June 23, 2008
Random news that's fit to print:
* Andrew James continues to be the (current) cutest baby in the world, just as Alexander Benjamin continues to be the (current) cutest almost-six-year-old in the world, and Nolan Theodore continues to be the (current) cutest three-year-old in the world. I'll post more pix soon to prove it.
* I have recently signed a contract for my third pro fiction sale, "Last Man Standing", for the upcoming Swordplay anthology coming from DAW Books. Three short story sales to a pro market makes me eligible to join the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America -- a union that (I've been told) would put me on the invite lists for other upcoming "invite only" anthos and also allow me to vote for the Nebula Awards.
Also of note, this was my first attempt at writing historical fiction (not that I don't have some background in history, mind you). I'm very happy to have sold it right out of the gate, since there are few markets for historical fiction.
* I have even more recently signed a contract (and received a check!) for my fourth pro fiction sale, "If I Did It", for the upcoming The Trouble With Heroes anthology, also coming from DAW Books. I'm very excited about this sale, as this was a tricky piece of writing. It's a very short story (only 2,400 words or so), but I try to pack in as much humor, wry social commentary, and *story* as I can in a tiny little package. Satire is typically hard to sell, but it's something I *want* to get good at, so it's nice to see my practice may be paying off.
* Last night, I finally, finally, FINALLY began work on my new novel project. Wow, did it feel good to get that started. This beast is going to be much, much better than my first novel-length project (The Do Over), if only because I learned so much from the many things I did wrong on that one.
* More advice to Kevin (see my previous post on "Valedictory Advice") will be posted here shortly.
* M. Night Shyamalan is one of the most talented film directors working today, but his latest offering, The Happening, is so anti-science that I could scream. He tries to make a catch phrase out of "...just a theory!" That he does this in a flick ostensibly about ecological calamity is bizarre. When Paulette gave me a Father's Day pass to go see a movie without the kids around, I shoulda seen Iron Man instead. Grrr.
More later, potaters.
September 13, 2003
When I was writing the novel formerly known as The Do Over, I frequently recalled an idea that a friend of mine had asserted, that modern day America is a science fiction premise.
The friend in question was a grad school colleague, and he was referring specifically to the idea that any political scientist in 1959 who would have speculated upon the political ramifications of sending manned space flights to the moon would be laughed out of the Academe. Such fanciful notions were relegated to pulp science fiction because they could never be considered as a possibility in the real world. But once Kennedy gave his speech enjoining the nation to land a man on the moon and bring him back safely within the decade, the science fiction premise became, well, real.
While I was working on my novel about a man who travels to his own past -- his teen years in the mid 1980's -- I had fun exploring some of the anachronisms created by his memory of history and the reality of 1980's America. In one scene, he tries to confide in an old, dear friend about his plight, but his descriptions of the future do little to convince her. They have one such conversation while attending a hockey game, and the protagonist is asked by his friend if their team (the story takes place in Buffalo, so we're talking about the Sabres) will ever again be contenders for the Stanley Cup.
Imagine explaining to someone in the mid-1980's that your hometown hockey team will eventually make it to the playoff finals because they will have an amazing Czech goal tender named Dominic Hasek, who had also led the Czech team to take the Gold Medal that same year in the 1998 Olympic Games, but that Hasek and the Sabres ultimately lose the Cup to the Dallas Stars.
Your 1980's friend might point out that: a professional hockey player wouldn't be eligible to play in the Olympics, because only amateurs can play in the Olympics. Come to think of it, how could a Czech have enough time to win the Olympics, defect to the United States, go pro, join the NHL and then go to the playoffs? Oh, and why would anyone ever put a hockey team in Texas, given the recent collapse of professional hockey in Atlanta (remember, we're talking about the Atlanta Flames in the 1980's, not the Thrashers that play there now).
The whole idea is a science fiction premise.
But wait, you say. The player doesn't have to defect from Czechoslovakia to the US because there is no Czechoslovakia by the time all this happens (only fifteen years in the future), and the US by then will have had a long standing tradition of allowing players from former Iron Curtain countries to play in the US without having to change their citizenship. You explain that the Olympics will allow professional athletes to compete by then.
Your friend in the 1980's interrupts. The Olympics can't be held in 1998. Olympics are held during election years (as in, US Presidential elections). That would mean 1996 or 2000.
So you explain that the Olympics are now staggered, with winter games and summer games alternating every two years. And then you try to explain that the Dallas Stars came down from Minnesota, but before you can get into that, your friend realizes what you said about the Iron Curtain falling and that there's no longer a Czechoslovakia, and she asks you if there's going to be a war.
Well, yes, you say, but not between the US and Russia. The Cold War ends without bloodshed, you explain, and the Soviet Union just disappears.
And this is all just to explain about the Czech goalie who leads your team to the Stanley Cup finals in about fifteen years in the future. This story is the kind that any self-respecting science fiction writer would have a hard time coming up with: that in order to explain why one hockey team makes it to the playoff finals against an other team that doesn't yet exist, you would involve the radical redefinition of the Olympics, the bizarrely non-violent fall of the Iron Curtain and the peaceful end of the Cold War, the ensuing changes to US immigration law, and the inexplicable rise of hockey as a popular sport in hot-climate cities. And that all of that would happen within fifteen years.
Well, I just heard about something yesterday that sets a new standard for science fiction premises. It's a fundamental change to a cherished institution that would certainly have defied prediction by any prognosticator even as recently as a couple of years ago. You think the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union came out of nowhere? Try this on for size:
The libraries in King County, Washington (ie, Seattle, Redmond, et al) now feature coffee bars in the book section.
Yes. You can buy a coffee and drink it *IN THE LIBRARY*.
What's next for the libraries? Live jazz bands on Thursdays? Open mic poetry?
Although, in retrospect, I can see how this kind of change to our local libraries makes sense in the context of our evolving society, I'd have had a hard time predicting it could happen. The idea of Crystal Pepsi becoming popular was more likely than libraries opening cafes in the book section.
It's a crazy, crazy world in which we live, no?
August 05, 2003
Met a guy the other day who, by complete coincidence, recognized me from my picture on this here website. The guy is a friend of a friend. My friend brought him to a morning writing session (a bunch of us get together early on Sunday mornings to write before we go off to do whatever it is we do on Sunday mornings), and since my friend and I have ties to Clarion West, it stands to reason that this friend of a friend might come across my site when looking up things on the Internet regarding Clarion West, and that we would eventually meet.
