Long Time No Blog

clockSo I haven’t been writing on this site. A lot was going on in the past six or so months and this site fell by the wayside.

I wanted to drop a line here to let anyone who I’ve left behind know where I’ve landed on the web.

I am now one of the co-founders of The Writer’s Arena. It has long been a dream of mine to make a sort of “reality competition” based on writing. I got to discussing this with some other authors online, and the arena was what we came up with.

Each week, two authors must write a story based on the same prompt. Their stories are then published online and they face of, head-to-head, to see who crafted the better tale. There’s judges, a voting system for the readers, and a fun community starting to grow in the comments.

I’m one of the four arena authors, so I compete once every go round.

So far I’ve written stories for battles over Scale, the Edge of the Universe, Machine Made Art, Cthulhu in Space, A.I. Absurdity, and The Animal Within.

I’m thrilled with the content that the arena has generated and you should definitely go check out my stories as well as everyone else’s.

It’s a lot of fun and I hope to see some of you over there!

Saher Imran’s Art Is Amazing

I have received some more fan art from the wildly talented Saher Imran based on my books. Her latest work is of Gary and it is awesome. I mean everything she does is awesome, so that’s to be expected, but her Gary painting is different somehow. I think it is her creepiest work so far, possibly because this is her first crack at a bad guy (except for the random mindless hoards of rotting things that she enjoys creating).

Please click on the image for a larger version.

Gary from Persistent Illusions

For those of you who have forgotten, and because they’re all awesome, here are her other works.

There is Madeline.

Madeline Artwork by Saher Imran

And there is this, technically it is of Epp, but it captures so much more about the scene in the cathedral than just Epp alone. I have no other title though so, yeah, it’s Epp.

 

Epp from Probability Angels

 

Just amazing work.

Sandwiches and Writing

SandwichesI was at a fast food sandwich shop the other day, and after I had ordered I watched the man behind the counter hurriedly throw together my meal. This involved a number of pauses to ask me what sorts of toppings and preparations I wanted on my sub. Each question was met with a lightning quick execution of whatever sauce or cheese I had requested.

Naturally this made me think of writing.

No, it really didn’t. At least not until later.

I’ve talked on here a number of times about how the craft of writing has come to have almost nothing to do with innate talent anymore in my mind and everything to do with training and cultivating whatever talent you have through use and practice.

That’s the mindset I had when I began to consider the sandwich maker in this light. I don’t think that anyone, anywhere, would equate working at a fast food restaurant with an education in cooking. But I started to wonder if that could actually be happening? Could cranking out cookie cutter sandwiches could lead to culinary expertise?

No. Probably not.

However, I had to wonder what might come of a sandwich maker who paid attention to every detail he put into every sandwich. If every spread was perfectly zigzagged for optimal coverage, and every slice of meat was set down for with perfect placement. What if every bread cut was focused on for evenness and every application of lettuce was stressed for maximum flavor.

Is it possible that the fast-food chef could become a master of sandwiches?

Could churning out endless words of limited flavor produce an author of great skill?

I mean, how much can you learn from the mundane if you really set your mind to learning from it?

I’ve mentioned sushi chefs on here who began honing their skills with years of rice making. Granted, their skills then continued on to choosing the best ingredients and learning an array of processes, so the comparison can’t be made with a sandwich maker who has nothing to do with the ingredients and does the same basic six steps for every sandwich.

But still, how much of what we learn comes from the way it’s presented to us and how much is repetition combined with focus on the actions involved?

Broken Computers and Building an Arena and Exploding Buses

Writing ArenaSo my computer has become borked…again. It’s nothing major but the old girl has been slowing down on me and a good part of earlier this week was spent trying to figure out why unexpected crashes were occurring. Sadly I think I may have to put my current processor out to pasture. Or into the pasture? I’m not entirely sure what type of interaction with a pasture is the good one in that metaphor.

Plus, I’ve been spending a lot of time getting an astoundingly small amount of work done on another project that is currently known as “The Writer’s Arena.” Or “The Untitled Writer’s Arena.” Or “That Thing I’m Working On With the Human Echoes Guys.”

No matter what we call it there is going to be an awesome writing competition coming soon to an internet near you. I’m very excited about this. We have a shared calendar and everything.

But it was, like, Tuesday before I realized that I needed a blog post for this week and I really hadn’t been jotting ideas down like I usually do because my idea bin was being used for arena ideas, so I sat down to crank out a blog post and drew a blank.

I’m not a huge fan of just writing crap for the sake of writing it and posting it here, and I gave some thought to not posting anything, but when I considered that I panicked. That would mean breaking up my schedule of blog posts. That would mean letting the bus slow down to below fifty miles an hour which would cause the bus to explode.

There may not be actual explosives on my bus, or a bus for that matter, but there is a freakishly strong need to keep to my scheduled posts for fear of vanishing forever into the internet graveyard.

So you get this. This wonderful post. Enjoy.

 

Writing Like a Baseball Pitcher

Baseball PitcherBaseball season is underway and the other night I found myself thinking about pitching and how similar it is to writing.

