Mar 27

That Voice I Hear

There are many voices I hear in my head when I’m writing – the voices of my characters, and my own inner voice that’s kind of driving the project, but there’s one little dark one that always lingers, and whispers even when the others are gone.  The voice tells me I’m no good.  It tells me I will fail.  It tells me that even as far as I’ve come, the odds are stacked against me.  No one will get me.  No one, or not enough of them, will like my stories and want to read them, and I will sink back under like so many before me.  It doesn’t speak loudly, but every so often it whispers these things in my ear, and because they reflect my deepest fears, I hear them.

This isn’t an attempt to get attention, or validation, or praise – it wouldn’t work anyway.  I write because I love to write – I did it before I ever got published and would even if I were trapped on an uncharted island (assuming the island had a steady supply of writing implements and paper) – but along with that comes the desire to be heard and understood.  The voice is just something that comes with the territory, I think, and it’s always been there.  I think many writers will know what I mean when I describe it.  Some days it waits until I’m trying to drift off to sleep to start its needling.  Others, it carries on even while I write, but I keep writing, and ignore it as best I can.  I will do the best – the very best – that I can do no matter what it says.  I will succeed, and then I will tell the voice to go get stuffed.

That’s the key, I think.  Maybe artists are more prone to it but we are all plagued by doubt from time to time.  Sometimes, in the wee hours, that voice is the only one around – but never let it make you put the pen down.  If it does then it still won’t go away.  It will just settle back down into the fog, and smugly whisper ‘see?’.

So I keep writing, and editing, and working – and will even if (as I suspect) it never goes away.

 

Mar 24

This is How I Do It

A lot of writers talk about how they write, and today I’m going to do the same.  Note, this isn’t about style, or dialogue, or any technical aspect of writing, but rather how one goes about conceptualizing, starting, and finishing a full length novel which is a challenge unto itself even once you’ve got all the basics under your belt.

Before I talk about that, though, I want to preface it by saying that I’m not saying you should write the same way.  This type of post is pretty common, and while it’s implied that really what we’re saying is ‘this is how I do it’, too many of them (in my opinion) veer into the tone of ‘this is how you should do it’.  At the moment, I make my living coding.  That is something where a more experienced coder could reasonably step in and tell a less experienced coder ‘this is how you should do it’ because while there’s room for individual coding styles, there simply *are* better ways to do some things in that realm.  Writing isn’t like that, though.  With the technical aspects of writing yes (show don’t tell, etc) sure, but as far as ‘how does one sit down and actually write a novel’ there are many paths to take and they depend largely on the personality of the writer.  If any writer (me included) ever tells you ‘this is how you should do it’, what they really mean is ‘this is how I do it’, and take it with that grain of salt because what works for me, or author A or author B won’t necessarily work for you.  Some authors can’t start without an iron clad outline, others need to just start.  Some have to plot out every aspect of the story before they begin, others don’t know where they’re going until they get there.  Some can’t proceed with the story until they get the bit they’re working on polished to their satisfaction.  Others have to get the whole thing laid down before they can begin the process of polishing.  There are many different styles, and they all work for the authors who use them.   You are an individual, and no one can tell you how you as an individual *should* write.  Just make sure you *do* write.

That’s really the key, I think.  Obvious, I suppose, but really the one key element you need to adopt is to keep moving forward, in whatever form that takes for you.  You have to finish.  Whether you are a slow writer or a fast writer, you have to be moving toward that end.

As far as beginnings go, in the plotter vs. pantser arena I am a plotter, but not an entirely rigid one.  I knew how the revivors series was going to end before I began the first book, so in that sense I’m a plotter, but the particulars of the story remained organic enough that the path deviated along the way from what I’d originally imagined.  The basic plot and structure of the series never changed, but some aspects did.  The best example I can think of is the character of Penny Blount, who is introduced in The Silent Army.  Originally, she was meant to be a one-off character, kind of a messenger who wasn’t crucial to the overarching story.  Another character (Ai) was going to have most of the interactions with Zoe once Penny facilitated their meeting, but when I started writing Penny she ended up becoming much more than I intended, and I let it happen.  I opted to keep Ai aloof and mysterious and let Penny be Zoe’s primary point of contact.  A true friendship grew out of that, and Penny ended up filling a critical role for the remainder of the series, and I think the story was better for it.

