Thursday, December 25, 2008

Holiday Distraction

Hi all:

Wow, it's hard writing through the holidays.  With the shopping and the cooking and cleaning and relatives and the more relatives there are a LOT of distractions.   I don't know if other writers have this problem but the fact that I work at home means a lot of relatives figure I am always available to do this or that on demand.  I guess shouldn't complain about having a job that lets me be very flexible with my time.  It's just sometimes I do need to remind people that just because I home doesn't mean I am not working.

As for the writing I have no figured out I write in stages:

Stage 1: Thinking, thinking thinking: coming up with the plot and playing it out in my mind.

Stage 2: The outline this is a pretty complete start to finish of that plot.

Stage 3: Turning the outline into the story.   Here's where I add dialog and start to flesh things out.  Funny one things start to flesh out I realize the outline needs to change here and there.  I then cascade those changes throughout the outline. 

Stage 4: Detailed writing.   When I am writing the story out at first I need to do it fast.  I guess I want to put it on paper before I forget it.  After I have it all out though I go back and add details.  Then I add more details then more.

Stage 5: Editing.  This is a tricky stage.  I often read things the way they should be not the way they are.  I find having my computer read my text back to me really helps.

Stage 6: More editing.  This is the changing one or two words to find the best possible words to use in a given situation.  I find this stage lasts until I find myself switching between the same two choices over and over.  Once that happens it's time for others to see my work.

For now I am plugging away at Stage 3!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Organic writing and Paper

This post actually will come in two part but they are related sort of.

I can't actually write my novels until I have a nice complete outline with a beginning, middle and end. By the time I am done with my initial outline it is usually about 1/10 of my finished books size. Which is cool. The thing is outline is only a road map to where I want to go. As the travel begins and I get to learn the characters I am dealing with I realize certain courses just won't work or other changes in direction just make more sense. The final destination is still the same (at least for now) but how we get there changes.

In this case the Sapphire Sirens starts out with a blackmailing case. I originally thought the blackmailer would be one person but upon further review while writing I just totally grew to understand that another person made much more sense. Not only where they a much more likely person to blackmail this subject but they also allowed me to weave another character into the plot in a much more believable (as much as anything in my stories is believable) way that allows me to cascade the incident into deeper parts of the story. All in all I am happy with the change. It just goes to show that nomatter how much I outline the actual writing always changes things.

Speaking of change, the blackmail itself sparked a bigger future culture and society issue. What the heck are we going to be doing with paper in 60 years? For the most part I think media on paper will become less and less prevalent as time progresses. I love paper. I love holding it in my hand. For longer stories I still prefer reading them on paper than I do screens. But I am middle aged and grew up with paper. Kids like my son and my newphew have grown up with web and electronic screens. They seem to have much less of an attraction to reading things on paper. I am assuming as time progresses and more and more youth who never knew days without the internet age, paper will become less and less important as a means of delivering information. Small or expandable screens we carry, or e-paper or even holographic paper will offer so many advantages to traditional paper that traditional paper from trees will become less and less common place as time progresses.

The thing is, if paper goes away, what the heck are we going to wrap things in? There are times such as giving holiday presents or when transporting items that we want them either protected or hidden or both by packaging. And when it comes to packaging for easy of use and availability you can't really beat paper. At least not yet. So how are we going to wrap holiday presents in the future? I guess we could put holographic covers over them but that just doesn't seem right. You can't rip of a holographic cover, there is no joy in that. My solution, nanopaper. Paper made from nanobots it's flexible, foldable and programmable. This way we can have our holiday presents and wrap them too.

Will it happen? Not really sure but it's fun and a little maddening to think about.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Man, this should have been in one of my books.

Just heard on "All things considered" about a gang of women in Ugandan robbing men by knocking them out by putting chloroform on their breasts. I guess this gives whole new meaning to phrases, "boob job". I only mention this because it sounds like something the bad girls in my books should have done (but haven't) but probably will do in some futuristic form in a later book.

Man their victims must feel like real boobs. (Okay I'm done now.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Rain, snow, sleet but what about relatives

It's been an interesting week and by interesting I mean chaotic. We had five extra relatives (my wives' sister and her husband and three teen boys) where visiting from Costa Rica. I love my relatives and I especially love introducing folks from the tropics to the "lovely" winter weather of upstate NY. The thing is with five extra people in our house (my office) things get a little hectic and by hectic I mean crazy. It doesn't make it all that conducive for somebody who is fairly easily distractive to get a lot of writing down, especially when I am listening to a mix of Spanish and English throughout the day.

The thing is deadlines come no matter what I do. Therefore I need to find ways to be productive even when I am being distracted. One thing I did was go over my outline and what I've written so far making it a bit tighter. I also did some reading in the Technological Singularity. The time in our near future when machines through AI pretty much start improving themselves even creating their own machines. I decided I wanted to address this issue somewhat in my next novel, The Sapphire Sirens. Is this going to be a good thing or a bad thing? Many people worry that if the machines can"think" and create themselves they will pretty much start saying, "why do we need the carbon based cretins hanging around?" Therefore this would be a bad thing. (See the Terminator.) Others believe that this is a good thing as the machines will take over the heavily lifting allowing us humans to better our minds and have way more leisure time where we can do more fun stuff more often.

