9.28.2007

Exposure for Oregon

Ok.

Breathe.

I'm sick and tired of the national media leaving Oregon in the dirt. I just heard a promotional spot on ESPN pitching their unbeatable line-up. It's an un-ranked Washington team that sucks ass against USC. It's a horrible Auburn squad that will get rolled up by Florida. And it's a meaningless matchup between a bad FSU squad and an average Alabama team.

May the Authorities of the Earthly Realm strike down upon the stupid and boastful ESPN broadcasting station with furious anger and render it useless. Plunge these myriad So-Cal idiots and SEC dorks into darkness.

But save one feed. Save the feed that shows the Oregon Ducks and the Cal Golden Bears.

I have to watch the best game of the week on a stinking pay service.

Rant over. Go Ducks.

The Siege

Whoo...long day at the office. Jeanne is under the weather, so we'll have to check out The Kingdom down the road. Early critical praise for the film is all over the place (our local critic, the perceptive Matt Soergel, called the conclusion "silly" and I hate a lackluster third act).

We just watched The Siege, a film about radical Islam and terrorism on American soil. I think the film is decent (next week I'll define my parameters for looking at a movie) and is propped up by a very good performance by Denzel Washington. Denzel acted circles around my man Bruce Willis (part of the holy triumvirate with Christian Bale and Russell Crowe), but his role called for so much more than Bruce's. That said, Bruce's monologue about the role of the military in times of strife is amazing (and chilling).

This film communicates all that is good about our country. It also illustrates the paradox that exists between having a free and open democracy (protests, a critical press, direct action) and the necessary hand of the government in keeping the peace.

I write this as Myanmar's government has declared a curfew on its people. Its military has opened up live rounds against the protesters. And it has pulled the plug on internet access inside of the country.

Sheesh!

So we see a fictionalized version of this in The Siege, but it's not far removed from a reality playing out on the other side of the world. My heart-felt karmic thoughts go out to those in that country that would like a voice and a chance to direct their own political path.

The Siege has its flaws. Annette Bening's character actually says "I'm so cold," as she passes on in one of the final scenes. Director Edward Zwick relies too heavily on the score in this film to impact our emotions, and a lot of the dialogue is canned. That said, it's better than Jarhead and really stands as a thought-provoking film.

Denzel more than holds up his end of the bargain (though his dubious gaze as he learns of a colleague's son being held in detention is laughable).

Bruce does a fine job with the little bit of time he's given. Seeing him here makes you want to queue up The Sixth Sense again though, just to get a taste of his real talent.

I'm posting late. I had planned to discuss The Road in this spot. And tomorrow I'll blog a bit on the best books I've read in '07.

But you could do a lot worse than watching The Siege and maybe thinking a bit about the state of the international community at this point in time.

9.27.2007

Three Kings and The Kingdom

It's a bit of a surreal exercise for me to consider just how long our country has had military dealings in the Middle East. I was in a baseball card shop on a rainy afternoon in John Day, Oregon when we heard the first field reporting from Kuwait over the radio. We heard air-raid sirens from the reporters describing the aerial mayhem that was Operation Desert Storm.

I was thirteen.

For over half of my life (and yes, I know we had close dealings with many countries in the '70s and '80s, but I'm talking occupation), the United States has maintained a close relationship to this region of the world. We're into their politics (yesterday the NBC Nightly news reported on a non-binding congressional vote to split the country into thirds--Shia, Sunni and Kurd; why are our leaders voting on splitting up Iraq?), their culture (you want to sell a book? set it in the middle east...) and their resources (there was a recent scuttle-butt in the news over British, American and French rights to develop refineries in Southern Iraq).

It makes sense that the major events of our times should find their way onto the big screen. I think movies help us analyze and communicate our experiences and the body of creative work that will blossom from the misery and anguish of the 9/11 tragedy will only continue to grow in its scope and beauty. I think when United 93 (a masterful film) and World Trade Center (good) came along, they offered an opportunity for catharsis for many in this country.

And so I wonder how audiences will react to another of our darkest subjects--conflict in the Middle East--when The Kingdom is released this weekend. The trailers are riveting and the ensemble cast has a lot of strength. Chris Cooper gave a fantastic (and under-appreciated) turn in this year's Breach and I'm excited to see if Jamie Foxx can build on his great performances in Collateral and Ray in this vehicle.

