February 01, 2002
Chapter 10: Done! And the el Gaucho Challenge

For the fourth day in a row, I've gotten some major writing time in. I'm starting, finally, to swing the momentum in my favor.

Chapter 10 will probably prove to be the longest or second longest chapter in The Do Over, and it demanded a lot of polish. Chapter 11 looks to be fairly long, as well, but I expect to be able to get at least halfway through that one tomorrow (Friday).

In other news...

A few of us who are at about the same point in developing our novels have issued a challenge to each other to finish the first effing complete draft of our respective novels by the end of February.

The stakes are high. Or, I should say, the steaks.

At the end of February or at the beginning of March, we're going to dinner at el Gaucho in downtown Seattle. Anyone who hasn't completed the first draft of his or her novel by then is going to assume responsibility for the bill. If we are all done on time, then we'll all split the tab and celebrate our mutual success.

So far, three of us are committed to this "el Gaucho Challenge". We're hoping to bring on a fourth or fifth person, as well.

I have another deadline. The next revision of Chapter 1 needs to be ready to submit for the PNWA contest by February 14th. That's a lot of writing to do in the next four weeks.

Believe it or not, though, there's more going on in my life than just writing (now that I'm writing). Perhaps I'll get to that in my next entry....

Posted by at 05:00 AM in the following Department(s): Novel-in-Progress | Comments (0)
Only the Good Die Young

I just finished reading The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie. It took me a little while to get into the book, but once I got a feel for the cadence, this collection of interrelated short stories definitely engaged me. I highly recommend it.

There's a great dialog in the book between one character, a Spokane Indian and die-hard Hendrix fan who believes he was the only Indian to hear Jimi Hendrix play the Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock, and his wife. The Hendrix fan lamented Jimi's passing:

Posted by at 06:40 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (1)
 February 03, 2002
Chapter 11: Done! ...and, something about habits

So, yeah, it's 3am here as I type this. I refused to allow myself to go to bed until I'd finished another half-a-chapter on The Do Over. But finished Chapter 11 I have, and so I can now let myself grab some sleep.

Mmm. Typing like Yoda, I am. Must proofread my work tomorrow. :-)

I wrote the first half of Chapter 11 on Friday. Today (Saturday, as far as I'm concerned) marks the sixth day in a row that I've managed to chug through polishing/revising/rewriting a half of a chapter each day. I think it's the longest sustained drive I've managed in a few months. It also marks what I hope to be the development of a good habit.

Another habit I've started to fall into this week, which I also think is a good habit, is making sure that I read at least one short story (or one chapter of a good book) by day's end. For most of this past week, I've been reading stories from The Long Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, by Sherman Alexie. I've finished that book, however, so today I read Connie Willis' award-winning short story, "A Letter From the Clearys". A good friend lent me the collection, Fire Watch, and I look forward to reading more from that one.

Yesterday, it was Stephen King's O. Henry award winner, "The Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French." The copy I read was in the Ellen Datlow and Terry Windling anthology, "The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror" -- I'm not sure which edition, but it's only a couple of years old.

I want to read the good stuff. The stories that are recommended. The stories that are recognized as being a notch above the rest. I want to absorb pacing and characterization, plotting and setting. I want to remind my brain of what good stories taste like, feel like, sound like.

In Tae Kwon Do, when you want to master a technique, you practice, practice, practice. But you also watch the instructors and the higher ranks. Observe all you can, until learning and doing become second nature.

So, yeah, I'm working on developing a couple of habits. I hope these habits manage to stick.

Then again, I could get into the habit of sleeping, too.

Posted by at 06:31 AM in the following Department(s): Novel-in-Progress | Comments (0)
 February 05, 2002
Chapter 12: Done! ...and, the steaks are raised

I'm sorry. I hope I'm not boring you with the fact that every entry seems to be "Yippee! I've finished another chapter in The Do Over!" Perhaps I should move this portion of my web journal to my Do Over site, and get back to more standard essay-type fare here.