I don’t have a huge store of knowledge about pitching, but I’ve heard enough announcers discuss enough guys on the mound to have some idea of what it’s all about. And the things that make up a good pitcher, as I see them now, are vastly different from what I thought was needed when I was younger.

When I was younger I assumed that the faster you could throw the ball the better a pitcher you were. I can remember seeing some pitchers only throwing in the eighties and cringing, thinking that they were laughably slow compared to the monsters who could rip the ball off at a hundred miles-an-hour. Power and speed made for better pitching in my mind. That was how you won.

That’s what writing used to be about for me. I was all about word count and speed and power. I had to see the scene in crazy-vivid textures and colors before I could write it. If my character was eating pasta, I wanted to be able to shove my face into the sauce and know how much garlic the chef had used. I used to churn out thousands of words a day. That was success to me. That was what writing was all about.

But those hundred mile-an-hour pitchers? They don’t last long. Oh, maybe on a good day one of the older pitchers will be throwing up into the nineties, sure. But that isn’t for every pitch. That isn’t their only trick. Because pitching is about control. You have to control the ball, that’s the obvious aspect, and the more control the better. A slow pitch that has a lot of movement on it is just as valuable as a hundred mile-an-hour rocket.

But you also have to control the batter, you have to control the confrontation. A good pitcher knows how to get inside the batter’s head. They know how to set the pace of an at bat so that they can throw pitches that are unexpected and earn their strikes. They have to know what sort of umpire they have, what sort of history they have with the batter, how many pitches the opposing team as a whole has seen. They have to think about the details, all of them. Their arms don’t have the power they once had, but pitchers continue to grow in skill as they age because they start to get their heads into the game, not because they keep their arms in pristine condition.

That’s writing to me now.

It’s no longer about massive word counts or scenes that scream at me. It’s about the deliberate use of words. It’s about thinking through a scene in terms of where it falls in the book and what sort of impact it’s surroundings will have on it. Writing is about painting a character a certain way on page one so that a reveal on page one hundred will have the most effect. It’s about sifting through hundreds of thesaurus entries for the perfectly nuanced word.  It’s about striving for precise control over the words on the page, all of them.

Oh sure, there are days when a pitcher will have their head in the game and their arm feels like it did back in their twenties.

And there are days when I’m churning out words like crazy and picking and choosing deliberately with each one.

But there are far more days of research to find a detail I didn’t even know I was missing, or journaling and pondering to figure out an intricate plot sequence, or rehashing a sentence over and over again to get it just right.

And in the end the huge days and the flat days all merge together into a larger whole. No one day stands by itself and it all evens to the level of skill I’m willing to put in for the long run.

It may feel good to throw a hundred mile-an-hour pitch and blow a strike past an astounded batter.

But I’d rather string together six or seven masterful innings and chalk up the win.

Some Short Stories

FeverSo my brain is currently melting from a fever. Last night I was convinced that I was in charge of key political talks with China that were centered on me explaining how cool it was to be around when Pulp Fiction first came out.

On the one hand, yes it was pretty cool. Tarantino wasn’t a household name yet and Travolta was a has-been, so to go see that movie on opening weekend was an experience I will always treasure.

On the other hand, I doubt that diplomatic talks with China would be taking place over such a topic. Or that I’d be in charge of them. Or that they’d be held at my childhood home.

Which is to say I’ve been sick.

However, I’ve mentioned a few times on here a new project I’ve been working on that will pit authors against each other in battles to the death.

The first fly-by of this idea resulted in two stories that…well I wrote one so I can’t say too much about it. But my friend Albert Berg wrote the other and it is freaking amazing.

Please go check out my entry, Black Gold.

And Albert’s entry, Daisy Daisy.

The challenge was to write a paranormal western.

The happy coincidence of Albert posting a story at the same time as me has led us to pursue a more head-to-head competition, and the buzz we received from that day has led us to shut down the competition to retool and relaunch later because we think we’re really on to something.

But for now, go, read, enjoy.

Writing Tip: A Bird’s Eye View

Birds Eye ViewThe manuscript I’m currently writing is a bit of a mess. I have a lot of story and not a very clear notion of how it all fits together.

This also means that I have a lot of scenes. I’m not entirely sure how they fit together either. And I am not referring to some overall sense of the book at large. I’m talking about a very nuts-and-bolts sense of how the various plot points intersect.

I’m constantly asking myself questions that I can’t remember the answers to.

Has Frank met Lucy yet?

Did Lloyd tell Baron about the trap door?

How long ago did the Spaghetti Conversation take place?

Where the hell did I leave that character again?

I often get lost while looking over a large story using a word processor. There’s little sense of where you are in the story. A scene might be eight pages back or three pages forward or only in your head and not actually written down yet.

A great way to sort this confusion out and take a different view of your story is to go through and jot down, scene by scene, what has taken place. Just list out the things you’re trying to keep straight in a list. No need to go into more detail than you need (I’m sure you know yourself which details you’re having trouble keeping track of).