The plot is a bit of a re-tread. An explosion rips through an American housing compound (horrifying in the trailer) and a team of military specialists sneak into Riyadh to search for the bomber. They are met with territorial issues over jurisdiction with the local authorities.

Will someone in law enforcement please tell me why there is always such a pissing match over jurisdiction! Am I the only one that's tired of watching feds and state troopers and local police all grumble about whose damned crime scene it is?

Sheesh!

But it should set up an interesting cultural contrast as we watch western and eastern methods collide in the interest of answers and justice. Think about these contrasts:
  • Abu Ghraib with taped beheadings on the intenet.
  • CNN with Al Jazeera.
  • Bunker busters with car bombs.
This movie could be great. Or it could represent a wasted opportunity (Jarhead).

I think a very good film that underscores some of our country's confusion about our time spent in the middle east is Three Kings. Stylish and fluidly paced, Three Kings is the story of a quartet of enterprising soldiers that decide to loot Saddam's kingdom. The film is a commentary on our country's intentions for the nations of the Middle East (I withhold my opinion on that matter--maybe another day) and is at times hilarious and at times heart breaking. I think Clooney gives a very fine performance, and this is the film in which Mark Wahlberg really cut his teeth and showed he could hang up there in the big leagues.

It was the first film I looked at that used the CGI effect of following the bullet's path through a human body's organs (CSI owes it big-time--all three versions), and one need only look at David O. Russell's (he's listed as the writer, but he did direct Three Kings) filmography to appreciate the level of craft that the he brings to this film.

I'm going to look at The Kingdom tomorrow, but I'd appreciate any of your impressions if you folks get a chance to view it over the weekend also. Please drop by the comments section below...

9.26.2007

Research

My novel Wendigo grew out of a short story that pushed for expansion. The story pert near begged to stretch. Once I expanded beyond the 10,000-word barrier, I found myself in some exciting new territory. The folklore element that stood at the center of the novel needed an injection of something...well, more primary. I needed to incorporate the Chinook Trade Jargon to lend the piece authenticity and create a layer of intrigue. Resurrecting a seldom-used language seemed exotic at the time, but as I spent time translating it and working with it, the words found their way into my own lexicon. Now when I think of hunger, my mind says the word olo. When I think of saying hello, my brain barks out Klahowya.

I had to learn the jargon, so I used this wonderful resource.

The internet has given us access to a tremendous wealth of information. We can use google earth to look at natural landmarks. We can use mapquest to find accurate paths through the cities that serve as our settings. We can learn the biographies of the historic figures that influence the plot of our writing.

All of that is nice, but I still enjoy the old-fashioned method. Tim Dorsey, one of my favorite authors of Florida crime fiction, still hits the bricks to lend authenticity to his Serge Storms novels. I'm looking forward to the Skynnard tour making it into the pages of the next Serge adventure.

I had to read David Dary's The Oregon Trail to really construct an accurate passage for the French pioneers in Wendigo. And when it comes to primary data--death photos, Oregon Trail captivity narratives--all of that good stuff--I hit the American Memory Project.

So the ball's in your court. How often do you find yourself looking up from the blinking cursor to open up an Internet Explorer window? What level of first-hand research do you work into your writing? And where do you go most frequently (online) when it comes time to cast your net?

I'm heading out to do some surfcasting on Saturday morning. I think I'll avoid the deep spots just on the other side of the crashing waves (folks, that's like forty yards offshore--forty danged yards!)...






9.25.2007

Trends and Sub-genres

I read an illuminating post yesterday at the informative blog Bookends on writing to market trends. I think at some point or another, many of us do this, whether it's a conscious effort or not. And if you look through the comments on the thread, you see that amongst those of us who spend our time pitching pennies in the word-well, a discussion about writing to a hot market often becomes a discussion of selling out one's art.

I had a crisis of self reflection on this particular topic. Once. For about half an afternoon. It happened back when I was in graduate school (when the pompous pheromones were hot and heavy) and I was operating under the impression that everyone in the program spent every waking moment on the next Of Mice and Men.

Then I got over it and wrote a creepy little short story about some rude frat boys meeting up with misfortune on the Oregon back roads. It came in the form of a mutant deer that had ingested hazardous waste and developed a taste for blood.

What can I say? The heart wants what the heart wants.

Chuck Palahniuk points out (accurately) on his website that you need to write the book you want to read. For those of us in the horror field, that advice opens up a wealth of opportunities.

