WARNING: May contain naughty language.

Friday, January 27, 2012

And a Side Order of Peregrinated Widdershins, Please.

Since I started this blog at the beginning of January I've received a few emails from adventurous and/or bored folks browsing the web who stumbled across my site.

The most popular question I get is "what exactly does 'peregrinating widdershins' mean?"

It is NOT a debilitating bone/joint condition which affects the lower leg muscles and shins. It is NOT something you'd buy from a street vendor in Marakesh to eat. Nor is it a small, well-insulated Arctic rodent.

Peregrination is an old word for simply wandering about with no endpoint in mind. Think of a peregrine falcon drifting on the thermals aimlessly before falling out of the sky at 217 mph to land on top of some poor rabbit's head.

Widdershins is an Olde English (you know its olde because of the extra 'e" on the end of old) word meaning a counter-clockwise direction.

I peregrinate widdershins a lot when I'm thinking. About anything. Writing, working, where to go eat for dinner tonight. Decades ago a customer commented on it while I was working in his datacenter. Just one of those dumb habits, I guess.

Mystery solved. Hope I saved you a trip to dictionary.com

Monday, January 23, 2012

On the Road Again...

Its that time of year again when I end up dashing from one end of the country to the other for work. And just because I like the challenge, I think I'll go from Chicago (averaging 2 HR delays yesterday) to San Francisco (averaging 3 1/2 HR delays) just because I'm that kind of guy.

I spent some quality time last night @ O'Hare airport. Interesting place -- horrific at times, transcendent at others and you never know what mood that place will be in when you arrive.

Last night it was feeling good, maybe since the Packers were out of the playoffs or something.

The moving sidewalks, the escalators, the alcove restaurants and waiting areas were filled with a multitude of interesting side characters. I sketched a dozen or so folks in my notebook for later use.

I used to just people "watch"; now I people "write".

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Page 42

If you've tried your hand at writing a novel you may be painfully familiar with the dreaded "Fifty Page" Wall. My sister does marathons and after finishing the Chicago Marathon a few years ago she described to me the Wall she hit around mile 16.

"You're just...done. Finished. Your body says 'Okay. Cool -- thanks for the run, but I'm good now. You can stop.' It confuses your brain."

I've been wrestling with a novel for about two weeks now. It will be something new for me, with much more focus on "hard science fiction" as opposed to some of the alt-urban fantasy and horror I've penned in the past. I'm a huge fan of the genre and have a lot of great books under my belt for inspiration.

I'm much more of a "plotter" than a "seat of the pants" writer. I have all my primary / secondary characters sketched, the plot lines, the conflicts; the whole enchilada ready to roll, written down, not just "in my head."

Yesterday I was cruising along at a good clip, about 1000 words per hour (just words, not final draft words) and was approaching page 39 or so in standard double-spaced manuscript format.

Without warning, that little bastard who hangs out in my reptilian brain stem piped up. "Why are you doing this? It sucks. You suck. I'm not sayin, I'm just sayin..."

Full frickin STOP. I looked at what I'd just written and that asshole was right. It did suck. Complete word salad with a really crappy vinaigrette that tasted like moose butts.

He piled on. "Here be dragons, moron. You'd be better off starting from scratch with a different POV."

I saved the file and started doing something else. Changing lightbulbs, playing with my neurotic dog, bugging my wife; anything but what I was supposed to be doing.

After about 20 minutes, I sat back down and picked up where I left off. Much slower pace, but progress.

I hate the little guy in my brain. He always pulls crap like this. He's a dick. Sometimes he's right, but not often. I just need to learn to tell the difference.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Holy Crapnards! It Finally Happened.

I've been plinking away at the keyboard with intent (not just hope) to get something published for about two years. I'm fortunate enough to have a supportive family and an excellent (and very challenging) career to keep a roof over the aforementioned family. Very important detail to me. And them. But I've always been a writer whether I want to admit it myself or not.

Something AMAZING happened on Sunday morning.

I checked my email and found an actual response from an editor; somebody I'd sent an 8,000 word manuscript to who was suckered impressed by the story I told. They want to publish it in an upcoming anthology. And they'll give me some $$$ for it; not enough to retire on. Truth be said, barely enough to cover one month of cable bills. But finally! Professional work.

I checked out the contract and it seems pretty straight-forward. No lifetime rights, no exorbitant demands, and no draconian statutes. I'm in.

Assuming the publication timeline is correct I'm optimistic the book will be available in trade paperback and e-book editions sometime this spring.

WOOT for me!

