The instructor, Fabio Fernandes, seems like a fantastic person, one I could easily sit and talk to for hours. I feel this because that's basically what he did for two hours: talk to us.
Well, I exaggerate. We spent the first hour hearing having everyone in the class introduce themselves.
The second hour -- and beyond? he wasn't done when I had to hop off to get back to work -- was him telling us stories, making reading recommendations, and...that's it. No real writing advice, other than to write what we want to write, rather than what we know.
But his personal stories were fascinating and eye-opening. Like the one where he picked apart a scene in Ian McDonald's Brazil (which he translated into Portuguese) involving a group of black men and a white woman, talking us through how the race relations displayed in that scene were not Brazilian, but American. Or how he's considered to be White in Brazil, but in the US or UK he's Latino, but only to people in those countries who think of themselves as White, because to other South Americans, Brazilians are not Latino, because they don't speak Spanish!
And he did in general give me confidence (permission?) to write about cultures other than my own. He said we have to find things in our experience that can bridge the gap between the culture we grew up in and the culture we want to write about. And to remember that we are all both insiders and outsiders: insiders for our native culture, outsiders to everyone else (and vice-versa).
So I guess my experience was positive? If a bit less focused than I'd like. And less organized; they said they'd have the recording link sent to us, but it's been over a week now and so far, nothing.
So I'm not sure I'm going to sign up for any more of the Clarion West online courses. Apparently fifteen minutes is more than enough to get some excellent feedback on a story draft, but not even two hours is enough time in which to give some general writing advice and techniques.
In conclusion: I really cannot wait for the pandemic to end, so we can go back to learning and sharing in person.
So I found a cure for the distractions last week: Stop reading the news.
I'm serious. Before last week, I'd check three different news sites in the morning, first thing, before sitting down to write. I felt informed, sure, but I also used up time in the morning that I could have spent writing.
So now I'm...not doing that anymore. I wake up and write, for about an hour, before doing anything else.
I still read the news, of course. I just do it after my writing is done, not before.
And so far, it's working! I've been able to churn out anywhere from 800 to 1,200 words a day, doing things this way.
Which is good, because NaNoWriMo starts on Sunday, and I've signed up for it again.
I know, I know. There's too much going on. I've already got a novel I need to doing additional editing passes on. And what about that series of short stories that I wanted to do, based on those horror writing prompts?
The thing is, I logged into my NaNoWriMo account last week, just to blow the dust off it, and I realized that every novel I've ever written started out as a NaNoWriMo project.
Even if I didn't finish the novel during that November, I got enough of a start that I eventually finished that draft.
So I signed up. I think the previous short story idea I had, about a woman in the eighteenth century who fights to protect an endangered species -- dragons -- has enough there to be longer than a short story. I already put off starting it once, because the more I worked on it, the longer it grew.
Well, if I just call it a novel off the bat, the length's fine, isn't it?
As training, I'm working through Lisa Cron's Story Genius. It's got a series of exercises for drilling into the bedrock of your story and figuring out what really makes it tick, so (presumably) writing the novel itself becomes easier. For example, writing a full scene from your main character's past that shows the origin of the internal issue they're going to work through (in the course of the novel).
I'm doing it for the horror short story, for now, not the novel (not yet). First because, well, doing it on the novel would be cheating. Second because I've not used this book before, so I wanted to try it out on something small to see if it works for me. And third, because I was kind of flailing on the short story. I hoped some structure would push me forward.
And it has, so far. As I mentioned, I've been churning out backstory scenes, working through my main character's personal issues so I know just what situation will push them out of their comfort zone (and into the plot).
I'm hoping to have enough worked through before Sunday that I can at least write a first draft of the story, and get it out of the way before I need to focus on the novel.
But if not...Oof. I'm not sure what I'll do. Start the novel, I suppose, in order to keep up with the NaNoWriMo pace? And pick up the short story on the other side, in December.
If any of you are doing NaNoWriMo this year, look me up! My user name's mindbat , let's be writing buddies, and help keep each other's spirits up!
Well, this round of edits, anyway...There’ll be more, down the line.
But the third draft of the novel is finished!
This is the first draft that I feel can be seen, so I’m sending it out to beta readers, hoping to get some good (meaning: useful and thorough, not merely positive) feedback.
I’ll also need to send it to sensitivity readers, because some of the characters are from ethnic groups outside my own. I think I’ve done them justice, but I know I’m not the best judge of that. So I’ll ask some friends of mine to be additional readers, letting me know if I’ve messed anything up.
While I wait (and lean into my reading, to unwind a bit), I'm going to work on a short story or three.
I found a horror anthology that’s accepting flash fiction on five different subjects through December. The topics are broad enough that I’ve brainstormed a few different story ideas for each.
Since they’re flash pieces, I thought I’d write one up for each topic, and submit them all (which they allow). Five little stories for my brain to chew on while I take a break between editing passes.
What about you? What do you do, between revisions of a longer work? Or do you take any sort of breathing room between them, at all?
My wife says I walked around slack-jawed, not speaking, not noticing anyone or anything else.
It was our first trip to Galaxy's Edge, at Disneyland.
We'd been walking around the other areas of the park all day, in the lingering heat of early October, 2019. I'd wanted to go to Galaxy's Edge straight away, but our friend had insisted we wait till the sun went down. When the crowds would thin, and the lights and special effects on the buildings would come out.
She was right.
Because when we finally made it there, the park was perfect. Not empty, but not crowded. Cool enough to walk around, but not yet cold.
And everything was lit up.
I've been ambiguous about a lot of things Disney has done with the Star Wars franchise. But that day, in that park, I forgave them everything.
Because they nailed it.
The streets, the buildings, the design of the doors, the mother-fucking Milennium Falcon sitting right there, looking every inch a hunk of junk that's ready to race around the galaxy. They even got the sound of the floors in the Falcon right, our shoes click-clacking on the floor panels exactly as if we were being followed around by a foley artist from Lucasfilm.
And I wanted to go back the very next day.
As you can imagine, though, we haven't been. We told ourselves we could return in the spring of 2020, just in time for my birthday.
What naïve summer children we were.
Thanks to the pandemic, there's no return trip in my near future. No immersion in the world of Black Spire Outpost.
Except through fiction.
