Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Good One, Jo

We bought two copies. The Tiny Dynamo and I read side by side, oohing and ahhing.

We found ourselves caught in a curiously cruel bind. The book was so delicious the pages practically turned themselves. but every page turned was another page closer to the end. I was sad for this.

Last night, we finished together. It was late, and we're both dragging this morning.

I laughed, I cried, it became a part of me.

Butler, the internet is safe. You can stand down now.
Good boy! Go outside and play or something...

Friday, July 20, 2007

MwaHaHaHa Haaaaaa

The moment is at hand. And thanks to a certain gentle advantage of global time zones, the moment comes at 11am Saturday morning, so there's no keeping me up past my bedtime!

Harry is here.

I'm offline for the weekend, just in case some goofball inadvertently spoils it for me.

Meantime, I'm putting the internet up here on this high shelf. Nobody break it while I'm gone.

Butler will be watching...

Thursday, July 19, 2007

How Ugly, and Why?

Candice made a fine contribution to this topic today. Charles, of course, started it yesterday.

A lot of what she said about her own working methods echoed a post topic I intend to get to after I finish Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. We seem to have a bit in commmon about the way we work, she and I.

But what got me writing this post was this:

Yet I don’t believe we should ever turn off our inner critic entirely. I’ve found over the years that when a scene “just isn’t working” it’s usually for a very good reason. Either I’m in the wrong POV or I’m trying to force characters to do something that moves my plot where I want it to go but is completely wrong for the characters. Or maybe I haven’t spent enough time exploring their motivation, or I haven’t given them enough motivation. In other words, I’m writing ugly because I’m writing wrong, and I need my inner critic to tell me that so that I don’t waste too much time going off in a wrong direction that’ll require a lot of backpedaling.

This might sound hair-splitting, but for me, that 'still, quiet voice' is my inner storyteller. He's a different bloke from my inner critic. The storyteller knows how the tale should go. The critic makes the tale its best.

My inner critic is the one sitting on my shoulder, whispering the same refrain in my ear, over and over. "Are you sure those are the right words? Try this other way, it might be better..."

My inner storyteller is as pampered, petulant and powerful as any old-time rock god. If I pay attention to anyone but him, he sulks and quits talking. If I try to shoehorn my characters' actions into *my* idea of what I want, well.... let's just say it's a fit worthy of Jim Morrison on a bad night, or Chuck Berry with an IOU in his hand.

For me, the whole point of 'writing ugly' is to let that storyteller do his thing. My job is to humbly and quietly listen to the story unfold. It's when I let my ego get in the way of the story that I end up with wrong POV's, wrong actions, wrong writing.
Only after that bratty bad boy has told his tale and stalked off the stage do I send in the critic. No longer sly, wormtongued and distracting, he sits in front of my pages with gold-rimmed lenses perched on his nose making small clucking sounds with his tongue. He thinks of his work as 'tough but fair'.
If I let my ego get in the way of his shredding my work, I end up trying to defend clunky dialogue, story-choking blocks of description and pages of pointless exposition. Worse, I miss those moments of beauty where the critic's suggestion is nothing short of poetry.
The storyteller keeps me from writing wrong. The critic keeps me from showing ugly.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Charles wrote another of his thought-provoking posts today, this time about giving yourself the freedom to 'write ugly'.

This is possibly the single most important piece of advice for ANY creator.

They call them roughs for a reason, folks. To finish that all-important first draft (without which, there is nothing to edit), you have to give yourself the freedom to do whatever you need to. Outline, draw pictures, make it all up as you go along. Change characters' names in mid-chapter if you must. Write an extra scene with someone who's already died, then decide if they 'stay dead' or not. Write your chapters in the wrong order if that's the way the story comes to you, but please, write it.

Sounds easy. Hardest damn thing in the world, some days. There are a million individual head games that get in the way. Almost all of them add up to some variation of your Inner Critic sitting on your shoulder and trying to edit the work-in-progress.

For me, the hardest days usually come right after the best ones. You know the good days. The ones where the work just flows, the words come steadily and they're even good. I have a day or two like that, and my inner critic starts in with, "You did such a nice job yesterday. Why can't you write like that now?" and variations thereof. One minute I'm tapping slowly along, the next it's an hour later and I'm still debating comma placement in a single sentence.

That critic needs a short, short leash. With a choke chain.

But there's a reason this entry is called Balance. The critic is important. The critic keeps us from serving up the dog's breakfast and calling it a feast. Release your inner critic on that first draft and let the blood and hair fly. Pat your critic on the head when it trots back with blood dripping from its muzzle. Your second (and subsequent) drafts will thank you.

Here's a visual example, from a tattoo I did a while back. Below is the first and second draft:

Those faint lines all over the show are my original blue pencil layouts. I just scribble them in, feeling around for size and mass and general shape. Look at how many weird things those leaves did and how the stick insect's body is one big blue cloud, I fiddled with it so much.