So. The friend of a friend noted that I had referred to my novel-in-progress on this ol' blog, but never actually included clips from it. It sounded like he expected to see samples here (possibly to illustrate some of the points I'd been making), and was therefore surprised to find no such thing.
Truth be told, I've been considering for some time now the idea of posting samples of my fiction writing here. (Obviously, I'm *already* posting samples of my writing... just not my fiction. :-)
There are a number of reasons not to do so, the first of which is that when you are trying to sell your work, magazines and publishing houses are most interested in the first publication rights. If you've already published the work on your site, it's already published. As a business move goes, self-publishing your work on your website can be publication-limiting in the professional markets.
For me, though, it's also been an issue of publishing in the appropriate forum. My blog is a forum for essays and humor; a particular kind of creative outlet for a particular kind of writing. Even the poetry and recipes I've posted here have a certain kind of fit. Each card I lay on this foundation helps to build a house that is larger than the sum of its parts.
My fiction often speaks with a different voice. Much of the fiction I write would change the very character of this site just as Peter Jennings reading poetry on World News Tonight would change the tone of his anchor-man persona.
I love that word: persona.
To extend the "house of cards" metaphor just a bit, my fiction might be like those crooked decks you see. They might help build this web log which I fondly refer to as my house of cards, but it'll take a very steady hand a bit of strategic placement.
With all of that metaphorical nonsense aside, the thought has, as I mentioned above, crossed my mind, nonetheless. I understand that posting my fiction here might limit its appeal in the professional markets, but some of it might prove to be more appropriate for this forum than for the pro outlets. We'll see.
In the meantime, however, I'm pleased to report that I've received a most favorable, er, rejection from a well-known science fiction periodical. The letter essentially says, "Liked it quite a bit, except for this one aspect, and if you should choose to take a stab at addressing said aspect, please feel free to resubmit it." This is encouraging; it is the first time an editor has asked me for a rewrite (in so many words). It's not an acceptance letter from this particular pro-level periodical, but I'm getting closer.
On a related topic, I'm happy to report that the novel formerly known as The Do Over is back in circulation. According to the website of the US Postal Service and their package tracker, the manuscript was received today at a most excellent publishing house that has agreed to take a peek at my work. Wish me success. :-)
All this, and I'm now beginning chapter three of the next novel. And no, I shan't be posting the working title here anytime soon (given my experience with The Do Over), nor the plot, nor sample chapters (at least for now, har, har) except to say that I'm very excited by the way these characters and their situations are developing.
So. The Do Over (under a new name) is in play, a new novel is in the works, and my short fiction is starting to gain some traction. Just wanted you to know that having a baby in the house is not the only thing going on at Casa Rousselle.
January 11, 2003
It's been months since I've mentioned anything here about my various writing projects, but that doesn't mean nothing's happening.
Regarding the novel, it alternates between two different working titles as I send it out to different prospects. After the television series that recently began airing with the same title as the original working title of my novel, I'm a little hesitant to post the title until the book finds some traction with either an editor or an agent. Hmmm. I wonder if I could have worked the word "title" in that sentence a few more times. Anyway, I've sent it (the novel, not just the title) out to three agents so far, none of whom are interested in representing the project. I must send it out again, and will do so within the next two weeks. When I send it out, it'll go to at least an agent and an editor at the same time. Industry norms frown upon submitting to multiple agents or multiple editors at the same time, but the long lead time in getting a response seems unreasonable to perform the search for representation or publication serially.
I've had a few short stories out for consideration in 2002, and while none of them were picked up, the responses have generally been encouraging. I haven't sent anything out in the past month or so, and yesterday I just received the last story that was "in play" back with a rejection letter. The next week or two will involve me sending out each of the stories that have been in play back out for consideration, plus one more story that's almost ready.
It's frustrating to keep sending out stories and getting back rejection letters. I know many other writers who are more talented and prolific than I am who have been at this for decades with few, if any, publications to show for it, and that does little to take the sting out of my own lack of success (so far), even after only a year or so at it.
The most recent two projects I've completed were collaborations with a friend of mine who I met during my days at Amazon.com. As with all of the good collaborations I've enjoyed in the past, my work with James Osborne has helped to bring out the best of my abilities while downplaying those areas where I'm not so strong.
One of these projects is a television series "bible," outline, and pilot script. We completed the project just in time to submit it to a Hollywood scriptwriting contest, and we should hear back from that one in February. Initial feedback from James' friends in LA is favorable, and we'll be seeking representation for our scriptwriting talents soon.
I'm excited by the idea for the television series not only because it has been a fun collaborative effort, but also because it's given me a chance to explore possibilities with story telling that are not available in novel or short story writing. In many ways, it's a more compressed method of story telling that allows, to some extent, greater sweep.
The other project is a one minute parody commercial that Jamie came up with. While I contributed a few lines here and there to the script, the real collaboration was in the production of the commercial. James was the director, while I had a chance to perform on screen. In many ways, working on this project was like working on a number of collaborative parodies I did for radio back at WVBR in that it was synergistic and fun. Jamie has finished the post-production work on it; now we're preparing a corresponding web site around the concept. I'll be posting a link to the finished product here within a couple of weeks.
Hmmm. I keep saying "in a couple of weeks." Maybe I should check some of this stuff off of my list of "things to do" this weekend....
October 10, 2002
ABC-TV's drama "That Was Then" is no more. It has been cancelled. After a mere two airings, the show has been removed from the ABC primetime lineup because, according to this infotainment story, it's ratings were lower than Mike Tyson's IQ.
I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing (with regard to my novel, which has an almost similar premise), insofar as I never saw the show and have no idea whether it was done well or not. But if your ratings are Very Bad after only two weeks, it does suggest either that either the premise wasn't compelling or the quality of the show was somewhat worse than Rosanne Barr's singing.
Did anybody see the first episode? The last one? I guess the ratings indicate the answer is, uh, no.
September 22, 2002
Sorry for the radio silence. I've been hurling myself from one side of the country to the other trying to get some business done....
Turns out that a certain television show which has a premise similar to my novel (no word yet on any potential agent or publisher, but the manuscript is making the rounds) just began airing last Thursday. Please post your comments below. I'd like to know:
Did any of you see "Do Over"?
If so, what did you think?
And, if so, did you make a tape of it? :-)
June 28, 2002
My first agent of choice sent me a very nice letter regarding the first three chapters of my novel I'd sent to him. He tells me that I've got some smooth prose in my manuscript, that he likes the way the novel opens without set up or a lot of back story. Alas, he would nonetheless prefer to see more of the central conflict right up front, and he is therefore passing on representing this novel.