You have your
alien invasion opus.
You have your
ghosts and haunted houses.
You have your
occult.
You have your
slashers and psychos.

These are four of an endless number of dark avenues that horror fiction can take. And then sometimes you just need to write the occasional zombie western. Or the mutant time travel piece. Whatever strikes your fancy.

Two responses in the comments section of the blog post mentioned above lamented a dearth of quality sci-fi romance in the marketplace. They are both writing in that genre. I think that's a pretty telling factor in whether or not the marketplace will be receptive to your work. Hit your libraries and visit your B & M bookstores. Pay attention to who is publishing what you write (this will come in handy when the agent looks for a market comparison for the proposal)! Look for series regularity (there's not much in straight-ahead horror).

All of these observations should become elements of your creative process if you hope to have a career as a writer. It's the writer that can balance an acute knowledge of the marketplace, his or her responsibilities to loved ones and day jobs, the platform of self-promotion and short-story submissions and the daily grind of composition itself that stands the best chance of breaking through to the ranks of "published."

So here's the question: What genre(s) are you guys writing in? What compels you to put in your time--market trends or the story that's burning a hole in your brain (or, for the lucky ones, the combination of the two)?

9.24.2007

Writing Process-Editing

I'm interested in the writing process. I think it's fascinating to delve into the creative process and to think about how ideas grow into art. And I do think that clear writing is a product of attention to revision. But we each get their differently, I think.

Meg Gardiner is blogging about the deadline for her rewrite for the next in her Evan Delaney series. It seems that she pushes through the first draft and then does a pretty substantial revision afterward. I envy this approach. It allows for a certain sense of purpose in keeping the plot first. I admire it, but I can't adhere to it.

I keep a writing journal in addition to the day's work. Usually a paragraph in length, I write it on the page following where I left off on my prose. Then, each day prior to writing a new passage, I read and revise the previous day's work (usually three to eight pages). I find this helps me keep the thread of the plot in order, and it makes, generally, for a cleaner first draft. I'm hoping to submit sample pages on novel #2 by this Christmas (December 14, hopefully), so I'm hoping this leads to a more presentable draft.

I enjoy letting it rip. I love to turn the grammar and spell checker off and let the words pile up on the page without regard to the small stuff. But I find this measured approach keeps me centered on the story and leads to more fruitful work in the interim.

So what works best for you? How much time in your daily writing routine do you devote to editing and polishing?

Join us tomorrow when we chat speculative fiction. On Wednesday we'll discuss research, with a neat link to a story on how one of Florida's finest approaches the creative process.

9.21.2007

Short Story Markets and Resources

Afternoon,

I updated my website and added a number of fresh links to publishing resources and short story markets. Please post any markets you'd recommend in the comments section below.

You can access these resources here:

www.danielwpowell.com/page05.html

Blaze

Richard Bachman's Blaze is a pretty solid piece. Told in the third person and focusing on the central character of Clayton Blaisdell, Jr., a congenial simpleton with a penchant for confidence games, Blaze is a caper yarn focusing on a high-profile kidnapping.

Stephen King offers an interesting forward. He writes that he initially thought it a pretty bad novel-an overly sentimental story that covered territory outside of Bachman's usual purview. He dusted it off thirty years later, tuned it up and found his earlier assessment too harsh.

Interesting how perspectives change over time.

The narrative moves well, and Bachman plumbs familiar territory here in complicating the plot with mental illness. Blaze often hears the voice of his dead partner, George, in moments of intense pressure. He answers it out loud, making for some nice comic moments (the first convenience store stick-up comes to mind).

I found the heist scene tautly written. Blaze may not have his Mensa card, but he takes care of the details when it matters. And for a 350 pound man, he's pretty nimble on his feet.

Blaze is an ox. He has a dented forehead and he often forgets to do things like brush his teeth or change his socks. But he has a pretty fine sense of morality and is an honorable (and tragic) hero. The conclusion, set in the snow-covered woods of Maine, is a bit sappy, but it's an effective and satisfying wrap-up. The novel is short, but the hardback comes with Stephen's short story "Memory."

I've already mentioned Roadwork is my favorite of the Bachman books, but I'd love to hear from you guys on which you liked best. Also, when we look at Stephen's bibliography, which era of his writing do you enjoy the most?

