Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

I’m a bit unconventional when it comes to being a writer. I started out my creative life wanting to be a film maker. In those early days, I shot a lot of film and video tape. I also did plenty of drawing. Storyboarding is a concept used in film making wherein you draw out your scenes like comic books in little squares or rectangles. The idea is to let you visualize a scene from beginning to end, before you start filming it.

There really is nothing like this in writing a novel, except working out and sticking to an outline. But I’m a visual person. Remember, I was a film major in school. Yes, I’m actually in the IMDB. Anyway, early on in my film making career; so early that I was still in Junior High School, my friends and I started drawing scenes from a SF movie that we planned to make in our back yards that would rival Star Wars. Did I mention we were only 14? Yeah, delusions of grandeur.

Anyway, that movie never really got made, but it was so fun drawing the starships and then actually making little cardboard models of them, that it kept us entertained for hours on end and as my dad used to say, kept us out of the pool halls. Being a diligent archivist, I kept everything we drew. From age 13 through our early twenties. Much later in life, I decided to turn those drawings into a novel. The end result was Starstrikers.

Eight-wing Starfighter

This week on my blog, I’m opening up the vault and showing off some art that we drew as kids that I’m now using for inspiration as I start writing the prequel to StarstrikersStarforgers. Not all the art that I will be showing off was drawn when I was a kid. I continue to sketch scenes from my novels to help me visualize them. I can’t help it, I think in visual terms. But fair warning, I’m not an artist in real life, I only pretend to be one. So some of the drawings are less than spectacular. Well, okay, most of them suck. But you can still see where I’m coming from with each brief description.

So how about it, do any of the other distinguished writers on Genre Bender doodle before they write?

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It takes a different kind of person to make their own dreams come alive. Not everyone is prepared to put in the long hours and hard work it takes to bring a novel to the store shelves in non-traditional ways. I’m one of those crazy, annal retentive, ego centric fools who just has to do things his own way. I’m not content to let others tell me how my books are going to look or even if they get published. That’s just not in my character.

As a youth, I saw the movie Star Wars. Not the Jar-Jar Binks version, the Han Shot First version. It captured my imagination and made me curious about how movies were made. I was all of thirteen years old when I started making my own movies and finding creative ways to reproduce the fantastic special effects showcased in that film. I didn’t just dream of being a film-maker, I rolled up my sleeves, inspired my buddies and together we made movie magic in Super-8 film. Along the way, I learned quite a bit about how films are made, I even majored in Film Production in college. In fact, you can find my name in the credits of some feature films I worked on.

Back when I was a teenager, blowing up cardboard models of space ships that I had designed, I also started writing a story that would languish in my mind for the next twenty years. It was my homage to Star Wars and all the fun times I had making movies as a kid. Eventually, I decided that the only way that story would get finished was to write it as a novel. At least that way I could control the lighting, script, camera and special effects just like a Hollywood director does in a film. After completing the novel, I shopped it around and was routinely rejected from everyone in the publishing business. I felt like I was at the mercy of an establishment that was not really interested in fulfilling my dreams. So I trunked the novel and went on with my life.

Eventually, technology started to catch up with my do-it-yourself attitude. First came the Internet and I saw the potential in HTML to bring my story directly to the people. So I created a website to showcase my novel and all the drawings of space ships and aliens my friends and I made when we were kids. The novel was on display for many years until once again, technology caught up with me. Through Print On Demand services, I could now make my own novel and sell it directly to the people without bothering to go through the traditional publishing process. But there was a problem. I didn’t know how to make a book. I was well versed in screenplays, storyboards and film editing, but I knew nothing about interior design, cover art or copy editing. So I rolled up my sleeves and started to learn.

I’ve now published two books on my own and each new book I write, edit and print; adds to my knowledge about the publishing business. I don’t know everything yet, nor will I ever. But I keep working at it and I keep learning as I go. In a way, it’s no different then when I was a kid and spending my allowance on five minute rolls of film. I was just an amateur back then, and I’m pretty much an amateur now, but I still have that desire to do it myself and make my own dreams come true. My latest book is in the process of being forged into awesomeness with the help of my friends, just like those short films I made as a kid. I have started my own press label to release my books and the books of my friends. Together we will make our dreams come true by taking our publishing future in our own hands. Will we sell millions of books and become house-hold names in the publishing industry. Probably not. But the one thing I have learned is that most of the fun in life is in the journey, not the destination. As long as we have the means to follow our bliss, we should not be afraid of the journey.

