Month: November 2010

Death Watch Playlist

I don’t know about you, but as I write a book, I generally build a playlist for it on Youtube.

1) Youtube is free (I’ll go back and buy copies when I can, but a lot of these are ???)
2) Youtube has some weird shit that I have trouble finding elsewhere.
3) Youtube is excellent for discovering one song from another that’s connected somewhat illogically.
4) I love people’s homemade videos. I just do.

I don’t build the playlist before I start writing; how am I supposed to know what sounds just like the story until I have a better feel for the story? No, my goal is to get the playlist done before I start editing, because when you’re editing, it’s hard to remember what you felt when you were writing the story, because you’re using a different part of your brain than you are to write.

Music is a good reminder.

At any rate, I finished the playlist tonight, finally, at about 70K of 80K words.  The choices are totally wrong as far as accuracy goes–Suki would listen to mostly Japanese music–but they call up the right emotions in me, so there you go.

Here ’tis:

Flobots – Handlebars.  Suki’s dad is a terrorist.  This is probably the most logical choice, but it also matches the feel pretty well, too.

The Dreamers (a.k.a. Concrete Blonde) – Heart Attack.  Love and pain, baby.

The Von Bondies – C’mon C’mon.  “Things were good when we were young.”

Emilie Simon – Opium.  I think this one is for Suki’s mother.

Beastie Boys – No Sleep Til Brooklyn.  Road trip to Izunami’s cave.

The Pillows – Ride on Shooting Star.  The closing song from FLCL.  Haruko is Suki’s hero, I think.

Switchfoot – Meant to Live.  Suki finds out that her father wasn’t planning for many people to survive.

Depeche Mode – Nothing.  Knowing what she knows, what should Suki believe?

House Production & Casting – Now I Wanna Be Your Dog.  A cover of the Iggy Pop song.  If this doesn’t put your hair on end, I don’t know what will.  How Suki (doesn’t) feel about a deal from the goddess.

Bjork – Innocence.  Suki is a punk.  She says exactly what she thinks most of the time.

Peaches – Lovertits.  Mairyi’s inner song.  She never was as innocent as she looks, or she always was.

Yoko Kanno and The Seatbelts – Knock a Little Harder.  From the Cowboy Bebop movie.  Suki’s perseverance.

Youmi Kimura – Itsumo Nando demo (Always with Me).  The end song from Spirited Away.  Last goodbyes.

Anybody else make playlists like this?  I think I just miss making mix tapes.  God, I loved mix tapes.  I loved other people’s mix tapes…

Book Release!

I was really straining to try to come up with something deep for my blog over the last few days. “I have to write something for release day…I better make it good!”

Yeah, I’m sick, and most of my functionally witty brain cells have curled up with a cup of hot water (all I can taste of tea is bitterness), a cough drop, and a blankie. So “good” will have to be relative today.

Choose Your Doom:  Zombie Apocalypse has been released online at Doom Press, Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Nobles, Books-A-Million, Powell’s, and many other places, I hope.  (The publishers are still in discussion over some pretty cool stuff, but I don’t want to talk about it until they say it’s a done deal.)

Book and mortar stores?  Not so much.  If you see a copy out in the wild, let me know!  But because this is the publisher’s first book, bookstores are a tad bit reluctant to stock it.  The next part of my evil plan is, as soon as I get author copies, to schlep books to the stores in town and say, “Pretty pretty want one?”

I’m pretty sure the answer will be “yes.”

I’ve tried to contact various local bookstores and conventions by e-mail, but that seems to be the perfect way to be ignored, so I’m going to try again with materials in hand and my face at the door.  If you know of a book store in Colorado that I should check out, let me know.  I’m planning on hitting Black Cat, Hooked on Books, B&N/Borders in town (they’re only stocking books for the signing, I believe), Poor Richard’s, Compleat Games and Hobbies, and Tattered Cover in Highland Ranch.  If you have contact info, even better 🙂

Here are the signing dates:

December 11th, South Colorado Springs Borders, 1-5 p.m.

December 12th, Park Meadows Borders, 1-5 p.m.

If you’re in the Colorado Springs area and want me to sign a book, let me know.  I still don’t have my books yet, though!

I have had a lot of support on this book, not just from the publisher side of things, but from people I know and people that I’ve met through the course of trying to get word out.

Thank you.  It’s humbling to have other people on my side; I will do my best to be on your side, too.

Finally, as always, this book wouldn’t be happening with out Lee and Ray.  Without them, I wouldn’t have the reservoir of strength to do this, either the writing side or the public side.  And I certainly wouldn’t be happy enough to be able to crack jokes about it.

