Sunday, December 30, 2007


A couple of weeks ago, the lovely and talented Shauna Roberts put my name up for the Roar for Powerful Words. I have to list, in my opinion, the three most important essentials for powerful and effective writing.

I may have taken the task too seriously. This blog is full of tools large and small, but three essentials demands getting down to first principles. Almost two weeks later, I'm finally ready to answer.

3. Practice: None of us is born perfect and at the height of our powers. Even the greatest talent is nothing more than potential. Learning to write, play the cello or do a backflip takes work: practice, development, practice, examination of the greats and the not-so-greats, and practice.

Sports authorities say it takes ten thousand hours to become good. John D MacDonald said it was one million words. No matter how you look at it, it's a long road...

2. Craft: James Joyce or James Ellroy, craft is at the heart of what we do. It's the lens through which your story is viewed.

You may use words to weave gossamer strands of lyric beauty or to craft razor-sharp icepicks. Either way, you should know exactly why you use every single word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, scene and chapter in your work.

I sometimes meet aspiring writers who assume their basic literacy is all they need to tell their stories. Vocabulary and grammar are fundamental and basic tools, but your tools need to be exceedingly sharp if they're to cut to your reader's heart.

And the number one essential to pwerful and effective writing....

1. Love: Ten thousand hours is a long damn time. One million words is roughly ten novels.

There are some gorgeous, gratifying moments on that road, but also plenty of despair. And even if you walk those long miles and use every step to become the very, very best that you can be, there's no guarantee your best will be good enough. I once knew a fencer like that: very dedicated and very, very bad.

Fate is fickle, rewards uncertain. Money and fame may find you, but they just as easily may not. In the end, the only reason to walk this road is love.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Iron Boots

My only prayer of victory.

The Tiny Dynamo didn't seem to notice that her racket weighed twice what she does. For such a delicate princess, she really is freakishly strong...

Her birthday's coming up, so I'll give the iron boots a try.

That, and a magnetic floor....

Monday, December 24, 2007

Reindeer Woke Me

Dawn. One heck of a lovely time of day!
Merry Christmas, all! Now, back to that second pass...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Dynamo Christmas

The first draft is wrapped. The second pass is coming along. Those pre-Christmas tattoos and piercing have all been needled. The house is clean and the fridge is full. I am very, *very* tired.

Tomorrow, the mighty members of Clan Dynamo shall descend upon our humble home. Papa Dynamo will be full of Christmas Cheer, and this year little brother SamBam Dynamo has decided to forego his traditional Christmas Hangover. I'm going to miss that green-gray color.

Black sheep of the family Angus Dynamo will be there, along with the Mysterious Reason he's a black sheep. It's entirely possible the Mysterious Reason will be full of a different kind of Christmas Cheer altogether, and may be found wrestling the cops on the lawn. If we're lucky, Elderly Great Aunt Agatha Dynamo will lift a car.

Not a large car, mind you. She *is* a startlingly old woman. A Toyota Starlet perhaps, or a Volkswagon Passat.

In the Dynamo Christmas Tradition, I shall be called up on to play some variety of sport involving nets and rackets.

I shall, of course, be humiliated.

Any member of Clan Dynamo, handed a racket, becomes inhumanly fast. Staggeringly, blindingly, Keanu-Reeves-in-The-Matrix-you-know-the-first-one-at-the-end-where-he's-all-like-whoa!-and-we're-all-like-DUDE!-and-he's-really-quick?--Yeah-like-THAT-fast!

I've been 'practicing' against the Tiny Dynamo. It's like facing a cloud of leprechuans. In fact, I'm pretty sure she has some sort of quantum tunneling effect going on. Like, she's *potentially* anywhere and therefore is *partially* everywhere. Until the ball comes near her. Then she's very, VERY definitely in the one place. I have scars.

This year, I'm giving the Tiny Dynamo a Christmas present that just might give me an edge.

Wait til she unwraps her new racket.

It's cast-iron.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sudden Seconds and Dead Darlings

So my well earned rest. Yeah.... That lasted about 36 hours.

A good day's rest, and I realized I was short one chapter in the denouement. Then I realized that I needed to give a minor guy just a little more time earlier on, to establish a relationship that comes in handy later.

And of course, there were all those small details: Character name changes, eye colors, traits that grew over the course of the book, etc.

Next thing I knew, I was back at the beginning, working on an immediate second pass.

The literature mostly counsels a long wait between drafts, but I actually *prefer* a quick second draft. Or as I think of it, a second pass. The material is still fresh in my mind, the story structure hanging in all its fractal beauty just behind my eyelids.

