On Vacation

As for my next book, I am going to hold myself from writing it till I have it impending in me, grown heavy in my mind like a ripe pear, pendant, gravid, asking to be cut or it will fall”

~ VIRGINIA WOOLF

It makes me so uncomfortable for them.  If they’re talking about a plot idea, I feel the idea is probably going to evaporate.  I want to almost physically reach over and cover their mouths and say, “You’ll lose it if you’re not careful.”

~ ANNE TYLER

Vacation may not be the accurate word here.  Rather say I’m on an expedition.  To commandeer a very useful term from Austin Powers, I’ll be away from my desk indefinitely while I search for my mojo.  It’s gone completely.  Nothing I have in progress looks interesting.  I’ve written some scenes, torn them up, replaced them with other scenes and torn them up, because none of them seem adequate.  My pending projects fare no better.  It seems to be a truism that if you don’t believe in what you’re doing, there’s no point in doing it.

We aren’t all writers, and those who are aren’t always writers for their whole lives.  I’ve been a skateboarder, a wargamer, a karate student and assistant instructor.  I’ve explored the desert and the mountains on foot and in 4-wheel drive vehicles.  Sunset Cliffs used to be a favorite haunt of mine.  I’ve been to war.  I’ve been a blue-water sailor, and have developed a fair level of expertise in seamanship, military communications, accounting, and safety, fire, and environmental considerations at a major fuel facility.  I am none of those things anymore, and it’s possible that it’s time to add writer to that list.  As my wife has pointed out, “It’s no fun doing shit that you aren’t interested in.”

Have I lost interest?  I certainly have in the short term.  What I don’t know is whether it will come back, so I’m going exploring, which is a euphemism for playing with my Xbox, my grandkids, my daughter’s dog, watching old movies and TV shows with Dearly Beloved, and just generally enjoying my retirement.  I received the first two seasons of Murdoch Mysteries for Father’s Day, and we’re in the midst of that right now, and I’m deep into a game called NFL Head Coach on my Xbox.  I’m in the final year of my contract with the Houston Texans, and have taken them from a 2-14 franchise to a Super Bowl.  We’re about to begin our second run in the post-season.  Bonnie enjoys this like it was a real game, and since the Chargers have moved on to embarrass LA for the next 50 years or so, this is the only game in town.

If, during all this unrelated activity, the irresistible urge to write comes over me, then I’ll write, but I won’t tell anyone what I’m up to; I think cousin Anne might have the truth of it:  If you tell everybody you know what you’re writing about, then the need to write it becomes somewhat redundant.  I hope it comes back.

If not, then then that’s my fate, but I don’t want to leave anyone cold.  I will continue to add to Chameleon until the whole book is free for a mouse click, and when that’s done, I’ll begin posting Broken English, another old book you’ve never heard of.  By that time I’ll know whether I’m going to be a writer or not.  Whatever the outcome, I have four books for sale on Amazon, all 99¢.  Stepping away from it means I’m going to stop servicing this blog every few days, but if you found value in my posts about the Craft of writing and the occasional humor pieces, fear not; I present here a list of sites that offer content similar to mine, and some extra pages that I could never hope to match.  I’ll be watching my email, blogs, and social media, so if you have anything to say, I’ll get it within a few hours, and reply to anything but trolling.  Enjoy these blogs and sites, and I hope to see you soon!

These sites discuss the Craft and offer insights into the creation of better stories:

Writers Helping Writers.

Richie Billing.

The Old Shelter.

Gisela’s Straightforward Blog (specifics about marketing).

Easy Reader Editing.

Creativity Hacker.

C.W. Hawes.

Cool San Diego Sights (this is a photography site.  I include it here because it is approaching 20,000 photos of every description and its owner, Richard Schulte, has decreed that anyone who would like to use one for a cover or illustration need only credit him and his site, and may then use them freely.)

