Friday, February 25, 2011

Someone a Lot Smarter than Me (4)

Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it — whole-heartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings. —

Arthur Quiller Couch, On the Art of Writing, 1916

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sheer Freakin' Genius!

My friend Keith Thomson has a new book coming out, and one of the promotional ideas he's come up with is – if you'll pardon my saying this – sheer freakin' genius.

Keith is the author of The Pirates of Pensacola, which is how we first met (although we've never actually been in the same state at the same time.) It is the funniest novel I've ever read, and I said so in a couple of reviews – one in The Poopdeck and one in The Oregonian.

His new book comes out March 8. It's called Twice a Spy, a sequel to his, Once a Spy, which came out last year, a comedy/adventure about a guy who has always been sort of a loser until he discovers his father, now suffering from Alzheimer's, is a retired spy who is now a target for elimination. Dad occasionally flashes into James Bond mode to get them out of increasingly convoluted perils.

The fact that there's a sequel kind of gives away at least part of the ending of the first book, I suppose, but it's a good read and I can't wait to get the new book and see where the adventure takes them.

But that's not the genius part. The book comes out officially on March 8, and Keith will be off on a 10-city book tour (the lucky bastard.) But that's not the genius part either.

Twice a Spy is available for order now, in hardcover and e-book. If you order it from Alabama Booksmith, you can get a signed copy with whatever inscription you want, including a drawing (here it comes) in visible or invisible ink or both.

THAT'S the genius part. A spy book signed in invisible ink, viewable with ultraviolet light? How cool is that? And how perfect? How else would a spy book be signed? Almost makes me wish I wrote in a different genre.

You can link to Keith's Web site here, and to his book tour schedule here. And to order a copy of Twice a Spy signed in invisible ink, you can go here.

And if you can find a copy of Pirates of Pensacola, buy it. Still the funniest novel I've ever read.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Window Gazing Is Hard Work

It's one of my favorite quotes about writing, and I can't remember who said it.

The hardest thing about being a writer is convincing people you're working when you're staring out the window.

Who said that?

It's true. In a way, you're always working, there's never down time. If you're not actually pounding at the keyboard or scribbling on that yellow legal pad – or writing on scented pink notepaper with a quill dipped in purple ink, I've seen several books that must have been written that way – you're thinking about it. It's not always right there at the front of your mind, but it's there, percolating.

And sometimes an idea, a solution, a clever bit of dialogue or the key to fixing something that's been bothering you seems to spring from nowhere when you least expect it, but the truth is you've been nagging at it in the back of your mind all day or all week.

And even if you're not thinking about a project, you're out there in life, and a writer has to be watching, observing, learning about people and thus learning about the kinds of details that turn characters into people. How someone behaves in a bank line or what dialogue sounds like when it's a real conversation or how it feels to repair a chain link fence when you're not mechanically inclined. It's all grist for the mill, and if you watch life closely enough, you'll learn things you can use. You'll also learn exactly what "grist for the mill" means, but if you're trying to write a kids book you won't ever use the phrase, because they'll never get it. Kids today!

So in a sense, you're always working, all the time, even if you're not technically writing at the moment. You're working when you're staring out the window, or driving across island, or washing dishes. I do a lot of work while doing dishes. Almost anything you do in daily life is part of the writing process, or can be, and so you're always on, all the time. You never really clock out, you're always working.

In which case, I'm not getting paid nearly enough.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Good One I Just Read

Went to the beach yesterday with a hardback. That's unusual. Paperbacks are better for beach reading. But I'd just started this book and didn't want to put it down. Frankly, I didn't want to put it down long enough for the three-minute drive to the beach, but you have to make some sacrifices, don't you?

The book is Neal Gaiman's The Books of Magic. It's what is today called a graphic novel, although when I was a kid back in the Triassic Era we weren't embarrassed to call them comic books.