This pass is just about smoothing out the rough spots. Reconciling irregularites and adding the bits I left out in my headlong berserker rush to the end.

Only in writing can we rush to the climax, then go back and arrange proper foreplay! ;-)

This quick second pass has me thinking about this particular novel (working title: Crossroads Blues) and its odd, twisting genesis.

For instance, is this really the second draft? I had two false starts and numerous wrong turns finding that sweet spot where the story ripped free. The total word count in my various versions is over 200,000 words, and as faithful readers may remember, quite a few of those were paid down with a dip pen. A. Dip. Pen.

That was a *lot* of hard slogging, and looking back, I can see the problems.

#1) I tried to save my darlings.

Early on, I wrote three or four REALLY STRONG scenes. They HUMMED. You got character. You got conflict. You got plot. These scenes flew on greased rails.

They also didn't fit. For example, the big fight I wrote (in which I learned so much about the hero) pushed things too far, too fast. It was more of an ACT II climax than an ACT I intro, and it left no believable course for the characters.

#2) I wussed on my characters.

My hero is a drifter. The Minor Bastard is a narcissist. The Major Bastard is, well, he's the kind of thing children fear lurking under their beds.

But in those early drafts, the Major Bastard was too wishy-washy. The Minor Bastard was deeply concerned over the pain he caused. And the drifter?

He had an apartment.


The trouble was, those scenes that hummed, I couldn't change the characters without losing those scenes. And I was *really* trying to keep those scenes!

Trying to hold onto those darlings almost cost me the book.

Fortunately, Kate issued her challenge, and I accepted. I started over completely: word one, chapter one, full committment. Full throttle.

The book works. At least, I think. I'll read it sometime around the New Year, but it feels good, y'know?

The darlings? Dead. Dead, dead, dead, dead.... dead.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Stepping Razors - Life at the Edge

Serendipity: Charles' post today, combined with Peter Tosh singing Stepping Razor (a childhood favorite!) gave me this topic.

Fiction is about edges. Extreme edges. Nasty and jagged edges or so-sharp-you-never-feel-the-cut-til-you-see-the-blood edges.

If you've got your stakes right, your story happens at the exact moment, the edge, where one thing becomes another.

Sure, I write thrillers. Edges come naturally, since the stakes tend to be truly overwhelming threats. But imagine something a bit more... literary. A marriage in danger.

Betty suspects Joe of cheating. There have been little signs, nothing strong enough to confront Joe on, but tiny things adding up in the back of her head. Day to day, they go about their married life together with this tension between them. Every look, every gesture, Betty tells herself she's crazy to worry, or she tells herself she must be right. Betty is eating herself alive wondering if Joe is faithful.

Tension? Yup. Stakes? Sure. But there's no story here. Not yet. This is all the face of the blade, the flat of the sword. We have yet to reach the edge.

There's nothing happening.

To have a story, you have to push this situation to the breaking point. Betty finds someone else's panties in Joe's pocket. Or a matchbook from a gay bar. An adult movie company sends Joe a check or a strange woman shows up on the doorstep, belly swollen and pregnant.

That's where the story happens. Joe can turn out to be faithful or not. The story can be comedy, tragedy, adventure, whatever. But it doesn't start until you reach the very edge of the situation.

Can't you show any of that blade face? Sure. Exactly as much as you need to make the reader's heart race when she sees the edge. My usual rule of thumb is a chapter, maybe two. This is Life Before. After this, nothing will ever be the same....

Everybody up to speed with that? Okay. Because now I'm diving into the Full Throttle Toolbox of Cheap and Dirty Tricks!

Subtly amplify this sense of edges and stakes with setting.

Put your story in a coastal community, and set your scenes of greatest tension right on the beach, where water meets land.

Or a crossroads. A border town. A bridge. A place poised on the edge of becoming something else (torn down, built up, etc.).

Set a story in the last days of winter, so that it ends with a green and vibrant spring.

Set your story around a wedding, a birth, a festival.

Set important scenes at seminal times of day: sunset, dawn, high noon, midnight.

Combine any of these setting elements to add to the tension inherent (hopefully inherent!) in your stakes. After all, Frank McCourt's train gets in at High Noon, not 11:38AM.

And anything happening is more interesting in a border town before a storm front breaks a long and brutal heat wave, or at a sunset wedding on the beach. And standing in the crossroads at midnight?


Friday, December 14, 2007

Simpsons Fun

Thanks to Lana, I found the 'Simpsonize Me' website, promising to take my photo and transform me into a Simpsons character. It's amusing, but maybe not in the way they intended. To show you, I was brave: I took that challenge.