What will my "bubble gum for the brain" angle on this be? First off, it occurred to me that HARV kind of does represent (at least on some levels) a singularity . He is a living, thinking, creative being. He just happens to be made off energy instead of carbon. How would the world react to a real HARV? How would a real HARV react to the real world? Of course I will examine this in greater detail in my book but for now let's just say, I don't think this will be a bad a thing. I guess I am an optimist at heart and mind but I don't know what motive the machines would have to get rid of us. I think if nothing else the machines will keep us around for the entertainment value. Maybe they will end up telling "human jokes"?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Book Drops

Flaxen Femme Fatale officially went on sale in bookstores all over the country yesterday.  I had almost forgotten that yesterday was the big day as I am now in "writing mode" trying to get the first full draft of the NEXT novel The Sapphire Sirens done on or around the end of month.  Luckily my sister called excitedly from a B&N in Boston saying, "I'm in the bookstore now and they have your books here!"

Right then I remembered, "Oh yeah my book comes out today..."  I am a little slow sometimes.  My wife attributes it to too much World of Warcraft.  I contribute it to aging or maybe landing on my head one too many times in judo.  Whatever the case, I switched into my book marketing mode.   Marketing is one of those things almost all authors have to do these days.  It's what I find as being one of the most unnatural (to me) parts of the book mind to book store process.  Basically I need to tell people, "buy my book it's really good, without quite saying, buy my book it's really good."  Though I do have to admit on few occasions I have actually told people I meet in bookstores and conferences, "buy my book, it's really good."

Getting back to my favorite (and only) sister I immediately told her to buy all the copies of the book.  She of course refused instead insisting that she gets one of my free copies.  I figured sure, this way my holiday shopping for her is done.  I did tell her to do what I would do if I was in the bookstore, give the book a turn out, so people could see the cover.  She told me the book was already turned out which made me feel good.  

Now this coming weekend I will be doing my part, I will be visiting all the local bookstores in my area and first making sure they are carrying my books.  If they don't care them I will talk to the book buyer and let them know I am a local nationally published author who would be grateful if they started carrying my books.  If they do care my books (which thankfully most of them do) I will first give my books a nice little turn out.  I will then once again seek out the manager and or book buyer and tell them who I am and then offer to sign any books they have on hand in the story.  I've never met a manger or book buyer who hasn't responded well to this.   Some of them even suggest doing book signings and readings and stuff like that.  It's not much but when you are "low midlist" you do whatever you can to help your cause.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Read and Writing

The secret behind every well at least many good writers is that they are also good readers. It makes sense reading helps us learn interes facts that gets us pondering about other interesting ideals. Not only that but seeing what writing techniques and styles work for other people can help a writer develop their own style.

I always like to be reading on fiction book and on non-fiction book. This way I get sample styles with the fiction and also learn stuff and generate new ideas with the non-fiction. It just seems to work for me.

The two books I am reading now are Raymond Chandler's, The Long Goodbye and Michio Kaku's Parallel Worlds. To look at the titles you may think Parallel Worlds is the SF book, but it's not. It's a scientific look at our universe or multiverse and the possibility that parallel universes exist. It's written in a nice lively style that's both easy to follow and informative. I am sure some ideas discussed in Mr. Kaku's work will pop up in my writing. After all I figure part of my role as a SF writer is to take the ideas from scientists and extrapolate from them how people in the future my relate and respond to these concepts. Hopefully I will do it in an entertaining way.

Which brings me to, The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler was the master of the pulp novel. He could say the most with least words in the right way. I hope that by reading and absorbing enough of Chandler I will be able to do a decent sci fi spin on his style. I also like to think my Zachary Nixon Johnson draws a lot of inspiration from his Philip Marlowe. They are both tough guys who work hard to do the right thing and get the job done. Of course Zach is a futuristic, SF, pimped out version, but I still like to think that Zach thinks, what would Marlowe do in this situation?

Have a good Turkey day!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Parallel Thoughts Are Good for the Souls?

A couple of days ago I caught a really interesting show on the history channel about the possibilities and consequences of parallel universes. The bottom line was some to many physicists believe that parallel universes or the multiverse do exist. (This is a new concept to some so new that word flags multiverse as misspelled.) I being a long time comic book reader and sf writer have been familiar with the concept for a while now. Though it’s something I’ve always avoided tackling in writing because quite simply I always thought the concept was too mindboggling for my simple mind to comprehend.

In the book I am writing now, The Seven Sapphire Sirens are currently ancestors from an alien race. The show though on history channel got me thinking, wouldn’t it be kind of neat if the atlantians actually came from a parallel dimension? This in turn got me thinking again about the possibilities and consequences of such dimensions and how we would deal with them. It is an interesting subject that got my mind off on a tangent. Are there an infinite number of possible parallel universes? Does every single action a person takes or decision they make cause a “branch” in one universe that creates another universe? Do my parallel universes coincide with the parallel universes of the people I interact with everyday? If so it seems like the number of universes each of us are living in would always be growing. So infinity would be getting larger?? Surely even infinity must have some sort of practical limit. Which brings up another question: what is the main universe? Is there a main universe?