But, well, this is what's going on in my life right now. Sure, I'm still thinking about politics, the nature of God, the problems of racism, and the joys of reconnecting with old friends and the sorrows of losing others. There's the tedium of bringing in the money to pay the mortgage. There's coordinating schedules around an increasingly packed daily planner. And there are meetings, meetings, meeting. Every evening this week, another meeting.

At night, though, after the dealing and the thinking and the meetings and the meals, Paulette goes to sleep and the phone stops ringing and there's just me, my computer, and a will to GET THIS THING FINISHED.

So I wrote a completely new scene today (one of the four or so unwritten but required scenes that I had had outstanding... which means I'm down to three now) to kick off Chapter 12, retooled the beginning of another and make some major modifications to a third. (A fourth scene required very little tweakage.) It ain't one of the longest chapters in the book, but it's another coherent chunk of the beast that is finally ready to be seen.

This is certainly not the final draft; the idea, though, is to have a presentable draft.

Which reminds me: there are now *five* authors who have taken on the el Gaucho challenge. This is exciting, but it raises the stakes for anyone who doesn't live up to the challenge. Judith has proclaimed February to be Finish Your Book Already Month, or FYBAM. Anyone who takes the challenge to finish his/her novel by the end of this month but doesn't make the deadline is going to be picking up the dinner tab at el Gaucho for those who do. el Gaucho, home of amazing steaks. Mmmmm.

The time is now 3:23am, Pacific. Some of you on the East Coast are just now getting up. Guess it's time for me to finally go to bed.

At least I can rest knowing that I've put in another solid day's work... and, that really matters.

Posted by at 06:27 AM in the following Department(s): Novel-in-Progress | Comments (0)
 February 06, 2002
Do Over Devastation

I'm fit to be tied. I'm beside myself. I'm out of my skull. I'm any number of cliches that express frustration, amazement, disappointment, and extreme perturbation.

A friend of mine sent me a link this morning: http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/nm/20020205/en/television-wb_1.html

In this entertainment news article, Yahoo! reports that Variety! reports that the WB! television network has announced their acquisitions for the next television season. On that list, under COMEDIES (for crying out loud) was the following item:

- ``Do Over'' a man gets the chance to return to the 1980s and relive high school


Actually, my first response was to laugh, because I thought it was a joke. See, a friend of mine will often copy news articles like this one, insert a line that is completely inappropriate and then send the article to me as if it were entirely legit. That one altered line, though, is usually a killer. So I saw this, and because the comment about a comedy called "Do Over" was so exactly like the premise of my novel by the same title, I laughed because I thought it was funny that this guy had inserted my book under a list of WB comedies.

Then I realized that the friend who sent me the link wasn't the same guy who kept sending me the slightly doctored Yahoo! news reports. Then I realized that the link was actually on the Yahoo! news site itself, and not some other server.

Ah, but wait! The friend who sent me the link is a notorious practical joker who is very skilled in the art of making computers do wacky things. Maybe he hacked the site!

Well, I wouldn't put it past him (he's a very clever practical joker), but I checked the alleged source of the news (Variety), and they had even more details about this abomination. It's apparently being "written" by Rick Weiner and Kenny Schwartz and executive produced by Warren Littlefield. In other words, people who really exist.


It's too similar. It's just way too similar. They must have stolen it. Yeah. I've been talking about this project for two and a half years. I've been posting about it on my web site now for at least two years. I have friends in the entertainment biz; maybe one of them talked about it with someone who knows someone, and what the hell, who do I think I'm kidding, IT DOESN'T MATTER. Whether this is a case of sabotage or theft or just plain old coincidence, my novel that has taken me two and a half years to get *almost ready* for prime time -- I'm *this close* to having a presentable version -- shares a premise and a title with a $%@#! WB $@#!% sitcom.


Memo to my grandparents: please turn your tender eyes away from the screen for a minute while I say something that I need to say. Thank you.


Okay. You can look back now.

I had calmed down a little bit by the time I mentioned this minor setback to Paulette. She said that she'd run into similarly bizarre coincidences in her research days when she worked in microbiology. She'd pursue a topic of research, and then discover that somewhere, someone had done the exact experiments that she was planning to do for her thesis/project/whatever. She had good advice for me. She said she was always told when something like that happened, "Well, you know that you're on the right track."

