Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I'm stealing Laura Lippman's idea to boil my New Year's resolutions down to single words, then to run with those words, well, in your basic Full Throttle fashion.

This year they are two:

FRENCH: Gonna work on the language. (If I'm lucky, maybe the activity as well...) I'm a little tired of being the World's Most Half-Assed Polyglot.

SERINA: Before this time next year, I want the third part of the trilogy finished. I'm going out today (The 1st on my side of the dateline) to get a new sketchbook for it, and I'll start the final chapter from scratch.

There was a third last night, but damned if I can remember what it was. Probably something about living on the moon, or finding the Lost City of Gold.

Sweet, beautiful drunk talk...

How bout y'all?

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Gray Borderlands of Immortality

Bettie Page's death last week shook me. It also got me thinking.

Early exposure to Ms. Page had a profound effect on my art, my libido, and my career. It's not unfair to say that my visceral reaction to this young lady shaped my life.

But what, exactly, was doing the shaping? It strikes me that the Bettie Page we were all so sad to see go was, well, already gone.

Bettie was a pin-up model for seven years. In those few years (1950-57) she became one of the most photographed women in the world, and the better of those photos (she was often shot by rooms full of untalented amateurs more concerned with seeing her naked) were enough to make her an icon.

The Bettie we see is 27-34 years old, always. Forever. Years before I'll admit to being born, this woman who changed my life hung up her garter belts and went to work for the Rev. Billy Graham. That wee nymph up there frolicking in the surf was gone.

Except that she isn't. Bettie, *that* Bettie, is immortal. And ageless. Like thin Elvis, sober Marilyn or young Marlon Brando. Or old Leonardo daVinci. Or bearded Abe Lincoln. That part of her life has been frozen and cut away from the usual march from birth to death. I remember when the rumor was that she had already died, years ago in a mental hospital. (She was committed, but for 20 months only) Finding out she was alive and unaware of all the fuss gave me a warm fuzzy feeling, but really, deep down, it didn't matter.

Those pictures were what was important.

The real woman's gone now. The loss hurts for some reason, but I don't know why. I never knew her, might not have gotten along with her if I did. The thing that influenced my life (it's alive, it's powerful, but it isn't human-- I don't know what to call it) is still alive and well, possibly more powerful than ever, now that it is free of the troublesome human it was once chained to. I don't know.

I want to say this is a construct of our media. Young Johnny Cash, whacked out of his head on speed, sings Big River on my iPod several times a week. Rita Hayworth breaks my heart a little any time I care to fire up the DVD player. Somewhere in the world right now, Marilyn Monroe is having her skirts blown up by that same damned subway grate.

But our media is only our servant. We invent the damn stuff to make our campfire tales more efficient, to do the things to us that we've been doing in one form or another ever since we crawled out of the trees.

CĂșchulainn is forever raiding cattle, Herakles doing penance for one *nightmare* drinking binge, Gilgamesh wrestling that damned serpent. Somewhere in the world, right now, Achilles is dragging Hector around behind that same damned chariot. We won't let them die either, even after we've forgotten whether or not they ever existed...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mmmm, Turkey

In what is becoming something of a tradition, I present Steve's Third Annual How-Not-to-Write Revisit of the Turkey City Lexicon.

A few of the rules are specifically geared toward Science Fiction and Fantasy writers, but there's plenty there for all of us.

And as a bit of mashed potatoes and stuffing, or perhaps cranberries and pumpkin pie, here are a few more helpful tips on Bad Words, the Look of the Thing and the Heirarchy of Sloth...

And, for that cold leftover-turkey sandwich two hours after you were sure your stomach would explode but now you're hungry again, I give you some Scooby Don'ts.

Bon Appetit!

That's right, it's a clip show....

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Character and Stereotype

When I started doing comics, one of the hardest things for me to bend my head around was the necessity of stereotypes. But the sad truth is, they *are* necessary.

In real life, the deadly Mossad assassin probably looks like a plumber. The best martial artists are often either thick, rubbery and potbellied or downright emaciated. And your friendly neighborhood tattooist may be a fan of opera who speaks five languages.