More updates later in the week. Today I'm going to celebrate with a 12 pack of PBR, Milwaukee's Best or Keystone; whichever is cheapest...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

"Doodling" for Writers

My ten-year-old son is in that invariable phase of "gun love" which all boys go through. Not sure if its due to the hours of "Call of Duty: Black Ops" and "Modern Warfare 3" or a reference book I purchased last week called "Firearms of the 20th Centry" complete with lavish illustrations.

Our kitchen counter is covered with epic battlefield scenes of brave stick figures blasting away at each other with dotted lines, grenades bouncing around, VTOL air support and the occasional ninja. Drawing and doodling is fun. And important.

One of the non-fiction books which occupies a permanent place on my shelf is "The Back of the Napkin" by Dan Roam. In my professional life I'm often using a whiteboard in front of customers to visualize and explain very complex technical topics and Roam's book is an invaluable resource. One of the points of the book is that if one were to ask a group of 1st Graders how many of them are artists, all of their little paws would go in the air. Ask the same question to 3rd Graders and you get a few less hands raised. Ask it to a class of 6th Graders and you're lucky to get two or three responses. As we get older, I guess, we start to discredit our own awesome pictures and scribblings until we accept the "fact" we're no longer artists. Sad, but true.

I think the same thing occurs in writing.

One of my many resolutions this year is to write more. Doesn't mean I have to crank out a novel - I'd like to and plan to, but that isn't actually the point. When I'm waiting for take off in plane, bound for Oakland, I can scribble snatches of dialogue on paper. Waiting around for a  conference call to start, I can create a descriptive paragraph for a minor character. This patchwork method may not work for everybody, but I'm digging it so far.

I also find more and more blogs are leveraging technology to create "communal writing exercises." Chuck Wendig is awesome for these exercises. Yesterday, the topic was "How Will I Die?" and he created a Tumblr site for it. I cranked out a couple of responses (see below) which I will likely NEVER use in a work of mine, but the process of *thinking* and *doing* keeps the razor honed.

I still doodle in pictures but have become a big fan of MindMaps as well. Occasionally when I'm a little stumped about the planned structure of a novel, I will render it in a flowcharts and pictures instead of the conventional outline format. Much more free form and right "brainy" to me. The only drawback I've noticed is that I sometimes spend TOO MUCH time mapping and doodling. I call this "meta-writing" (writing about writing without actually writing what you want to write, right?) and its an insidious procrastination method. Which is a topic for another blog entry. Soon. When I get around to it. After I've diagrammed it...see what I mean?

"How I Will Die" (Figures 1 & 2)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Stages of Rejection by an Editor

In 1969 Kubler-Ross created the Five Stages of Grief. They are as follows;
1. Denial that the event has occurred.
2. Anger at the inability to change or control the event.
3. Bargaining is the process of justification or "rationalization" of the tragedy.
4. Depression about the event and all the negative impact it will have.
5. Acceptance is dealing with the event and moving on in a healthy fashion.

In 2012 Bauer created the Five Stages of Editor Rejection. They follow a similar yet, different, path;
1. Denial - "You have got to be kidding! I spent like three weeks on that manuscript!"
2. Anger - "You'll rue the day you passed on my brilliance! Never again shall I submit work to your rag - you rabid, flea-bitten pack of inbred Neanderthal mouth-breathers."
3. Bargaining - "I understand I've exceeded your submission guidelines by 34,000 words. I'd be delighted to submit a more succinct rewrite for your consideration."
4. Depression - Chug, chug, chug. "Mmm. Single malt...peaty goodness..."
5. Acceptance - "I've decided that perhaps speculative fiction isn't my strength. I'm currently drafting a novel which combines the epic scope of George R.R. Martin, the heartfelt dialogue of "Twilight" and the fast-paced action of Clive Cussler. Oh, and it also has mummies that glow in the dark!"
(Double-click to Enlarge)

Monday, January 9, 2012

I Been Everywhere, Man.

A few weeks ago I was hanging out in Des Moines "International" airport trying to keep my cool after a third round of "Actual Departure Time Roulette" getting back home to Chicago. Its the Midwest, its winter and it just happens.

I decided to goof around with Google Maps to figure exactly where I've traveled in the past 20-25 years of work. The list was a lot longer than I thought it would be. Each little location pin on the map reminded me of the place. Sharing a room with a quiet, well-behaved family of mice in Butte, MT. Driving through the majestic deserts of Utah for two weeks. Drinking my face off in Heidelberg, Germany for five days.

And I realized just how fortunate I am to have traveled so much; even for work. While working on a short story about zombies in the Great White North, I know firsthand how cold Brainerd can be in February. The next time I write sci-fi (or "speculative fiction" if you prefer) and a ship drifts too close to a star I can remember charbroiling my brain at Lake Havasu, AZ in the middle of July.

