The reasons for this blog: 1. To provide basic author information for students, teachers, librarians, etc. (Please see sidebar) 2. I think out loud a lot as I work through writing projects, and I'm trying to dump most of those thoughts here rather than on my friends.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

No work of my own; all w-f-h.

Was thinking about former GN. There's nothing driving the story, I'm just telling it. It's an interesting story, but not interesting enough. Missing: What does the MC want?

Well, she doesn't want anything. That's the point. By the end, she decides not only to want something, but to take it. So how does that make a book? Why should the reader care?

I suppose the thing to do--the thing that makes sense--is to show her wanting stuff but not getting it, to shut her down more and more harshly until she doesn't want anything anymore. That doesn't really interest me, though. I like the idea of being raised in an environment where you've absorbed the mindset that you don't matter, that you're not as important as other people. I like that half-formed want that can't even be allowed to take shape.

I'll have to keep considering, though. I know back when I started writing, I got annoyed because people told me I had to end each chapter with a question or hook, when the entire point of a chapter might be that the MC achieves a feeling of safety. Obviously a nice safe ending reflects the idea of that chapter and is right for it. The problem is, who wants to keep reading after that? The overall idea was to establish the feeling of safety, then take it away in the next chapter--but without that question or hook, there's no reason not to put the book down and walk away. I realized that if somebody was reading before bedtime, they wouldn't think, "Oh, I'm sure the feeling of safety will be taken away in the next chapter, so I must keep reading." They'd think, "Here's a good place to quit for the night," and put the book down, and who knows when or if they'd ever pick it up again. Really, they'd have no reason to.

So I know sometimes you have to do something that doesn't seem quite honest to the story, in order to make it a book and not a random slice of your character's life. But I don't want to betray my MC either, by simplifying things or prettying them up. So...will have to think about it.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Have been working on dys. ms--just writing stuff from all over, wherever I feel like it, which at this point seems to be mostly from the first third or fourth of the book. No, wait, there's one piece that goes later, although I don't know where yet.

I need to get the place where the characters live set in my head. The actual building. I'm not sure what it looks like or what it's made of, and I can't get some of these scenes written until I understand where they're taking place. So...maybe today that'll come to me.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Okay, I'm finally down to one w-f-h story left to write and one to revise (deadline in maybe five days or so?), so I worked on my dystopia WIP today, and will continue working on it this weekend, I hope. I'll write better on the w-f-h after my brain has been cleared of it for a while. In other words, I need to wash all that stuff out of my mind for a day or two with other kinds of writing (my own!), so I can start fresh when I pick it up again.

I want to get a good first chapter (of dys.) to send to Agent, but in figuring out how to do that (get a good first chapter) I'm writing down a whole bunch of other stuff, spilling it all over the place. So I'll have to go back and figure out what needs to be in the first chapter to make it grabby, yet not confusing or unclear. What I don't like about writing a first chapter to show someone is that normally I might work over a 1st chapter a million times because as I go along in the ms I always decide I need info sooner, or later, or develop it in a different place, or hint at it where there were no hints before--all kinds of changes happen as I go. I don't know if Agent just wants to know how the WIP is progressing, or whether Agent is considering doing something with that first chapter. Sometimes Agent is wont to do things with first chapters. Sometimes Agent is not.

Started reading a bad nonfiction book that I probably won't finish. It's an adult book, and it's annoying because it could have been really good, but the author went for cutesy-clever style at the expense of accuracy, with the result that you can't believe anything on the page. Sorry, Author, your witty turn of phrase is not more important than the subject you're writing about--which is something I really wanted to get some good info on. If I'd wanted bon mot-type commentary, I could put it in myself. I am massively annoyed.

In happier news, I will soon have Conspiracy of Kings in my greedy little grip, as well as some other cool books. But mostly, CoK. I turned down a chance to read the ARC because I want the full unadulterated experience. Can't wait.

Back to thinking about WIP. Maybe I'll write out the first few chapters, and that will help me figure out the first chapter better. Will see.

