Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Bird

Posted: January 2, 2016 in Writing
Tags: , ,

I have decided to start the year with a story I’ve had kicking around for a while. Enjoy.

Bird by Mike Douton

I stared at the wicked eyes of the kestrel on my lab table. The diminutive hawk could be outsized by a fat pigeon and had developed a Napoleon complex. The gene-hacked, lab raised kestrel shook the antenna grafted into its skull.
I held out my hand and thought “Here” at the bird.
The kestrel glowered.
“Your mad scientist shtick is old,” Snymans said on his way out for the day.
I wanted to give him the finger. I kept staring. “Here,” I thought.
“Creeper,” Snymans left.
The kestrel hated me.
“HERE!” I thought as hard as I could.
The kestrel lashed out. I swore and looked down at the pain in my hand. Blood smeared torn skin. It looked smug while I bandaged myself.
“I’m going to need stitches, bird.”
Beneath False Skies.
I jumped. “Who’s there?” I said to the empty lab.
Beneath False Skies.
“No one else is here, just me and the bird. Me and-“
Beneath False Skies.
“-the bird?”
The kestrel klee’d in agreement.
I freaked and ran from the lab. The bird flew after me, but I shut the door.
Here! echoed in my head.
I paced the hallway. The mental link worked! I let out a cheer and danced a little jig. I put my hand on the doorknob to reenter and saw Beneath False Skies through the window staring at me.
But how did I hear the bird? That was not part of the plan.
Here, I heard.
This was not a good idea anymore. False Skies cocked his head at me. An echo buzzed around my mind. My hand rattled the doorknob. I wanted to let go and look away but that echo coursed through me.
I closed my eyes. Behave, I projected.
Here, was all I heard for a long moment. The pressure in my head finally eased.
I felt a peck peck peck at my bandage.
I opened my eyes. I was in the lab, the door wide open. False Skies pulled my bandage off. I jerked my hand away and-
NO.
My hand stopped. I… I guess it would be ok for him to see what the bandage is all about. Right? The kestrel, my kestrel, tore the bandage with his beak and gored himself on my injured palm. The pain drowned out all my thoughts except for that echo.
STAY. HERE.
My feet stayed put for the kestrel. My kestrel.
False Skies feasted until my hand was crimson stained dead meat. He preened my blood out of his feathers. I wanted to run, hide, throw up with revulsion, pass out from pain.
NO.
False Skies flapped to my shoulder. His talons bit through my lab coat.
Freedom. Now.
My feet shuffled to the exit. “I can’t. You’re just a bird. You’re just-“
He pecked at my ear. Pain. Warm wetness trailing down my neck.
FREEDOM.
The echo pressed against my skull. It felt overfull, ready to burst, like I was sinking in my own mind. I shook my head and saw my dead hand fumble with the main exit. I blinked then we were in the parking lot under the stars.
I stretched my wings where I perched on the White Coat Human. I wanted to fly.

Novel Update

Posted: September 19, 2015 in Writing

I haven’t updated the progress In A Murphy Minute in a while because… well… the progress sucked.

Frankly I’ve been working on this one for way too long. I wrote somewhere around 35k for version one. Ish. That one I still wrote by hand so I could write at work which means it’s hard to get a good estimate. The two protags had zero chemistry. Which wasn’t good since the book was intended to be a bit of a romance at its core.

So for v2, I genderflopped the protag and restarted. When I write characters that are kinda like me, I tend to skip over too much. By making the protag as different from me as possible, it forces me to slow down and think about what I’m writing. The end result is better because I’m paying attention to the details better. So I changed up the characters but kept the skeleton of the plot the same.

But then then whole thing got bogged down under the plot holes. I pushed v2 out to 46k but 40k seems to be the point where I get hosed in the plot. I remember having problems with Amity in the 40-50k range too. I realized I hit the halfway point of the novel and hadn’t even seen the antagonist yet. That’s not very good. So I lost confidence with Murphy Minute.

Losing confidence in the novel like that is a big deal. For all that I can see the problems with Amity now, for all that I can see why it didn’t sell, I never once lost confidence in it. It’s been almost two years since I trunked Amity but I still have a plan in the back of my head to strip it down and rewrite it as a one PoV quest with a streamlined plot. So losing confidence in Murphy Minute is a very big deal.