And I've got enough stock material from people I've met to create a never ending parade of characters. The overly friendly waitress in Santa Clara. The grizzled grumpy bartender who plays the cello in Missoula. The absolutely insane cab driver from Tuscon who gave me a book on astrophysics he'd just finished. The list goes on and on.

Infinite fictional ammo. Groovy!

To see the map in all its glory, try hitting this link.

How Writing Changes the Way You Read

A couple of days after Christmas I was salivating at the prospect of burning some B&N gift cards I'd received in my stocking. I was especially keen on picking up the new book by an author I've enjoyed immensely over the years. No names, but it is super high octane, explosive action genre thriller . His books in the past (about 7 or 8 of them) have been hellaciously fun to read and I was really looking forward to his latest, after a seven year absence.

I've been "seriously" writing for about three years and had not realized what its done to me. I'm almost finished with his novel and while it had all the incredible action, implausible plot twists and starkly 2D characters I loved in the past, I noticed other things I was previously (blissfully?) unaware of.

Subtle things, for the most part. A proclivity to end cliff hangers on an exclamation point. Reuse of certain action words and adjectives. Interesting choices of semi-colon vs. comma. The list goes on.

It didn't detract from the experience. I still enjoyed it a great deal, but I was enjoying it in the same way I would a Big Mac as opposed to a genuine Kuma burger. The little things started adding up and some part of my brain was keeping tally of those minor details.

I'm almost finished with the book and am really enjoying the pace, the active description of combat scenes (which I will shamelessly borrow from in the future) and other aspects. But I'm enjoying the book in a different manner than before.

I sort of just hope that is part of growing as a writer, thus by extension, as a reader as well.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Happy International Bacon Day!

The only thing better than bacon is bacon wrapped in bacon. Especially when you're hung over. Have a safe and festive Bacon Day.

The Holy War of Publishing

I'm not a published author. Yet.

I keep grinding away - writing, revising, "hacking & slashing" followed by more revisions. Rejection letters and email goad me on. I guess I take it on faith that an editor has actually taken the time to read something I've shared with them. I dig it. But what if there is a way to get published without running the gauntlet? A magical ritual which transforms the writer into the editor/publisher/distributor in a single neat package? Self-publishing is a "sea change" of sorts which is shaking the foundations of traditional publishing to the core. Some "brick and mortar" houses are embracing it, a few are ignoring it and at least one is "pimping" the trend (hint: think of a flightless bird with happy feet).

I'm on the fence at this point. I see the value of it. Complete control, zero royalty disputes, and utter freedom to move the work as the author sees fit. I have a good friend who self-published his own YA sci-fi novel a few months ago. I was fortunate enough to be able to read and offer feedback on several iterations of it prior to print and he did a great job with it. Is he ready to retire and write full time? Not yet. Sales have been steady online and I envy the thrill he must feel each time somebody orders it from Amazon. But...

I've read a few self-pub works (usually through contacts @ Critters Workshop or Goodreads) which are...to be frank, AWFUL. They just suck. On at least one occasion an author admitted he got tired of the rejection letters and took matters into his own hands. I get it. That's cool. Do as you will but harm none. Except the reader in his case. For every single Amanda Hocking there are probably three thousand writers who aren't quite ready for prime time.

Maybe its a case of a deep rooted desire to simply "be a published author" which drives certain people. I know that was one of my goals since I was a teenager. But perhaps that dream needs to be qualified with the addendum of "be a published author...who writes entertaining shit."

I'm all for individual empowerment and what not. You want to toss a book out there in the wild to see how it goes? More power to you. But consider the remote possibility that the rejection letters collected are not because editors don't understand your brilliance; that they don't appreciate your artistic vision; that they are boot-licking toadies of the "the Man" with a case of hyper risk-avoidance syndrome.

I'm guessing it just might be because your first 2 chapters read like crap.

People a lot smarter and more experienced than I have written extensively on the subject and I've done my best to stay up to date on the struggle. I'm sure my opinions on the matter will morph and shift over time, but for now I have to stay "middle of the road" on the debate. Which is really unfortunate as that is where one is most likely to get hit by a Mack truck.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Ten Thousand Mile Journey Begins

For the past 7 years I've made the same resolutions on December 31st. Not identical, but damn near close. All are variations of a common theme - Don't think. Do. Be.

Simple, right? That's what I thought, too.

One of the chronic issues I wanted to address is cultivating discipline. Getting into a positive habit, doing the right things over and over until it alters my DNA. This is step one of writing on a daily basis.

I don't know how long this blog will last, how often it will be updated or anything else. I've got A LOT of interests and follow many different threads. I'm going to write what I want to, when I want to (as long as its frequently) and likely cover a pretty broad range of topics which are of interest to ME.

Should be fun.