9.20.2007

Into the Wild

I read Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild six years ago. It's a gripping narrative about an idealist named Christopher McCandless who forsakes a comfortable piece of the American pie for the lure of the open road.

Krakauer's amazing narrative of a disastrous expedition up Mt. Everest (Into Thin Air) is some of the finest narrative non-fiction I've ever read. He applies his clear-eyed prose to McCandless' story here, and the short book flies by in just a few hours.

Krakauer clearly admires McCandless, an athlete and college graduate who gives his savings to charity and hitchhikes from Atlanta to Alaska. But Krakauer doesn't sugarcoat McCandless' missteps upon reaching the Yukon Territory. The resulting narrative is truly an interesting dichotomy. It praises the qualities that we all should admire in McCandless-his generosity, his independence, his sincere interest in meeting others and experiencing the mysteries just beyond the horizon. And he doesn't pull any punches in recounting McCandless' hubris and the errors he made that ultimately led to his death.

In the final analysis, Krakauer applauds McCandless for his vision and his intent to touch the lives of others in a lasting and meaningful way. Its a tribute that the young man deserves, based on all I've learned of the circumstances surrounding his life and his death (and there's a lot out there on the web-both positive and negative).

Sean Penn has adapted the book for the big screen. He made The Crossing Guard (excellent) and The Pledge (good). Both are studies in obsession, and you could say that was the character trait (the tragic one) that pushed Chris McCandless along that path to Alaska. Sure, it was curiosity. It was wanderlust. It was an insatiable hunger to test oneself.

But obsession is the thread that holds these qualities in place.

The film checks in at 2 hours and 27 minutes. The book is 224 pages. That's an interesting disparity in terms of length, and while I'm hoping the film will do the book justice, I worry that Krakauer's sense of pacing will be lost in overlong scenes of introspection and self-analysis.

I'll have to take a look at it to find out, of course. Any of you that have read the book or look at the movie over the weekend, please let us know what you think.

9.19.2007

Setting

I wrote on Monday that I enjoy writing on these cooler days, when the sky is clogged with grey storm clouds and the steady thrum of the rain creates a pleasant white noise to accompany the keystrokes. It's easier on these days to find myself back in Oregon. It's easier to conjure the evergreens and picture Mt. Hood in the distance on days like these.

For some reason, it's harder to write about Oregon with lizards mating on the windowsill by the computer (yes, it's that time of year around these parts).

So when it comes to setting-and particularly physical description-how much of a factor is your current locale? Meg Gardiner's novels are set in Santa Barbara, California, yet she and her husband make their home in London. Elmore Leonard wrote about Florida convincingly from his home in Michigan.

I pose that question because I'm still a bit reticent about setting my work in Florida. We've been here just over two years, and I still don't feel comfortable enough to capture the character of the place. I'm warming to the idea of it; I think Jacksonville would be a great town in which to set a thriller.

But part of my apprehension, I think, is coming from an environment that is so oppositional. The climate, the topography, the cultural attitudes-all of them were different in Oregon. After twenty years in that state, I've come to feel confident in my ability to bottle the descriptive elements that speak for how we live in the Northwest.

Florida is a unique animal. It seems violently at odds with itself in many ways. It's a natural paradise that is selling its soul to big entertainment (read Hiaasen's Paradise Screwed for an intimate discussion of the transgressions). It champions itself as a haven for economic prosperity (check out the tax structure if you want to incorporate here), but has profoundly fouled the educational system that would provide the workers to facilitate a business boom.

I guess I'm saying that I don't yet have a feel for it yet. It's coming, though.

Stephen King, who keeps a winter home on the gulf side, has set his latest in Florida (Duma Key). I wonder how much of a strain it was for him to get the setting right, after all those years and all of that success in creating a literary Maine that is so well defined.

So what do you think? How does your physical locale impact the creation of setting in your writing?

And if you ever find yourself frustrated with customer service, please avoid this behavior.

9.18.2007

Fantasy - R.I.P. Robert Jordan and Madeleine L'Engle

Galleycat reported on the death of fantasy novelist Robert Jordan yesterday. While I haven't read Jordan's work (my fantasy exposure as been relatively limited), I know his Wheel of Time series has been hugely popular commercially and that he has a rabid fan base.