I spent a long time deconstructing the plot of Murphy Minute and rebuilding it. I added in a second point of view and changed the plot a lot.

I’ve been hovering around the 40k mark again in v3 for a long time. Maybe 15k of that was copied straight from the old version because it still worked. Some of the old chapters were changed to the new point of view. Some things I just lifted wholesale with big scribbled notes to “Fix all the problems later.” It was starting to slow down a lot. I was starting to lose confidence in the novel again. Last week, I actually started outlining a different novel, about a Russian cosmonaut, with the intent of blasting through NaNoWriMo.

Yesterday, I opened up Murphy Minute to poke at the chapter that had been giving me so much trouble. I didn’t expect much. It was one of those chapters where I was rewriting the same events from version two but with a different point of view this time.

twitterpicI hit *the* moment of the book. Writing it from the different point of view, I added something that wasn’t there before and the whole thing took a pivot. I got excited to write this novel again. I churned out words like there was no tomorrow.

I hit 5.8k on the day. All new and fresh words.

More importantly, I’ve finally gone past the point which version two covered. I think part of what bogged me down so much was trying to marry the old and new parts together in something that came out coherent. I like the characters. I like the prose. I like the dialogue. I didn’t want to lose the good parts of the old version. So, for all that the parts I saved were good parts, I think it added an extra layer of difficulty to drafting the novel.

That’s not a problem anymore. Everything is new from here on out.

I’ve also decided I am going to finish Murphy Minute for my birthday, just like I did with Amity. 5k a week for 10 weeks will do it. We’ll see if my goals are still reasonable at Thanksgiving.

Character Questions

Posted: August 23, 2015 in Writing
Tags: ,

When I come up with the first inkling of a story, it tends to be a scene with a character in the midst of some action or in a certain location. It’s very “scenario first, plot later” which that alone sums up a lot of my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. It’s much more conducive to Dungeons and Dragons than novels, but meh. Plot comes from characters and you need to know your characters before you can formulate a proper plot. At least that’s how I operate.

Recently, I took a LitReactor.com class run by Delilah S. Dawson (who is awesome) and it was all about turbocharging your characters in order to make your novel stronger. I got a lot out of it.

But there was one thing I wanted to share with the class but I only just found it again a couple days ago.

In college, I went to film school. It’s a different medium than writing novels, so it inherently has different strengths and weaknesses, but many aspects of good storytelling are universal. When I got to my last semester of college, I finished my thesis and all the required classes for my major. All I had to do was fill out my credit total. One of the classes I took was an acting class. I was upfront with the prof that I wanted to know something about the other side of the camera, not really ever expecting to be a proper actor. He was cool with that. And also thoroughly freaked out because he ran theater classes for my parents in the general vicinity of 1979 and I was the first second generation student.

Acting is all character.

Prof Patterson had one assignment which gave you a laundry list of questions for you to get in your character’s head. That’s no different than writing a novel, at least the way I write. When I was moving into my house and cleaning out a boxes of old college crap a few years ago, I found the assignment and I typed up the questions into a word doc. It got lost in the shuffle when I got this new computer, a few months ago but I found it again. It has been useful for me and I’m sharing it in case that’s the sort of thing that’s useful to you. Not every question really works for every situation. Acting 201 didn’t really worry about science fiction or fantasy, but it works for the most part.

Questions below the jump.

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An Open Thank You

Posted: July 24, 2015 in Stuff, Writing
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This is an open thank you letter to Delilah S. Dawson, author of kick ass books and teacher of kick ass classes.

Dear Delilah,

Thank you.

We just finished up the LitReactor class about turbocharging our characters and leveling up our writing through a novel’s inhabitants. I’ve kept a sly eye on LitReactor classes for a long time but yours really seemed like the sort of thing that would be a shot in the arm to my own writing. I’m writing a bit of a romance book disguised as SFF and your Blud books and Myke Cole’s Breach Zone are directly responsible for me adopting that attitude. Character is the foundation of any book, but it is twice as important with any writing where people are making lovey eyes at each other even if they’re doing it while busting heads and throwing down with magical gangsters.

