Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Getting Better

Things are going better. 1400 words this morning on a new story. It’s a story about sports, money, and doing the right thing, but not at all in the way you might think. I feel good about it so far. When I know where it’s going, I’ll feel better.

I’ve spent a lot of time taking apart and studying John Cheever’s “The Enormous Radio.” I’m beginning to understand how good stories are put together and also beginning to see where my stories start going wrong. When I was a band director, one of the fundamental concepts I tried to teach my students was knowing what to do and when to do it.

As a writer, I’m learning more about what to do (and consequently, what not to do) in my stories. What is essential to the story, what has to be there? What character elements, what parts of the plot, what aspects of the setting, the weather, the tone, etc. are critical? What should be left out?

The next step is when (and where) to place those elements…the correct order, pacing, rhythm, tempo. Everything has to be in order.

My poet friend Liz and I have talked many times about how all the arts share common elements. I think there’s something to this. I can’t imagine putting together a piece of music without knowing what to do and when to do it. When I reach that same level in my writing, I’ll be on my way to putting together some good stuff.

Now Playing = “Four Sticks” – Led Zeppelin

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Hard Lessons

For several days I haven't been able to write anything that I'm satisfied with. No good ideas. Nothing.

What to do? Not sure. For some reason - and this has never happened before - everything seems completely overwhelming. Even putting a good sentence together is next to impossible.

Why? Don't know.

Wish I did.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The Writing Life

"The beginning of knowledge is the discovery of something we do not understand."
- Frank Herbert

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Just One Word

“If I can give you just one piece of advice, here it is. Take a sheet of paper and hang it up in your office where you’ll see it everyday. On that page, write just one word: Patience.”

I can remember my junior high band director telling me that like it was this morning. I’d just told him I wanted to be a band director and that was his one piece of advice.

I’m working on revising “You Can Say Anything You Want,” a story from Clarion. Yesterday I took everyone’s Clarion comments and studied them. Then today, I did a couple of free-writes, trying to answer some questions about plot and character motivation. Now I’m taking a break after an hour of revising the story. How far did I get? Two paragraphs.


I truly believe I’m not spending enough time on my stories. A part of me was disappointed that I didn’t get more than two paragraphs revised. But they’re two greatly improved paragraphs.


I’m beginning to understand how my main character thinks, what drives him, and what’s at stake. I’m also beginning to understand what’s at stake for the Grays (the aliens in my story) and the consequences of their actions. Just beginning to understand these things, mind you.


Now Playing = When I Look in Your Eyes – Diana Krall

Thursday, November 18, 2004

What Would the Old Man Do?

Sometimes things come to you in unexpected ways. Sometimes you just think too hard. I’m convinced that most solutions to problems are really simple. (The execution of those solutions, however, may not be so easy.)

Simply put, I don’t think I’ve been spending nearly enough time considering who my characters are and how their actions affect their lives. Who are these people? What do they want? What do they fear? I look back at some of my stories and notice that they’re nothing more than polished freewrites. More time, more patience, more thought. Take your time.

I’ve been thinking about Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’(which I read a few days ago) and how the old man is like an unpublished writer. (I hope that’s the only applicable analogy. I don’t feel old.) None of the other fishermen believe in him; they mostly treat him with scorn because he hasn’t caught anything in eighty-four days. When people ask what you do and you tell them “I’m a writer,” they want you to put a book in their hands, your book. When you don’t, they may not actually say it, but you can almost see their “Well, you’re not a REAL writer” thoughts forming. I’m really pretty fortunate in that most of my friends and family don’t react that way. But when you meet people, they sometimes want proof.

But nothing bothered the old man. He persevered and I think you have to do that with your writing. Never give anyone else the power to alter or control how you feel about your passion. That would be something to be ashamed of, not being unpublished.

This morning I’m working on a revision of “You Can Say Anything You Want,” a story from Clarion.