But it was magic, a really amazing mixture of Gaiman's words and the art of four great illustrators, originally done as four-book mini-series for DC Comics, since gathered in a single-volume hardcover.

It's impossible for me to give away the story since I barely understood it myself, which is sort of the point, I think. It' about 12-year-old boy Timothy Hunter, a normal, skateboarding kid who happens to have the potential to be the greatest magician of his age. Four spectral figures (all DC characters) take him on a guided tour of the past, present and possible future in which magic (specifically the characters from DC's "magic universe" stable) figures prominently.

Despite being a paean to DC, the story and visuals draw as much from classical mythology, everything from the Egyptian Book of the Dead to C.S. Lewis and T.H. White, with plenty of room for Joseph Campbell to stretch out and throw his elbows around. Like I said, I didn't understand much of it, I'm not a fantasy or a graphic novel kind of guy. But Timothy didn't understand a lot of it either. He says several times in the story, in effect, "That was cool. I'm not sure I know what it means, but it was cool." The very same thing I said several times. That's not the point. The point was exposing him to it, so that he could decide whether he wanted to become part of that realm.

The key was probably this line: Where magic is concerned there is always an initial decision, an initial willingness to let it enter your life. If that is not there, then neither is magic.

Anyway, it was a fascinating read, an invitation by one of the best storytellers of the age (I would say the best, but who am I kidding? I haven't read everybody. Yet.) to enter his own magical world.

Anyway, stayed at the beach until I was finished. Which of course is why I'm ever-so-slightly sunburned today. I had planted my chair in the shade, but that darn sun kept moving!

Reading it at the beach had an extra advantage. The illustrations are really amazing, and taking the book to the beach made them even more so. Under the direct sunlight, they sparkled. I mean that literally. Something about the way the ink was laid on the page, in direct sunlight they actually sparkled, and holding the book close to my eyes I could actually see the light bouncing around the page.

Probably magic.


(BTW – Speaking of that non-existent list of my five favorite books, Good Omens by Gaiman and Terry Pratchett would definitely be on it.)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

An Inspiration

Steve Swinburne is enthusiastic. You get the feeling that if he were a truck driver, he'd be enthusiastically swooping down America's highways, laughing and singing and blowing his air horn every time a kid in a passing car pumped his fist. But he's not a trucker. He's a writer, and the St. Croix Reading Council brought him to the island as a visiting writer, going to elementary classrooms to inspire young writers and to share tips, tricks and techniques of his craft.

Friday he was at the Good Hope School, working with the third, fourth and fifth graders. I covered his visit for the Source. I'm particularly pleased with how the story came out and hope you can take a minute or two to check it out.

When you're writing about a writer, it's always a little daunting. You know he'll probably see the story and don't want him to purse his lips and think, "Well, that's kind of drab." And you sure as hell don't want it to be riddled with typos, cliches and bad writing. You're inspired, actually, to put a little extra effort into it.

Since the subject is writing, you want to find a way to show what he was talking about – illustrate the idea that writers make choices with their words. Mark Twain said something about the difference between the right word and the almost right word was like the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

So I tried to use that in the story, show something about my own word choices. It brought a smile to Tori's face, I'll tell you that. And that's always important to me.

Anyway, if you have a couple of extra minutes, I hope you'll have time to take a look.

And you can learn a lot more about Steve Swinburne here.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Progress Report

Wrote 1,400 words yesterday, and that was in and among taking Millie to work and stopping at the grocery store, and reading the chapter to the kids (went MUCH better than the last time) and stopping at the Post Office – you know, all the little things called "life."

Today won't be as productive on Bones because in just a few minutes I have to run out and cover a story for the Source, but it'll be a good one. A visiting writer – Steve Swinburne – will be giving a presentation to the kids at Good Hope School, then doing workshops with the different classes, including Tori's fifth graders. That'll be two birds with one stone – an assignment, plus something I can write up or at least link to here.

