“Just write”

I saw The Last Jedi yesterday, and here are my thoughts:

  • Plenty of interesting stuff, lots of surprising moments
  • I still prefer the swashbuckling pulpy adventure of the first movie to the overstated drama of the newer films
  • As much as it was a good movie, I would still rather see a totally new story.

I have three young boys who love Star Wars (thanks to me), and I am getting a little tired of it. “Star Wars” movie is now a phrase that gets used all the time, and it emphasizes the feeling I had while watching The Last Jedi that these films are more like TV shows in the way they tell a never-ending story. Each time the characters face basically the same obstacles and spend their time solving a fairly explicit puzzle. This was understated in the first trilogy, but now it’s almost like watching Law and Order.

Beyond the TV-show-ish nature of how it feels like it will never end, I felt the same as I did about Wonder Woman: cool movie, but not that new or interesting. I don’t think the never-endingness is a bad thing in itself, but I think it stretches the story-telling, and it definitely feels like something other than a movie.

Aristotle’s BICHOK

Over the past few weeks I’ve recanted almost completely my thoughts on structuring a novel, and tried to “just write” as much as possible. It’s not so much the “just write” as “tell a story.” I started writing because I was thinking of stories, and telling stories to my kids, and I have always been a storyteller, but in my frenzy to perfect my novel-writing process, I completely forgot that.

I realized that I have a pretty good instinct for what constitutes a good story, that I know how to just tell people a story with a beginning, middle, and end that is comprehensible, way before I read Aristotle’s Poetics. All that structuring and breaking up the scenes and ensuring a rising action is better left for revisions (and even when I “just write” I come up with a story structure that is mostly fine).

The overall point is that taking positions and thinking I have it figured out is a mistake in itself. I’m not going to go on a rant about the merits of pantsing now because that would be a mistake too. Both overt structuring and “just writing” have their place. It is definitely better to have something to revise than to have nothing at all. With an eye for structure, and for when the reader might need a surprise, it is just fine to “just write.” Spending time explicitly structuring and planning gives the writer a better idea of how to do this, so everything has its value.

I went to a writing workshop yesterday of mostly narrative nonfiction and historical fiction writers and it is a very interesting experience. I know that I write adventure stories, and I like doing that, but one of my goals as a writer is to write a story that doesn’t require everything to blow up at the end. Seeing what other people in other genres write about is really helpful in that respect. A pretty funny moment came when I said my goal for my current book was to write 100,000 words or less, and they all said “Whoa, that’s a really long novel.”  I am about three-quarters of the way through the first draft of The Last Omen, still hoping to finish it in a few weeks. Thank you to all of you who’ve said “I would totally read the **** out of your new work-in-progress.” It’s very encouraging.

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Nah, NoWriMo

In which I alienate my fellow NaNoErs.

I signed up for National Novel Writing Month this year for a few reasons, but chief among them was that I had resisted doing it in previous years.  NaNoWriMo seems set up for people who have a different set of problems with novel writing than I do, and I used that as a reason to not participate.  My problem is not that I don’t add words every day or that I procrastinate or that I have “writer’s block.”  My problem is that I have a bunch of animals in my house that will starve or (more likely) eat each other if I don’t stop writing for a few minutes a day.  Four thousand words a day would be no problem for me if I didn’t have anything else to do, so NaNoWriMo didn’t seem like something for me. Continue reading “Nah, NoWriMo”

Thor: Ragnarok is a Kung-Fu Movie

In which I alienate Marvel fans, all of China and Stephen Universe fans!

thorI took my boys to see Thor: Ragnarok yesterday since they had the day off from school.  I recently sat through Iron Man and totally enjoyed Wonder Woman, but I am not a big fan of comic book movies.  Tim Burton’s Batman was cool, but in the past ten years things have really gotten out of control with comic book movies.  Wonder Woman was an exception, but when I watch these movies usually I feel like I’m not really seeing a story acted out, but loosely strung-together action sequences.  Everyone’s flying through the air and kicking the crap out of each other and completely destroying entire cities.  The action just goes on and on, and lately they seem to take themselves way too seriously with the whole moral ambiguity thing (forgetting that moral clarity is what makes superheroes).  As I said about Rogue One, I would much rather see an action/adventure/fantasy story about some new material instead of a comic hero or Star Wars. Continue reading “Thor: Ragnarok is a Kung-Fu Movie”

Pumpkins of Death: Brief Update (NaNoWriMo and when to fire a literary agent)

I can’t put my finger on why, but I hate it when bloggers apologize for not posting regularly.  Is everyone hanging on their every word?  Did they sign a contract saying “I will post no fewer than twice a week and no more than eight times a day?”  I’m not doing this because I owe any words to anyone.  I just make a lot of words.  It’s nice there’s a platform where I can put them out where Google can find them for people, but I’m not writing because I owe it to anyone but myself.  Yeah, so screw you people.

