Saturday, April 28, 2007

Writing Lessons From Son Number Three

Son Number Three gets attention in three ways. When I thought about it, all three can be adapted into a writing lesson. Let me count the ways:

1. Scream
2. Look adorable
3. Fill the diaper

My friend, all of these can be accomplished by your writing to make it get noticed as well. (However, if you find a way to do all three at once, you either need a Pulitzer or a therapist.)

When your writing screams it demands attention through sheer force of will. This implies a certain amount of emotion devoted to your story. Don't lollygag around, get to the heart of it and keep it up. Looking adorable is all about crafting a word, sentence, paragraph, or entire passage that is so mesmerizing it can't be ignored. It's the type of writing that must be worked at, to be sure, but mostly comes from a lightning strike of inspiration. And I've noticed that the more you're sitting at your computer the more likely these flashes are to be captured in copyrightable form. The third way is not what you think. (Although it may be, in which case I can't help you.) It's also my favorite style of writing. I should coin the phrase, Diaper Filled Writing or some such. This method is to present your readers with a dilemma that compels them to act. The action you're looking for is reading; reading that will solve the dilemma for them and give them the answer they're after and yet pose another question in a never ending string of filled diapers. And just like filled diapers, when you're writing the solution to one your protagonist should be filling another.

Or something like that.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Dresden Files

A friend of mine suggested these books by Jim Butcher. While urban fantasy is not my particular genre of choice, I have to say that the first book, Storm Front, is pretty good. It's a first person account of Harry Dresden, an openly practicing wizard in Chicago that functions as a paranormal investigator. Harry has a wry wit and is a likeable protagonist. Butcher writes in a fairly straightforward fashion that avoids campiness, which is the only way I like my fiction. I have no problem voluntarily suspending disbelief if the author will only let me. I have only gotten to chapter 5 but it gets favorable marks so far.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Rooting For the Squirrel

As I was driving the family to church this morning I had an interesting and brief encounter with a squirrel. The wee beastie darted out in front of me and made a dash for the other side of the road, apparently not to be outdone by the chicken. I was the only one on the road at the time and I judged that he just might make it. In that instant I decided to root for his success. When I wondered why, I realized that it was a bit like writing. You root for the underdog. You root for the little guy who's trying to achieve his life's dream even though there's a multi thousand pound minivan of doom bearing down on him. Make you characters like that and you will win over readers. However, I offer one word of caution: without the real possibility that your main character might fail he's not really that likeable underdog, is he? Since I instinctually understood this... I did not slow down.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Son Number Three Speaks His Mind

Son Number Three spoke his first real word today. He looked up at me when I walked into the room this morning and declared, "Dada." This is the first time he's definitely associated me with the sound and I'm counting it as official.

In other news, I wrote a few hundred words for "The Battle of Raven Kill" this morning. I think I am finding the tone and direction for the story and I am trying to get it completed in time to start submitting by the end of summer. Unfortunately, the market I was aiming for, Flashing Swords e-zine, has run into some difficulty and has suspended operations indefinitely. Hopefully something will open up and it will find a home.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Anglophiliacs Rejoice!

The most excellent Bridget McKenna is at it again. You must go to her blog and get the latest travelogue regarding her stay in London.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Second Centurion

I'm thinking about writing another story about on of the centurions of the Bible. This one would be about the centurion who oversaw the crucifixion and may have been the very first post-death conversion to Christianity. The line that won't stop running through my head is one that would come from him: "There's not many men who can say they killed the Son of God. In fact, there's only one... Me." I think this would come as some sort of confession towards the end of the story. My problem in plotting this thing is that I don't really want to write another Passion of the Christ and that's kind of hard to avoid since it is the central event in this character's arc. I'm still puzzling this one through.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

VA Tech Gunman Was a Writer

According to the latest news report, the gunman was an English major who wrote some plays describing intensely graphic and demented violence. I'm sure this will receive a lot of focus in the hours and days ahead. My only real comment on this, as someone who wrote some intensely graphic and violent stories in High School, is: you write it but you don't do it. I think the picture that will emerge is that this kid was severely unbalanced and was going to kill someone no matter what. When a murderer has it set in his mind that death is going to happen, there's really nothing short of a miracle that can stop it.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Another Submission

Just got finished submitting 'Such Great Faith' to Relief. If accepted it would be in the August 2007 issue. I'm hoping for the best because I'd like to keep up a publication rate of at least once per year until I can get around to finishing a novel.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Not So Good Book

I should mention the book I'm reading now because it's not very good. I sped through The Charnel Prince while in Korea and had to find something else. The PX at Yongson Garrison was not exactly a Barnes & Noble so the pickings were slim. I chose The Children of Chaos by Dave Duncan. I'm not impressed. Duncan has written a few other novels that have looked interesting, The King's Blades and The Jaguar Knights come to mind, so I thought it was a good risk. While the idea is interesting, a duodecahedronal world with each face surrounded by almost impassable ice, the execution of the story is falling flat. Three children are separated as youngsters to be hostages in order to ensure their father's submission to invaders. They grow up in the enemy's lands and assume certain roles there only to be joined when the war slips into stalemate. I'm about three quarters of the way through the book and only one of the children is actually interesting, the other is passable and the third is bland as cabbage soup. I suppose I will struggle through but if I don't finish it by the time my copy of The Blood Knight arrives, it goes back to Half Price Books.