Great. So, I know that this concept is at least able to get funding by the $%#@! WB television network. So, I know that the title wasn't necessarily ALL bad. So, there's at least some kind of market for stories about men who go back in time and relive their high school years in the $#%@* 1980's. Just great. Glad I found that out while I'm a mere three and a half weeks away from completing the stupid two-and-a-half-year project.

Nothing to get upset about at all.

But I'm better now. I'm not upset anymore. Maybe still a *little* beside myself, whatever that means, but I can cope. The big question at this point is:

"What are you going to do now?"

The answer is:

I'm going to finish the $%#@^ novel. And if there was ever any urgency to finish this thing with all due haste, I'm now quadruply motivated. (Why didn't my spell checker flag 'quadruply' as an error? Is it really a word? Zoiks.)

I'm not just going to finish this bastard (no one knows who the mother is) by the end of February. I'm going to send out the first three chapters -- after I've further revised and polished them -- out to my agent-of-choice no later than February 28th. No more playing around. I gotta move on this before the entertainment industry does anything else to mess me up or discourage me.

And yeah, you better believe I have to change the $#%^& title. No novel of mine is going to bear the title of some $%^#@ WB @@#% sit-com.

Ah, $#@%.

For whatever the $#@% it's worth, I finished Chapters 13 and 14 today. Since 20 is also done and the rest in between are already mapped out and delineated, that leaves five more to go before I revise the first three. 17 and 18 should be a walk in the park. 15 has one big scene yet to be written, and 16 will require a bit of restructuring. 19 is a mess.

Twenty-three days to get it all sorted out.

That's the news. G'night.


PS: a gracious THANK YOU to my friends who were kind enough to point out this tidbit of information to me. Forewarned is forearmed, or something like that.

Posted by at 04:18 AM in the following Department(s): Novel-in-Progress | Comments (2)
 February 11, 2002
The Bliss of Ignorance vs. Research

I have an interesting philosophical question. At least, it's interesting to me.

Let's suppose, hypothetically, you are writing a short story or a novel where the premise is SITUATION X HAPPENS to CHARACTER Y in SETTING Z, and then Mr/Ms. Y responds.

You, as the author, think this is a really neat idea, but you begin to discover that a number of other stories, novels, television shows, movies, radio plays, comedy sketches, and Broadway musicals have also featured a similar premise. Sometimes it's the same SITUATION, and then others have the same SETTING, while others have a character who is *similar* to Mr/Ms X. Some even feature similar combinations of SITUATION, SETTING, and CHARACTER, although none of them are identical to your own idea.

Still, you find out that there's lots of stuff out there that starts from a similar premise. Your most obvious choices are:

1) Give Up
2) Ignore what's come before, and strive for originality
3) Read all that's come before, and strive for originality
4) Steal every idea you can from what's come before

Allow me to rule out option 1, except in extreme circumstances, because there are no original situations in fiction. Any situation you decide to write about, it's been done. Settings, however, can vary (some can even be original), and *every* character should be unique. If you work cleverly, you should be able to come up with an original story, even though others have contemplated a similar initial situation, because you are exploring that situation with unique characters in a setting that you make your own.

Let's also rule out the fourth option. I've already stated my feelings about plagiarism in other essays on this site. Can you? Yes. You might even get away with it. You might even sell better than those whom you are ripping off. But that's also a testament to how lame you would be. You, as an author, want to tell an interesting story. Telling a story that's already been told is cheating.

Okay, so that leaves us with my interesting dilemma: is it preferable to read what's come before in the hopes of developing an original angle, or is it preferable to *not* read what's come before so as to organically pursue originality.

I think there are strong merits in both cases. When I had first found out that someone else had already written a novel that had a similar opening to my novel-in-progress (the novel-formerly-known-as-The-Do-Over), I decided not to read it, because I didn't want to fall into any possible traps of shaping my work as an answer to the previous author's. I didn't want to subconsciously mimic, nor did I want to deliberately oppose. My novel wasn't intended to answer the previous author's points... I had a story of my own to tell.