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One writer’s break: poetry

Well, poetry doesn’t appear to be something most writers seem to choose to write unless they must but it does have it’s place in my toolbox.

Perhaps because I’m totally deaf, perhaps because I’m stubborn, or maybe just because of music’s siren song but when I write I usually try to incorporate music into my writing in some form.  For me, writing poetry is a way of writing the music I hear.  It’s a way of capturing the rhythm of an internal music, using words to evoke not only the imagery, but more importantly the flow, the rhythm, and the dynamics of my music.

Yes, I write a lot of poetry.  Is it good?  Is it bad?  I have no idea, because for the most part I haven’t shared it outside my immediate family unless I wrote it specifically for someone else.  I’ve only recently begun posting my poetry online for others to read and comment on.  And as a result of doing that, I’v been challenged to write a sestina, of all things.  I thought it would be easy, but it’s very definitely not easy to write one of those the way I want to do it.  For my first attempt I wound up with a seven stanza poem that’s most definitely not a sestina.  Free-form poetry doesn’t appeal to me as it does not seem to evoke that internal music I “hear” when reading a good poem so I can’t use it as a form for the sestina.  My definition of good means to me a free-form poem is a cacophony.  So, my sestina has to follow not only the rules of writing a sestina, but also conform to the structure that I see as necessary.  This means that writing poetry can be a very good exercise of the mind, will, skill, and discipline.  Never mind knowledge.  I mention this because it illustrates the focus and concentration necessary.

So, why do I say poetry has a place in my toolbox as opposed to being my preferred writing format?

The reason I bring it up here isn’t to discuss writing poetry, but a way of using poetry writing as a tool.  When I am actually working on my stories, if I forget to feed the muse and she wanders off to one of you for a while instead of hanging around, I can lure her back with poetry.

Often when I get stuck or just can’t seem to make any real progress on a story I’m working on or I lose interest in the story I’m writing, I find that if I leave off the story and start writing poetry I come away from that poetry writing rejuvenated.  It may take only one poem, say a haiku or even an epic poem, or it may take several.  The thing is, it seems to give my mind a break from what has become the job of writing and to get the creative juices flowing again.  The poetry I write as a result naturally still has to meet my requirements and so demands my full attention.  As this poetry does not focus on or belong to the writing I was doing, the mental exercises resulting from writing unrelated poetry effectively takes my mind completely off what I was working on, giving me a true break.  For me, this allows my brain to properly re-boot into the mode needed to resume writing that story when I return to it.  Mentally having completely dropped everything related to the work that was giving me so much trouble, I return to it with a renewed perspective.  Often I find that what was blocking me before is no longer a block, my mind readily finds a solution and words are once again flowing into that story.  Ideas that I’d not thought of come into being, storylines appear that I’d not seen before, characters seem to have new aspects to them that had been hidden before, and the story seems fresh again.

All this happens because I use poetry to completely refocus my mind, writing, and creativity onto something totally different from what I was working on.  Poetry is thus not only something I enjoy writing but it’s a way to hone my wordsmithing and to give myself a true break from the job of writing.  Not only that, but while doing it, I’m still doing what writers do — writing.  Not just writing, but writing stuff I can provide to my readers.

So, yes, writing poetry belongs not only in my credits but also in my toolbox.

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Okay, I’m getting caught up with some bloggery reading I’ve put off (not because I have the time, but because I get distracted by… Oh, shiny). You never know when the Black Hole of Calcutta will sneak up and devour you. But here is a teachable moment, and the lesson is, “ideas aren’t yours alone.” And, “just because things are similar doesn’t mean they’re the same.” Also, “because another author writes something like your story doesn’t mean you need to get a better tin-foil hat or stop writing your own take on it.” Got all that? Okay, onward.

