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Short Stories

by Jonathan 3 Comments
Here's hoping the bones of my next short story aren't so, um, combative.

Here's hoping the bones of my next short story aren't so, um, combative.

I wrapped up the first draft of my first novel three days ago. It felt good. Not great, but good. The following day, all I could think about was all the stuff that needed to be rethought, reworked and rewritten. The prospect of doing those things is daunting and exciting. I look forward to the revision process, but I also look forward to some weeks away from the novel.

To that end, I am working to stretch my short story muscles a bit. I’ve entered a few contests hosted by Jay Lake, Susan Adrian and Ken Scholes, but those were all of the flash variety. Until I started entering these contests, I hadn’t done much with short fiction since primary school. I am thankful opportunities like these exist. It is unlikely I would have written any short fiction while working on my novel if not for these authors’ offering incentive to do so. Now that I’ve done some, I’m encouraged to do more for the sake of writing. Prizes are nice (not that I’ve won any), but to explore short fiction can only help to better my writing.

Also, it is a nice break from working on one concept to explore many. The challenge for me will be to see if I can convey the feelings, tones, characters and stories economically. Today I’m mapping out the bones of a fantasy short story, probably something in the 3,000 to 6,000 word range. I’m trying out some tools I’ve come across with regard to setting up the story, so it’s an exercise of sorts. It’s also an exercise I plan to submit for publication.

More than One Way to Skin a Cat

by Jonathan 2 Comments

The imagery of this post’s title is awful, but I like the meaning. I’ve hared off and slung a whole bunch of words down on my laptop and am close to wrapping up the first draft of my first novel. Part of me thinks I should have studied more about the craft: plot, characterization, setting, and so on. However, I may never have written if I had gone about it that way. I just got a couple of new books as a 9th anniversary gift from my loving and supportive wife (Thanks!). BTW, is the 9th anniversary the Book Anniversary? It is at our house. I picked up Emily’s Ghost by West Virginia’s own Denise Giardina and The Lady with the Little Dog by Chekhov.

Character & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

Character & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

Both books I received are Writer’s Digest publications. The first is Character & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card. I posted a little while ago about the search for inspiration to keep going (or inspirado as the D calls it). I highlighted Card’s book, Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy there. Well, Mr. Card, your clever marketing pitch among those pages worked. I put Character & Viewpoint on my wishlist. So far I am enjoying it. Of course, I could read about the craft all day long and never do any writing. I think it will be useful over the long haul. I like Card’s easy style. He writes in a way that makes the techniques accessible, but not oversimplified.

The other book I received is Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell. Again, this book is written in a easy style. Bell opens the book by exposing what he calls the Big Lie, which, alone, is worth the price of admission. Granted, I just gave you a link to said opening for free, but whatever.

And I discovered the most incredible thing. The Big Lie was a lie. A person could learn how to write, because I was learning.

James Scott Bell from Plot & Structure.

Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell

Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell

I’m about 60 pages into the book and I find it to be useful. I don’t know how many of the exercises I’ll do, but some will dovetail nicely with the novel I’m already working on.

So here I am, my first draft almost complete and I’m reading books that might have made my writing life a little better had I read them before embarking on my journey of a thousand miles. I will be devouring these books now in hopes that I can put some of the info to good use during the revision phase as well as trying out some of the techniques for some short stories I have in mind. We shall see.

If anyone has any experience with these books, please feel free to share. Or, if you have other writing books you find useful, throw ’em out there!

100k

by Jonathan 4 Comments
Words not Dollars

Words not Dollars

I hit 100,000 words on the first draft of my first novel today and feel like I’ll have things wrapped up within the next 10,000 or so. My original goal was 100k by the end of August, with the idea that I’d also have a complete story. That gives me 11 days to get to the end. I should be able to do it because I have the luxury of having 4-5 writing hours at least 5 days a week. I’m a lucky devil, I know. At the same time, I’m pretty excited that I’ve been able to make it this far, stay close to my goal and have a complete, if extremely unrefined manuscript. I read an interview with Lauren K. Hamilton where she says:

Seventy percent of a first draft is garbage and 30 percent is gold, but you have to write 100 percent to get that 30.

That’s probably conservative in my case. I figure if I get a quarter of good stuff, I’m in good shape. I have no idea how long revisions will take, but it should be a fun experience. Does anyone have any words of wisdom where revision is concerned? I’ve come across a few articles and read a few books on the matter, but I’d like to hear as many approaches as possible. I know there are probably plenty of ways to get to the same end, so I’m all ears.

Here are some articles I came across in my on line search that I enjoyed:

http://www.essortment.com/all/writebetternov_rtsk.htm

http://www.gonzalobarr.com/blog/?p=732

http://www.efuse.com/Design/wa-seven-steps.html

I found this one particularly entertaining:

http://buddha-rat.squarespace.com/shitty-first-drafts/

Hope you get something out of these.