To make a super complicated matter about matter even more complicated I started thinking how this would effect such metaphysical concepts like God and soul. Would each universe have its own God? Is there a hierarchal of Gods? Would there be one ruling God? What exactly would God be? I have no idea. To get a bit (but not much) more down to Earth would we share any mental / physical or psychic links with any parallel Universe copies of ourselves? To put it in more spiritual way do all of our parallel selves share the same soul? Do they share some sort of energy bond that some people call a soul? If one of ourselves dies do the others feel it? I would like to think all the “mes” out there do share some kind of common bond. But really I have no idea.

Finally I concluded, I don’t think humans (at least not this one) can truly comprehend how vast infinity and time and space are. Therefore writing about it or trying to write about it is something I will leave to other people. The Atlantians will be aliens from another planet. That is a concept I can truly sink my teeth into and appreciate. I can deal with writing about how we would deal with other cultures and races and how they would deal with us. As for parallel universes, they made for an interesting mental detour. Hopefully it was a detour that sparked my creative flow as I passed around it to my story.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The circle of ARCs

This is an interested time in the life cycle of The Sapphire Hair Sirens. The story is now well under control. I have my beginning that sets the story up. I have a middle the moves the story alone with a zag and a zig. I have a end that winds up nicely with a twist or three that still seals everything nice and tight while expanding the world for future Zach adventures. So Sapphire is chugging along nicely.

Just as Sapphire has gained momentum though Advanced Review Copies (ARCs) of my last book The Flaxen Femme Fatale (hits books stores Dec 2) have hit the internet. So while I am plunging forward for Sapphire I am reading the reviews of Flaxen and plugging it where ever I can. By plugging I mean touching base with advanced reviewers just to make sure they got their copies. If they have gotten their copies and read it I also ask for their opinions. As learning what others think of my "work" helps me discover what works and what doesn't work so well.

It can be a bit of a process but I find it is quite worth it as learning what people like about the book that is about to hit the shelfs really charges my batteries when working on my current work in progress. So in a sense the energy from the last book feeds the next book.

I guess that's why it's important that I kept plugging away and keep turning out novels (or comics or cartoons).

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Yeah it's Finally Over

Yes it's finally over. No I am not talking about the election, though I am glad that is done also. My congrats to whoever wins. I am thinking at this time it looks like Obama but looks can be deceiving.

No I'm talking about something really important, well at least to me. I have finally finished the chapter by chapter outline of my next book The Sapphire Haired Siren. Yes after a LONG process of "what ifs" and "maybe this will work" I've written out the summaries and some details of the 40-50 chapters that will be my next book.

I feel good as I now know the story will start, have a middle and a end that ties everything together. It's strange no matter how many books I write I always worry that I won't be able to work the next one out. But I did. Phew that's a relief.

Since I thought some might find it interesting here is my sample first chapter summary:


Zach in his office notices that the top downloaded songs are now: The Chicken Dance, The Macarana, YMCA, Tip Toe through the Tulips, Purple People Eater, Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini and Monster Mash. Carol smiles good music never dies. Zach likes the last one but the others….

Zach is contacted by Don Rickey and his wife body guard Tammy, Don is captain Rickey’s brother. He an ex-pro baseball player who is coming up on eligibility to be voted into the hall of fame. Problem is he has a mole, threatening to turn over info saying he used performance enhancing drugs. He didn’t. He needs Zach to hunt down the mole. The threat came on old fashion paper (made from trees) With old magazine letters.

Now I will spend the next week or two adding detail and ideas to the chapter outline summary. Once that is solid I will go to the easy part -- the actually writing of the book. I figure writing 2-4K words a day the writing will be done in 4o days.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Why I am voting Obama....

First off, I want to say, sorry for the rant, I just feel this is an important issue. I am putting this on both my blogs because I believe so strongly in the importance of people voting. Second off, I want to note, I am just saying who I am voting for. I am not claiming it is right or wrong.

As stated above I am casting my vote for Barak Obama. I think it’s time for a change in the country’s direction and attitude. I’m tired of the, we’re right and you’re wrong attitude. I'm a big of fan of looking for common ground and goals with other people (and countries) and finding ways to use our similarities to bridge the gaps between us. I’m a much greater supporter of carrots than sticks. Yes, there may be times when the stick (a big stick) is needed but I am of the opinion at first many types of carrots have to be tried. From his statements I’ve reached the conclusion that Barak is much more likely to talk first and shoot second. Frankly, John McCain’s singing (even in jest) "bomb bomb bomb bomb bomb Iran..." brought chills down my spine. We already have two wars, one of them very unpopular, we certainly don’t need a third.

I also believe in these tough economic times we need the guy who was first in his class leading the country. I don’t want the average Joe, Jane or George at the helm. We’ve had eight years of that and look where it’s gotten us. Can you truly say we are better off now than you were eight years ago? Are we more secure? Has our standing at the last remaining world power (not counting China or Russia) improved over that time? Have we made the world a better place? I don’t think so, hence my vote.

