Saturday, November 10, 2012

NaNoWriMo Update #1: Working out the kinks

by
Scott D. Parker

I'll admit that the primary reason I'm doing NaNoWriMo this year is to re-establish the writing habit. I have, until this month, fallen out of the habit of writing stories. Ironically, I've never stopped thinking about stories, seeing stories in the everyday, wondering if they might be crafted into something more, but I've rarely done anything about it.

This non-writing habit atrophies the muscles used to create prose. That's a fact. Even when I'm seeing stories in the news or from any source of inspiration, I'm only "seeing" them in my head. I haven't been writing them down, in sentences and paragraphs with dialogue and characters. I haven't, in short, been doing the hard work of what it takes to make stories.

Now, I'm a technical writer by day so the physical act of typing is still honed to a (mostly) sharp edge. That's not the issue. What I'm not good at recently is making up stuff as I type.

One of the things I did in October to plan for the NaNoWriMo initiative was map out the large main sections of the book and fill in all the individual scenes along the way. It's a way for me not to have to think too much when I write (that sounds bad…) because the thinking, imaginative part of the story has already been predetermined. I mapped out the scenes and merely have to put that scenes to prose once or twice per day. Simple?

Well, yes, in theory. But you still have to make your fingers move, making words and scenes and, well, stuff. It's that part of writing that is rusty. It's this part that is, frankly, hard. There's a part of me that knows that first day back in the "writing gym" is going to be difficult, frustrating, and awkward. And, yes, when I started this week, it was all of those things. I had to force my fingers to move in certain spots of the scene I wrote. I had only a vague sense of what the characters needed to do. I worked through it. I wrote the scene. And, using Scrivener's target indicator (you set the word count and, the bottom of the screen, is a moving, color-coded indicator to monitor your progress), it's rather straightforward to reach a goal.

What I found happened, slowly, is the various neurons that make up my imagination began to wake up. It wasn't instantaneous and it wasn't without pain, but they did wake up. And, somewhere deep inside, like a rock dropped in a deep well that, after you let it drop, finally finds the water, something from the past emerged. It was a memory more than an active thing, a memory of how I wrote my other novel. But it was there, and I felt it.

And it was encouraging, and sometimes, especially after a long lapse, that's enough.

Friday, November 9, 2012

This post is redolent of...




If you missed it, last week I was interviewed (albeit briefly) by a fantastically smart chap calling himself Blimpy. It was a short,sharp interview with questions from readers of his blog and they were great questions (especially the Ernest Hemmingway: Fuck or Fight question which started me corpsing quite badly).

But one question tripped me up:

“My book is redolent of…”

Listen to the interview, you hear me stumble, unable to recalled what “redolent” means. Mock me if you like, but, yes, I had a genuine moment of verbal confusion where I was unable to recall the word. Because its not one I’d really use.

But it got me thinking about writers and vocabulary. People expect authors to have an almost limitless capacity for wordage. We should be awesome scrabble players. In spelling bees, we’d kick those kid’s arses with out knowledge of how to spell.

But the truth is, we are like any other human being, and we have gaps in our vocabulary.

Shocking?

I don’t think so. Because being an author isn’t about knowing the meaning of every word in the language, but knowing how to manipulate the words we do know in order to communicate. Now, I’m not saying that a writer shouldn’t be fascinated by language and constantly on the lookout for new words, but I am saying that the real focus of crafting a novel or short story or whatever is using whatever words are at your disposal in the best possible fashion.

I was thinking about punk bands the other day, how so many of them knew only a small amount of chords (the clich├ęd amount is of course three) and yet they were able to create a vast amount of songs from just those three chords. Because they used what they had. I’m not saying any writer could get away with only knowing three words, but the principle’s the same: you use what you have to hand and you use it well.

Writing isn’t about verbosity. Sure, it helps to know words and what they do, but its more important to be able to say what you have to say clearly and concisely. It helps to know how to get your sense across. And sometimes, when you want to achieve that, less is more.

