Friday, December 30, 2011

Then It Begins To Resolve

I never do very good by making New Year’s resolutions, but as I get older, I have gotten more focused on setting specific goals.  I feel I accomplished a lot in 2011 - I went to NYC for the first time, I went to New Orleans (ok, let's forget that), I moved into a new house, I published my first novel - two of those are from a lifetime goal list, so 2011 wasn't too shabby.  My only real goal for 2012 is to make 2011 the rule, and not the exception.  That being said, I have a few small goals I will tend to in 2012:

  • Publish my collection of short fiction (Winter 2012)
  • Complete and publish my next novel (Fall 2012)
  • Start work - and complete a first draft?- on the Elizabeth sequel (2013)
  • Go back to NYC
  • Make that return trip to Europe I have been planning for 10 years
There's lots of other things I'd love to do, such as:
  • Hold my breath until Community comes back on
  • Stop caring so much about new Apple rumors
  • Redirect frustration over the things I cannot change into the things I can
But a man must have priorities.  Everyone have a safe and happy holiday, and a wonderful new year!


Monday, December 26, 2011

Revising Fiction: The Reader

182.  Have you forgot your reader?

The writer-reader relationship may be one of the most complicated - and unforgiving - in the arts.  To give you an idea, do a Google search to see how many qutoes line up on the side of the reader being the most important aspect of writing, and then see how many quotes you can find for the exact opposite.

The truth is, without readers, fiction is nothing.  Your reader must be your primary concern, but then at the same time, you have to have a certain ignorance of them.  As a writer you need to achieve a couple things in your novel or short story.  The first and probably most important is distance.  The reader can't be aware of the author as they're reading; if they are, the jig is up and what John Gardner calls 'a vivid and continuous dream' is shattered.  Every effect you create within your work has to work towards the goal of making you as the author invisible; you have to work in mysterious ways. 

That being said, there's a lot of fiction that is deliberately meta.  An excellent example would be one of my favorite shows (and things ever) - the NBC show 'Community.'  Dan Harmon has made the show a running commentary on itself, other TV shows and the medium.  Part of the audience engagement here is in this communal self-consciousness.  The reward is a deeper understanding and appreciation of the medium, and the acrobatic skills of the author; the risk is story. 


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Revising Fiction: Uses of Dialogue

Continuing my series of posts based off of David Madden's essential Revising Fiction:

99. Have you failed to make dialog perform secondary functions?

A lot of beginning writers see dialogue as a way of advancing the plot. Most of the plot will come out through it, and in lesser fiction, characters will contribute things they already know and/or would have no reason to share with someone else because the author needs to get this out for the reader. Dialogue can and should advance the plot - in a play it's often the only means - but dialogue can also convey other functions as well.

Dialogue is a incredibly effective means of conveying character. Done correctly, a character may reveal any or all of the following through dialogue:

Beliefs
Biases
Education
Location
History

Most of this should come subtly. You don't want to have a character announce any of these things (typically). A highly educated person will sound different from someone without an education. One or both of those people may have a bias against the other; this will come out in their interaction, even if they don't openly express it. The highly educated person may be condescending, or we may see he/she is talking circles around the non-educated person in a way that person is not aware of.

Dialogue should also say what the person isn't saying. People often talk around subjects that are painful or distressing to think about. Yet these things inform their conversations and behavior; imagine a married couple deciding which tree to buy for Christmas. The wife has had an affair. They've reconciled but the fault lines are still there. The husband wants the tree. She seems disinterested. They argue over which one to pick. Are they arguing about the tree? The affair?

Try writing this scenario out as an exercise yourself.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Revising Fiction: 1st Person Narrative

As promised, I'm kicking off a little run of posts dedicated to the topics from David Madden's essential Revising Fiction: A Handbook for Writers.  I'll touch on a few of these, and in no particular order, so here goes:

3. If you have used the first-person point of view, have you realized all its potentials?

The novel in progress, otherwise known as #GhostofBigDamnEpic, features a first-person narrator.  This is pretty unusual for me.  Most of my work tends toward the third person, such as The Book of Elizabeth.   I chose to tell the new novel from the first person because of the opportunity the character presented me.  The main character lives in isolation, exiled from his memory and every other concept of life that we take for granted.  His voice is his only constant; it's repetitious, a trick against forgetting.  It had a music and an energy that made it compelling to pursue. 

Where I rely on Madden is asking myself some key questions:


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Revising Fiction

You've all heard the old addage - writing is rewriting.

No one believes that more than me.  I probably over-revise.  I spend years on short stories.  'News Right Fresh From Heaven,' my story that appeared in Fantasy Magazine earlier this year, began almost four years before, as two different stories (one was good, one was bad).  I have a couple other stories right now that I have been working on in some way, shape or form for just as long. 

It's funny now to be editing my story collection, which will appear very early next year, and to revisit these stories.  My intent with the editing was mainly cosmetic.  I ended up making some minor edits, mostly aimed at excessive commas and exclamation points (!!!), but also a few bigger changes to sentences and paragraphs.  I changed nothing structurally in the stories.  I don't want to re-write these, though the impulse sometimes occurs - what was I thinking there? - and so this is less a Director's Cut than it is maybe Edited for Television.  I plan to post about each story to promote the collection when it appears.  It's been fun to return them.  Most of them I hadn't looked at since they were published.

The hardest thing with revision is knowing when to quit.  Also hard is knowing when and where to start.  An invaluable resource to me for years now has been Revising Fiction, by David Madden.  I found it at Barnes and Noble and I've never put it down.  I recommend it for advancing and advanced writers alike.  What I enjoy most is that the book never quits on me.  As I grow as a writer, some of the sections and ideas in the book reveal themselves, or take on new meaning.

One thing I plan to do this week and maybe next is pull out some pieces from the book and offer some of my own thoughts as to how they relate to my writing, and maybe yours.