This is probably the most professional and, at that, helpful kind of rejection letter one could hope to receive. Of course, I wasn't hoping to receive a rejection letter, but I'm nonetheless glad that he told me *why* he is choosing not to help me sell my novel. It gives me the opportunity to decide whether it's worth re-writing before I go to the streets with it again.
My current plan is to try, try again. I'll query another agent or two or fifty. Not all at once, of course. That's considered bad form. Fortunately, though, the response was quick from my first agent of choice. Given the two upcoming television shows that have a remarkably similar premise to my novel, I need to move as quickly as I can in order to still be "timely."
In the meantime, a number of short stories that I've started to circulate are coming back to me with "Good writing, but I'm going to pass" letters, as well. Nonetheless, I keep sending them out, and writing new ones to send out. My goal is to get another new one out into circulation tomorrow.
Writing is hard work. Getting published is proving to be at least as hard as writing.
For those of you following the saga of getting my novel to market, I'll also mention that the title "The Do Over" is now officially retired. I won't be posting the new title here until I have representation for it, owing to the fact that titles can't be copyrighted and also owing to my paranoia that has resulted after the WB decided to create a show with the same title as my novel (and the same general premise, set in the same year, etc., etc.). However, I had a chance to market test it at an author reading last night and it went over well. E-mail me in private if you'd like to know the new title. :-)
For the record, however, allow me to state that receiving a rejection letter or six hasn't deterred me... but it hasn't made me happy, either.
June 03, 2002
I'm in a writing critique group that meets on Thursday nights. One of my fellow writers told me that the television series on the WB that has the same premise and working title of my first novel is slated to air on that nefarious network on Thursday Nights starting this fall.
May 24, 2002
So, I mailed off the first three chapters of my first complete novel to my first agent of choice on the morning of Thursday, May 16th. Yesterday, I had it back.
The agent's address had changed.
I knew this, of course. I had both his "old" (pre-move) business card and his "new" (post-move) business card. Lucky me, I just happened to use the wrong one to fetch the address. So, it was returned with a stamp "Moved, no forwarding address," and the postal carrier where I live managed to mangle the package pretty good by shoving it into our small mail cubby. It was so mangled as to be unusable to resend to the agent. So I printed it all up again (updating his address and the date) and mailed it out this morning. I called his office to verify that I was using the correct address, so I'm all set on that front.
Gotta reset the 6-8 week countdown for hearing back from the agent.
Because I managed to at least keep my commitment of sending out the manuscript by last Thursday (finally), I decided to practice making and keeping more commitments. This past Sunday, I committed myself to 1) beginning a brand new short story, and 2) sending out at least one short story -- both of which I committed to having done by Tuesday, May 28th.
I haven't written any new stories since I left Clarion last summer, although I have rewritten a couple and sent them out for consideration. I also didn't have any ideas for new stories I wanted to write. Thus the commitment to begin writing a new one wasn't trivial -- it's time to get the creativity engine engaged again.
Yesterday, I decided to allocate one hour to doing nothing but generate ideas for a new story. For ten minutes, I fidgeted. My eyes kept getting drawn to my bookshelf, and to a bunch of Dilbert books in particular. "Go ahead. Open up a Dilbert book at random. You'll find inspiration there," said a little voice in the back of my mind.
"Why?" I thought. "How could there possibly be inspiration in a three-panel comic strip?" Then I thought about The Dilbert Future, which contains a series of humorous essays about what the future might be like. There's one essay in there that was always my favorite, about how "The Future Will Not Be Like Star Trek." Scott Adams argues that if we ever invented such a thing as Holodecks, nobody would ever get work done ever again because we'd be too busy playing in simulated worlds... and that would be it for the human race.
...and *that* gave me an idea for a story. After fifteen minutes, I had it. I spent the next hour or so writing.
This is all by way of saying that there's power in making a commitment to yourself and then taking that commitment seriously. I'll write more on that subject (making and keeping commitments) soon. In the meantime, I'm going to have to decide which story I want to send out next....
May 22, 2002
I just returned from a business trip to Dallas. Before heading out, I had finally met my goal of sending out the first three chapters of my first novel to an agent. So, naturally, as I read on the plane, I was acutely aware of all the things I had not done as wonderfully as the author of the book I was reading.
The book in question was Hearts in Atlantis, and the author was Stephen King, and let us be clear on one point from the outset: I know he's had more practice than I have at this whole fiction writing thang. The premise of the five stories that comprise Hearts ("Low Men in Yellow Coats," "Hearts in Atlantis," "Blind Willie," "Why We're in Vietnam," and "Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling") is quite different from any of the story lines that run through the novel I just completed. There are, however, some similar themes (about how life passes by, about how good intentions don't always map to good behavior, et al) and there is a strong streak of nostalgia that runs through both books.
In my case, the nostalgia centers upon Buffalo during the early 1980's. Now, don't confuse nostalgia for romanticizing... evoking that town at that time means capturing the details of both the racism and the philanthropy, the pollution as well as the purity. My goal was to bring the reader to a specific moment in time at a specific location in place, so as to let the events of the story unfold against an understandable background. To paraphrase Dickens's excellent observation, they were the best of times and the worst of times because they were, in short, times much like these.
My novel may or may not be, in part, "about" the dawning of the age of Generation X; I guess that depends upon how you read it. While that wasn't one of my main points, however, Stephen King clearly set out to bring us through the coming of age of his generation, The Baby Boomers.
He did a fantastic job of grounding the reader in that time (particularly 1960 and 1966) and in that place (small town Connecticut, a college in Maine, Tam Boi in Vietnam, the streets of New York). The details, dropped with just the right frequency and just the right specificity, made the setting all the more real. It's not just what songs are playing on the radio or what movies are playing at The Empire Theater... it's the way the webbing on Bobby Garfield's Alvin Dark-model baseball glove was starting to come loose, the way Bobby's mother kept pronouncing Ted Brautigan's name as "Mr. Brattigan" in order to show her very New England disapproval of the man.
The two best stories in Mr. King's book are the first two. "Low Men" clocks in at 323 pages -- a novel in and of itself -- and captures the summer of 1960 as seen through the eyes of a twelve-year-old. And yet, King manages this without the story becoming a juvenile. I *loved* that. This is a very adult story about a kid. It was while reading this that I was most painfully aware of my concerns about the novel I've just sent off. My story, too, centers primarily in the world of twelve-year-olds, but I can only hope that it is seen as an adult story and not a young adult story.