I just started reading a book for possible review (Yes, I’m trying to get back to that) which required use to the Dictionary to understand a six word sentence. I had no sense of voice or rhythm from the book. All I knew about it was that the author had a larger vocabulary than me and wanted to flaunt it. Maybe he was influenced by Joyce (who at least had control over his words and a sense of literary rhythm) or maybe he just thought that all writers should show off their vocabulary at the expense of their reader’s concise understanding.

A lot of the time, people hear me talk about Elmore Leaonrd as one of the most perfect writers. This is because he gets his sense across cleanly, clearly and concisely. He writes (approximately) how people talk. And while I’m sure his vocabulary is extensive, the need to show it off isn’t there. Unless its necessary from a character perspective.

A writer may actually be the worst person to talk to about specific words. Our job isn’t to know language intimately, but rather to know how to manipulate it to our own ends.

At least that’s my excuse, and man, I’m sticking to it.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Hellblazed

By Jay Stringer

I was thrown for a loop by some sad news today. Sad News. That's a bit of a relative term isn't it. In a year that's seen countless disasters, suffering, illnesses,wars and a storm that has just caused untold harm to America, I find the cancellation of a comic book to be sad news.

But sad is where you find it, I guess. And I'm a crime writer, so I find it in a lot of places.

I've been trying to find something to say about the comics industry for awhile now. The truth is that I was becoming increasingly disenfranchised and reached a breaking point earlier in the year. Ever since that moment I've been feeling the need to write form form of eulogy, a memoir of a reading habit. I could never find the right words or tone.

Comics as an art form are amazing. They're one of the best. I would argue that they are more high-tech than anything the silver screen spits out. One single still image on a flat page (or more increasingly a screen) can be used to create movement in our heads. It can give us a guide on pacing, atmosphere, character and tone. To achieve the same thing in the cinema involves the use of actors, filming equipment and someone with a sense of how to edit a story. Every year we seen millions of dollars thrown at films by studios who want to translate the magic of the comic-book page into moving images, and every year they fall short in varying ways.

It's simply an art form not to be messed with.

And there are amazingly talented people working within the art form. I still love buying an issue of a comic book and knowing that it represents the artistic vision of the creator(s) and that my buying it is an act of support, of rewarding that vision. But to extend the cinematic parallel, it's an industry dominated by two large studios, who increasingly are focused more and more on packaging a shiny product. Every clever idea that's been in one of their products is one that they have to own, whether they were involved in it's creation or not. Creators don't matter. Readers don't matter. Not really. Their wallets matter.

I'd felt this feeling growing in me over a few years as my tastes and priorities changed. What I learned this year was that I wasn't becoming estranged from the mainstream comics industry -which I'd always known was messed up- but that I was becoming removed from comic book fans. A group I had always proudly identified with.

Here's the truth of things. Companies do what companies can do. Football (Soccer) is not a commercial mess these days because of the people selling the products, but because of the fans who continue to buy the products. Summer blockbusters are not empty-headed fare because studios want to make empty-headed fare, but because they know that's what we will pay for every damned summer. And the mainstream comic book industry does not have a century of destroying creators lives simply because it wants to, but because fans will support them doing it.

We want our fix of tights, explosions and men dressed as animals, and it's our right to want it, and so what if we're supporting industry practices that seal IP away from creators and allow families to die in poverty with no pensions or health care. You can have the conversation with fans and they'll talk about how they make ethical choices, that they can support their favourite character each month without it meaning they endorse the behaviour of the company. How they can cut off things and "enjoy the work on it's own terms."

I understand why so many want to avoid that issue. Because once you accept it to be the case, you can't "un-accept" it. I can't "enjoy the work on it's own terms," because it doesn't exist in a vacuum. All the pieces matter. Once I flipped the switch, I saw there was no way to flip it back again.

There were a few personal doubts along the way though. I learned to read with comics. I learned to tell stories with comics. I wouldn't be the person I am today If I hadn't been warped at an early age by the writings of Alan Moore. If I hadn't been enthralled by Batman and Daredevil, by Green Lantern and Captain Marvel.