Friday, December 09, 2011

My Writer Pet Peeves

In no particular order:

  • I'm usually too tired from work and writing fiction to blog.
  • Most everyone says I need to blog to promote my fiction.
  • I write fiction to promote. On the blog I'm too tired to update.
  • Most people think since you're a writer, you always know what to say.
  • Most people - sometimes - think you must be smart, because you're writer.
  • You calculate the speed at which excitement collapses into disappointment on someone's face as the time it takes you to answer, "So what kinds of books do you write?"
  • Time=the books you want to write
  • The best books you will ever write are the ones you dream about right before you wake up.
  • You listen to music for economy and melody.  You watch TV for rhythm and depth.  You listen to the way people talk on the bus for dialogue.
  • You tell everyone else who wants to write to read.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Me & Star Wars: Guest Post by Ty Johnston

Last month Ty Johnston was gracious enough to let me guest post on his blog.  Now, he returns the favor with a great story on growing up with Star Wars, and how it impacted him as a writer:

I’m going to talk about Star Wars, but I want to say right here up front that I am not a Star Wars fanboy or geek or anything of the sort. I enjoyed the original trilogy, especially the first movie, and I found elements of the more modern trilogy which I enjoyed, though it just wasn’t the same experience for the most part (whether that was because I was older or because George Lucas had lost his mind is debatable).

I am 42 years old,and as an author of speculative fiction, I would by lying if I said Star Wars had never had an influence upon me and my chosen career. As I have mentioned elsewhere, I am not sure those of older and younger generations can appreciate the effect Star Wars had upon my generation, commonly referred to as Generation X within the media and broader culture.

When the first Star Wars movie was released in 1977 (I refuse to call this film “A NewHope”), I was eight years old. Before seeing the movie, I had showed some interest in science fiction and fantasy literature. My first memories of reading are of comic books, after all, a graphic and literary medium filled with the speculative. I also remember being somewhat of a fan of the Star Trek re-runs on television,including owning a number of Star Trek action figures and even the USS Enterprise bridge play set with the twirling transporter. Also, in 1977, I discovered The Hobbit, at first through the Rankin-Bass animated television show, then through the actual novel.

So, I was no stranger to fantasy and science fiction, even at such a young age. But Star Wars was so much more. I repeat, Star Wars was so much more. Star Wars made speculative fiction more accessible, as before science fiction and the like had seemed only upon the fringes of society, and was difficult to find in movie theaters, book stores and even on television. Before Star Wars, most sci-fi television I remembered were re-runs of shows from the 1960s, most of them in black and white. They had titles like “The Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits,” and were obviously from a different time than the one I was steeped in during the 1970s. Men wore suits out on the streets. Cars were bigger, longer, sleeker. Women dressed up to cook dinner. Etc.

After the success of Star Wars, science fiction was everywhere. New TV shows abound, and it seemed every week there was some new (though usually awful) sci-fi movie at the theaters. Also, whereas before I could hardly find any science fiction or fantasy at local book stores, now their were names like Bradbury and Heinlein and Asimov popping up all over the place.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Melancholia

This post isn't about the new Lars Von Trier movie where Kristen Dunst gets married and ends the world (I didn't see that coming either).  This is about how writing seriously affects my mood.

If I am making a lot of progress, then I'm a pretty happy camper.  If I'm not, as usually the case, my frustration tends to show.  This week I made serious progress on my new novel.  I had been spinning my tires a bit before, but then I realized what had been the stumbling block.  The dam broke, but I wasn't feeling excited, or successful.  Somewhere around Friday, I got pretty blue. 

It took me by surprise.  It took a little introspection before I understood what was really bugging me.  In some ways, it was where I was in the book - a major character dies, leaving the story in shadow - but it was another passing that really became real as I worked through the pages this week.  Elements of this book date back 15 years.  Ideas I kept in my back pocket, concepts and characters I explored elsewhere in earlier attempts.  This isn't a drawer novel - if only I could get off that easy - but the truth is I have been working on a version on this story off and on for 10 years. 

This week, I realized, to my surprise and apparent dismay, the end was near.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Carnival of the Indies Issue #14


My post from last month Mirror, Mirror on character description is featured in this month's Carnival of the Indies at Joel Friedlander's fantastic resource for indie writers, The Book Designer.

This is a website I visit daily and it's become required reading for me as I continue on this journey into independent writing.  Please check out my post and all of the other great articles!

Friday, November 25, 2011

How Putting Up A Christmas Tree Is Like Writing A Novel

  1. You'll start off trying to follow the instructions, and then give up.
  2. Are you watching football, or you..?
  3. Keep pulling left and right long enough, and it will start to look like something.
  4. Remember the ornaments you hang on it will cover up the gaps.
  5. OOH LIGHTS PRETTY. 
  6. There's more of it on the floor.
  7. You cap it off with something over the top, or subtle and understated.  It ices the overall effect, or completely undoes it.
  8. At the end, your arms and hands hurt.
  9. You always find one you like better at someone else's house.
  10. Next year you swear you'll get a real one.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Must There Be A Definitive Version of a Novel?

As you may have guessed from my post the other day, I am a pretty big Star Wars collector.  One of the biggest joys - and stresses - of collecting any toy line as old and broad as Star Wars is the question of variations.  The pic on the left shows that this started right away - Chewbacca went through six major card variations between 1978 and 1985, not counting the nearly infinite versions that feature this sticker or that back - and it continues to this day.  I avoid variations by and large.  What happens when you reach a certain point in collecting like I have is that, variations are all that's left, and variations are endless.

And expensive.

It got me to thinking though, about variation in fiction.  Typically, despite a fascination with looking into the creative process that makes us curious as to what might have been with any one of our most treasured classics, actual, planned variance in novels is pretty uncommon.  But must there be a 'definitive version' of a novel?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Ralph Wiggum Has Nothing On Me

Slightly off topic, but...

Some of you may have seen this elsewhere on the web last week, but I am now the proud owner of a fantastic piece and a real treasure, really.  This is a 1978 12 back shelf display that is complete and virtually intact.  There is some minor wear, but considering its age and condition, it's hardly distracting.  The best part - maybe - was that it came with 6 original 12 backs, all of them the 'A' version (find out what all this geekspeak is here).  EDIT: Two of them, the Stormtrooper and R2, are UNPUNCHED.

This is the centerpiece of my collection now to say the least.

 The 6 figures include R2, Luke, Han, Leia, 3-PO and a Stormtrooper.   I had a Jawa previously, which means I'll probably have to get the other 5 now...

A Million Voices Cried Out All At Once

Voice is the hardest thing to capture in fiction.