And the 1,400 words I got done yesterday seem to be moving in the right direction now. Didn't get much written on it for the week, but I'm feeling the confidence I usually express. I'm odd that way, I guess. I'm a pretty positive person, I was raised that way, and believe things will work out over the long haul, with hard work and perseverance. But day to day sometimes you get lost in the minutiae and start worrying about the little stuff. Keep yur eye on the big picture. The only way through it is to push ahead.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Breakthrough - I Hope

Been doing more "thinkng about writing" than writing the last couple of days. But hey, that's all part of the job. I've also been reading a great deal over the last week, mostly other YA books.

I'm not here to defend my indolence. The point is, I think I figured it out. How to make The Bones in the Closet work. I have too many characters and a little too much story the way I've been going. But by changing the point of view from omniscient third person I think I can make it work. Two of the books I read in the last couple of days use the same device, alternating POV from chapter to chapter, from one character to the next. One book did it very well, the other did it pretty poorly, but that just shows me how to make it work, and convinces me that I've got it figured.

So that's where I'll take off. I'll start working that way immediately, finishing the first draft. Then when I go back to do the second draft, at least that part of the work is half done. Can't wait to get started now.

The book that does it well, by the way, is Charles de Lint's The Blue Girl. I won't mention the other by name, because I dislike being negative about someone else's work. I know how hard it is to write a novel, so I honor the effort, even if I don't like the result. Doesn't matter anyway. The bad one has probably already sold a million copies and will sell many, many more and probably will be a major motion picture coming soon to a theater near you. Anything I say won't stop it. But still, I have principles.

Speaking of bad writing, someone left a book around the house that I picked up yesterday. It was a huge hit - HUGE – when it came out in the late '70s and is still selling very well. The copy I have looks brand new. The story isn't terrible. If you like action-adventure you may well have read it. But every character is such a stereotype, even the names are stereotypes, and the dialogue is so routinely bad, total cliche, that I actually have been laughing out loud. No one and I mean no one ever spoke like this outside the pages of a pulp fiction.

But the guy's name is famous as an author of this genre. He's an institution.

And he sucks.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The List

I have put a lot on my plate, partly in an attempt to be organized and partly because I am not organized at all. But between the projects I'm working on and the projects I'm planning (is that too strong a word? Planning? Or is it more wishful thinking?) I've got a lot of writing to do.

Are other writers like that? If any writers are actually reading this, I'd sure like to know. Maybe I'm nuts. But I did read recently about a best-selling author who constantly has 20 or 30 projects going at a time – each morning he chooses what to work on based on what he feels like working on. I don't recall his name but I recognized it at the time. Not King or Tom Clancy, but someone who doesn't have to worry about his schedule because everything he writes sells. Which hardly seems fair.

It's like that with me, although of course I don't have the luxury of knowing if anything I write will sell, which adds a dash of desperation to the whole enterprise. I try to keep focused on one thing at a time, but I still have plenty of live projects and even more waiting in the wings.

Here's what it looks like:

The Bones in the Closet. The YA novel that's currently at the top of the list of "things to work on today."
The Wreck of the Gladys B. The last YA novel I wrote, that's still without an agent. Spend a little time each week on queries. I'll talk about that another time.
True Wench. This is actually Tori's project. She wrote it several years ago for a publisher who sought her out. Then he got caught in some other company's bankruptcy and the book never happened. So we've got this manuscript that needs a publisher, and I'm working on that.
Chance. This was the first YA novel I wrote, and I really like it. It took a year to write, then my agent spent two and a half years not selling it. It had a couple of close calls, made it to the final meeting at one very big publisher, then got rejected for reasons I was never told. (I've always suspected it was because it had no teenage vampire love story. Just pirates.) No one said anything bad about it, at least not to me. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, but no one wanted to publish it.
The Kate Project. My daughter Kate and I started something a year ago based on her world of manga and anime and various other Japanese words I don't know. It got put aside for more pressing work, but I really want to get back to it. We came up with some characters we really like, great characters, but realized we still had no story for them. So we gave them a rest, and we're going to try again soon. Because I've got a good feeling about it.
The Curacao Caper. With Mark, this is the fifth of our Festering Boil Caper books. We've been working on this more than two years now, and we're close to done. But I think it may have sapped Mark's will to write. It just hasn't been fun like the others were. We sell them POD on, and this will join them. It's been beer money, nothing more.
The Next One. That's what I'll call it for now, the next YA novel I'll write, back to my pirate roots. It snuck up on me – I actually saw the cover in my mind before I realized it was my next novel. It's been hard not to jump in and start working on it. Is that how it is with most writers? Somewhere in the middle, the current project starts to seem like work and the next one glitters in the mind like an exciting new present to yourself, fresh and full of promise. Every time I have a few thoughts about it I jot them down so I don't forget anything. It's got this great scene near the end when the grandfather squares his shoulders and ... but that would be telling. No writing The Next One until I finish This One – which is Bones.
The New Next One – This is the one where the character appeared full born in my head. Every time I think about him I learn something new. As soon as I finish the first draft of Bones I'm going to pound this out in an impossibly short time – 30 days. It'll be a good exercise, if nothing else.

And I've got notes and ideas for at least three other novels, queued up and waiting their turn. And there's always the possibility of sequels to both Chance and Gladys, if they ever sell. Not much point to a sequel to something no one's ever read. Then there's the movie treatment I wrote that I have to decide if I want to write the script of.

It's not like I don't love the book I'm working on now, although anyone reading along knows I'm kinda hung up on it. It's like your kids. You always love 'em, but sometimes they make you want to scream.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Someone a Lot Smarter Than Me (3)

"You don't start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it's good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That's why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence." Octavia Butler

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Story You Are About to Read is True-ish

The story you are about to read is true-ish, as true as memory allows. Most of the names and location and what we were eating, etc. have been obscured to protect me from any potential wrath or prevent the embarassment of anyone involved.

We were at a restaurant in a big city some time ago. Cap'n Slappy and I had managed to wrangle a dinner with some people in the book biz. There were at the table another writer, two agents, and an editor from a major publishing house.

The event was a writing conference that all of the above were attending. Not Slappy and me. We were just there for dinner and talk.

You know about writing conferences. Every years tens of thousands of hopeful writers, maybe more, show up at these things and pay a fee to spend two or three days at workshops, readings and – this is the big draw – getting a pitch session with a real live agent or editor.

We're all like that, we writers, desperate to get in the door, convinced that our work is good enough that the cost of the conference is a splendid investment. All it takes is one, we tell ourselves, one person on the inside who recognizes how good our writing is, or at least how marketable. We'll get that first contract and be on our way.

That's what we tell ouselves.

Seated with Slappy and I that night were:

Agent A – a real alpha male. Smart and quick and self-assured, always leading every conversation.

Agent B - A quiet young woman, but smart. She didn't say much, but oh lord, you could just tell how smart she was, easily the smartest person at the table, maybe the smartest person in the city.

Editor - Bright, funny, very positive. Almost scary in how positive she can be.

The Writer – Didn't say anything memorable, does not appear further in this story.

Mark and I mostly listened. The agents and editor had been two days at this conference with one more day to go. They had seen scores of hopefuls each pitching their stuff. That's why they were there. I was struck by the fact that several hundred people at the hotel down the street had paid hundreds of dollars for the chance to spend 20 minutes with some of these people. Mark and I were having dinner with them. Sometimes life is good.

The three were telling stories, very funny stories, about the people they'd met during the pitch sessions over the years. It was a "can you top this" of weird meetings. Things such as:

– The poet who saved scraps from road killed wildlife he found along the highways as a tribute to their fallen spirits. He offered Agent B a bag of feathers, fur and a few bones, telling her to pick one in thanks for her time. She gingerly took a feather. After he left she washed her hands over and over and over.