This comes on the heels of the death of one fantasy writer whose stuff I adored as a youth in Madeleine L'Engle. Her A Wrinkle in Time resonated with me at a time when I was first discovering the realms of fantastic literature. A beautiful, lyrical writer, I thought L'Engle's characterizations and her depictions of good and evil were just about the gold standard in literature at that time in my life.

C.S. Lewis and Roald Dahl were a couple of my early favorites, and I read all of Tolkien's works. Last year I concluded what I consider my greatest adventure in reading when I finished up Stephen King's The Dark Tower. It took me twenty years to read the series because of the interruptions along the way. When it came time to close in on those final pages, I put it aside. I saved the last thirty pages to read on the beach. Over the course of a week I read other things. I anticipated learning what happened to Roland when he finally turned the doorknob and ducked into the room at the top of the tower as much as I have ever anticipated any payoff in the appreciation of art.

So I took it to the shores of the Atlantic. I waited until the sun dipped low in the sky and I opened it up and spent my last few moments with Roland and his all-consuming quest.

And I liked it.

I put that sucker down when I was finished and I took a deep breath and felt like the series had come to its logical and just end.

I feel for Jordan's readers that might not get closure with the series, but I shudder to think about what their lives would be like had they not been able to linger, even if just for a little while, in the world he had created for them.

9.17.2007

Publishers

First off, have any of you seen the movie Warriors? I'm going to take a look at this one when I receive it in the mail. It's a Walter Hill film, so it should be solid storytelling. Don't confuse it, however, with this fine song.

Rainy day here in Florida. Dark and stormy. Feels like Oregon, which makes for a fun day at the word processor.

Bernadette has queried a number of editors from various houses. A select group of our favorite editors currently have my full manuscript, and the process of waiting has been both illuminating and nerve racking. The latter is obvious, but the former is also interesting. Now, when I look at the New York Times bestseller list, I check the publishers and imprints. Every time I pick up a book, I'm cognizant of the publisher and I'm curious about the process that led to the creation of that project. I wonder who the editors are on the other end that saw the book through to its creation. What sparked their interest? How many times did they re-work the manuscript?

I look at the artwork and the book layout. I check the dedication and acknowledgments. I think it's fascinating to look at the publishers' websites and see their rosters of authors. These are things that the average consumer might overlook when purchasing a book or selecting a title at the library. But when you take all of the elements into consideration, it really does speak to the notion of what a daunting and collaborative task it is to take a book from its word-processed format into a physical book as we have come to think of it.

How about you guys. Do you pay attention to the publisher when you browse the stacks at the library or stroll through Borders?

Man, you need to be in shape if you want to be a warrior!

9.15.2007

The Mark

My apologies about missing a post yesterday. I was in lovely Gainesville and I can't say enough about that town. It's a gem-a college town in every sense of the term. It has great energy, a lively arts scene, a beautiful campus and lots to offer culturally. The University of Florida is a top-notch research school and I was impressed with the folks I met with there.

I also wanted to mention to any readers here in Northeast Florida that the first of our lecture series on conservation (The FCCJ Environmental Preservation Series at Deerwood Center) kicks off at 7:00 p.m. next Wednesday, September 19. The Marsh Preservation Society will present a multi-media discussion on the importance of setting aside natural wetlands as both storm barriers and important wildlife habitat. The lecture will run from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. and will be held at Deerwood Center, in room B1206.

There are many nice things to say about Jason Pinter's debut thriller The Mark. Pinter, an editor, author and blogger has constructed a stylish page turner in this first effort. His prose is economical and I think his attention to pacing is very acute. It's a single-afternoon read if you can block out the time.

His characterization is a real strength here as well. He has a good handle on including just the requisite amount of physical description. The rest is left up to us, and so Henry Parker and Amanda Davies and Shelton Barnes (The Ringer) each come to life as vivid, round characters.

In the tradition of early John Grisham novels (The Pelican Brief and The Firm come to mind), The Mark features a protagonist on the run. When he stumbles upon a crime in progress, the cub reporter is implicated in killing an NYPD officer. The rest of the novel involves a believable and tightly plotted game of cat and mouse as Parker enlists the help of Davies and sets out to clear his name.

Jason is talented, and I'm not sure if he is still actively acquiring texts and working with writers, but his future is pretty well outlined for him. The Mark is the first in a three-book series, and he recently announced on his blog that he has signed on for four more subsequent Henry Parker novels. What a neat (and daunting) sense of purpose to consider the life and maturity arc of a character over such a period of time.