Yes Barak isn’t perfect (I hope he doesn’t mind me calling him Barak, after all I have given his campaign money); none of us are perfect. We can’t really tell how anybody we only meet in sound bites will act in a crisis. All we can do is get sense on how we think they will react based on the traits and personality we see. When I look at John McCain of 2008 I see an angry frustrated man, who reminds me of the neighbor who use to yell at us kids for stepping on his grass while picking up our baseball. When I look at Barak Obama I see a man who still has a gleam in his eyes and genuine smile. The neighbor who would not only throw back the ball to us but also hang out with us for a while. I see a person who is highly intelligent, well spoken, level headed and seems to genuinely care about people and the country. It’s time for a change in the direction of the country and change is spelled Obama.

Next week I promise I will be back to my regular blogging. The story is coming alone nicely.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Breaking Out

My brain had been in a bit of a fog with my father in the hospital suffering with pneumonia made far more tricky to deal with by late stage Alzheimer's disease. Still when you have deadlines you push forward. The good news is, one the pneumonia has responded to the antibiotics and two, I figured out who the murder(s) are in my next story The Sapphire Sirens.

It's funny this is a case where when I started I was quite certain who the victim was, who the killer(s) was /were and what everybody's motives were. The thing is once you start plotting, really plotting the story I realized the killers and the motives weren't good enough. Each of the characters had taken on a life (or death) of their own. What I originally thought they would do and how they would justify it no longer made sense in this world I had built for them. Problem was I still knew who the victim was but I needed a new killer and it wasn't clear as all six of my suspects had motives and potential reasons.

I love my computer I could not write without it, but there are times when my brain needs to free associate when the computer gets in the way. This was one of those times. I for some reason couldn't just type down each of the characters names and motivations and methods to figure out who was going to be the killer. I tried but it was too organized. Too neat and clean to inspire me. Therefore I went back to my tried and true old pencil paper and doodles. I scribbled down each of the subjects names, their likes their dislikes there goals. I started with the easy immediate ones. Then I kept adding and adding. The messier the paper became the clearer the motives became in my mind. After an hour or so I knew who the killer(s) was / were, how he / she / it / they did what and why.

Now of course I have to figure out how Zach does it but if I can do it he can.

The goal is to be totally outlined by the end of the month and then to get cracking with the writing.

One thing for certain I am glad I outline so intensely before I write as it makes changes in course a lot easier to deal with.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Running Past Empty

My father has been in the hospital for the last week with pneumonia which as put a damper on my writing energy and time. It's also been far more draining on me than I thought it would be. Guess I am getting old too. The thing is when you get paid to write books and you are on a deadline you still need to push the rest of life aside and trudge forward with that writing.

I admit this has not been one of my more productive weeks. The good news is I am still on track to finishing the full outline / story flow for Sapphire Sirens by the end of the month. That means with luck (lots of luck) I will have my draft done by the end of January. The trick I found for staying some what on time is to use my down time to think of ideas that will help shape the future world that these characters of mine live in.

Since I have been spending so much time in the hospital facing my fathers mortality and in many ways contemplating my own I've been thinking about medical advances that will keep my characters (and by proxy my family and I) out of situations like this in the future. One thing I've noticed is that nurses and nurses aids have some pretty nasty jobs to do. How long will it be until robots are doing some of the repetitive gross chores? My guess would be robot cleaners and mops would be first. Ideally we''ll have bed pan robots in the next 20-30 years. Also how long will it be before we have robotic med dispensers rolling from person to person handing out or delivering the right of amount of medication to each patient. This one might be harder for people to accept as a cold electronic smile certainly doesn't match a warm hand on the shoulder but it would certainly have potential to save human personal a lot of time.

A long the lines of something less SFish it would be nice if in the future doctors had more access to more information about patients that they could easily share with other doctors. I don't know if we'll carry our medical records (and perhaps our DNA makeup) in a chip in our fingers or not, but I could see how this might happen. I can see some good coming out of this as we would all have personalized medic alert tags with us at all times. I also see how this has the potential to be abused, perhaps by insurance companies scanning our tags and determining from our history and our DNA that we aren't insurable. That's part of the fun being a humor SF writer figuring out how these changes that are coming may help us or may drive us crazy.

One of the more frustrating experiences in the hospital is sometimes waiting a couple of hours to get three minutes of the doctors time to explain the situation to you. It would be nice if each patient's bed had a little recording device where the doc could record and leave holographic messages and updates for both the family and even nursing instructions. From my research we're still a good 10-20 years away from holographic recordings and I can also see the potential to abuse this but I still feel a system like this could help dissimulate information which to me is what progress is all about.

Pondering matters like this (as well as anti-aging technologies) not only keeps my mind busy but hopefully also makes my writing more interesting.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Expanding Readership

Viral Marketing without a budget

These days when you are "midlist" at best it's important for writers to do that they can do to reach potential new readers to hopefully increase their readership.  One thing I am attempting to do is bring Zach and company into the world of comic books and graphic novels.  I think as more and more people read less and less graphic novels will grow in popularity.  It's reading for people who grew up with MTV.   Hopefully some people who read the comics will look for books and visa versa.

Here is a sample of the upcoming Zach comic (this one is aimed at Iphones and Ipods as I do have a product coming out on those later in the year.)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Watching and Writing

To me being a good humor SF writer means reading other and watching humor and SF on television. Truthfully I actually watch more TV than I do reading.  Don't know if it's because I am lazy but I prefer to think it's because I want to branch out into TV.  No matter what the reason, watching certain shows on TV does give me good ideas for both jokes and how I want my writing to flow.  Plus it allows me to relax my mind and to get away from typing for a while.  It's another part of my job.