– The guy who had been the most successful car thief in the history of some backwoods area until he'd finally been caught. He was out of prison now, and writing. But not about his career as a criminal. According to Agent A, the big, burly former car thief had leaned over the table dividing them and confided, "I know who killed my mother."

– Another poet who was also a hypnotist and had filled his writing with keywords that would break down the inhibitions of women it was read to. "Great," Agent B thought, "Date-rape poetry." He was looking for a legal opinion on whether there was any liability that might come back to haunt him if someone used his poetry for nefarious ends. Like getting laid. She replied that she had no idea, but if he had to ask that ought to tell him something. He read a passage, and Agent B admitted she got slightly flushed.

And lots more stuff, almost all very funny. People who got abusive when told their material wasn't good enough. Or who laughed. Or who cried. Or who behaved in, shall we say, unusual ways.

But I wasn't hearing any stories of success. Not a single, "I think I just signed my next best-selling author" or even, "I heard a couple of people I might want to represent." And these were three people who had been going to three or four conferences a year for years. Granted, their expenses were paid so they weren't on their own dime. But still, that's a huge time commitment if all it turns into is an exercise in weirdness

So I asked. "Have you ever found anyone who made it worth coming all this way and spending all this time, any writer you ended up signing, anyone who was ever successful?"

There was silence. Then the Editor, who had been to about a dozen, said, "Yes. Two. No, three, but one of them ended up signing with someone else."

For her, those two successes outweighed the enormous number of writers whose material just didn't measure up or who were weird or clueless or potentially psychotic, people who want to be published but just aren't good enough yet. The chance that somewhere out there, unheard and unrepresented, was someone who had a distinctive voice and a story that needed telling, made it all worthwhile.

My point, I guess, is that you should be very, very sure of the quality of your work before shelling out the several hundred dollars to attend one of these conferences, and when you get your chance to meet with a real live editor or agent, be ready to hear an honest, maybe even a brutal, critique. And don't be weird.

And before writing the check, ask yourself – Do I really want to take the chance of becoming someone's funny story the next time agents and editors get together? Do I want to risk being a punchline?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The New Kid in My Head

A character came up to me Saturday and introduced himself.

That's how characters are sometimes. You're writing along and suddenly a character will do something you had no intention of them doing, had never thought about. But you realize that's exactly what the character would really do, based on how you've written him or her. And if you're being honest in your writing you let the character do that even if it conflicts with the plot you had in mind. If you force the characters into actions that conflict with the kind of person you've created just to fit the constraints of the preconceived plot, it won't work. We've all read books like that, where the characters were cutouts moving mindlessly in response to the writer's plot devices. They're always disappointing.

Usually you think you know how the story's gonna go, and usually you're right. You are the author, after all. But sometimes it's a complete surprise. And as a writer, when the characters jump up and surprise you, that's when you know it's working. Go with it. Its actually very exhilarating.

I think of my plots as a road map. If I'm going to drive from Los Angeles to Tampa, I want to have a general idea of the roads and directions. But don't become a slave to the map. If the characters decide to take the scenic route or detour through Indiana, you've got to be willing to go there with them. And if you've created characters that become real, that are reacting plausibly to the situations you create for them, you have to be willing to listen when they say, "Nope, not going to Tampa. We're heading for Vermont." You might decide to still go to Tampa but you've got to listen to what the characters are telling you about your story. Sure, you thought it up, but they're living in it.

Well, the problem with this character that showed up Saturday is I've never met him, he's not in the current story or the next one I've already got some notes on. He's in a completely different story. Yet there he was, suddenly in my head. I could seem him clearly, 11 years old, a little on the short side, average build, with short, curly brown hair, glasses, and a cocky grin that's almost a permanent fixture on his face. And I knew his story. His name told me his whole story.

This kid is pretty insistent. I don't want to tell his name yet, want to let it stew a bit. But he won't go away. I talked to Tori about him and she had a great idea.

