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.