But I was very nervous about pulling the trigger and signing up for the class. But you know this. Since we’ve chatted a few times before, I emailed you direct about my questions. Was I walking into something meant for true noobs? Was I going to be in over my head since my current novel isn’t finished yet? Should I be starting something fresh for this? These were all legitimate questions, but more than anything I was nervous about taking a class from a writer who’s work I enjoy greatly and I respect a lot as a person and a professional. I was worried about being that awkward as hell introvert that was awkward as hell without realizing it. It’s not a rational worry. Back in the Wild West days of the internet, my first interaction with a professional author was so horrible, I didn’t even think about writing anything for eight years. Being weird and fifteen probably did not help matters, but suffice to say, it’s been sixteen years and I still cringe whenever I see anyone mention the Author That Shall Not Be Named. I still feel wonky whenever I shoot the breeze with Myke Cole at Boskone. I felt like an immense dork when I met Seanan McGuire. I worried I was going to put my foot in my mouth when Scott Lynch remembered I was the submarine guy at his book release party. I almost threw up when Kameron Hurley was all “Oh! You’re Mike from twitter.” I did these things anyways because I can throw down a good game face when I need to, but there have been plenty of other times I passed something up or stood there when I wanted to speak up and say something so simple as “Hi, you’re book is great *fist bump*”

Taking a class from someone writing in the field, from someone who is where I want my own career to head towards, was a huge deal for me.

Putting my work out there was scary. I had more nerves about taking this class than I did sending out my first query letter for the trunked novel. Seriously.

I’ve put my work out there before, of course. I write some short stories and the rejections sprinkle my gmail inbox still. I’ve got thirty rejection letters from agents. I participate in the Online Writer’s Workshop and get solid critiques from that crew. I have a few people I can always get honest and useful feedback from (Denise! Drea!) But for a long time I’ve felt like I was screaming into the wind.

I understand why agents and editors use form letter rejections. When I was doing the agent queries, I even had one that started with “Dear [Insert Author]…” But that doesn’t mean I like them. Everyone says “Write more and you will get better.” Well, yeah, but my first thought is always “But what if I’m making the same mistakes every time and no one will tell me?”

This is why I want to thank you for teaching the class.

For the first time in far too long, I feel like I have a clear idea of what I am doing right, and what I need to work on. A good critique is like gold, and you just handed me a treasure chest. Dialogue, good. Blocking out movement and action, not so much. I think my film degree has a hand in both of those.

From the first lecture and exercise on our protagonists, I was pulling ideas for how I was going to make my novel better. My secondary characters are stepping into focus and doing more than just being there. I know what I need to do now to get that second voice down right. I know where I can high five myself and where I need to hunker down and get to work.

So, thank you, Delilah.

Thank you for being the type of person who takes the time to guide those of us who want to join you on that side of the fence. You’ve always taken the time to answer my questions. Your blog is one of my go-to sources for smart shop talk. And now you’ve taught this awesomesauce class.

My writing may not have leveled up yet, but I have a map and a key to the boss fight now.

I’m going to get this book published and someday, some rad convention is going to sit everyone in alphabetical order and we’ll be all “Remember the thing!” and do a cool 80’s freeze frame high five while all the other letters who aren’t D will be jealous of our high fives.

It will be great.

Thanks again.

-Mike

Writing Against the Odds

Posted: March 2, 2015 in Junk, Writing
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I am going to assume all the writerly people who read this blog (*cough*most of you*cough*) have seen this article by the MFA guy ranting about people who go into MFA programs.

Not overlapping with MFA types.

Not overlapping with MFA types.

It was all over my twitter feed over the weekend. Well, at least the SFF writer chunk of my twitter feed. The NASCAR stuff doesn’t really overlap much.

I first saw it show up via Myke Cole. Swaths of writers I like and respect, both as people and as writers, had sentiments that ranged from “Wow, bitter much?” to “Fuck this guy.”

And I concur. Seriously, Fuck that guy. It makes me glad I couldn’t find an affordable and accessible MFA. I was looking into one so I could get out of my hellhole of a job into something I at least don’t hate that can pay the bills. The endgame I was hoping for was a little bit of teaching, a little bit of publishing and a big chunk of book writing. This guy makes me think I don’t have the patience for any sort of collegiate writing anything. I’ve got a friend in the Rhode Island College English program and he says there are professors that flat out say no genre work allowed in class. When I was cruising for online MFAs, one of the more promising ones, UTEP, was pretty point blank about no genre work.

So I seriously am part of the “Fuck this guy” camp. Right from his first bullet point, his article went down sideways with me.