Some of you may enjoy popular culture.  I know I sure do, and here are a few that are certain to scratch that particular itch:

Nerd Lunch.

MovieBabble.

Michael May’s Adventure Blog.

Life’s Little Mysteries.

Tara Sparling Writes.

There’s a dozen that ought to keep you in insights and chuckles for the foreseeable future.  I’ll be around, I just don’t know what I’ll be doing, but if anything comes up, I’ll pass it along.  All the best to all of you; read well, and write better!

My Starfleet Education

DO NOT SKIP THESE ITEMS!

LisaCron

I usually start with something about me; my books, my blog, my opinions, but this time it’s different.  Other bloggers post when they post, and these two profound items arrived a day apart.  They are incredibly important to authors who are serious about raising their game to the next level, and if I’m going to call myself serious about helping newbies find their voice, these have to be the lead items.  Listen to me carefully if you are a beginning or struggling author seeking ways to raise your game.  Go first to the Writers Helping Writers website and read There Will Be Blood by Lisa Cron.  I once heard a famous author (who I think was Dean Koontz) say that once you know a character’s life-or-death secret, he or she will leap off the page.  I have tried to incorporate that in my own writing, and passed it along to others on many occasions, but he never really explained how to make it work in practical terms.  Ms. Cron does so with depth and clarity, and your writing can only improve exponentially after reading this essay.  There is also a link to her own web page, Wired for Story, which is very much worth a bookmark.  I’ve a feeling you can’t go too far wrong here!

RichieBillingLogo

Once you’ve hoisted Ms. Cron’s wisdom aboard, pay a visit to Richie Billing, another insightful blogger of my acquaintance who expands on her concept with a look, not at characters, but at theme.  His dissertation on the subject is similar in approach, and can be found in his latest blog post.  I highly recommend it be read in tandem with Ms. Cron’s master work above.

It is an accepted axiom (at least among the superstitious!) that good things come in threes, and to round out this trilogy of insights, I will now refer you to my own blog post on the presentation of action, below.  With these powerful tools at your disposal, you’ll be ready to make your own personal assault on the best-seller list of your choice.  Read on, adventurer, then go forth and conquer!

We now return you to our regular programming . . .

Much of what I know about writing, I learned from Star Trek.  Long-time friends will know that I live by the mantra that wisdom is where  you find it.  Once you’ve accepted that particular axiom, it pretty much forces you to keep an open mind, even about things that seem at first glance to be less than optimum.  Gather ’round, kiddies, and I’ll share an illustrative tale from my youth.

It was around 1970, maybe 71, a long time ago by any mortal standards.  I had been out of the navy for a number of months, and while I had gone home to civilianize and make my start at what would eventually become my career, my great-grandmother fell and broke her hip.  She had been my primary caregiver throughout my childhood, and now it was my turn to return the favor.  For four years she was an invalid in a wheelchair, and my primary responsibility.  I couldn’t be gone from her beck and call very often or for very long, and much of that forced idleness went into writing.

Star Trek had been first-run while I was in the navy, and I was unable to follow it on any sort of regular basis, but it went into local syndication following its cancellation, and I ate it up!  I watched and rewatched the episodes, read the novelizations, built models, wrote stories of other ships with different crews, and pored over the ads for Star Trek memorabilia and props in the popular science fiction magazines of the time.

STGuideIt was in the back of one of these august publications that I found The Official Star Trek Writer’s Guide.  The price was a few bucks, not even pocket change by today’s standards, but back then it was a substantial outlay for someone who could only work dog-walking or doing yard work a couple of hours a day.  Well, my rage could be seen from space when this reeking disappointment of a publication landed in my mailbox.  Its 31 photocopied pages had been written on a typewriter that had seen better days, had faded bands on them making whole sections painfully difficult to read, and to top it all off, the “binding,” to abuse a term beyond all sufferance, consisted of two brass brads pushed through the left side.  The printing was so uneven and off-center that I had to take it apart to read some of the pages.  I could have bitten the head off a nail!

