Saturday, June 30, 2007

Conflicted, or just Complicated

Linnea Sinclair had a good post about Conflict versus Complication up on Kristen Nelson's blog.

Because I write by the seat of my pants, letting the characters do the exploring and staying the heck out of their way, my first drafts are poster children for this. Very complicated poster children.

For instance, right now the neighbor's dog barks at the hero every time he walks past. The dog's had two paragraphs so far, on the two different times the hero's returned home. Since I try to write with the throttle open and the pedal down, I just stayed out of the way and let that dog bark.

I have an idea that maybe one day, the hero will come home and no dog will bark. The silence will alert him to danger. Or maybe a villain will kick the barking dog and betray his or her true nature.

Or I'll get to the end of the book without the dog ever coming in handy again. That'll get edited out.

In the end, I'm aiming for lean, hard stories. I can't afford an ounce of 'fat', by which I mean anything that doesn't tell the story better.

Linnea also said something awesome right at the start of her post. She mentioned how you can't seperate one element of a story from the others. I get the feeling that'll be my next post...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Utterly Spoiled

For a while there, I'd had a bad run of books. Godawful things I didn't get through fifty pages of, and godawful things I followed right to the end, turning pages in mute shock.

But lately, my run of luck has changed. It all started in Australia, with Gil Brewer's The Vengeful Virgin. Then, the rest of John Ramsey Miller's Winter Massey series. There was some Lee Child in there, and Andrew Vachss's newest, Mask Market.

Oh, and Theresa Schweigel's Officer Down. And of course, I've just finished re-reading the Harry Potter books so as to be fresh for July 21.

And the good times didn't stop there. In the last couple weeks I've also enjoyed Joe Hill's fantastic debut, Heart-Shaped Box and Barry Eisler's Choke Point and taken some time to visit with old friends: Walt Whitman's poetry and F. Scott Fitzgerald's short stories.

I'm also reading the final installment in Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver trilogy. Daunting sizes on those bad boys, but man, can Stephenson ever deliver the goods!

It's a run of luck so fine I'm afraid it can't last.

But no. Here on the table (up on deck, as it were), I've got a James M. Cain omnibus, John Connolly's The Unquiet, Sarah Gran's Come Closer and Swords of Talera, a pretty cool fantasy tale by some guy named Gramlich.

Charles, I hope your mum's okay!

This year, I also want to re-read Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca and maybe pick up one fo the biographies about her that're due out.

Utterly spoiled...

PS Just started Charles's book. It's like being a kid again, discovering Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E Howard and Fritz leiber for the first time. Loving it!

I am so truly and utterly spoiled!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

So There I Was...

So this one time, I'm working a day job at the State Zoo. Just flunky work, but it kept the bills paid.

It was Easter Weekend, the single biggest family day of the year. Problem was, the dolphins were, well, feeling a bit of spring fever themselves. They were shagging all over the place, and management were freaking out.

In just a couple of hours, the zoo was going to be filled with impressionable young children. They'd see copulating sea mammals. There'd be moral outrage. Funding would be pulled, people would have to apologize on Oprah or something.

"There is one chance," said the Head of Marine Research. "Baby seagull meat has the proven effect of reducing, possibly even eliminating, a dolphin's libido."

Much smiling and hand-clasping all around. Except for me, of course.

I got a stick and a sack and directions to the seashore.

So I set off. It was a fair walk through the forest, but spring was in the air and I had my earphones and the radio to keep me company. It wasn't so bad.

The zoo was having an awful day. There was a big announcement on the news that one of the lions had broken loose. Fortunately, the keepers had put a few tranquilizer darts in it before it jumped the fence. I walked carefully, but saw nothing.

It was a great morning at the seashore. The sun was warm, the air crisp and salty. I went up and down the sand with my stick until the sack was stuffed full and dripping with baby seagulls. Time to head back to the State Zoo and a day of mucking out cages.

But on the way back, what did I see? The lion!

