Call me What’s-His-Face.


My first draft for this week is done.  That is a very good feeling.  I haven’t been done with my story this early in awhile.  I think since the last time I visited with Matthew and Epp.

That being said there are any number of things that I’m not feeling so good about.  For starters I still don’t have a title.  If you’re reading this at a later date then I’ve already come up with a title and changed the category to follow suit, but right now the category is still labeled: “Untitled 6.”  And that’s kind of scary.  Now, normally it isn’t wildly scary not to have a title, you can always come up with something, it’s just that the title I thought I was going to use was pretty straightforward, and I can’t in good conscience use it because this story is still a little all over the place right now.  I was going to call it “Three Lessons.”  Not the sexiest of titles, but since this story comes after “Second Choice” I thought it fit nicely…fun with counting.  And the story was supposed to revolve around Epp teaching, you guessed it, three lessons to various people.  Only that simple structure sort of imploded and I don’t know what’s going on now. 

Basically I think something needs to be cut.  There’s too much going on and I think one of the story-lines has to go, only I can’t figure out which.  One is an obvious candidate, but the more I think about it the more it seems to me that nothing can be cut, not because I’m wildly in love with all of it, but because of logistics.  That is to say there sort of need to be a few people in each of these scenes or these conversations and actions wouldn’t really work out the way they do, they’d resolve a lot easier.  I don’t know.  Sometimes, when you see a movie or read a book, you wonder why a certain character had to be there in the first place, and it seems like it would have been super easy to just cut them out entirely.  What I’m here to say is that oftentimes what you’re missing is that it makes perfect sense to remove that character right up until you actually do, at which point you realize that things just don’t work without them.  They were sort of “load-bearing” characters. 

Rewrites should be fun.

Everything must jumble.

puzzle pieces

Strange things are afoot here.  I’ve got the story all set.  I know I do.  I can see every last little part and I can see how it all fits together…but for some reason it isn’t all fitting together.  I don’t know if I’m missing something very integral or what.  Or sometimes it all seems to work out so well in your head, but then when you sit down and start typing the scenes don’t fit together.  They look nice when situated close to each other, but the transitions aren’t there.  And that can get tricky because you’ve got to build bridges of some sort to get you from A to B, only sometimes the bridge can be very stubborn and refuse to connect to B unless B changes in some little way. 

On the other hand I might just be full of that wonderful “doubt” stuff I’m always talking about.  This story covers a lot of ground.  Not that you should expect anything less when Matthew and Epp get together.  But there’s a genuine fear here that I’ve overstepped some sort of boundary and this is becoming rambling and nonsensical.  In other words, it might not be that I can’t fit the pieces together, it might be that there are too many pieces to begin with and I should trim some.  But I like all the pieces.  And they all seem necessary.  So…so it’s just back to work for me.  Hopefully answers will come from the story itself.  They always seem to.

On a first name basis with Jesus


Man.  I don’t know what I just did.  I was trying to put in a new plug-in so that the most popular posts would show up on the sidebar.  But something went a little wrong and then something else went a little wrong and before I knew it I was wading with reckless abandon into the inner-workings of this website.  It was probably stuff you learn in your second class of Website-Building 101, but I didn’t know what I was doing and at one point I finally drew back and discovered that I had completely destroyed everything.  Everything was gone.  Everything I had written was gone and the website was gone and going to this address just gave an error message. 

That’s where the title of this post comes from.  I said his name a lot.  Not in a very calm voice, either.  I probably sound at-ease talking about it now but another indication of how completely freaked out I was is that I went out and bought a pack of cigarettes.  I didn’t smoke one.  But I bought them. 

Anyway, I won’t bore you with the details of my miraculous escape, but it looks like I got everything back and up and running so I’m going to wipe my hands of this and take away the valuable lesson that you should always back up your work…even if you don’t have the slightest idea how to back up a Squirrelly Data Board or whatever it was that Jesus and I did.  He’s a cagey one, that Jesus. 

And, of course, that killed quite a few hours that I was supposed to have spent writing this week’s story, which is moving along but I’d really be a  lot more comfortable with a few more scenes done by tonight.  And also there appear to be question marks EVERYwhere throughout the old posts.  I’m going to stop thinking about this and go into denial for a little while.

