Saturday, January 22, 2011

words of encouragement

As of this moment, I am 20,000 words into the Otherwhen Chronicles. What had existed previously as a series of loosely-connected short stories and vignettes is slowly being fleshed out into a full-fledged novel. This is proving both harder than I expected and easier in some ways, too. Easier, because having what amounts to a blueprint to draw from frees me from the contraints of plot development. I know how the story ends. Now all I have to do is fill in the blanks and smooth the transitions. Harder, because, as I’ve said previously, my predominant “style” is to let the characters tell their stories and go along for the ride as a transcriptionist of sorts

The latter is a very Bradbury-esque approach and one that has served me well through the years. Going back in to build upon already existing prose, however, is a new step for me. Oh, of course I’ve done something similar when I edit my work and find that I need to elaborate here, or clarify there, but I’ve never done anything as intensive as this. There have been entire scenes which have either been completely rewritten or disposed of entirely. In some ways, I feel like a vivisectionist, deconstructing the story at an almost molecular level, then reconstituting it in the hopes of giving it new life, like a latter-day Victor von Frankenstein. The method has both its rewards and its challenges.

Sometimes, I feel the need for a little advice, just to ensure that I’m on the right track. Writing, after all, can be a very insular pursuit. A while back, I remember reading a wonderful treatise on writing by the great Robert Louis Stevenson. Luckily, I bookmarked the website presenting those words of wisdom, so that when I felt my creative energies flagging, I might get a bit of a morale boost from somebody who actually knows a little something on the subject of writing. I mean, you can’t do much better than a recognized master in the art of literature, right?

A quick check in my bookmark file and I found what I was looking for: The Art Of Writing, by Robert Louis Stevenson. The following quote, lifted directly from Chapter IV: A Note On Realism gave me just the boost I needed, not because it told me what to do, so much as reminding me that I’m on the right track:

A work of art is first cloudily conceived in the mind; during the period of gestation it stands more clearly forward from these swaddling mists, puts on expressive lineaments, and becomes at length that most faultless, but also, alas! that incommunicable product of the human mind, a perfected design. On the approach to execution all is changed. The artist must now step down, don his working clothes, and become the artisan. He now resolutely commits his airy conception, his delicate Ariel, to the touch of matter; he must decide, almost in a breath, the scale, the style, the spirit, and the particularity of execution of his whole design.”

These words and more can be found at the Literature Project, where Stevenson’s “The Art of Writing” are preserved in their entirety. As for me, it is time, once again, for me to don my working clothes and “become the artisan.” I just like the sound of that…

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

establishing the rules

It’s not a snag. Not really. More a point of divergence that may or may not be an issue. It does, however, raise some interesting points worthy of discussion. It goes something like this…

When creating a situation in which the “known world” we live in collides with the “unseen world” of magic and legend, there are choices to be made. To begin with, does the collision bring about a blending of magic and technology? Or do the two negate one another? I’ve been wrestling with this concept all weekend. I blame this on J.K. Rowling. We’ve been doing a marathon run of the Harry Potter movies, mainly because my partner, Donny, had never seen any of them, but also because I like the milieu. Call it research of sorts.

In any event, Rowling goes out of her way to keep technology out of the picture, which I find very interesting. The story of the boy wizard, Harry, is said to take place in today’s modern world. Even so, one never sees a cel phone or a computer. The few televisions that do make an appearance are brief and most likely present to put context to the Muggles who are too wrapped up in their own world to take notice of the magical one surrounding them. This is an interesting approach

Donny and I had a short discussion about this phenomenon and it is his opinion that the author made a conscious decision. Because the children of Hogwarts are there to learn the ancient arts of magic, it would stand to reason that they wouldn’t have computers or cel phones. It makes a kind of sense. There are private schools in existence today that don’t allow cel phone usage on campus. Also, as an author of children’s literature, Rowling is providing an alternative to the technologically-based entertainment option that often finds kids plugged into laptops, cel phones or televisions for hours at a time. Okay, I can buy all that.

Still, the question of just how much technology to allow is a large one. There have to be rules about such things. Where Otherwhen is concerned, is it an all or nothing situation? If Club Dark’s neon sign works, why wouldn’t a telephone? And if a telephone works, why wouldn’t a cel phone? Would televisions still work, though cel phones and laptops don’t? If so, what are the physics that allow it to happen? I am FAR from a scientifically minded person, so I don’t have the answers. And because I have such a shortage of time in which to ply my chosen trade, spending too much of it following threads of minutia that really have no particular influence on the plot, is futile at best. It all comes down to color and texture.