I like to have structure, and as a writer I need to have a concrete end I’m working toward, but as a ‘day job’ boss once told me, ‘I reserve the right to be smarter tomorrow than I am today’.  Sometimes the biggest snag I find myself having to get past when writing is trying to stick to an outline that, because of the way the story is evolving, needs to be altered.  Sometimes I’ll catch myself trying to puzzle out some aspect of the story, sometimes for days, before finally realizing that the only thing blocking me is me – the story has changed in some way, and I need to step outside my outline to see where it needs to go next.  Sometimes it’s minor, other times a whole different, better story path emerges.  Then I remember it’s my story, and I let it change, and it’s always better for it.

That’s me.  I outline for a long time, plotting out events, character interactions, plot points, twists, etc. but once the real writing begins there are always times when I have to stop and ask myself ‘am I just being a slave to that outline’?  I can outline for a year – there’s just some things I’m not going to know until I’m in the trenches.

A daily word count is another marker I hear mentioned a lot.  You should write 2K words a day, or 3K words a day.  If you write 1K that’s not enough.  If you write 4K you’re being too sloppy.  If you skip a day of writing you’re undisciplined, etc.  I think this is another aspect that kind of varies from individual to individual.  I get the ‘write through the pain’ mantra – like I said earlier, you’ll never finish if you don’t keep making progress, but that said as a writer there are some days when I’m writing shit, and I know I’m writing shit, and I know it’s all going to end up in the trash, and so I stop and try again the next day with a fresh outlook.  I’ve been doing this long enough to know when I’m just pushing food around on the plate.  When that happens I let it go, and I’ve still managed to write not one but seven novels that are ~100K words in length, three of which have been published by a major house, one of which will be published in 2013, and one of which is under contract to come after that.  Set goals for yourself, I think that’s universal, but make them your goals not someone else’s.  Some people can write 2K a day, some 4K.  Hell, for me it varies from novel to novel.  Some are just easier to write than others.  Some can’t get onto the page fast enough, others require more thought.  My personal goal is a minimum of 2K a day, but I don’t keep blindly doing it if I begin to suspect something is wrong and I need to backtrack a little.  Backtracking can feel like progress lost, but if it frees the story up to go where it needs to go it’s time well spent because the overall project moved forward.  As long as progress is being made, and the words THE END make their way onto the page, it’s all good.

In the end that’s what you’re working toward.  The agent, the book deal…none of that can come until you’ve completed the best book you can possibly write.  If you want to even have a shot in the business, you need to find a style that works for you so that you can write more books, on a schedule, and consistently.  It doesn’t have to be mine, but find your discipline, your way, and stick to it.

Oh, and I guess I’ll put down one hard and fast rule while I’m on the subject, because it’s the only thing I can think of that will concretely ensure failure:  Don’t quit.

Jan 06

Tales from the Feed Bag: Wild Boar (part 1)

Second on the menu from my Christmas gift of unique meats was the wild boar.  I received two thick chops, and since it’s just me and Kim I decided to thaw one now and save one for later.

The meat is similar to pork (not surprisingly) but is much darker.  Not red like beef, just darker.  Imagine the color of pork ribs, then imagine an entire chop that color.  There was a bone attached (this is a good thing) on one side which I could not begin to identify.

I decided to go simple on this one; I covered it with a simple rub of brown sugar, salt, chili powder and black pepper just enough to deliver a sweet, salty heat without being too overpowering, then roasted it at 350 until just done.  I served it with roasted sweet potato and Brussels sprouts.