This great, tawny beast lay right across my path. The empty cylinder of a trnaquilizer dart still hung in its flank. I stood a moment, listening to its great, rumbling snores and looking from side to side. There was no way around through the thick trees.

I was as quiet as I could be. Gently, I crept up to the sleeping lion. I raised one foot, moved it slowly over the dangerous cat's body. I didn't dare breathe.

Just as my toes set down on the lion's other side, a cop jumped out from behind a tree and cuffed me.

"But, officer, what's the charge?"

And he said....

"Transporting young gulls across the state lion for immoral porpoises!"

ANd for suffering through that joke, you may have a mock cover...

Friday, June 22, 2007

Eight Simple Things

CS tagged me, so into the breach I go...

1. I have double-jointed thumbs.

2. I can waltz.

3. My father was a priest when he met my mother. ALmost twenty years of age seperate them, and they're still happily married. These things certainly affected the person I became.

4. I have seen ghosts. If they saw me, they didn't let on. I don't think the dead really care about doings on this side of the fence.

5. My first tattoo was a Batman symbol.

6. When I feel down, I read Ralph Waldo Emerson or Marcus Aurelius.
7. For a short spell in the early nineties, I was a mortgage banker. I lasted about six months before I finally called in well.

8. New Zealand's not the only place I've lived. There were also brief-ish stints in Barcelona and Jerusalem. Both were awesome...

You were right, CS. That *was* fun!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Smooth-talking Irishman

A Poet To His Beloved

I BRING you with reverent hands
The books of my numberless dreams,
White woman that passion has worn
As the tide wears the dove-grey sands,
And with heart more old than the horn
That is brimmed from the pale fire of time:
White woman with numberless dreams,
I bring you my passionate rhyme.

William Butler Yeats

Steve here: Yeats is another of my all-time favorite poets. He had that distinctly Irish gift for the flow of language, and wrote on every subject from love and death to the politics of his day.

I don't write poetry myself. I just love the use of the language, and the occasional metaphor that strikes a deep note on the dark bells of the soul.

Seems to me, one of the best things we can do as writers is to read plenty of poems, then ignore them. There's a lot of poetic influence in writers like James Lee Burke, Walter Mosely, Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly. None of them ever let the language get in the way of the story, though...

Monday, June 18, 2007

Snape Hunt

In anticipation of the release of Book 7, I've gone back and reread the previous six Harry Potter Books. (By the way, I'm spoiling as I see fit here. I figure if you care at all, you've read the material. If you don't, you won't mind the spoilage)

I'm going with Salman Rushdie on this one:

"Snape, unlikeable as he is, is essentially one of the good guys. Is Snape good or bad? In our opinion, everything follows from it," Rushdie said.

I write a lot about character on this blog. My own work is character-driven, and it's great characters that excite me about other people's fiction. And few characters anywhere are as enigmatic, complex, tormented or driven as one Severus Snape.

There are a lot of reasons to believe Snape is evil, and a few (very good) ones to believe he's on the side of the angels.

Me, I need Snape to be good.

His physical appearance is one reason. In a more conventional kid's book, you'd expect the dark, greasy-haired guy with the bad attitude to be evil. But Rowling has refused to make Snape a villain over and over. Harry's own prejudices have been frustrated, and he's had the chance to learn not to judge by appearances.

He hasn't, and that in itself is interesting to me. Rowling has taken the hard road, showing her readers a world of moral complexity and subtle motivation.

Some of the good guys are, frankly, assholes. Sirius, Snape, even Harry's father all have pretty serious flaws. They still stand up for what's right.

The villains are capable of love and loyalty, tenderness and fear. No cardboard saints, no plaster demons.


Except that, if Snape *is* evil, the structure falls apart. The dark, greasy, bitter guy turns out to be a heart of evil after all. Dumbledore was wrong to ever trust him. Harry's prejudices were justified.