Too bad. In the modern campfire tales we tell in print, a certain amount of stereotyping aids believability. If I bring Mossad assassins into a comics panel, they'd better look like Carrie Anne Moss in The Matrix or I'd better have a damn good reason. Same if my martial arts master doesn't carry at least a whiff of Bruce Lee or Jet Li, or better still, a frail little old man who just sort of smiles when threatened.

If I'm telling a drama, my hero needs to look heroic, or readers won't buy it. In comedy, I can send a Woody Allen lookalike charging through that door, but not drama.

Novels are not as bad as comics that way. Mostly because in prose the reader makes his own mental picture. The novelist does have more flexibility, but only some. We still don't want Jack Reacher short and tubby with a bald spot, Scarlett O'Hara with a lazy eye and halitosis, Conan with bad teeth or the creepy inbred inhabitants of Dunwhich to host an annual festival to boost tourism.

Stereotypes enable a quick scan. They're sensory filters, a part of our hunter/gatherer instincts, a general-classification thing that's hardwired into our brains. It was useful when our lives were all about edible/inedible, predator/prey, safety/danger. In the same way our ancient ancestors didn't carefully examine every single blackberry on each and every bush before eating, we modern types use that general-classification thing to navigate a bewildering variety of social encounters. Intimacy takes time, it takes interest, it requires the sort of deeper exchange that really pisses off everyone waiting behind you at the drive-thru window.

Same as intimacy takes time in real life, it takes time in a story. Same as it's not always appropriate in real life (they still won't let me back to that Burger King), it's not worth getting to know each and every character in your novel. So the big question, the one should be hanging in front of every writer's mind is, is it worth getting to know this character? How deeply?

Your first-person protagonist can be a tangled nest of contradictions. Most of us are. We understand this about ourselves, and we'll understand these contradictions in the person we spend 300 pages with. The supporting cast too. Less so, in the same way that we understand our friends. They don't tell us everything (any more than we share our every dark secret with them), but enough. The kid at the drive-thru? Probably best to let it go at a mention of his paper hat and his acne, if you need to mention him at all.

And that, really, is the heart of the matter. It's a choice, always a choice. And it's a choice that needs to be intelligently made. In Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino brilliantly shattered the hitman stereotype as Vince and Jules make small talk right up to 'We ought to have shotguns.' But just as brilliantly, he leaves Marsellus, Lance, Fabienne and The Wolf pretty much as we find them. Crime boss, dealer, girlfriend, fixer. Expanding them further would have killed the narrative flow.

Next post, I just may well argue the opposite position. You see, it too is true...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Boy, Interrupted

Eight days.

Eight days since I moved house. Or was it nine? Wilson knows, but he won't tell me. I don't know what I did, but he's giving me the silent treatment.

Eight days after I moved, they've finally connected my phone. A single-digit error in data entry, and I went eight days without a phone, without the net.

Right now I'm on dial-up. I *despise* dial-up. They tell me to get used to it. There seems to be a problem with the broadband.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go make a nice cup of tea while I wait for this thing to publish.

I'll probably also have time to mow the lawn.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Well, this year it happened again: the Great Pumpkin passed us over.

In years past, I understood. We lived down of a long drive at the end of a dead-end street. Not exactly a big area for foot traffic. This year, though, we were on a more-traveled street. I decorated the front of the house, and because New Zealand shops did not supply my needs this year, the decorations were handmade. Dammit, I was sincere.

Of course, it might have helped if my home were not quite so Dark & Forbidding. Good thing I'm moving on Wednesday!

Many people I know got trick or treaters. I have an enormous bowl full of candy.


Maybe that's not *all* bad, after all.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Halloween Gallery

So I still haven't done a piece of Halloween flash. Part of it is, I'm still recovering from finishing the last novel, and part of it is my usual trouble with short fiction.

Instead, I thought I'd contribute a few macabre paintings. I seem to paint instead of writing shorts...