STGuidePage2

But I figured that, having paid good money for this thing, I might as well get whatever benefit I could from it, so I laid back on my bed and began to read.  The first thing I read was that this was the “official” guide given to every writer who wrote for Star Trek, and had to be followed to the letter.  I could not believe that, and became angry all over again at the audacity these people had to tell a bald-faced lie like that; surely, no production as professional as Star Trek would hand a professional writer a mimeographed pamphlet and tell him that those were the guidelines!

But then I began to read the main text, and all was forgiven.  As my followers know, regardless of genre, I write pure action and adventure.  As I think everyone is aware, the original Star Trek was pure action and adventure, and to the naive novice writer I was back in those days, this was gold.  Like a genie granting wishes, it taught me three lessons that have stayed with me for almost half a century and been of greater value to me than what I’ve gotten out of books many times the price and size.  I’m going to share them here for anyone who hasn’t had the privilege of reading this priceless little treasure.  May you write well and prosper:

1.  DON’T EXPLAIN STUFF.  You never see writers of western stories have two cowboys engage in a lengthy discussion of the breed of horse they ride, and the relative merits of each in the herding of cattle.  Sergeant Joe Friday doesn’t turn to a bystander and explain the workings of his .38 Special before he demands a suspect’s surrender.  Characters in science fiction and fantasy shouldn’t either.  When the Space Ranger draws his pocket frannistaner or the wizard begins to chant the gunkulation spell, don’t explain what they’re for.  Trust your audience to get it; they’re smart enough to be reading your book, after all!  Show them what it does, let them see the effect, and get on with the story.  Next time they see the thing, it will seem as normal to them as a toaster, simply another part of your created world.  Just keep it consistent; that’s all they really want.

2.  KEEP IT REAL.  It’s the day after tomorrow in the Persian Gulf, and USS Vincennes, an American missile cruiser, has been enjoying a morning-long game of cat and mouse with a pack of Iranian patrol boats.  They seem to be headed back toward their base when two of them suddenly turn out of formation and accelerate back toward the cruiser, whereupon the captain remembers a piece of intelligence that crossed his desk warning of rumors about suicide boats carrying nuclear devices.  All at once these rumors don’t seem so far-fetched any more.  Does the captain then offer a philosophical dissertation on the meaning of duty and heroism?  Does he try to comfort a young female sailor who happens to be on watch?  Let’s hope not!  We like to think he would spend what might be his last moments giving the orders he feels will best resolve the situation.  Just because your story is set on the bridge of a space ship doesn’t change this principle.

3.  KEEP IT SIMPLE.  Readers don’t want to hear the gritty details unless they’re pertinent.  I stood many a bridge watch in the navy, including my share of time at the helm.  The procedure for a course change sounds something like this:

CONNING OFFICER:  “Left full rudder!”

HELMSMAN:  “Left full rudder, aye aye sir . . .”  Spins wheel until rudder indicator shows 25° . . .  “Rudder is at left full.”

CO:  “Very well.  Come to new course one-three-five degrees.”

H:  “Coming to new course one-three-five degrees, aye aye, sir . . .”  Watches compass rotate until it reads 135°, manipulates wheel to get ship stabilized and moving on a straight line along its new course . . .  “Steady on new course one-three-five.”

CO:  “Very well.  Steady as you go.”

H:  “Steady as you go, aye aye, sir.”

Fascinating, huh?  Your audience doesn’t want to wade through all that unless something vital to the plot is going to occur in the middle of it; and even then, it better happen early, or the reader will have tuned out and missed the significance entirely.  The proper method is to replace all that procedural chatter with the captain saying, “Come about,” or “Left thirty degrees.”  Minimize the babble and stick to the story.  The story is everything.  Lock your focus on that, and you can’t go too far wrong.

