Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The First Shelf

Now that's some shelf space!
Some first time writers are confounded, confused and bewildered by the sheer scale of sitting down and crafting a story from whole, virgin nothingness.  It’s a daunting task that, for the uninitiated, can seem daunting, if not downright impossible.  Back in the bad-ole/good-ole days before the internet, it could be even harder to get started.

But here we are.  You’re reading, and I’m writing and we’re as close as two people can be who aren’t actually sitting across from each other at a table sipping hot chocolate.

(It’s rainy and cold today, which always puts me in a hot chocolate frame of mind.)

The first, best piece of advice that any writer will give to any new writer is that you must write.  If you don’t write, you won’t be a writer.  It’s right there in the title.

But then what?

Well, the honest, cold, brutal truth is that as a new writer, you’re not very good.  Oh, you may have the genetics, or the soul, or the supernatural ability of a thousand reborn writers coursing through your veins (and seriously, can you hook a brother up?), but in this reincarnated life, you’re still a newborn in swaddling.  You’re going to be good.  You’re going to be great!  You aren’t right now.

You need help and hope and help.

Find it.  Find a couple of friends who are willing to read your writing and give you good, strong, honest, brutal feedback.  Find a writing group where you feel comfortable discussing process and obstacles and issues.  Find a writing process that you like, possibly from an author you admire, and engage.

You tell 'em!
Then shelf your first draft.

Don’t kill that book.  Rather, finish it, put it on the shelf and leave it there.  Let it get good and dusty.  Work on a second book.  When that’s done, put it next to the first and work on the third book.  All the while, you have test readers and beta readers and reading groups answering your questions and giving you advice (some good, some not applicable).  When you've done all that, come back to your first book, pull it back off the shelf and start the editing the process.

You'll be amazed.  With time, experience and knowledge, you'll find that you've grown as a writer, that you know how to handle obstacles and issues better, and that you can communicate the story in a more advanced and competent manner.  The core concepts of the story will remain usually remain unchanged, but the way in which you tell the story will be better.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Xavi's Fourth

Birthday's are serious business!
The first few birthday parties for children are never really for the children.  They get stuff all the time, and really don’t have much in the way of desires.  Most of it is lost on them, and it’s more of an excuse for friends and family to come together and enjoy the traditional smashing of the cake.

But by the fourth birthday or so, they’re starting to realize that these are events that mean something.  If nothing else, it means you’re pretty certain to get a big slab of cake no matter how good you’ve been.

Instead of throwing big parties, we’ve started making birthdays more of an event.  For Xavi’s birthday this past weekend, my parents came into town.  We did some cake and a few presents the first night.  The next day, we got up and took the family to Polly’s Pies (mmm, biscuits and gravy!)—restaurants are almost bearable with the boys, but not this time.  We managed to get out of there on speaking terms with management, and made our way over to the Orange Empire Railway Museum.

This weekend was especially groovy because they were doing a Civil War reenactment, and they had their steam locomotive out for the last time this season.  Only Porter knew who President Lincoln was, but I was pretty in awe of him.  He was taller and thinner than I am, and he and Mary Todd really seemed to know their character history.

Thirty-seven vampires in one day.  I asked.

But the absolute best was this morning.  As I was driving the boys to drop them off before school, Xavi piped up in the back and said, “Thanks, daddy, for my book about me and Bear on Crabby Pond.”  Amid all the other exciting presents (including a Kid’s Kindle Fire), it’s nice to know that this one stood out—at least this morning.

We’ll see how long that lasts.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Rules, Rules and More Rules

As with any writing forum when a question of “rules” breaks out, you’ll generally end up with several stock responses from Random Internet Guy who gives the canard: “The only rule is there are no rules.”

Yeah, man, it’s like, why live your life by a structure that’s only designed to keep you down?  The workers control the means of production, man.  It’s the corporations, dude, Big Pharma and the Pentaverate who put a chemical into KFC chicken and make you crave it fortnightly!

But even the Dude will abide.