First, the photo. Now, this was done when my hair was still blond, and in that murky gray time before my first coffee. Why else would I look like some sort of carnival worker/serial killer? :-)

A few buttons punched in and voila! *This* is what the website decided I look like!

Sorry, I'm *still* laughing....

Okay, now, a little monkeying around and the Tiny Dynamo said, "That looks just like you!"
Awwww, man!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Yup, finally slipped my chain. Last night at about 8pm, I finished the first draft of Crossroad Blues.

I pretty much turned all the dials up to 'eleven' and snapped off the lever Tuesday and Wednesday. There were a couple-odd hours of sleep in there, and I may have eaten. Not entirely sure. What I do know is that I wrote a little less than 20,000 words in that period, including two of my favorites: The End.

As always here at Full Throttle Productions, hard work is rewarded. I had a nice glass of champagne, smoked a lovely Cuban cigar (they're legal here but this'll be the only one for me this year), had a *much* needed shower and shave and went to bed for many, many hours.

For their invaluable assistance, I'd like to thank the good folks at iPod.

(That's not photoshopped-- I got free laser engraving by ordering online!)
This poor bugger got quite the workout the last couple days. Four of my current favorites: Steve Earle's Oxycontin Blues, Tori Amos' Crucify, Avril Levigne's Girlfriend and Isaac Hayes's theme to Shaft. I reserve the right to be a man of contrasts...

Tomorrow: Simpsons fun!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Full Throttle Iconography

(A little homage to the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, there! Sorry about the flash burn - the paint is still wet...)

Where y'at, you say? Well....

The hero is isolated and alone. The Main Bastard's implicit threat is increasingly manifest. Innocent and guilty alike are suffering at this man's hands.

The hero has just made a Bad Decision. Fear overruled his better judgement, and he picked up a weapon. Things are.... about to turn very, very, *very* ugly.

Today or tomorrow maybe, he'll see this situation through to its brutal, bloody end.

I had a bit of a peek around on the net for a work-icon to describe my progress. No dice. In the end, I used one of those 'thinking up what's next' moments to whip up my own...

Sometime soon: Simpsons fun!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Holy Bookstores, Batman!

We here at Full Throttle productions are proud to share our latest international despatch from the Department of Really Freakin' Nifty:

A round-trip ticket from New Zealand to Amsterdam is $3-5000. I figure, bookstore like this, the ticket'd be the least of my worries....

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Sweet as Pie...

(this was the pumpkin pie I made all by myself - without even canned pumpkin to help! Mmmmm....)

Right now I'm soooo close to the Final Showdown.


But I've got all these notes about things that need to happen, and things that need to change.

I've got a couple of REALLY important plot points to change.

So I've gone back to the beginning and am doing a rapid rework. And I do mean rapid: roughly 10-20,000 words a day. My word count is staying about the same, mainly because I rip out almost as much as I put in.

Being so close to the end is the best place to see the beginning. And to tighten any flab from the middle. Also, tomorrow or the next day, when I *do* finally reach the Final Showdown again, I'll hit it with the momentum of a runaway bloody freight train!

Synchronicity: After staggering to bed at 1.30 last night (back up 5, but that was Butler's fault), I decided to 'chillax' with Joyce Carol Oates' Faith of a Writer. The essay I picked, Miss JCO talked about doing just the same thing I am, and for just the same reasons.

Oddly, that makes me feel better.

And for anyone who wonders about life with the Tiny Dynamo, I did do an 18"x48" painting on a break from writing yesterday!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

8 Days Later....

Five pounds lighter...

Twenty hours of sleep total...

The work stands at 68,238 words.

Events took some unexpected turns. Things that baffled me (why is that girl Irish? Why is she in here at all? What's with the horses?) have become clear. An encounter I'd been expecting the whole book never materialized. There are notes scattered through the text telling me what I need to add earlier...

The final showdown is underway.

The end is so close I can taste it.

Oddly, the Minor Bastard is still alive. I'm starting to wonder if he'll make it through the whole book. For that matter, I'm kind of wondering about the Hero and the Main Bastard as well. Both are more resourceful than I would have thought, and nothing is as simple as it seems.

I'm not quite finished, but I *am* having the time of my life!

Of course, once I'm finally done, I do plan to sleep for a week. That too will be most enjoyable!

In other news, the birthday was much fun.

The Tiny Dynamo provided me with some very nice gifts and a truly ginormous chocolate cake!

After all, I do have some missing kilos to put back on....