And that’s what I learned from Star Trek’s cheap photocopied pamphlet.  Wisdom is indeed where you find it, and had I tossed that little bundle of papers aside, I never would have learned those three priceless lessons that will keep your story terse, tense, and moving smartly forward.  Oh, and that cheap little guide . . . turns out that really was what they gave to writers coming on board; one of many dreams about Hollywood to fall by the wayside.

Interesting Reads . . .

OfficersAffair

The Officer’s Affair by Samantha Grosser.  England, 1944.  On the Anzio beachhead in Italy Allied troops are fighting for their lives.  Young men watch their friends die around them and grow old before their time.  From some of the most brutal conditions of the Second World War, two wounded men return to England.  When Danny Lock returns to his wife and children, it is not the joyful homecoming that he dreamt of all those nights in Italy.  Disabled and embittered, he knows he will never resume a normal life.  His young wife Rachel, determined to revive their marriage, struggles to understand the man her husband has become.  But as his hostility towards her grows and the distance between them widens, all her hopes for the future begin to fade.  Then Captain Andrews comes to visit.  His attraction to Rachel is instant, but the tension between the two men seems to stem from an earlier time.  What happened in Italy to make Danny so hostile to an officer he once trusted and admired?  And why has Andrews come to visit him in the face of it?  As all three strive to shake off the ghosts of the war, they must each face their own searching questions about the nature of love and loyalty in this heart-wrenching novel, which explores the lives of a small group of people caught in the devastating legacy of the Second World War.  $2.99 on Kindle.

GirlNextDoor

The Girl Next Door by Lisa Aurello.  Am I a killer?  That is the question haunting 25-year-old Jane Jensen.  When she wakes up in the hospital after a devastating accident, she finds her memory since 9th grade of high school wiped clean.  As she heals, she begins to recover some memories and tries to stitch them together to reclaim her identity.  Regaining all the lost years is proving elusive.  Jane is aware that she’s gone from bullied, overweight schoolgirl to successful corporate wonk in the last few years.  But when the wife of her popular and handsome teenage obsession gets killed in a professional hit, Jane makes yet another transition—to that of murder suspect.  It’s an unbearable position for anyone, but it’s so much worse for Jane—she can’t defend herself from the awful accusation for one major reason:  Jane has no clue if she’s innocent or guilty.  The Girl Next Door will keep readers guessing until the final page turn.  $2.99 on Kindle.

More Than a Game

More Than a Game by Andrey Vasilyev.  Step into a future in which advanced technology creates a virtual world with superior capabilities that allow players to experience real-world sensations.  The popularity of the RPG game Fayroll is growing by the day, attracting millions of users to this alternate reality.  What is the secret of Fayroll?  What makes it so different from other games?  Our protagonist, Harriton Nikiforov is an everyman – a binge drinking, tabloid column reporter who has settled for the humdrum of the everyday, with a job that pays the wages, a neurotic girlfriend who gives him migraines and a boss that gives him constant grief.  Tasked with a new assignment, Harriton suddenly finds himself ripped away from his normal routine of Moscow society life, to a journalistic quest of sorts that leads him deep into the realm of the Virtual Gaming World of Fayroll.  Given explicit orders to write a series of fluff pieces on the game and its developers, Harriton grudgingly accepts the assignment, but soon finds himself enthralled by the virtual fantasy world and its amazing quests, unpredictable challenges, and nearly endless possibilities.  Harriton is reincarnated as a warrior named Hagen and becomes a full participant in the fantasy world, plunging into the exciting world full of action, quests, humor, legendary weapons and ancient secrets.  He meets faithful and courageous comrades and outwits those who are trying to hunt him.  In this world, the thirst for success and vanity of high-level players in pursuit of legendary objects spills into the real world, where high-stakes bets are made on the success of the virtual characters.  Harriton, as Hagen, unwittingly enters into the Fayroll world, where events and decisions that he makes in the virtual space starts to affect his own reality.  His unpredictable character, perseverance, and excitement attract the attention of powerful gamers and influential Moscow elite with a vested interest in Fayroll’s outcome.  It is not long before he realizes that this fantastic world, (created according to the best canons of cult games, Warcraft and Lineage), conceals many dangers.  Can he pass all the tests?  Currently FREE on Kindle.