 So yes I consider watching Heros and Sarah Connor Chronicles and Chuck and Big Bang Theory work.  Fun work for the most part but work nonetheless.  By seeing what works for these shows and doesn't work for these shows I can learn what works for me and what I should avoid.

For instance I still enjoy watching Heroes but they tend to throw too many characters at us without a lot happening sometimes and with too much happening other times.  I also think sometimes they make the characters act less intelligent than they should in order to move the plot forward.  This is something I try to avoid.  Not sure if I succeed  but I try.  

I also learn a lot from The Big Bang Theory as I figure the guys on that show would be fans of my writing as they love talking about video games and comic books.  Plus it is fun for me to see how other people depict people who are more comfortable dealing with machines than other people as they try to deal with other people.  Plus I have to admit I am a geek.  

By entertaining myself I believe that makes me a happier and better writer.  After all, part of my theory on writing is, Write what you like and others will like it too.  Watching (and reading) others people's writing helps me learn more about what I like and don't like and therefore hopefully not only makes me happier but a better writer.

On that note: who the heck decided to put so many of the shows I really like on Monday and leave other nights so empty?  Fox please more Terminator (well Sarah Connor) to Wednesdays.  Team it Bones again or something.  


Friday, October 3, 2008

Future Imperfect

Part of my "role" as a humorous SF writer is to look at the world or today and see how it will be different tomorrow. By tomorrow I mean ten, twenty, thirty and more years from now.

The way I attempt to do that is by looking back twenty years ago to the 80s (yes the 80s where twenty years ago) and trying to figure out what we didn't have then but we somehow can't live without now. Then I try to semi-extrapolate that into the future. Yes it's not a exact science. Heck it's not even a pseudo science. Still this "guestament of the future" is how I roll.

I also try to tackle SF from the human behavior side... Why we do what we do...

First things that spring to mind while driving my son to school are cell phones. Dang, almost everybody has one and is on it, even when they shouldn't be. Twenty years ago, hardly any of us had cell phones yet we all did just fine. Today though having a cell phone is almost considered a necessity. I'm not really sure why. It's as if we don't want to be alone with our own thoughts. Or who knows maybe cell phones in some cases give us a sense of importance? It's like "I am so vital in what I do I must constantly be in communication with those around me so they can be better informed therefore I better about myself also." I'm not sure if this is the case but why else would be people risk their lives and others by talking or worse texting on cell phone while driving.

Whatever the case it has become increasing clear to me that as the future progresses we're going to want even more ways to communication with more people faster. This dialing a cell phone is going to become too time wasting. Even saying, "call home" takes like two seconds, two seconds the busy me of the future what be able to waste. That means to really make things better we're going to communication devices that either read or minds or based on our current situation or actions make the calls we want to make a split nanosecond before we know we want or need to make them.

Is this scientifically feasible? Without looking it I'd have to say probably. Truth be told, I don't actually think it's my job as a writer to come up with the science itself. It is my job to entertain with that science. When I think about all the possibilities that present themselves with communication devices that anticipate our needs I find that quite entertaining therefore I am going to run it.

Next post I'll talk about this little fad we call the Internet and how it may interact and be a part of our lives in the future. (I am trying to keep my posts small.)

Your thoughts are always appreciated....

Sunday, September 28, 2008


Recently I read a question on one of the forums I visit asking: Why Do Writers Write? It made me think but only a little as in my case the answer is fairly simple.

I write because:

  1. I enjoy writing and people pay me money to do it. It's great. I believe one of the secrets to happiness is finding people to pay you to do what you love.
  2. The hours are flexible, being a writer has enabled me to be a housedad to my son, to be there when he comes home from school and to hang out with him. (I also have to credit my wife with this one as her full time real day job is what first enabled me to quit my regular day job to be a writer.)
  3. I get to make up my old world, with my own rules. In way I guess writing is like escapism for me. It's a job and therapy.
  4. Writing when well done entertains people. So it kind of gives me purpose in life.
  5. Finally I get to go to conventions and stuff and I get to hang out with cool people.

Me at comic con this year with my buddy Liana K (I'm the one trying to look skinny....)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Still plowing away

I'm still plowing (or should I say ploying or plotting) away with The Sapphire Sirens. As I write those Sirens are all talking on very distinct personalities and traits. I am learning a couple of them wouldn't do what I thought they were going to do. Which was kind of sad because I needed these characters to perform certain actions to push the plot forward. Thing is I decided the actions and motives didn't match the characters.

Lucky another character (or two) stepped up and filled the void with their motives and moves. That's what I love about writing when one door shuts a couple mental windows open to sneak the plot in a different less obvious (but still as likely) direction. That's why I need to outline. It lets me guide the story without locking anything in. (It's easy to backtrack and fix at this stage.)

As for writing different characters, to me it's my chance to "act" as I try to think like each character would think. It's one of the aspects of writing I find to be the most challenging but also the most fun. I get paid to pretend to be somebody else, well sort of.