Each line is a new scene, or for longer scenes, a new moment of import.

Then end result will be something like this:

Bird's Eye View of Story

 

Granted your handwriting won’t look like my insane pen scratches, and for some reason I always use legal pads when doing this, but the final product is a compact, zoomed-out view of your story. From here it’s remarkably easy to move things around. You can edit, swap scenes, and, possibly most important, you can cut extraneous moments.

And since everything is in order as it occurs in your computer document, it’s easy to then go through scene by scene and implement the changes you have made.

A completely different view of your story can make a giant snarled mess seem manageable, and will help you figure out exactly what goes where.

Now.

Seriously.

Where the hell did I leave that character?

Human Echoes Podcast Appearance

PodcastA few months ago, (a year ago?) I was interviewed by the Human Echoes Podcast. Since then the relationship between the HEP and Joseph Devon Industries has flourished and they opted to have me back on again for a second interview. The core of our discussion centers around Persistent Illusions, though we cover all the usual topics like Kate Upton and Hitler.

You can go have a listen here. I highly recommend it. Keep in mind that if you haven’t read Probability Angels yet, there are spoilers. Though if you haven’t read Probability Angels yet, I’m not sure why you’re here and you should go do that now.

But wait! There’s more!

While you’re over at the Human Echoes website, you might notice a page from last week discussing a new writing challenge that myself and Tony Southcotte are currently attempting. Tony’s first challenge to me is right here. My first challenge to Tony fired off yesterday. The game is on. Blood has been drawn. And my first short story in this challenge, a supernatural western, will be posted on tomorrow.

So basically go hang out on their site this week.

I have fiction to write.

Untitled Writing Challenge in the Theme of Thunderdome

Writing ChallengeBook three is still coming along. I can tell I’m making progress because I have so much more first-draft content that I don’t know what to do with than ever. That’s always a good sign. However, it’s still a while from being done and I’ve had the itch recently to put out more fresh fiction for your entertainment.

With that in mind a new project is being kicked off over at The Human Echoes page.

I’ve always been a fan of shows like Top Chef, competitions where contestants have to slog through weird challenges to test their mettle, and I’ve always wondered if it would be possible to have a competition of that sort for writers.

Well…this new project is not that. Not yet anyway. See we still really have no idea how such a “show” would work as of right now. I chat about that over here a bit.

But, myself and Tony Southcotte are willing to learn by doing, so we’ve started a sort of writers’ duel in the hopes of refining the “writing competition” idea further.

We will each be issuing writing challenges to the other in alternating sequence, demanding words from each other in a battle to the death.

Mano e Mano.

Grace verse Brawn.

Words against…other words.

(Death may or may not ensue. We haven’t worked that out yet. It probably won’t.)

We’re hoping to learn a bit about how a larger competition might work, get some eyeballs on our sites, and give our readers some new fiction.

Please visit the first challenge post, wherein Tony has thrown the gauntlet down, and please offer input, ideas of what you might want to see more of…a name for this whole thing, or whatever you have to offer.

Thoughts On Building a Publishing Machine

Writing MachingI’ve been spending a lot of time at various forums for self-publishers recently. They are a wellspring of good advice and the success that a lot of these authors have achieved is both impressive and inspiring.

They almost make it seem easy.

One post over at the Kindle Boards discusses the process of using a mailing list to build sales.The author of the post gives away the secret recipe to her marketing: 1. Write a book. 2. Send a blast to your mailing list announcing the new release. 3. Encourage new readers to join your mailing list. 4. Repeat.

Easy right? Well there’s also the added factor that this author is writing a new book every two months or so.

Two months.

That is…I don’t know what that is. That’s six books a year. The idea of cranking out books at that pace just seems like lunacy to me. The perceived flaws I would see in each rushed book would absolutely break me. I don’t think I could do that. I know that much of my best work comes in the months after my first draft is finished. And I can only get through a first draft knowing that I can let mistakes slide because I’ll get them fixed during rewrites.

This is not to say anything negative about this author’s writing or her approach to publishing. She wanted to write books for a living, she started writing books, and she, unlike me, has met with success. She still feels she has more growing to do, but her numbers are impressive just as they are as far as I’m concerned.

My question, I guess, is do I fit into this world? It very much seems to me that more product, i.e. fiction, equals a larger audience. It’s when new fiction comes out that I get the biggest influx of new readers. But there’s no chance that I could write a book every two months. Hell I wouldn’t even want to do that if I could. I like writing slowly. I like what I create when I do write slowly. And I’m okay with the hit that my numbers take due to this.

My philosophy about all the new tools that technology has made available to writers has always been that it is all about choice. The larger markets, the ease of publication, the variety of platforms for distribution and the many new ways to build an audience, this means that there should be room for more types of authors and artists as a whole. And more and varied art reaching more people? That just sounds like a win to me.

But after seeing the pattern of most successful self-published authors wherein they turn themselves into book factories, I find myself wondering what my machine will look like when I figure it all out.

Am I building a similar machine to these authors, only at a slower pace?

Or am I going to have to build some whole new device?