I neglected to take a picture of how it turned out, so instead here is a (let’s face it, more interesting) picture of an actual wild boar:

I think it’s clear from the picture that this is not your average factory farm pig, and if you look closely you can see the death in its beady little eyes.  This beast looks like the demon offspring of a bear mated with a hyena or something.  If a pig got lyporcuspy, this is what it would turn into by the light of the full moon.  You blow down this dude’s house and you’d better have an exit strategy.  I have more pig jokes but I’ll save them for part 2.  I get the sense those tusks aren’t just for show, is my point.

How was it?  Both Kim and I enjoyed the wild boar very much – it was tougher than pork but seriously – look at that thing.  It is tougher than pork.  Not too tough, just a different texture than the other white meat.  Its flavor was basically like an all dark meat chop, fuller and more intense than pork.  Both Kim and I tend to like dark meat in general, so this was a hit and the rub was a good compliment.  Kim even went cavewoman on the bone afterwards, which is like a seal of approval in our house.

I’m looking forward to trying the second chop, prepared a different way.  I will have to think on it.  For now, the wild boar is in the lead though.  Not bad at all.

Dec 31

Inspiration

I have a love-hate relationship with Google Alerts.  For those not in the know, Google Alerts allow you to get an update anytime anything appears on the internet matching a given search criteria.  I thought they would be useful for tipping me to any buzz about my novels.  The reality is that about half the time that’s true, and the other half is to let me know another location where I can download pirated copies of my novels.

Today was different.  Today I received an alert that actually, and truly, made me smile.

It seems that State of Decay was another artist’s inspiration (a musician), and the artist (Christopher Henry, aka Hiami) actually cut an industrial/techno album called Static Decay.  According to the artist, “…the mood and tone of [State of Decay] were greatly influential on the sound of Static Decay…I wanted to fuse Metalcore drums with dark sounding piano to generate a different sound then that of DubStep, EBM, or conventional Industrial.”

He put all this together solo and having dabbled in electronic music myself I know that requires some significant effort.  I think he’s quite talented.  You can listen to the tracks here, or click the album artwork:

 

My favorite tracks were Less Than Three, Scar Treatment, and Watch the Sky.

The real joy for me though was being the inspiration on any level for another artist – I have so many influences myself, and music actually plays a big part in inspiring me to write.  That it, in turn, inspired someone to make music warmed my heart.

Dec 30

Tales From the Feed Bag: Alligator

This Christmas I received a special gift from my parents, the gift of food, which is one of my most favorite gifts of all.  My mother (knowing that I love them but my wife doesn’t) fashioned me a series of individual pork pies for later baking.  These have turned out to be just as good in their diminutive form as they are in their original form.

My father, knowing that I like to try new things, scored me four unique offerings; alligator, wild boar, antelope, and kangaroo.  I opted to try the alligator first.  Here’s how it went down:

The instructions said to be sure and trim off any excess fat and sinew before cooking, so I did.  Immediately it was obvious that this was not like chicken or fish…to look at the flesh it was in the shape of something like chicken strips but was the color of catfish.  Its texture (in raw form) was neither…similar to fish, but tougher.

I checked it for bones, cleaned it thoroughly, dried it, then started with the cooking.  I didn’t want to stew it or do anything that might hide or cover the flavor too much.  Online, most of the recipes deep fried it.  I decided to split the difference and bread it with panko and a little creole seasoning, then pan fry it almost like a chicken parmesan.  As a dipping sauce, I consulted Old Man Internet again and found something called ‘swamp sauce’ which was pretty much a mustard and horseradish mayo with hot sauce and lemon stirred in.  The end result looked like this:

How was it?  I’ll say right off the bat it does not taste like chicken.  It tasted like a white fish but stronger, and had the texture of something more like a large clam.  It was a little on the chewy side, though this might be due to my inexperience with cooking it – it wasn’t obnoxiously tough or anything, but it  did require a little extra chewin’.