I think the witch is my favorite. Or maybe the Pirate Girl in the swamp. Hm...

In case I don't post tomorrow, Happy Halloween y'all!!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

That All You Got, Pansies?

So I'm basically hammering away:

Yeah, I'm taking over the tattoo shop in a month.

And working a LOT of extra shifts to make it happen.

And finishing the new novel. Another week. Maybe two.

And moving house. (Did I not mention moving? Yeah, I'm moving in a couple weeks.)

And trying like hell to find a tattooist who won't flake out after one day.

You know what I need? What's been lacking? This weekend I found out:

Food Poisoning.

Maybe it was a stomach virus, I don't know. After a day and a half of vomiting, I didn't care.

One good thing about the experience, there was plenty of time to think. I figured out where BURIED was going wrong, unpicked the bad chapters and am once again going strong. Full throttle, as it were...

Also, it turns out, I'm less the Marv-type than Dwight. Probably on account of that time I faked my own death. Maybe it's a coincidence on account of the Dwight tattoo on my leg these last ten years. Who knows? My favorite thing is that I came in second for Lucielle! Which Sin City character are you?

At the moment, the Full Throttle Daily Wordcout-O-Meter stands at 63,000 words (since about 3,000 had to come out...)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Slow Moving, All Limbs Intact

Because everyone deserves to find that special someone...

Even if they're dead.

Disclaimer: ZombieHarmony is for zombies only. We advise signing up for ZombieHarmony only if you lack a pulse, have limited motor skills, or feel an intense desire to feast on human beings. We are not responsible for lost or ingested loved ones. If you go on a date with a zombie, we cannot be held liable for contributing to the apocalypse.

Please date responsibly: bring a baseball bat or crowbar.

Today I hit the Act II Climax right on time-- the Full Throttle Wordcount-O-Meter stands at 60,000 words!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Neither Rain nor Snow...

...nor Darkest Night, nor Wicked Hangover shall keep our writer from his designated words.

Or will they?

If this pic was a guy, he would *so* be me. Even my teeth hurt.

On Day 48, the Counter reads 52,000 words. Perhaps there will be more. Or maybe I will sleep some more....

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Second Act Insanity

Something I've noticed: the middle of every novel drives me insane.

Driving hard, never stopping, it's no wonder some of the more tender gears start to slip.

My first novel, large quantities of beer in the sun played a major part. At the time, I chalked up those crazy couple months to the effects of beer, and sun. My second, I got through that Scary, Saggy Middle in a deep and wistful melancholy. I blamed it on the winter, the poverty of those days, the cold and the lack of light.

Those novels seemed important at the time, but really, they were practice. By #3, when I gave away my car (in favor of my mountain bike) and reconnected with (and horribly, hopelessly alienated) several old friends from college now living Out East, I started to notice a pattern.

The recently finished #4 was one hell of a long hard slog. Long enough, and hard enough, that I went crazy twice: I found myself compelled to shave with straight razors, and later, to write with a dip pen.

Insane. Bloody insane.

So as I cruise past my Enormous and Stakes-Changing Center of my latest, I've kept a chary eye peeled. At 40,000 words, the worst I'd seen was that I reconnected with the Southern side of my heritage by making iced tea again: probably the first pitcher I've made in twelve or thirteen years. My cute wee Kiwi thinks the idea of cold tea is a crime against nature, but she eats whitebait.

I thought maybe this time, I had a pass.

No such luck. :-)

Turns out the owner of my tattoo shop is getting itchy feet. He's opening a new place across town, and I'm taking over the current place. So now my life is a flurry of equipment purchases, jewelry wholesalers, retail stock and the hiring and training of new staff. Exciting, yes. Exciting and something else.

Insane, that's the word. Bloody insane.

Day 43, the Full Throttle Daily Wordcount-O-Meter stands at 47,100.

Some things never change.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Big Rocks First

I could swear I saw this done in the 80's, but my Google-search seems to attribute this anecdote (mostly) to Stephen Covey. Either way, it's a good lesson.