Holy paranoid Batman

I am working with a illustrator to produce a comic (for Iphones and such) based on Zach and company. Since Zach's office is located on the docks of new Frisco the artist decided to go to a certain city and snap some pictures of their docks. The department of defense police spotted him and forced him to give them his phone. They then proceeded to delete his photos. On one hand I'm glad somebody is watching. On the other hand I'm kind of scared somebody is watching. Sign of the times.

A sneak peak...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Build it and They Will Read

In order to write an interesting story an author (at least this author) needs to understand his characters motivations. In order to do that the author must understand the world and the environment their characters grew up in and are interacting with. As as people shape the world around so are they shaped by that world. (It's early and I am still on my first cup of caffeine.)

After seven books I understand much of this futuristic world Zach lives in. The thing is much of my next story, The Seven Sapphire Sirens takes place on Atlantia a place that has been isolated from society and therefore is different. I hit a bit of mental log jam yesterday and I figured out this happened because I really didn't know Atlantia all that well. I had a vague concept in my mind (which is sometimes all you need) but in this case I first needed to know the world better. Then I could get to know the Sapphire Sirens in this world better and therefore know their motivations.

I am now going to get to know the world "live" in front of you as I write down some of my thoughts on Atlantia. (I won't share all of my thoughts just enough so you can see the process.)

-- Population 100K all women. A domed city under the water. The city can move if need. (Though it hasn't moved in decades.)

-- Located in the middle of the pacific and cloaked.

-- All the buildings seem to be made from natural crystals. It's really just one big town. There is a giant park in the middle of the town.

-- Ruled by a queen and her princess daughters. (Yes, this a lot like the island Wonder Woman comes from.)

-- All the women are taller and stronger than normal humans all have the ability to mesmerize human males with their voices. (Okay, wonder woman with some Dune tossed in.) The women are human but advanced as Atlantian society predates dry society.

-- It is a very closed society, the woman all age very slowly. If they need to mate or just "have fun with a man" they can visit the "dry world" and either have fun there for a while or if you have royal blood you may bring a pet man back to Atlantia for a short period of time.

-- Totally self-sufficient, semi-socialist society with bots doing most of the labor. The women of Atlantia are then free to explore science and the arts with their time. (Though a small portion of them are needed to maintain the bots.)

-- The bots on Atlantia are not as advanced as bots on the rest of Earth because the bots have simpler tasks. There is also no holographic technology on Atlantia as that goes against natural perceptions.

-- The queen's word is final.

-- They do pick up signals from the dry world and some do watch entertainment from the dry world. (But they convert 3D signals to 2D.) Others argue that this corrupting their society and therefore should be avoided.

-- For their own entertainment they have plays and music and exhibits. A couple Atlantians have gone to the dry world to become stars.

I also drew out a map of the city which helps me get the lay of the end.

Between this rough map and this general ideas I now know enough to move forward.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Mental Traffic Jam

Man, outlining can be such a drag. Yes it is an important part of my process. It's what makes the writing part fun and easy but at the risk of being redundant it is a drag. Still, writing is a job and like any other job (unless of course you are Ryan Seacrest) there are some parts of it that may not be fun but you still have to do them. The thing that was complicating matters was I have another project, a comic book, that is just in it's very early stages. (I am too poor not to have at least three projects at going at different stages at once.)

One thing I have learned about my own mind though is if one story idea is in it's infant stages, i.e it's just a glitter of an idea, I won't be able to continue with other projects until I get that story at least summarized from start to finish. It creates a mental traffic jam in my brain. So I actually took yesterday to write that idea all the way. It's just five paragraphs: a begging, middle and end, but that's all I need. I now know exactly where that story is going to go therefore it is no longer clogging my brain's pathways. As an added bonus the summary I wrote can be added to the pitch of the comic.

Ah, it's good when things work out.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Pushing Through it

I'm still pushing through the middle of my outline for my next novel The Sapphire Siren. This is the least exciting part for me.
In the beginning the idea is fresh and new so it's easy to write. Towards the end you can see the finished product and that gives you the energy you need to write on. The middle is where you need to piece everything together, very important just not as exciting. Still, like any other job there are days when you gotta do it even if you don't wanna do it.

Reading writer's forums I often see the question, "what do you do on those days when you don't feel like writing?" (Okay, maybe not that exact question but that's the general idea.)

The answer, "you sit your butt in the chair in front of the computer and you write." At least that's what I do. Writing is my job and I try to treat it like a regular 9 to 5 job. (Okay more like a 9 to 3 job and then a 11pm to 1am job in my case.)

That means I make myself write everyday rather I feel like it or not. Some days I will just plop myself down at the computer and type away and see what comes out. It may be crap at first but often that crap is the fertilizer that turns into flowery prose. (Well in my case, pulpy prose.) I've been doing that for the last couple of days and quite frankly I've been surprised by certain turns of events in my plot. One character who I thought was going to be the "minor bad" turns out to have just been used. Another character who I thought was going to be turns out to be much sneakier than I thought. So while I certainly know how the book begins, now due to changes in the middle the end may not be quite the end I first envisioned. This is what makes writing: challenging, fun, frustrating and ultimately rewarding.