(my best Lewis Black interpretation including stabbing of arms skyward) Son of a bitch!

Here’s a Genreville review about Harry Connolly’s debut novel Children of Fire “melding of the sensibilities of Dashiel Hammet and fantasy novels.” A starred review in Publisher’s Weekly (you rat bastard). The review then goes on to talk about how this novel is refreshing because, “It’s the dark side of noir fiction, where characters are grim anti-heroes, and the job they’re doing is not always heroic,” and, “The book is a straightforward hunt for an evil magician.” Hmm, sounds awfully familiar.

(sobby voice) I was robbed!

Here’s a Scalzi’s Big Idea post about it. In there he says he didn’t want to write a story with “dusters or trench coats… centuries-old katanas… or all the other trappings that so much of modern urban fantasy uses to signify that characters are seriously kickass-cool people.” Okay, well, I guess there’s some divergence there because my main character does have a centuries-old katana (although he doesn’t use it, preferring a jain sword instead) and he does wear a duster, better to hide the sword with.

Actually, in all seriousness, I do wish Harry Connolly the best with the novel. It sounds seriously kick ass (yet another one on the guilt stack/Xmas list). Once I get through my own novel I’ll need to read it. And I wish him the best, well, because I think every author should have a great career. Especially those that write stuff I like. This stuff is hard enough to finally get to launch only to be heralded by crickets. But I also want his novel to sell like fargin’ wildfire because it’ll help pave the way for mine (bwahahaha!).

And now you’ll excuse me, I have to stalk another writer.

(said with my best John Cleese voice) You Bastard!

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But it isn’t enough to write a story. There has to be a reader for that story, and it can’t be just you.

“A story is a collaboration between teller and audience, writer and reader. Fiction is not only illusion, but collusion….Without a reader there’s no story. No matter how well written, if it isn’t read it doesn’t exist as a story. The reader makes it happen just as much as the writer does.”

Writer, story, reader: it’s an abstract dance that requires all to participate. If you write a story and stuff it into a drawer when you are finished, without letting others read it, you have slapped words on a page that may or may not have recognizable form or recognizable meaning. To be valued, to be a story, to be a work of art, your baby has to be SEEN. That means letting it out of the hermetically sealed bubble at least a little bit. Being read by others is like oxygen for humans: your story needs read to live.

However, you have to write something someone will read or you haven’t done your job. This means making your story interactive. To be successful, your reader must identify with the situation, characters, and emotion in some fashion. Your reader must be able to follow the plot with all of its twists, turns, and arcs. Your reader must desire the entertainment you attempt to provide. You have to make them desire it more than dinner, and make them go after that extra cup of coffee at the breakfast table because they want those precious extra minutes in your world. You have to engage them, transfer your vision to them, and let their imagination fly. You have to make them willing to suspend their disbelief and soak in the magic you have created.

It all comes down to a matter of trust. You have to trust your gift is sufficient to tell a story, and it won’t fail you at an inopportune moment. You have to trust the story enough to even begin writing it, and then allow it to evolve beyond your initial ideas and plans to develop into that masterpiece everyone wants on their shelves. You have to trust your readers to see your vision, to interact with your story and commune with it. You have to trust your gift and the story to show the reader the looking glass, and trust the reader to want to be led to the other side.

It is hard, this trust. It is hard to overcome the fear of failure, of rejection, of harsh critiques. But the rewards of that trust—in your gift, your story, and the reader—the rewards of overcoming that fear of failure, rejection, and harsh critiques, can set you free, can make you soar.

“A Matter of Trust” in The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination. Ursula K. Le Guin. Shambhala Publications, Boston, 2004. ISBN: 978-1-59030-006-0 (or 1-59030-006-8)

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Action, high emotion, and those scenes which are being PITAs (pains in the ass) cause me some writer’s block usually because I want them to be perfect. It is also called stage-fright and over-rehearsing, the bane of every performer. I CAN force my right brain on stage at gunpoint, under the lights, and edit the results later. This is shooting six rolls of film to find one or two gem-quality shots.