Monday, March 22, 2010

No, wait, altruism is the wrong word. I don't know what the right word is. Altruism would be writing to make the world more beautiful or nicer or whatever. I don't do that. I don't know what you call it when you write for the sake of the writing itself.

Ironically, the only time I might possibly be called altruistic about writing is in the mercenary side, when I'm writing for cash. Those are the pieces that will go into classrooms and some poor book-hating kid will be forced to read them against his will. I think about that kid when I'm doing w-f-h. The sucky force-fed school stuff is probably all he's ever going to know about reading. So I try to get something in there that will be painless, if not actively sparking enough interest to get the kid caught up and not hating reading for the length of the story. I work hard to do that, beyond and above what the specs require. But I get paid for it, and I'm only doing it for the money in the first place. So it's not altruistic.

Unless you can count altruism in terms of hourly rate, because I spend more time on stuff than I should, thus bringing my hourly pay down. Same with Vermont. Except that's not about getting anybody to like reading something, it's about the work again--just somebody else's work, not mine.

When I was tutoring kids in reading--the first and second graders--they'd be hunched over the book, laboring to sound out a word and figure out how to put all the words together so that the sentence, the thought made sense. And once in a while, a kid would hit a word or phrase that had payoff for him--could be anything, an onomatopoeia or a dead-on emotion or a surprise--and there would be this pleasurable pause. Instead of toiling on blahblahblah, the kid would stop reading for a sec and--just for that very brief moment--appreciate what had just been said, and that he "got" it and that it had transcended sounding out boring crap for an hour. That's what I'm shooting for.

But I get paid.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

On the other hand, I heard from a writer friend that an experimental project WF has been playing around with for a long time has gotten a good response after being brought out into the light of day. This is a project that WF has labored on for personal satisfaction, knowing there was a good chance it might all be for naught, business-wise. So that was cheery news.

Interesting discussions lately with writer friends re. altruistic vs. venal/mercenary outlooks. I think some writers believe you're either one or the other. I know you can be both, because I am. Violently so.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I always think spring break (or fall break or Christmas break or summer break or any school holiday, for that matter) is going to be a gloriously long expanse of computer time. And then every single year--every single holiday--I get behind with my writing work; I get behind schedule deadline-wise. Blah.

Blah, blah, blah.

I also decided that the former GN has no chance at all in this publishing climate, and it's not right anyway, it's got serious problems that aren't going to be worth sorting out to anyone else, so I shall clutch it to my chest and not show anyone but just keep working on it for myself, indefinitely. It will be my J.D. Salinger ms.

Blah, etc.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

No time for my own writing at the moment, but I did sneak in a very wee tiny bit yesterday, anyway--probably not more than 50 words, but they were really good ones. Or at least the idea behind them was good. It needed to be written down.

I'm beginning to wonder if I only want to work on my own stuff because I'm not supposed to. I suspect that if unlimited time opened up to work on this latest ms, I suddenly wouldn't feel like it anymore and would have to force myself to get started every time.

Also, being away from the former GN ms is giving me a sinking feeling that it's just not "big" enough to be a book. I'm going to get it working anyway, and will see if anybody wants to publish it, but (as a writing buddy always says) it is what it is. Meaning, the ms is whatever it needs to be, and too bad about the rest--publication, money, career, writerly reputation. Just because the ms does what it needs to do doesn't mean it's worth a company laying out 60K* or whatever to get it into print and distribute it.

A sad idea, but oh well. I'll be d*mned if I give up on a ms just because it's technically not worth anything.

And now, must get my @ss back to work.

*No, I do not get 60K per book. I wish!

Monday, March 8, 2010

I've been thinking a lot about process, and the difference between this new WIP and the swordfighting WIP. As I get into this new WIP I'm keeping an eye peeled for anything I'm doing that might help me with the latter.

There are clear differences in the way each has developed (so far). The sf ms started as more of an experiment in plotting my way through a book. I started with an "inciting incident" (I hate that phrase) and went from there. I figured out who the people were, why they were there, what happened next, then in my head took them step by step through a story using a combination of reason (what would logically happen next?) and plotting (what stumbling blocks can I throw in the way? What would make a good hook?). That failed. When I wrote it all out into book form, it didn't work.