King accomplishes this feat with apparent effortlessness. It all comes through.
His second story, "Hearts," is only slightly shorter than "Low Men," and it takes place on a college campus in 1966. The peace sign is only just beginning to make the rounds, and a young "Goldwater Republican" is beginning to contemplate Johnson's war in Vietnam. Against this backdrop, a group of college freshmen jeopardize their college scholarships (and, in turn, their place in college, which means they risk being drafted) on the altar of a long-standing card game in the lounge of their dormitory. Hence the title, "Hearts in Atlantis."
As an avid card player (including Hearts) who has been known to get caught up in a game or two, I was completely drawn into this story's excellent feel for how one can know what to do, know what the risk is of not doing it, and yet continue to not do it, anyway. The story also hints at the consequences of events that played out in the first story.
The third story centers upon a Vietnam War veteran who has picked a most interesting form of penance... not for whatever he may have done in Vietnam, but for what he did in 1960 as a high school student in that small town in Connecticut. This was refreshing, because while being a Vet is integral to Blind Willie's character, it is not the ultimate source of his personal hell. Thus is a very tired cliche avoided. And here, too, I can only hope to make a left turn when approaching cliche-ville the way Mr. King has, although only time will tell. (Har, har, har.)
The final two stories have an element of cuteness to them, but they don't ring true. Here, too, I can learn from Mr. King, albeit by way of counter-example. In "Why We're in Vietnam," King has a couple of Vets at the funeral of one of their buddies was philosophical while remembering nasty events in which they took part during the war. Welcome to cliche-ville. I was particularly disturbed to hear the one Vet bemoan to the other something along the lines of, "What happened to us? Our generation could have changed the world, we had it in our hands, but we sold out...." These are not the thoughts of a former soldier who did his time in Vietnam, but rather the thoughts of one of the flower children who had thought he/she knew better. I have known former flower children to talk in these terms (and I therefore assume that King may have been among them), but I have never heard former soldiers or former non-participants (either in the war or in the protests) say as much. Perhaps I haven't been privy to such conversations, but now I'm curious.
The final story ties together a few loose threads and tells us something about how the grown-ups owe their lives, for good or ill, to the children they once were. But it is otherwise inconsequential and not, in and of itself, a complete story.
I learned a lot from reading Hearts -- about writing, about one take on the sixties and the Baby Boomers, about the insidiousness of addiction, etc. -- and enjoyed it immensely, even with the hollow parts toward the end. It may well be some of King's best writing. And like all good writing, it also begs a lot of questions and issues a number of challenges... both for me as a writer, and for me as a child of my own generation.
Hey, any of you Baby Boomers out there: Do you feel like your generation could have changed the world and blew it's chance, instead? Did the Vietnam War define the way you look at the world and your role in it, or was it something that played out in the background? I'd love to hear from you.
May 16, 2002
Hi, all. Just dropping a quick note to say that the first three chapters of the novel have gone out this morning! My first-choice agent usually responds within 6 to 8 weeks, with either a "Thanks, not interested" or a "Please send me the entire manuscript."
There's still work to do on the novel, of course, but this is a major milestone. It's finally out there.
...and it's about time.
PS: thanks for all the amazingly excellent title suggestions y'all have posted and/or e-mailed me. What was the final verdict? Stay tuned....
May 08, 2002
Friends, Romans, Countrymen. I need a new title. I don't like my current 'backup' title, and I can't use "The Do Over" since that is now the title of a forthcoming television show with the same premise as my novel.
Premise of novel: systems analyst in his late forties wakes up back in his own blue-collar past at the age of twelve with all of his life to live over again and all of his memories (relatively) intact.
The working title of the novel has been "The Do Over". I'm sending out the novel to my first agent-of-choice on May 15th. I have until then to come up with the new title.
Any suggestions? Feel free to post them here or e-mail me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have questions about the novel that you think might help to come up with a title, please ask away!
April 28, 2002
My work on the novel has resumed.
"But, wait!" You say. "Weren't you done?"
I completed the first draft in February. My intention was to get feedback quickly from a few readers who would receive the entire manuscript, then I'd turn around and make improvements as best I could and ship off the first three chapters by the end of March.
And as is so often the case, one deadline slid into the next, and a month and a half slid by with no action on the novel. First, I was waiting on feedback. Then, I had commitments that slowed me down in digesting the feedback. Then there was getting ready for the Connie Willis event, and then this whole disequilibrium thing (inner-ear balance stuff), and then, the dog ate my schedule. Etc., etc.
Today (Saturday, not Sunday), I finally resumed real work on the novel. Not puttering around work, but the real nitty gritty. I have a solid plan, and a solid deadline. The first three chapters go out on May 15th, no matter how many of my planned improvements to the book I am able to incorporate by then.
I want to thank those of you who have been gently (or not-so-gently) prodding me over the past few weeks to keep the fire lit under this project. The biggest boost has been, and remains, the fact that there are no fewer than *three* television series currently in development for the coming Fall season that are based on a similar premise. As I noted earlier, one of them even shares the same title as my original title for this project. At the same time, an award-winning novel with a similar premise (and a better title than mine) has recently been re-released (it had gone out of print a couple years ago).
It's daunting to consider the possibility that my novel could be viewed as "been there, done that" by the time it comes out. But it's also reassuring to know that the basic premise is sound enough to capture the attention of so many in the industry. Perhaps the timing is right for this kind of novel. Still, it's far better to get this out there now, while the idea's hot. I've already let my deadline slide from January to February to March to May 15th. I can't let it slide any further.
So I won't. The work has resumed with the throttle at full.
Wish me success!
February 22, 2002
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.
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. :-)
* John Carpenter's The Do Over
* Groundhog Life
* Wish Fulfillment Premise #3
* The One Where The Guy Lives His Life Over Again
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
* Tyrone Poppolopodous (a great Buffalo name)
* Stephen King
I should go to bed. More later!
February 11, 2002
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.
February 06, 2002
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.
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.
February 05, 2002
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.
February 03, 2002
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.
February 01, 2002
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....
January 31, 2002
I had a couple bad weeks there. Wasn't getting any writing done. Somehow, this past Monday, I managed to start developing a little positive momentum going in the right direction.
Worked on the first half of Chapter 9 of my novel-in-progress on Monday. Completed the second half of Chapter 9 on Tuesday.
Today (Wednesday... well, I still think of it as Wednesday, even though it's well past midnight) I've managed to do an awful lot of work on the first half of Chapter 10. This has involved the most re-thinking and re-writing since the first chapter.