JK Rowling might even be able to hear the gnashing of my teeth over the rustling of that big pile of money she sleeps on.*

I'm looking for Snape to have killed Dumbledore by prior agreement. The souls of a wizard's victims are stored in the wand and can be realeased under the right circumstances. Snape will be beyond reproach and ideally positioned to aid in Voldemort's defeat. Harry will finally realize that Snape was his ally after all...

This is nerve-wracking. I've got three thousand pages invested in this story (from the cheap seats in the audience, but still...), and I'll be gutted if she lets me down.

*Who am I kidding? Rowling can't hear herself scream over the rustle of all those bills, let alone the vast, thundering fall of fresh revenue. And she deserves every bit of it.

Unless Snape is evil.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Constant Conflict

So I'm writing along, a variation on stranger-comes-to-town. I've got these six characters, each with his or her own agenda and all on a collision course. There's been one terrible crime 'out front' where we all see it, and others happening in the background, where even I'm not entirely sure. Before long, there'll be blood on the walls...

One reason I write 'full throttle' is that I really, really want to find out what's going to happen. What sorta sucks about writing is that I HAVE TO write my way, one word at a freakin time, up to the end.

Yesterday I wrote a phone call. Yup, a phone call.

My hero on this one's a bit of a drifter, so there's not a lot of point in him carrying a cell phone. He needed to reach out to another character, and it seemed worthwhile to show that he needs a landline. I know, I'm yawning already.

But I followed my golden rule:

Nothing, nothing without conflict.

My hero went in to the bar where he's working. I put the relief tender (ten words in a previous chapter) behind the bar, still on from the night before because the morning guy never showed. The low-key stoner stuck on a double shift wanted the hero to clock in. The hero wanted to use the phone and get the hell out.

The character he was calling saw the work number on her cell. She's pretending to be sick to keep from covering that shift too. I got a nice bit of three-way conflict out of that one phone call.

Somehow, I doubt that call will end up in the final draft. But I did learn a couple things about my characters by watching them handle this situation, and writing it got me through to the next scene. I also got to add in the extra layer of tension when the relief tender mentions that the cops are asking about what happened behind the bar last night...

Now, the hero and his coworker are having lunch. They've got conflict on several levels:

Overt: She has information he wants. She doesn't want to give it to him.

Covert: She's making like she has his best interests at heart. He's not sure he trusts her.

And deeper: She wants something bigger from him, and it makes him wary. I'm not even sure that she's being honest about what she wants.

And further: There's a three way love triangle going on as well. That way, just the fact of these two being alone together is a move against the woman who isn't there. And the two women hate, hate, HATE each other, for reasons I can only suspect.

One thing about this story: my characters aren't telling me much. My heroes usually don't. Male or female, I gravitate to quiet, tough characters who don't see a lot of point talking about their pasts. They're action-oriented for a reason, and that's as it should be.

This time though, everyone around the hero is dodgy. They tell me their motivations, and I don't believe them. Where the hero just isn't talking, these people are actively hiding and lying.

Just like the eventual readers, I have to look at what they're doing to see them with any honesty at all. It's maddening, intriguing, and kind of fun!

In other news, Butler Dynamo continues to help. Here he can be seen turning his hand to literary criticism...

I thought the book was more interesting than that!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Lil Rudyard For Ya


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

--Rudyard Kipling

(Steve here:) This poem found me at a formative time in my life, twelve years old and desperately trying to figure out how to be 'a man'. Time like that, these words went straight to the bone.

Looking back, I could have done a lot worse. This poem's done all right by me.

That Was Fast

Yeah, I put it back.

After a day to think about it, I decided the other title had the same problem I was having in the new novel (working title Rusted Cage, if anyone's keeping track) -- too passive. I spent a week writing stuff for people to do to my hero (who just sort of sat there) and then finished up by changing the blog title to a song about a dying man.

When my subconscious wants to send a message, it's not exactly subtle...