Every short story or novel has a voice, even if it's told in the third person. Often the 'voice' of that narrator, omniscient or not, will have a rhythm or cadence particular to the storyteller. Sometimes this is called 'style,' but for me, someone is always talking.

Junot Diaz has an excellent article on voice over the Huff Post this week. Ignore the comments - wow, did some of these people spill their barely bottled resentment all over themselves - and take in what he's saying. I always start with voice; character is voice. Character is story, so they go hand in hand and the failure in one will be the failure of both. To distinguish the voices of your characters, you have to hear them. You need to listen. It's been said a lot of times before and by better writers, but one of the best tools in your toolbox is eavesdropping. Dialogue benefits from this as well, so don't have your earbuds in when you're on the bus or train or standing in line at Starbucks. Hear what other people are saying, and how they say it.

Hear what they aren't saying. 




Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Community Rules

So NBC has elected to leave Community off its recently announced mid-season schedule.




Sign the petition if you'd like to see the show continue.    In the meantime, check out this excellent article over at Wired that provides insight into the creative process of Dan Harmon, creator of Community. In the article, Harmon talks about his 'narrative embryos,' a distillation of the story process by way of Joseph Campbell, and oh, Die Hard:


1. A character is in a zone of comfort
2. But they want something
3. They enter an unfamiliar situation
4. Adapt to it
5. Get what they wanted
6. Pay a heavy price for it
7. Then return to their familiar situation
8. Having changed

Essentially, it's Campbell's monomyth, boiled down to the extreme. Harmon uses this same process in breaking every single episode of Community.

Here, from Harmon's blog, is the extremely complex 'embryo' for the episode recently that explored six different possible timelines for the show:


I don't outline or break stories down this way, but often times I wonder if I should. My WIP right now (the #scifiJohnHughesbook) comes together and falls apart every day. Two days ago I was reaching the tipping point, now I'm questioning the purpose of the entire thing. I don't know what this book is. It doesn't feel like other books I have written. It feels strange and awkward. I know I have to just keep going. This novel has been waiting to be written for years.

How about the rest of you? Outline? Embryo?

 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Guest Starring...

Today I have a guest post over at author Ty Johnston's blog, on world building and the challenges involved when you're a fan of Hemingway, like me. 

Ty is currently doing a blog tour for his new novel Ghosts of the Asylum, available now!  I met Ty over at the Kindle boards, which is a good place to meet fellow authors and a good resource as well.  Blog tours and guest posts are very cool and different and I look to participate in more of them.

Look for a guest post from Ty here in December!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Frank Miller, You Are The Opposite of Batman

I'll try and be polite about this nonsense:
This little post isn't going to try and sort out the ways 9/11 impacted Frank Miller and all Americans, nor is it going to attack an artist who clearly has lost his perspective.

What I will try and do here is talk about art and agenda. Every work of art has one. Art is its own agenda; what it tries to convey through you, or about you, your circumstances or those circumstances you may find necessary to shine a light on, art communicates. Art is message. Art then must speak for itself. If you as the artist decide to be the messenger, or if you confuse the form - writing, in this case - with a bully pulpit, or worse, a weapon, then you are not an artist anymore. You are a propagandist.



Frank Miller rants against the Occupy movement in his blogpost. He's entitled to his opinion about the movement. As someone who visited the protesters in Zucotti Park last month, I have mixed emotions about the movement. I also have perspective. Frank Miller does not, it seems. His anger - real, visceral anger - over the protest quickly collapses into his real issue with them. These people hate America, because they aren't protesting the terrorists.

'This enemy of mine' he says, of al-Qaeda. Frank Miller is at war, and art is his weapon. His recent, um, piece - Holy Terror - makes it clear his art no longer speaks. He speaks for his art. He uses it as a means to exact a revenge for what happened to us ten years ago; he uses it as a means to ridicule and diminish Muslims in a way that is ignorant. 

The real enemy of America is ignorance.

Ignorance of our evaporating quality of life. Ignorance of those who do mean us harm. Ignorance of why.  So, I would say to Frank Miller, and to any writer, write about 9/11. Write about revenge. Write about an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan or a Muslim community in Michigan.  Shine a light on the things we don't want to think about. That we don't know about. Let your art speak for itself. Let your reader use their imagination to understand - or reject - what you confront them with. If you are only passing on your own personal judgement of a situation or people, then you are not a writer.

A writer cannot be a judge. A writer protests. A writer prosecutes. A writer defends. In the end, a writer doesn't decide. If they did, they wouldn't need readers.

Sent from my iPad

Friday, November 11, 2011

15 Things You Don't Know About Me

After Joel Friedlander at The Book Designer:

The Book of Elizabeth is the first novel I have published.

I did it all by myself.  Proudly.

It is not the first book I have written (it's the fifth).

None of the five novels (and the sixth one I'm working on now)feature a main character that is male.

I spent a summer in Dublin, Ireland, at Trinity College with the Irish Writing Program.  We talked a lot about male/female POV and a person's 'default setting.'  I think I said one time men are boring to me.  What more can you say about the male perspective that hasn't been said?  I overstated it, I think.  What might women say of the male perspective?

I get emails all the time from people who think I'm a woman. 

What is it about sexually ambiguous women?  This has nothing to do with writing.  Well.  Yes, it does.

Right now, I'm listening to the new Florence and the Machine record.  A pattern emerges.

The only patterns in your writing you should be conscious of are the ones that are improving.  I graduated from the University of Iowa with a first rate education and a first class confusion of the soul.  I spent years after college trying to reconcile the literary novelist with the Star Wars nerd.  Many of your peers will attempt to 'solve' or 'diagnose' you in workshops.  They're scientists, not writers.  You are person of faith - you yearn to communicate something to the world you can't quantify or explain - living in a world of science. 

There's always things like spaceships and aliens and time travel in my stories.  Not exactly hard science, but have faith.

I'm not particularly religious, but almost everything I write deals with faith to some degree.

My grandfathers, father, and uncle all served their country so I could sit here and ponder things better men asked as only as they died.

I'm only a veteran of bad decisions.

I didn't start watching Community until season 2.

Most everything I learned about writing growing up, I learned from TV.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Call of Duty: #amwriting

Up to 137 pages in the new novel.  Very close to the tipping point.  Haven't felt this way, in oh, four years?  You'd think I'd do it more often.

