If You Want to Write a Story, Write a Story…

Good post at The Green Study:

My writing tip #234: Don’t read books on writing while trying to write a novel. First of all, it usually sheds bad light on whatever you are writing and secondly, it can make you overly ambitious.

I agree. What you need when you’re working on something is Inspiration. It doesn’t come bottled, but in my experience, it comes in paperback form. So what you should be reading is what will make you want to write.

The cusp of the post is the writer giving herself permission to write the novel she’s writing, rather than the epoch-shaking political work she feels like she’s supposed to be working on.

I also agree. Writing is art, and art is more important than poltics. As I have above my Twitter feed: Politics is now; Art is forever.

I’m going through something similary with Last Tomorrow. I’m torn between wanting to polish its rough corners and letting it be the little postabpocalyptic homage to Mask of the Red Death that it is. It’s a novella. I’m not going to turn it into a novel. I’ve got an actual novel I’m working on, plus shorts for the next issue of Unnamed Journal. But I want it to be the best it can be.

And how do I know which way is right? I won’t until its over.

This is why writers drink.

The Downside of Pantsing

As I’ve announced before, a good bit of Last Tomorrow was written on the fly. Like the US  Navy in WWII, I simply went around difficulties. That’s fun, but at some point, you have to force those little hidden Japanese jungle plot holes (I’m getting all the elasticity this metaphor has, thank you very much) to surrender. And I just hit a big one in the second chapter. Something happens and I don’t know who caused it to happen. It’s not super-important plot-wise, so I could just get rid of it, but it’s kind of important thematically, so I don’t want to.

And I need to decide who caused it to happen, otherwise it doesn’t make any sense. And I’m really not sure who it would be that did it. So I’m going to have to figure it out, or rework the event so that it makes sense.

Whatever, I’ll figure it out.

Here’s a post at Live Write Breathe that may have been useful to me when I was in this process before. Ah well. it’s never too late.

Vlad the Impaler and Cue-ing Your Readers

Good Post at madgeniusclub about making sure your readers are getting the cues you’re giving them, and more importantly, not reading cues that you don’t intend to be there:

You need to be aware that if you’ve got a strong mystery plot, you should be putting in the cues for the red herrings and the real culprit and all the other little goodies mystery authors tease their readers with. Similarly, if your epic fantasy does not have a strong romance subplot, take the time to make sure you aren’t throwing romance cues at your readers. That will just make the more romance-oriented ones unhappy. It could well make the non-romance readers unhappy too, because these cues are deeply embedded in our culture.

This may raise the hackles of those who want to bust out or overturn the tropes or expectations of genre, but you can’t do those things unless you know what the tropes are and how they are used.

The author, Kate Paulk, is one I’ve read before. Her Impaler starts out as a historically-grounded Vlad II-as-a-Vampire story, and then goes someplace completely unexpected with it. It confounds your expectations in a good way. When I read it, I kept thinking the story could not possibly be going where it is, and I felt a little confused, but I kept reading. The characters were sufficiently developed, and sufficiently interesting, that I wanted to know what was next even as I found myself wondering why the trope I had expected was not arriving. Plus, a great closing line. If you like a good broody vampire prince tale, you should check it out (click the link to buy on Amazon).

Back to Work

I don’t just write and Dad (and Play Crusader Kings) all day, I also work for a living. And the end of summer means the resumption of the daily sweat to earn my bread. Which is fine, because it doesn’t put a halt to writing.

Specifically, it doesn’t put a halt to editing Last Tomorrow. I’m aiming for the end of this month as a release date. As I have for Void, which comes next.

And of course, The Sword, which will be drafted, hopefully by EOY. It’s going to be the next big thing after Void comes out, and the one I’m going to put the biggest push on.

In the meantime, here’s a perversely relevant historical argument I pose on Medium: Yes, the Civil War was About Slavery.

A lot of people seem to think otherwise, but they’re wrong. And I have the historical documentation to prove it. Plus, some rad Shakespeare quotes.