But most times, I let the right brain slip its leash by closing my eyes and writing the scene as I see it in my head, like I’m watching a movie. This isn’t a new idea, but it DOES work. Blanket the eyes of the panicked horse, and the horse will trust you to lead it from the burning barn. In other words, what you can’t see (the blank page) can no longer scare you.

With my eyes closed, my imagination and fingers have wings. I word-paint what I see in my mind’s eye: broad strokes, tiny details, and splashes of color; all emotion, and what caused the emotion; action, movement, any words that leap clear and stick in my head. I get the essentials, the bones of the scene.

I open my eyes. It might look like ten miles of mud fence, but it’s a million times easier to edit the ugliest prose I have ever written, than to agonize over a blank page full of nothing but air. And I don’t have to keep this melodramatic drivel. I hit replay and slow it down. I find more details, cut the stuff that doesn’t work, flesh out the bones, layer in what makes the scene live on paper. Right brain. Left brain. Right. Left. It’s slow, but it gets me beyond the block.

I think the worst thing an author can suffer is overweening pride and blindness to new opportunities to learn, which lead to hubris and stagnation. Throughout the essay, Ursula reminds us to keep an open mind, especially in reading others’ works, and learning about our craft. Learn, practice, and hone your craft until it gleams in starlight. There is always more to learn, but don’t let that stop you from writing. You have to practice and show off what you have learned.

“I must trust my gift, and therefore trust the story I write, know that its use, its meaning or beauty, may go far beyond anything I could have planned.”

Trust your gift, trust your story; give both freedom. Freedom to use the skills you have to tell the story, and freedom for the story to express itself through your gift, with or without prior planning. This trust, this freedom, can lead to unexpected surprises, both delightful and troubling, which weren’t in the original synopsis or outline. The delightful ones are seen as immediate improvements. The troubling ones might require more extensive readjustments because you’ve painted yourself into a corner; get paint on your shoes, or build a window. Changes, delightful or troubling, can make your story deeper, more meaningful, the tension and emotion more vibrant, turn it into a prose work of art, simply because you allowed your story room to move.

Again, it boils down to trust. Trust in you, trust in the story.

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But what is this about trusting the story? You’re the one writing it, for pity’s sake, how much more trust is there to give?

“…to trust the story….means being willing not to have full control over the story as you write it. First you have to learn how to write English, and learn how to tell stories in general—techniques, practice, and all that: so that you are in control. And then you have to learn how to relinquish it.”

Relinquish control? Surely she jests. Yet there is light at the end of the tunnel; it isn’t a train.

“Deliberate, conscious control, in the sense of knowing and keeping to the plan, the subject, the gait, and the direction of the work, is invaluable in the planning stage—before writing—and in the revision stage—after the first draft. During the actual composition it seems to be best if conscious intellectual control is relaxed. An insistent consciousness of the intention of the writing may interfere with the process of writing. The writer may get in the way of the story.”

We have to strike a balance between the knowing part of our brains (the left) and the actual act of creation (the right), a balance between the technician and the artist.

“Lack of control over a story, usually arising from ignorance of the craft or from self-indulgence, may lead to slackness of pace, incoherence, sloppy writing, spoiled work. Over-control, usually arising from self-consciousness or a competitive attitude, may lead to tightness, artificiality, self-conscious language, dead work.”

I am a plotter. I spend months or years on set-up work before I start chapter one. I must have a written plan in order to write smoothly and more consistently. I have to remember the only perfect plan is the one not yet implemented; the plan is nothing more than a good suggestion. In the first draft I should primarily create, not dissemble, so I must remember to shut my left brain (planning, editing, logistics) in the dressing room because the right brain needs the whole stage.

I pursue perfection; my left brain escapes the dressing room frequently. I meddle and muddle and masticate; I over-analyze, tweak, add, remove, adjust—all red-sign flags that my left brain needs to be shut in solitary confinement for disturbing the peace. Planning, editing, self-critiquing, self-doubt, procrastination, and fear are ALL left brain activity, and all can be the root of dreaded writer’s block. So, yes, the left brain derails telling the story.

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