Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Oh Yeah? Tile This!

My attempt at re-tiling the bathroom floor (fictional):

Attempt #1
I pin the picture of what my bathroom will soon look like to the mirror, and bask in the awe and adulation of crowds who will soon be knocking on the door.  I decide to hire a personal assistant who will manage exclusive appointments.  He’ll become my right-hand, and run the marketing campaign, and then we will take over the world!

I open the first box of tile and cut my hand.  I decide to ignore this foreboding omen, even as blood drips into the mortar. 

After six hours of effort half the tiles are wasted, the other half are covered in glue, missing or sticking up at odd angles which will most likely cause massive lacerations and blood loss. The bathroom is useless for at least 24 hours.

Attempt #2
I regroup, certain that my personal assistant will be able to spin this into a story about how the Glorious Leader can persevere through anything.  I spend two hours removing the previous attempt, an hour reviewing YouTube videos to try answering questions, and at least one call to my father.  I begin tiling the floor again, glancing at the photo for renewed inspiration, and feeling the warm cheers of the crowds.  My imaginary assistant smiles reassuringly while tweeting of my success.  I glance over and see the rubber backing sitting still rolled up and not under the tile where it should be.

Several beers quell my rage.  I tell my assistant to take one for himself, until I realize that his warm smiles were actually smug grins.  I start making plans to terminate him and find an unpaid intern.

The bathroom has now been useless for two days, and I have to go to work in the morning.  I vow to spend an hour each evening after work to complete it.

Attempt #3
After living with the bathroom for two weeks.  My wife has moved out because she can’t “live in a house without running water.”  I never promised her a rose garden!

After pouring myself a third gin and tonic, I start again.  I spend five hours carefully laying down the backing, the tile and gluing into place. My phantom assistant sends out scathing sarcastic tweets, and updates his Facebook while flirting with my wife.  I hate him.  Who cares if he has a degree from Harvard and looks like Gabriel Macht.  The unwashed crowds pass by to jeer and mock my efforts, but they’ll rue the day.  Theirs will be the first asses nailed to the wall when the Revolution comes!

I finish.  The floor looks nothing like the picture, and I’m sure my assistant kept switching floor plans on me.  But I have ceased to care.  As the Glorious Leader, I know that this will be remembered as a holy shrine.  The floor is level, mostly.  There is a strange bubble that pops and creaks near the middle where everyone will walk.  My assistant hands me his resignation, letting me know that based on his public following, he will be starring in a series on HBO, making six-figures.

Attempt #4
I call a professional.  Three hours later, the floor is done.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Both? Neither?

I can’t decide if writing is an individual or group effort.

On the one hand, all the action, all the dialogue, all the grist that the mill of my method chews up, takes place in my mind.  I can’t rent space in someone else’s head, and pull out their ideas, or run my concepts through their cognitive process to see which work and which don’t.

I sometimes can’t sleep because my head refuses to stop churning out dialogue and plot points.  In an effort to not lose them, I sacrifice a little sleep and write freehand in a notebook I keep for their capture.

On the other hand, no writing takes place in a vacuum.  As Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen farther than others, it’s because I stood on the shoulders of giants.”  My giants tend to be shoddily constructed step-ladders that I’ve nailed together myself.  But there’s plenty of time spent in research and development for characters, plots and descriptive text.

There are also the alpha/beta readers, who add their own influence.  I even had a few friends who are fans, and ask, “So when is that next book going to be done?”

Friday, June 21, 2013

Congrats JW North!

It’s not just about winning, but the victories certainly help.

This is the fifth year that my speech and debate team from John W. North has participated at the Riverside City College Friends of Forensics tournament.  It is easily my favorite tournament because all the other competitions throughout the year really hone my students, and they always perform very well.

Without going into great detail (beyond what you can read in the story) our first year, we took second place in the overall sweepstakes.  For the last four years, we’ve taken first.

I had such a wonderful group of students this year, and most of them were freshmen, sophomores and juniors.  I’m really looking forward to next year!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Start Your Engines

I finished “Blood of Heroes” in March.  It is always great to write the final lines.  After living the story for so long, I seem to have a knack for the last words of any story.
But first words are often a pain in the neck.  I hit a wall.  I knew what I wanted to do with the follow up book “Flesh of Legends” but I had no idea where to start.  I wrote and wrote and wrote.  Then I trashed and trashed and trashed.  I wrote some more, forced myself through various writing exercises, screamed at the screen and threatened to beat it with the keyboard.


Yesterday, I was going back through some of the many (many) false starts, and I came across a piece of text, several pages in, that actually worked.  It was right there the entire time.

A few hours later, and I had managed a solid 1,600 words.

Sometimes writing is like carving a statue of an elephant.  You just remove all the bits that don’t look like an elephant.