Me and my big mouth.


Yesterday I decided that this current story was going to bring back some characters from a previous story. I was excited. This was exciting. Now, about twenty-four hours later, I realize some of the negatives of this choice.

Pressure, for starters. Generally people seemed to ally like this story and I’ve decided to go back to the lives of these characters and muck about. For that matter I liked this story; I liked playing with these characters and cohabiting their world. There’s a lot of pressure here not to screw this up, not to go all Jar-Jar on this thing.

Doubt is another one. Am I really up for this? I took my time crafting that first story, am I only going back because I think it’ll be easy to mine more material or am I going back because I honestly think there’s more meat on that particular bone? Am I turning this into something akin to those horrible cinema pairings that were okay for the first match-up but then got worse and worse with each new movie?

Fear. What on earth did I agree to do here? Do I remember these two guys as well as I think I do? I know I created them and all but these character things can be awful slippery. They were just short-story characters before this, they had the benefit of not getting known, you know, too well by my readers. What if I flesh out more of them and they turn out to be losers? Boring losers? What if I get three paragraphs in and they’re doing nothing but sitting around, glancing awkwardly at each other, striving to make small talk about the weather?

How do I do this? Do I recap at the beginning of this new story? Do I go over somewhere in a paragraph or two everything that happened in “Second Choice”? That seems silly. Do I put it across in dialogue? Do I do anything?

Maybe I just shut up and write the story. With seven days left that course seems wisest.

They’re back. I thought this might happen.

Epp?s Wallet

You have to understand, I had very little planned as far as how this whole thing was going to go. I had those first two stories and, really, I didn’t think very far beyond that because if I had then I never would have started this project and that would have been a shame because frankly I think I needed a challenge. Or a push. Or a test.

I’ve also talked to the point of vomiting about how this all happens and how when the clock starts ticking loudly I sort of need to take whatever idea is largest and run with it. I still, technically, have time to kick this current idea and try to scratch out something else, but I don’t think I’m going to. I sort of like the idea of what’s happening. Which is that one of the previous stories spilled over while it was inside of my head and now parts of it are still sloshing around in the back of my head. Sometimes when that happens it’s no big deal. God knows how many bits and pieces of stories have come and gone in the holding area at the back of my head.

But sometimes, sometimes those pieces are awfully powerful. I had one back there about seven years ago. Occasionally I thought I’d shaken him but then he’d always pop up, more desperate to get out than ever. It was this heavily scarred guy named Remmy. I learned with him that if I don’t find a way to let the more powerful ones out they eventually just take matters into their own hands and scratch their way out of the back of my skull on their own. 400,000 words and I still have one more book to go before Remmy’s going to be happy. Or as happy as Remmy gets, anyway.

But that has nothing to do with anything. It’s just the long way around of saying that, barring something huge gelling in the next two days, Matthew and Epp are coming back for this week’s story. Like I ever had a chance of keeping them away. It’s hard to keep someone who can pull stacks of $5000 from thin air from taking over your imagination.

How did I get here?

Tired Bird

I don’t understand. I’ve had a couple of short stories accepted for publication. I have a nice little desk and my nice little story ideas. I’ve written three books and have plans for a few more. I have a job I like that leaves me time to pursue this writing thing. So how did I end up here?

It’s ten o’clock on a Tuesday night and all I want to do is go to sleep. Or watch TV. Or go have a beer or see a movie or sit in the park and stare at crazy people or do anything really other than write. I really just want the option to not have to write. But somehow I don’t have that. Myself from ten weeks ago decided that I would write a story every two weeks and somehow I’ve been managing that and it isn’t a complete and catastrophic failure so of course I’m going to keep doing it. And I’m really looking forward to when I get to publish that next story except that between then and now I have to do a whole bunch of this writing stuff. And the heat is back as well as the humidity and I go outside and my head instantly looks like a mop that was just used to clean up a vanilla milkshake and ITunes is on random and keeps cycling into Cars songs, and not good Cars songs but much much later Cars songs off of the tail end of their Greatest Hits. I’m not real sure why I leave songs I don’t like on my ITunes. In the back of my head I’m always worried that someday I’m suddenly going to absolutely need to hear a certain song that I’ve hated my entire life. But surely the entire Jimmy Buffet box set isn’t needed. I don’t think Jimmy Buffet even knows every song on the Jimmy Buffet box set.