I also should note that not all of writing consists of writing. There is a lot of research involved either in the form of web surfing for facts or reading other types of material just to sample other styles. The more you read the better you write.

For those of you are really observant, yes I actually go through two middles. The middle while outlining and then again the middle while turning the outline into a novel. The middle while outlining is far more a sludge for me as once the outline is done and complete for me the writing the story is the easy part.

The moral of today's blog: Nike is right, sometimes you just gotta do it..

Rants for today:

Rant 1:
I keep asking myself, self if Sarah Palin was a man with the exact same qualifications would she be potentially one failed heart beat away from being president of the United States? I keep answering myself, "ah no."

Picking a candidate because they look good on camera and shake things up seems to me is a good way to choose an American Idol judge not a possible American VP.

Rant 2:
The president want to spend 700 billion to bail out the mortgage industry. I can see where it would be bad if the industry failed. My question is, where the heck does the 700 billion come from? (This is more of a question than a rant.)

Rant 3:
Apparently, texting while driving is becoming more and more of problem. Studies are showing that texting while driving is even more hazardous than driving while intoxicated. To which I say, "duh." At least when you are drunk you are making some sort an attempt to look at the road. If your life is so busy that you must be constantly texting let somebody else do the driving. (Either that or have a designated texter while you drive.) :)

Just yesterday I passed a guy texting while on a bike. While this is not as dangerous to me or others it's still pretty foolish. Now I see what Darwin was talking about with survival of the fittst.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Paper? What is this paper you speak of?

First off, I have to save I love my computer. If it wasn't for computers and word processors I probably wouldn't be a writer today instead I would still probably be a computer programmer. (Okay I guess I was sort of destined to be a writer.)

The computer is great for recording a series of events and for letting my thoughts flow in a fast and orderly manner. I can type almost as fast as I think. Heck, sometimes it appears that I type faster than I think. (Ask my editors.)

The thing is there are times when I need to free form. I have this dilemma in my next novel: The Sapphire Sirens. I have a character from a seemingly near perfect closed society who needs to be killed. The thing is I needed:

1) A way to kill them. How does somebody kill somebody in a society where there has been no death in a LONG time.

2) Since I wanted the death to be subtle and not a right out obvious murder I needed a way for the other society members around this person to figure out, "Hey, this isn't natural! This was a murder."

I tried sitting at the computer and writing it out. Step by step. Just to see what would flow out. Didn't like the results.

So last night while watching Eureka and also watching the Mets game (on split) I took a pad of paper and starting free forming (well writing) words. The words in order were:

Death... Dying... Subtle... Death (yeah I wrote that already) Death of a Salesman... Death takes a vacation... Death takes a day job... Death of vauldville... Poison...

I circled poison. I knew all along this had to be done with poison. Then I drew and arrow from poison and started scribbling phrases:

Arsenic... Arsenic and Old Lace... CO2... New Poison... Designed Poison Poison Pen... Death by Chocolate... Pen Pal...

My mind then somehow linked these phrases and I had the perfect subtle way to kill this character.

So the first part of my problem was done. Now I just needed to find a way the other characters could figure out this character had been poisoned. New piece of paper. New scribbles:

CSI, CSI Miama, CSI Cleavland, Monk, Skunk, (no idea where that came from), Watson, Holmes, House, Fox, 10 Little Indians, Cleavland Indians, I don't believe the Mets are losing... Argh... Mets are losing... Washington Nationals... (I then drew a circle around them with arrows through it. Okay back to detecting poisons...)

Blood, sweat, tears, dna, bad aura, swab...

Somehow on that sequence it hit me. I had my answer. Let's just say sometimes the simplest solution is the best solution. I then popped back to my computer (checked my email, checked my WoW email) and then picked up where I left off in my outlining process. Now trying to turn the chaos into an orderly (and fun to read) sequence of events.

Hopefully it worked!

Now on to my rants for the day:

Last night watching Colbert Report I ran into this charity Nothing but Nets they send netting to Africa to help prevent malaria. A really good cause. Check em out if you get a chance.

Still thinking about Tina Fey's performance as Sarah Palin. Now I'm convinced, Tina Fey should be VP.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Outling is the Hardest Part

With apologies to Tom Petty (and the Heartbreakers) I find the outling to be the hardest part of the writing process.

Why is this I ask myself? (I talk to myself a lot. I figure it's not a bad thing as long as I don't answer myself that often.) After much mental effort I have concluded this is time I give myself heart palpitations because this is where I worry, "I will never be able to tell this story...."

The first part of the process is done. I now know this story I want to tell. I know where the story (The Sapphire Sirens) will start. I know what the middle should be. I know how I think I want it to end. The tricky part is the piecing or linking all these all together in a coherent manner that actually makes sense and is fun to read. This is the part that takes the work. (Plus hopefully also takes about 80K - 100K words.)

How do I do this process? I set a date when I want the outline to be done and mark on my calendar. (In this case, Oct 15, 08. Which also happens to be when Hispanic Heritage Month Ends. Which seems weird to me, since it's the middle of a month. Maybe I need a new calendar.)