In this new ms, I begin with the same kind of incident (somebody meets somebody and more or less carries them off), but before that I already have an idea of the thematic problems I want to think about (mercy/empathy/compassion in a world where those qualities are liabilities). And instead of moving forward through the story step by chronological step, I'm more in my usual comfort zone--buried in a massive tangle of story threads that I'll have to comb out and sort into the best chronological order.

Because I know the MC and his problem (he's a naturally compassionate guy), I automatically know what kinds of things will torture him and put him in conflict. I can throw those things at him. So I've got five or six storylines, or chains of scenes, already that need to be written.* I don't know how they fit together to make the story. Somehow they'll have to be woven into each other to rise and build. When I get that done (years from now, probably), I'll have a book.

So I was thinking about the s-f WIP. I know the MC, and I know his problem: he's too impulsive; he doesn't think things through, but he's so stubborn he can't let go of an idea once it's in his head. He won't quit. What's the difference between the way I'm handling him and the way I'm handling this new MC? Well, I took a firmer hand when I put him into the situation (into the "inciting incident") that starts the book. I kind of have to work to get that inciting situation going.

Then I thought, so what? I'm a writer, and I know this guy inside and out; I can easily change things to where he's in that situation and does the exact same thing all by himself. So what difference does it make?

Then I thought, well, maybe it does make a difference. Maybe it would make the story unfold on its own. The MC would have a slightly different attitude. The story would be founded more on his impulsiveness in the beginning than his bullheadedness.

And now that I'm thinking about it some more, that would mean that he hadn't planned for all the stuff that happens afterward. There would be no plan. This would totally blow all the other stuff I like about the story out of the water. I have no idea what would happen after that first scene.

Maybe that's what I need to do, is start over and rethink from that "inciting incident." Except I don't think it'll be that simple; there's a big difference between this s-f story and the new one. No time to think about it now, but I know the s-f MC starts off at a low point in his life, and the MC of the new story has stability and order until the first scene of the book. The s-f MC's world is already in a kind of chaos, and he's at the end of his rope by the time of the first scene. The new story's MC's life is threatened by his taking in the person he meets in scene 1.

Anyway, like I said, no time to think about it now. Oh well.

*Example: the MC's girlfriend sleeps with this other guy. That means I have to show the MC finding this out and reacting to it. Then I need a scene (or scenelet) where he sleeps alone (they all live in the same place) and how awful that is for him. Probably I need a scene where he keeps fuming. Probably some confrontations between the MC and his girl, and between the MC and the other guy, to show how everybody's processing the situation, and to build up tension. Then--because the story's about mercy and compassion--I need to have a situation where the MC has an opportunity to kill the other guy. But he doesn't do it. Perhaps he even saves him instead. And I'll need to think what that shows to the MC and to the reader, and what it can do in service to the story overall.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Belatedly got one w-f-h assignment sent in today (two more pending, and packets start up again on Monday). Today I had enforced writing time in the library, and wrote I don't know how much, maybe 2-3000 worth of new stuff on the dystopian ms. I know the MC, the problem, the theme, at least five other characters by personality and function in the story, and a whole bunch of scenes or snippets of scenes that need to happen.

I find this very annoying, because I have worked my you-know-what off on the former GN, and it's probably not any good right now, and I've also worked my you-know-what off on the swordfighting ms, and I know it's not any good right now. I wish something about them would flow effortlessly onto the page.

The only reason I'm not bored with the dystopian ms already is that I don't know which scenes actually need to be in it, or what their function is (the order they should come in) and I don't know what the climax needs to be. I kind of know where I want to end up, but that's the resolution, the last scene. I notice some of the characters aren't there, so maybe that means I get to kill them off. Or maybe they will end up there, who knows.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

note to self: re. gender diff. (warning: crude)

Son #2: Hey, [son #1] just texted me.

Me: Oh? What'd he say?

Son #2: He said, "You need to wipe your butt. I can smell you all the way out here in Lubbock."