Friday, April 13, 2007

New Music

My computer is back and I have a lot of programs to reload on it this weekend. In the meantime, my latest musical discovery is a Brit by the name of James Morrison. Outstanding vocals and lyrics. Try it, you'll like it.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Sacrifices For the Art

GAACKKK! The computer shop called back and my hard drive has had a catastrophic failure. That's the hard drive with all my stories, notes for potential stories, and my unfinished, unsaved, and unprinted novel. They say they can recover My Documents by going through with a special machine and a partition by partition search but it will cost $200. Frustrating, to say the least, but I'm doing it while looking for another laptop.

Computerless

Ever have to face the day without a computer because the doggone thing won't start up and the repair shop says it will be two days before they can fix it? I don't recommend it.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Awestruck

Today I found myself on the northwest side of the island at Kaneohe Bay where I had to turn in all the field gear I took to Korea. After that was done I had nothing else on the schedule for the day so I abandoned the Interstate (Yes, they have Interstate Highways in Hawai'i. Don't ask.) and took a lesser road that circles back around past Haunama Bay and Diamond Head. The geography here is incredible. Actually, 'incredible' doesn't do it justice. I was trying to think of what the mountains look like. You know the sharp, serrated ridgelines that you get from eroding volcanic rock? First thing I came up with was that they looked like the lower jawbone of a Tyrannasaur fossil. But that wasn't quite right so I switched to them looking like the sides of a pastry chef's hat. But with, like, trees and bushes and stuff.

Still don't think I have it quite right but I'm working on it. The other thing I noticed was the water. The ocean is an unbelievable deep blue. We're not talking Crayola crayon blue, we're talking the kind of blue that the sky in Montana wishes it could be. And close in near the shore the water is a sparkling sea green. Head up into the hills and look down on the breaking surf, and you can watch the two colors embrace and melt into turquoise.

Postcards just can't do the trick, you gotta see it to believe it.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Writing Lessons From Myself

I going to reprint a post here that I made on Absolute Write. The subject was a discussion of why conflict doesn't always have to be good versus evil. I answer as follows:

"I'll make the pitch for the case of Good v. Evil if no one else wants to. Lookit, conflict is defined as two irreconcilable wills, each trying to impose itself on the other. Your reader is going to identify with one side or the other. (And as a side note, you'll want to be in control of who they choose. Otherwise you have the book I'm reading now, Children of Chaos by Dave Duncan, in which I'm starting to root for the bad guys because I really don't care if the good guys win.) Once that identification is made, someone becomes good and, again by definition, someone becomes evil. This is just the way it is, don't try to get too cute and work up a contrived situation in order to prove you're smarter than everyone else in the room.

And for the record, I heartily agree with Uncle Jim's scenario of good v. good being more interesting. My point, and I make all my points based on military type thinking, is that once the conflict starts someone is forced to switch sides. They might not know it at the time but it will happen. Think of two opposing armies. They cannot both be on offense at the same time. If they start out that way it will quickly become apparent who has the upper hand and one side will switch to defense. If they both go on defense then you have no conflict. Therefore, you have to have offense and defense. In the same way, once a conflict starts someone has to be in the wrong. Otherwise they all sit around the campfire and sing Kumbaya."

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Clouds! They Burns Us!

Tricksey, false clouds! They burns the precious! You'd think I would have figured out that a Seattleite of British ancestry gets a sunburn anywhere he goes on a tropical island, even with SPF 30 sunblock. Twenty years ago I discovered that for the first time with a particularly bad burn. Today I spent some time walking on a beach and strolling around an outdoor mall before going to a baseball game at the University of Hawaii. (The Warriors beat San Jose State 6-0.) I didn't really think I was out in the sun that much but I've got a light sunburn as proof otherwise.

The beach was Ala Moana Park and it is just to the west of Waikiki. If it is not man-made then it is at least man-altered with a perfect half moon beach and a line of protective rocks that create a shallow without any waves. A jetty sticks out from one end and I went out there to sit and watch little crabs pick their way along some big black volcanic rocks. Crabs have an interesting social order. I noticed that the big ones seem to walk wherever they want and all the smaller ones move out of the way, creating a ripple effect as the other crabs adjust their positions, each reacting to the crab that's bigger than it. (Come to think of it, it's not all that different from humans.)

Tomorrow I go back to MARFORPAC headquarters and do some paperwork before heading back home on Wednesday. That will most likely not be as interesting as watching crabs.

The Longest Saturday of My Life

I just figured out that Saturday was 43 hours long. Can you imagine what Jack Bauer would do with that kind of time? Any way you slice it, that was a long day. However, other than a little driving around and shopping, not much got accomplished. Today is find a beach and watch some baseball day. I'll report on that later.