I've been up early this morning, spent most of it trying to keep my hands warm and writing new scenes where my hero actually, you know, does stuff.

Wrong turns abound in life. Most are easily correctable, and quite often, the best course isn't the one we think it should be. At least it's not like that six months I spent as a mortgage banker.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Good Old Whatsisname

I've been thinking about changing the blog name for awhile now. To be honest, I was always a little bit on the fence about the original title.

Full Throttle and Fuck It was an experiment. I wanted to keep I real-time diary of the writing of one of my novels. A record, for myself and anyone else who cared to watch, of the sustained blitz* that goes into a first draft. The title was a way to describe my working method.

Since I finished that first draft, 'Full Throttle' doesn't seem to apply as much. I mean, yeah, I'm going hard again on a new first draft, circling warily around the second draft of that other book, and drawing and painting up a storm. Oh yeah, and leading a rich personal life.

But Full Throttle? I dunno...

Right now, Wayfaring Stranger is up at the top of the page, on account of I *love* that song, and it does describe my life and the philospophy behind it. Other possible titles might roll out over the next few days or weeks, too...

*'Sustained blitz' sounds like something of an oxymoron, like 'assistant manager' or 'airline food'...

Monday, June 11, 2007

Wayfaring Stranger

Something different in the poetry today...

I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger
Traveling thru this world of woe
Yet there’s no sickness, toil, or danger
In that bright world to which I go

I’m going there to see my Father
I’m going there no more to roam
I’m only going over Jordan
I’m only going over home

I know dark clouds will hang ‘round me,
I know my way is rough and steep
Yet beauteous fields lie just before me
Where God’s redeemed their virgils keep

I’m going there to see my mother
She said she’d meet me when I come
I'm just going over Jordan
I'm just going over home

I want to wear that crown of Glory,
when I get there to that bright land.
I want to shout down Satan's story
in concert with the blood-washed band.

I'm going there to see my brothers;
they said they'd meet me when I come.
I'm only goin' over Jordan.
I'm only goin' over home.

No attribution on this one. According to Blues historian Scott Ainsley, its origins go back to at least the 1700's...

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Bloody Sudoku Moments

Yup, it's that time again, and early this time. The old Sudoku moment.

I'm a recent convert to Sudoku, but thoroughly hooked nonetheless. Like anyone with a gambling/drinking/reading problem, I'm in it for those moments of triumph, those dizzying heights to which my soul soars when the numbers all come together and I let loose my mighty cry, "SUDOKU!"

And yeah, that can be embarrassing on public transport.

But for every dizzying high, there are the lows. You look at the field of numbers and realize that three can't possibly go there. But that means the five over here wrong too. It's not as bad as losing the rent on a horse, selling your wedding ring in a bar for more drinks, or reading the next Dan Brown novel, but it sucks.

My characters are little jabbermouths right now. My hero's turned out to be smarter than I would've thought, and the villains and schemers around him are prety crafty themselves. They're driving things along just fine without my help.

So of course, I forced a situation, and wrote myself into a corner.

I'm out of that corner now, but it did involve unraveling three chapters and going back to the last time I was on track.

We're once again up and humming...

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Lonely Street

The Lonely Street

School is over. It is too hot
to walk at ease. At ease
in light frocks they walk the streets
to while the time away.
They have grown tall. They hold
pink flames in their right hands.
In white from head to foot,
with sidelong, idle look--
in yellow, floating stuff,
black sash and stockings--
touching their avid mouths
with pink sugar on a stick--
like a carnation each holds in her hand--
they mount the lonely street.

William Carlos Williams

(Steve here): I don't pretend to know much about poetry. I can't start to tell you why one line ends here, and another there. Nor why the poet chooses this, rather than that.

They teach me to hear the music in the language. They show me images that strike the soul and linger a lifetime. They make me a better writer.