You need to know the rules because that’s what writing is.  Writing is a means of communication from me to you (and you and also you).  Rules put us all on the same page and clarify the communication so we can understand what the hell you’re on about!  You certainly can break the rules—once you know them.  This is why people ask questions about the rules.  They’re looking for knowledge and structure so they can make a decision about how to use them.  Breaking the rules willfully is an act of artistic independence. Breaking the rules ignorantly is, well, an act of ignorance.  It can even make you look silly and foolish.  If you know the rules, then you can decide which rules are important to you, and which ones you’re going to kick to the curb.

Writers.  Aren't we all?
To this end, I offer you the advice of buying and keeping on the shelf at least one style manual.  Depending on what you’re writing, either The Chicago Manual of Style (currently, the 16th edition) or The Associated Press Stylebook (currently AP 2015) for their formatting guidelines.  Mostly The Chicago Manual is for fiction writers, and AP is for magazines and newspapers (online or print).

There aren’t heaps of difference between the two, and there’s plenty of crossover, so if you’re working in both areas, you don’t necessarily have to change your style.  The point is to be consistent in your writing, which is the key to communication.  If a reader knows what you mean by a certain phrase, acronym, or abbreviation, then it doesn’t necessarily need to be italicized with a proper parenthetical citation.  If an editor comes back with a contradiction to a particular style book—so what?  That’s likely the publisher’s particular version of that style, and it doesn’t impact your work to adhere.

Lack of consistency looks lazy, unprofessional and can cost you a gig.  An author who can show strong consistency and adherence to a style—yes, even breaking the rules deliberately—shows value in the craft and discipline.  

Crush that writing, see it driven before you and hear the lamentations of its grammar!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

No Politics Today

I was going to post up something political today, but then I realized I did that yesterday.  So instead, here are my boys playing at the Orange Empire Railway Museum with their friends:

Monday, May 16, 2016

Bathroom Humor

Are you sure there aren't other problems that demand more attention?
Public restrooms are, as a rule, disgusting.  Landfills are more sanitary and have better upkeep, no matter what the sign says about how often the employees clean.  Most people (congressmen aside) don’t seek out a public bathroom unless the need is real—even the fine and elegant bathrooms at Target.

But there’s the rub.  When you gotta go, ya gotta go.

As a man who suffers through a chronic illness (Crohn's disease), I know all about “ya gotta go”.  Missing two feet of intestinal tract means that often don’t have the option of waiting for a better bathroom to come along.  This has led to some unfortunate moments where need outweighed reason, and the stall was devoid of toilet paper.  A few years back, I turned left into a bathroom when I should have turned right, and ended up in the Women’s restroom.  I only realized my error when three ladies walked in—parents at a high school function.

Friday, during a four mile run, a serious problem hit me—I needed a bathroom.  The way my post-surgery body has worked for nearly twenty years now, it’s not a request, it’s a demand.  I can stall (haha) for maybe ten or fifteen minutes sometimes twenty minutes, but I’m in near-constant pain that entire time. As most Crohn’s sufferers will tell you, we’ve never passed a bathroom without going in.

Which really brought home the transgender bathroom issue for me.  Following the debates and even engaging in some light discussion is one thing.  Absolutely, positively having to find a toilet or suffer an ungodly accident of Biblical proportions really shines a light on this whole question.

When do transgender people need to use a public bathroom?  The same as everyone else—when they damn well feel like it.  And just like you and me, transgenders are using the public bathroom exactly as it was intended—because who wants to spend any more time in there than they absolutely have to?

Friday, May 13, 2016

Well That Was Fast

Pulitzer Prize Winning Novelist Xavier McCandless
does have a ring to it!

So that makes this a pretty happy Friday for all friends and family.

There's certainly no call to buy the book, but it is a delightful story and was told by a three year old.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Xavi's Book is Done

I've cat cat class and I've got cat style.
Done and done!

The proofs for Xavi’s book arrived last night and they were perfect.  As soon as I read the label on the package, I knew what was in the box.  I had to shoo the boys away.  They always assume A) the package is for them, b) the package contains a game, and c) “What’s in the package?  Is it a game?  Is it for us?” 