Comics often get written off as children's fare. A medium that has produced amazing adult-oriented and complex art often gets to be the the butt of jokes because those stories can include men in bright costumes dressing as animals and jumping off buildings. But those stories are no less art than things you'll find discussed in pretentious literary magazines. Often times they're much more art.

But whilst they should not be treated this way, I also rail against the nostalgia factor that can be so dominant. Because a reader liked something when they were 12, they feel they should always like it. And also that it should always be the thing they found when they were 12. I thought that walking away from mainstream comics was going to be a massive wrench for me, because in some cases I'd been reading these monthly books for over two decades. I found that It wasn't. It was all too easy to walk away.

I felt guilty about it for a time. But Matt Murdock has always been such a big part of my life, I should feel much more guilty about leaving him behind. He'd want me to be guilty. Then I realised It didn't matter. Just because Born Again had been a massive part of my development as a reader, didn't mean it had to remain an active part of my reading habits. It's fine to change and to be different people at different ages. As a film viewer I'm not ashamed of the fact that CLERKS was a major influence in the development of my writing and viewing tastes, but that doesn't mean I enjoy the film now. And defending comics against the stupid attacks of "it's kids stuff" didn't mean I also had to be reading them every month as an adult.

So I'd been looking for a way for the last few months to write something that summed all of this up. I wanted to find the neat and perfect way to say that mainstream comics had been a massive part of my life up to this point, but that I was okay with it not being a massive part of my life from this point on. I could simply never find the way to sum it all up.

Then DC Comics went and cancelled HELLBLAZER.

Job done.

I haven't read the title since February, for reasons that don't really need any further going into, but it was one of the trifecta of books that I had always returned to over the last two decades. I'd miss an issue here or a story arc there. I'd move house, or have a busy writing schedule, or an upcoming wedding. All of these things will add up, but over the years you find that you've read certain books far more than any others. For my part I always returned to DETECTIVE COMICS, DAREDEVIL and HELLBLAZER.

DETECTIVE COMICS is a Batman book. It's one of DC's oldest and proudest titles and, while it never hits the sales peaks of one of the books that has Batman in the title, it's one they would circle the wagons around to defend rather than cancel. So I always knew I could return to that book. DAREDEVIL has had several run-ins with cancellation over the years, a number of relaunches and stunts, but I always knew Marvel would put the character somewhere even it they cancelled the book.

HELLBLAZER was the little book that could. It actually had no right to have survived 300 issues in such a shallow, sales driven environment. A character created by Alan Moore as part of the supporting cast in SWAMP THING and then spun off into his own book. A monthly title from a super hero company that chronicled a drab and dirty con man. An asshole. A liar. A cheat.

The sales never soared. The character was adult-only. The book was never destined to become a billion dollar Hollywood film (though it did limp into life as an awful Keanu Reeves one.) It simply had no place on the shelves with all those other explosive and shiny comics. Yet it remained. From 1988 until now, it sat amidst the super-hero books on the shelves with a sneer and a knowing wink.

I won't credit HELLBLAZER with leading me to crime fiction, but it's certainly been part of the journey. He was the only character that I really fancied writing at DC (not because of any animosity against the others, but because I felt I had a John Constantine story to tell in the way that I didn't have a Batman one.) Even after I stopped reading books from the company, I wondered if that would be the title that might tempt me back.

But if I'd already stopped reading and announced several times that I was done with the mainstream industry, why would this news throw me for a loop? It should have had no impact at all. And I think maybe that's it. It's the moment when you realise not that you're over an ex, but that you've been over them for some time and only just noticed. It can come as a shock when that happens, because you get so used to being one particular thing, but life never labels the moment you stop being that thing. You simply notice one day that you changed a long time ago.