But those blue mistakes were necessary to the second draft: that dark pencil sketch. There, I (more or less) picked out one line. I gave the sketch light and shadow and general form. If this had been a story instead of a drawing, the characters would have the same name throughout at this stage. The plot would make sense, and any sense of symbol or theme I picked up in the first draft would be amplified. The main thing is, that early searching and flailing has now been simplified.

Of course, the finished tattoo was the actual 'final product', but the literary metaphor would break if we tried to stretch it that far...

If I'd let my critic off its chain too soon, I might have sat there with my pencil in one corner of the drawing, fussing and fretting over a bit of twig, or the veins in that one leaf. I'd probably *still* be fretting that leaf on the right, or that front leg on the left. The tattoo would never have been done, let alone the full sleeve it grew into.

If I hadn't let it off at all, well... How many people want an incoherent scribble for a tattoo? How many people want to read bad writing? Who in this world wants less than your personal best?

It's all about balance. Charles uses a metaphor of personal appearance. Get too critical too soon, and you'll be the literary equivalent of Tammy Fay Baker sleeping in full makeup so not even her husband would see her true face. Go the other way, and you go the Kevin Federline route, showing up for important public occasions looking like you just rolled out of bed.

Now go write ugly!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Writing Lessons from... Helena Bonham Carter?!

The Tiny Dynamo and I saw the new Harry Potter movie last week. I wasn't completely happy with the adaptation, and I wasn't completely disappointed, either.

But I was definitely struck by Helena Bonham's turn as Bellatrix. In her own words, she 'had five lines, and they cut three out.' Yet she was still one of the movie's most memorable players.

Her performance was no surprise. Every part she takes, no matter how small, she brings it to life. How does she do it?

No big secret. Actors talk about it. Writers talk about it. The big difference is, she actually does it: Miss Carter looks at ever part as though that character were the star of the show.

For that matter, Jk Rowling writes that same way. Her characters are so vivid, so memorable, because each one is an individual in his or her own right. From Cho Chang and Neville to Snape and Filtch, everyone in her books is the star of their own private lives.

After all, it's not like any of us go through our own lives thinking, "I'm the girlfriend/the sidekick/the gruff bartender with words of wisdom/the whore with a heart of gold/etc." Neither should our characters.

Sometimes, Miss Carter's method puts her in conflict with other members of the production. Sometimes, getting in your characters' heads will put them in conflict with the plot outline, with how you saw their function, with how you saw the story going in the first place. A well-realized 'minor' character can turn a story on its ear, and I think that's a good thing.

My current work is a thriller of the stranger-comes-to-town variety. The hero is clear. The two groups of bad guys (each with their own seperate agendas) seem clear at the moment. The femme fatale, she's right there. Or is she? I have to admit, she keeps surprising me, and may even end up being the protaganist at the rate she's going.

My hero is a drifter, tending bar when 'trouble strikes'. he's got a couple of co-workers. Why? Because dialogue reads better than exposition. Because it gives him an opportunity to have local contacts. Because he's, well, a drifter. Sometimes, the guy needs a ride to wherever he's going.

Except that one of the workers has a crush on him. Fair enough. She's motivated to give him local info and rides, anyway. And it creates an instant conflict with the femme fatale. She was meant to be a minor character, but she's gradually becoming more important to the story.

Fair enough.

Thing is, I needed a third bartender. After all, somebody has to keep the place open when the hero and the other tender are out running around. Enter Kevin.

Kevin may not survive to the final draft. There's every chance he'll end up a brief mention along the lines of, 'Ten minutes later, the relief bartender showed up so the hero could leave.' Just another of those lives that brush ours only slightly.

Except Kevin wrote himself a bigger part when the hero needed to use the phone. The more scenes where he shows up (or needs to be considered, even though he's off stage), the more I realize he doesn't like my hero much. Personally, I think at the bottom of it is that Kevin had his eye on their coworker. I may be wrong.

Nothing much may come of it. Or Kevin may get the hero into hot water at some point. Or he may deliver a timely bit of information about the true nature of the coworker (I'm not sure I trust her...). Thing is, at least I know why he's doing what he's doing, even when all he's got is a couple of lines.

Kevin thinks he's the star. He thinks he'll get the girl.

I think Helen Bonham would be proud...

Monday, July 9, 2007

Kacked Me'Self Laughin, Oy Did!

(Blatantly stolen, but Eddie Campbell saw it first...)

Letter from a kid from Eromanga to Mum and Dad. (Eromanga is a small town west of Quilpie in the far southwest of Queensland, Australia).

Dear Mum & Dad,

I am well. Hope youse are too. Tell me big brothers Doug and Phil that the Army is better than working on the farm - tell them to get in bloody quick smart before the jobs are all gone!