We’re keeping the book a surprise for Xavi’s birthday later this month.  We do not expect adulation from him, so we’ve also picked up “real” gifts.

Some caveats: I didn’t build this book for any kind of profit.  I simply wanted to capture a delightful story that Xavi had told.  I searched high and low for a printer who wouldn’t charge me boatloads of money just to get a copy into my hands.  I also wanted to be able to buy and send copies to friends and family.  After a reasonably exhaustive and exhausting search, it turned out that CreateSpace was the best option.

With all that said, if you’re interested in a delightful children’s book, told by a child, here’s the information:

CreateSpace eStore: Immediately 3-5 Business Days (by May 19th)
Amazon Europe: 3-5 Business Days (by May 19th)

More links will follow.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Epic Girls Are Epic

Close the office door.  Turn up your speakers. Expand this to full screen and wait until the end.

Epic girls are epic.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Thanks Eric Lahti!

Yes, my son IS that cute.
A big, huge, GINORMOUS shout out to my friend and fellow urban fantasy author Eric Lahti.

If you haven’t picked up one of Lahti’s Henchmen books, you should.  They’re phenomenal.  The third one is coming soon (sometimes even sooner).

But this isn’t just me pimping my friend’s books (although it’s that too), but also his skills and talent away from just writing.  In trying to capture and publish Xavier and Bear on Crabby Pond, Eric, stepped up to help.  This was always a labor of love, and I’ve never intended this to be more than a family and friends book.

It’s still that.

But as with any decent enterprise, the effort grew over time.

I commissioned a wonderful artist to help me capture the fantastical scenes from my son’s story.  Once that was complete . . . I was at a loss.  There are plenty of self-publish presses out there who will print your novel in almost any format, size and shape you want.  But precious few who will do the same for a children’s book of 14 pages.

I’d shied away from CreateSpace in the hopes that I could get a hardback version of the book that would sit on our shelves for all time.  Alas, that dream was never meant to be.  In the end, CreateSpace allowed me the most convenient means by which I could generate the book, and share it with friends and family.

Like you.

Eric was kind and patient enough to assist with the layout process.  He had experience working on his own books, as well as the anthology that I was invited to (Holes: An Indie Author Anthology).  Over the past two weeks or so, he’s made the minor changes that my sub-par layout and design skills flubbed. 

Now, the cover and interior files have been submitted.  The initial review has been accepted and the hardcopy proof is on its way!

Thanks Eric.  A million times thanks.  This couldn’t have happened without you.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Dialogue Itself

I ain't gonna 'splain it all to ya today.
We recently covered those damned dialogue tags, which definitely have rules.  Now let’s look at dialogue itself, where rules go to die.  A fellow writer posted up this question:

So a teenage boy walks into a cave and says, “There's bones everywhere.” Or does he say, “There are bones everywhere.” I'm not wondering which is correct. I'm wondering which you think a boy would say.

If you want grammatically correct, “There are . . .” is the right way to go.  But that’s as far as advice can take you because of the degree of unknowns about this character.  Is the character highly educated or highly intelligent or given to speaking in a very robotic what?  Even those of average intelligence and modest education might speak in such a way to make themselves sound more so.  Whereas a character adopting a persona might "dumb down" the speech and use "there’s” improperly on purpose.  The decision tree branches out so quickly, we can’t make an accurate map.  

What's important is to write to your audience and in such a way that your speech and your narrative flow.  If you want the character you created to sound more human than grammatically correct, then he could say it anyway you wanted.  Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain was a master of the nearly indecipherable, grammatically incorrect, but colloquially perfect dialogue:

“Right is right, and wrong is wrong, and a body ain’t got no business doing wrong when he ain’t ignorant and knows better.”

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Spoken dialogue does not have to adhere to the same grammar structure that other writing should (normal caveats apply). Of course, you need to know the rules first so that you can break them correctly.  Otherwise, like a poor diamond cutter, you end up with a giant inconsistent mess.  As long as you are consistent in speech and the speech flows, and you understand what rules you're breaking and why, your dialogue can read anyway you need it to.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Whatcha Gonna Do?