So I picked up Dawson's book set on the world the park is meant to represent. I wanted to go back there, even for a moment, to let her words guide my imagination in invoking the spirit of the place.
Too much to ask, perhaps. But I had high hopes after reading Dawson's Phasma, where she introduced two new characters -- Vi Moradi and Cardinal -- while building out Phasma's backstory. That turned out to be a Mad-Max-via Star Wars tale wrapped inside a spy story; an incredible balancing act.
And once again, Dawson pulls it off, weaving a high-stakes story with a small-scale focus. She brings back both Vi and Cardinal, filling out more of their arcs and letting both of them shine.
Something bothered me all throughout the book. I didn't know what it was at first, just a vague unease in my mind as I read along.
It wasn't until halfway through the novel that I realized what it was: the colonial attitude of Vi and the Resistance towards Batuu (the planet on which Black Spire Outpost is located).
Let me explain. No spoilers, I promise.
When the story begins, Batuu is not involved in the conflict between the Resistance the First Order. It's too small, too unimportant. The war has passed it by.
Which is one reason Vi is selected to go there, as some place the First Order won't be paying attention to.
Logical on the face of it. But it's the start of my problems with the story.
Because no one on Batuu invites the Resistance there. No one on Batuu wants to be involved in the conflict, at all.
The Resistance just assumes they have the right to build an outpost there, regardless of what the local population wants.
Which means they assume they have the right to bring the war there. To bring violence and death with them. Because they know the First Order is going to eventually discover said base, and when they do, they will respond with oppressive force.
And throughout her stay there, Vi repeatedly acts like a colonial officer sent to a "backwards" place:
She quickly makes a deal to steal an ancient artifact and use it to bargain for supplies (instead of leaving it alone, as she has no rights to it)
She assumes the right to squat in ancestral ruins that the people on Batuu consider sacred
She receives medical care from a local elderly woman, which saves her life, and her thanks is to rip the woman's only help -- her grandson -- away from her. She thinks she's right to do so, as it's "for the greater good"
She's constantly saying things like "Don't they realize I'm doing this for their own good?" every time she can't bend someone to her will
When she finds herself using local expressions and greetings, she doesn't think of it as being respectful, but as "going native"
I could go on.
It's a frustrating flaw in an otherwise fantastic book. I like Vi, I like the other characters, I like the story, I even like the ending.
But the constant attitude of Vi and the Resistance that "we know better than you, so we're going to make these choices for you" is so...belittling, so arrogant. It feels out of character for a movement that says it's all about free will. And yet totally in line with the way we Westerners usually interact with other countries.
I still recommend the book. It's the next best thing to being there, in the park. Which is an incredible achievement, despite the problematic nature of some of its plot points.
I'm turning the editing corner, into the final third of the book.
I'm a little nervous about this section. The middle edits were smooth sailing, but the closer I get to the end, the more things need to line up perfectly. I need to make sure threads are getting wrapped up, that I haven't skipped any scenes, that everything makes sense.
I need to keep the whole novel in my head at this point, basically, in order to keep it all consistent through the end.
And the end, of course, is the most complicated part of the book. It's where the main conflict gets resolved, via multiple timelines and a perspective shift.
I hope it works. I hope I can hold it all together.
Because if I can, if I do, then this round of edits will be finished. And I can start sending it out to beta readers, to finally get feedback from another pair of eyeballs than mine.
And maybe, just maybe, have their reviews back in time to make final adjustments, and have it ready to send to agents by the end of the year.
It is...a tight deadline. But we live in hope, don't we?
It struck me this morning that the pace at which I come up with new story ideas has slowed down.
Time was I couldn't go a day without being struck by some story idea, and having to write it down.
These days, I feel like all of my ideas are about the book or the story I'm currently working on. Nothing new, no bolts of lightning, just new ways of looking at the characters or the situation I'm already creating.
And that made me nervous. Like, what if the well's run dry? What if once I finish these stories, that's it? Nothing else comes?
To banish those thoughts, I remind myself of two things.
First, it's a pandemic. Not to mention my state is currently on fire (the evidence of which is clearly visible in the sky outside my window). I'm allowed to feel a bit more stressed, and that means my brain isn't functioning at 100%.
Second, it's okay to not be constantly throwing out new ideas. In fact, it's a good thing. Plowing my creative energy into what I'm working on, rather than dreaming up new work to take on, is exactly what I should be doing. The fact that my brain doesn't feel the need to go wandering for a new story to work on means this story's interesting and deep enough to keep it occupied.
It's a positive sign, not a negative one. And it should be embraced.
As for the novel itself, work continues. I'm still going through a chapter a day, giving myself the time to really look at each scene and fix the things that need fixing. A line of dialog that doesn't work. Some blocking that no longer makes sense.
Okay, not everything. Some things I'm leaving for another pass.
Like in the last chapter I edited, there's a shift in one character's dialog. They go from speaking somewhat formal English to a less-formal syntax. It's subtle, and it still sounds like the character, but it's there.
I like the shift, and I think it's appropriate for the situation in that chapter. But in order to keep it, I need to go through and make sure that shift happens every time that situation comes up, so it feels deliberate, and not like a mistake.
Alternatively, I could go through and make the character's dialog pattern the same everywhere. That might be easier, but I think there's something that will be lost if I do that. There's information encoded in the way they shift their speech according to who they're speaking to, and I'd hate to lose that.
So yes, even as I go through this pass, I know I'm going to need to do another. But that next pass will be more focused, and thus faster, than this one. At least, that's the intent.
What about you? When you do your editing, do you tackle everything in each pass? Or do you break it up into different read-throughs?
I'm still working on the novel, still plugging away at editing one chapter a day. It's about all I can do, given my schedule constraints.
And so far, it's...not that bad?
I mean, I'm probably filling in gaps that are there because I know the characters, I know the setting. But I was trying to write the equivalent of an action movie, and while I think I failed at that (there's not nearly enough stunts or fights in it to qualify), I think I did manage to produce a fast-paced, sci-fi, thriller.
Each of the chapters are short -- the longest is maybe ten pages -- which makes them easier to edit, but also easier to read.
