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Yet Another Damn Nano Blog

Well, it’s November and I find my tweet feed inundated with blogs about Nanowrimo.

You know, the ones where the authors reveal their clever secrets to getting through nano and winning.

Well, if I have to read them, then dammit, I’m gonna write one. So here it is:

Yet another damn blog about nano.

You want to know the trick to winning nano?

It’s easy.

Write, you idiot.

Sit your butt in a chair in front of your writing instrument of choice and put words down, one after the other. Keep doing this until you hit 50k.

And don’t whine about how hard it is while you’re doing it. Or how sore your wrists are. Save that for Ernest Hemingway.

Who will kick your ass for complaining, by the way. And I will watch, laughing. And post the video of your ass-whooping on YouTube.

Stop angsting over how poop-tastic your plot is. Or fretting about how fecally-challenged your characters are.

Writers write.

So write, dammit.

Nano is all about a first draft, not a freaking polished novel. Show some discipline and push out those words. Worry about the quality when you start editing. (And if you just asked, “What’s editing?” hold still – I’m sending Ernest Hemingway over to say hi. With his fists.)

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a novel, er, excuse me, a first draft to write.

And now, a word from our sponsor: me!

Marlowe and the SpacewomanClick here to check out my forthcoming book, Marlowe and the Spacewoman, coming out January 9th, 2012 (Balloon Ascension Day)!

 
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Posted by on 2 November 2011 in Other Blogs

 

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Writing a novel is like writing a book (or a novella, only longer)

People are always coming up to me on the street and asking, “How do you write a novel?”

I don’t know why they approach me. I guess I just have that ‘successful novelist’ look.

(It’s all about personal grooming. And tweed jackets with elbow patches. Wear one of those to a writing conference and you’ll be beating off the agents. And the ladies. And the lady agents.)

((Then they finish reading my manuscripts and quietly slip away in the pre-dawn hours, unsatiated and bitterly disappointed, before I wake up and can say goodbye. It’s very depressing. One of these days I’ll write a book about it.))

Because I’m tired of total strangers harassing me about the secrets to writing greatness, I’m going to put it all out right here for you.

(OK, I’m not tired of it. But the missus is sick of dinners interrupted, evening walks detoured, child-births missed as I’m chatting up a desperate wannabe writer in the waiting room.)

Writing a novel is a lot like writing a book. It’s also remarkably similar to writing a novella, only longer.

Much longer.

There are a few key things you need to remember when it comes to writing a successful novel:

You have to use letters. Preferably strung together into words. Words of a language that, again preferably, you know. Or at least a language your readers will know.

(Readers are funny that way, not willing to learn a new language just to experience an amazing novel. Lazy bastards. Most of them will download a pirated copy of your e-book too, cause they’re lazy AND cheap. Makes me wonder why I even try.)

A catchy title is also important. No one will bother to look at the letters strung together inside your book if the title is, “Mmm, Cupcakes.” No matter how perfect that title might be for your book about sentient cupcakes hell-bent on domination of the bovine artificial insemination industry, that title sucks ass and will pull the rug out from under your sales.

(Try “Miniaturized Death Cakes of Sexy, Sexy Doom, Coming For You!” instead. As a starter.)

Which brings me to the third thing you need for a successful book. Awesome cover art. Because if your book IS called “Mmm, Cupcakes” but has a photo-realistic picture of a large-breasted woman cupping her bare bosom, head tilted up and eyes rolled back in ecstasy, then “Mmm, Cupcakes” is gonna be a blockbuster.

(At least amongst the 15-23 year old male market demographic.)

The last, and most important item you need, after the letters smooshed together in a familiar language, a catchy title, and awesome cover art, is marketing.

A book is dead in the water if you don’t have marketing. You could write the next War and Peace, but if you don’t market it effectively, your sales will be so bad you’ll actually lose money.

But if you have awesome, kick-ass, spam-all-your-followers-on-twitter-every-ten-seconds marketing, well…with that, you don’t even need a book!

(Also, please, if you write the next War and Peace, keep it brief. Nothing sinks a book faster than the dead weight of too many pages, too many letters. Bleech.)

((You should shoot for novella-length.))

 
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Posted by on 15 September 2011 in Other Blogs

 

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Why I’m In Such A Hurry To Find A Parking Space

I wanted to blog about the unenviable state of parking lot etiquette in the United States.  It’s a crisis of horrific importance that needs to be addressed, honestly and dispassionately, but it turns out I don’t have the time.

And that, unbelievable as it may sound, is an even bigger problem than the shameful behavior displayed by Americans in parking lots (I’m looking at you, a-hole at IKEA this morning).

I am faced with a time-management crisis.

I work full-time.

I have two toddlers and a wonderful wife who has worn her sanity to the bone dealing with those toddlers while I’m at work.

I’m a writer.  As such, I have critique groups, writing to do, a small press I’ve founded, and for the last seven years, I’ve been a NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison.