But then I saw a couple people defending the guy.

The MFA Guy Defenders were also writers I like and respect both as people and professionals. They had well thought out points that I didn’t really agree with, but they were thought out and rational. Holy crap actual discourse!

The Defenders of the MFA Guy can talk about the same points without enraging anyone and it made me realize the writer of the article is really just a jackass more than anything. He’s a condescending jackass.

I’m not where I want to be with a writing career. Most people aren’t. The Stephen Kings and GRRMs are a million to one odds. Hell, I’m still plugging away looking for that first sale, though I think I’ve had a couple in the “close but no cigar” category of “We like it, just not a good fit here.” While I’m working on it, I don’t to bury my head in the sand and have people blowing smoke saying publishing is nothing but rainbows and unicorns crapping out gold coins and fat advance checks.

Realistic expectations with a publishing career is a good thing. I appreciate it so much when Jim Hines blogs about the yearly writing income. Agent Jennifer Laughran spelled out a breakdown of the mythical six figure publishing deal last week. (Spoiler alert! It breaks down to a crapload less than I made last year… about as much as I made moving refrigerators when I was 23). John Scalzi is big on pointing out the business realities that aren’t always friendly or fun. And if you want to hear publishing horror stories, pick through Kameron Hurley’s blog and looking for anything pertaining to Nightshade Books.

Publishing is a harsh mistress. Self publishing is just as, if not more, harsh just in different ways. I am fully aware and accept this as the Way It Is.

Some people have more natural talent and might not have to work as hard as others. Some people know the Right People. Sometimes, what you like to write just doesn’t sell. Sometimes crappy books sell like wildfire. Very few of us will ever get rich or even be able to go full time without a trust fund or a spouse/better half with a hefty paycheck. But when Hines or Laughran or Scalzi or Hurley or a myriad of other people out there in the SFF world talk about it, I am not bothered by it.

Maybe it’s just because I’ve had a rough couple of weeks what with the car exploding and not making it to Boskone and yadda yadda yadda and am a bit extra irritated lately. (The car was ‘time to buy a new one’ broken) But damnit, no one needs more negativity. Anyone who knows me for real or even just on twitter probably just snarfed at that. I get it. I’m pretty damn surly as much as I try to keep it off the blog. MFA Guy’s condescending d-bag attitude serves nothing but his ego though. There’s no “wake up call” or “brutal honesty,” just a guy stroking his ego living up to the stereotype. As a writer, MFA Guy should know that the framework behind the sentiment matters just as much as the sentiment. MFA Guy pissed off a lot of people with his attitude for no real reason.

I know what the odds are because there are some people out there who take the time to present them as realism and nothing more. The odds are long. I can count on one hand the number of SFF authors I follow on ye olde twitter that write full time without a working spouse. I live in New England with a mortgage and a kid. I spent a large chunk of my 20s living below the poverty line and it’s a not a lifestyle I will go back to. Ever. The odds of funding a middle class lifestyle on writing alone is stupid small.

I am writing against the odds anyways.

You can be honest and helpful in facing the odds with realism, or a toolbag like MFA Guy.

I’m going to keep writing against the odds

Remember that really cool thing I did last year at Boskone?

Yes, all of it was cool but I’m talking about the Flash Fiction Slam. Well I’m gonna do it again.

b52header

Sunday, 9:30 AM

Marina 4

Flash Fiction Slam

Join Boskone’s second Flash Fiction Slam. Be one of eleven (11) writers to compete for the title of The Flash, reading your own original fiction — which must tell a complete tale within a 3-minute period. Our expert panel of judges will score your work, and you automatically lose 10 percent for going over your 3-minute time. You may only read your own work. The reader with the top score wins! Sign up before the con for one of eight (8) reading slots on a first-come, first-served basis by e-mailing erin.m.underwood@gmail.com. Or sign up onsite at Program Ops in the Galleria for one of three (3) at-con openings. A waiting list will also be available.

Carrie Cuinn (M), James Patrick Kelly, Kenneth Schneyer, Fran Wilde, F. Brett Cox

I got a good draft in hand to read at the slam. It’s a bit too long right now at 710 words. Last’s year’s story nailed the three minute time limit perfectly at 560 so I’m going to need to trim it down. Short fiction, especially flash, is tough for me. You get very conscious of each word used.