And I've kept the language pretty tight, as well. Not always tight enough, hence the need for edits. And sometimes I wander off into describing a character's thoughts from the outside, inside of rendering them from the inside (it's a shift in point of view that I'm still learning how to handle properly). But overall, each scene starts, flows, and then ends without a lot of fat to trim.
Which worries me, of course. What am I missing? What am I not seeing, that I need to fix?
It reminds me of something the write C Robert Cargill tweets about a lot: That when you look at your work, and hate it, part of it is because of the difference between your skills and your taste. Your taste is likely far more sophisticated than your skills, starting out. You enjoy reading writers far better than you. And that's good! Your sophisticated taste is what lets you see the problems in your own work, which you can then fix.
So I have to wonder: Has my taste declined? Have I been slacking in feeding it new works, so I can be critical of my own?
Or am I just still too close to this book?
Either way, I'm not upset at these chapters. They're not so horrible that I wouldn't want to show them to someone else.
Which perhaps is good? And maybe the point of doing all these editing passes and rewrites. To get the book to a point where I think it's ready to be seen by other people.
Flawed still, probably, yes. But good enough to go out to beta readers, and eventually (after more edits) agents. That should be the goal, right?
And if I'm getting there, I should feel good about it. Not dread.
I seem to always discover new things about the story while I'm writing it.
It shouldn't surprise me anymore, but it does. Somehow, no matter how much time I spend thinking about and planning a scene, simply by writing it out, my brain will come up with new ideas and connections to other parts of the story.
It's all good stuff, and I'm grateful, but it'd be a touch more convenient if I could think of these things while I'm outlining. That way, I wouldn't have to go back and revise other parts of the book to match the new things I've come up with while writing a scene.
Don't get me wrong: the fact that I can come up with anything at all, instead of just staring at the screen like a deer caught in a truck's headlights, is fantastic.
It's also just a tad bit annoying, sometimes.
Which is to say: I’m making progress on the novel edits.
Looping, patchwork, scattered progress, but progress all the same.
Right now I’m trying to nail down the intro chapters, the first five or so. I want them to do quite a lot: Introduce the main character, and their (normal-day) problems, lay the ground work for a mystery that pops up later, orient the reader in the setting, introduce some antagonists, and make all that interesting enough so the inciting incident is worth sticking around for.
Oh, and they’ve also got to setup the stakes for the inciting incident, have the incident itself, and then pave the way for those consequences to play out.
It’s a heavy responsibility for those first chapters to carry. And before I started making these changes, they weren't quite up to it.
But I think they can be! So long as I make the right changes.
So that's what I've been working on this week, and will likely keep working on into next week.
I feel a bit like a director on a movie, making changes to the set design between each take (and also changing the script. and the blocking. the actors hate me). I go in and add a machine there, change the readout on a display there, redirect the lighting over there, and then let the scene play out again. Or scratch a scene entirely and replace it with something new, in a new location.
It's slow going, but it's fun! Kind of. Makes me grateful no one's had to read the earlier drafts. This one's going to be bad enough.
Finally dove into editing the novel this week. Stopped procrastinating and worrying about the right way to do it, and just started doing it. Figured I'd look for inconsistencies, and touch up language or dialog along the way.
And at first it worked! I chugged along, making small changes, trimming sentences here and there, for four whole chapters.
But then I noticed something: The chapters I'd written (and edited, now for the third time) were all too short.
I'd left out physical descriptions of the characters, so the reader had no guidance on what they looked like.
I'd left out descriptions of the locations they were moving through, so the reader had no way to orient themselves in space.
And I'd left out any discussion of how the characters should react to a crisis, so the reader had no idea of the alternatives, or how bad the crisis really was.
I could tell all this, for the first time, because the reader was me.
I don't mean that I was literally lost in my own novel. Thank goodness, no, I still knew where everything was, and what everything looks like.
But I'd had enough time off from the book to approach it like a reader. And I've recently read some books that had a quick pace and an interesting plot but never gave me enough time to get oriented in the world, so I always felt a little confused.
Both things that let me recognize it when it started happening in my own book.
So this editing pass -- draft number three, for those keeping score at home -- is turning out to be a "filling in the gaps" pass. Expanding conversations so each character's whole train of thought is present (or at least enough for the reader to make the tiny leaps required). Spending more time in a space before the plot pushes us out of it, so I can give the reader something to visualize.
Thankfully I've been thinking about all of these things for two years now (or three? is it three years?) so I can fill in the gaps when I spot them. But even as I fill in the gaps, I know I'm creating more work for myself. Because each of those filled gaps is now a first draft, and will need to be revised again (and again) before it's ready to go out.
So thanks, past me. You keep the plot humming along, but you forgot to lay down all the sign posts along the way.
This week, I've been chasing the dragon of a finished draft.
I'm so close to being done with the short story revisions that I've been working on them every day, instead of alternating with the novel. It's like at a certain point, I can only hold one or the other in my head, and I've been holding the short story.
I'm still following the one-inch-frame method, jumping from scene to scene and writing a few paragraphs here, a page there, then coming back and joining them up later.
It feels like a cheat, sometimes, like I'm putting off doing my homework and playing video games instead. And I suppose I am, in a way, holding off from writing the parts that feel difficult in the moment and writing the ones that come easily.
But so far, I always end up coming back to the hard stuff, and finding that either a) It doesn't seem hard anymore, or b) It's not even needed.
The latter still worries me. How could this piece that I thought was essential not even need to be written? Am I not just procrastinating on my homework, but refusing to do it altogether?
I try to reassure myself with the knowledge that this is just a draft, one of many, and everything can be revised later. Nothing is permanent.
So here's hoping I can wrap up this draft over the weekend, and then push through the last scenes of the novel! Would be nice to end June with two projects completely drafted, ready to sit on the back-burner for a bit so I can come back and revise them properly.
How about you? When you're closing in on a finished draft, do you find you have little room in your head for anything else?
The streak's alive! I've managed at least 30 minutes of writing for 57 days straight now.
Alternating the days I work on the novel with the days I work on the short story seems to help, too.
I've even started tracking my daily word count again, when working on the novel. I don't let myself stop writing until I hit 250 words.
As a result, I've made notable progress on it. Finished three new chapters, and I'm ready to start editing down the next few.
And for the short story, I'm gathering notes on my research and getting plot points nailed down. This weekend (or early next week) I think I'll be ready to start writing some dialog, and then gradually fill in the rest.
