Archive for July, 2012

Still Laboring

Given the tragic events in Colorado — a state that sometimes seems like a magnet for this magnitude of tragedy, doesn’t it? — I’m slightly less enthusiastic about going out to the movies these days, and kind of depressed about my fellow humans’ state of mind. I’m also with my friend Ari when he says that the worst thing we can do right now is politicize the tragedy. I think that discussions of societal erosion, gun control and related issues should probably wait until a later date.

Other than that I’m just delivering another round of public self-abuse, in that I’m pointlessly talking about my writing projects, which I suspect don’t interest too many people right now. As previously noted I’m in the process of rewriting a novel to make it more palatable to a potential agent (and in retrospect, I’m largely inclined to agree with her assessment that there are long stretches in the original book where nothing — or at least not enough– actually happens), and it’s the most extensive rewrite I’ve ever engaged in. Unless of course you count the original rewrite, in which I expanded an 8,000 word short story into a 100,000 word novel, a feat that I think I can be justifiably pleased with.

What am I learning about rewriting this thing? I’m learning that rewriting is a bitch.

Here’s the deal — “rewriting” doesn’t mean “revising” — i.e. just going through and tightening up dialog or fixing minor narrative glitches. It means literally rewriting much of the book from scratch and making some very basic structural changes to the story.

For example, the original version of the story had (as I’m sure I’ve mentioned) a plucky female reporter as the narrator’s sidekick and eventual girlfriend. On rereading I came to the painful conclusion that said plucky reporter didn’t really add anything to the story, and another part of the rewrite, in which I moved an important event from Idaho back to the Portland area completely eliminated the two characters’ initial meeting and rationale for wanting to get to know each other. Also, the plucky reporter was only in about a third of the book and in most of those places it felt as if I’d kind of shoehorned her into the narrative for no good reason. So, with great regret, exit plucky female reporter.

I just murdered a character, and I feel bad about it.

After that I have the problem of rewriting a narrative that I completed almost two years ago. When I finished the first draft, it felt about right. Sure, I made some changes, but they were more along the lines of what I called “revision” above — rewriting a fight scene here, changing the character’s reactions over there, tweaking dialog elsewhere, adding a scene with a new minor character, etc. It all seemed to flow with the narrative I’d created.

Now I’ve gone after the narrative and continuity with a hacksaw. I have cut the story up, rearranged it, shuffled it, truncated it, and generally acted like Dr. Frankenstein. Whole scenes are gone, with new ones to take their place. Scenes from one place are surgically removed and grafted elsewhere. Characters who were minor become more major. Major characters get rewritten, relationships get changed, and some folks (poor Kate the reporter, for example) are gone completely.

It’s hard to explain the problems I’m having, but I think it comes down to issues of the story flow. When I’m first writing, it’s generally in sequence and mostly chronological. One part of the story flows into another, and when I write a scene, the memory of the previous scene is still fresh in my head. Now, as I rewrite, that sense of continuity, of smooth narrative, is gone, replaced by a jagged, bumpy road where I go to the end of the novel, then back to the beginning, then to the middle and back to the end. There’s no sense of sequence or linearity, so it’s hard for me to write scenes with the right narrative or emotional quality.

Add to this the fact that some sections are getting completely rewritten. I’m about 65k into the rewrite (on the homestretch, actually), and I’ve pretty much decided to throw out the last 30k or so of the original story and start over. The character dynamics have changed, the time period has shrunk drastically (from weeks to days or hours), one major character is gone, two new ones have sort of taken her place, I don’t have quite as much scene setting, etc., etc.

It’s a pain in the ass. And what I guess bothers me most of all is the notion that this may all be for nothing. That I’ll rewrite, reorganize and resubmit, only to get another friendly but firm rejection, because the problems weren’t addressed adequately. The fear is that after all my work I’ll be back where I started, with no publisher, no agent, and only the rather bleak prospect of taking my existing novels and putting them up for sale on Amazon or B&N or Smashwords to sell a few dozen and give me a little pocket money.

I guess we can’t all be Twilight fanfic authors who get noticed and end up making $1 million a week by after some publisher does a little global s&r, substituting the word “vampire” with “millionaire.” I simply cannot bring myself to read 50 Shades of Grey for fear that I will give up trying to write altogether, staring in bafflement and wondering how shitty, uninformed, amateurish bondage porn can become a national bestseller and propel its fan-girl writer into the literary stratosphere, while I and my friends toil ceaselessly and fruitlessly in the mud and muck with all the other wanna-be authors.