(I did, however, ask someone who is familiar with my project to read the other book and let me know if we were too obviously covering the same ground. Fortunately, the reader found nothing similar between our two books except for the initial situation.)

My next project, however, poses a bit of a challenge. It takes place in a world with an advanced network of individuals, connected in thought but retaining individuality. This has already been handled extensively in the sub-genre of science fiction called Cyberpunk, which I've only barely skimmed. A sub-plot in my new project involves the neural network developing self-awareness. This is also a sub-genre of speculative fiction unto itself, and I've only read a couple of novels and short stories that have this as a premise. There is vast, global conspiracy afoot, another sub-genre (this one I've read some of, but I've passed on the cult phenomenons of X-Files and the like). There's terraforming, another sub-genre. Hi-tech civil war, another sub-genre. There's major grounding in the Biblical framework, which is also a popular science fiction motif. And so on, and so on.

My original intent was not to write the Uberscifiction novel. It all started with a situation, a character, and a setting. As I developed these ideas, however, it became clear that I would be covering a lot of ground that has been covered before.

So, do I spend some time doing nothing but reading up on the seminal works from the sub-genres I'll be touching upon? Or, do I ignore them and create my own universe from whole cloth?

The problem is one of re-inventing the wheel versus the risk of becoming derivative.

On a side-note, I've started collecting a long list of short stories, novels, movies, and television episodes that have started with a similar situation as my current novel-in-progress. Once I finish this novel, though, I don't know whether I want to read/view them, or just let them be. I think once I've finished, I'll have been thinking enough about this particular premise. Perhaps I'll let it rest for a while before I see how others have handled the concept. Dunno.

Posted by at 07:31 PM in the following Department(s): Novel-in-Progress | Comments (0)
 February 13, 2002
Labor Pains

Is this what it's like to give birth?

Early on in the gestation, you're not really sure that you've got something going on, but it seems that there might be. Increasingly, some of your energy is syphoned away. You're not as at ease as you used to be; there's some nagging idea at the back of your head that your time is not always your own, and you don't cut loose as much as you used to.

But, for all of that, you really have nothing to show for it.

Eventually, however, it becomes obvious that you're committed. It becomes a serious topic of conversation, and everyone has advice on what you should do. Professional examination reveals that things are starting to come together, that previously ambiguous blobs are now starting to coalesce into coherent and distinct parts. You are, at turns, excited and daunted by the possibilities.

You think about what to name it.

You reach a point, however, when you're ready for it to just be over with. Done. Finished. Sleep becomes a bit rarer, and anxiety becomes more common. Discomfort, even more so. Anybody brings it up, and you get cranky. Yet, it's something you really want to talk about, too, at times.

Gestation is long and uncomfortable, but in different ways throughout the process. Labor is shorter, and even more uncomfortable.

This is it. You're close. Very close, and you're really, really ready. But, oh, it's so much WORK! All of your energy is now focused on this one task. You can't help it; it's involuntary. If you're fortunate, you've got people who matter to you urging you on constructively. Push. Push. PUSH!

And then, finally, out it comes. All at once. Bwluoop, just like that, a big gushy mess. Slap it or tickle it to make sure it's alive, clean it up, and officially give it a name. But the hard part is over. Soon you'll be dressing it up to take it out into the real world, and you're gonna give it all the support you can.

Is that what it's like?

Let me describe the labor pains of delivering a novel. Your mileage may vary, of course.

Nothing else that I'm working on at this moment is occupying as much of my attention as the novel. Maybe that's not the way it's supposed to be, but that's the way it is. I do the things I gotta do when I must, but all available time is spent thinking about or working on the novel.

I've started to fall into a rhythm of sorts, where the pressure builds up all day long until sometime around 6pm or 8pm or so, and then I have no choice but to sit down and writewritewritewritewrite. I get tired, and I keep writing. I get a second wind,and I keep writing. Sometime around midnight, I fix myself a bowl of Campbell's Soup (one of the Cream ones), pop open a can of Dr Pepper (notice there's no period in that name) and writewritewritewritewrite some more. Most days, I write until about 4 or 5 in the morning.

This is not a labor of love. It's involuntary! I've come too far at this point and it's a little late to turn back.

Why the hell am I telling you this, anyway? I should be writing! Oh, I know why. I'm taking time to breathe before the next big PUSH, which will resume tonight sometime around 7.

I want to thank you all for your encouragement and support. It's close now; close to being done. How close? I have no idea. But I'm going to keep pushing until this thing is out and ready to meet the world.

As for a name, well... still working on that, too.


Posted by at 06:46 PM in the following Department(s): Writing | Comments (0)
 February 22, 2002
What is "Done," anyway?

I kept saying that I was "done" with a first draft of this chapter, and "done" with the first draft of the next.

What is "done," anyway?

At 2:30am, local time, on Sunday morning, I was "done" with the first draft of my novel. Was I relieved? Did I party? Did I collapse, basking in the glow of a job well done?

Nope. Because this milestone was just a milestone, and I'm still cruisin' down the highway. As soon as I finished the first pass at my last original scene (at least, it's my last original scene in theory), I scanned through the document and noted, "Oh, I still need to clean up this," and added to my running list, "Don't forget to take care of that." I futzed around with the names of a couple minor characters, began some formatting work, and so on.

In short, work continued without so much as a hiccup.

I must confess, I did take Monday off of the project, entirely. And I haven't been driving myself as hard this week as maybe I should have. But, here is it 3:30 am on Friday morning, and I'm back at the old routine (of the past month). I've finished another polishing pass at the second chapter. Earlier this week, I gave Chapter 1 another polish. Later today, I'll ask for a sanity check of the novel so far, and I'll give Chapter 3 another pass.

There remains a possibility that I may still make my arbitrary deadline of sending out the first three chapters to my first agent of choice by the end of this month. Either way, it's going to happen soon... unless my sanity checkers get back to me and say that my novel is utter rubbish. Always possible. :-(


Thank you all for your occasional e-mails of encouragement!


A friend sent me e-mail a few days ago noting that Wil Wheaton -- of "Wesley saves the ship!" fame from Star Trek the Next Generation -- posted on his web journal that he auditioned for a role in the TV pilot, Do Over.

Too funny.


Another friend was kind enough to point out that there are at least two other novels that have been published directly to the web that have a similar premise and a similar title to my novel-near-completion. So, yeah, the title is going to have to be replaced. :-)

Possible contenders:

* John Carpenter's The Do Over

* Groundhog Life

* Wish Fulfillment Premise #3

* The One Where The Guy Lives His Life Over Again

* Ibid

I've always wanted to write a book called Ibid, just to see it referenced in footnotes.


Gotta rename my main character, too. Brian Williams, I've been told, is a popular news anchor on MSNBC. Did I just type "popular" and "MSNBC" in the same sentence?

Possible replacement names:

* William Bryant

* Ishmael

* Tyrone Poppolopodous (a great Buffalo name)

* Stephen King


I should go to bed. More later!


Posted by at 07:01 AM in the following Department(s): Novel-in-Progress , Writing | Comments (0)
 February 26, 2002

Back in the old days, when I was a "Sovietologist," I learned an interesting use of the word "rehabilitate." When spoken in terms of communist political history, the word was used to describe the reintroduction of a political figure who had previously been made into an "unperson."

It worked like this: if the Communist Party decided that Tovarshch Gorky was a bad guy, then he disappeared, all reference to him disappeared, and you didn't read anything about him in the papers ever again. His image would be airbrushed out of photos of pivotal events. George Orwell called this kind of persona-non-grata an "unperson."

But, later on, it might happen that the powers that be would decide that maybe Tovarshch Gorky was actually an okay guy. Maybe he wasn't counterrevolutionary after all. And suddenly, his image would be no longer airbrushed out of crucial photos. It was okay to talk about him again in the papers. Just as if a light switch had been flipped, he re-appeared.

This reappearance was known as "rehabilitation."

It is the term that has been running through my head ever since George Harrison died. All of a sudden, radio stations have decided that it's okay to play the Beatles again. I hadn't even noticed that the Beatles disappeared from most radio stations until they reappeared.

Quite frankly, I'm happy to know that it's okay to play the Beatles again. I'm glad they're okay to listen to.

But I've also noticed an interesting and disturbing trend in the movies to rehabilitate music in a very bizarre way. I finally had an opportunity to watch Stephen King's Rose Red in its entirety a couple of weeks ago. Never mind how bad it was -- that's a topic for another discussion. I found it fascinating how Glen Miller tunes were used as the harbinger of doom. As soon as you heard Glen Miller, you knew someone was about to die.

This is becoming a new trope in horror movies. (Another vocabulary lesson: genre writers use the term "trope" to refer to a common paradigm or plot device found within their genre.) Bring back some music that has no horrific associations and then play it every time something horrific is about to happen. Pretty soon, the audience picks up on it, and the rehabilitated song develops a new association for the viewers.

Stephen King may have started this trope with his novel Christine, wherein classic '50's rock 'n' roll streamed out of the car radio of a haunted (possessed?) Plymouth Fury as it mowed down the high-schoolers that got in its way. I don't think music was a key element of horror novels until the big SK began this trick.

But now everybody's doing it. The movie Final Destination from a couple years ago (which, by the way, is about to have a sequel -- be afraid) would play John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" every time Death was about to pay a visit. The way the music was worked in was one of the few clever things about this otherwise non-clever flick.

I, for one, wish they'd cut it out. Stop rehabilitating good music like that! If you're going to bring back good music, bring it back goodly! You can even give it the "Ghost" treatment if you must (The movie Ghost revived a popular fifties tune called "Unchained Melody"), but stop equating good music with bad things.

So, there.

Posted by at 03:14 AM in the following Department(s): Books/Movies/Music , Tidbits | Comments (1)
Guilty by Reason of Insanity -- Semantics

Yeah, I'm going to babble about semantics again.

This woman in Texas drowned her five children because she thought she heard Satan's voice telling her to kill them. Now she's on trial for the crime.

(Note to readers: if you ever hear the voice of Satan telling you to do something, you may wish to seriously consider declining. If you think the voice is Satan's, the advice is probably suspect. You know?)

Neither the defense nor the prosecution are disputing the fact that she murdered her children. Rather, the point of the trial is to determine whether she was, technically speaking, sane when she committed the acts. The prosecution maintains that the killings were premeditated, and therefore show a rational mind at work. The accused had allegedly told people that she was planning to use a knife, but decided in the end to drown her children in the tub, instead, because that would be less bloody. Hence, premeditation.

The defense maintains that she had had urges to kill her first child shortly after he was born (she heard voices, she has allegedly told her psychiatrist, advising her to use a knife), and then again after later children were born. Thus, contends the defense, we see a pattern of schizophrenia. (Seems to me that this argument also supports the premeditation argument, but I won't go there for now.)

I am not a lawyer, and I do not claim to know all of the legal aspects involved in the case. I'm pretty sure that if she is found "Innocent by reason of insanity", she'll be committed to a psychiatric hospital for the rest of her life. Not quite the same as being acquitted. If she is found guilty, however, the prosecution plans to ask for the death penalty. So, there *is* something at stake here, beyond semantics.

Quite frankly, the evidence seems pretty compelling to me: the mother was guilty of premeditated murder, and *of course* she was insane. Murdering your five children is not the activity of a healthy mind.

Dennis Miller, in one of his recently published rants about coddling, suggests that we change the "Innocent by Reason of Insanity" plea to "Guilty by Reason of Insanity." Sounds like a great idea to me. The fundamental result of a successful plea -- being committed to a psychiatric ward -- doesn't need to be changed. But let's get off this politically correct bandwagon that somehow equates insanity with innocence. The insane are not always innocent... even if the innocent *are* always insane.

Posted by at 04:18 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (4)

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