DownJerseyDriveshaft

Down Jersey Driveshaft by William J. Jackson.  World War on the American homefront . . . but this is not the war against the Axis Powers.  Something sinister and beyond imagining has penetrated the salt marshes and idyllic surroundings of Salem County, New Jersey.  It will take the bravery of strangers and locals, along with some startling new technology, to beat back the tide of this unstoppable nightmare.  For those who have never experienced it before, this is DIESELPUNK.  A reimagining of the early 20th Century, more advanced, more deadly, more classy than what we have today.  It is yesterday’s look with tomorrow’s tech; retrofuturism. This is DOWN JERSEY DRIVESHAFT.  A special sale will be in progress through the weekend for the U.K. – £.99 on Kindle.  For the rest of us, it’s $4.99, but it’s innovative fiction by a author of quality.

And Just for Fun . . .

Not only has the illustrious William Jackson put his dieselpunk opus on sale, but he continues to find time to produce a weekly issue of Atoms & Shadows, his double-barrel film review of an atom-powered B movie, usually from the 1950s, and a classic film noir, two of his great loves . . .  Mine, too hence the constant promoting here!  This week’s films are 1962s The Creation of the Humanoids, and 1949’s Too Late for Tears, which was retitled Killer Bait in 1955.  As always, William not only provides his witty insights and numerical ratings of the films’ actions and themes, but includes links to the complete movies as well.  So pop up some corn, grab a two-liter, and settle back for a classic double feature.  Maybe I’ll see you there!

And that’s 30 for today.  Don’t forget that Chameleon is building in on its tab above.  I have four of the fourteen chapters completed, and eventually my entire portfolio will be available to read for free here on the webpage.  I’d love to welcome you to my literary worlds, and to hear what you have to say about my humble endeavors, so don’t be a stranger.  Read well, and write better!

Blimprider Times, No. 16

Every job is a self-portrait of the person who did it.  Autograph your work with excellence!”

~ Many attributations

View from the Blimp

I have used that quote extensively over the past couple of decades or so, and have tried with some success to instill it in my children.  In researching the author, I was very much surprised to find it attributed to everyone from “Anonymous” through Vince Lombardi to Jessica Guidobono, who neither I nor Wikipedia have ever heard of.  Regardless, somebody said it, and it is profound.

So, why open with this quote, and why, for that matter, open with View from the Blimp?  I believe the reasons will reveal themselves as I press forward.

I have noticed a little issue I’ve been having since the end of May:  I’ve hardly written anything!  Analysis of this issue points up an interesting coincidence:  At the beginning of June I put this blog on a three-day schedule, that is, a post has been prepped and offered every three days like clockwork.  Now I have to ask whether that is an actual coincidence, or an example of cause and effect.  The only way I can see to determine that is by experiment, so commencing immediately, I will be putting this blog on a four-day schedule, and we’ll see how that affects my writing, or if it does at all.  The experiment will proceed through the end of August, and based on what I find between now and then, there may or may not be further changes.

The point of all this?  While I hope it is apparent through content, I try to provide quality work, to create something that has value as entertainment and as enlightenment; I try my best, in short, to make you think.  Producing any quality product takes time, and an hour I spend assembling this blog is an hour I don’t have to work on The Darklighters, so we’ll see if the four-day schedule returns some quality writing time to my pool.  Wish me luck!

Featured Site of the Week

CogpunkSteamscribe

The featured site this week is that of an Australian steampunk author who calls herself Cogpunk Steamscribe. A note to the sleuths out there:  The name on her books is Lynne Lumsden Green.  Regardless, she is, like so many of us, a struggling indie who cherishes each small victory, and she blogs about the many aspects of being an author on today’s playing field, from acceptances and rejections to the Victorians’ fascination with ferns.  Well-spoken, well-mannered, and an insightful blogger as well, this is another site that is very much worth a read.