Monday, June 17, 2013

History's Mysteries

As a writer, it’s very exciting to be living in the Information Age.  New, exciting, scary, exhilarating events seem to happen on a daily basis projecting us forward.  But what’s even better is that our understanding of the past becomes a little clearer.  As a genre writer in both heroic fantasy and historic fiction, I find this very appealing.  Our vision of specific eras has been growing more and more real as scientists make new discoveries and that information passes from the esoteric to the mainstream.  Rome wasn’t built, nor did it fall, in a day.  The light of civilization and learning was never snuffed, and the Dark Ages is a complete misnomer.

All this information might seem overwhelming, but I find it refreshing.  I love to get my writerly-hooks into some juicy historical data and mull it over.  Even better, I like to fill in the blanks on what historians and scientists don't yet know.  If I’m doing it right (and not just following a whim of curiosity) I get a lovely set of events or characters out of the effort.  It adds a very real dimension to my stories that resonates, and I (and hopefully my readers) enjoy.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Houston, We Have A Problem

I just counted my active project files and came up with fourteen.


What on earth ever possessed me to start so many projects while leaving so many others unfinished?

Alright, so some of these files are more “active” than others, but I didn’t even count the ones that I’ve cast into a file I’ve simply named “Black Hole”.  Some projects have grown so old, so stale, or so frustrating that I just don’t want them to escape into the light of day.  

Yet, I can’t throw them out altogether.

Part of it, sure, is sentimentality.  My writing, since I started all the way back in junior high, has matured.  At least I hope it has.  The first stumblings of a wannabe author are, just like those of a toddler, amusing and cute, but wholly unsuited to enjoyment by anyone but a parent.  One of my first efforts (thankfully lost even beyond the clutches of the “Black Hole”) plagiarized whole sections of a favorite author.  I never thought it would be published, and didn't dream of attempting to do so.  I admired the author, enjoyed those passages, and included them in my own story.  A fourteen year old’s homage.

But it’s more than sentimentality.

Having my “Black Hole” sometimes proves fruitful and even inspiring.  Working on an active project, inspiration will strike like a brick to the back of the head, and I’ll realize I’ve written something, a character, a scene, a vast landscape of descriptive text, that not only fits, but matches perfectly.

It’s better than serendipity.  It feels like the execution of a plan years, decades, in the making.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The B-Team

If you have a manuscript
If you need readers
And if you can find them
Maybe, just maybe you can hire . . . The B-Team

I have what I consider an excellent beta team of readers.  Some of them are writers themselves, though not in my particular genre.  Some of them are aficionados.  All are equally important.  The writers, I enjoy, because they read with a writer’s eye, so they want to actually make my writing better, clearer, cleaner.

Of course, there’s the old joke about how many writers it takes to change a light bulb: Six.  One to change it and the other five to say they could have written a character with better motivation, deeper insight and wittier dialogue!

The genre fans, though, are my favorite.  As I told one friend, “You're the kind of reader I want to write for, so I was a) thrilled you were willing to read b) thrilled you were reading and c) thrilled you enjoyed it.

I figure if the writers and the fans agree that the story is compelling and fun, then I might be doing something right with my writing.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Fingers Crossed Again!

Wow!  What a day.

So, this morning when I got into my office, I had an email waiting for me.  The publisher that I submitted “Tears of Heaven” to has requested the first three chapters.  That’s better than a rejection, but not quite as good as a million-dollar contract with signing bonus.

That is how the publishing world works, right?

No matter how polished and professional my publishing package is (nice alliteration, right?), it can always be better.  It’s well worth a few hours of time (at least!) to go through and make certain all the I’s are crossed and the T’s are dotted.

So, fingers still crossed!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Search Goes On

A few quick thoughts.  

After leaving the nanny job interview, don’t mix up the number of the “guy you met at the gas station” with your potential boss.  Also, you might want to reconsider the short shorts and a very (very!) revealing top.  

Sure, it’s casual after you get the job.  But that’s AFTER YOU GET THE JOB.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Wheels Keep On Turning

I have to give it up to my “mechanic” shop.  I put it in quotes, because I’ve come to trust and rely on Firestone.  This isn’t a commercial, and I’m sure someone out there has had a negative experience with them.  Heck, I’ve had a few myself, but nothing that couldn’t be worked out with some additional communication.  Today, they told me that the tires on my wife’s minivan needed to be replaced.  It’s been a couple years, but still a bit early.  We bought these tires from Firestone, which they knew immediately from our service record, and so we were offered a nice discount.

Everyone comes out smiling.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Stumble and Fall

I’ve been struggling, wrestling, fighting, and being bludgeoned into a pulp by the first chapter of my next book, Flesh of Legends, a follow up to Blood of Heroes.  I have no idea why I can’t figure this out.  I’ve gone through seven different attempts, completed around 6,000 words and realized it wasn’t working. 

I might need to go back to some of my older efforts, like The Second Cut (about historic female samurai Tomoe Gozen) and see what’s going on there.  Work my head around a different problem before I come back to this one.