Inside the Story

I had a really good run of slush stories to read for Apex Magazine in the last few days; I sent up about three issues worth of stories to the editor, Cat Valente.

Yay! Good stories!

But there were some stories in there that didn’t make my personal cut, and I’ve been trying to figure out what made the difference for me. Instinctually, I knew within a few lines whether the story was going to work for me or not – but not logically.

The ones I accepted, I didn’t think “this story is good” or “this story is not good.” I just read, in some cases until 2/3 of the way through the story, and knew that even if I didn’t think Ms. Valente would like the stories, it would be dishonest of me not to send them to her: each would be a credit to the magazine and enjoyable to a majority of readers, even if they don’t fit her vision (and I can’t argue with that; she’s picked some almost unbelievably magical stories, and I have enjoyed every one). Sadly, you can’t publish everything you like if you’re going to pay the writers.

However, with the stories that I didn’t like, I thought, “this story isn’t what I want” almost immediately; I was extremely conscious of reading the story, as a story, all the way through.

When I read the stories I liked, I went somewhere else. When I read the stories I didn’t like, I stayed on the page.

Logically, there was no substantive difference between the writing in two sets of stories. When I went back and compared the sentence-by-sentence writing of the two sets of stories, they weren’t much different. The writing in the good stories had, in most cases, a slightly higher level of taste; they didn’t use a lot of adverbs, had active verbs, etc., but weren’t poetic or startling or anything (except in one case, but the experimentalism in the sentences wasn’t consistent throughout, and that’s not why I picked the story; the writing was a distraction rather than a natural addition, but the story was good enough that after the first page, I didn’t care).

But here’s the trick: I didn’t consciously notice the writing in the good stories until I was further along in the story, after I’d made my decision. It might have mattered subconsciously, but not logically; I didn’t use the quality of the sentence-by-sentence writing as the touchstone for my decisions.

Something I did notice was that the good stories were never “outside” the story.

I’m not sure how to explain this; I’m just barely getting a feel for it. In the good stories, something happened, the characters reacted to it, which made something else happen, which made the characters react to it… The writer never described the story itself, never explained backstory unless it was the kind of thing the character felt necessary to explain (as though the character were telling me the story to my face), never talked about right and wrong. Never talked to the reader. Never judged.

I don’t think I’m saying this right. It felt like the writers had been hypnotized and had entered their own worlds and were babbling about what they were seeing and feeling, right in the moment, as though conscious thought were something abandoned. I couldn’t see any signs that the writers were outside their stories, that they made any conscious judgments about their stories. I don’t know whether they really did or didn’t, but that’s how it came across, as though none of it were deliberate or planned or tweaked.

As I’m slowly improving in my writing, I suspect that the technique here is to build up your ability to write well, consciously, painstakingly culling adverbs, writing believable dialogue, etc., but turning all that off when you’re sitting down to write, turning off all judgement of right and wrong, all ability to see anything but what’s going on in your head as you type.

It doesn’t sound that hard, as I type this, but I know, sitting down to write, that it can’t be easy, or everyone would be doing it. I’d be doing it, doing it consistently.

Distraction, Mistraction, Untraction, Alack-tion

Since a couple of writers whose advice I generally follow have posted on the nature of distraction (and because I’ve made my wordcount for the day), I’m going to chime in here.

Believe me, I understand the irony of writing a distracting blog entry about how to resist distractions.  I prefer to think of it as cruelty rather than blatant ignorance.

Everyone seems to be talking about trying to stay focused and disciplined.  I know, I know the temptation of abandoning the slog of one word after another, because it’s just too hard sometimes.  But I suspect staying motivated as a writer is one of those paradoxes of life, like “Love is the best” and “Love is the worst.”

“Writers have to stay focused.”  “Writers have to stay distracted.”

Here’s my logic:

  • All writers have to live with distractions.
  • Defeating a distraction is distracting.
  • When it’s more interesting to do the dishes than write, perhaps your brain is trying to tell you something.
  • Writing should be more fun than doing the dishes; if you’re not having fun, why would anyone else?
  • Maybe your brain is trying to tell you something, like, “I’m bored” or “I’m tired” or “I’m hungry” or “I don’t have faith in this whole writer thing.”
  • Maybe your brain is looking for something.
  • Maybe you’re getting in the way of finding what it is, by strangling your distractions.
  • Maybe you’re just about to daydream.
  • Maybe daydreaming is why you wanted to be a writer in the first place.
  • Maybe your distractions are opportunities to daydream.
  • And come up with something that will make you want to write.
  • So don’t kill the goose that laid the golden egg by being too disciplined.
  • Play.

You enjoy this.  Don’t forget.

Choose Your Doom Review!