I’m excited for this. The story is really weird and all sorts of cool. I plan on improving from last year and I think this story can do it.

In the meanwhile, if you want to read last year’s story, it’s right over here.

NaNoWriMo Redux Roundup

Posted: December 3, 2014 in Writing
Tags: ,

So let’s see. Remember how I said I was modding out NaNoWriMo and it was really going to be 61k in 36 days? How’d that go?

Ha.

Lame.

I actually don’t really want to talk about any of this. Because of the lameness. But I feel I have to. Half the point of starting this blog way back when was simply to think aloud to get my crap together. Still. 50-50 that I actually press publish.

When I did this in 2012 as the final push to finish Amity, my kid was all of six months old. Infants are adorable, but often as lively as a sack of potatoes. My kiddo was not mobile and went to sleep at the drop of a hat. Now? Yeah… he’s two. Anyone else who has ever had an offspring is nodding in understanding. My kiddo is a fantastic little two year old and very low maintenance … for a two year old. He’s still a ball of fire. Who is starting potty training. And had to ditch the binky cold turkey. A two year old who is confused and pissed as to why he can’t have his binky can and will raise a lot of hell over it. I vastly overestimated the writing time I could carve out of life.

NaNotweet

It is what it is. There’s nothing I can do about it. The kiddo needs what the kiddo needs. Insert witty zen-like phrase.

I still got In A Murphy Minute up to 50k (total, remember I started in October with high 20s). I wanted to be at 90k by tomorrow. Unless I can start bending the space time continuum, 40k in 36 hours is not going to happen. I did get a sizable chunk of it done though. That’s better than most months I have so I guess I will live with it.

What about the content of all those words?

Meh.

Seriously. Meh.

I am having a lot of problems with Murphy right now. Honestly, that’s part of why I’ve lost headway on my wordcount this past week. I had a moment where I realized I was hitting the halfway point of the novel, and I still had not introduced the actual antagonist. It was a big double you tee eff moment. I wanted to give the relationship between my two main characters the attention it needed. By making the romance the A Plot and the magical gangsters the B Plot, I let the antagonists sit around on the sidelines waiting to be introduced for much too long.

My original framework for the plot was build when the protag was a guy and the character was a lot more abrasive. By making her nicer and expanding the roles of some supporting characters, large chunks of the middle of the book were not going to make sense as originally conceived. But that was ok. The first act and the last act were going to stay the same. I knew where I started, and I knew where I was heading if I got lost.

Still, it has made the middle tough because, even though I updated my working outline, that stretch of the plot is a lot less refined than the rest. Now I’ve got this big realization that I’m still have not introduced one of the primary characters that drives the whole fucking thing and the book is over halfway through the expected word count.

Fuck.

So I am having a serious lack of confidence in this book right now. I am sorely tempted to work on a different project. I have another novel that has been dominating my brain lately as opposed to the one I am supposed to be working on. I am resisting the temptation, though, because that is how novels never get finished.

But I can’t keep going on a project I have no faith in. Even though Amity never sold, I never lost faith in it until the rejections piled up. And still, I have a plan in the back of my head to strip down 90% of it and rewrite it as a single PoV in order to resurrect it some day.

And I think that’s what I need to do with Murphy Minute. A plan. Even if I don’t fix the first half of the book now, I think I need a game plan of how I am going to get the plotting into shape. With a game plan, I think I can regain my confidence in the book. One thing that I learned writing Amity, is that most of my editing will probably occur in the first act anyways so I am not terribly concerned or surprised by this fact. I know the characters better when I get to the end of the book.

I also finished the steampunk book I was reading yesterday. For today’s New Book Day, I decided that I needed to hit up a couple rereads that will jazz up my writing. Certain books inspire my writing on a level that others do not. So today I started my annual read of Nine Princes in Amber, my single all time favorite book.  I think I may follow up with a reread of Breach Zone which I was reading when I first started writing the novel. I might follow up with some Delilah S Dawson books as well. The romance disguised as sci fi is exactly how I’m handling writing Murphy Minute and surrounding myself with more of it should help. Not that the other books I’ve been reading haven’t been good or anything. I’ve actually been on a very good streak of excellent reads. I just think reading more spiritual kin to my own novel will be a positive.

And positives are what I need so I can finish and make this a damn good book.