Interesting Reads

Since we last talked, I’ve encountered a tremendously insightful blog that the sort of young and novice writers that are my target audience would benefit from tremendously.  It is titled simply Roger Floyd’s Blog, and concerns itself with myriad aspects of the writing Craft in concise, easy to follow articles that deal with a single subject at a time.  He doesn’t waste column inches nor even his header with showy artwork, but names his subject, and launches straight into the nitty-gritty.  He has been at it since May of 2010, which if my estimate is right would put him at around 300 articles, and if his recent work is a representative sample of the quality, this blog must amount to a college course in creative writing.  I don’t know how to state the case any more strongly than that.  If you want discussions to make you give serious thought to the way you’re doing things, here they are.

Reserve

The Reserve by Jordan Greene.  Cooper Bay has dreamed his whole life of acting.  So when his brother Nick surprises him with a leading role in a B-horror movie, Cooper can’t say no.  The only catch is the team’s filming location is off-limits to the public.  Yet, that doesn’t sway film director, Luca Sanchez.  He’s set on trespassing North Brother Island, an abandoned isle in the middle of New York City set aside as an avian reserve for a bird that no longer graces its shores.  Ready to make a movie, Cooper and his new film mates cross the East River to shoot their scenes among the restricted island’s decaying ruins.  But a day into production fellow actor, Riley Cannon, goes missing, leaving only a smear of blood on a nearby tree.  Cooper swears he heard something in the woods before Riley went missing, but no one believes him.  Once the screams begin to rise, Cooper wishes he had never signed up for this real life horror story.  99¢ on Kindle.

NautilusLegacy

The Nautilus Legacy by Lewis Crow.  The stunning revelation that his father became none other than the infamous Captain Nemo shakes a young man’s world to its foundation.  This fictional memoir recounts his life after a tragic war destroys his family and nearly kills him.  Learning the truth about his father years later compels him to make a difficult choice: will he keep his comfortable but unspectacular middle-class Victorian existence or forsake everything to continue Nemo’s work of exploring the seas and aiding the oppressed?  Researched to be true to the spirit of Verne’s source novels (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Mysterious Island) and his original ideas, The Nautilus Legacy moves from Europe to America to the depths of the sea and beyond.  In addition to its literary and adventure themes, it is also the very personal story of an insecure man who struggles with the life of his father and their unfinished relationship.  $4.95 on Kindle.

ArrowsDesire

Arrows of Desire by Geoffrey Household.  It has been seven hundred years since the United Kingdom was destroyed.  In the aftermath of a global cataclysm, the peoples of Europe banded together under a single flag, but the English refused to go along.  Their resistance was rewarded with a genocide that wiped out half the population.  The survivors resettled in North Africa, and Britain was declared uninhabitable.  To celebrate the year 3000, the island is repopulated, to be ruled according to Federation law.  But there are those in the underground determined to begin old battles anew.  A barbarian king rides in the forests, drinking beer and promising to resist the Federation at all costs.  In the new capital, a student takes a shot at the High Commissioner, nearly killing him with an ancient weapon known as a rifle.  After seven centuries of silence, the British are ready to rise again.  $7.99 on Kindle.

Left Foot Forward by the Littmus Steampunk Band.  This is, as you’ve probably gathered, a music album, and you may wonder why I’m featuring it on a writing blog.  Well, one of the songs, The Gadgeteer, was written by an old friend of ours, Karen J. Carlisle, and is based on a character in The Illusioneer, which means she can now add songwriter to artist, photographer, and author on her resume.  You can snap it up for $1.50 right here.

And that’s 30 for today.  Join me Sunday when I’m sure I’ll have thought of something or other to waste bandwidth on.  Until then, read well, and write better!