In First Things First, Stephen Covey tells a story that one of his associates heard at a seminar. The seminar presenter pulled out a wide-mouth gallon jar and placed it next to a pile of fist-sized rocks. After filling the jar to the top with rocks, he asked, "Is the jar full?"

The group replied, "Yes."

He then got some gravel from under the table and added it to the jar. The speaker jiggled the jar until the gravel filled the spaces between the rocks. Again, he asked, "Is the jar full?"

This time, the group replied, "Probably not."

The speaker then added some sand and asked, "Is the jar full?"

"No!" shouted the group.

Finally, the speaker filled the jar to the brim with water and asked the group the point of this illustration.

Someone replied that you could always fit more things into your life if "you really work at it."

"No," countered the speaker. The point is, if you don't put the big rocks in first, " . . . would you ever have gotten any of them in?"

As you start the new year, think of the "big rocks" in your life as the things you can do to make this a healthier and happier year for yourself and others. When making decisions during the moments, days and months of the year ahead, ask: "Is this a big rock?"

Say "yes" to your "big rocks" first. Don't feel you need to explain each "no" when the smaller gravel and sand try to fill your time. "No" can be a complete sentence!

I get a fair amount done every week. And that includes a fair amount of that slack, do-nothing, hang-out-together time that the Dynamo and I enjoy together. I don't tightly schedule *anything*, but I do keep my Big Rocks few, and make them my priority.

1000 words a day on the novel.

Say something sweet to, do something sweet for and generally enjoy the Tiny Dynamo.

Read an hour or two a night.

Work enough to keep the doors open.

That's it, really. Just those few things. The smaller stuff, the gravel, fits in easy enough: surfing the net, painting for fun, writing the odd blog post, drinks with friends, etc. Like sand and water, the *really* small stuff has to fit in where it can. I don't sweat it.

I know some of you are thinking about your bigger job commitements, the time that children eat up, that sort of thing. Cool. Those are your Big Rocks, and they do deserve your time. And if your job is a Bigger Rock for you than your writing, expect the appropriate results.
You'll need to go slower, or to push some sand out of the way.

Right now, CS Harris is writing despite some serious, and unavoidable, upheavals. I have faith in her. After all, this is the same woman who wrote Why Mermaids Sing in the middle of Katrina. Now me, I tend to think, "Oh no, XYZ popped up and I won't get what I need to done." Then I think of Candy and feel inspired. I drop some other, smaller rock and get back to work.

I'll offer three important tips:

1. Get the must-do stuff done first. Little fires ignite all day long. If nothing else, they're going to take some energy to put out. It's easy to end up too tired at day's end to do your best. Some folks are exceptions to this, your mileage may vary.

2. Clarity. Be clear and honest with yourself about the size of those Big Rocks. Sometimes, the answers may be a little painful, but in my book a little pain's better than decades of lingering hollow misery and nagging doubt caused by living an untrue life.

3. Focus. The fewer Big Rocks you have, the easier it is to focus on them. A person with only ONE priority in life is (yes, likely to appear slightly deranged, but also) virtually unstoppable. A person with five #1 issues is a fool.

As always, take what you like and leave the rest.

And let's see, on Day... hm, Day 38 (had to take off my shoes to count that one), the Full Throttle Daily Wordcount-O-Meter stands at 40,900 words. And I'm one scene away from my Great Big Tentpole Plot Development. Fun!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Sudden Sense of Reversal

Avery asked about my cryptic little plot drawing posted earlier. Now, it's probably because of the art-thing that I relate to my plot as a graph, but the principle behind that drawing is fundamental to all dramatic narrative. I'm talking about sudden reversal.

Basically, each act in your story should end with a sudden and dramatic reversal of situation. With that drawing, I was charting my big reversals at the act climaxes. Because that's the heart of the Act: a sudden and major flip in the plot. Boy meets Girl. (yay!) Boy loses Girl. (no!) Boy gets Girl back! (YAY!) Old as the hills and just as solid.