In one scene, I have the protagonist Tristan Desmond enter an Elvish safehouse with her partner, Ulric. There she sees a group of elves smoking pot and watching re-runs of Happy Days on a decrepit television set. She also notices that the set isn’t plugged in. When she asks how it’s possible, she is told that the elves have figured out a way to capture the transmissions that are still bouncing around in the atmosphere, but that they are distorted and “unpure.” Hence the “plot” of the episode she’s watching, in which Fonzie has to rescue Richie and the gang from a marauding Shoggoth. She thinks nothing more of it and moves along. This scene is incidental, but adds texture to the plot, which has Tristan dismissing the elves as allies, because they are too wrapped up in the more hedonistic aspects of humanity’s lure. It also serves to show just how screwed up the once “predictable” world has become.

Is this a cheat? I don’t think so. I believe that some aspects of technology would still exist in this changed world, but because of certain influences, distortion would be a problem. Consequently, most technology would be abandoned, because it has become unpredictable. Telephones may work, but you may not always reach the party you intended. Cel phones and laptops would be far too unpredictable. Imagine the viruses that a magic-based society could unleash. And what about combustion engines? Those should still be viable in their most basic forms, though computer chips would eventually prove worthless in terms of efficiency. The ramifications are legion.

There have been plenty of writers out there who have dabbled in this magic vs. technology field. Some of them are favorite authors of mine, including Jim Butcher, Simon Green and others of the so-called “Gritty Urban Fantasy” genre. Then there were the made-for-cable movies, “Cast A Deadly Spell” and “Witch Hunt,” both of which follow the adventures of hard-boiled detective Harry Philip Lovecraft in a 1940s Los Angeles peopled by wizards, witches and other supernatural creatures. Each has its interesting points of departure, but no two milieus are the same. Which leaves plenty of wiggle room for an establishment of laws.

Ah, but those laws must be established and that is where the “snag” comes in. I’d rather be writing, right now, but until I get a handle on this whole technology angle, I can’t really proceed. It should be simple and expressed quickly, I think. As I said, it isn’t a major plot device, so it shouldn’t become a sticking point. It should, however, make sense. Much like the genre known as steampunk, it has to be logical in order to work. Nothing drives me crazier than a “world” that doesn’t make sense. Establish the rules and follow them. That, then, has been my latest challenge. Still, it is a progress of sorts…

"I've got the key to my castle in the air, but whether I can unlock the door remains to be seen." ~ Louisa May Alcott (Little Women)

Sunday, January 16, 2011


It’s been a week since I posted here. A week spent writing like a fiend and making great advances in the progression of plot and character development. Let it be understood, however, that those moments of writerly endeavor are far from regular and seldom focal points of any given day. I write when I can, stealing moments and setting aside hours when I can address the urge in private. Living in a household of boisterous energy and having a very busy life to pursue, it’s not often easy, but I take what I can get. As I don’t have much to impart on the process of writing, at this point, I thought I would give a glimpse into the other side of a working writer’s life. To wit, what this writer does when he’s not writing.


Bake Bread

I love cooking and try to do it often. Unfortunately, because of my schedule and the hours I keep managing the local historic theatre/performance space, I don’t often have the kind of time I’d like to spend on this particular stress-relieving hobby. Enter the latest gadget in our kitchen: a bread machine, handed down by my partner Donny’s parents. Now I can create culinary delights (like this loaf laced with pesto, feta, sun-dried tomatoes and walnuts )at the same time that I’m writing! I love it. Does it satisfy ALL of my gastronomic needs? No, but it does offer some respite from that annoying rumble in the pleasure me center and allows me to substitute knead for need.


Connect With Touring Friends

Living where we do—at the “crossroads” where I-25 and I-10 intersect--we occasionally have musician friends drive through, while on tour. When that happens, and if they don’t have a pressing gig in some faraway city like Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque, El Paso or Austin, we always offer a place to stay and decompress. This time around, it was dark glam goddess Venus DeMars who took us up on our hospitality, spending two nights, a wonderful day hiking in the nearby Organ Mountains and an evening of fireside musical bliss that will long be remembered by the denizens of this culture-starved household.


