Goodreads

In my latest move to further build up my social online presence I’ve moved onto goodreads.com. You can find my new profile here. It’s also installed permanently on the righthand sidebar via the  icon.

Those of you who use goodreads, link to my profile and friend me. If you read and haven’t signed up for it, you might want to. Basically it’s Facebook for books. You can easily find rate and review books and then share them with your friends. I posted up about 50 book reviews (mined from this blog) and rated another 70+. Of course I’ve read over 10,000 novels so I’m not about to go back and do them all, but I’ll add them as I see them.

As an author, Goodreads is supposedly a great place to market your books, which is my nefarious ulterior motive in joining yet another social network. Muhaha!

For my book reviews, click here.

For my posts on writing, click here.

Middle Madness

I think I’m over the hump with the third major draft of my new novel, Untimed (for a quick blurb see here).

Story structure is hard. And while this book is much better structured than early drafts of my previous novel, it had two major problems: the ending and the first part of Act II. Late (very late) in the second draft I cracked the ending. So that just left the middle.

Therefore, I wasn’t surprised when the biggest comment from my awesome freelance editors’ (I use three: Renni Browne, Shannon Roberts, and R.J. Cavender) involved problems in this middle section. It’s not that the scenes wen’t good or exciting, but mostly that I fell prey to a personal need to sneak Napoleon into the story (time travel seems to call out for the most pivotal personality of the modern era) and this resulted in a bad case of “Double Mumbo Jumbo” (or a variant thereof).

So what is the dreaded Double Mumbo Jumbo? Most specifically it’s the phase coined in Blake Snyder‘s Save the Cat book (which I discuss here). DMJ is invoked by throwing two unrelated implausible things into the same story. However, my specific problem is really a cousin, what my editor Renni calls “1+1=1/2″. This is, the idea that doing the same improbable thing twice in the same book isn’t twice as good as doing it once, but actually half as good. Even if the thing is cool. So a kind of DMJ.

And I was doing it in my middle.

Still, this section of my story accomplished a lot of other things too. And I had to figure out how to rework it to keep as much of the good as I could, avoid a DMJ — and not make TOO much work for myself in terms of repercussions later in the book. Thinking about various ways to restructure, particularly given the constraints of my story, my elaborate time travel scheme, and history itself, was quite the brain buster. I thought on it all day for at least a week. So hard one Friday that I literally gave myself a migraine headache! I found myself pondering time travel so aggressively that I became confused as to what year it was — and then my vision began to shimmer (migraine).

I probably outlined 15 different scenarios and talked about countless more. This part of the writing process is very peculiar. I often end up with a half-baked scenario that satisfies some goals, but just doesn’t really work. One quickly reaches a point where no new ideas surface internally and you need to shake it up. I then find it extremely useful to talk with a limited pool of friends who have read the book in it’s latest incarnation. This allows me to efficiently go over the possible elements. Then we talk out the problems. By vetting numerous failed scenarios it’s often possible to collect enough different disconnected ideas that a single coherent new plot can be jig-sawed together. Or at least coherent enough to polish out in the writing.

This last week, I even twice resorted to writing out (as prose) incomplete outlines to see if they worked. The first revealed itself as a miserable failure. The second made it to the finish.

Now it’s off to friends and editors to see how it passes muster.

For more posts on writing, click here.

Untimed – Two Novels, Two Drafts!

My second novel, Untimed, is a YA time-travel adventure.

And I just finished the rough version of my second draft. Whew! Happy to be done with that. The book grew to 84,000 words (it’ll probably get trimmed down a bit for draft three). It still needs polish, but the second draft is often the worst, and this one took 5 or so weeks of concentrated work. While I learned from my first novel and put the beginning at the right place, the previous draft still had a number of classic first draft problems.

Namely, character and motivation needed work. Plot can formally be considered the friction between the protagonist’s desire and the obstacles to said desire. The book is/was jam packed with conflict and action, but the desire line was a bit weak. I won’t say it’s perfect now, but it’s a hell of a lot better. As are the characters. For me it’s difficult in the first draft to flesh both of these out because as a pantser I don’t know exactly where I’m going with the story until I get there. Not that I write blind, but I like the story and the characters to take me where they want.