Me: Well, when you text him back, you tell him I said "Don't make me have to come out there and whup you."

Son #2: (puzzled). Why would you want me to tell him that?

Me: Because when he's 300 miles away and hardly ever gets to see you, he ought be texting you loving messages of brotherly affection.

Son #2: But that's what this was.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Here's what interests me about this new WIP: the idea of mercy, compassion, empathy. Why are those inherently good things? What if they're liabilities and have a direct, negative impact on your own survival? Why would it be a good thing to have them, in that case? Is there something about them that deserves being nursed along, even when there's no apparent upside to having them, and many clear downsides?

Was thinking about The Hunger Games. I haven't read the second one, only the first. One thing I noticed about it--can't remember if I've mentioned this before--was what I think of as the Disneyfication of violence. I don't know if that's the right way to use the word Disneyfication or not, but what I mean is that--to me--the MC never really kills anybody in morally ambiguous circumstances. She kills from afar, she kills out of mercy, she kills accidentally. I'm thinking the only person she kills for "real" is a heinous, cruel, bad guy of a murderer that the reader wants dead. There's always some reason for moral disconnect, so that she doesn't seem like a bad person. The Games are constructed so that (you'd think) she's going to have to choose, at some point, between killing a stranger up close yet impersonally--looking them in the eyes and taking their life, like "Sorry, bub, I don't know you but I'm going to slice your throat and watch you die"--or being killed herself. But that never quite happens.

At first I wondered if this aspect of HG was because the MC was a female and girls aren't allowed to be openly violent and must have extenuating circumstances--but then I decided no, it's probably just because the book is for YA. Younger YA, if you ask me. People may think it's upper YA because it's violent, but the tone and this Disneyfication thing makes it feel younger to me. And I know "Disneyfication" sounds bad here, but I don't mean it in a bad way. It's appropriate for the age group. The book brings up ideas about violence but eases the reader into thinking about them without getting too heavy.

I was thinking about this because yesterday I was at Best Buy with son #2 as he bought BioShock 1 & 2, and the register had a block on it that wouldn't let the cashier proceed until son #2 had shown ID proving that he was at least 17. I hadn't seen this block before; not sure why, because the cashier said it's not new. I was thinking about books for YA and how you don't necessarily need a register block for them, because you could never get a book through mainstream publishers if it had the stuff some of those video games have in them.*

I don't have anything to say about ratings or censorship, just that maybe there's a gap between the real everyday world of average American teens and the world that makes books available to them. In the real everyday average world you can turn on your TV and chainsaw a guy's skull open, animation-wise. And it's a good thing. You get a sense of accomplishment from doing it. Somewhere a group of parents or educators or politicians are gathering round a table to commiserate on how awful it is that people are exposing children and teens to animated violence, but that's got nothing to do with the everyday fact that you accomplished something today by using your chainsaw to get past that guy and move on to your checkpoint.

Books are written by adults, and they go through a whole series of people gathered round tables before they get on the shelves, and then they go through even more rounds before they might make it into the hands of a YA reader. So, you know, it's no wonder most YAs don't read for fun. They never did, but they do it even less now. If you spent the afternoon ripping out hearts and exploding somebody's intestines and in doing so saved an entire world, then most books might seem like something your grandma wrote.

I don't have any point to make about all this. I think I'm just working at the problem of how far I want to go with the violence in this ms, morally speaking. How deep do I want to dig into moral ambiguity? For myself, I'd probably want to go pretty far. But how far do I want to go for the reader? Maybe not so far. On one hand I think, "You know, somebody who's spent their day chainsawing skulls probably needs to spend some time considering what that really means." But on the other hand I think, "Nobody who spends their days chainsawing skulls is ever going to see this book, and the ones who will see it are a little wimpy about that kind of thing, and need to be coddled a bit." Will have to think about it.

Okay, wimpy's probably the wrong word. Maybe sensitive would be better. Or humane. Or enlightened. There. Now everybody can feel better.

*Some books veer into shock-related territory, but as far as I can tell it's nowhere near the degree of video games.

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