The problem is if I get to a deadline and any one of these stories is something less than what I could have made it into considering the time it’ll eat at me like nothing you could possibly imagine. But everything is condensed into some strange Costanza-esque form of writing where you have to do the opposite of what you think is normal because normally I’d be tinkering around inside of the story by now but that was back when I had plenty of time to let it sit after I had put something down to see what else came along. Now I need to make sure I’ve got a nice hunk of story worked out before I dive in, I think, so I’m more inclined to stay away from the story for longer than I’d ever think possible and not write.

So why am I sitting at my desk?

Sink or Swim

Two Roads

It’s Monday again. I wish there was some way to see what part of what stories and books were written on Mondays. I’m sure you’d find that it’s all the annoying parts with no point…and The Matrix sequels.

Anyway, I’m at a familiar enough crossroads. Read more

The Ins and Outs of my Sunday

I’ve been sitting at my desk for most of today struggling to work on an “About Me” page and I’m getting nowhere. This is partly because nine hours of football coverage has been airing on the TV just off to my right. It’s hard for me not to watch football. I’m not a huge fan of any team and I don’t memorize players or stats and I have a hard time remembering who won past Superbowls, but for some reason whenever football is on I watch it. I just like watching the plays unfold and the strategy and the hitting and the broken tackles for long runs and all that. It’s strangely poetic to me.

So most of my day has been spent on my couch or sitting at my desk staring at the television. I have a book of crossword puzzles that I was working on as well. I’ve done about a million of them. When you get clues like “Beauty and ___ Beast” you know you’re not doing a very difficult crossword puzzle. This is all very lazy-Sunday stuff and it has come about partly because this is the first day of football season, partly because I’m a little beat up from last night, and partly because sitting and staring is a pretty important part of writing and when I get a chance to do a lot of it I try and take it. After all I’m supposed to pull a story out of thin air in the next eleven days. Granted, maybe I should have gone to the park with my journal and done some people watching, but, well, football.

Like I said, there’s a poetry in this stuff for me. Of course along with that poetry I am forced to once again watch network television ads. I have a DVR so I usually watched prerecorded stuff and, thus, can skip over the ads. Pre-recording sports isn’t quite the same so I try to watch them live which means I’ve watched more ads today than I’ve probably seen in a year. And almost all of them are awful. I feel stupider for having watched them. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good kick-to-the-crotch beer ad or artistically done shoe campaign, but after the first two commercial breaks you’re really left with nothing but crap. Repetitive crap. Over and over. I’d forgotten just how terrible that can be. Don’t get me started on the announcer’s banter.

So I’ll mute my TV and try to get some actual writing if there’s a blowout on or if it’s halftime. As I said, I was trying to write up an “About Me” page for most of today and I got very little done. Which is really what I came on here to write about but the lazy-Sunday atmosphere prompted a more free flowing post. My point about the “About Me” page, or lack thereof, is that it amazes me that I can sit down and basically write a 10,000 word long lie that I fully expect you to spend your hard earned free-time reading and that feels pretty normal to me. But if you ask me to write 300 words about myself, suddenly I’m stymied.

Thus goes the authors mind-set.

My Self-Confidence

There have been some questions about why I don’t sound more upbeat before I post a story. I’m not talking about whether or not I’m tired before I post…I always am…I mean the people who have been enjoying the stories and wondering why I don’t sound more confident before a post. It’s pretty simple, actually. The fact is you don’t want me sounding confident. You don’t ever want to hear me say that I know for certain that a story is great.

Look at it this way. When I get into it and am in my groove I, as I’ve mentioned time and again, am constantly making decisions and choices. That’s all this process really boils down to: making choices and then following those choices to their logical ends. If I decide someone is a computer programmer for a living and I have a scene where this character sits down to type, it follows that he should be a pretty fast typist. He might use two index fingers to “hunt and peck,” I’m not saying that he necessarily has to be fast and traditional, but based on the initial decision of his job other factors like his typing speed are bound to follow. If he isn’t isn’t fast at typing, then I need to figure out some reasons why this might be true (he was lying about his job; he’s not a very good computer programmer; he’s used to a Cyrillic keyboard) and then choose one. Choices and decisions abound.