Anyway, sorry for not posting for a while.

I haven’t because I’ve been working on a new book, The Last Omen, loosely based on Greek Tragedy and (of course) Shakespeare.  Alyatha is the reluctant queen of Marathea, prophesied wife of the newly-prophesied king.  Marathea is sandwiched between the empire of Habia Korenz, and the anarchic non-state of Nemerev, where warlords and pirates threaten the network of roads and shipping lanes around Marathea.  This wouldn’t be such a big deal if her husband were up to his job: the Habiari are threatening to invade to quell the violence in Nemerev, and someone keeps paying a vile priestess to perform human sacrifices in order to change the course of fate, the most sacred thing in Marathean culture.  The priestess happens to be her husband’s former lover, but when push comes to shove, Alyatha has to join forces with this witch to save the kingdom.  Fantasy hijinx ensue.

I wrote about 14,000 words of this before November started, but I decided to do NaNoWriMo since I was already working on a new manuscript.  Though I always scoffed at it before (“I make my own damn goals, I don’t need a friggin’ website for that!”), it’s actually a lot of fun to track my progress and share it with people.  I’ve written about 37,000 words so far, and my goal for this book is between 90,000 and 100,000.  Because…

I had to fire my literary agent.  I won’t give too many details, but the important part is he wasn’t doing enough to support me as a writer.  He did nothing in the way of editing, and never initiated communication (i.e. he never asked me what I was working on next).  He didn’t tell me what was going on with my submissions, even when I pressed him for info.  When I brought him new material, he rejected it outright instead of helping me make it marketable.  I rationalized it at the time, but have since found out different agents would have worked completely differently.  He never suggested career development like writer’s conferences or classes, and he didn’t do much to make my book marketable.  I have other avenues, so this is nowhere near giving up.  Don’t send me sad emojis.

The manuscript he rejected outright with no assistance to make it something worth his time was Firesage, and I am most likely going to send that one to an open call from Angry Robot books.

I am keeping some short stories in circulation, including “The Harp” and “Killing Montherek, and a new one called “Her Name is Memory.”  The last one was definitely a challenge, as I tried to write from the perspective of a narrator with a damaged memory.  It was rejected without placing in Writers of the Future, where I also submitted “The Harp.”  I probably won’t write any more short stories until I finish The Last Omen, but as I have found saying “I probably won’t write any more short stories until…” is a good way to find yourself writing short stories.

It’s snowing in Vermont.  Pumpkin season.  Yes.  Sentence fragments can tell you a lot.  So can complete sentences.

The Hunt for Story Ideas

The_Hunt_for_Red_October_movie_posterLast week my novel manuscript was rejected by my agent, so I’m spending this week coming up with new novel ideas. Coming up with novels from scratch is somewhat new, somewhat not new since I had to go through the process of actually creating good stories with my first three books. The difference was that I “pantsed” them and so by the time I went to outlining I already had characters, a setting (which in fantasy means a whole world or at least part of one), a main problem for those characters, and a premise (in the sense of Lajos Egri) on which to build a story (I didn’t have good stories, let that be a lesson to you). I also had what I call an “archetypal clarity” or “cosmic principle.” This is the additional element of fantasy that the universe is organized around. The One Power, for instance is the cosmic principle behind The Wheel of Time. Continue reading “The Hunt for Story Ideas”

Quick Update and Reading

A quick update on where the latest novel draft stands: I sent Firesage off to Mark Gottlieb this week, after LibreOffice decided to completely quit on my machine I had to emergency myself to the library to get the manuscript into Docx format. But it’s gone now, and if it’s anything like The Queen’s Night, I won’t hear about it again for months. In the meantime I would like to try writing a few more short stories, maybe trying some different approaches to coming up with stories, and I’d really like to get back into reading as if my life doesn’t depend on it. Continue reading “Quick Update and Reading”

Serious kids’ movies

In which I alienate fans of Labyrinth by arguing that an excellent codpiece by itself doesn’t create the reverence and dread of a real drama.