The book has minor flaws. Pinter is a young man and a recent college graduate. Subsequently, many of the ancillary characters are described as being in their mid-twenties. I know there are some older folks in New York. And when they escape a hit-man by jumping in the back of a truck stopped at a traffic light, it feels a bit cliched.

Those are tiny quibbles in what is otherwise an excellent read. I bought a copy for my mom for her birthday. I sandwiched it in there with an Elmore Leonard and a Lee Child, so you can see I hold his work in high regard.

Hold your breath as the Ducks get set for Fresno State tonight. Could be the proverbial trap game, though we've won the last three in the series against those pesky Bulldogs.

9.13.2007

The Brave One

Let me begin by expressing my dismay at this news. I'm very impressed with Greg Oden. I believe in his work ethic, and I think he'll come back from this surgery just fine. Javon Walker and Z-Bo and Amare Stoudemire have all made nice comebacks from micro-fracture surgery (I think McGahee and Gore also). So let's shoot good thoughts to a good guy and put some support behind the phenomenal LaMarcus Aldridge to hold it down on our trip to the playoffs next year.

Jodie Foster is pretty good. Or, she was pretty good a lot of years ago.

It started with Taxi Driver and then in 1988 she delivered a bravura performance in The Accused. She's best known as Clarice in The Silence of the Lambs and she did a great job in the underrated Contact.

The critics loved Little Man Tate and Nell. I thought they were decent (her turn in Nell was remarkable in terms of a physical performance).

She's the alpha lead in this weekend's offerings in the film The Brave One. Seems like revenge is hot as the summer turns the corner into the fall. Maybe that's why the University of Washington has won two games this year. After Kevin Bacon received mixed reviews for Death Sentence, this one should tread on some of the same territory. She plays a traumatized victim, intent on settling the score against a bunch of scumbags that killed her fiance and wounded her.

I thought the trailers looked decent and I like Foster's intensity. I see four, maybe five films a month. I think I'll wait for this one on DVD. I'm taking the missus out for a helpin' of western tomorrow, partner. It's 3:10 to Yuma for us.

Anyone that gets a look at the film, please post your review in the comments section.

9.12.2007

Characterization-Names

Roland of Gilead. Captain Ahab. Atticus Finch. Jane Eyre. Jay Gatsby. Holden Caulfield.

All great and recognizable characters in the tradition of English Literature. This week Jeff Cohen did a nice post on the inspiration for naming characters over at the fine blog Hey, There's a Dead Guy in the Living Room. He writes that in his experience, the genesis for character names comes from indirect references to the stories he's reading at the time. That's one of the primary methods I have in my own work. I think of characters I've enjoyed spending time with and then tweak them a bit. Thomas Clutterbuck, a central character in Wendigo, shares a surname with a character that many of you will recognize from some of Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot-inspired short stories. Lots of vamps in that part of Maine, it would appear.

But you have lots of methods. You have the earnest name that seems to roll off the tongue and comes to really personify the types of characters for a genre (Doc Ford and Travis McGee come to mind in the field of Florida crime thrillers).

You have the booze pun (J.A. Konrath's Jacqueline Daniels-great novels, by the way).

You have the superhero allusion (Jason Pinter's Henry Parker-another great novel, but don't think we don't see the Peter Parker reference from a mile away).

You have the classical/biblical allusion(Tim Lebbon's Cain), the alliterative character name (Tim Dorsey's Serge Storms-a nice play on "storm surge") and the classic singular moniker (Carl Hiaasen's Skink).

Then there are the ones that are hard to pin down, but instantly recognizable (Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone).

There's no clear path to selecting a memorable character name (or being a strong enough writer to imbue that character with memorable traits), so sometimes the best tactic is to wing it. There's a great Simpsons episode when a woman asks Bart his name. Ever the agile thinker, Bart responds something to the effect of "Pantsboobs Apron."

Sorry-couldn't find the link on youtube.

The point there is that sometimes you just need a placeholder. As we are constantly playing over the writing in our heads-in the aisle at the grocery store, on the commute in to work, at the damned DMV-those character names will emerge. Then you have another scrap of paper for that drawer in your desk that inevitably stores all of our brain droppings.

How do you folks get into naming your characters?

9.11.2007

The Cringe

This weekend I had a discussion on matters of taste in terms of speculative fiction. We were specifically discussing horror movies and the audience cringe. The best of the films in this genre inspire this action reflexively-most watching can't help themselves.