And it's not just the Acts. Every scene will be about a reversal in some element of your plot. Every. Scene. (That's not counting Sequels, mind.)

(I've just sat here for half an hour trying to use my own WiP to show what I'm talking about, without much success. I'm too deep into it right now, so I'm going to look elsewhere for examples)

In the typical hardboiled detective story, the private eye is warned off the case (they're scared, high value) in the middle of the first Act, has the crap beaten out of him at the Act Climax, digs deeper and muddles around until the Act II climax sees him close in on the truth, usually resulting in the prospect of his emminent death.

In Silence of the Lambs, Clarice's conscious desire is to get Hannibal Lecter's help in stopping Buffalo Bill. Her unconscious, deeper, more powerful drive is for advancement.

The opening shots show her straining and struggling through a cadet obstacle course - a *very* low value for advancement. Then she gets her shot with the introduction of her conscious desire: get Lecter on board, it'll look good on your record. She enters the prison with her good bag and cheap shoes and freshly-laminated ID - her pride at this big step like a halo around her. By the end of that scene, she's been refused and mocked by Lecter and had a psycopath splatter her with semen - a distinct reversal.

But in the seeds of that humiliation lie the next reversal: Lecter dangles a clue that leads to a severed head in a storage locker. Clarice looks good again.

And so it goes. Up and down, up and down, a little bit up and a LOT further down, until her conscious desire is blown out of the water in the Act II Climax (Lecter sure as shit ain't gonna help once he's escaped!) and she's left back at the Academy with nothing.

Until she finds the notes written on the map...

As an aside, had it ever occured to you that saving the victim is in fact a subplot? Catherine isn't taken until the end of Act I, and much as Clarice may have a deep-seated childhood desire to save one lamb from screaming (hence her career choice), she doesn't seem to hold out much hope. If anything, she seems to share Crawford's opportunistic view that saving a Senator's daughter isn't the worst thing that could happen. They care about the girl, but they care about their careers too...

But I digress.

My point is, every scene you write, it should involve your conflicts headed up a little, or down a lot. Until things seem hopeless, and your hero or heroine has to dig deep to solve the problem.

You just gotta keep flipping the script!

Full Throttle Daily Wordcout-O-Meter stands at 32,100 words. I think, *think* mind you, I may who the killer is...

Saturday, September 6, 2008

A Little Housekeeping

It occurred to me that many of my favorite blogs weren't listed on my sidebar. Dear friends, I've tried to correct this, but if I've left you out, please let me know, either in the comments or shoot me an email.

Also, I have now got my act together at least as far as joining Facebook goes. If you'd like to be my friend or just book my face, please feel free.

Today I'm back to the tattoos, but tomorrow there will will be a proper post.

The Full Throttle Daily Wordcount-O-Meter stands at... 31,000 words.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

by Percy Shelly

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

A confluence of events:

The third anniversary of Katrina.

My own halting efforts to finish the Serina trilogy are resumed.

A hurricane once again threatens New Orleans.

Any of these would be enough to get me thinking. All of them force me to acknowledge that while a city of New Orleans still stands, and will stand (and will rebuild again if necessary-- we're a damned stubborn species, and I love us for it), but that the city I loved, home for a powerful and seminal period of my personal history, is gone.

Likely, that particular city was gone before the storm. Much of the Minnesota I knew vanished under bulldozers, name changes and the cupidity of minor officials. Things change, life moves on.

I've lived in constant motion for a long time now. Full throttle, as it were. And I've had to accept the places and people I've loved being lost behind me. Fuck it.

My generation may well live to 120. Some of the more optimistic gerontologists put our life expectancy at 300 years or more.

It occurs to me that I will live to see a great deal more vanish beneath waves and sand.

Next post, I'll write about writing again. And of course, the work continues.

On Day 24 the trusty Wordcount-O-Meter stands at 25,200 words.
Full throttle and... you know the rest.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Saggy Middles

As the ab-tastic Olympics wind down and one's WiP races to its Act I climax, a young man's thoughts turn naturally to the Great Saggy Middle.