Slow Down - Icebergs Ahead!

A fair point in the Good Book Alert review of The Book of Elizabeth was the pace of the novel.  I knew this was an issue back to when I completed the first draft in 2008.  The primary reason the book reads as fast as it does is I was trying to cram all of this world bubbling over in my head under a hard page count given to me by the publisher.  Eventually, of course, that became irrelevant

When I took the rights back, I did consider expanding a little on the novel.  At that point though, the idea of spending more time on it made me sick.  I wanted to get past the book and four years of my life I felt had been wasted in waiting for it to arrive.  In retrospect, I should have taken a breath and expanded on some items.  The sequel will be more relaxed in pace, and won't be as hell bent on running through the world in an attempt to hit all the touristy spots before you leave town.

That said, I do kind of like the hit and run pace of the book.  Read on for some thoughts on why.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Character Motivation Or Some More Thoughts On Buffy

Willow, by Phil Noto.
Character is my first concern in any story.

Character is the story, as far as I'm concerned.  Character locks you up into stories that otherwise have gaps in logic or weaknesses in craft.  Character will allow you to forgive the unforgivable.  Character opens a window on worlds both within yourself and beyond that you otherwise were unable to access.  As form follows function, so too your story should follow its characters.  Start with a good (or great) character and your story will emerge from them.  Many novels or movies you see today focus entirely on an idea - an alien invasion, for instance - and the characters are stand-ins.  Bland types inserted to scream or chuckle at as the world disintegrates (every character in the Transformers movies, I'm looking at you).

Character is why I love Joss Whedon so much.  All of his work, Buffy in particular, follows from explorations into his characters.  Buffy and her friends provided a lot of fascinating material to chew on for seven years on TV and for mostly one 'season' in comic books.  As I mentioned in my previous review of Buffy: Season 9 #1, the characters feel to me a little stalled out at this point. 


Sunday, November 06, 2011

4 Stars: The Book of Elizabeth

Artist Unknown?  I tried!
Good Book Alert posted a good and fair review of The Book of Elizabeth today - 4 out of 5 stars!  Some very good praise:

'The Book of Elizabeth is a fascinating take on alternative history speculative fiction.'

'One of the joys of this novel is the exploration of this alternate Earth and how the various strands of history and potential history mesh together.'

A pretty interesting discussion on the genre of alternate history and what is or isn't alt-history develops in the comment section.  The discussion specifically in the comments got me to thinking about that particular genre and its conventions.  I never thought of Elizabeth as specifically an alt-history book.  The point of divergence in the novel is very obscure - I never actually identify it, though there are clues - and it is a result of an event that goes unexplained.  It's not a traditional 'what if Queen Elizabeth I had lost to the Spanish Armada' kind of POD story.

For readers of alt-history, is an explanation necessary?  Is a definite POD?  For me, every work of fiction is in some way an alternate history; it imagines a world that either diverges or impinges on ours through the projection of stories and events that (often) have no real historical source.  Sometimes this is obvious; sometimes not.

The historical Elizabeth has been extracated from our history at age 32 and transplanted to one completely alien.  A terrible event has completely collapsed all of human history, violently, and chaotically.  Something new has been built in its place; unfortunately the new structure is a little drafty.  Our history remains, in the presence of Echoes, individuals who have survived the event, like Elizabeth, and been exiled in the new history.  The confrontation becomes inevitable; will our history - both public and personal - reassert itself?  Is it doomed to repeat, as it so often does?

I'd love to know what thoughts people who've read the book have about alt-history or my book in particular - feel free to leave comments!

Friday, November 04, 2011

Whaa-Whaa-Whaa

Inevitably at some point during a Peanuts cartoon, Charlie Brown's teacher squawks at him in her unmistakable trombdrone and Charlie or one of the other kids simply affirms, or translates, whatever it is Mrs. Donovan says.

'You want me to pound the erasers?'

Charlie Brown is a lovable misfit, the butt of many jokes, and he lives in a world of adults who cannot be understood to us except by children. Unless you are specifically writing for children - or maybe particularly if you are - don't treat your reader like Charlie Brown.

The last thing you ever want to hear someone say as they look up out of your novel is 'Good Grief!

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Attack The Book

Right at the moment the characters of the movie ‘Cloverfield’ enter an electronics store that is being looted, I knew I was watching the wrong movie.  The movie I wanted to watch was about these kids, robbing stereos and TV’s as a gigantic monster tears down New York City.  Instead, we follow a group of young twentysomethings who are in the midst or on the verge of prosperous lives; their largest concerns are romantic (‘Does she love me?’).  The movie was a good time, and mostly exciting, but we had seen this before.

 ‘Attack The Block’ is a British movie that follows a group of teenage boys up to no good on what appears to be Guy Fawkes Day.  They live in a government housing project (‘The Block’) in south London and open the movie by mugging a nurse that lives in their building.  The mugging goes weird when a tiny monkey-like alien drops out of the sky and demolishes a car.  One of the boys, Moses, kills the creature after it scars him.  Things take a turn for the worse when more alien monkeys show up and focus their alien invasion it seems entirely on The Block (just why is a spoiler).

This is the best movie I’ve seen all year.  And it's a great example for fiction writers.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Engender

Another subject in writing that can be as imagination destroying as the technique of characters describing themselves through a mirror is the idea that you can't write outside your gender.  This would also extend to ethnicity, class and species - if Orwell can put himself in the head of talking animals, why should it be impossible for a woman to do so with a man?  Or vice versa? 

I see warnings against this every so often.  There was a little bit of this when 'The Help' came out (the book), and some reviewers expressed concern with the author writing in the voice and from the perspective of a black woman.

A failure to place yourself as a writer in the mind of someone utterly apart from you in background or biology is a failure of imagination.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Lift Off This Blindfold

I had been on something of a tear back in September on the next novel.  Then I realized it would be next year if I was lucky before it saw the light of day, and I wanted to have something out there in the cloud since all the advice I get about this digital publishing era centers on volume (woe is me: I write like a snail).  So I thought, I'll collect my published short stories.  And then I thought, I'll include something new.  Like a new short story in the Elizabeth universe, because it's going to be even longer before I get back to that.  So I started writing the short story.  And then I went to New York City.