The discussion worked its way over to the best cinematic cringe moments.

Clearly there's this famous dinner scene.
There's this little touch of stomach trouble.
There's this clear intrusion of privacy.
Anybody ever rent this one?

This weekend I watched The Brood, David Cronenberg's horror masterpiece. Take a look at this little tidbit (it had a cringe or two in there).

But there's the unsettling build-up also. Some films constitute a sustained cringe. I'm thinking of Open Water and Midnight Express.

The examples I provided above are visceral; there's no mistaking that. But they're pulled off with such uncanny skill and attention to film making that they simply dwarf much of the slasher-shock that permeates the horror market. Friedkin does in The Exorcist what I think Wan will never be able to replicate in the Saw films. Wan might be able to create a scene that has a similar level of resonance, but it'll have to be in a different vehicle-in a film that illustrates a greater level of craft than what Saw brings to the table.

So let me put the ball in your court. Which films, and which individual moments, create this reaction in you?

9.10.2007

Writing Process - The Link Between Reading and Writing

In his memoir On Writing, Stephen King writes about the impact that voracious (and observant) reading has on the quality and tone of our own work. He writes that we read to experience the highs and the lows, and to challenge ourselves to do better. Take King's advice and pair it with one of Chuck Palahniuk's tips on writing (write the book you want to read), and it becomes clear that you need to spend a good portion of your day buried in the fictional worlds that drive you to the keyboard each day. World-building is as much a facet of reading and adaptation as it is an aspect of original composition, I think.

I'm listening to Hearts in Atlantis on tape right now (on loan from a good friend of mine at the college; I bought a used Tacoma last year and was delighted to see it had a tape deck), and reading Tim Lebbon's Desolation and Elmore Leonard's Stick. The impact on my work? I'm putting in 1,000 words a day and it's Leonard's voice that I'm seeing most frequently in my own. My protagonist is speaking in fragments and he's one dangerous hombre. When you want your plot hard-boiled, you've got to look at Leonard's greatest hits. Stick with the early stuff and you'll find particularly fertile territory (I still need to read his most recent-writing well at 82!)...

So I'm curious. How much do you read and what impact does it have on your writing?

Today's blog is short. I need to speak with my mom and dad, as my Great-Grandmother Virginia Pezel passed away early this morning. She was a tremendous woman who was independent up until her mid-nineties.

Check back tomorrow for a discussion on speculative fiction.

9.07.2007

Florida Literature - Barrier Island

For my money, there's nothing better than having a seat on the beach and cracking open a John MacDonald novel. Or a Carl Hiaasen. Or a Tim Dorsey. Or a Randy Wayne White.

Or an Elmore Leonard.

Man, what is it with all of these amazing Florida writers?

Yes, Florida is the epicenter for all that's weird and sensational (Schiavo, Elian, Hanging Chads and more). And yes, despite the encroachment of Team Rodent, its beauty is spectacular.

But the writers. Man, these guys turn out consistently great work.

John MacDonald's Barrier Island is a great Florida tale. It involves corruption, stunning scenery and a jerk named Tucker Loomis (great southern name). MacDonald is a wordsmith. His writing moves very well, and he's a champ at pitting earnest, good people against larger-than-life villains.

That's one of Hiaasen's calling cards, and Randy Wayne White's Doc Ford is the very epitome of solid character. Maybe that's what creates such compelling yarns-tales of good vs. evil set against the backdrop of the state's natural beauty.

If you haven't met MacDonald's Travis McGee, the two of you should get acquainted.

Best to you all, and enjoy the weekend!

9.06.2007

The Lookout

Happy Kickoff Thursday everyone! I like the Colts to hold off the Saints in a shoot-out and the Oregon State Beavers to dominate Cincinnati on the road.

This week's crop of new releases brings us another period piece, a Western titled 3:10 to Yuma. Outside of the outstanding title, this one is filled with promise. I looked at the trailers twice in the theater and it looks like it's the real thing. Desperado conflict is one of the best types, don't you know it?

Plus, this film features two of the three finest actors working. Christian Bale and Russell Crowe should be fun to watch in this one. Bale in the man in white, a struggling rancher forced into a situation that will test his character. Crowe will likely be a lot of fun-like the snarling Denzel of Training Day-in his turn as a notorious outlaw.