DC can do what they want. They own the characters and they'll put out whatever books sell. I'm not grinding an axe against them. This post is not angry or bitter. It's merely a full stop. How best to sum up the notion that the mainstream (read- big two) comic book industry is no longer a place for me? This. HELLBLAZER is being cancelled. It's being replaced with a new, younger and cleaner version of the character. I was hooked in by John Constantine- jaded old punk rocker magician. I have zero interest in John Constantine- Jonas Brother. 

NoirCon Is This Weekend

By Steve Weddle

Every two years, degenerate writers descend on Philly to talk about noir.

In 2010, a circuit court judge was kind enough to allow me to leave the state for a few days and visit fellow fans of noir. I said some stuff about that here.

This morning, Peter Farris was sharing some of his thoughts and preparations for the weekend here.

If you're anywhere near Philly and have a warm coat, you should swing by. It's a great chance to meet some cool folks and talk shop.

Lawrence Block, Otto Penzler, and many others are scheduled to be there.

Spend the weekend or grab a day pass. Great stuff.

More here.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Should Authors Review Books?


By Steve Weddle

Following last week's post about Amazon deleting my review of Chad Rohrbacher's KARMA BACKLASH, many people here and elsewhere have suggested that friends should not be allowed to review each other's books.

The argument is that a review from a friend is simple back-scratching. I can see where folks are coming from this.

But I wonder whether it's an issue of "full disclosure." We want "honest" reviews, not sock puppets and not proud parents, right?

If Amazon had a button that said "Friend of Author" or something, would it matter? I know it seems silly, but I'm trying to work out where the problem is. Is it the personal relationship with the author that should preclude the posting of a review? Maybe it is. Maybe too many good reviews is a problem. Maybe too many Facebook friends and Tweeps have taken authors' advice about posting a review.

As I said elsewhere last week, if the problem really is that Amazon does not want authors to say nice things about their fellow authors’ books, then perhaps a button akin to the “verified purchase” option that Amazon has provided.

On a scale of 1 to 10 -- with 1 being “Not At All” and 10 being “Have washed her knickers” – how well do you know this author?

Is Amazon also applying this standard to music? If I’m friends with the drummer from SOCK PUPPET ALGORITHM, am I not allowed to review their CD?

As we’re all just six degrees from Kevin Bacon, is no one allowed to review movies?

I'm not trying to make light of the problem, if that's what the problem is. I'm trying to understand it.

To me, it seems the biggest problem is with anonymous reviewers or people posting under fake names.

When I reviewed KARMA BACKLASH, I posted as Steve Weddle (Author). You could click my name and come up with a list of books with my stories in them. Some of those books also contain stories by Chad Rohrbacher. So, you know, you could see that there is a connection. To me, that seems like a good idea.

If I were to create a fake account and post the same review as a customer called "Charlie Chumpington IV," then there would be no way to tell who really wrote the review.

The more I think about it, the more I think I'm totally cool with Full Disclosure. I'm just not OK with anonymous reviews.

As my review got deleted because I posted under my name, Amazon seems to have chosen anonymous reviewing over full disclosure, at least for now.

You can still one-star a book because it's too expensive. You can still one-star a book with this review: "I didn't read this book. Didn't even buy it. The author's name sounds dumb."

What do you folks think?

NaNoWriMo: Day Number Blargh

By Steve Weddle

I'm doing NaNoWriMo this year.

I don't think it's the sort of thing for everyone. And here's why I thought it probably isn't for me --

1. I write slowly. My favorite key is "backspace." I think of writing as sculpting, if you really must know. I'll write a thing, scroll back to it. I'll trim this a little. Drop in a little here. Cut back everything that isn't what I want. This is not a "balls-out" kind of writing speed.

2. I work on at least nine projects at a time. I have a collection of short stories I'm working on. I have a sci-fi/fantasy novel I'm working on. I have a literary fiction novel I'm working on.

3. I'm busy. I'll get to it when I get to it.I haven't become the fifth best banjo player in the neighborhood by scratching out fiction, let me tell you.

And those are the same reasons I should do NaNoWriMo this year.