Then I sit down in my chair, fire up Word and get writing and by writing I mean outlining. (After I curse out Word for auto numbering my outline when I don't want it to. I know Bill Gates is richer than I am and way smart but I wish his programs wouldn 't make such assumptions.) After the rant, I start with step 1 and keep churning away from there until I get to step X. The first run through the outline will be fairly general. For example this is from the initial outline of my novel coming this December, The Flaxen Femme Fatale:

1) Zach is sleeping in bed, he is awoken by a beautiful woman he doesn't know. He jumps out of bed and grabs his gun (yes he keeps a gun under his pillow). He demands to know who the woman is. The woman laughs and tells him he has nothing to fear. As long as...

2) The woman disappears. HARV comes on line. Zach tells HARV what happened. HARV thinks Zach is crazo. (Yes I use slang from the book.)

3) The stories continues...

This example was just given so you could see the depth or lack of depth (depending on your perspective) of the outline without giving away much of what happens.

How long do I work on the outline each day?

There is no set answer to that question. The rough answer is, I try to force myself to spend at least 2 hours a day on this outline. SS is not my only project I have going on. I have my Working Daze comic to write, I have other books, comics and movies in the hopper. Plus I have a life to lead.

Yesterday my schedule was wake up (I find my days start best if I wake up first) at 8am. I spent an hour of the outline writing new stuff. I then got my working daze cartoons written and out to the artist. Next I hit the tennis court for an hour. After that it took me a while to recover from the tennis. (Yes, I am not as young as I once was.) Then I did chores like shopping (wife is the one with the real job) and walking the dog and stuff. While watching the Mets double headed I doodled out ideas for other projects. Then I edited a paper for my buddy Elena for her college project. (I find I can edit other people's material easier than I can my own.) Finally, I ended the day by putting another hour or two into the outline. Only this time instead of writing new material I went back over the old material and tweaked and smoothed it. I find the better I understand the first third of the book the better the last two thirds will flow.

So as you can see the outling process is not a continue one. As if I was I would drive myself crazy. Remember that worry I talked about at the beginning? It's in the background nagging at me constantly throughout the process. The worry that I won't be able to finish the outline. That I will quite frankly fail and not only have to give back my advance but also more importantly disappoint my readers. SS is my tenth book so this is the tenth time I gone through this process and worry. By breaking up the outling by interspersing other parts of my life I not only help refresh my mind but it also somehow helps me realize that, yes I will finish this book.

More on outlining next....

Note: Did you catch Tina Fey as Sarah Palin on SNL? Wow, excellent job. The more I see her the more impressed I am. (With Fey.)

I also want to put in a plug for another e-buddy Steve Steiner and his current Zuda entry Middle-Aged Monster. It's silly fun that we could all use more of.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Intro... Why?

The goal of this blog is follow my "adventures" while I take my latest novel, The Sapphire Sirens (SS) from a bunch of thoughts in my mind to a finished novel for Daw books that will be appearing in bookstores in Dec 2009.

My hope is that other (newer) writers my find this process interesting (or at least not totally boring) and perhaps even learn something from it. My thoughts will go directly from my mind (such as it) to this blog which means it may be a bit raw and slight visceral. But that's a good thing. Right?

I may on occasion break off on a slight rant on whatever I happen to be thinking about at the moment. But I will try to control myself and for instance not to complain about how myopic and partisan both major political parties in this country can be. (I get a bit tired of the we're always right and they are always wrong attitude...but I will control that I promise. All I will say is, change is good.)

Now on to the writing process:

My last novel The Flaxen Femme Fatale (FFF) is totally out of my hands now. Editing the proofs is done and it's a go to hit shelves in December of this year. The cover is on amazon and I am really pleased with it. That means its now time to take Sapphire out of the thinking stages to the writing stages.

My writing process is three fold with each of the folds having various levels. The first fold is the thinking part. Here is were I do a good deal of the work without every actually writing much down. The goal here is to decide the story I want to tell. This book will be the seventh with this characters so I why to take the story to new grounds while still keeping many of the features my readers have come to expect: the interplay between my PI Zach and his holographic assistant HARV, the whit, the social commentary, the pulp satire and of course the incredibly beautiful and intelligent woman Zach deals with on a daily basis.

I decided this story will have three parts (I'm big on threes) a simple mystery that Zach will solve. Turns out the mystery is test by the women of Atlantis they need somebody to solve a crime and wanted to make sure Zach was their man. They basically PI-nap Zach and take him to Atlantis where he must discover who tried to murder their leader. Zach wraps up this case only too learn this was just part of another test a much bigger test to see if HARV posed as a danger to society. As the women of Atlantis worry that a computer smarter than humans will spell the end of humanity. I can't say more without giving more away (obviously). It should be a fun story to tell.

Over the course of the past few months (as I made final edits to FFF) I've been formulating SS in my brain. Now that FFF is done and I am happy with the general ideas behind SS it's time to go to the second stage. That is what I am starting today. The outline. Yes, I outline. It's a rather complete outline with dialog and descriptions as they pop into my mind. My outlines are pretty complete road maps but I always allow room and time for detours. So while they are maps they are not etched in stone.

The final stage is the actual writing and then editing and more editing part. I am still a good two months away from this part. Luckily my outlines are usually so complete in many ways this is the easiest part.

More on the outlining later. I hope to ad something every other day as it will force me to keep the process going.