I wuz a bit slow in settling down at first, because ya don't hafta get outta bed until 6am. But I like sleeping in now, cuz all you gotta do before brekky is make ya bed and shine ya boots and clean ya uniform. No bloody cows to milk, no calves to feed, no feed to stack - nothin'!!
Blokes haz gotta shave though, but its not so bad, coz there's lotsa hot water and even a light to see what ya doing!

At brekky ya get cereal, fruit and eggs but there's no kangaroo steaks or possum stew like wot Mum makes. You don't get fed again until noon, and by that time all the city boys are buggered because we've been on a 'route march' - geez its only just like walking to the windmill in the back paddock!!

This one will kill me brothers Doug and Phil with laughter. I keep getting medals for shootin' - dunno why. The bullseye is as big as a bloody possum's bum and it don't move and its not firing back at ya like the Johnsons did when our big scrubber bull got into their prize cows before the Ekka last year!

All ya gotta do is make yourself comfortable and hit the target - it's a piece of piss!! You don't even load your own cartridges - they comes in little boxes and ya don't have to steady yourself against the rollbar of the roo shooting truck when you reload!

Sometimes ya gotta wrestle with the city boys and I gotta be real careful coz they break easy - it's not like fighting with Doug and Phil and Jack and Boori and Steve and Muzza all at once like we do at home after the muster.

Turns out I'm not a bad boxer either and it looks like I'm the best the platoon's got, and I've only been beaten by this one bloke from the Engineers - he's 6 foot 5 and 15 stone and three pick handles across the shoulders and as ya know I'm only 5 foot 7 and eight stone wringin' wet, but I fought him till the other blokes carried me off to the boozer.

I can't complain about the Army - tell the boys to get in quick before word gets around how bloody good it is.

Your loving daughter,


Sunday, July 8, 2007

Armed Conflict

I have a long and conflicted history with firearms. Mostly, I try not to think about it. Sometimes, it even works.

A while back, Barry Eisler did a couple of excellent posts on the sticky issue of guns in our societies. Barry is one scary-smart individual. No surprise his posts were so thought-provoking. I meant to blog a bit on the subject but never quite got around to it.

Then Marcus Sakey opened that can of worms again. Also a great post, by the way.

I totally agree with Marcus's thought. Holding a gun is cool. Firing it, even better. Problem comes from being at the other end of the barrel.

I was afraid a lot as a kid. We all were. It was like a mass mental illness, so many of us so isolated by our own fear of each other.

Growing up, the temptation to carry a gun was always there. Small calibre weapons with don't-ask histories were dirt cheap. And nobody much wanted to fuck with the kids who carried them.

But for me, back then, guns were a sucker bet. Carrying a gun meant arrest. It meant those gladiator schools they called juvenile halls, or worse. Using it might have led to the words 'tried as an adult.' I wasn't willing to gamble the possiblity of a future so that I could feel safe.

I was able to move to New Zealand because I had a college degree and no arrest record. Neither would've been the case if I'd taken up the gun then.

Later in life, as a tattooist, I found myself working around cash and lowlifes. Some nights, it was the law of the jungle in the studio. When I started carrying my .38, I quit having to throw people down flights of stairs. I was grateful for my gun, and I hated it, at the same time.

Sarah Paretsky, in her comment on Marcus's post, thought that carrying a gun might make people look for a chance to use it. I can only say that was never the case with me. I resented the way the gun took away the middle ground in a conflict. I couldn't risk a fistfight with a gun on my hip, couldn't risk anything that might lead to one. I was grateful for the trouble it kept me out of. I hated the fact that my only option was to kill.

One night a young girl, a street kid without much sense, tried to rob me at knifepoint. It was the first and only time I pointed my weapon at another human being. She left without my money, but I hated us both for creating that situation.

Now, I live in New Zealand. As Barry says about his time in Japan, there's no temptation to own or carry a gun here.

Nobody carries guns here, not even the cops. The higher class of criminal have them, of course, but pistols are like hens' teeth around here. With mandatory gun safes for firearm owners, there's no flood of illegal weapons from home burglaries. It feels safer.

The big question is, if I returned to the US, would I want to carry again?

That, I don't know...

Sunday, July 1, 2007

A Day for Quizzes

Computer Geek or Serial Killer

I got 9 out of 10. My aunt, a police captain, got 7... (yes, AJ, I am, in fact, gloating! *smile*)

Also, I seem to be Van Gogh...

What famous artist are you?

You're Van Gogh!! You're dreamy and disconnected at times, and you have a funny way of showing your love (*cough*chopping-off-ear*cough). Still, you know how to capture the world's lonesome beauty like no other. Your art is your life. Cheers!
Take this quiz!


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Who'd Thunk It?

Apparently, my blog is rated PG!

Online Dating

This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:
hell (2x) murder (1x)

Still shaking my head...