I'm going to finish the first draft of Bones, that oughta take another month, six weeks. Then I'll put it aside, give it room to breathe before I start the rewrite. In the meantime, I'll work on this kid's story. And I'm going to write it in one month. 30 days. See if the self-imposed deadline forces me to open up. I have a tendency to overwrite the first draft. I'm gonna see if I can just pound this one out, lean and sharp.

If nothing else, it will be an interesting challenge. And if it takes 37 days instead of 30, no big deal. It's not a contest, just an idea for a book.

But that's enough for now. Got to get back to The Bones in the Closet. I sound like I have the attention span of a hummingbird, but in fact I'm trying to be disciplined here.

I just need that kid to shut up and go away for a little while. He's really pushy.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Perfect Opening

Tori and I had to take a long drive (well, long for this island) and as we did we were talking, first about Bones and where I need to go with it, then generally about YA fiction.

I was complaining – you might even say whining – that editors and agents seem to want action out the wazoo, right from the start. They don't appear to want you to take time developing a character, I complained, no matter what the story is actually about. She agreed, and also pointed out that they want them to have magic or the supernatural, regardless of the story. Nothing gets a YA book published like a witch or monster.

But if that's how it is and if you want to get published, you have to take that into consideration, she said, practically. She asked me to come up with an opening that would meet both rules. Easy, I said. The first sentence is:

"Pirates!" shouted the vampire!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Someone a Lot Smarter than Me (2)

Words to write by, as wrtten by someone a lot smarter than me. (Or if you prefer, "a lot smarter than I am." But I don't prefer it. Sounds all wrong.)

If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word. – Margaret Atwood


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Hey, chaos works for me

I work best with the TV on.

I know that's weird, possibly even illegal. But it's true.

Everyone tells you to avoid distractions while you're writing, to make your desk area or office or wherever you work a haven, a little island of solitude where you can commune with your muse. That doesn't work for me. My muse apparently has different tastes.

I worked more than 30 years in a newsroom. Those are not quiet places. No private space, no privacy, no walls or cubicles or anything. There's always a dozen people, typing away, talking on the phone, having conversations from across the room or while standing at your elbow. You've got a deadline, usually in 27 minutes, so you learn to focus like a very tight beam and get done whatever it is that has to get done while bedlam reigns all around you.

About 10 years ago I left the newsroom and got a university job as a "science writer" for an on-campus agency. I had my own office. Even without a window and with an ancient desk that came out of the university's storage, it was the Taj Mahal to me.

And I found it really hard to work the two years I was there. Especially in the afternoon. By about 2 p.m. I'd be doing the nod-off/head jerk, where you tilt back in your chair, then suddenly snap forward with a lurch as you find yourself fading out. Or you find yourself with your head stuck to the desk by the little dried pool of drool where you fell asleep. I wasn't used to solitude. By that time I'd been in newsrooms for 20 years. Silence wasn't good for me. I thrived on the energy of those around me, sucked it up and used it to get my work done. Even leaving the door open (my own office door – what a luxury!) didn't help, because – academia, you know – it was always hushed, with people walking quietly and talking in low, serious tones. And it didn't help that my boss was always talking about projects that I might want to plan on by next summer or the next fiscal year, something like that. I was used to being told to get on it and get it done by tomorrow. A week from now was a long-range plan and next summer was impossible to think about.

It wasn't a good fit.

So now I'm technically a freelancer, a private contractor who works for the Source. We have no office. We're spread out over three islands. I do 99 percent of my work, both the reporting and the novel writing, at the dining room table, about halfway between the television (16 paces away) and the kitchen, and it's all open space and hard surfaces (tile and plaster) between the two. If you know my family you know it's never quiet. Between the discussions and the television and Max practicing his clarinet or his electric guitar and someone in the kitchen "rattlin' those pots and pans," there's enough chaos and confusion that I can really focus on what I'm working on. I know it's odd, it's just the way I've been conditioned. Chaos is the signal to my brain to get writing, and quiet is nap time.