More posting will happen later.

 

When Stories Balloon

Since reading some Raymond Carver, I’ve worked with the idea that short fiction doesn’t have to be a mini-novel. It can be a scene. It’s given me the confidence to do knock some short stories out.

I’m working on one now that’s going to be for submission to one of the magazines Author Publish keeps emailing me about. It’s all on the More Writing is More Betterer Principle.

Anyway, I started working on this short, intending that it just be a quickie. But a lot of it is dialogue, and dialogue…balloons. Especially if you want there to be any realism to it. So it’s at 2,000 words and climbing.

Which is good, because that means it has a life of its own. But it tells me that I may have something to learn about evocative concision.

Of Conan and Carver

 

One of the difficulties of approaching art of any kind is learning to drop your prejudices when encountering it. This is true regardless of what class of art you’re talking about. It’s very easy to dismiss something you haven’t read as without value, because if it had value, you’d have already appreciated it, right?

Over the course of this past year, I’ve dropped my attitudes toward two writers, one “highbrow”, one “pulp”, by taking the time to actually read their stuff: Raymond Carver and Robert E. Howard.

11-birdman-st-james-marquee-of-what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-love

Carver I came to via the film Birdman, or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance. It’s a film I’ve enjoyed rewatching, partly for its silly spirit, partly for its full-throttle ranting about Meaning in Art. The plot involves Michael Keaton (playing an alter ego of himself), adapting a Raymond Carver short story into a full-length Broadway play. The story/play, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” fairly reeks of that pretentious, mid-century Clifford-Odets-style talkiness that denoted Serious Art About Serious Things. I couldn’t imagine anything I’d enjoy reading less. But exposure to the movie gradually changed that, and I picked up an anthology of his shorts (the one with the same excessive title).

Howard I started reading after picking up some of the Dark Horse Conan comics. I debated buying a Conan collection or a Lovecraft one and decided on the latter because Lovecraft’s painting of his universe is often too grim for my mood. Howard made his creatures of the Outer Dark vulnerable to steel.

img_2863At first glance, you could not pick two more unalike writers: in subject matter and prose styles, Howard and Carver diverge a great deal. One practically birthed the Blood & Thunder style of pulp fantasy, the other worked strictly in American Realism. One spent his career a “lower class” of writer, the other recieved continuous critical acclaim. One created a character who has never left the scene, the other had to be name-dropped in a Oscar-winning film to remind the world of his existence.

And yet.

What struck me about both of these authors is the efficiency of their storytelling. Carver’s stories are brutally laconic; he gives you sufficient detail to sustain a narrative, and nothing more. He cuts to the quick. He covers a single emotion and when he’s covered it, he ends the story. It’s been a tonic for me.

Howard is likewise efficient, regardless of the purpleness of his prose. While Howard will stop to describe the monsters and mazes he puts his hero in, it never slows down the action. Conan stories move with an electric energy, from point to point without stopping to examine the hero’s inner life. This was never the point of them. We are along for the ride through vistas marvelous and terrible, and it all feels real and lived in regardless of how short a time we spend there. Conan himself might be impenetrable, but the world he moves through drops its secrets at a dizzying pace. So the purple prose serves to establish that world, that Conan may cut through it swift as a dagger in the dark.

Examining these two writers together, I’ve started to up my pace in the production of short fiction. The same day I picked up my Carver anthology, I sat down and penned a sci-fi short, start to finish. I built it off a fragment that had been sitting in my Tablo collection. I was never sure if I wanted it to be a short or a novella, and so never invested the thought into it. An afternoon of Carver and I hashed out the scene and put a ribbon on it. It’s called “The Filth of Living” and it’s going to be in the next issue of Unnamed Journal, as is a Blood and Thunder story of my own devising, called “The Dying Goddess”.

I don’t know if continually absorbing influence is a good strategy for an author. But I’m going to try it.