ProAm Tips #10

Outrunning the dragon.

 

The reason I keep writing in relative obscurity is because I can’t possibly stop. It’s anathema to my very being, my own self-image, that I NOT write. I knew the odds when I started, just as every young writer knows, and I believed I was different, just as every young writer does. In between panicking and thinking your work is shit, you are shit, and you have all the skill of a punch-drunk money hammering on a typewriter with the corpse of a dead chicken, like every young writer I knew I would be a star.

There’s some imagery for you. Trust me; I’m a writer.

The fact of the matter is, you aren’t shit. Trust me. You may not be great, sure, but you’re not shit. If you’re pushing words, you’re a writer. If you finish something, you’re a writer. If you write, you’re a writer. It’s simple. And there’s no such thing as a shit writer.

There’s shit STORYTELLERS, sure, but that’s not the same thing. Maybe your execution failed. Maybe your grammar isn’t up to snuff. Maybe punctuation is your kryptonite. I don’t know. I do know this: if you’ve ever written an entire thing, start to finish, you’re a good writer.  If you do it enough, maybe you can get to be a better storyteller. Maybe you’ll hone your craft. Learn how to show, not tell. Learn where to put that fucking semicolon. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll be a better storyteller through grinding out the words.

The only way to be a bad writer is to not write.

If you write, you’re a writer. If you finish something, you’re a writer. If you tell a great story, you’re a great storyteller. Get it right. Don’t bash on yourself for the wrong reason. It is vital that you KNOW your weakness, not deflect. And once you write, you gotta get it out there. For years, I dreamed of being a published author.In these dreams, I was recognized for my skill. Not great, but Good Enough. My dreams were realistic, because I know I’m never gonna be Hemingway. I don’t even own a shotgun, and I hate Florida. Naah. I dreamed about being a worker bee, pushing out books that some people liked enough to buy, and support myself in the style to which I aspired- to never have to have a real job.

It’s a dream.

The one unrealistic problem I dodged for years was… I never let anyone SEE my work. Kinda hard to get discovered when you’re not out there for public consumption. When you don’t TRY you always fail. I get it. I get it. It’s scary. Getting rejected is so awful that most humans spend their entire lives trying NOT to be. It sucks. It hurts. It doesn’t kill. I get it. Looking at the published authors out there, the sheer mass of the work is enough to scare anyone into silence. But here’s the deal-

They’re already beyond the gatekeeper.

You’re not fighting a war with anyone already published. You’re only fighting to get to the head of the line of the UNPUBLISHED.

The analogy I like is this (I hope you know what D&D is, or this is gonna sound weird) – you’re the Ranger in your party. The Ranger is the writer who’s finished something. The dwarf in the party is someone who HASN’T. The dragon is coming for your party. The dragon is swooping down behind you, and you better run. The dragon is failure.

But… you don’t have to outrun the DRAGON.

You only have to outrun the dwarf.

As long as you try, the dragon can’t get you. You may not make it past the gate, but at least you didn’t stop in your tracks and become tomorrow’s dragon poop.

 

 

SPECTRE review

Massive, massive SPECTRE spoilers. Be warned. As a caveat, I’m a Bond movie fan. I’m a huge Daniel Craig Bond fanatic. Take THAT with you into the depths of my review.

Spectre. Daniel Craig. Sam Mendes directing. Friggin BOND.

How in the name of all that’s fucking HOLY did you make a car chase, a plane chase, a boat chase, and a foot chase BORING?

Monica Bellucci? Beautiful. Gorgeous actress, talented, wonderful… in and out in under nine minutes. Fucking kidding me? After all the press, all the ‘We’ve got Monica Bellucci!’ trumpet-calls, and he literally leaves her for the vapid, young blonde who says she’s a doctor, but constantly makes choices that prove she can’t think any further ahead than Bond? She’s the key to it all. Because, although she hasn’t seen her dad in a million years, he told her the one piece of information Bond might need twenty years before, when Bond was still learning how to ski.

Say what?

They go to her parents’ favorite hotel. Apparently there’s something hidden in the wall? They went there every year, and Mr. White left something there for her. And it’s apparently a whole room in the middle of an aging hotel, where he kept gear and information, and stuff. And Mr. White must be one hell of a carpenter, because if he went into that secret room, he must have broken through the same wall Bond did, and re-sealed it, refinished it, and painted it EVERY FUCKING TIME.