Today I have also crossed a major threshold, insofar as I have just passed the half-way point through the manuscript as it currently exists. I realize that as I continue to add and delete scenes (let alone phrases here and there), the half-way point is going to move. Nonetheless, I have crossed the threshold where it is currently drawn, and am now starting down the other side of the hill.
The word count for the manuscript currently stands at 98,000 words. As I've mentioned before, the typical length for a commercially viable first time novel is 100,000 words, plus or minus 20K. I still have four or so key scenes to write from scratch, and there will be a lot of editing and compressing once I finish my first complete pass. Nonetheless, I'm happy to be in the right ballpark.
"Yes, but how many *pages* is that?" I am often asked. Well, set in Times New Roman with one inch margins all the way around and double spaced, the novel currently clocks in at 337 pages.
In other words... it's a typical-sized novel.
Now, as I've said many times, "I hope to have the first completed draft done by the end of this month." Clearly, January is not going to be that month, however, since I'm only half-way through. There is still hope for February, however.
If I keep working at this every day.
Much more news to post. Tomorrow. No, really!
January 21, 2002
Actually, I finished Chapter 8 of my novel-in-progress last Friday; I'm just getting around to mentioning it now because I've finally got a free minute to update my web journal.
Tomorrow (Monday), my goal is to crunch through Chapter 9. Think I can do it in one day? It's the biggest chapter in the book so far, and there will be some re-writing of some scenes involved as well as minor revision for other scenes. We'll see.
Oh, and last Friday I also put the polishing touches on the final chapter in the book. Having written the scenes out of order, it doesn't seem like such a crime to polish the chapters out of order, too.
Today I got some excellent feedback on Chapter 3 from one of my critique groups. I'm excited by the feedback, because it has given me some good ideas on how to make the chapter work even better as I ready this to send to my agent-of-choice.
It's slow progress, really, but steady.
January 16, 2002
I received the following text in an e-mail today, author unknown (but sender definitely known):
January 04, 2002
I managed to start making some headway today on my SMART goal of finishing the first complete draft of my novel The Do Over this month. Keep in mind that most of the novel is already written... but, it's written as a series of scenes that need to be connected, smoothed over, and polished. So, while it's a lot of work to pull 6,000 words together like I did today, it's not the same as writing them all from scratch.
Each of the scenes I've written (I think there's about 110) has been critiqued at least once. As I go through to complete my first draft, I am:
* incorporating feedback from critique (or ignoring it), as appropriate
* polishing obvious rough spots
* writing transitions between scenes and grouping scenes into coherent chapters
* writing new scenes, or re-writing scenes, as necessary
Today I worked on the collection of scenes that has become Chapter 6. None of these scenes appeared to require major revision and there were no major holes to fill. So even though this was a longish chapter, I was able to get it sewn together within a few hours.
Thus far, I'm over 33,000 words into the complete first draft out of a likely neighborhood of 100,000 for the expected final total. By tomorrow, I'll have passed the "one-third of the way there" mile marker.
Many people ask me what that means in terms of pages. The reason authors don't usually talk in terms of pages is because the number of pages can vary greatly depending upon font size, font type, page size, double-space or single-space, and other constraints that have nothing to do with the actual length of the book. That said, the general rule of thumb is that you'll get roughly 250 words to a page. In my particular case, with my current settings for fonts and margins, I'm on page 107 of the first complete draft out of a likely 350 pages.
Tomorrow's chapter is probably going to be shorter than today's was, but it will also require me to write a new scene completely from scratch. Still, I'll be happy to put Chapter 7 behind me, as that will close the first act of the story and set some fun new story lines into real motion. Gotta get that one nailed tomorrow.
Since the chapter after that launches so many things at once, I'm expecting to have to take both days of the weekend to get it under control. After that, it should be smooth sailing for a week or so as I stitch together pieces that have already been baked for a while. Yee-ha!
November 19, 2001
Took some time away from home to visit another writer friend of mine where we worked (mostly) without distraction.
Chapter 5 of my novel-in-progress, first complete draft, is now done! Woo-hoo! Word count is over 25K.
For those of you following the saga, that means that, word-count wise, I am roughly a quarter of the way through my first complete draft. Of course, *work* wise, I should be much further along than that, since most of the book is already written... it simply needs to be polished for the first complete draft.
Then again, there will be another re-write, so who knows how long this will take....
I've received some excellent feedback on the first two chapters of my novel-in-progress, The Do Over. Actually, I've received critique on every scene written so far (which means pretty much the entire book), but now I'm getting critique on those scenes that have been strung together to make the first couple chapters.
Alas, with critique comes the decision of what changes to make. Since the purpose of critique it to find out what readers think about what they've read, my job is to determine if they're thinking what I'd hoped they'd think, and how/whether I should change what I've written in order to better achieve my desired effect.
Anyway, I'm currently faced with a few interesting decisions. 1) Should I change the opening of the novel. 2) Should I move up the time that the first "act" of the story takes place, so that it is closer to the events (temporally) in Act II. 3) Should I change my main character's name?
1) There is a growing consensus that I need to provide more information about Brian's first life at the opening of the story, rather than doling it out over time. One way to do this quickly would be to have an opening scene (probably a prologue) that takes place in Brian's adult life just before he wakes up in his childhood. This is one possible solution to the problem. I decided to create a poll to see what y'all think. Naturally, I'm not writing the book according to the poll results... I simply think it's interesting to see what kind of thoughts y'all have on the subject.
2) I'm still hoping to avoid restructuring the chronology of events in Act I and Act II. Changing the opening setting and time of the novel was a lot of work... and that involved shifting events by one week. To shift the events of the first act by two years would be heartbreaking.
But, more to the point, I'd do it if it made the story more solid, but I don't think it will improve the story. There are good reasons to have Brian involved in events in the eighth grade which become relevant when he is involved later in events in high school. To force the events to happen in a shorter time frame would be dishonest.
3) I was unaware that there is an MSNBC broadcaster named Brian Williams, and he is the heir apparent for Dan Rather. I may have to change my character's name just to avert confusion. After all, it would be silly to have the major character of my novel to be named "Dan Rather." Too much baggage associated with the name. I'm thinking of renaming him... Paul Reubens? No. Bill Banner? No. Uh... Grucious McLavender? No.
Actually, I'm thinking that I'll just change his last name to Reynolds. A nice, generic name. Oh, wait. Frank Reynolds was an ABC News anchor. Rats.
Anyway, here I am on Chapter 5, and already I need to reconsider Chapters one and two. Bleh.