This past weekend I got up early to run over to the 24-hour pharmacy.  Early birds get the controlled narcotics!  I took my youngest son with me because he was the only one who wanted to go.  Xavi likes to tell stories when we go anywhere, or sit around the house, or when he’s supposed to be going to sleep—mostly I just nod and smile.
Sure, we'll take your Costco card as identification!

Once at the pharmacy, I realized that I’d forgotten my phone.  This is only important because my phone also keeps my driver’s license and my credit cards.  I had grabbed my mostly empty wallet which has my expired Disneyland annual pass, Costco membership card and a train ticket from 2009.

The lady behind the counter was understandably sympathetic.  It was clear I hadn’t just come across the insurance card, brought my son along for the fun of it, and just hoped that this “RobertRoy R. Mccandles” had prescription narcotics on file.  But rules are rules.  You have to have a picture ID to get your meds.

She turned to the pharmacist.  “Is there any way we can give Mr. McCandless his medication?  He forgot his ID.”

The pharmacist looked at her like she’d turned into Zaphod Beeblebrox’s second head.

“He drove here, didn’t he?  How can he drive here without his driver’s license?”

“He forgot it,” the lady replied.

The pharmacist had clearly had enough of this conversation already.  She left her pill-counting station, came up to the counter and gave me a thousand-yard sniper stare from about five-foot even.

Why are you even questioning my honesty?
“How can you not have your license?” she asked.

I thought she was joking and I laughed.

“I know, I know,” I said.  “I just forgot it.  I have my Disney pass if that helps?”

“What happens if police pull you over?” she continued to blast away at me like was some teenager out for a joy ride in mom’s mini-van.  “What you going to do then?  Huh?”

“I usually have it,” I told her, with a little edge in my voice.  “I just forgot it this morning.”

“You so silly,” she told me.  She turned to other lady.  “Verify his information and we give him his meds.”

Monday, May 2, 2016

Know Your Audience

I’d finally had enough.
This is my circus. This is my monkey.

Either blood was going to be spilled, or I was going to go insane.

I knew which direction I was leaning.

I took my two oldest boys—Porter and Tristan—with me on a trip to Home Depot.  I generally love it because, unless you’re in the light fixture aisle, there’s not too much they can break.  Plenty of stuff to damage them, but that just toughens them up, right?  We were checking out from the plant and garden area, and the man in front of us was struggling to figure out the swipe machine.  Did he have chip in his card?  Did he know the PIN?  Would he be able to find his way out of a wet paper sack with directions and a map?

All questions that the checker, the customer and I didn’t have answers to.

Meanwhile, my boys dashed madly about, picking up candy bars, drinks, random tools and asking if we could buy them. 

“Please, please please?” they chorused.

“No,” I replied.  Which they heard as, “Ask again, and whine more.”

The gods of parenting demanded action or a sacrifice.

“Tristan,” I said, and pointed down the long aisle with bags of soil, decorative rocks and fertilizer.  “Run down there and find the bags of brown bark.  Come back and tell me how much it is.”

Tristan took off at a wild pace, heedless of the “Caution: Slippery!” signs and hard, sharp edges all around him.

“Porter,” I said, pointing in the opposite direction.  “Go find out the price of those half-barrels.”

Porter, sensing this might be a competition, ran with a gangly, loping trot.

I sighed relief.  I only had mild interest in what the prices were.  I wasn’t going to buy either item.  The man in front of me had given up on the new-fangled technology and resorted to paying in cash.  The checker gave me an apologetic smile and shrugged.  I pushed my cart forward and we got down to the business of checking out.

As I finished paying, I called out to Porter and Tristan tom come back.  They ran toward me with the same enthusiasm as Mongol warriors closing in on a small village.

“What did you find?” I asked.

“I can’t find the price,” Porter replied.

“I can’t read,” Tristan informed me.

Fair enough.