1. Yeah. I write slowly. Let's just barrel through this one. I've been writing this novel slowly for, let's see, what decade is it? Time to kick it up a gear, Weddle.

2. Yeah. I work on many projects at once. That's why I'm still working on many projects. Let's focus on this ONE project for a few weeks, shall we?

3. Yea. I'm busy. So is everyone. And the way you get something done is to be mostly busy on this one thing. Focus, pal.

So the reasons I shouldn't do this are the reasons I should.

As the clock rolled into November, I was at 10,041 words. That's quite the head-start. I've written some words from scratch. I've expanded some parts. I've cut and pasted from earlier versions of two novels that I'm now "combining" into something new. Today I am at 18,236 words.

So I'm not really using Word Count to judge my progress.

On Friday I was at Code Rutherford B. Hayes. I hope to get to Code Franklin Mint Collection by the end of this week. By the middle of next week, I'm aiming for Railway Station Blues.

See, it doesn't matter what number I'm at today, because I could find 4,287 words in Failed Novel The Second that I want to use in this one. Instead, I've come up with my own system of measurement, which makes as much sense as anything.

I want to be at 50,000-60,000 words by the end of November. Then December will be the month of editing, I hope.

I'm not the only DSDer doing this. Scott D. Parker is plunging ahead. Many of our DSD friends and family are also giving this a shot. If you're one of them, how are you doing?

Meanwhile, Stephen Blackmoore has come up with some tips for you.

I have two tips for you.

1. Stay off the #NaNoWriMo hashtag on Twitter until you've hit your word goal. Maybe you can use this as a reward.

2. If you're stuck, don't feel as if you have to keep going "forward." Writing 1,000 words in the middle of your story counts the same as 1,000 words at the end. Work out some descriptions. Take the dialog further than you'd thought. Read pages 14-17 and drop some thoughts in there. Just get those words in there.

This tip works, too. If you need a buddy, I'm right here.

Break a leg, kids. (Just spend a few paragraphs describing said breakage.)

Monday, November 5, 2012

What's in a Name?

by Frank Zafiro
 
For all you readers out there....how important is a book's title to you? Do you grab it off the [virtual] shelf because of a cool title? Or are you more interested in the author, and if you like him/her, then the title really doesn't matter? See, I'm thinking that a title is hugely important, if you're dealing with an author you've never heard of, or never read before. A title is like the hook in a pop song -- it gets ya listening. Am I right? But if you already like a writer, my guess is the title could be Next Book, and you'd read it because you dig that author. Also right?

I think so, but hell, I've been wrong about other things.

For you writers out there...how important is the book's title to you? Can you work on a project for a long time with it being called NEXT BOOK or some other generic title, or does having a title make it more real, and does it set the tone, and spark the creative juices? I think it does, at least for me. I love having a title as early as possible in a book idea. Hell, I have titles for books that I don't even have a plot outline for yet. For one, titles are fun. But having a title in place for a book I probably won't write until next year makes that title seem more...I don't know...inevitable, I guess. It's not whether I'm going to write another Sandy Banks novel to follow up The Last Horseman or not. It's that I am going to write Some Kind of Hell in 2013, and A Hard Favored Death in 2014. It's happening. It's on the schedule. Do I know the plots yet, though?

Kinda. 

But I know they're going to be written. And that's a nice bit of knowledge.

Maybe it's a little bit like telling everyone in your family you're on a diet or a workout regime. Could be that, I suppose. Or maybe it is me telling myself "Hey, man, you're for real. You've got books in the hopper." I dunno. But I like doing it.

For you writers out there, when does your title make its appearance? Is it like what I just said -- way in advance, you know the title? Or during the first or second draft?  Or are you scrambling sometimes with a finished work called Next Book?