November 14, 2001
I'm about 20,000 words into my first "showable" version of The Do Over -- I just completed Chapter 4. The approximate length of the finished first draft is likely to be somewhere between 90,000 to 110,000 words, and the total chapter count is likely to come in at around 20.
Which is by way of saying, I'm about 20 percent of the way through my first complete draft.
Tomorrow: Chapter 5!
...and, yes, that is still just a tentative title. No word yet on a final title.
October 17, 2001
The current version of the manuscript for The Do Over contains over 93,000 words. I spent all day today typing in seven scenes which I'd written longhand over the past month and had never gotten around to entering into the computer.
The first chapter, which I'd written a few months ago, had been retooled from the original first few scenes because I'd changed the location and time of the opening for dramatic purposes. As a result of this change, the second chapter is also going to require a lot of rework from the next batch of scenes. My goal is to tackle that project, next: to craft a second chapter out of what I have so far.
This past week, I've received some amazing critique on the first chapter, which I intend to employ as soon as I finish the first complete draft of chapter two. My primary concern is to tighten the opening, flesh out a particular scene in the middle, and more directly address the world from which my main character has appeared so that it's clearer to the reader what is at stake, initially. However, it's important to move the project forward, so I must have a draft of the second chapter before I begin re-working the first.
That said, I'm hoping that the crafting of the third and later chapters will be a little easier, as the repercussions of changing the opening location/time should flatten out pretty quickly. My goal is to have the first four chapters completed in draft form, with the first three relatively polished, by the end of the month. It's an ambitious goal (this, coming from the guy who had once planned to have the entire manuscript done by now), but attainable. Since the rest of the proposal is already done, all I'll need to do is slip in the first three chapters and send this out to my agent of choice... and then, keep writing!
Must keep writing. If the agent of choice responds that he wants to see more, I'd better have more to send.
In the meantime, I've sent off one short story so far for consideration. I have another goal of getting revised versions of *all* of my Clarion West stories out there for consideration before December rolls around.
A couple of my fellow Clarionites have recently sent word of their work being accepted for publication by various periodicals. The key to their success? Not only are they writing, but they send out what they write. They are most excellent writers, but that's not all it takes. And, thus, if I'm to enjoy any kind of success, it is time for me to send out my work, as well.
Today, tomorrow, and Thursday are dedicated to The Do Over. Next week, I'll set aside time for both the novel and for readying a short story.
Oh, and one more thing. The results of the poll on whether I should change the name of the novel are rather clear: the majority of visitors to my site think that I should change the name. While I'm not certain yet about whether to change the title, I'm happy to report that I now have some interesting possible contenders to take the place of "The Do Over" as the title. Thanks go out to my critiquers, a couple of whom made excellent suggestions.
That's all for now. More soon.
August 10, 2001
So, is there a writing life after Clarion?
I am a member of a weekly writing critique group that meets on Wednesday nights (currently), so once Clarion was over, I still had a regular writing deadline. This particular critique group is where I'm working on my novel -- I bring in one new scene each week. I've now written enough of the novel to get to that point where the scenes that remain to be written are either "bridge scenes" that connect the major ones, or they are the major scenes I've been postponing either out of dread or waiting for that moment of inspiration to strike.
My first critique group meeting after Clarion (Wednesday the 1st of August), I was dreadfully uninspired, so I worked on a bridge scene for which was the third part of a three-part sequence. No sweat... which means, of course, there was no real electricity in the scene, either. This is how it goes, sometimes.
I took advantage of the day and typed in all seven scenes I'd written prior to Clarion that hadn't yet been typed in... I'm one of those guys who often hand writes with a pen and paper. Over two thirds of this novel was written longhand, with the remainder being originally composed at the keyboard.
After typing in all of those scenes and the new one, my word count on The Do Over is 87,000 words. Woo-hoo!
Once again this week, I found myself in the middle of the day on Wednesday with no idea of what scene to write for critique that night. Once again, I decided to write a scene that follows one in a predetermined sequence. In this scene, the young lovers were just about to be interrupted by the parents. My plan was to show how calm, cool, and collected our protagonists were under fire, and how they escaped detection by the parents with grace and panache. (Which is not to say they escaped consequences....)
Then, I remembered something that Nalo said to us during Clarion and something that has been echoed frequently around the critique table lately: GO THERE! Go where the tension is. Get your characters hip deep in it and follow them as they try to wade their way out. Don't avoid the conflict... go there.
So, I went there.
As soon as I decided to favor tension over easy resolution, this scene practically wrote itself. It was delicious. Alas, now the scene has ended at a cliffhanger, and I have still at least one more to write before this sequence is done.
That's okay. It was fun to go there, and I look forward to returning there next week.
Had it not been for this weekly commitment, I have no doubt that I would not have written a single scene for The Do Over between the end of Clarion and today. I just haven't been in the mood. Luckily, schedules aren't interested in your mood, so I wrote because I had to write. And, now I feel like I've broken through some barrier and I'm back in the groove.
Within the next few days, I'll have to come up with a plan for how I'm going to finish the project. I'd like to have the first draft done by the end of September, but I'm not sure how that's going to happen. I'll strategize this weekend.
In the meantime, there is one other issue with the project that demands attention: the name. I had several Clarion instructors recommend changing the name. In my feedback from the PNWA contest submission, all of the remarks were very glowing (yet I wasn't a finalist. Beh.) except one of the two judges indicated a desire for a better title.
Should I change the title? If so, to what? Please let me know your thoughts! (Post a comment on this entry or send e-mail to me via the link at the bottom of this page.)
June 07, 2001
I guess things are going pretty well for me these past couple of days, which is a pleasant state of affairs.
Last night (Wednesday, June 6th) was my final class for the Advanced Commercial Fiction Writing course at UW (University of Washington), wherein I was studying how to more effectively write that which others would pay to read.
Our major project for the term had to be turned in yesterday: the book proposal for our respective novels-in-progress. As is so often the case, I waited until the last moment to assemble the pieces, and the end result was nowhere near what I would prefer to send out as my proposal for The Do Over.
Well, actually... maybe it actually is *near* what I would send out. And, that's the thing. There is still a lot I want to do to flesh out and improve the proposal, but the fact is that I now actually have a proposal. One that I can modify, as need be, but nonetheless one that I can send out, too. And the only reason I have a proposal for The Do Over right now is because I took this course that had this deadline that required me to finish this project by this date.
It may be modest, but it's a start. Another step in the right direction.