I liked it.  I would like to experiment more with it, and may now that I know where to find it.  Next time I cook it I’ll either do a stew or I’ll use a buttermilk marinade overnight to tenderize it first.

The alligator crisped up nicely in the toaster oven the next day, and reheated pretty well.  All in all, my first foray into this year’s Christmas Feed Bag has been a good one.

 

As a side note, once it was cooked I  cut off a small sliver to see if any of the cats would go for it.  The only taker was this guy:

Which further proves my point that he will try anything, no matter how unfamiliar, as long as it’s food.  He enjoyed it, having no idea that it came from a giant, scary monster that could easily eat him in seconds.

Dec 13

On the Value of a Good Agent

Before I got my first book deal and I was searching for an agent to represent me, I thought of an agent as basically ‘someone who gets me a book deal’.  In the very basest sense, I suppose that is true but now that I have one (the very awesome Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown LTD) I see the true value of having an experienced and savvy advocate in your corner.

Case in point – with my first trilogy (the Revivors series) I was received well critically, but my sales numbers were not where I wanted them to be.  State of Decay was nominated for the Philip K Dick and won the Compton Crook Award, it was favorably reviewed by both Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, and the vast majority of the feedback I received from readers was very positive – but unfortunately none of those things necessarily translate into sales.  I figured this go around I would address what I consider to be a significant weakness of mine…namely that I am fairly terrible at self-promotion.

I thought ‘I’ll hire a publicist to help me out’.  I’d thought this before the first go around and was advised against it, but this time I decided to follow my gut and investigate the option further.  I asked Ginger about it and while she remained realistic about the situation (there are, after all, no guarantees) she offered to look into it for me.  Later, she came back with some contacts for me to approach.  When the first quotes I got were insanely high (one wanted 30K!) she continued the search and found someone with real credentials who also fit my budget.  She went on to vet the publicist, providing me with names of clients I could approach and get feedback from (all of which was quite positive).  A phone conversation was set up, and Ginger, in spite of being insanely busy, joined us on a conference call to kind of keep things on track.  I had no former experience with freelance publicists and also have a tendency to ramble a bit…she targeted exactly what was relevant and important, and the whole thing was very productive (and informative).  I’ll drop the name of the publicist and talk more about it when and if things come together and we’re closer to publication which may still be a while off.

Bottom line – do you need an agent in this business?  Some say yes and some say no…I would frame it like this:  Do you need an agent in order to actually get a book deal?  No.  You could conceivably get one without the help of an agent.  Do you need an agent in this business though?  Yes.  In my opinion the service and expertise they provide are absolutely worth the percentage they’re paid.  I rest a lot easier knowing I’ve got some muscle in my corner, and I learn more about this business through my interactions with her than I do anywhere else.

Oct 25

In Another Universe…

I was looking through some old drafts for something the other day and thought some of you might get a kick out of this. I’ve linked to it because it contains spoilers (such as they are) from Element Zero.

There was another version of Element Zero which was quite a bit different from the one that ended up being the final. In that version, things turned out quite a bit differently for a certain character.

You can check an excerpt out if you like here:

ELEMENT ZERO – DELETED SCENE.

.

.

 

 

Oct 11

The Best Time of the Year

I am not a huge fan of Christmas…I could take or leave the bitter cold and snow, and the older I get the more I dislike all the forced consumerism.  The cats get restless, and friendly society dictates I must start thinking of gifts for people I barely know, then produce forced smiles at the receipt of token gifts from people I barely know.  To me, the holidays are about family and honestly I don’t need Christmas as an excuse to spend time with them – the holiday traffic just makes it harder to get there.