So you might think I’m having a hard time maintaining a positive attitude. Well, yeah, but it doesn’t stop me. In fact I’m going to go do some more revisions right now, since time spent jacking off on my blog equals time spent not writing and revising.

Hang in there all. Another Pit of Swords and Sorcery is coming. Maybe Beastmaster. Yeah, Beastmaster.

Sindependence Day

I haven’t blogged in a while, as I think most of my energy is going to actually writing (isn’t it amazing how many authors miss their deadlines, but always seem to find time to write in their blogs? I’m just sayin’), and since I think I’m done for the day (the rewrite is now at 35,000 words, bitches!) I figure I’ll kick back with some general stuff about what I’m up to and where things are going.

(At this point I’ll also throw out that I’m really not too wild about blogs that discuss the creative process. I know I’ve done it a couple of times, but in the end it just feels like masturbation. I feel as if my creative process is unique to me, and no one really cares that much about how I write. I’d feel less self-conscious about it if I had some mainstream success under my belt, but right now my primary success is in the field of RPG writing, and that’s a completely different kettle of fish from writing fiction. Until I can boast more than just a flash piece or two and a bunch of self-published and -promoted e-books I’ll continue to feel like something of a phony — someone pretending to be a pro without the chops to back it up. Anyway, with that caveat, I’ll carry on. Just remember, you have been warned. As if anyone reads this blog, anyway…)

The rewrite that I speak of is for my urban fantasy, The Shepherd, which actually started life as kind of a “real world” Wulf story, with characters roughly based on their Wulf counterparts, and with the main character wielding Wulf’s sometimes-sword Lawbringer (yes, it was originally named as an homage to Elric’s Stormbringer — what can I say? I was younger then). It didn’t stay that way for long, eventually morphing into a rather sprawling novel called Descending Angel, which I sent out to some publishers without apparent result. It was for the best — as a novel it didn’t really work, and when my life fell apart back in ’99-’00 I largely abandoned work on the damned thing. I picked it up again over Christmas break in 2010, completed the rewrite and sent it to a bunch of agents for representation. After a couple of nibbles I got a stronger bite from a very cool agent in California, who rejected it with some positive comments. I asked whether it could be reconsidered after a rewrite, and got a positive reply, so here I am.

The initial creative process is really a lot of fun. The reason I like the Wulf stories is that I don’t write them for anyone — I just write them and put them online and that’s that. No agents, no editors, no publishers, no critics, no nothing. However, in the harsh light of the real world, novels sometimes require extensive work before they’re presentable. The Shepherd is a case in point. I thought the first draft was pretty decent, and as a matter of fact it was. But “pretty decent” books don’t get rep’d by agents, nor do they get published (unless they have Twilight or 50 Shades of Something in the title, but that’s a rant for another day). After letting the book sit for a year or so, and after receiving my “close but no cigar” response from that agent, I sat down to read and map out the novel.

To my horror, I found that there were indeed long stretches where nothing happened — essentially two people sitting in a room talking. Mind you, sometimes stuff like that is unavoidable, but you really can’t drag it on too long, nor can you have such scenes take place statically, in a vacuum. I remember years ago when I was a kid watching an episode of McMillain and Wife, a detective story that starred Rock Hudson as a police chief who was (against type, as we all learned later) married to plucky Susan St. James, and together they fought crime. The plots were pretty dumb in that 70s detective show manner, and toward the end it kind of became an exercise in painting by the numbers. It got so bad that in one scene where they’re playing bridge, we watch as their plucky maid (who sometimes helped them solve crimes) dealt out cards to everyone. In real time. With no action or dialog as she did so.

Jesus, people. What the hell were the writers thinking? “Hell, the episode is 90 minutes long but we only have a 60 minute script? Damn. We need to kill time! Let’s have a scene where the maid deals 13 cards to everyone. Then let’s have some scenes of Rock Hudson driving around San Francisco. Then let’s have a long chase scene that goes nowhere. Hm. That should kill 30 minutes or so. Roll cameras!”