Play With Fire!

Having the kind of schedules we all do, the yard tends to get a little neglected. Okay, it gets a LOT neglected. After the nourishing rains of the Fall months, hardy weeds begin to proliferate and, if they’re not tended to, quickly overtake every square inch of available land. Which means that at this time of the year, we have to call out the big guns and blast them back to the nether reaches of whatever hell to which weeds wither away. Our friend Mike came by with his heavy-duty torch and we set fire to the entire yard, burning, raking and generally taking back the yard. It was an all day adventure and satisfied some deep primal need to destroy that which is unwelcome. Beats all hell out of taking out aggressions on door-to-door, pamphlet-pushing zealots sporting blue hair and Laura Ashley prints, no?


Entertain the Masses

I’ve already mentioned my job at the Rio Grande Theatre. It’s a rare weekend that doesn’t entail some sort of attention to on-stage performance. This particular weekend we played host to a visiting dignitary from the outback of Australia: William Barton, the “world’s foremost authority on the Australian didjeridu.” It was a magical afternoon of storytelling and foreign sounds. Highly enjoyable and definitely inspirational for those of us who are always looking for the unusual to spark an idea or ten in the netherfolds of our creative consciousness.

Ah, but a new week looms on the misty horizon and with it the promise of stolen moments in which I can return to the task of illuminating the exploits of the fiercely ungovernable denizens of Otherwhen. With all senses stimulated and engaged, it should prove most rewarding. Or, at least, characteristically challenging.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

the creative process

It’s an interesting thing, the creative process. Though there have been volumes written and countless documentaries made on the subject, it still remains a mystery to most. I’ve spent the better part of the past 30 years or so exploring my process while reading about and listening to artists, writers, musicians, poets, sculptors, animators, actors and even video game designers talk about their own explorations of this elusive concept. What I have realized is that the Creative Process can be summarized pretty efficiently in two simple words: Whatever Works. There is no right or wrong way to be creative, so long as creativity is achieved.

Right now, I find myself in very unfamiliar territory, but rather than feel that I am straying from the formula that has always worked best for me, I’m actually enjoying the process of tweaking my process and putting it through its paces. After all, it was the creative process I know and understand that got me to the place I’m in now. As I’ve said before, I’ve been letting the citizens of Otherwhen talk about themselves and their surroundings for close to a decade; transcribing their adventures as I go, much like a musician writing down the music he hears in his head. Now I’m doing something I’ve never done before. I’m taking those individual orchestrations and rearranging them, full knowing what the outcome will be, and creating a more cohesive whole with an overarching beginning, middle and end. To continue the metaphor, it’s a bit like creating a concept album and I am loving it!

In fact, I’ve been plugging right along over the last few days and have now mapped out the entire book, scene-by-scene, and twist-by-twist. In the process, I’ve discovered a few discrepancies (easily fixed), a dead-end or two (backtracked and rerouted) and the need to explore and probably rewrite the motivations of a few of the existing characters. Sounds tedious and it is, but I’m still high on the possibilities and very much undaunted by the challenge. I’ll be hitting it again HARD first thing in the morning. There are a few elements I’d like to introduce and a scene or two in need of fleshing out. Just part of the process and one I’m looking forward to exploring further.

Meanwhile, here’s one of the stories from my new anthology, Dimensions Of Desire, entitled The Hero Trap. It comes courtesy of the Sizzler Editions Blog and my illustrious editor, M. Christian, without whom any of this would be possible. Not because I couldn’t have done it without him, but because I wasn’t doing it at all, until he introduced the means to do so and made me believe that the time was right. And isn’t that, in the end, what being a good editor is all about?

”You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” ~ Ray Bradbury

Thursday, January 6, 2011

taking stock

I’ve hit my first snag. I’m now about 10000 words in to the new book and am realizing that there may be points of divergence here that I hadn’t counted on. The problem lies in the fact that the Otherwhen Chronicles began life as a round-robin experiment, in which I wrote the first segment then sent it off to another writer, who picked up the threads and wrote the next segment, then sent it back to me so that I could do the same and so on. It was a great deal of fun at the time, but admittedly not the best way to write a cohesive narrative. It was complicated by the fact that the first writer dropped out a few segments in and was replaced by yet another writer, with a completely different writing style. That continued for a while, until he too dropped out and I decided to continue on my own.