So here it is the end of October, and I haven't touched the new novel in over a month. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Mirror, Mirror

Recently I bought a copy of a pretty well reviewed and promoted speculative fiction novel.  About two chapters in, the main character looks in a mirror and describes themself.  I literally closed the book and stopped reading.  The novel had other issues, but this put me right out of the story.  This technique - being generous here - occurs a lot in first person narratives, about as often as a story beginning with the main character waking up from a dream.  The mirror device is best avoided, but not necessarily because it's so overused - it's best avoided because simply put, it's so easy. 

A character, especially a protagonist, should never be described; they should be imagined.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Through Chaos As It Swirls

Listening to new Coldplay.  So many great songs - something feels missing.  Could be first listen jitters.

Lull in posts.  Went to NYC and had a truly incredible, really meaningful trip.  Some of the best four days of my life.  I visited the Statue of Liberty, Zucotti Park and the Occupy Wall St. protesters, and the WTC memorial all in one day.  A rain storm stopped long enough for me to enjoy each.  I caught up with old, dear friends and made new ones.  I can't write it all here, but that old Tony Bennet song about SF - I left my heart in NYC.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Wapusk


The criminally underappreciated Kathleen Edwards returns with one of her loveliest songs yet, Wapusk (below). I have been playing this and the B-side over and over today. I can't wait for the record, which is due early next year. I saw Kathleen in Chicago a few years back when she was touring to support 'Asking For Flowers.' During the opening act, she came out to watch in this hooded sweatshirt and I totally blew her cover by introducing myself. It was worth it.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Bored Now

I've had the first issue of Buffy Season 9 for two weeks now.  I live and die by Joss Whedon.  I love Buffy.  I love Buffy in comics even more.

I couldn't be moved to write anything about this issue.

Not that there is nothing to say.  There's actually quite a bit.  Buffy flirts or possibly flirts with everyone in the cast (more on this in a sec).  She has moved to San Fransisco to work in a coffee shop.  Her friends have moved with her.  She gets drunk and acts stupid at a party.

She never mentions Giles is dead. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

20 rules of detective fiction

The Elizabeth short story for the collection next year has turned into a murder mystery of sorts. The story dimensionalizes let's say the larger Elizabeth universe and gives some perspective on the next novel. It does break by default rule #13 though... but rules are made to be broken.

Looking forward to it as my mom has always been a mystery nut and by extension so am I.

By the way, this is my first post from an iPhone for the blog. Definitely need some more features for this app.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Exit Comfort Zone

Sometimes I feel like this guy trying to plug my novel, but the downside of being an independent writer is that I am my own business.  I have to shill, as uncomfortable as it makes me sometimes.  This somewhat tongue in cheek post over at TNH doesn't really have anything to do with my own situation as a writer.  Not really. 

But just the same, stepping out of my comfort zone, if you have read The Book of Elizabeth, and if you enjoyed it, help an independent writer out by doing some of the following things:

1.  Order a copy.  Pick your poison: paperback, Kindle, or Nook.  iPad and more coming soon.

2. Write a review.  This is huge for indie writers.  Word of mouth is everything.  Post a review at Amazon, Goodreads, and Barnes & Noble.

3.  Attend an event.  I'm working on possible readings/things in the near future.  Check back for details.

4. LIKE my Facebook page.  Even if you hate the new Facebook. 

5. #Fridayreads and #followfriday him @Darbyharn on Twitter.

I've gotten some really wonderful comments about the book, and a lot of people asking for more, so I feel good about how things are going.  I appreciate your support as always!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Like A Modern Man

Woke up way too early with the need to puke (thanks Ben).  Spent the morning compiling a draft manuscript of a short story collection I will publish after the new year.  I've wanted to do this for a while, but for some reason or another haven't.  This book collects most of my published stories, as well as a few new ones, and a few poems and short pieces for good measure.  I laughed a little too as I realized I will be editing some of the published pieces.  I have been protesting George Lucas doing this to Star Wars recently.  Thankfully no one cares about the original versions of these stories.

The collection may also include a brand new short story set in the Elizabeth universe.  The thought occured to me that it might be a good idea, and a fun way of tiding over anyone who might be wanting more, as it is going to be a long wait for the sequel.

The reason for that is because the sci-fi John Hughes project has become two novels.  The writing is going very well - 116 pages so far.  I don't want to say too much about the particulars of the novels yet, in case I end up losing my enthusiasm, but basically you're going to get a double LP.  It's going to be pretty cool, for me at least.  Hopefully that will be next year (both). 

After that, my plan is to revisit Elizabeth, Miranda and Alice.  More to come!

Art by James Jean.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

No Reading At Work


My very amazing coworkers threw a bit of party for my book today (along with a bon voyage for our friend Nicole, who is leaving us for another department).  Check out the doodle art by fellow sup Teaya.  Very cool.  It was very, very wonderful of them to do this.  We had amazing cupcakes from Scratch and Andy Rooney - I mean Pat - interviewed me a little about the book.

I am so lucky to work at such an amazing place, and to have such wonderful colleagues.

Thank you all!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Long Time Ago, In A Toys R Us In Paramus

Bumming around on Ben's blog I found this old, very low quality video of a newscast from 1983, featuring a toy aisle from Toys R Us, on the day Return of the Jedi came out:


You got to love this. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

This One Has Legs


I picked up the new version of Batgirl today (good thing I had Mike put it in my pull box, because it vanished off the shelves) and wanted to share some thoughts. There's been some controversy over this book, mainly because as part of the DC reboot, and also because Barbara Gordon is back in the costume after 20 years. And walking. For those of you who may not know, Barbara was shot and paralyzed in The Killing Joke back in 1988. This event, along with the contemporaneous arrival of Watchmen, Swamp Thing and Batman: Year One, ushered comic books into the modern, 'adult' age.

Barbara has spent the last two decades in a wheelchair, as Oracle, a sort of computer hacking expert and intelligence officer for Batman's extended crime-fighting operation. Oracle represented a lot of things; real-life consequence to what had been child's play; it doesn't always work out at the end of the issue; and a hero, a symbol, for people with disabilities in stories dominated by people in underwear. When DC announced Barbara had somehow stood up out of her wheelchair and walked again, the outrage by those people that valued her status as the only hero with disabilities in comics should have come as no surprise. To DC, apparently, it did.




DC has come off as surprisingly tone-deaf when it comes to women lately, and that really came through when this week we found out Barbara is not the only character with a, um, makeover:


Amanda 'The Wall' Waller, a long time DC character with a figure unique in comics, became utterly cookie-cutter with her appearance in Suicide Squad #1 (also showcase for a truly stupid revamp of Harley Quinn, a personal favorite). I loved the reaction to some of this, so I had to share it:


Anyways, it's not easy being a woman in the DC universe. What do I think of Batgirl #1 myself? The art was so-so. Some perspective concerns (is that her leg coming at me?) Overall, it was fine. I actually found myself pretty involved in it, especially at the end, when she faces a moment that's very plausible given her experience. Barbara as always is fun and engaging and it's nice to see her in the costume again. Only problem is, costume comics don't do it for me anymore, and the 'new' DC frankly leaves me confused. I'm all for reboots - our pop culture has reboot on the brain lately - but any revisiting of an existing character has to honor the spirit of that character.

Barbara is here in spirit. Does the fact she's no longer disabled dishonor her? Is she her disability? Is it more important that there be a character that is a symbol for people with disabilities?

What did you think?


Saturday, September 17, 2011

George Lucas (Insert Your Opinion Here) My Childhood

Harry Knowles, whose reviews I generally avoid for their lack of perspective, provides quite a bit on the new Star Wars Blu-rays over at his website.

The discussion among fans has basically reduced the films, particulary the original trilogy, to the sum of its parts. As George Lucas has dissected the films, amputated them and grafted on new parts, a large group of fans have done the same. These films have been broken down and analyzed to the breaking point. People forget why they loved them in the first place - or they identify what they loved, and consequently, their childhood - with the parts Lucas excises.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Out With The Wash

Update: more to the story.
Read this somewhat surprising story about a team of authors finding their gay character edited out of their YA novel. A really interested discussion about traditional publishing and YA in general follows. The authors present their choices at the end, but none of them include going independent.

I feel indie-publishing should be an option. I am all for getting the Big 6 to evolve, but with this story and others this week, it seems pretty clear that traditional publishing is not changing with the times. If anything, they may be regressing. Case in point:

What do the girls on these covers all have in common?


Monday, September 12, 2011

Battle Lines

Kiana Davenport writes on her blog about an incredible and discouraging ordeal she recently went through:

In January, 2010, I signed a contract with one of the Big 6 publishers in New York for my next novel. The book was scheduled for hardback publication in August, 2012, and paperback publication a year later. Recently that publisher discovered I had self-published two of my story collections as electronic books. To coin the Fanboys, they went ballistic. The editor shouted at me repeatedly on the phone. I was accused of breaching my contract (which I did not) but worse, of 'blatantly betraying them with Amazon,' their biggest and most intimidating competitor. I was not trustworthy. I was sleeping with the enemy.
It gets worse:

Last week, I received from their lawyers an official letter terminating my contract with them, "...for permitting Amazon to publish CANNIBAL NIGHTS, etc...." and demanding back the $20,000 they had paid me as part of their advance. Until then, this publishing giant is holding my novel as hostage, a work that took me five years to write. My agent assures me I am now an 'anathema' to them.

What's really at stake here for the publisher? 

When she signed the contract, it wasn't for her backlog - if the publisher thought so, that's a huge issue.  Kiana and any author has the freedom to do what she wants to with work she holds the rights to.  It can't be they object to her publishing anywhere else at all; one must assume that they understood and most likely encouraged the fact that Kiana would be continuing to write and submit short stories to magazines while under contract with them, and that these stories would possibly be published.  This actually would be a necessary and expected means of promotion by an author they had invested in.  So... what cost is her self-publishing works she now holds the rights to?

Not money.   The couple hundred dollars she might make from a sale of a short story is nothing.  The money she makes from Cannibal Nights may or may not be nothing.  It doesn't represent lost revenue for the publisher.  What's really at stake for the publisher is two fold:

  •  They have signed an author who is actively still self-publishing.  Self-published writers are not the legitimized, industry sanctioned writers we publish.  No thanks.

  • As an author that belongs to a house, your voice belongs to them.  You have no voice but which they choose to express. 
This is truly unfortunate for Kiana.  It's a cautionary tale as she says.  And it's a wake up call, to everyone with a voice.  Stay independent, and keep it. 

UPDATE: Now, there seems to be debate on whether a non-compete clause existed in her contract.  If it did, and Kiana signed it, then she is in violation of it.  My opinions center particuarly not on the purpose of the clause - but the intent.  If the intent is to prevent an author from self-publishing or publishing any work to which they hold the rights - i.e. previously published material that is not a new novel the publisher has paid you for - then I disagree with that.  Good discussion here.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

It Will All Come Together Someday


And even in our sleep,
pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
and in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom to us
by the awful grace of God.
- Aeschylus, 3rd century BCE

Friday, September 09, 2011

On The Future of the Book

Following the lead of Joel Friedlander , I offer below my responses to the 5 keywords supplied in this interview:

#ebook—When I read the word ebook, I think ‘ibook.’ Not that digital publishing is some consequence or invention of Apple, but that it’s the engine of democracy in publishing. ‘I’ finally have control, choice and opportunity. Not only in communicating my art to an audience, but it communicating my art period; the ebook is going to allow for wonderful experimentation. The book will evolve with the form.


#future—Unknown. Will traditional publishing perish? Will it adapt and survive? Will the vehicles for e-publishing like Amazon or Apple just become another publishing house, and gate keepers of digital reading? Does the prospect of financial gain in e-publishing create a bubble that bursts in the end? I believe great works of literature will emerge through self-publishing and end once and for all the stigma against it. Will these works struggle to find readers? Will the independent community support itself?

#indie—A point of pride. At the launch party for my novel The Book of Elizabeth, my brother used the term ‘independent artist’ when introducing me. It took me off guard how proud that made me. As an ‘indie author,’ I am on my own in every way, but I am together with hundreds of other artists who have proudly stood for their own art in their own medium for decades without institutional bias against them for doing so. I stand on top of a wall that has separated writers from readers for centuries. The wall is falling.