A totally flattering review by Phil Elmore at the Martialist.

How to build writing speed

Some people write slow. Some people write fast. Some people write better slow than fast; some people write better fast than slow.

Regardless, I made it a goal of mine earlier this year to write faster. And better, but I’m not going to talk about that now, because November is for NaNoWriMo, and we want to write fast if we’re writing NaNo.

Here’s how I do it. Your Brain Cells May Vary (YBCMV).

  1. Do the heavy lifting ahead of time. Write a log line (a one- or two-sentence hook for your story) and a query letter for your story. Name your characters and briefly sketch out their relationships to each other. Do some research on the location/time period, or, if your setting is made up, similar locations/times. Write an outline – not a detailed one, because you’re going to change it from time to time, so you don’t want to get too attached to it.
  2. Turn off avoidable distractions.  That means:  no Internet, even for research.  The second your music becomes more important than your writing – it’s off.  With people, it’s best to work out ahead of time how you’re going to handle them.
  3. Destroy your illusions:  You do not need fifteen minutes to get “in the mood to write.”  You do not need a lucky object.  You do not need an uninterrupted span of time.  You do not need to be a prima donna.  If you want to be a working writer, you have to treat writing like a job:  get it done.  Anything in your head that makes you not get it done has to go.  You do not need “more time to write.”  If you’re reading this, you have time to write.
  4. No editing.  Don’t go back and fix it.  Insert a comment and move on.
  5. No research.  Insert a comment and move on.
  6. Turn off spell/grammar check.
  7. Think Zen when it comes to your internal critic.  You’re going to hate what you write; you’re going to love what you write.  What you write is neither as bad OR as good as you think it is.  It’s just a job.  Do your job:  put the words on the paper.  The critical (left) brain will provide commentary; it doesn’t know shit about first drafts, so whatever.  Don’t try to stop criticizing yourself; you’re not writing if you’re trying to shut part of your brain up constantly, the same way you’re not writing if you’re trying to make sure your kids aren’t writing on the walls while you’re typing on the computer.  They want to write on the walls?  Let them.  Your brain wants to tell you this is the crappiest thing you’ve ever written?  Fine.  Blah blah blah, it’s your annoying relative talking at Christmas dinner.  Blah blah blah.
  8. Take breaks.  If you find yourself staring at the ceiling or cleaning out your earwax, take a break.  Do something mindless that DOES NOT INVOLVE THE INTERNET, like cleaning.  My house is never as clean as it is when I’m writing a book.  Give yourself about five minutes every hour; do a mental inventory and make sure you don’t need to use the toilet, eat, stretch, get something hot to drink, etc.
  9. Don’t put snacks next to your computer.  Just don’t.  You can eat lunch at your computer, but don’t put excess calories within arm’s reach.  If you’re doing it right, you won’t even know you’re eating them.
  10. Every session, check your outline.  If necessary, outline what you plan to write that day.
  11. Type.  Type the first thing that comes to mind.  It doesn’t matter if you’ll use it in the final version or not, although if you can swing it that way, it works out a whole lot better.  The only way to write good prose fast is to write a lot of bad prose, whether you write it fast or slow.  Just write it and get it over with.  Think of it as part of the million-word dues you’re going to have to put in before you get good at it.  Pages and pages of description?  Okay.  Stream of consciousness that you use as your character’s internal monologue?  Okay.  When you’re typing, everything is okay.
  12. I could have said this earlier, in point #4, but then I would have misled you:  actually, if you find yourself in the middle of editing (you’re backspacing to correct a typo or whatever), just let it be and finish that quick edit.  Do NOT go back and fix something if you’re already past it.  Be Zen; if those edits clog up your fingers, just go with it, but do not seek them out, and if you can instead add a comment and move on, do it.
  13. Set goals that are not about how fast you type but about whether you get the words done at all:  “As soon as I finish this paragraph, I’m done.”  Page, chapter, a thousand words, reaching five thousand words, whatever.  Set goal after goal after goal.  You can tell yourself those words suck if you like, but meet your goal.  It’s like getting little kids to do stuff:  the first time you set them on a task, it takes all freakin’ day.  As they realize how little left of their day they have to do the other things they want to do, it takes less time…and the result is still the same.
  14. Write every day.  You don’t build the endurance to run a marathon by running for a whole month, once a year.  No way.  Write every day.

Again, make sure this is what you want before you go for it – but it’ll probably work.

Do the job, see the results.

In the end, what you want is a good story, and if you write well, it won’t matter how fast you write it.  But a lot of people are just killed by the slow pace of their writing; they spend years on a book that will never see the light of day, because they write slowly and infrequently, even if they write like freakin’ Shakespeare while they do it.

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