Bond chases down the bad guys who kidnap the Macguffin girl with a PLANE. You… you can’t be serious. He paces the cars. With. A. PLANE. And acts surprised when he dive-bombs them IN THE WOODS, ON A WOODED ROAD, WITH TREES LINING IT, and the wings get knocked off. No big. He still has engines. He’s good. Oh, ho, cliff! Turn.

Turn a plane.

Turn a plane tobogganing down a mountain no tail section. With no landing gear. With the tail section gone.

Wait, not only turn it, but speed up, cut the bad guys off, and manage to knock them off the road but NOT kill the girl int he car. Shoot the conscious driver int he head with a hip shot. Fine. The big, BIG bad guy, unconscious on the hood? Leave him. He won’t be any further trouble.

I know MI-6 is in trouble, but does that cost-cutting measure of not wasting bullets really pay off in the end? Because that world-class relentless assassin knows when HE’S been beat, I’m sure. He’ll never be back. At all.

Car chase through Rome at midnight. At, like, fifty miles an hour. Who runs away from a bad guy and follows the speed limit??

And I’m pretty sure that, even if it IS midnight, there’s more than ONE car on the road in friggin ROME at midnight. Somewhere. I’m, come on. Don’t Romans get hungry? Go for a midnight snack? Isn’t there, like, a billion street cafes? What about movies? Do they have midnight movies? There has to be SOMEONE. And the climax of the chase, he dumps the car (which was onscreen for all of eleven minutes) into the river. There’s a stairway in the background, and some dude just kinda wandering down it, even though he watched a thrilling forty-mile-an-hour chase culminate in someone fucking ejector-seating out of the lead car as it flies through the air into the water.

A train ride to the middle of the desert in Tangier. Fine. The world-class assassin finds them. Okay. He and Bond go mano-a-mano for ten minutes, destroying all of the train. Literally. Wood splinters and shattered glass, three or four cars just… just destroyed. Know what I noticed? The waiter, the passengers, all the people that had been there right before the assassin strikes?

GONE.

It’s suddenly an EMPTY train. No people. At all. No one to object tot he gunshots, the thousands of dollars in damage, no one even to bring them new drinks because the assassin spilled theirs. Just… nothing. The train people were as bored as everyone else. And the assassin STOPS STRUGGLING TO SAY ‘Shit’ WHEN HE COULD HAVE JUST SLIPPED THE ROPE OFF HIS HEAD AND NOT DIED.

Bond looks at the girl, who asks, “What do we do now?”

Bond looks at her, and immediately we jump cut to them boning. Not tending their wounds, because- oh wait. No wounds. Apparently being used as a human wrecking ball leaves no lasting impressions. She was knocked unconscious TWICE with blows to the head, which might leave a concussion in REAL humans. But whatever.

And the big reveal? The big bad guy? The ‘architect of all your pain?’

Evil Bad Guy – “All the bad things in your life? I did them.”

Bond – “But, how?”

EBG – “There is no how. I did them. I did them all. Because I say so, and my word is proof.”

B – “Oh. Okay.”

EBG – “I’m going to torture you now, inflicting permanent damage on you, by drilling INTO YOUR HEAD and fucking with the nerves there.”

Bond – “I’m going to be completely unaffected by what amounts to goddamned surgery because Bond. And then blow you up.”

EBG – “Oh. Okay. Luckily for you, when you blow up the computer, your restraints will pop open like you planned it.”

Which they do. Like he did. And he and the girl escape int he most boring way possible. And bored way. Bond doesn’t look worried. He doesn’t look upset. he doesn’t seem affected. At all. Not by the bullets, not by the revelation that EBG killed the man who raised him after his parents died, by NOTHING. Not even by skull surgery with goddamned miniature drill bits IN HIS FACE.

Bond doesn’t duck when the bad guys shoot at him. His daring escape was a slow walk, and Craig appeared to be sighing with impatience, swinging his gun back and forth, one-shotting with an assault rifle. I could practically see him mouthing “left guy dies, tower guy dies, swing right… that guy dies…. center… he shoots at me, he dies, and the distance shot….. and he’s dead. Can I go to my friggin trailer now?”