Jim Wilsky and I had a pretty easy time coming up with the title for Blood on Blood. It's about two half-brothers going after some stolen loot left behind by their convict father. Think Hardy Boys meets Cain and Abel in Chicago, and you're close. So since it's about brothers and family, I got to thinking about a Springsteen song (of course, I can do this about just about any topic, since the Boss is so prolific and I'm such a deep rooted, long time fan).  I told Jim about the song "Highway Patrolman," which is a brothers song, and how the chorus has a line about how "nothin' feels better than blood on blood." Jim replied that Springsteen was a liberal twit whom he despised. I asked him for something better, and so we had our title. Score one for the Italian.

The sequel to Blood on Blood takes place in Vegas, and prominently features a siren of a woman, so Jim took about seven seconds to come up with a poker reference that fit perfectly. Who was I to argue with that, so score one for the Texan.

The third and final in the series, which is in first draft stage right now, is currently called "#3". Nope, no title, and no clue from either of us yet. So a swing and miss for both. A far cry from the Sandy Banks trilogy, named two years out, huh?

But I'm not worried. As much as I like titles, as much as I jot them down when they occur to me, as much as I love to pick a title in advance of even writing page one, as much as all that...sometimes, titles come when they come. Just like every work seems to have its correct, natural length -- short story, novella, novel, or opus -- I think titles make themselves known when the time is right.  If that's up front, great. If not, oh well. It'll come.

It better, right? Because you are for real, man. You've got books in the hopper.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Everyone gets a say

By: Joelle Charbonneau

In case you have been living in a cave that doesn’t have WiFi or cell phone service, I am here to tell you that the United States is holding an election in two days.  Shocking, right?  Mailboxes across the country have been stuffed with political flyers.  Dozens of ads run every hour on television channels.  Close to $1,800,000,000 will have been spent on the Presidential race alone.  (Typing that number made me want to hurl.  Think about what that kind of money could do if used for things like…oh…helping victims of hurricane Sandy.)

I admit that I like being a United States citizen.  I believe in the process, flawed as it may be.  To me, voting isn’t only a right or a privilege, it is an obligation.  People have fought and died for that right.  Not voting would be like saying their sacrifice doesn’t matter.  And it does.

So, every election cycle I do my research top to bottom.  I know who the candidates in the national, state and local elections are.  I look at their voting records or the candidate’s past work history and experience.  I listen to the things they say they believe in, filter out the stuff that sounds great, but can never get done (kind of like the high school student council candidate promising cars for everyone) and make a judgment call based on who I think is most qualified to handle the sheer madness that comes with being a government official. 

Maybe it’s just me, but this year it seems harder to discover what candidates stand for.  Instead, my mailbox, answering machine and television are filled with angry ads telling me how evil the other side is.  They are going to raise my taxes, destroy my child’s hope of an education and take away all possibility of medical attention for people like my grandmother.

Every time I see those messages I wonder, why anyone would think I’d pay attention to what the negative advertisements say.  First off, it makes me think that the person behind the ad (not necessarily the candidate, since so many of the ads are paid for by PACs) is just mean-spirited.  Second, it annoys me that someone wishes me to vote out of fear instead of an embracing of ideas.   What good can possibly come out of that?

All parties (or the parties who have enough money to use these advertising tools) utilize negative ads.  Clearly, they must be working for people to continue to plaster them across our airwaves.  And that fact alone makes me angrier than any other. 

Never have I had an opportunity to vote for a candidate who I agree with on every issue, which is good.  Voting isn’t just about what is good for me—a redhead who lives in the Midwest.  It’s about what’s good for people who live in deserts and on coastlines, who are recent immigrants or whose families can be traced back to the Mayflower.  This country is bigger than just me and my needs.  And yet, though that is true, even more wonderful is the knowledge that this country only runs if people like me go to the polls and vote. 

Every vote counts.  Everyone gets a say in what they believe in.  With that in mind, today, I encourage all my fellow citizens to ignore the fear and anger that fills the rhetoric we hear and instead embrace the true reason we vote.  Because we matter.  A vote based on ideas – no matter if we vote for the winning candidate—matters.  And when the election is over and the votes have been counted, I challenge all my fellow citizens to be proud of the results.  Your candidate may not get the job, but by voting you and all of us who live in the United States of America have won.