In a sense, what I’ve ended up with is an origin story that is literally all over the map. Plot twists are introduced that lead nowhere, characters come and go without explanation and storylines are left dangling, never to be picked up again. It’s very much like episodic television. Remember Buffy The Vampire Slayer? One week the characters would be very dark and the storyline dramatic, the next would be more comical and light-hearted and the next would be a musical. Fans loved it, but the overarching storyline tended to suffer. Just so this tangled mess in which I find myself re-immersed. The real difference is that we went the whole Perils Of Pauline route and tried to end each segment with a cliffhanger. The next writer’s task was to get the characters out of their jam, then build the story back up to another suspenseful faux conclusion. Very melodramatic. Not very conducive to smooth transitional storytelling.

Not that I am at all daunted by any of this. If anything, it just presents a new and unforeseen set of challenges. Somehow I’ve got to break down these unruly batches of prose into their base elements, either wrap-up the dangling threads or jettison them entirely and bring the story back to its arc. Either that, or rethink the whole concept of this book. There have been some very good examples of episodic, multi-writer tomes. The Borderland and Sanctuary series come to mind. However, since this particular “story” begins as a multi-writer manuscript, but eventually becomes a solo endeavor, it gets tricky.

A friend of mine once told me that the only way he can write his novels is to break every plot device down into segments and synopsize them onto 3x5 index cards, which he then tacks up onto a corkboard so that he can look at it, much like a storyboard used by film animators. This way, he says, he doesn’t lose track of the incidental moments that have become so important to the type of stories he writes. He can simply add or subtract index cards as he builds the story. Then, when he’s satisfied that all of the elements are in place, he sits down and starts writing. This is a very complex and sequacious way of approaching the craft. My style of writing has always been more freeform, much like what Ray Bradbury describes. I let the characters tell the story and many times I have no idea how that story is going to end until it is revealed to me. It’s a lot like watching a movie in my head and transcribing it as I go.

In this case, however, the movie is already in the can. Hours of footage that now have to be edited down to a serviceable and more easily manageable whole. I find myself wondering if my friend’s approach might not help, simply by virtue of the fact that it would allow me to keep track of all those untidy elements and either work them back into the storyline or extricate them entirely. He also tends to color code his cards, so that he knows which plot elements they are addressing. This, too, could come in handy here. What it means, however, is that I will be stepping away from the enjoyable task of word production and taking on the role of editor. Something I have a lot of experience with, but not exactly what I had in mind, right now.

Still, if I am to do justice to these characters and the tales they have been imparting to me over the last ten years or so, the problem must be addressed. Sure, I could just put it aside and start something new, but that would be taking the easy way out. This particular challenge will take far longer than originally intended, mainly because I have a full-time job and don’t have more than a handful of hours each day to devote to it. What I do have, however, is the drive to see it through to the end, no matter how long it takes. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while, now, and really, there is no better time than the present to make it happen.

So, I appear to have made up my mind. I’ll forge ahead. The how of it has yet to be decided. I’ve got a lot of reading to do and notes to take. Who knows, I may even discover something new and completely unforeseen along the way. In any event, this book will get written and, in the process, I will try to document its creation here. It may not always be remarkable, but I hope it will, at least, be illuminating.

Okay then… (sound of cracking knuckles) better get to it…

Monday, January 3, 2011

the activity of creation

The process has begun. As the old year dwindled down and the new year sprang into being, I was given the gift of time away from work, away from phones ringing and impromptu meetings. I had an entire week off and I used it to my best advantage. Besides starting this new blog, I spent a great deal of time pouring through old files and revisiting the world of Otherwhen in earnest. What I found was not just another anthology waiting to be compiled, but an opus waiting to be realized. Those files are, in essence, the elements of a puzzle waiting to be constructed.

They had existed as a series of vignettes, character sketches, short stories and novella-length offerings up until recently. Though I had entertained the notion of one day compiling them all into book form, I’d never really given any thought to the logistics of the idea. In a sense, all I’d been doing over the past decade was compiling information and putting my characters through a few paces to see how they would react in certain situations. Sometimes those situations culminated in a conclusion, sometimes they didn’t. I wasn’t writing for anybody else. It was, admittedly, an exercise in self-indulgence.