How the fuck do you manage to look bored?

And the other bad guy, played to one-note perfection by Andrew Garfield (Moriarty from Sherlock) is so goddamned obvious he might as well have been wearing a Snidely Whiplash mustache and twirl it in every scene.

And in the end? The EBG lives. Bond quits. And… and that’s it. End of film.

Fucking boring. Was there a moral? I don’t know. A story? Just barely. Ralph Fiennes looked lost at the end, as lost as _I_ felt. Like, he literally had a look on his face like, “What? What the hell does this all mean?”

I’m wondering what in the world this fucking movie had in mind to begin with.

D-. And that’s being goddamned generous.

TL;DR summary? Don’t waste your fucking money. In fact, burning your money and pissing on the ashes would be a better investment than this three-hours shit-fest.

November.

It’s that time again. National Novel Writing Month. 30 days, 50,000 words.

I had an idea. That idea was worth 14,000 words. Then, I had another, different idea.

So today, I started over. Am I worried? Do I think I can’t hit my goal?

Hell no. Failure is never an option, especially for me. Since last naNo, I’ve written four books, most of them within the span of 30 days, and all of them over 80,000 words each. I’m good.

But… how hard is it for someone to do that when they don’t KNOW they can? Pretty damned hard. My first NaNo novel was a neck-and-neck race with the clock, and I finished with only a couple of days to spare- and just barely broke the 50k mark. But I DID.

 

It isn’t about writing 50k words. You have to write a complete book. Maybe just the bare bones of a book, but a complete book nonetheless, with a beginning, middle, and end, a decent plot, compelling characters, twists, surprises…

 

I’m full of shit, and I’m telling you straight- the rules are just guidelines. Do what you want. Write how you want. My process is pretty stripped down now. I start with an opening scene, and I introduce my characters by fucking them up, over, and down. I love a book that starts with a bang, and that’s how I write. But in my mind, the characters are real, in my mind the world is real, and I don’t so much tell you what happens as write down what they do on their own. The result? I rarely have writer’s block anymore because I have these living, breathing people in my head that I can always visit and write about. As long as your characters are alive, and you have some basic idea what you’re going to do to them, I’ve found this to be an unfailingly excellent way to write. Your mileage may vary.

I also write completely linear. I mean, I start with page one, and I end with page whatever. I write the story from start to finish, and I don’t skip around. I discovered that if I just write the scenes I KNOW are gonna happen, I never connect them. The dots don’t line up. I’ve lost a couple of pretty good books like that. So now, I write the way I know how- balls to the wall, hammering the keys so hard my wife yells at me for the racket, and as quickly as my fingers can get the words in some semblance of the right order. On a decent day, I’ll put out between 4 and 6k. On a really GOOD day, I’ll get 10 to 15k. On a bad day, I might only do 1k, but I’m usually on when I have a project in mind. I don’t sweat the slow days, because I know it might be the only break I get. Again, that’s me.

I usually know how my books will end. But that doesn’t mean that when my pages get there, that’s what will happen. I’m often surprised by things that happen to my characters and further terrified by my own insanity because I DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY’RE GOING TO DO. They have their own live,s their own ideas, and they behave in ways that are true to their character. Note: I didn’t not say true to MY character. These people are going to do what they’re going to do, and I don’t get much say in the matter. I know, I know. Call the funny farm.

 

If you’re going to attempt NaNo, righteous! Good on you, and go to it! Find your style. Find your groove. Do it the way you want to. If you finish, good for yoU! IF you don’t, good for you! If you write, good for you. That’s all that needs to be said.

 

That blank white space can be intimidating. It can be cruel. But… I’ll tell you a secret- that blank page called your mom a nasty name. Go kick its ass!

ProAm Tips #9

Staying motivated.

I can, on a good day, churn out anywhere from between 2 and (my record) eight thousand words. This is a highly suspect figure, when you remember that a rough draft is like starting with a big stone block and trying to take away all the bits that don’t look like an elephant. Sometimes you discover your block didn’t HAVE an elephant in it. Regardless. That’s a different post. This one’s about staying motivated.