Regrettably, my long expository scenes were kind of like that. I’ve been busily recasting them, cutting and cutting — a ten-page scene in which the characters discuss Multnomah Indian history and culture as they discover the nature of the evil monster becomes, “Oh, by the way — that creature we’re fighting turns out to be an ancient evil spirit of the Multnomah Indians. Just thought you’d like to know.” Presto — ten pages becomes a single paragraph.

My fear is that in doing this the story will lose detail, verisimilitude, granularity, character development, etc. Intellectually, I know that’s wrong. Jim Butcher’s novels move at a virtual gallop, screaming through character development, revelations, exposition and dialog like a Formula One racecar, and they work beautifully. When’s the last time someone accused a Harry Dresden novel of moving too fast? (Now, if Harry Dresden breaks the fourth wall one more time and addresses the reader directly with a line like “Now, let me tell you something about trolls” or “You know, magic is a very complex and subtle thing… Let me explain…” I swear I’m going to reach through the page and slap the man, but that’s just me. And please note, I’m a huge Jim Butcher fan.)

So with that in mind, I think I’ve cut the word count on my book by at least 10%, possibly more, which means either I can add more cool action elements, or turn in a tighter, more focused novel. To give you some idea how seriously I take all this, I cut a sex scene down from ten pages to about six, so I mean what I say, kids.

My band, Megatherium, is on semi-hiatus right now, as we’re all dealing with some personal issues and have cut our rehearsals down to one a week, and cut our set list from six songs to four. We’re kind of marking time this summer, and won’t be performing at Orycon next year, hoping that in the fall we’ll be able to throw ourselves back into the fray and start rehearsing, writing and performing again. It’s been quite a long road so far, but oddly enough I’m still quite enthusiastic about becoming a musician. Yeah, you can make changes like that in your life, even after you hit the dreaded half-century mark.

I have one of these. The guitar, I mean.

On that score I picked up a couple of toys this week — first a Fender G-Dec 3 practice amp, which includes a multitude of cool rock/blues/jazz/country/rap/reggae/ska/etc. loops in a variety of keys that you can practice with. The speed metal and punk ones absolutely kick my ass, but when I hook the bass or the guitar up and run some funk or jazz or blues, I actually feel as if I’m playing something, and creating something that approaches music. The amp also has an SD card slot, 2nd guitar input, output for an external amp, and USB connectivity so you can actually record your own stuff or add your own loops. And it was on sale for $99. Pretty sweet, especially since I bought it on credit :)

The other nifty music thing I got was the XBox game Rocksmith, which is kind of like Guitar Hero, but with a real guitar (you have to provide the guitar yourself — I have a kickass Fender Highway One, so I’m set there). You can play notes or chords against a whole bunch of “real” rock songs — you start on Satisfaction by the Stones, for example, which is one of those songs I love that sounds cool and awesome and kickass, but is also relatively (and note I say relatively) easy to play. I’m being methodical about this, and am going to try to get Satisfaction down as well as I can before moving on to the next song, which is something by the Black Keys. It also has a bunch of cool guitar games and technique exercises (sustains, anchoring, hammer-ons and stuff like that). As I’m seriously continuing practicing, rehearsing and taking private lessons from one of the coolest guys in rock-n-roll (he once played with GG Allen, for example, and found him to be as vile, sociopathic and unpleasant as his reputation suggested), I think I can at least use music to stave off  the onset of early fogey-hood and hopefully keep my mind sharp even as I spiral toward the final darkness of oblivion. How’s that for optimism, huh?

Anyway, it’s Independence Day, which for my uninitiated international friends is the day we told the British that we’d rather carry on by ourselves, oppressing the natives and exploiting the continent’s natural resources without their kind assistance, thank you very much. It took a few years and help from the French (hey, haters… next time you say bad things about the French, consider that we wouldn’t even have a fuckin’ country without them, ‘kay?), but we eventually succeeded, creating the wonder of democracy and freedom that we have today, where we can own all the guns we want, employee people for a pittance and fire them whenever we feel like, we can fire missiles at anyone and let corporations write their own laws to be rubber-stamped by congress, but we can’t marry who we want to, and don’t have any kind of national heath care. USA! USA! USA!

Never mind, I obviously don’t know what I’m talking about…. Happy Fourth of July, everybody.