All that has changed, now. Sitting down and going through the old files--putting them in a freeform attempt at chronological order, spreading them out and taking stock of the ragged edges--I have discovered that what I have created is a framework of sorts: A skeleton, with enough sections of flesh, muscle and tendon to identify it as a comprehensible whole. It must be similar to the feeling Dr. Victor von Frankenstein first felt when he took in the shattered pieces of fresh flesh lying on his laboratory table and recognized the possibilities his future actions could assert.

To take otherwise inert materials and sew them together, build them up and fill in the gaps, layer upon layer, until soon it is recognizable not for its individual parts, but for the wholeness of its being. What a rush! Suddenly ideas I had either never considered, or had dismissed due to lack of time or inability to follow the concept through to its logical end, are making themselves known. I can see the over-reaching arc of the story and recognize areas in need of obvious fleshing out or, even better, infusions of subtle subtext.

It appears that I have not one book here, but several. At least two. A little massage and manipulation, some necessary rewriting here and there, the creation of new scenes to tie others together; who knows, I might have more than two. I’m not going to concern myself with that, right now. Instead, I’m just going to do what my instincts tell me to do: Tackle the first book. Strip these written pieces of all artifice and find the kernal of storytelling truth in each one. Write the story that has always wanted to be written.

Just short of two thousand words written this morning and I find myself six thousand words into a new novel. The rest are like pages fluttering in a breeze, waiting to be addressed. Some will change, others will merge with new words and ideas, but ultimately a whole will be produced. I’m not giving myself a deadline. No expectations. Just the thrill of writing and the discoveries that are inevitable in the process. It’s a whole new year and I’m off to a rollicking start. Somewhere, a certain gorgon demon slayer is smiling.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

on starting fresh

I’ve never been one for “resolutions.” Especially the New Year variety; because, seriously, like anything I vow to “work on” in the new year is actually going to be decided in a drunken moment, surrounded by equally marinated friends and acquaintances, during the final hours of the previous year? I don’t think so. Peer pressure is never the key to personal advancement. In fact, I can arguably say that it is the antithesis.

“You’ve already given up on your New Year resolution?!?”

“Yeah, there was just too much pressure.”

“It’s only the 3rd of January!”

“So, I only made that resolution because I couldn’t think of anything else to say.”

Who hasn’t been there?

No, I believe that resolutions as a parlor game have become standard issue in the big book of dysfunctional social enabling. As such, they have become suspect. Besides, if I decide to lose 100 pounds, or stop smoking faerie dust or terrorizing felines with loud noises and sudden movement, it won’t be something I tie to the symbolic turning of a new calendar year. It’ll be because a Valkyrie has whispered in my ear and instilled the fear of ruined reputations and dark confined spaces in me. You know, a prophetic vision of the future, Ebenezer Scrooge-style.

All that said, I actually have one resolution to enact for this new year, if only because it happens to coincide with all that symbolic trollop-flop. I can PUT it in the form of a resolution, without applying all the stigma that most “resolutions” automatically bring with them, simply by virtue of knowing that this was not a snap decision, but rather an informed one rooted in the irrefutable existence of the all-knowing Book of Destiny. After all, to make such a proclamation, then willfully refuse to call it a resolution, would be hipster arrogance and NObody can accuse me of being one of those But I digress.

My resolution is this: I will dedicate as much spare time to REAL writing as is feasibly possible and regain the discipline I once had to make every available minute count. Whew. It may not sound like much to most, but it’s a tall order for the out-of-shape banana slug I have become over the past three or four years. Yes, I do write every single day, but most of the time it doesn’t go beyond an extended journal rant. Hey, writing is writing and I DO tend to get VERY colorful in my EJRs, but I still believe it’s time to up the ante a bit. Take advantage of the situations that have arisen and the opportunities that are being offered.

Unlike most resolutions, this one is far from impossible. I HAVE done it before--quite successfully, thank you—and there is absolutely no reason why I can’t do it again. Well… aside from the fact that I don’t have the kind of money coming in that I did back then. Or the luxury of working from home… But, hell, it’s a whole new year! A time for making changes, by all the feral gods! A time for making resolutions! After all, what do I have to lose but my personal dignity and the respect of my peers? Considering I don’t have much of either, this should be a walk in the park. At midnight. Naked.