You need a focus. I find that I write best when I’m excited about my story. But excitement is a tricky thing. You want to get to the good bits, but if you’re doing your job right, ALL the bits are the good bits. It can take a lot longer than you want to walk your narrative from one scene to the next without it looking like you basically typed “bored now, on to the train set” in the middle of a chapter.

Motivate yourself. Invest in your book. Or your story. Or whatever. I write novels and short stories, and I talk like that. So, yeah. Invest in your book. Love your characters. If you’re bored writing for characters, you don’t love them. You need to find a way to make yourself fall in love with them. Every character doesn’t have to be a quirky, unique snowflake sculpture oozing personality everywhere. In fact, that can get distracting. but you DO have to care about them. I was writing a scene in an FBI office just now (literally. This is how I take a breather from banging away on the keyboard. I go bang away about something else entirely. Or play Defense Grid. Anyhooo) and discovered I didn’t really give a crap about the Special Agent in Charge. So I flipped it. I wrote it from his head, trying to figure out what HE cares about. Why’s HE in that room? His undercover agent is missing, and he desperately wants to find her, because that’s what he cares about. And he’ll do what he has to to get her back, except that he refuses to break the law, because he has two daughters at home that look up to him, and how could he look them in the eyes if he broke the law? Except that if he doesn’t their Aunt Dinah is never coming back for a visit, and…

and…

pressure. The guy is under pressure. And he’s sweating, and he’s frantic, and suddenly, I’m in love with the scene, and I like he guy, and sympathize, and still twist the knife and now I don’t want the scene to end because I’m really having a good time, and excited about the scene and running off that the fingers with words word words words…

 

THAT’S how I stay motivated.

Won’t work for everyone. You need to find what drives you. But once you do, USE it. It WILL work. Stay motivated by doing what you love. Do what you love by making yourself love everything. And keep writing. It’s a process. I evolved my writing process through twenty years of hard work, and now it’s paying off.

 

Yours will too.

 

A request

A plea from your friendly neighborhood indie author.

Please consider reviewing ANY book you’ve purchased or downloaded, mine or others, by indie authors. We live or die by reviews- two or three good reviews can lead potentially untold numbers (As high as ten or twenty other people!) of readers to our work.

I don’t know about any other authors, but if you’ve purchased, borrowed, or been given a copy of my work, please, please, PLEASE leave me an Amazon review (or Goodreads)? And unlike some authors, I’m not afraid of bad reviews. If you’re gonna read my stuff, please be honest. I’d prefer you to be honest than lie to give me a good review.

And, honestly? I’d love to hear from anyone who’s read my stuff and has an opinion, good or bad.

Review. The career you jumpstart may be mine. =)

ProAm Tips #8

What if?

Those words should be your guide.

I write science fiction, a little horror, a bunch of crime, and three dramas. And each of them started with what if?

You want to always ask that question, even when you’re writing a story about something normal and non-scifi and non-horror and non-spec. What if?

What if vampires needed to apply for hunting permits?

What if in the future, misdemeanor offenders have to pick up trash in orbit instead of by the highway?

What if an upstanding member of law enforcement were in love with the most wanted criminal in the world?

What if magic were real- and more addictive than heroin?

What if you intervened in a fight between an angel and a demon?

What if a jewel thief fell for a hooker, who gets kidnapped?

What if being a repo man meant stealing spaceships?

What if no one knew how important your job was to the universe?

What if people needed replacement parts like cars, every three thousand miles?

What if you caught a criminal and then found out he was innocent, only the world didn’t want to believe it?

What if there were a lottery to get off the dying Earth?

What if you were born to be a blues guitarist, and trained to be a composer of classical music?

What if you were an ex-cop and people in your neighborhood started getting killed, only the cops didn’t do anything?

What if society fell, and all that stood between your apartment building full of old people and a raging mob was you?

What if you were in charge of deciding who could leave a dying world, and one of the applicants was an old, unqualified girlfriend?

Every one of these questions has been behind my novels and stories. I ask a thousand stupid questions a day. Maybe one or two is what iffy-enough to be a good story. But that’s what it takes. You want to write? Ask questions. Look at the norm and ask what might happen if.

The hardest thing to write is originality. There just aren’t that many plots in the world. Forty, maybe. But settings? Infinite. And characters? Twice infinite.

 

People are interesting. Places are interesting.

Unusual ideas? They’re gold.

So, what’s your what if?