First the news: I had another hen eaten by a fox on Saturday, so I replaced her with four new birds that I know are female (backstory: a year-and-a-half ago when I got chicks, we accidentally got a Wyandotte rooster, who the kids named R.L. Stine). I have a sequel to Firesage outlined, tentatively called Watermark, and a rough idea for a third book in a trilogy. After some thorough beta reading I have almost got Firesage ready to send to my agent, and I think this one will sell. Despite his wariness that epic fantasy is a “cold genre” I think editors will relate to the primary question of what the main character will do to make a good life for her unborn child. I went to the bookstore the other day to look for comps (and I found some good books), but I always walk away with the feeling that my books are so unique people won’t know what to do with them. I don’t think I have ever read or even heard of a fantasy book that deals with the unique anxieties faced by pregnant women, so I’m hoping that will do it for me (if you have heard of one, please let me know in the comments, or on Twitter).

Continue reading “Serious kids’ movies”

What makes a good film adaptation? The Dark Tower

In which I alienate fellow Stephen King fans.

elba
Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) faces The Man in Black (Matthew McConnaughey), not the only evil face in the movie

The other day I went to see the film adaptation of The Dark Tower. It was 11:55 AM on a Wednesday and I was the only person in the theater, but I suspected that even if I went at 7:30 PM on Friday, I would be in a small crowd. The movie has gotten plenty of bad reviews, including my favorite kind (sarcasm), the ones who tell you that the movie is already terrible and disappointing, and it shouldn’t have been made in the first place. These were followed by at least one “so what” review, which I read, but I didn’t really care to believe either. The Dark Tower is a majestic, beautiful, grand story, written by one of my favorite authors, and so I wasn’t going to take the word of a few people who might not even care for Stephen King’s writing.

Continue reading “What makes a good film adaptation? The Dark Tower”

The Urge to Create

In which I alienate people with different work habits.

I’ve finished revising a novel, so it’s time to discuss the psychology of writing!  I have written a couple times about writer’s block, that worldbuilder’s disease can distract you from thinking about more productive things, like character motivation. I still haven’t had the experience of “the words don’t come” and I just don’t get these statements like “all professional writers hate writing” or this ridiculous tweet:

Sorry if I’m being too simplistic, but I just don’t understand how you would write if this is your modus operandi. I replied that instead you could just pick a time and start writing (an opinion held by Stephen King, Roald Dahl, Ernest Hemingway, and Philip Glass, among others). Writing, for me, is just something that I do, like breathing. I can’t not do it. I’m not trying to make anyone jealous, that’s just how I’ve functioned since I was a kid. I never thought it made me a “writer” until I was in my thirties. I just never noticed it until someone pointed it out, that normal people don’t do that.

Anyway, the strange thing that happened to me this week still wasn’t “the words won’t come” but trying to hold myself back from writing. I finished the polishing edits on my novel Firesage Saturday morning by writing a new prologue. I ditched the one with the two demons talking to each other about the fate of the world and replaced it with the last bit of my main character’s old life, the one she ditches in favor of becoming an officially sanctioned sorceress. I breathed a big sigh, and then by that afternoon I was seized with panic.

“What do I do?” I kept asking myself. I’ve got a great book to read, luckily, but the underlying urge was “I need to write something.” I vowed not to touch Firesage until the beta readers got back to me (and one already did, which was totally unexpected), and I didn’t think it was a great idea to start outlining the sequel until my agent has seen it. I tried working on a screenplay based on “Stages of Man,” but then I realized that I didn’t have the character’s motivations mapped out very carefully. I started telling myself that I’m not a screenwriter and I shouldn’t try it, I should focus on novels anyway. I’m good at that and I can get better at it by doing it more.

And every day I wake up and I feel like I should be writing something. This could just be inertia, and it could be displaced energy. I don’t get the focus out of my day-job that a lot of people do, since it’s basically managing chaos (i.e. parenting). If it were inertia, then I wouldn’t have had this same feeling all the time when I was younger and hadn’t figured out how to write a novel. It wouldn’t have kept me up at night scribbling in notebooks. It wouldn’t be that the way I “blew off steam” after a long day was writing an essay when I got home at midnight. The only thing that I’ve found can effectively channel this energy is building something, working outside, or drawing, but I still feel like I should rather be doing something that I know I’m really good at.

I want to get into outlining the next book, and I am just going to stop denying myself that. In fact, writing this blog post was pretty difficult because I want to be doing that instead. There’s nothing else on my mind.

New short story

A quick note here just to let you know my short story “Stages of Man” is now available here for free:

I should be able to get used to something like that, like how Southerners should be expecting the heat, or how people really shouldn’t fear death: you know it’s coming, so it’s no big deal, but no, every time I run into her, it leaves me feeling cold and sick and exhausted for days… . She never seems to understand how painful it is to see her. If she could avoid it, I wish she would. As it is, it’s almost like she’s still alive.

Continue reading “New short story”