A to Z Challenge 2013

Friday, January 28, 2011

Fun Writer Moments

The wife and I are planning a huge - and super secret - trip for the family coming up in June.  I'll be spilling details on this later, but I wanted to relate a funny thought I had this morning.  The area we're going to happens to be home to a fellow writer (same state at least), and I thought this morning how cool it would be if I could arrange to meet the writer in person.  In fact, that realization excited me almost as much as the idea of the whole trip itself.

It's just really cool to think about meeting a fellow writer in person.  And if you'd ask'd me about it say...5 years ago, I'd probably have been like "eh, I guess".  Nowadays, I'm really psyched.  I mean, I'm going to be meeting Beth Revis in a couple weeks when she swings through my area.  How cool is that?  If I could travel and meet you all, I'd have a perma-smile for years.  Some of you however, are a little harder to get to than others (sorry Glynis LOL).

It's funny what direction life takes us and what joys we find along the way.  It's also funny that I think in writer terms now.  Don't get me wrong;  it's really cool.  But I can laugh at myself and how my thought processes have changed too.  I notice that I tend to see writing mistakes (punctuation, grammar, run-on sentences) more these days as well.  In fact, I just had to mention it to my boss for something he asked my opinion on.  What others call nit-picky, I now call proper editing.  Go figure.

I'll leave you all with some ACDC to kick off your Friday.  Because after all, we writers definitely rock!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thursday Thoughts - Who Changed The Matrix?

I had a really odd moment of deja vu this morning.  I was dreaming about something, and then I woke up like usual, chatted sleepily to the wife, and turned off the alarm.  Then I REALLY woke up, sat up in bed, and noticed I had to turn off the alarm.  It was a very disorienting feeling, and only a longer warm shower was able to shake me out of it.

For those who don't know the reference to The Matrix (I imagine there's gotta be somebody who has never seen the movie), the idea is that we're not really living in the reality we perceive.  In The Matrix, we're actually being controlled by machines and the reality we perceive is nothing more than a intense computer-generated world piped directly into our minds.  The moments of deja vu however, occur when someone changes the Matrix.  For example, the masters of the Matrix realize that one of their captured subjects is becoming aware of their prison and they alter something to push that individual back in line, so to speak.  Like shaking off that feeling of a sixth sense telling you something is wrong with the world.

Don't worry, I'm not under the illusion (or delusion, depending on how you look at it) that our reality is nothing more than a fabricated computer fantasy.  But when you think about that type of scenario, it really takes your mind down the rabbit hole.  After all, if we were all really just asleep and the whole world was nothing but a dream, how would we know?  If we've grown up with this reality as our framework, how would we be able to recognize any other type of reality?  Or even imagine it in any sort of a concrete and believable manner?

To tie this in to writing and characters, this is a great opportunity for characterization.  Destroying a character's reality (i.e. making them aware of the Matrix) is a great way to really get to know who and what they are.  Take a sheltered princess who has never been allowed to know about any world outside of her palace (or even know that it exists), and toss her out into the real (and possibly savage) world.  She will either crumple into a pile or quickly learn how to survive.  And in learning how to survive, we get to see how she grows and changes.  She can then become a more complete character.

When was the last time you destroyed a character's reality?  Did their process of coping make it easier for you to flesh them out?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Blog Chain - Nothing To Fear But Fear Itself...Wanna Bet?

After a relaxing weekend, it's time to dive back into things with the tough question posed by the ever-challenging Christine:

What is the main character of you current WiP most afraid of and why? Don’t use a previously finished work. This is all about discovering the inner motivations of your current characters – the ones you don’t know all that well yet.

I won't kid you.  This question actually scares me.  Delving into the psyche of my characters is a dicey business at best.  And since I don't do character profiles or character interviews or anything even remotely similar, it's a tough question for me to answer as well.  But I'm not one to ever back down from a literary challenge (at least so far), so here's my best shot at it.

The main character I've chosen for this is Jeremy.  I am actually in the process of fleshing Jeremy out more, so this is really helpful for that anyway.   Jeremy is a 26 year old computer geek.  He's getting evicted at the beginning of the story, is newly unemployed, has no real friends, has no strong emotional ties to family, and buys a cup of coffee with his last dime.  Even though these problems are huge to most people, they're tiny in comparison to the fear that really plagues Jeremy.  His greatest fear is being insignificant, being forgettable as a person.  And he believes that he has become this very thing.

This fear is the cause of all Jeremy's problems, and it paralyzes him.  He has no girlfriend because he can't hold an intelligent conversation with someone he finds attractive.  He recognizes that he's almost 30 and in his mind, that's a death knell for single guys.  After all, nobody wants to date an out-of-work computer geek over the age of 30, and at the beginning of the story, he has no prospects for improving things.  His fear of insignificance also includes the belief that he will grow old without having had any impact on the world around him.  He will die, and the world will not notice his passing.  Computer geeks are not remembered for their accomplishments, he figures (Bill Gates aside, of course).