And sometimes, sometimes a poem uses feather touches of language to brush against a feeling so delicate, so ephemeral, that to grasp it directly would kill it.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Tell It, Pablo

I Crave Your Mouth, Your Voice, Your Hair

Don't go far off, not even for a day, because --
because -- I don't know how to say it: a day is long
and I will be waiting for you, as in an empty station
when the trains are parked off somewhere else, asleep.

Don't leave me, even for an hour, because
then the little drops of anguish will all run together,
the smoke that roams looking for a home will drift
into me, choking my lost heart.

Oh, may your silhouette never dissolve on the beach;
may your eyelids never flutter into the empty distance.
Don't leave me for a second, my dearest,

because in that moment you'll have gone so far
I'll wander mazily over all the earth, asking,
Will you come back? Will you leave me here, dying?

Pablo Neruda

(Steve here)

Man, could this guy write! My own current work is shaping up okay. No word counters this time, but I've got the players on the board and they're each starting to give me a sense of what they want. Two or three of them are just an absolute blast to write, constantly surprising me.

Of course, there are two characters who act like they want one thing, but I'm pretty sure they're lying...

Butler continues to help.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

The Need for Christmas

One thing about being a Stranger in a Strange Land, you get an outsider's perspective on pretty much everything. Stuff you took for granted in your homeland and stuff the locals take for granted where you are.

So why a post about Christmas in June?

Here in the southern hemisphere, it's winter. The days are short, and the nights are long. The trees are bare, and icy winds come howling up off the polar ice caps with depressing regularity.

For the human psyche, this is a time of death.

In the northern hemisphere, our holidays ease the sting. Halloween (and then in the US, Thanksgiving) celebrate the harvest and turn nature's great dieback into a happy occasion. And right around the solstice, when the nights are longest and the sun may never come again, we light up that eternal night with Christmas.

Before there was a Christ there was a Roman Festival of Lights. Done with candles instead of lawn displays, but the idea was there. My father, a former Catholic priest and lifelong religious scholar, happily admits the theft. He contends that the date of Jesus' birth isn't the important thing, it's the death.

(OF course, when the subject of pagan roots of the festival of Oestre comes up, the discussion gets a bit more heated, but that's another story...)

Before the Festival of Lights even, there were blood sacrifices to ensure the return of the sun. Of course, the 'sacrifices' were (and sometimes still are) livestock too sickly to last out the winter. That way, folks got a good feed to help *them* last out the winter, and the surviving animals had more feed to keep them healthier so that *they'd* last out the winter too. Common sense and religion sometimes do run together.

Until our culture moved below the equator. Suddenly, these festivals, deeply important in our collective and individual psyches, were happening at the wrong times of year. Christmas becomes a midsummer beach party (Beltane, anyone?), which is great.

But summer doesn't need another excuse to party. And now winter has no relief, no promise of rebirth. I never realized the power of surrounding ourselves with twinkling lights and affirming our tribal bonds with gifts and communal food until it went away.

I don't get the Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I do feel the pull of those long nights. Since I got rid of my car, I bike everywhere, and even winter doesn't stop me from hitting the trails at Bottle Lake, or walking around Travis Wetland or Styx Mill Reserve. (Stalkers take note: an important clue to enacting your paranoid delusions!) I also ski and skate when I can, but dammit, I want my bloody festival, and I want it lit up!

You are The Sun

Happiness, Content, Joy.

The meanings for the Sun are fairly simple and consistent.

Young, healthy, new, fresh. The brain is working, things that were muddled come clear, everything falls into place, and everything seems to go your way.

The Sun is ruled by the Sun, of course. This is the light that comes after the long dark night, Apollo to the Moon's Diana. A positive card, it promises you your day in the sun. Glory, gain, triumph, pleasure, truth, success. As the moon symbolized inspiration from the unconscious, from dreams, this card symbolizes discoveries made fully consciousness and wide awake. You have an understanding and enjoyment of science and math, beautifully constructed music, carefully reasoned philosophy. It is a card of intellect, clarity of mind, and feelings of youthful energy.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.