA.
♦ Class final paper mostly done, thanks to the fact it’s based on last year’s ICFA paper. *whew!*
♦ Book review for Extrapolation–way behind. (Weird; book reviews are supposed to be one of the easiest “scholarly” articles to do, and I’m finding it most difficult.)
♦ Will be sending a story out to Realms of Fantasy at lunch today.

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Fanon and its Review from a Postmodern Perspective

Fanon and its Review from a Postmodern Perspective

In the spirit of full disclosure, it must be said that I have not read John Edgar Wideman’s Fanon; so, it will be assumed throughout this essay that what the NPR book reviewer, Maureen Corrigan, has to say about it is accurate for the basis of an analysis of cultural production. From a standpoint that “text is a social space,” this is not altogether inappropriate as one of Roland Barthes’ main contentions is that there is no absolute and empirical meaning behind a text — in contrast to the liberal humanist point of view held up through the 1950s (and continuing today in some corners). In the traditional view, it was believed that a work of literature had only one inherent meaning, one appropriate way to examine and interpret the work. Barthes, on the other hand, promoted the idea that the work itself, its form and its function, is at least as important and valuable of a subject of examination as the text — if not more so.

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