#prices—The threshold. Is a novel at $2.99 worth less than a comic book at the same price? A DVD rental? Open question. Prices for ebooks will destroy the paperback market I think, but not books in general. Books will continue to be desired and be works in their own right. Hardcover and unique editions will probably thrive somewhat as people look to a book for its inherent value and properties. And their scarcity.

#innovation—Necessary. Traditional novels as ebooks will do just fine, but the future of this form will be defined by those that explore the boundaries of digital publishing. Do they incorporate video and sound elements, and become more like comic books? Movies? Do they become more interactive, and become more like games? Do words become decoration, as opposed to foundation? Does our language itself evolve through this process? Is the written word really the wall?

Monday, September 05, 2011

An Open Letter to Sinead O’Connor

Dear Sinead,
This is in response to your ad for a new boyfriend.  I don’t meet many of the qualifications you specified, but if you hear me out, I think you will see that I am your man.

·         I am only 36, but I am an old soul like you.

·         I don’t live in Dublin or Wicklow.  I live in Iowa, but I spent a summer in Dublin studying at Trinity College.  I know a summer isn’t much but Irish hearts are made in days.

·         I am gainfully employed.  I have a pot to piss in.

·         I am an artist.  I write novels out of frustration for the songs I can’t sing.

·         I am sufficiently hairy.

·         You had me at hello (1990).

·         I am not a Brian or Nigel.  I am a Darby.

·         I stood by you back then through all the hate and misunderstanding and jokes at your expense.

·         I have no hair really on my head and am a slacker when it comes to the hair on my face.

·        I missed meeting you in Dublin by a few minutes at a restaurant near the Abbey Theatre.  This doesn’t mean much except that my friend Polly apologized for even telling me she saw you in the restaurant before the play started, because she knew from the first day we met that my goals for summer were 1) To meet you  2) go to my family’s home in Enniskillen 3) write fiction, in that order.

·         I am snuggly.  The correct term is ‘Darbalicious.’

·        Every time I hear you sing I think it will be fine if I die and never hear the sound of God’s voice, because there is no voice that could ever be more beautiful than yours.

·         I live in my own house and I like my mother, even if she didn’t want me watching your videos.

Sinead I hope you find true love and happiness.  Even if this and all the other applications give you a laugh, it will be a gift to have added to your happiness.

Sincerely,
Darby

To Freddie On His 65th Birthday

Follow the link to see a truly wonderful happy birthday wish to the astonishing Freddie Mercury.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Super Hamm

Don't know if anyone has seen the new Superman pics, but... yeah.
Here's where I line up, and AMAZING artist Phil Noto brought it to life for us:



Your Nice New Outfit.
I've been living on Phil's Tumblr for a while now.  Great for pot stirring while writing.

Going On Faith


I am a huge, huge, Buffy fan.  Like a lot of other people, I tripped out over the return of the character and world in comics, with Joss Whedon writing.  The show was a comic book at heart, with seasons structured like comic book arcs, with a big bad every year.  The comic started off tremendously, rolling along for three years until - it rolled along for three years.  Season 8 ran way too long and the Big Bad - Twilight - turned out to be Angel.  I had no problem at all with the villian being Angel.  I never read the IDW post-Angel series, so for me, Angel and crew died in that alley.  What happened there?  Did something make him turn evil?  He had been on a do bad things for good reasons path at Wolfram and Hart in Season 5.  Maybe this was the culmination of that.

Ah, no.

I still don't understand Twilight's motivations, and reading the first issue of what is technically Season 9, Angel & Faith #1, it's obvious no one does.  Not Angel and not the writers.  The Twilight thing informs everything here.  Angel murdered Giles at the end of last season and is now trying to atone with Faith's help (wonderful reversal of their relationship).  The only problem in this wonderful comic is that Angel is still wishy-washy on the Twilight episode and so too then is the writing.  Either Angel was responsible for his actions, or he wasn't; just pick one and move on.

Here's a run down on the many, many great things about this comic:

  • The art by Rebekah Issacs.  Excellent likenesses and very strong overall.
  • The dialogue - sounds just like them.
  • Characterization.  It's Angel and Faith.  No doubts this time.
  • The concept!  I love the idea of the two of them working off of Giles' old cases.
  • The end.  I like where this is going.  It's very in keeping with the series.  Here's hoping they actually get there in a reasonable amount of time.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My Life: The Blu-Ray Edition

Following a recent trend, I am pleased to announce a series of changes to my life that I previously was unable to acheive given the budgetary and techinical limtations at the time. I understand this is different from what some people know and love, but also understand, this was my vision all along.

Let the changes commence:

1. I now look like this.


2. In the original losing my virginity scene, I shot first. This has now been corrected to show the two of us going off at the same time. Far more realistic.

3. There is now a dinosaur walking through every home movie of my childhood.

4. To emphasize my true emotion, I now scream "NOOOO!!!" any time I am upset.

5. I deleted the scene from our summer where I planned to tell you that I'd been a wimp and that I was in love with you, but you showed up to the theater with that other guy. Now I tell you right away, and the last 11 years isn't the same scene over and over again.

6. I have digitally painted out every single blemish from my teenage years. This required months of painstaking and exacting detail.

7. Instead of my uncle dying two years ago, he lives and makes fun of the fact I have no hair.

8. I now have hair.

9. The four years I wasted waiting for my publisher to put out my book is shortened to two and I come to my senses far sooner.

10. I don't know what the new scene is, after I tell you how I feel. This would mean writing something new, and not just revising what happened over and over again. I feel safer, editing. That way I can control what happened. I can change the past, and stall the future.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

In Which I Am 59 Pages Into The New Novel

Today I knew the new novel was going to stick - there have been other 'new novels' in the last couple years - because I found myself wanting to go to the library to look up stuff. This is the weird litmus test I have with a novel. If I feel the need to go downtown and gather some books, then it's a keeper. If I don't, then I'm probably going to get bored of you pretty quickly. Maybe I should apply this to relationships.

'Hey, mamma. Want to go down to the library with me?"