I'll give an update soon on how the novel writing itself is coming along. In the meantime, I've managed to put together one more tool that should ultimately help me to sell the finished product.
May 20, 2001
Friends and family:
As you know (or, at least, as I *think* you know), Paulette and I are both finishing up our final session of the Advanced Commercial Fiction Writing Program at the University of Washington, where we are each working on a novel. As a part of that class, we will be participating in a public reading of our works-in-progress at the University Bookstore in Bellevue on Thursday, May 24th.
Would you like to come see us read? Would you like to hear a snippet from our respective novels? Then, please come on down to cheer us on! (There will even be copies of New Voices IV with scenes from each of the class participants available for sale, too. Or, at least, that's the rumor.)
- What: Public reading of excerpts from Katrina's Touch and The Do Over
- Who: Paulette, Allan, and several other members of our writing class
- Where: The University Bookstore, 990 102nd Avenue NE, Bellevue WA 98004, (425-462-4500)
- When: 7:30pm, Thursday, May 24th
- Why: Because we like you!
- How much: Free!
April 16, 2001
Sorry for the long silence. It's been a busy couple weeks. So, without further adoodoo, here's the news from Lake Woebegon:
* My employer has just had another reorg. "What?" I hear you ask. "Did't they just have layoffs a couple months ago?" Yes. And, now, they're reorging us again. I'm bummed, because my position has been changed from a manager of a team to a manager of projects... I have the same responsibilities, but I no longer officially have any resources. Grrrr.
* No definitive word yet from Clarion West. This is the six-week summer intensive writing program that I very much wish to attend this year. 'Tis better to wait in silence than be rejected outright, I reckon, but not so good as to have already been accepted. I'll know more in a week or so.
* No word yet from Odyssey, either (this is also a six-week intensive writing program), but their deadline was April 15th, and they probably won't send out invitations/declinations until the last week of April.
* Saw the movie "Memento" this weekend. I recommend it. A very interesting story-telling style: it begins with the end of the story and works backwards, using a highly unreliable narrator to relate the events. Most excellent.
* Saw the movie "Traffic" this weekend, as well. Michael Douglas won't take a movie unless he gets to give a speech at the end. That said, this is a pretty good movie, anyway. Not great; but, pretty good.
* I have written very little for The Do Over in the past few weeks. Just yer plain ol' dry spell.
* Started reading Stephen King's Dreamcatcher recently. As much as I tend to like his books, the writing in this one is pretty bad. The story is compelling, but the writing is awful. Now, the question is: have I simply become more critical, or is this book truly not up to the standards of some of his earlier works? Or, both? Neither? Hmmmmm.
* Oh, and remember "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"? It's happening at work. I swear, some of the folks here are now completely different people. It's very scary. They have this vacant look in their eyes when they say (regarding the reorg or whatever other brain-dead project is going on), "I really think this is the right thing for us to be doing." Verbatim, I've heard this repeated by no fewer than four people. Vacant stare, "I really think this is the right thinig for us to be doing." I'm scared.
If you visit the offices of my employer, don't drink the Kool-Aid.
March 20, 2001
So, after all of the trimming I did (cutting out the scenes that were originally intended for Act III but are now relegated to some possible sequel or some other novel) and rewriting of the first chapter, my novel shrunk in size considerably. For a little while. Now, I'm back up to 79,000 words and growing. I'm filling holes that have required filling, and fleshing out some arcs in ways that have surprised me. Certain story elements are coming together in interesting ways that are solving problems that I've been dreading to face.
These next couple of weeks will be a bit topsy turvey for me (ie, I don't expect to make as much progress on the writing front), but I'll be hitting the ground running again in early April. My next big goal by mid-April, in addition to having another four new scenes written, is to polish Chapter 2. I'm expecting from that point on to manage polishing one chapter per week. At least, that's the plan.
In the meantime, I've also managed to put together two completely new short stories (one at 5,000 words, the other at 3,000 words), which is exciting. I'm preparing for a summer of intensive short story writing. My application to Clarion West went in last week, and I've already received confirmation that the materials arrived. The odds are that I'll hear from them by mid-April, one way or the other.
Not much else to report. I'll be writing another scene tomorrow, which wraps up a thread I've been working on for the last three weeks. Woo-hoo!
February 15, 2001
So, the reason I haven't posted here in the past week is because I've been spending all of my writing time working on The Do Over. I've begun the process of developing the draft (ie, converting all of my individual scenes into a narrative). At one point, I finally crossed the 80,000 word mark, and then the pruning began.
And, the re-writing.
In an effort to enter a prestigious literary contest, I have been working on a synopsis of the novel and the "first chapter". This has entailed writing a new 5-page synopsis (which has been through one round of critiques; I'll be revising it tomorrow before I send it in with the rest of my app.), and completely rewriting the first five scenes (three of which are completely new action).
Why completely rewrite the first five scenes? Two reasons. First: the original versions were terrible. I wrote most of them about a year ago, when I was still shaking some rust off of my pen. Second: after much hemming and hawing, I have finally acknowledged that the action cannot begin at Location B, since Location B is never a part of the story after the opening. So, I had to relocate to Location A, which is a very central setting throughout the novel. Alas, it's not enough to Find and Replace location names. Everything changes by changing the setting.
So, I've spent the last few days writing about 5,000 words of new material, plus the new synopsis. Yee-ha. The application needs to be postmarked by Friday, so I'll be a busy beaver Thursday after work, trying to put the finishing polish on my efforts. Will it pay off? I may have a fighting chance at getting some notice in this literary contest (Winners are announced this summer). But at the very least, I've gone through phase one of preparing a book proposal. So, I've taken a necessary step toward getting this beast published.
...and, as I've said above, I'm now on the road to turning my random scenes into a novel.
January 25, 2001
Some people get the flu. I get headaches.
I know I'm actually a lucky guy, insofar as my headaches tend to miss the "migraine" category. Which is to say, if your definition of migraine is "head hurts so bad, you literally throw up and can't move for days because moving would make your head explode", I don't get migranes because I don't get the nausea bit.
When I was younger (so much younger than today), I used to get these killer headaches every couple months or so. Sometimes more frequently than that. They clamp on for days at a time, sometimes going longer than a week. Lately, it's been much less frequent, but the duration has been every bit as long.
So, for the first time in maybe half a year or so, a major mother of a headache has wrapped my brain in a vice. Sudden changes in light and turning my head from side to side makes the lower part of my face want to run away from the timebomb in my cranial cavity. Moving my eyes too quickly has the same effect. Sleep is hard to come by and, well, I'm just not a big fan of pain as it is.