Now let’s constrict this whole process to the very tail end of things, the rewriting. I should dismiss the idea right now that rewriting only involves correcting typos and grammar. It’s so much more than that. When I rewrite what I do is I sit down with a pen and a printed out version of my story and I read, and I mark the page up. Every mark I make is a decision to change something based on what it is that I want the writing to be doing at that point. This tends to mean clearing up any vague writing and finding ways to say things as directly as possible…but not always. Again, it depends what I want the writing to be doing at that point. Sometimes you want things vague, sometimes the meter of a sentence is more important than its point, adverbs are generally believed to weaken a sentence but sometimes when you find a perfect place for an adverb it makes things ten times stronger, and sometimes grammar goes right out the window.

Let’s take a closer look at that last example as it’s the easiest to illustrate. Pursuing proper grammar is not always the best way to pursue better writing. The clearest place I can point to this happening is in dialogue. Grammar has no place in dialogue. None. Take five minutes out of your day and listen to real people talking in real conversations. They’re all over the place. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that improper grammar is essential to writing good dialogue. And then you have variations on that, like when the writing begins to reflect a persons thoughts more than straight narration, or when you write in the first person. People tend to miss that one. When reading something written in the first person it’s always a good idea to keep in mind that the narrator is a character just like everyone else.

My point being that when I perform my rewrites I focus on the language. And what that means is focusing on every word. And, if you take an average word count of 5,000 per story, that means, even while isolating this very last step of this process, I face 5,000 separate choices with each rewrite. Every word matters. Every word gets thought about. Some, granted, more than others. “The” doesn’t really get a lot of thought devoted to it, but a lot of the other choices being dealt with are more shaded. It isn’t always a choice of “leave it in” versus “take it out.” If I come across the word, “cold,” I have the possibility of taking it out, leaving it in, or replacing it with brisk, chilly, frigid, freezing, cool, etc. And then you have punctuation to think about. Really the number 5,000 is arbitrary, what I’m trying to get across is the huge number of decisions that get made.

These decisions are why I have zero confidence when I post a new story. It’s difficult if not impossible to know for certain how all of these decisions are compiling. It’s not like one word choice is going to make or break things, but if you imagine a story as a marble statue and the rewrites as the final polishes and fine chipping done to this statue, then no one chip is going to make a difference, but the sum total of five thousand chips begins to add up. With a statue you can take a step back in physical space, view the statue as a whole, and get a sense of where you’re at. When writing a story, though, getting that sense of distance so you can see the whole is nearly impossible except with time. And even then I’m talking about years not days. And if we open this up to the whole process the number of decisions becomes staggering. We’re not talking about the final chips and polishes, we’re talking about stepping up to a block of stone and carving an entire statue without ever really being able to take a large step back to see the entire thing. You can train yourself to make these decisions well, you can do your best to make the right choices, you can hone your judgment so overall you have confidence that you are on the right track, but you can never know for certain that you’ve done well. Not until a reader comes along (we’ll get into the strange role you, the reader, plays in this whole thing at some later date). Before it gets read by you a story is nothing put potential; there are no definites.

Now on the whole, yes, if you all continue to like the stories I put out I should gain some self-confidence where this project is concerned. And, to be fair, I have. It’s getting easier and easier to tell people to come visit my website. But for each individual story? I’ll put it this way: if I ever say, “This story is great, I’m sure of it,” that’s a bad thing. It doesn’t mean the story is great (it might be, I might have gotten lucky). What it means is that I haven’t examined the language and the details enough for me to lose track of the whole. It means I haven’t put a lot of work into it. It means I haven’t fixed sloppy parts or tried to write clearer or given any thought to a character’s accent or the clothes they wear or what the weather is like or if “brisk” captures the temperature better than “cold.” It means I haven’t made a lot of choices. And that’s a bad thing.

Trust me. You want me full of doubt.