And in the mornings, with Max and Tori at school and Kate and Millie not up, when I'm usually doing my novel writing, I compensate by turning on the TV, usually on one of those "true crime" channels, where the voice of the narrator sort of simulates the drone of a conversation going on that my brain has to filter out to get the day's work done.

It's weird. but it works for me. What works for you, what kind of conditions do you need to write?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Fight on

Wow, that didn't go well.

The kids were polite. Not enthusiastic, not excited. Polite. Tori said, "That was the quietest they've been all day. You really had their attention." No, I had bored them. I'm sure of it.

In fact, even Tori admitted she hadn't heard the end. She was grading some papers at her desk. Wow. If I can't even hold her ...

Well, that's that. Gotta slay some dragons – lots and lots of dragons – in the next chapter.

And I'm gonna stop writing here about Bones except for the updates, because if anyone actually reads this, they'll think I suck so bad as a writer that even I know I suck. Maybe I'm kidding myself, but it seems like I didn't struggle half so much with Chance and Gladys. And they both turned out really well, efforts I'm really proud of.

With Bones, all I can do is plunge ahead, find my way out of the soup and finish the first draft – with some dead dragons on the way. Then find the story and make it sing in the rewrite. You might say I'm bowed and bloody, but unbeaten. I will make Bones a terrific story.

But boy, that silence was as quiet as any silence I've ever heard.

Schedule really sucks today, don't think I'll have any time to write at all what with the errand for Alex and the meeting about lionfish for the Source. We'll just have to see.


(Note Updated because I saw all the damn typos.)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Killing a Dragon a Day

Right around 800 words today, finished up chapter 16 in Bones, so I've got something to read the kids.

And I tried really hard to "write," give a real word picture of the hot day and the sweat. Some good descriptive stuff, the best I've done, I think.

So naturally I'm worried that not enough actually happens in the chapter.

That I didn't fight any dragons.

Last year about this time I heard about the Percy Jackson books that all the kids were reading and there was a movie out. Never saw the movie, but I read all of them – borrowed them from one of the kids in Tori's class, as a matter of fact. New York kid discovers that not only are the Greek gods real, but he's related to one of them. And there follows a series of adventures as the jealous gods try to keep the Titans from recapturing the earth.

The books are okay. I'm certainly not going to say anything bad about them. The guy had a good idea and went for it, and it paid off. It's way overstating it to compare them to the Harry Potter books, which some critics did. It's like they can't help themselves. If a critic is reading a YA or middle school book and there's even a little magic in it, the barest whiff of the supernatural, they just cannot help themselves from comparing it to Harry. And the Percy Jackson books are good enough, but they're no Hogwarts saga. (And for the record, Neil Gaiman did the "ancient gods in the new world" thing as well as it can be done in American Gods and especially in Anansi Boys. LOVED that book.)

But the kids sure were eating the PJ books up. They love 'em. It was Tori, of course, who put her finger on the formula.

"He kills a dragon in every chapter," she observed. Okay, "killed" is too strong a word, and it wasn't always dragons, of course. The author took advantage of the whole panolpy of mythical beasties.

But the point is the same. A dragon every chapter. That became our new motto whenever I sat down to write – Kill a dragon in every chapter.

I followed that rule in Gladys, and kept the kids on the edges of their seats. And I've been trying to with Bones, but not with the same success. You know how characters are. Sometimes they just want to talk, or to go off and do their own thing, and forget about the author waiting impatiently with his little plot. Bastards.

Something does happen in chapter 16, of course, and it sets up something that has to happen soon. But I'd hardly call it a dragon-killing chapter.

I wonder if Tori will notice.

Anyway, gotta go get a shower before I go to read to the kids.


(Oh, and just by way or warning, I'm feeling some whining coming on. Probably won't be able to hold it off more than another few days. Just so you know.)