When writing the second draft, you have an end (even if you plan on changing it), so you know all the elements that you intend to put in the book. Therefore it’s easier to go back and foreshadow those and reinforce the important ones. You also know what the character is going to need to feel at different points in the story, so it’s easier to try and set up and reinforce those feelings.

Additionally, as a pantser, I actually get to know my characters in the first draft. The writing of them brings them to life in my head. Then in the second draft, I need to brainstorm extra elements in their past and present that reinforce the traits I know they’re supposed to have, then hint at the them in the book. Again, hard to do the first time around.

Now to see what some reader that aren’t me think — and trial and nail the third draft.

I’d also like to thank my story-consultants Sharon & Bryan for listening to every blow by blow change and my independent editors Renni & Shannon for pointing me in the second draft direction. Here’s to hoping I went far enough :-).

The second draft involved a few weeks of incubation (June), a full read and polish (also June), and then hardcore writing from June 30 until August 2.

And in case you’re wondering what the book is about, I still haven’t written a log line, but its a lean-mean-fast-paced first person present story about a boy whose name no one remembers — not even his mother. And it features Ben Franklin, Napoleon, a male gang leader that wears red high heels, and the Tick-Tocks, creepy clockwork time traveling machines from the future.

For more posts on writing, click here.

The Maltese Falcon

Title: The Maltese Falcon

Author: Dashiell Hammett

Genre: Detective Noir

Length: 217 pages

Read: May 25-26, 2011

Summary: Pure awesomeness.

ANY CHARACTER HERE

There are so many reasons why this is the archetypal detective novel. It’s pure pleasure from start to finish.

Let’s start with the writing. The prose is lean, but it has a way of sparing with the reader, a delightful economy and turn of phrase. Things are handled in a straightforward sequential manner. Simultaneously spartan and luxurious. There’s actually a surprising amount of description. Nearly every character is detailed on first meet, often with a good full two paragraphs. But they’re worth it (more on that later). Spade‘s actions are spelled out in exquisite and exhaustive detail — there must be at least fifty cigarettes rolled and smoked in this tiny book and countless details of dressing, moving from place to place, etc. Somehow these don’t drag, not at all. Action too, is quick, but handled in a kind of cold clear detail. What there isn’t, is one whit of interior monologue. The closest we get is the occasional, “Sam’s expression contained a hint of smugness” or “her hands twisted in her lap.” And more than anything, the prose is fun to read.

Plotting. The story is byzantine, and involves no one knowing exactly what’s going on, but Sam being a damn good judge of what’s likely to happen. There’s perhaps a bit too much action happening off screen, and a little too many coincidences or startling reverses. And for a book with so many shootings and double crosses, it’s mostly filled with dialogue scenes. But that isn’t a problem because…

The dialogue rules! Oblique, snappy, it crackles back and forth like a gunfight. The rules for writing quality dialogue could have been modled on this novel alone. Characters interrupt, they’re impatient, they lie (and lie again), they argue, they betray. They do a lot of talking. I enjoyed every minute of it.

Characters. Hammett really shines here. The villains are a bit over the top, but I adored them. The sinister (and limp wristed — oh so pre-politically-correct) Cairo, the fatman, the kid. The author uses a combination of amusing descriptive characterization (Gutman’s bulbs of fat — “He waved his palm like a fat pink starfish!” — or Cairo’s effete details — “when slapped he screamed like a woman”) and highly distinctive dialogue. Gutman’s is a real riot. Overblown, threatening and complementary at the same time. Sam himself is an interesting figure. Tough, incredibly competent, but also prideful, belligerent, and self interested.

Atmosphere. This is nailed, nailed cold and hard like a corpse left out in January. It oozes late 20s San Francisco. The dangerous dames, the cartoony gangsters, the police always one step behind. The tension in the way that the backstabbing moxie Brigid uses her feminine wiles eerily foreshadows basic instinct and countless followups.

The book’s been a classic for 80 years, and with good reason.

For more book reviews, click here.

Untimed – Two Novels, Check!