Now Playing = “Tangled Up In Blue” – Bob Dylan

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

YA Novels, Language, Octavia and Samuel

I just finished reading a YA novel (It actually says “10 and up” on the back cover.) by David Almond titled ‘Skellig.’ I remember someone either at Clarion or World Fantasy saying that YA novels are usually constructed with only one major conflict for the protagonist. In ‘Skellig,’ the young protagonist Michael encounters several: his relationship with his parents after moving into a new house, his relationship with a girl who challenges the way he thinks, his uncomfortable relationship with his old friends Leaky and Coot (great names), his worries about his very ill sister, and his discovery of a very strange man living in their garage.

The language of the book is for the most part very simple, but the ideas and concepts are complex. I was impressed with all the things that the book explores so well: a child’s fear of new surroundings, the way new ideas challenge us, helping people who don’t necessarily want to be helped, helping people who can’t ask for help, friendship, dreaming, life…everything you want in a book no matter how old you are. Very enjoyable.

I finished the first draft of a story yesterday and sent it to P.O.E. for this Saturday’s meeting. I started with two ideas: a guy drinking coffee in a cafĂ© and an attractive woman wearing an eye patch.

Speaking of the simple language in ‘Skellig,’ I began to think (maybe as a result of reading a YA novel at the time) that the language in my story was too simple. Maybe things will change in the second draft, but after looking over my story, I think it calls for simple language, especially from the narrator. A large part of the story concerns how people often speak in simple ways, perhaps choosing words in their conversations that don’t convey specific, solid truths. Why? Maybe they’re conditioned to speak in words no longer than three syllables, maybe they’re trying to dodge deeper issues, or maybe they watch too much television. Maybe it’s just easier.

But I’m looking more at language and how it fits the mood and tone of stories. It might be interesting to try to write the same story from two vastly different POVs and explore how the language changes.

Thinking about going to hear Octavia Bulter and Samuel Delany this Friday night at the Smithsonian. They’ll be speaking about speculative fiction: where it’s been, where it’s going.

Where I’m going is to work. Sell books.

Now Playing = Chronicle – Creedence Clearwater Revival

Friday, November 12, 2004

Getting Unblocked

I've turned into a real fan of Julia Cameron's 'The Artist's Way.' The book's Morning Pages are really helping me to break through negative mental blocks that seem to love hanging out inside my head. Those negative thoughts can really do your writing harm and I'm on a crusade to rid my work of them. At tomorrow's writers' group meeting, I'm going to introduce the exercise.

Got an email about a new novel critique group near where I live. I emailed the guy and asked him how the group feels about speculative fiction. (Many times, as Andy Duncan says, when an alien walks in, you walk out.) We'll see how it goes. I'd really like to find a spec. fic. group in the Balto/DC area. I know of none so far.

Octavia Butler and Samuel Delany will be speaking in town next Friday. I'm thinking about going. I also emailed Tenea and she's thinking about going as well.

Started a new story this morning, really just a free-write, but it feels better than what I've been working on. We'll see where it goes. Time to get ready for work.

Now Playing = Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Finding Time to Write

The new job at Barnes & Noble in Annapolis is going well. I really like the people I'm working with, which is always nice. And of course, the books are always intoxicating. (I'm currently coveting Neil Gaiman's 1602. It would make a REALLY nice Christmas present ;)

If there was a good thing about being unemployed before I joined B&N, it was having time to write. I had tons of time and got a lot of stories written and pushed out the door. (I've got four out right now and should have a fifth out before the end of the week.) With a job, I can either postpone some of the projects I'm working on, or spend a little less time on each one, still keeping them all fresh (somewhat) in my mind. At least for now, I'm spending a little time on each project, which includes studying stories of other authors.

A friend of mine in Virginia writes during his lunch. I think he's probably in his own office and can easily do that. When you're eating with other people, it feels a little rude to work on your writing when everyone else is having a lunch conversation. But when they're all reading something, I write. Works so far.

But mornings are still the best for me. If I can get up sometime before 6:00AM and write for at least an hour, I feel like I've accomplished something. Usually I'll usually have time to do more in the evenings, but morning is my premium writing time. And as I look at my clock, I see that it's almost over. Until next time.

Now Playing = After Midnight - Nat King Cole Trio

Monday, November 08, 2004

Getting Things Done

Wow - If I stay off the Internet, I can get a lot of things done. I know that's not a revelation that's going to hit the front page, but it's true. I've finished my daily writing exercise, my daily study of a short story, and completed a revision of "Family Plot." And I've exercised. All before 9:00AM. (Of course I had to get up at 5:30 to do it, but I'm a morning person anyway.)

The exercises I'm doing from 'The Artist's Way' (by Julia Cameron) are really paying off. I would highly recommend the book to anyone in the arts, not just writers. The whole purpose of the book is to free yourself from anything (thoughts, people, situations, etc.) that would distract you from your creativity. I've got so many ideas running around in my head competing for my attention - short story ideas, a YA novel idea, song ideas, poetry ideas - what to do first?

Plus I start my new job today.

Now Playing = "If Not For You" - Bob Dylan (from Biograph)

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Speculative Stories for Speculative Audiences Only?

I gave two readings today. One wasn't really a reading - it was in my writers' group. We're getting our pieces together for a reading in February (Yeah, we plan ahead.) and I read "Three Nights in the Micro-Universe of John Coltrane." It went over really well! Everyone said it was very impressive, emotional and effective. It was a great feeling. It needs a little more work in spots, but overall I'm very pleased.

Then I read "Family Plot" tonight in downtown DC...

(Actually I read half of it, since we’re only allowed five minutes each. But I found a good stopping point that worked well.)

Understand that most of tonight’s performers read poems about relationships with people or with God. Nothing wrong with that at all. But then I step up to the microphone and read this weird story about a girl coming home from a party with blood all over her teeth...

Didn't go over too well...

I think I'm pretty honest with myself and know when I've written a good story and when I've written a turkey. I have to say, this is a pretty good story. One of my good friends who does read speculative fiction was very excited about the story when she read it last week. But I think it's pretty safe to say none of the people tonight read spec. fic. I wish I knew some people in the DC area who DO read spec. fic. I'd like to hang out with some local genre people from time to time.

So will I keep performing my genre works for non-genre audiences? Yes. I think I'll learn what stuff will be accepted in the "mainstream" and what stuff will sink to the bottom of the pool. (I sure learned tonight!) We must press onward...

Speaking of the genre, I'm reading outside of it right now - James Ellroy's 'The Black Dahlia.'
Now Playing = The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery

Thursday, November 04, 2004

World Fantasy, Clarion Buddies and More

When I stepped off the plane in Phoenix last Thursday, I was met with rain and lots of it. Fortunately, that was the low point of my trip. Just a few hours later, I was reunited with five of my Clarion friends and four Clarion instructors. For some of us (myself included) it was our first con. So naturally I had the "deer in the headlights" look for most of Thursday evening ("Hey, that really IS Stephen R. Donaldson!") and Friday morning.

Most of the panels I attended turned out to be:
1 - Fairly informative
2 - Fairly entertaining
3 - Four authors ranting
4 - Two of the four authors fighting

The best panels were the ones with editors. I learned more about writing from listening to Ellen Datlow in one hour than I did in four hours of author panels. The YA panels were pretty good too. (And feisty!)

I met a lot of writers (published and non-published) and editors. I spent way too much time (and money) in the book dealer room, but came away with some great stuff: Eileen Gunn's new collection, Polyphony 3, Rossetti Song (four stories by Alex Irvine), and the Masterpieces anthology.

Saturday was just too beautiful to stay inside, so Njihia, Tenea, Marjorie, Rebecca and I decided to do a little exploring/rock climbing. We managed to survive encounters with small children, an unstable woman climbing in four-inch heels, deadly cacti, and other life-threatening episodes. Lots of fun.

As usual, the time with my Clarion friends flew by faster than the planes leaving the Sky Harbor Airport. What a great group of people. I miss them terribly.

On to see my brother Bob, his wife Lynda, and my mom. It was good to see Mom getting adjusted to life in Arizona. Bob/Lynda/Mom's new house is coming along and should be ready next month. They're all very excited. Now I'm wondering how we can get transferred to Arizona...

Wrote a poem today based on the zombies at BWI airport. (Kelly Link would be proud.) Started studying John Cheever's "The Enormous Radio." I plan to do another pass on "Family Plot" tonight. Bullet's sleeping on the floor at my feet. Rained all day.

Now Playing = Beethoven Symphony No. 1 - Berlin/Karajan/1963