My current bout has gotten so bad that I've taken one of the only 'sick days' I've ever taken in my adult life. Taking a sick day doesn't make my headache any better; it simply allows me to be miserable in the discomfort of my own home. Alas, work had to call me for yet another "short fuse" item. "Short fuse" or "fire drill" is a common high tech euphamism for "we decided this morning that the deadline for this major project that we've never even warned you about is this afternoon, and if it isn't done, heads are going to roll. Probably yours."
I'm actually glad that my boss called me about this particular "short fuse" item. It was directly pertinant (pertinent? I'm not looking it up today. My eyes hurt.) to my team, and the most important thing I can do right now is to keep my team happy and productive. I had a once in a long while opportunity to make sure we do the right thing, and I'm grateful to have been given that opportunity, even though it meant I got to be miserable at work and miserable at home all at the same time.
So, why do I bring this up? Here's why. Boss guy: "So, Allan, how are you? What's keeping you down today?"
Me: "I have a headache."
Weh, weh, weh. I can count the number of sick days I've taken in my adult life on *one hand*. And, on this fine occasion, I'm not only miserable, but I sound even more pathetic than I am.
"I have a headache." For crying out loud. He pointed out -- correctly -- that I had a headache yesterday. (I know this is funny. I'll be sure to laugh about it as soon as it stops hurting to move my head.) I guess I needed a new excuse today. Like PMS.
Oh, one more thing. Raging headaches and sleep deprivation combine to make me a little more emotional than I usually tend to get. So, the scene I wrote this week for The Do Over is one wherein the hero breaks down. It was easier for me to get in touch with those sort of emotions, so I'm hoping the scene is therefore all the more empathetic. When life hands me lemons, by golly, I'm making lemonade.
January 18, 2001
I've got about 77,000 words written (which, given that I had about 70K written at the beginning of November, that's really pitiful progress). It looks like I'll be confining my story to what was originally conceived to be just the first act, so we can cut around 6,000 words or so from that total. D'oh.
Nonetheless, there's steady progress to report. The final couple of story arcs to take shape are finally coming together (well, okay... *one* of them is starting to take shape), and today I began work on The Last Scene. That's not too terribly impressive -- I am, after all, writing out of sequence. Nonetheless, this last scene is quite an important moment for a number of characters, and it's such a thrill to be here and now look back and say, "A-ha! This is where those arcs need to end up!"
Can you tell I'm excited? The critique I've received so far on this scene leads me to believe that I'm track; that I've brought the characters convincingly to this point. This only energizes me more to go back and fill in the holes that still need work. Woo-hoo!
My current plan is to have a final book proposal and to have a finished first draft absolutely no later than the last week in May. I have a plan to accomplish these tasks. And, every week that I make progress on the writing, I get that much closer to the goal.
In the meantime, I will be taking time out this weekend to write a short story. It's all part of the master plan, I assure you. This short story will be a part of my application to the Clarion West writing workshop for this coming June. :)
January 10, 2001
Just today, I had to wrap up writing a scene from The Do Over for tonight's writing class. In the scene, it's a pleasant family Christmas event, and I wanted to convey how everybody is happy and jolly and ignorant and at the same time indicate that that happiness and jolliness and ignorance are all about to be shattered.
Brian, the main character, has given his father a t-shirt. The t-shirt reads "If ignorance is bliss, this must be Eden."
We first see the t-shirt at the same time as Brian puts one of his own Christmas gifts on the record player: the Beatles album, "Help!"
("When I was younger, so much younger than today, I never needed anybody's help in any way...")
Anyway, we'll find out at tonight's critique whether I successfully manage to do this foreshadowing thing effectively. In the meantime, though, I was very surprised to find that one of my teammates at work had left a coaster on my desk that they had picked up at a local restaurant. There's a quote on the coaster that reads: "If ignorance is bliss, why aren't there more happy people?"
I know that *she* was commenting on the happiness factor at work (...well, not "the" happiness factor; *my* happiness factor... or, possibly, my *ignorance* factor...), but I thought it was funny how it also so directly related to the scene I've been writing. Thus is the synchronicity I encounter in my life on a daily basis.
November 30, 2000
Wanna see what I'm up to these days? Check out the Wireless Store at Amazon.com.
In other news, the novel is flailing. Flail, goes the novel. See the novel flail? Flail, novel, flail.
Oh, and there's one more thing I needed to mention. A bunch of us at work went out for dinner a couple nights ago, and one of the gang mentioned that he used to work as a chef at a restaurant. Turns out that if a steak is somehow not quite up to snuff, it gets thrown into a pile called "save for well done." The "save for well done" pile is the skankiest steak that they have that may still be fit to serve humans, because they figure (correctly) that less-than-choice meat will be less noticeable once it's charred, and very very noticeable if it's served less-so. People who really enjoy their steak tend to order it medium rare or so.
So, if you order your steak well done... you're getting skanky meat. Just thought you'd like to know.
November 06, 2000
Meg and I went to high school together (along with about 300 other kids in our class, I think), and we used to lament to each other about how The System seemed geared toward Conformity. The System was designed to squash all creativity and individuality, turning out cookie cutter people who thought and acted in the same way.
We hated it.
Recently, I've been reading over old journals (a few of my characters in The Do Over are school-aged, and I'm trying to get their voices right), and it's stunning to realize just how seriously I (and, I asssume, we all) took everything. Jeez, kiddo! Lighten up!
Except, on a day like today, as I ponder issues with my job and with my quality of life, I wonder: were we really so far off the mark back then? I don't think the fear of becoming another cog in the wheel ever left, but we certainly don't articulate it much these days.
Hey, Meg. Did you ever find any answers? I could sure use them right now.
November 03, 2000
My novel is taking shape. I just recently passed the 70,000 word milestone. Alas, I'm still fleshing out some major events in the second act, and there's also still work to do on the first act! For a while now, I've been convinced that this project is going to produce a fairly large manuscript.
During critique yesterday, a few of my compatriots suggested that I consider making the story-line I've written so far into the novel, and that I pursue the story arcs that were supposed to wait for the third act, later. (For example, put them into a sequel.) This is a little bit of a bummer. In many ways, the first portion of the book was created as a life support system for the themes I wanted to hit in the second portion. But, the general consensus is that what I have is meaty enough on its own.
So, I've been wrestling with the idea. We'll see. Focusing on the material I've already written could make for a tighter novel... but it also changes the scope (and, likely, the target market as well). Hmmm.
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