Today I reached a milestone and finished the first draft of my second novel, tentatively titled Untimed. Now this doesn’t really mean it’s done, revision is usually more work than the first draft. Still, it’s a book. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Untimed is the first book in YA time travel series. I haven’t written a log line yet, but it’s currently 70,000 words, and is a lean-mean-fast-paced first person present story about a boy whose name no one remembers — not even his mother.

Oh, and it features Ben Franklin, Napoleon, a male gang leader that wears red high heels, and the Tick-Tocks, creepy clockwork time traveling machines from the future.

I started it Feb 9, 2011 and finished the first draft May 20, 2011. I took about three weeks “off” to work on revisions of The Darkening Dream. So that’s roughly three months. My output was actually slower (as measured in words) than with TDD, because a don’t overwrite now. If anything Untimed is underwritten and certainly needs a lot of character work in revision, which might make it grow slightly.

I learned a lot of things from problems with TDD (mostly fixed in my many many revisions). I learned to find a place to start your story that really hooks BEFORE starting to write. I learned not to write any scenes that involved merely going from place to place. I learned not to flash back. I learned to stick with the plot, not the sub plots. And a whole lot more.

And I tried to outline the entire story before I wrote it, failed miserably, and concluded that I’m really a pantser (a seat of the pants writer).

For info on my first (and completed) novel, click here.

ps. If you’re one of my many dedicated beta readers, and want to offer early high level feed back, send me a note.

The Postman Always Rings Twice

Title: The Postman Always Rings Twice

Author: James M. Cain

Genre: Crime Noir

Length: 116 pages

Read: May 15-16, 2011

Summary: Taut.

ANY CHARACTER HERE

For my second novel I’ve been trying to adopt a sort of hardboiled style, even though it isn’t a crime or a noir. So I figured I go back to the beginning and read some of the classics.

This 1934 novella just breezes on by. The first half (act I) is like watching a train wreck unfold. I greedily devoured the setup. Seedy drifter, sexy unhappy wife, and loser older husband. Plus it’s a crime novel. You know things aren’t going to end up good. The style here is lean and mean. It feels fully modern, dated perhaps only by certain phrases and actually it’s utter bare bones quality, devoid of really deliberate voice. My only complaint here was that it’s so sparse on dialogue tags that I often got confused as to who said what and had to back up and count. That’s too few tags.

Not that it detracted much. So then mid book, the crime itself happens (not counting the aborted first attempt) and the gears shift a bit into legal territory. This middle section I found had a bit too much “tell.” It breezed along, but it reminded me of the second half of The Magician. Then we get to the third act. This was back more to the mater-a-fact what happens, but it did feel a little fast, perhaps resorting to a bit too much forced plotting.

Still, I enjoyed the book immensely, and it seems best as I can tell the blueprint for countless crime stories where greed/lust/whatever drives everyone to an inevitable bad end. Some great movie entries in this genre would be Body Heat, A Simple Plan, or the very recent The Square.

Another interesting thing about this story is not only could you set it in any era, but the exact text could pretty much serve from 1920 through to present day. The only difference now would be cell phones and better police investigatory techniques.

Game of Thrones – The Houses

With the premier of Game of Thrones, the HBO series based on what is perhaps my all time favorite Fantasy series, fast approaching, the network has been releasing all sorts of goodies. Now I’ve posted about this before, but these books, and it looks like the show, are so darkly delicious that I fell I must share.

Power (above) is new trailer.

Fear and Blood (above) is another new trailer for the show in general.

Then we have a whole series of videos on some of the most important Great Houses. Like Dune before it, Game of Thrones is a story about the interplay of politics and loyalty among a number of great factions. This was frequently true during the late middle ages, and to some extent the series is based a bit on the War of the Roses.

The Starks (above) are the moral center of the story.

House Baratheon holds the throne… for now.

The Lannister’s you love to hate — except for Tyrion who rules.

House Targaryen knows all about dragons.

Above is a more detailed video on Jaime Lannister.

and above Robb Stark.

Above is Littlefinger.

and above about the world in general.

For a review of episode 1, click here.