Oh, and I have three other pieces submitted to paying markets. Keeping in the habit of sending them right back out a few days after a rejection comes in.
So this week has been good, relatively speaking. Still not operating at 100%, creatively, but I'm finding a new normal, a new pace of working to make a habit.
50 days! That's 50 consecutive days of working, bit by bit, on the novel, several short stories, and essays for the blog.
50 days of laying bricks, one at a time. Of sending out stories and getting rejections. Of wrestling with file formats, and Scrivener settings, all to conform to the particular submission guidelines of each market (sometimes "always follow the directions" is hard advice to hold to).
50 days of shoving the pandemic out of my mind for at least thirty minutes, each day, to go visit somewhere else in my imagination. A dearly needed mental vacation.
So, what's new this week?
I've taken up the habit of alternating days in which I'm working on the novel with days where I work on something else. It's a way of giving me a break from the general slog of the book without going too long without thinking about it. And it lets me make progress on some other projects.
Like the short story I started submitting to markets...two weeks ago? One of the rejections I got resonated with me. It took a while, but eventually that resonation joined up with some things my beta readers said, and crystallized this week into me thinking up a different ending for it.
The new ending changes the meaning of the piece. Shifts its emphasis. But I think it's stronger, and more cohesive with the rest of the story. And it adds a little bit of just desserts for one of the characters.
So I'm going to give it a shot.
I say "give it a shot" quite deliberately. It might flop. It might make the story worse, not better. I might fail to execute properly. Any of which would mean I'd go back to sending it out with the original ending.
But I'd like to try, so I've been using my alternate days this week to brainstorm and outline the new ending. Sketch out scenes, decide sticky plot points, nail down questions that arise as I think it through.
It's a different way of working for me -- usually I just throw down the short story, outline be damned -- and it's slower, but I'd like to be more deliberate in the way I craft things. I feel like the more plot holes I can fill during the outlining, the smoother the actual writing process will go. It should let me focus on the writing itself, because I've thought through the action and character beats already.
Those words have been pulled out of me, letter by letter. I have to open Scrivener and start reading the previous days' work as soon as I sit down to breakfast. If I wait till after I’ve finished, and let myself sink into Twitter or reading blog posts or magazines, I never get started.
Even once I’ve started, I keep checking my word count. “Am I done yet? No? How about now? Now? This time?”
I both can’t wait to be done with this rewrite, so I can move onto to the next project, and I don’t want to do the work necessary to finish it. It’s grinding, boring work, and – because I know even this draft is going to be imperfect – terrifying at the same time.
Why am I doing this, again?
Oh, yeah: because this story can’t be told without me. If I don’t write it, no one will know about Marcus, or Julia, or Franklin. No one will feel their pain, their fear, as I have. No one will rejoice at their triumphs.
I owe it to them to finish. So that’s what I’ll do.
1,086 words this week, all for the novel edit, this time.
Though I suppose calling what I’m doing a second draft would be more accurate. I’m not just reading through chapters, tweaking phrases and dialog. I’m rewriting some chapters wholesale, others I’m stitching together from bits and pieces of the previous draft like a linguistic version of Frankenstein’s monster.
It’s hard to ignore that previous draft, sometimes, even when I know it’s wrong. Not just bad – though the writing certainly deserves the name vomit draft – but wrong. Wrong for the story, wrong for the characters, wrong for the book. And yet, the fact that its words are done, written there on the page, makes it tempting to use them. Even when I know I shouldn’t.
So it’s easier to delete them, get them out of the way. Of course, then I’m staring at a blank page, that intimidating spotless thing. Who am I to rubbish it up, especially when I know this won’t be the last draft? These revisions will need revisions, and those will need tweaks, and those will need a polish.
I resort to tricks, at that point. Lie to myself. “Just 50 words,” I’ll say, “and then you can go back to Twitter.” Or: “Just describe what this character feels right now. You’ll cut it later, but get it done now, just in case some of it’s good.”
And once I’m going, it’s hard to stop. Even when the clock reminds me that it’s time to close up shop and head to the day job, to earn the money I use to keep my hobby – my art – going.
Every day a new trick. A new lie. But every day the word count grows. The work takes shape. The story comes alive.
Day Two of WonderCon was packed with panels and interviews. I admit it was almost too much; towards the end of the day I stopped taking notes, and just sat back and listened.
But I still took down lots of good advice, from building a career in comics to getting hired on staff for a TV show.
Many thanks to the creators who took time away from their work and their families to share their insights and advice with us!
Breaking in and Staying in Comics
jim zub, max dunbar, chip mosher, ivan salazar, kiersten wing
jim zub: currently writing the avengers and iron man; did the rick & morty vs dungeons & dragons comic
max dunbar: artist, worked on dungeons & dragons, various comics at dc and marvel
jim zub: unlike a lot of other industries, you can go to conventions and show off your stuff, meet people; easiest way to get started in comics is to start making comics; got his own start in animation, because it seemed easier (to him) to break into (so many people needed for every project); started doing his own comic in the evenings after work (c. 2001); what's amazing about the internet is a lot of the barriers to getting your work out there are gone
max dunbar: x-men cartoon blew his mind when he was young; drew all the time, thought "there's a job where you get to draw non-stop"; much later, started taking his work to conventions; first breakthrough was convention in 2012, getting into a portfolio review, talking to editor directly, showing them his work
kiwi: there's a lot of different jobs in comics: marketing, editorial, etc. lots of other ways to get in
chip: got into comics in '82, parents let him have a subscription to rolling stone, which was a mistake, but it had an article about the dark knight, and he thought "this comic's going to be hot", so he went into the shop and bought two number 1s; soon followed with swamp thing, watchmen, etc; one his favorite comic companies at the time was kamiko: robotech, johnny quest, grendel, mage, etc; worked in a comic shop when he was a kid; somehow talked his parents into letting him take a bus from houston to san diego to let him go to comic-con when he was 16; he volunteered because he couldn't afford a badge; ended up meeting bob and diane with kamiko, who took them to a party where he got to hang out with mark hamill, ended up working for them, and then moving to boom studios and helping them staff up and become a major player, then to the movie side for oni press, then...