I am addicted to reruns of T.J. Hooker, and have to watch at least one episode every night.

I won’t even bring up the lawn I have to mow and maintain.

(Curse you, Kentucky bluegrass!)

It has recently become painfully apparent that I can’t do all of this.

Quitting my job seemed like the obvious first choice for a solution.  But the missus was quick to point out some of the disadvantages: no income, no health insurance, and even worse, I’d lose an 8+ hour window each day where I don’t have to deal with my spawn, who seem to relish sucking the marrow out of people’s sanity bones.

(Yes, it’s a real bone. It’s in your arm somewhere, near the funny bone, I think.  Look it up.)

The missus can be a real killjoy sometimes.

Which led me to my second idea – ditch the killjoy and the tykes.  But there was just something about that idea that felt wrong.  I haven’t quite put my finger on what exactly it was, but the closest way to describe it is a horrible, burning void-like emptiness in my soul that manifested immediately after I considered this option.

Dashed inconvenient, that.

And as is obvious to anyone who has experienced the delight that is a William Shatner performance, T.J. Hooker is staying on the agenda.

With those three options off the table, I’ve sort of painted myself into a corner.  The area where I need to make a sacrifice appears to be my writing.

Oh, I won’t stop writing.  The kids still have a (reasonably) early bedtime, and some nights they even go to sleep when put down.  So I can, in theory, squeeze some words in there.

(That said, in the twenty minutes I’ve been (trying to) work on this entry, I’ve had to deal with crying babies twice, and they were put to bed three hours ago.)

Some of these writing commitments are huge time-sucks, and I’m not sure how I’ll address that, given the rapidly shrinking amount of time I have for writing.

OK, that’s a total lie.  I know exactly how I’ll have to address them.  I’m just not happy about it.

I’m going to have to choose.  I’m going to have to make cuts and sacrifices.  And unlike our current national debt ceiling crisis, there aren’t any tax revenue options on the table that can be used as offsets to help me scale back the cuts.

(Damn, I miss the days of the writing time surplus.  Curse my shortsightedness in not stockpiling some of those precious minutes then, when they were readily available!)

So I have to take a long, hard look at my craft and the activities that surround it.  Where can I eek out more efficiency?  What can I do to strip out the cost of fraud?  How do I determine which writing activities provide the biggest return on the time I invest in them?

It’s going to be ugly.  There will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth.  And once I’ve calmed the toddlers down, I will most likely cry too.

Maybe the pharmaceutical companies will come up with a pill for horrible, burning void-like emptiness in the soul.

A writer can hope, right?

What about you writers out there?  How do you fit the literary compulsion into your life?  Have you had to make cuts to this most beloved of entitlements?  Once the kids grow up, can you reclaim that time, or does it just get worse and worse the older they get?  Is selling your kids off for scientific experimentation still an option these days?  If so, how much does a two year old go for?

 
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Posted by on 20 July 2011 in Angst, Life, Other Blogs

 

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Standards – How Do You Measure Them?

I was flipping through the channels on the TV the other night and stumbled across Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

It got me to thinking about standards.

God that is a terrible movie.  Hands down the worst of the Star Trek movies. (And if you’re thinking to yourself that there’s only one Star Trek movie, go wipe your nose and change your diaper, kiddo, and delve into the ancient history known as the 80s, or even better, the 60s too.)  Now I’m not about to rank the Star Trek movies and then justify those rankings here.  Not what I want to blog about.

(But it’s II, VI (a very close second), IV, III, I, V, in case you were curious.)

I remember seeing that movie in the theater, leaving it pretty steamed, and then reading people’s impressions on the internet (yes, the internet existed back then – we had these awesome things called newsgroups – look them up).  And a comment one chump made has hung with me all these years.  It was something to the effect of:

“As a movie, it was terrible, but as an extended TV episode, it was pretty decent.”

No, no, and no.

What the hell?  It sucked.  Period.  As a movie, as a TV show, as a concept in some fan-fic’ers imagination. It blew multicolored chunks, which in turn squeezed out multicolored turds, which turned around, fed on each other, and blew even more multicolored chunks.

No amount of spin can change that fact.

But this comment raises an interesting question.  Are all Star Trek fans loyal to the franchise to the point of idiocy?  Yes, they are.  Well, some of them, anyway.  And I say this as a huge fanboi, so stop trying to cram me into a red shirt and put those phasers down.

A more interesting question is this: what (differing) standards do we hold our types of entertainment to?  Can a terrible book be a half decent novella?  A burst hemorrhoids of a short story an avant garde poem?  Or, conversely, can a brilliant novel be a horrible movie?

Scratch that last one – it happens all the time.

The thing is, some people seem to have relative standards, which makes no sense to me.

(Pirates of the Caribbean IV fans claiming Jonny Depp made it worth sitting through, I’m talking to you!)

A story is a story, no matter the format.  And it’s awesomesauce, fecal stew, or somewhere in-between.  I don’t see how the presentation of a story to the reader/listener/viewer can change that simple fact.

The plot is tight, clever, and coherent, or it isn’t.  The characters engaging, entertaining, and complex, or flat and uninteresting.  The setting well-crafted, adroitly portrayed, or implausible and phoned in.  How can the format of the story have any impact on the quality?

Seriously?  Am I missing something?  Because in my youth I managed to write a whole bunch of short stories, poems, and novel rough drafts so awful that they could be used in the Cthulhu mythos to summon terrible, ancient evils that would end our tiny, insignificant world.  If switching the format can transform them into awesome, angel-summoning cash machines, I wanna know it.

Also, because in my universe, Star Trek V sucked no matter how you looked at it (unless you were lucky enough NOT to look at it).  As a huge fan, if there is a way to view that movie and not want to gnaw my own leg off as a distraction, I want to know it.  Need to know it.

So do you use different standards depending on the medium of the work in question?

 
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Posted by on 2 June 2011 in Other Blogs, Story

 

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Daddy, where do ideas come from?

I must look like some sort of Idea Man, because strangers keep coming up to me and asking where I get my ideas. (On the other hand, people who know me or have read my work tend to back away slowly when they see me. Except for my children, but only because I keep them on leashes.)

But back to the question: Where do I get my ideas?

I used to buy them, but now I steal them.

It’s a dirty little secret in the book world that all ideas these days are bought and sold. Idea futures (seems dumb now, but might have merit later), idea derivatives (this is where sequels and cheap Chinese knock-offs of Harry Potter come from), idea mutual funds (a well-balanced mix of good and great ideas, with minimal exposure risk to stupid ideas), and idea investment trusts (don’t ask me, even my lawyer can’t explain those to me).

It’s complicated. And, it turns out, expensive.

The problem is pricing. You can get ideas really cheap, but those are the crappy ideas. The lame rehashes. The eye-rolling clichés. Or the just plain dumb. The better the idea, the higher the price. Yes, that’s right, ideas have a price scale.

Best Seller grade ideas are at the top, often commanding six or seven figures (the Harry Potter idea, I’ve heard from someone who failed to put in the top bid, was into eight figures and, with hindsight, worth every cent). There are various levels of Career Sustaining ideas found in the middle of the scale, the sort of concepts that will cost you the equivalent of a new car, and keep your career, while not exactly thriving, humming along well enough to pay the bills. Of course, at the bottom of the scale is the Airport grade, for those who can’t afford anything else (named Airport grade because these ideas are for books only people trapped on the secure side of an airport terminal would be desperate enough to buy).

Like most things in life, this means only the rich can afford to get the ideas that will make them richer. It’s not about what you can do, or even who you know, for that matter. It’s about how much idea you can buy. That said, who you know can help get a loan approved, increasing the amount of idea you can obtain.

I poured tens and tens of dollars down the drain buying used (yes, there is a used market) Airport grade ideas, because that was all I could afford. What did it get me? A stack of form rejection letters and my car repossessed.

Then one day, my once modest bank account drained completely dry by the Big Idea Industrial Complex, I couldn’t take it any more. Still a complete unknown, now I couldn’t buy any ideas, brilliant or crap. I found myself in that most untenable of situations: forced to think for myself. This was an exceedingly uncomfortable period of my life, but I soldiered on until I had my very own, moderately brilliant idea.

Why pay for ideas when you can steal them?

You’ll be amazed by the lack of security savvy you’ll find amongst the larger, Fortune Five Hundred idea repositories. It’s like they’ve never heard of the internet and its tubes, script-kiddies, or Anonymous. I didn’t even have to try very hard to hack into them. A little ftp’ing here, some social engineering there, and boom, I was in. The sheer scale of idea storage is breathtaking, and let me tell you, based on the volume of Best Seller grade ideas I found, prices should be a lot lower. There is definitely some market manipulation going on here.

So I grabbed them all. Every single idea at Career Sustaining Level III and above (including the idea for this article). The best part of all? I’m untouchable. These giant idea brokers can’t afford the negative publicity that acknowledging a break-in would generate. Sellers would flee. More people would hack them, and a black market in stolen ideas would begin to flourish, undercutting their monopoly. So they stay silent about my electronic trespass and thievery, and since I have the ideas now, they won’t (and can’t, due to the terms of their warranty) sell them to anyone else.

These ideas are mine now. Carefully stored away in a locked filing cabinet in a secure vault at an undisclosed location. Whenever I need an idea, I pay a visit and flip through the pages, looking for an idea that catches my eye. And then I come home and start writing.

I think I have enough ideas to write comfortably for the next decade at least, with enough ideas left over that I could sell them for extra income. And I’m not talking Airport grade, if you know what I mean.

Anyone want to buy an idea?

 
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Posted by on 12 May 2011 in Other Blogs

 

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