You've got a great idea. You've got a slam-bang opening, and a slam-bang way to end your story. But somewhere between the first 50 pages and the last 50 pages, writers have a tendency to get lost. Plotting can get heavy and bog down. Characters get lost and wander aimlessly. That slam-bang finish might lay somewhere on the far side of this swamp, but will the story ever get there?

I think in part, the Great Saggy Middle is a difficulty with infatuation. A lot of folks think they have a book in them (usually way too autobiographical and way too derivative of their influences, but that's another story) and sit down one quiet night to FINALLY WRITE. They start in a big rush of emotion and excitement, because the start of a new book is emotional. And it's exciting.

More accurately, it's infatuating. And infatuation wears off. For most, that means a 50 or 100 page fragment in a drawer somewhere, never to be spoken of again. For those of us with more stubborn than sense, it means 'holding on when there is nothing in you, except the Will which says... "Hold on.!"'

It means we have to get through the Big Middle.

To that end, here are a few tricks I've cribbed from books and movies. As always here at Full Throttle Productions, take what you like and leave the rest...

1) Subplot Climax: To help cover that wide stretch between Act I and Act II, bring one or more subplots to a climax. The resolution of the Daniel Cleaver subplot in Bridget Jones is a good example, as is Jim Carrey's realization that he's a bad father in Liar Liar. Or Darth Vader putting a swift end to Han and Leiah's plans in Empire.

2) Tentpole Action: Putting a big, vivid, splashy bit of action or sex or excitement in the middle can provide a useful distraction. James Lee Burke often throws a colorful psycho or two at Dave Robicheaux right around the middle of the book, and many a pulp writer found a good reason for a fistfight to smooth the way through. The bar Shaft is in gets machine-gunned in the original (and still the baddest) version. The protagonist in High Fidelity has a sexual encounter that keeps his journey back through his exes from turning tedious, and in Ilsa leaves Rick as the Nazis conquer Paris in Casablanca.

(For those of you with more lowbrow tastes, y'ever notice the standard gratuitous sex scene happens just about halfway through every cheap 80's action movie? Just sayin'.)

Sometimes, these big splashes can form a mini-story of their own, complete with setup, complication, climax and denoument. Casablanca's a good example, as the trash-compactor scene in Star Wars.

3) Local Color: A variation on using action to distract, but with a vivid personality instead. Just trot somebody exciting or fun on stage, maybe have a joke or fun story.

My all-time favorite example of this is Mike Yanagita in FARGO. The guy's weird, random, funny, sad and creepy all at once. He practially steals the show, and he definitely distracts from the fact that Marge really doesn't do much in her time in the Twin Citites.

4) Multi-Act: Instead of trying to successfully navigate across three acts, your story may be better told in four, five, six or more acts. There are two ways to do this:

Set up a mess of subplots and set about resolving them. Quentin Tarentino does this in Kill Bill, as the Bride works her way down her laundry list of funeral-candidates. (Pulp Fiction *sort of* does this too, with seperate vignettes jumping back and forth in time, each supporting a theme of second chances, but Tarantino likes to get complicated with structure.) Four Weddings and a Funeral has five sets of relationships to resolve on its way to hooking up the sixth.

One goal, many discrete obstacles. In The Quick Red Fox, Travis Mcgee pursues his quest through something like five acts, each as important as the last. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy does much the same thing. In pre-Daniel Craig days, the silver-screen James Bond often chased his villains all over the show.

In fact, the multi-act structure seems to work well with pursuit/quest stories. Anybody care to count the acts in Lord of the Rings?

For that matter, Shakespeare liked a five-act structure, too. His way of keeping the story from developing a Great Saggy Middle was to keep reversing the main plot. (Those kids won't get together. Wait, they might. No, they won't! Yes, they WILL! Oh wait, they're both dead.)

Anybody think of any I've missed?

And let's see... we're here at Day 16 of BURIED, and the Full-Throttle Daily-Wordcount-o-Meter stands at 17,100 words. This pleases me.