max dunbar: make as many contacts as you can early on, never know when those contacts are going to provide an in
jim zub: joined a creative community early on, they would go to the cons and then to dinner afterward, and all look out for each other as each of them got their foot in the door
kiwi: and not only those contacts help you get in the door, but they become your support system later on
jim zub: though if you take a hunt-and-kill approach to making contacts, just looking for the next person to help your career, people are going to notice and you won't be the kind of relationships you need to not only get in but become a better artist, a better collaborator; seek out the people on the sidelines, who aren't being mobbed, they're all important, and they can become part of your support system (and also: it's just good people to recognize the humanity in others)
ivan: got his job in marketing not on the basis of his professional stuff, but on the strength of his fan-mix covers; because (according to chip) they were more him
jim zub: agreed; so many people pitch stories that they don't really care about; but the biggest successes in indie comics over the last 25 years have been passion projects; nothing else is going to keep you going when you're juggling a day job and grinding this out on the side
for jim: how do you get in the mindset for villains? jim -> when writing, he's done so much d&d, he's literally roleplaying all of it; villains are people that think they're good and can always justify how they're working towards their goals; they're driven people; if you don't know who your characters are, if you're just putting them in there because "we need a bad guy" they're not going to feel real to the reader; finds villainy for villainy's sake to be boring, always wants to find their motivation
if you come in later in life, with a day job, how do you balance that?
jim -> can be really difficult, he's still teaching, and writing at night, it's nuts and it's hard to get in the right amount of writing; like any hobby, like exercise or dieting or anything habit-forming, you need to be able to carve out that time; and hopefully the people in your life understand that and will give you your space; it's so important to stop pretending like "i'm going to take 6 months off and do my creative project", that's a lie; make incremental progress constantly, daily, and then you'll look in the rearview mirror one day and marvel at your progress
max -> start small, on anthologies, short comics; it's important to work on projects and finish them, put them in your portfolio; put in the daily effort you'll need to work on your craft
jim -> definitely don't do things like cashing out your retirement account early so you can take a year off work to produce a comic; the problem with getting advice from successful people is that none of the bodies strewn on the fields around them speak up and talk about how things didn't work out for them
max -> you can keep your job and work in comics, it'll just take more discipline to juggle the two
american market is saturated with superheroes, can you talk about pitching stuff that isn't that?
jim -> would not recommend trying to break in with a superhero comic; better to do a different genre, and build your rep there
max -> plenty of other stuff out there; his first superhero book was just last year
ivan -> for pitching, look at editors, see what they're working on, look for similar stuff, and pitch your stories to those editors
jim -> check the names in the back, be targeted in your pitches, look for the people/names in common with the work you like; when you reach out to them, be genuine, don't blow smoke, make a real connection based on your research and your fandom
jim: don't send generic emails out to companies; meet people, and send your stuff to them
Spotlight on Scott Snyder
with whitney moore, host of the DC Daily (podcast?)
"what does it mean to have 80 years of batman?"
batman was one of his favorite comics when he was little; he's from New York, grew up when times square, etc wasn't considered safe; batman resonated with the problems he saw growing up, every day
and you want him to win, because he's the most human of the heroes; no super speed or strength or anything else
didn't handle his first year of writing batman well; got the book when he was in a low place, was really unsure of himself; was writing short stories at the time, one of them caught the attention of editors at DC, was only supposed to do background for the book, and then suddenly got handed the whole book; thought he'd only have that one shot at batman; wasn't handling pressure well, was drinking too much at cons and parties, getting into fights with editors, etc; ran into grant morrison, who told him the only way he could deal is if made his character have a birth and death, and that's when he started working on zero year; wanted batman to deal with the problems his kids are dealing with (shooter drills, terrorism, things that scott didn't have to deal with when he was little)
batman laughs is his chance to vent, be crazy; write the anti-batman; let loose with all his little problems like "i got stuck in traffic today"
what is it about the horror genre that draws you?
was a very weird, anxious kid; lots of worries and anxieties; horror helped him deal with them
found a loophole in the video store: they wouldn't rent R-rated videos to kids, but they would deliver them to your home; remembers getting night of the living dead, made a huge impact on him, so bleak, so socially conscious, lived in his imagination for months
horror is the perfect distillation of conflict; even if you're writing a drama, you're pitting the hero against their own worst fears; if you're writing horror, you can go at it directly
takes your worst fear and makes you face it; takes the worst version of what you're afraid of, and makes you face it, and then you come back ok
but even your horror has levity, how do you approach that? is a formula of timing, or..?
tries to throw in jokes because you need some release through the book
always puts himself in the work; it comes from what he's struggling with personally; if you're an aspiring writer, be prepared to be vulnerable, because the only way you'll make these characters original is to bring to them your fears and problems
advice for aspiring writers and artists?
you gotta write your own favorite story that day; doesn't have to be the smartest or the funniest, but the story that would change you that day
pragmatically; it's going to suck; there's going to be lots of years when everyone else has careers, and you're like "i'm a writer!" with no credits
you can't wait for the muse, you have to think of it as your real job, your secret identity, and work it like a real job
when he started out, he wasn't the brightest bulb in the class when it came to writing, but he wanted to do it, and so he kept at it
writer's block is just the fear of writing something shitty; even on the days where you suck, you have to write anyway
what if you don't want to confront yourself on the page?
there's no way to avoid it; whatever you write will be you; even if you don't want to face your fears, write what about something you love, and make the villain the thing you hate, and you'll still be confronting yourself on the page
Inside the Writer's Room
chris parnell, gabrielle stanton, ashley miller, steven melching, ryan condal, deric hughes, bo yeon kim, kay reindl, jesse alexander, sarah watson, brian ford sullivan, marc bernardin, mark a altman
haven't done a breaking in panel in a while, let's do that, shall we?
focus on the staff writer today; how do they fit into the room?
gabby: levels: staff writer -> story editor -> executive story editor -> co-producer -> producer -> supervising producer -> co-executive producer -> executive producer, and that's wobble for a while
who hires writers?
mark: writers hire writers; he wrote comic books for a while, didn't work out, agent got ahold of one of his comics and said what do you want to do when you grow up; need to be able to write a pilot, need to come to LA for meetings, need to wow a show-runner, need to be able to plug holes as a staff writer; your job is to help the show-runner execute their vision
ryan: even show-runner has to get approval up the chain
in order to get hired, have to get your name on a list. how do you get on a show-runners list?
sarah: once you've written your one great script, write your second great script; you don't know what show-runners are gonna be looking for; having a breadth of material helps; write as much as you can, because you get better with every script
recording this for inside the writer's room podcast, which will launch later this year
jesse, how many scripts had you written when you got staffed?
wrote mostly features first, got into tv because a friend did and said it was fun
found his voice very early on, but now he's so old that he's lost his voice
write what you love and what you want to see, just crank out tons of it
wrote 40-some scripts just to learn how to do it
understand: the show-runner's been moving up the chain for years, and this is their one shot to get their vision out, so they want to build a room that can get their voice out there
as a show-runner, what are you looking for?
jesse: had series with nbc, young writer submitted 2 spec scripts for other shows, and they were amazing and they were two very different shows, and so he hired her
kaye: is always looking for the writing; tip: read lots of scripts, read good ones and bad ones; most scripts aren't bad, they're just average; when you read something with a craft to it and a point of view to it, it stands out; she's looking for someone that has their craft working for them
mark: wrote an original pilot that got him on castle; but he'd written features for years
when trying to get in a room, should they focus on specs or original material?
mark: recommend writing original material; really depends on the show runner; he prefers reading original
gabby: have a spec in your back pocket, because a lot of the writing programs now are asking for a spec and an original
sarah: have a spec because it teaches you how to write in someone else's voice
kaye: also helpful to learn how to breakdown a show
when staffing colony, ryan only show sci-fi scripts, but he really wanted drama writers, because the show was meant to be character-driven in a sci-fi backdrop; also looking for diverse voices, even someone that doesn't like science fiction to find out what kind of show they would watch
gotta market yourself to get on staff, right?
deric: yes, you want to pick a lane, get known for something to get on a list, and then once you're established, you can move out of the lane; writing a smallville episode got him representation, but writing a rescue me episode is what got him his first job; gotta prove that you can write, no matter your lane
ashley: i'm supposed to have a lane, but i've been drinking, and so i don't know the lane until i get home; been doing a lot of sword&sorcery lately; finding a lane is good advice, because it's about knowing who you are as a writer; having a ground truth you can start from is very powerful; should constantly be creating material and developing skills
nelson, any different in animation?
in the early days, in the 80s, was studio staff driven; building full of writers would be assigned to whatever shows they were doing
then it became a freelance model, with single show-runner
now it's more like tv model, with staffs of writers working on show
want to emphasize that it's important to find your voice and where you fit, because it'll be soul-crushing to be stuck somewhere you're not happy working in (imagine being stuck in a show type you don't like for 4-5 years)
what sets a good script apart from a bad script?
ryan: voice; it's the hardest thing to quantify, but when you read a cormac mccarthy novel, you know it: that's a voice; that's the thing that leaps off the page, especially for people reading tons of scripts every day
jesse: looks for craft in the scene; needs someone who can tell a story and knows the format of tv; know how to tell a story in a scene
kaye: no more excuses for not having the right format for your script; when reading for a competition, knew she had a good script just from the way the writer started off the episode (just five pages in)
sarah: it's character; wants to feel like she knows those characters; nothing more boring than a cop show that's just about cop stuff; hook her with the characters, and then she'll be into everything else
what's a good pilot character?
jesse: put specifics in it; don't say "i love a car" say exactly what car; this is nuts and bolts stuff that'll make your work stand out
marc: it's a character that's never satisfied; the show is them trying to cross that gulf between where they are and what they want (ex: buffy and her need to be normal); mulder is much more interesting before he finds his sister
brian: got in through the warner-bros workshop; made it through a scene of house he wrote
what are options out there for getting in the room?
warner brothers writers' workshop
writers on the verge (nbc)
cbs writers' mentoring program
writers' assistant is another way in; they're the keeper of the wikipedia of the show, they keep all the notes and all the discussion from the room; they have to take everything and collate it into coherent thought at the end of the day, and send it out to the writers
marc: don't be a dick; conduct yourself with grace; a lot of this business is people you know, and if you're a dick, people will find out and they won't want to hire you
also: don't go on twitter and tear other shows down, it's not a good way to get known; people look at your social media when considering whether to hire you
sarah: twitter is an optional platform with real-life consequences
can you be too old to break in?
marc: got first staff job at 43 years old
what about show bibles?
deric: no do not write the show bible, the show runner has that and they don't want to read yours
kaye: don't save anything from the pilot, don't assume you'll get a second episode; just blow shit up in the first episode, and deal with it once it gets accepted
nelson soler, lia martin, kristine huntley, kayreth williams, suzanne park, teresa huang, ken choy
feeling fear makes you a writer; wants to create a safe space; teach you how to utilize it
if you don't have a writing support system, get one, to help you through your periods of doubt
take those traumas you've been through and turn them into fodder for comedy; it can be very cathartic
one method to add the comedy: have a character that can do things they wouldn't normally be able to do (example: if they have cancer, there's a lot of taboos they can break)
the rules: be funny, be honest, and be ugly; if you're going to go (expose trauma) go all the way; dig deep, write all the ugly into the script
"all procrastination is fear"
epiphany: the fear never goes away; you have to learn how you're going to live with it; stop fighting it or feeling bad about having it
technique: use creative kindling; give yourself 5-15 min to write something else: from a writing prompt, or a diary complaining about how things are going; then set timer and write during the whole time
every story is about fear; fear gives you the stakes, and the tension
take your fears and build them into stories, that'll make them resonate with other people
for a tv show, need to take that fear and make it big enough to form an umbrella for 100 episodes of a show; example: fear of failure in college, make the college a super-prestigious place where failure means derailing your entire life (and maybe ruining your family): now all the normal events and stresses become much more dramatic
Again, no words written this week. Staying focused on editing the novel, and submitting existing short stories.
One of the stories I submitted last week has already been rejected by the market I sent it to; I need to pick another market and send it back out, hopefully by the end of today.
Otherwise, I’m still plowing through the Breakout Novel workbook. I’m still managing to get through about one exercise a day, though some of them are longer (and thus harder) than others.
Each time I feel like skipping one, I push myself to work through it. And I feel like skipping them a lot; this is adding up to a lot of work. But I tell myself I’m in no rush, I’ve got no deadlines. And I’m the only one who can fix my story. If I don’t put in the work to make it better, no one else will.
And the exercises are paying off, so far. Even the frustrating ones end up generating some good ideas. Sometimes it takes a few hours for things to shuffle around in my head and then suddenly click into place, but that’s ok. Those sorts of lightning-strike insights I wouldn’t have otherwise are exactly why I’m doing this.
Disturbing. Most of the characters are completely unlikable, especially the men: the worst are outright misogynists and racists, even the best act like superior assholes to everyone else.
Mamatas doesn’t pull any punches in exposing the sexism and harassment that happens at fan conventions. It makes for tough reading, both because the female protagonist is constantly experiencing it and because the male narrator, whose death she’s investigating, is one of the superior assholes it’s hard to sympathize with.
Worth reading, though, if nothing else than as a “Do I act like this?” check.
Three things it taught me about writing:
- Can get away with very skimpy descriptions -- or none at all -- if you choose the proper perspective to tell the story from (in this case, a corpse's).
Protagonist's motivation for pursuing the mystery can be thin, if the reader's interest is piqued enough for them to want to see it solved
Characters will always rationalize their behavior. Even when dead.
Oddly compelling. Told any other way, it’d be just one more story about giant robots and the people piloting them. But by telling it through interviews, to make it feel like you’re reading a classified dossier, makes it feel fresh and compelling.
Three things I learned about writing:
Even old ideas can feel new again when told in a different way.
Interviews can let you do first-person narration without having to actually narrate. No need for detailed descriptions, etc. Can take a lot of shortcuts and still feel real.
Don't forget the interviewer! They have their own agenda, and that should come through in their questions and reactions.
Eerily prescient. Takes place in a California where water is scarce, most government has been privatized, and the President uses racial politics to push through reforms that weaken protections for workers and the poor.
Felt all too familiar. And she predicted all this over twenty years ago.
I usually don’t like post-apocalyptic books, especially ones that go in for the “slow apocalypse” where everything just collapses over time as people stop taking care of the things that keep civilization going. It’s depressing reading, but Butler’s writing is so compelling, I had to see it through.
Three things I learned about writing:
Scarcities in society will be reflected in the social order. If food is scarce, being fat is a sign of wealth. If water is scarce, being clean (taking baths) will be seen luxurious. In both cases, being poor and engaging in "rich" behavior will be seen as uppity.
There's life in the hero's journey yet, if explored from different angles. Here the young protagonist grows up in a small town, yet feels called to greatness, then compelled to become a leader when driven out of their home.
Adopting a diary structure can let you skip past boring parts of the story will zooming in on the important ones. A well-written diary will do that, and still give you a chance to convey the rhythms of life, since it's the story the person is telling themselves, as they live it.
I haven’t written anything for the novel in a week.
More importantly, I haven’t let myself work on the novel in a week. I’ve been following Vivien Reis' advice, giving myself time to step away from writing and focus on what’s happening right now with my family.
It’s turned out to be exactly what I needed. I’ve been able to focus better at work, I’ve been more relaxed about all the house showings and paperwork and myriad other little things I’ve had to deal with as we prepare to up sticks and move.
I still feel guilty, though. Like I’m shirking my homework, which is fine for a little while, but eventually you sit down for the final exam and you haven’t a clue what’s going on.
So I’m going to try writing again this weekend. Not much, just an hour or two at most, and with no word count in mind.
Perhaps this way I can use the novel to keep me busy, to keep my mind off things, on days when I’m not at work. And assuage some of the guilt I’m feeling.
Haven’t posted here in a while because my life is being turned upside-down.
My wife’s currently in Arkansas, tending her mother, who was admitted to the hospital a few weeks ago with a serious heart-and-lung condition. My wife flew out just three days after she heard, and has been there ever since.
Her mom has been discharged, and is recovering, but will need near-constant care for the next year or so. My wife’s currently providing that care, and intends to keep providing it. That means we’re looking at moving, at leaving the house and city and friends we’ve come to love here in California, and going back to Arkansas.
So my past few weeks have been a blur of getting my wife to Arkansas, supporting her through the early days of her mom’s discharge, and now putting our house on the market and preparing to move.
Needless to say, I didn’t hit my target word count for NaNoWriMo.
I’m finding it hard to write in general, not just finding the time but finding the mental space to build up the novel in my head and then set it down on paper. It’s like I have room in my head for my job and my wife and my move, and nothing else.
If I manage to squeak out just 150 words in a day, I have to call it a victory, because many days I don’t manage any.
But I haven’t given up, and I won’t stop writing during this new phase of my life. I’ll grind out what I can for now, and look to pick up the pace once we settle in to our new digs.
A quick, enjoyable read. Indiana Jones crossed with John Le Carré sprinkled with some Inception-like plotting.
Presents itself as a regular sci-fi novel, but the first half is almost completely filled with flashbacks, a series of nested stories, one inside the other, each level going one step further back into the past. Macleod pulls it off by having the same narrator tell most of it, then uses interrogation transcripts and letters to fill out the rest.
It’s nested all the way down, with the novel’s big ideas woven into the structure of the narrative itself. Ultimately works it way back to the very beginning, the first story, closing the loop in a very tidy (but not too tidy) way.
It’s the best method of infodumping I’ve seen in a long time.
Macleod may have carried the nesting too far. By the time I reached the end of the book (and back to the first level of nested story) I had to re-read the beginning to remind myself of what was going on there, and I’m not sure the details between the two endpoints match up.
Still, it’s a lesson in how to present a lot of backstory (~100 pages worth!) to the reader without it feeling shoved down their throat.
The presentation’s done, the conference is over. I can start turning my attention back to writing.
But writing what? The book I’m outlining now is near-future science fiction, something that’s usually difficult to pin down. It’ll almost certainly be thought of as a prediction of what’s to come, instead of what it really is: an excuse to indulge some of my programming daydreams without moving too far away from the known and familiar.
So how do I balance the whimsy I want to put in there and the reality-grounding I know it’ll need? How do I gel a coherent story out of all the ideas bubbling around in my head for such a setting?
There’s no way to know except to write it, to set something down and then work with it until it reaches the shape I want. So I’m outlining, sketching characters and situations out, building up the scaffolding I’ll need before starting to write in earnest.
Another novel that makes staring at a computer screen, thinking, seem more exciting than physical combat. But where Egan took me deep inside the protagonists' heads to generate that excitement, Grossman goes one level deeper, using second-person narration from the perspective of video game characters to take me down past the narrator playing the game and into the game itself. It’s a genius trick, and the fact that Grossman manages the transition between first and second person without jilting me out of the story is impressive.
To me, it’s an example of second-person done right. It contrasts with novels – such as Charles Stross' Halting State – that start out in second person, creating immediate dissonance between me and the story. I’ve never been able to get past the first few pages of Stross' novel, but devoured Grossman’s in a few days.
It also made me miss working in video games. Which is strange, considering how much time it spends describing game developers as ill-fed slobs that don’t have lives outside of work. But that feeling of belonging that the narrator talks about, of discovering where he was meant to be after years spent away from gaming, really hit home for me. The narrator’s descriptions of his childhood in the 80s, even though the character is 10 years older than me, still resonated.
That sense of something important happening when he first sat down in front of a computer, of being on the threshold of the future, didn’t happen to me at the time (I was 6, and not very self-aware), but it could have: I used our Commodore-128 to teach myself how to program, and spent many hours typing in machine language instructions from the back of Compute! magazine in the hopes of being able to play a new game. It didn’t feel like something that was only mine, and not for the adults, but it did feel natural, more so than almost anything else I’ve done, and it still does.
Despite everything it does right, You’s ending is unsatisfying for me. The climax of the book happens off-screen, and in the final few pages – that I tore through the rest of the book in desperation to reach – don’t resolve anything. Perhaps that makes the ending more realistic, but the lesson for me is twofold: first, show your climax. The reader’s earned it. Second, tie up most of the plot threads you weave into the novel by the end. Leave some of them, sure, but after so much time invested, the reader’s going to want to have some of the tension you’ve built up released. Ideally, showing your climax also releases the tension and resolves multiple conflicts – internal or external – at the same time.
I’ve refrained from reviewing fiction on the blog for two reasons: first, I don’t want to have to issue spoiler alerts for the books I want to talk about, and second out of a (possibly misplaced) sense of professional curtesy; as a writer who wants to be published professionally, I don’t want to be seen as being overly critical of those whose ranks I wish to join.
I’m breaking my self-imposed rule now because I realized there’s a way to talk about the fiction I read without indulging in spoilers or going too negative. Instead of discussing the overall quality of the book, like a normal reviewer, I’m going to talk about what I’ve learned from it about the art of writing. Like studying Frank Lloyd Wright buildings for architects, or replicating how Van Gogh made his own colors for painters, I think each book, each short story I read can teach me about the writing craft.
TakePermutation City, a book I finished recently. It’s an older science fiction work - published in 1994 - recommended by Jo Walton in her What Makes This Book So Great? compendium of fantasy and sci-fi reviews. What did it teach me?
It supports the idea that the real strength of the novel (as opposed to film or tv) is the ability to completely describe a character’s thoughts and dreams in addition to their actions. Novels can take you deep inside someone else’s head, something that tv and film can’t really do. It’s something Egan proves a master at, using it to make what on film would be just a character staring at some shapes moving on a screen into some of the most compelling parts of the story. In contrast, the more traditional “action” parts of the story aren’t as interesting or exciting.
It offers a rebuttal to my (recent) idea that often the details of something don’t matter, that character and plot can carry you through even when you’ve got the science (or the law, or the traditions) wrong. I’ve been using this idea to explain why I still enjoy shows that have dodgy physics or loose legal systems (Arrow, Forever).
But Permutation City has a huge crack running through the middle of the narrative, a place where it gets the details so wrong that the only way the plot can proceed is if you take a leap of faith along with the author, disregarding a lot of what we know about the physical world and how computers work. It’s a leap of faith I couldn’t make, and it divides the book into a well-detailed, well-thought-through portrait of the mid-21st century and a second half that, for me, might as well have been a discussion of angels dancing on the head of a pin.
Perhaps if the novel had built that leap of faith in from the beginning, I might not have felt the fracture? In any case, I’m taking it as a warning, a sign that sometimes getting the details wrong (or perhaps poor timing of certain details?) robs well-drawn characters and intricate plots of their power.
How can we tell genre fiction from literary fiction? It’s not enough to add some spaceships and call it science fiction. Nor does putting it in a medieval setting automatically make it fantasy.
I think one part of the difference is that genre fiction seems mainly concerned with jobs, and exciting things happening while people are working those jobs: noble, soldier, scientist, private eye.
Literary fiction is less concerned with jobs, and more concerned with life outside of work: families, holidays, dating. Work is implicitly boring, an obstacle to be overcome.
It’s two polar views of the human condition. In one, work is a calling, and the moral questions revolve around what kind of people get called and how they respond to their calling. In the other, work is background. It’s something that may create conflict, but it’s not usually central to the story.
In other words, fiction written in genre circumstances that doesn’t revolve around work as a calling feels literary, even if it’s set in a far-off alien landscape.
Hence Ian McEwan’s novel Solar, which could have been written as genre fiction, following the career of a scientist toward a breakthrough in cheap solar power, but instead is written in a literary style, more concerned with his life outside of his work and what that says about him.
There’s also Ken Follet’s The Pillars of the Earth, which is sold as literary fiction but to me reads like genre: the central plot-line is the construction of the cathedral, and those called to build it. Characters move in and out of the narrative according to their impact on the cathedral’s construction, and there’s a lot of science-fiction-style description of building techniques.
This episode is irredeemable. From the bad acting, the heavy-handed rehash of ideas that have been explored in previous Doctor Who episodes, and how bored the Doctor seems at everything that happens (I swear, Capaldi takes deadpan to a whole new level), it’s one of the worst episodes I’ve ever seen. The only thing we really learn about the Doctor or Clara is confirmation that yes, Capaldi and Coleman have absolutely zero chemistry on screen.
Skip it. Watch episode “Dalek” from Season One instead. It’s the same theme, executed better, and without the Doctor-is-just-anti-Dalek retcon.