Latest Reads

by Jonathan 0 Comments
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or Check Out All These Cool Fish!

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or Check Out All These Cool Fish!

I finally finished Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver a few weeks ago. I had planned to hit Don Quixote next, but, for reasons too complicated and too boring to recount, I opted for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I’m a little over half way through and I have to say that I’m getting more and more resentful with each page. I really wanted to like this book, but, so far I don’t.

Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat

First Edition of Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat

The story starts off well enough with a mysterious sea monster attacking ships, but bogs down in Verne’s love affair with marine biology. It’s kind of like ready Moby Dick, which is a pretty cool story, but having to slog through page after page of treatises on different whales and their respective anatomies. Hey Jules Verne, if I wanted to know so much about sea life, I would have been an ichthyologist. Perhaps if he had stuck with more sweeping description and less minutiae I would be less bitter.

On that note, I put down Verne and picked up Tortilla Flat by Steinbeck at the recommendation of a friend. I posted a couple of months ago about The Grapes of Wrath – if you don’t feel like checking that post out, just know that Grapes vaulted into my top 5 books of all time and I don’t even know what two of my top five are! Maybe that makes it a top 3. For the record Lord of the Rings and Song of Ice and Fire are my top 2.

Tortilla Flat delivers that same kind of feel as Grapes of Wrath. Set in Monteray, California at the end of World War I, Steinbeck delves into the lives of the paisanos just returned from war.

From Tortilla Flat Wikipedia Entry:

Above a town of Monterey on the California coast lies the shabby district of Tortilla Flat, inhabited by a loose gang of jobless locals of Mexican descent (who typically claim Spanish descent) whose riotous adventures are compared by Steinbeck to the exploits of the Knights of King Arthur.

Soft-hearted, unquestioningly loyal to one another, and in complete disregard of social conventions and expectations, the gutsy paisanos of Tortilla Flat cheerfully reside in a world of idyllic poverty. Steinbeck gives a description of a paisano, who according to Steinbeck speaks English with a paisano accent, and Spanish with a paisano accent: “He is a mixture of Spanish, Indian, Mexican and assorted Caucasian bloods. His ancestors have lived in California for a hundred years or two…. He lives in that uphill district above the town of Monterey called Tortilla Flat, though it isn’t flat at all.” Most of the action which takes place in the novel is in the idyllic time of Steinbeck’s own late teenage and young adult years, shortly after WW I (1919, approximately).

It’s a quick read and highly entertaining. I enjoy the way Steinbeck explores the ability of men to rationalize what would otherwise be considered reprehensible actions. If you haven’t read this, do yourself a favor and check this out. In the meantime, it’s back to 20,000 Leagues for me. Hopefully the story will emerge more frequently than the Nautilus does.

Inside Captain Nemos Floating Man Cave

Inside Captain Nemo's Floating Man Cave

Back from Gen Con

by Jonathan 0 Comments
On My Wishlist for 2009

On My Wishlist for 2009

When I was 13, I had a subscription to Dragon magazine (now available only with an online subscription). I would pore over the pages endlessly, wondering about all the cool stuff I saw in there from ads for Bandersnatch Leathers dice bag to gaming conventions. Gen Con was the mack daddy of gaming cons (and still is). So, 26 years later, I finally went.

It was awesome.

I mean that in so many respects – the amount of people, the number of people who liked to dress in costume, the amount of gaming opportunities, the myriad ways to dump cash.

My goal was simple – game as much as possible. I had hoped to play some regular Dungeons and Dragons, but I did not sign up in advance and they were pretty well filled up. I changed my approach and made every effort to play games that I hadn’t played before. I wound up playing Aerodrome 1.1, Game of Thrones Card Game, Chaos Marauders, Last Night on Earth, Call of Cthulhu 6th edition and Age of Conan. I also got an overview of Android from Fantasy Flight Games.

I spent most of my time at the Aerodrome table because I could get in pretty easily (the guys running the show were very nice and enthusiastic about newcomers) and the people playing were fun to be around.

I also spent a good bit of time hovering around the Fantasy Flight Games exhibitions because I think they do such a good job from great production values to game mechanics. Although I did not get to play Android, it looks pretty cool. They had a couple of games of Android going during the convention with a running time of about 5 hours. It looked complex, but in a good, conspiracy theory layered over murder mystery kind of way.

If nothing else, Gen Con was great for getting my gaming fix. I’ve already marked it on my calendar for next year. I didn’t write nearly as much as I thought I would, but I have no regrets about taking a little break to explore fantasy settings in a different way.