Directed by James Mangold, the man behind the films Walk the Line and Identity (an underrated little "stranded hotel" flick-better than Vacancy), this film might be the first to put itself out there as we begin the fall ramp-up to the Academy Awards.

My only quibble. What, they couldn't get the third portion of the triumvirate in there? Bruce Willis teamed up with these two would be a sweet picture...

If you're at Blockbuster this weekend and you take out anything other than the excellent (B+) film The Lookout, I will direct my horde of brain-slurping zombies from the Phoenix badlands to your home address. Rent the movie or suffer a serious headache.

Remember Third Rock From The Sun? Joseph Gordon-Levitt played the one-line dropping youngest son. He was ok in that role. He's excellent in this film. Well-paced and suspenseful, it's a nicely framed picture. Scott Frank (The Interpreter and Flight of the Phoenix) can really build tension, and to watch Gordon-Levitt's Chris Pratt attempt to come back from a brain injury, only to find himself embroiled in some pretty bad business-well, it's a pleasure. Take a look at this film and keep the zombies out of your front yard.

Last thought. What do you make of this story? Brian Williams posed an interesting question tonight. Does our country place too much pressure on mothers to juggle multiple roles?

9.05.2007

Organization - Motel Life

This weekend I read a really fine novel by Willy Vlautin. The Motel Life is a truly affecting novel. Its sparse, beautiful prose is very fluid and the reading experience just flies by. The characterization is strong-the feel of the western cities (Elko and Reno most prominently) authentic.

And it checks in at a svelte 208 pages. I pay close attention to pacing when I read and I was amazed when I started chapter eight on page thirty.

There seems to me to be a new paradigm in plotting, and much of this can be attributed to one James Patterson. This new tradition is forty or fifty chapters of three and four pages a stretch. It makes for a unique read, lending an almost cinematic appeal to the act of reading a novel as each chapter constitutes a short scene.

Now clearly there is no right or wrong way to do this, and I understand that not every writer can (or has the authorial license to do so) put together a Stephen King-sized manuscript, but I do strive to create a little bit larger chapters in my own composition. I think that if one aspect of the writing suffers in this approach to plotting, it's the construction of setting. I don't need every detail, but I'm a sucker for a good physical description of "place," and that often seems short-changed in this approach to shorter novels.

This is a topic I think about often just prior to getting into the day's work. How much detail does the audience need to actually see this passage/action/exchange? How much detail do I need to include to actually see this come to successful fruition?

So please dish if you have advice. Do you break your novels into parts and add in page breaks? Do you keep a running timeline (like on 24) with dates and times at the heading of each chapter? How do you pace your chapters?

Oh, and Vlautin's fine book is being compared to the works of Ray Carver and John Steinbeck, and I won't say that praise is misplaced. It's really a nice read and I highly recommend it.

9.04.2007

Horror Market - Cryptopedia

Whatever would we have done if Al Gore hadn't created the internet?

Ok, let me get the ol' tongue out of my cheek and discuss online submissions. Yes, you save on postage. And yes, the internet itself presents a creative medium in which to publish your work (hey, look at me! I'm blogging!). And there are many great markets that will accept your work online.

That said, resist the urge to saturate the net with substandard work. It's not outside the realm of possibility to think you might wake up in the morning with a real gem of an idea. Then, the planets align and you write a clean first draft in the morning. Then, divinity strikes and you revise it quickly, submit it to a publication online and then...you get a decision that night. Might be an acceptance. Might be a rejection. More than likely it's the latter.

My point is, it's best to develop a routine concerning your submissions. After you've finished a draft, let it sit a day or two before revisiting it and then trying it out on your trusted reader. Think carefully about the markets you want to submit to, and follow their guidelines carefully. Don't make simultaneous submissions without mentioning it to editors. If you sell a piece, be sure to contact those editors still looking at your work and let them know with a short, polite note.

Keep track of your submissions!

The urge can be to blast product into the cyber-world and then start a new story. But the accessibility of the internet is also its curse. These editors have been inundated with work (not all of it great) and they will come to recognize yours over time. Always put your best foot forward and be as professional as possible; the submissions process is probably the best place to practice this ideal.

That said, here's a great
market.

So you tell me. How have things gone with your online submissions? Any markets to share here at The Byproduct?

See you back here tomorrow when we chat on the topic of organization (chapter size, numbering, dates, etc).

Uncovering Original Ideas

There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope....