Month: August 2017 Page 1 of 2

On pacing.

People talk about pacing as if it were some great and mysterious thing. However, mostly what pacing is, is a laborious observation of three ostensibly dull areas:

  • Paragraph length.
  • Sentence length.
  • Word length.

Once you have a grasp on those things, then you can start worrying about:

  • Scene length.
  • Chapter length.
  • Plotting (how thick and fast the events happen in the story).

Literally, in order to understand pacing better (unless you magically already have a natural sense of it, in which case good for you, skip this!) you have to go, “How many words are in this paragraph? How many words are in this sentence? How many big words are in this section?”

At first you want to slit your throat. “I didn’t become a writer so I could spend time counting.” But after a couple of sessions, you can start guesstimating and getting a sense of what’s “normal” and what sticks out as being unusual.

Then you start hazarding guesses why the unusual stuff is happening the way it is, and that’s where you start sounding all intelligent and insightful and crap. But it’s really just built on forcing your brain to look at writing in a way it normally doesn’t.

If you liked this post, why not check out my short Alice in Wonderland novel, The Clockwork Alice?  It’s all about murdering the time…

The Damage Multipliers of Fiction Writing

If I were going to pick one skill to master as a writer first, it would be how to get the words down even when you don’t think you’re good enough, you’re not in the mood, you don’t deserve it, etc.

If I were going to pick two, it would be that one and writing quickly.

Then again, my theory is always to burn through mistakes as quickly as possible.

If you liked this post, I recommend Rachel Aaron’s 2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love.

The Lunch Paradox

Everything about writing and freelancing is easier when you have your priorities in order.  Everything…except looking through the fridge and trying to find out what to have for lunch.

If you liked this post, please tell me what to have for lunch.  Fastest response: Facebook.

Following My Own Advice: A mother’s rant to her teenager

I had to talk to my daughter, Ray, about how to know whether someone was using her.  She’s very empathic, very good at reading people, and pretty emotionally wise for her age, so people tend to lean on her when they have personal issues, and she tends to shut down at school.

First we talked about the defenses she has to put up in order to survive all the tumult of school.  And then I said, “And you’ll know that someone’s just using you when they expect you to listen to them and don’t listen to you back.  You get to choose whether that’s okay or not.  Sometimes it’s okay.  But they don’t get to decide that.”

I should follow my own advice more often…

If you liked this post, check out my poor, defenseless Victorian orphan story, “How Smoke Got Out of the Chimneys.”  Okay, some of the orphans are defenseless.  And then there’s Smoke.

Cheesy Fantasy Movie Moment

I had to laugh.

This morning I journaled for about a page and got my brain sorted out enough to handle a couple of freelancing issues clearly and fairly.  When I finally got caught up enough to come back to the page (I try to write three pages a day), the first thing I noted was that journaling had given me the strength and focus to handle my problems…then realized that wasn’t true.

That strength was within me all along.

I felt like a really cheesy fantasy movie for a moment.  Almost after-school special level.  Journaling really is my lucky charm some days.

If you liked this post, why not sign up for my newsletter?  If nothing else, you get my nerdy “best reads of the month” book reviews.


Sense of Humor about the World

I’m starting to recover my (dry) sense of humor about the world, not merely as a black-humor-is-the-best-defense mechanism, but in being able to laugh, rather than rail, at fools.

I might end up under the treads of a tank, but at least I’ve remembered that nobody can make me stop laughing at them.  The bubble is popped, the blister is lanced, the pimples pinched.

I’m still struggling.  But just knowing that there are people out there–relatives–who live so desperately in a black-and-white world that they accuse the reports of Trump staring at the eclipse as being fake news in order to embarrass our impeccable president, well, it amuses me.

It undermines the bullshit illusion of infallibility that they project on every topic, from global warming to abortion to “history,” too.  It’s all just bravado and bad logic, a lack of critical thinking–it was never a well-thought-out point of view…

…Just a really weird game of telephone that led to a pet-shop beta fish with the nuclear codes.  I get that the stakes are high, after all.  But that’s no reason not to laugh.

If you liked this post, please check out my 80s-style horror novel, One Dark Summer Night, a fairy tale of you-done-screwed-up-now monsters.


Feet of Clay

So Joss Whedon’s ex-wife, Kai Cole, has negative things to say about him and his philandering, hypocritical ways.  I lean toward believing her; I have had critical things to say about his work before along the lines of, “If you’re such a feminist, then why does the plot go like this?”  (Don’t get me started on the axe handoff in The Cabin in the Woods.)  It matters the way that an atheist preacher matters:  when someone’s selling you “strong female characters” but covering up disrespect for his wife at home, the hypocrisy tends to undermine the good work.

But I think the real discussion here is:  what we do when we find out our heroes have feet of clay?

Tempting to come down on one side or another, treat every situation as if it were black and white.  “The circumstances around art don’t affect the art.”  “The circumstances around art mean that we should boycott creations of taste made by people who are themselves distasteful.”

And yet critical evaluation–doubt–is a process.  Not a side on a team.

Additionally, when an artist taking a position of, “but meeeee,” as Joss Whedon did in his response to the article above (also quoted in the article above, if you’re interested), then you know they’ve lost the empathy they need to be a great artist.   I hope Joss Whedon turns this around; I’ve long enjoyed (but not unquestioningly) his work, but what I read of that script for Wonder Woman was a real stinker.

In other news, last night I finished Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton, by Edward Rice.  Talk about flawed.  One of my personal heroes died racist and bigoted:  I still like him, though.

If you enjoyed this blog post, please check out my horror/suspense novelette Something Borrowed, Something Blue, about a guy who doesn’t know himself as well as he thinks he does…


Nightmare Magazine’s Top 100 Horror Books: The End of a Reading List

So it’s official:  I’ve finished Nightmare Magazine’s Top 100 Horror Books, from beginning to end.  It’s been almost three years; I’m working on several horror lists with MB Partlow and Shannon Lawrence, and this is one of them.  Shannon’s original post tracking the project is here.  (She’s doing the best job of keeping track of things; also, we rarely agree on anything, which makes this even cooler.  MB and I tend to see things slightly more eye-to-eye, although I do differ with her strongly on atmosphere.)*

I’m tracking my end of things on Goodreads; my reviews are here.  If I had read the book and reviewed it on Goodreads already, I didn’t reread it, but if I’d read it before 2010 (my first year on GR), I reread it.

Favorite books off the list (in the order GR threw them up?).  I bolded the ones that sang to me personally.

  • Night Shift, Stephen King
  • Year’s Best Fantasy, Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling
  • Audrey’s Door, Sarah Langan
  • The Ignored, Bentley Little
  • The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson
  • The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris
  • The Shadow at the Bottom of the World, Thomas Ligotti
  • Hell House, Richard Matheson
  • The Shining, Stephen King
  • Zombie, Joyce Carol Oates
  • The Hellbound Heart, Clive Barker
  • A Dark Matter, Peter Straub
  • Rosemary’s Baby, Ira Levin
  • I Am Legend and Other Stories, Richard Mattheson
  • The Vampire Lestat, Anne Rice
  • The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty
  • The Terror, Dan Simmons
  • Salem’s Lot, Stephen King
  • The Cipher, Kathe Koja
  • Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror, Ellen Datlow
  • Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters, John Langan
  • It’s Only Temporary, Eric Shapiro
  • Her Husband’s Hands and Other Stories (for The Shallow End of the Pool), Adam-Troy Castro

Of all of these, I’m going to say that my absolute favorite is The Terror–I loved it enough to study it for like eight months there, typing in an absurd amount of the text.  Like, enough to make its own novel.  I learned a lot about writing from that book alone, and I can only chalk up how much better I’ve gotten at novels (vs. short stories) mostly to that study.  The Exorcist and A Dark Matter both hit me nearly as hard, although the styles of those didn’t ring as personally for me.

The one that’s the most under-read, in my opinion is Her Husband’s Hands.  I can only describe it as reminiscent of Theodore Sturgeon’s work, if perhaps a bit darker and bloodier, but filled with love, and not just the dark, sick kind of love that drags down other horror works that try to deal with the subject.  I was in tears several times.  Maybe I should say it’s the entry that I’m most jealous of not having written 🙂


*And a note – on a couple of short story collections, I cheated by doing extra work (because I’m a nerd and I’m cheap).  Where the particular collections were more expensive but I could get more stories from cheaper collections elsewhere, I read the bigger collections to save $.  Specifically, Ligotti, Adam-Troy Castro, and Lovecraft.  I ended up reading all of Lovecraft.

If you liked this post, please try the books that this reading list inspired.  A Fairy’s Tale came out of all the cheesy ’80s horror that I read for this list. Start with By Dawn’s Bloody Light.

Sleep-deprived Ironies and the Power of the Internet

I took the entire weekend off (and away from the Internet) in order to relax…and ironically didn’t sleep more than a couple of spotty hours last night. Strangely, not tired yet. Feeling a lot better, in fact – I spent a lot of time awake going, “You don’t have to let people suck the life and love out of your heart.”
Connecting in public with people I don’t know personally (face to face) is both rewarding and draining. I’m still trying to find a balance there. How much time and effort do people who are essentially strangers get? At what point do I cut them off? How do I draw lines without being angry all the time? Especially now, when it seems like the whole world is out to desiccate every emotion but anger and outrage. 
It’s a personal matter; no advice, please.  But I do feel recharged.
The people who don’t respect you as a person don’t get your time.
I think it says something about me that, at 43, I have to occasionally spend the night awake going, “Is there something wrong with me, because I refused to let someone else control the conversation?”
If you enjoyed this post, please check out one of my Alice retellings…this one’s about life-long regrets, dreams that die, and how to wind things back up again.

Biased toward Worldbuilding: A near-future thriller’s insight

One of the ghostwriting books that I just wrapped up was a near-future thriller, a la Blade Runner, if a bit less so.  The world isn’t that much of a jump away from what we know now; it’s set fewer than ten years out, and nothing in the book is much of a stretch (other than the overall competence of select organizations).

Writing it was so much FUN.

I’m usually of the opinion that writing science fiction should be done by people who have some kind of experience in SCIENCE.  Like, ALLCAPS SCIENCE.  Or engineering.

But of course that’s just a bias on my part.  I’m okay at guessing what the very near future feels like.  And I’m okay at distorting a few things for the sake of a what-if.

And it was FUN.

I think this is just another attack of imposter syndrome.  I don’t need to do a whole lot more research in order to get to near-future science fiction writing, the way I do if I want to write believable battles in high fantasy.* I just need to keep paying attention.

*Which research continues to be FUN, by the way, although it does wreck a lot of battle scenes in movies for me.  “Don’t do that, you idiots!  Go for the high ground where you’re not in a freaking bottleneck!  And you DO have guns, n’est-ce pas?”

If you liked this post, please check out my tie-in gaming SF novel, Blood in Space: The Icon Mutiny.  This one’s not near-future SF, but it was a lot of fun to write.

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