No, for my money the most wonderful time of the year is Autumn.  Not because of Thanksgiving (which I like more than Christmas) but because I love everything about it.  I love the crisp weather, cool before turning cold and being able to see my breath at night without needing a jacket quite yet.  I love the changing of the leaves, which in rural New England is stunning.  Cold weather food – stews, split pea soup, and all things apple from hot cider to fritters to pie – come into style, and it’s time to harvest any squash, Brussels sprouts and carrots out of the garden.  Because of Halloween I’m bombarded with awesomely good (and awesomely bad) horror flicks.  I always feel inspired in Fall, and it’s a great time to cozy up at night, and get lots of writing done.

It feels like the shortest season, though I’m not sure if that’s because it really is or it just seems that way, but it’s the one season I would truly miss if I were to ever move far enough south to be warm in winter.

I wouldn’t miss winter though.  Winter sucks.

Oct 07

The Burn Zone submitted

I have lived, eaten and slept inside The Burn Zone for a little over four months now, and today I submitted the final (and by ‘final’ I mean the final draft before 1st round edits, 2nd round edits, copyedits and page proofing) to my editor Jessica Wade.  As always, I do this with a mixture of excitement, relief, and anxiousness but the overall feeling is that unique charge that comes with stamping ‘THE END’ at the conclusion of book that I enjoyed writing, and enjoyed reading during the last marathon edit prior to setting it free.

What is The Burn Zone?  I will tease more specifics once I have a publication date etc. but even keeping it vague I can say it is many things:

  • It is the first book I will publish under the pseudonym James K. Decker.
  • I would term it a Science-Fiction Thriller, or maybe Adventure, with just a dash of Lovecraft added.
  • It is much different from the Revivors series – and quite a bit stranger.
  • I’ve grown quite attached to its protagonist.
  • While I think it’s too long and too violent to ever be considered technically YA, I think younger readers will like it too.
  • It was a blast to write.

I’d started it beforehand, but dove in deeply once I had a contract and it’s been an intense four months that I wouldn’t trade for anything.  Big thanks to my editor – I’m so glad she wanted to work with me again as badly as I wanted to work with her again, and big thanks too to my agent Ginger Clark for making all the pieces fall together.

There’s still plenty of work left to do, but The Burn Zone is away – stay tuned.  More to come.

Sep 13

For the Love of Vika Popik

** SPOILER ALERT **
Vika Popik is a secondary character in Element Zero, third book in the Revivor series.
If you don’t wish to know things about her in advance TURN BACK NOW
** END SPOILER ALERT **

I got yet more love for Vika Popik the other day, and this has really got me thinking. Maybe it’s just because of how things ended up for her, but she generates a good deal of fan feedback – more than I ever expected.

For those who don’t know I’ll try and keep things generally not too spoilery…Vika is introduced in the third (and last) installment of the Revivors trilogy while Cal Flax is on a mission in the slum of Pyt-Yahk. When the shit hits the proverbial fan, Cal ends up running into Vika and helping her escape the area. The two end up paired for most of the rest of the story.

The character of Vika came about the way a lot of my characters do, which is she began ‘filling a role’ and then grew into something more as I fell more and more deeply in love with her (the same thing happened with Penny in The Silent Army). I knew I wanted a sort of ‘daughter figure’ for Cal to match her ‘father figure’ of Nico…kind of a full circle thing for her. I also knew Cal would never bond much with anyone who wasn’t tough. Cal had a shitty life growing up, but Vika’s was, while completely different, actually much worse.

I really enjoyed Vika, and, as I’ve pointed out before, if the series had continued I would have done things differently…maybe. I have to give a shout-out to my (truly awesome) editor Jessica Wade for encouraging me to keep a bit of Vika’s background I was ready to jettison, since it went on to be cited in almost every reader’s comment I read about her. She actually has much more background and, in the original draft, things turned out much differently for her. She’s been on my mind since, and I’m glad (despite the occasional anger I receive) that she resonated so well with people. Is there a story yet to tell, there? I’m still thinking about that…

Older posts «

» Newer posts