Books I checked out for research:

"Twilight At The World of Tomorrow" (about the New York World's Fair)

"You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried" (essays on the John Hughes Brat Pack movies)

I wrote a scene today where the main character tries to mend her dress with scraps of fabric left over from the creation of other kit-bashed dresses for her cousins. The kernel for this scene actually began in another novel (did not go to the library for) a while back. It struck me as I was writing it, that this new novel is stitched together from the scraps of other books that never came together, or did, but unsuccessfully. The idea for the story is pretty old - 15 years old, at least. Frankenstein lurks behind everything I do. Elizabeth was sort of this bastard child - unexpected, vibrant - everything else seems kibble, scrap for the creatures that sometimes come to life when the electricity runs through their patchwork bodies.

Monday, August 08, 2011

So When's The Next One Coming Out and Other Questions

Impossibly - happily? - one of the first questions people ask me who have read Elizabeth is, when is the sequel coming out?

I tell them a little about the history of this book, and they say, you must have it already in the can, what after four years and all? Yes and no. I have about 150 pages of what will someday be the sequel to Elizabeth. About half of it I wrote in 2009 or so, before this paralysis over what was going to come next took over my life. The other half more recently. I like it. Miranda is older. She has become the centerpiece of the story.

Elizabeth (the book) is like one of those relationships where you fight and break up and get back together just to do it all again. I have a serious love/hate thing with it right now. I love that people seem to like it, and want more. I hate that I can't get past it and all I want to do is something else.

I am writing a new book, completely and utterly different than Elizabeth. I'm 50 pages into that right now (!!!) and am very excited. That will be next. Elizabeth 2.0 will come after, and so is at least two years away. I think by the time I am done with this new book, and have that FUCK YES I FINISHED A BOOK feeling, which I haven't had in years, I will be ready to go back to Elizabeth, and make up.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

My Life As An Author, or You Are #120,377 on Amazon.com

So the first day out with the book, I sold ONE copy. That is one more than I've ever sold before in life, so success. It was kind of strange, and anti-climactic. I admit I was a little - not blue, but periwinkle - about the rank, which is soberingly direct. My only goal is to make the top 100,000. I believe in myself. If I felt sore at all, that was cured when I found a squirrel on the bike trail tonight that I'm pretty sure was suffering from a heat stroke. He couldn't walk (no car damage) and stared at me fuzzy while I picked him up and put him in the shade. He seemed like he was in a lot of pain. There's not much you can do about stroked squirrels or your Amazon rank. I put them to the side, and let the rest happen.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Independence Day & Date

Today my book is available for purchase both in print and as an ebook.

You can find the print copy here, and the Kindle version here. Versions for the Nook and iPad will be available any day now.

For some reason I am 'Mr. Darby Gavin Harn' on the print page. Hmm.

It took four years for this day to happen. Not to write the book. That largely took about 6 months - let's say 9 or so with revisions. I finished the book and delivered it to my publisher three years ago. It sat in limbo ever since, with shifting release dates, all the way up to last fall. It even went up for sale online, but things didn't add up. No cover. It supposedly went out for review, but it didn't. Never available from the distributor that was distributing it. After a while, the obvious finally became clear. The book was never coming out.

If there was a reason for the publisher (named elsewhere on the site) not releasing the book on time or at all, it was never expressed. Not even when I asked. I got endless deflection, or I was simply ignored. After three years wasted on a book I was desperate to get past, I wasn't about to let it be four.

I felt like a fool. Like a failure. Every one kept asking me - where is the book? It's the kind of book you can buy in stores, right?

Part of me wanted to burn the book and never look back. I could have done that, easily. I could have tried to sell it elsewhere. I would have, I'm sure. That would have been another 2-3 years of my life. I had already wasted 3 years on a book I was desperate to get past. I wasn't about to let it be four.

So I jumped at the only other option, which was to do it myself. Five years ago - two - this would have been unthinkable. It would have been impractical from a cost standpoint, and career suicide. If you ever want to be taken seriously as a writer, and boy did I, you simply cannot self publish. You just don't do it.

I'm over what I'm supposed to or not supposed to do. I think most people are, and the fact that I walked out of a typical writer sob story into the digital revolution is extremely fortunate for me. So many others never had this option.

I am going my own way. Where it goes, I have no idea. Part of that is scary. Part of it is thrilling. If anyone wants to tag along, I don't bite.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Part Where You Deal With It

Most of my life has gone into seeking validation.

From the moment the thought formed that in order to attain validation for my writing, and by no simple extension myself, I have invested all of my energy in doing so. Decades now. Every hour and minute you can break down in those years, lost. I thought I had finally found it in 2007. I had sold my novel, The Book of Elizabeth, to a publisher. I had sold some short stories, and I thought - I knew - I had made it. All those years and frustrations, those bloody failures and false starts; justified. Redeemed. Validated.

Then the last three years went by without the book coming out. Without getting paid. Without any account for the delay. I never got a clear answer as to why - there was always a different reason, or easy deflection - so I don't know if it was that the book wasn't what they thought it would be. Or they just had no idea what to do with it. Or they found something new and shiny and like other authors, I was forgotten in the endless procession of acquisition. Whatever the real reason, it became clear this winter the book would never come out, I would never get paid, and with nothing to show for it, I was out the last three years of my life.

I was not going to let it be four.

I took the book back. I had three choices. 1) Do nothing. Cave in. Easy and attractive. 2) Try to sell it to a different publisher. Difficult and time intensive, but - validation! 3) Do it myself. Do what now?!?

Self-publishing - the use of the world self says everything you need to know about the perspective of the literary world on rogue writers - has come very far recently, thanks to the explosion of digital publishing. I sometimes wonder if I haven't found myself in this situation at the right moment. The option at least is there. The chance to guide my own work and my own art witbout interference, without prejudice, and without validation. Part of me still wants it. I suppose I always will. I exhausted the majority of my life seeking it, and there is nothing wrong in affrimation of your work - communication without acknowledgement, one way or the other, is just noise - but my life is my life, and my voice is my voice.

It's my voice to use how I see fit. If there is an answer or not, then at least I have spoken and I did not have to raise my hand for permission to do so.

I see this blog as a journal of this adventure in rogue writing. I will be presenting the progress of The Book of Elizabeth as it develops and finally - FINALLY - comes out this year, on a e-reader near you (and in print, too).

Wish me luck!