Jeremy stumbles on an ad for a job, and this catapults him into a position of unthinkable power, influence, and responsibility.  He becomes nearly omnipotent, and he chooses to ignore his earlier problems.  It's a band-aid for his fear however, and in time he will need to come to terms with things or risk destroying everything he holds dear.

Whew.  I guess this wasn't as tough as I expected.  It has been a fun exercise though, one I will probably adopt for all my MC's.  Thanks Christine.  If you haven't had the pleasure of reading my predecessor Michelle Hickman's answer, you need to hurry on over there.  She even gives us a writing sample of her work, which is truly awesome.  And tomorrow you can look forward to an answer from the totally cool Michelle Mclean (who's non-fiction book Essays & Term Papers is now available, make sure you get a copy!)

What are your main character's fears?  Have you asked them?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Quick Celebration On A Friday

This is just a quick note for those who don't know.  The awesome and talented Erin Anderson (a.k.a. The Screaming Guppy) has landed herself an agent.  That's right, she's now represented by Joanna Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary and her book Hound In Black And Blood will soon be gracing all our bookstores.  Okay, it'll take a little bit for that to happen maybe, but I'm excited for her nonetheless.

Erin (whom I affectionately call Guppster) is someone I admire a great deal.  She has provided me with wisdom when I've needed it, has helped remind me just how much I have to learn, and (though she may not know it) inspires me to constantly tweak my own writing so that it will be up to par.  Plus she is a Diet Coke w/ Lime drinker, so that vaults her into the stratosphere.  It's about time somebody else is now giving her an avenue to get her awesome works published.

Please take a moment and stop by Erin's blog to congratulate her.  She has worked incredibly hard to get here, and she deserves huge accolades.  If you know of anyone else who recently got picked up by an agent, let me know and I'll give 'em a shout out too.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Random Thursday

I had planned on putting up a writing excerpt yesterday, but unfortunately I had a really awesome idea lodge in my brain and it's been bugging me ever since.  And since this is something I think I'll want to turn into a full-fledged story, I didn't want to post it.  Also unfortunately, that left me no way to write anything else.

Such a thing doesn't happen to me often, where an idea just bugs me and bugs me and demands my attention.  It's kind of cool, but kind of scary when I imagine what the implications are.  Either I'm starting to really think like a writer or I'm losin' it big time.  Let's hope it's not the latter.

On another note, if you haven't noticed I've put up a counter to keep track of just how long I have to wait until Beth Revis' tour comes to Colorado.  Am I excited?  You're darn tootin'.  Beth is incredibly cool, she's managed to get her debut book to be #7 (so far and I won't be surprised if it climbs higher) on the New York Times Best Seller List, and she's going to be gracing us with a tour?  Maybe I can ask her if it's okay for me to tattoo the Godspeed across my chest.

Kidding Beth, totally kidding.  Besides, I already have Superman and the Incredible Hulk there, so it just wouldn't work.

Seriously though, yeah I'm excited.  It's been so much fun learning from Beth, and it's really cool to see her book literally take off.

I'm also reading Tom Clancy's new book Dead Or Alive, and although I'm not too far in yet, the fact that Mr. Clancy hasn't put anything out for a decade seems to have put a dent in his abilities.  For starters, it's not a good sign when an entire word is missing from the first line.  Okay, maybe that's the editor or publisher's fault, but it doesn't give me the reader a warm fuzzy.  I also have noticed that he seems to have decided everyone should know all the past history of his characters (stuff that occurred in previous books with these same characters).  Now thankfully I'm a fan and have read most of his books (both the fiction and non-fiction), so I understand the references he makes.  But if I were a new reader who picked him up for the first time, I'd be lost.  There are references to past events for his characters that even I don't remember.  I will probably post a review when I'm done, but it'll be a while since the book is a rather large tome.

That's all I have for now.  I'm off to do some outlining on this new idea I have.  Yes, I said the O word.  I'm trying out new things, and since this idea is so very vague at this point, I'm hoping a rough outline might help fill in the pieces.  Don't rip my Pantster membership card away yet though.  I'll still likely unfold most of the story as I go.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Friday, January 14, 2011

Deep Thoughts On A Friday

Since my friend Shaun is delving into the well of deep thinking today, I figured I might want to broach a subject that has been on my mind recently.  If you are seeking Friday Fun instead of heavy contemplation, you might want to bop over to Michelle McLean's house instead.

So I've started being slightly more active in an online critique site where you can critique works that someone has posted as well as have your own works critiqued.  I won't mention which site, since I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings.

I picked a particular entry and started reading through it.  The problems began almost immediately however, and although I strove to find something positive in the person's writing, I found myself at a loss.  I'll be honest.  I chose not to post a critique, which may be the coward's way out.  I will say however, that I didn't just read through it one time and dismiss the writing as useless right away.  I spent a great deal of time reading and re-reading, agonizing over every bit of it, searching for something I could find to celebrate.  In the end, I could not bring myself to write a critique where I had nothing good to say.

Now I know I'm not a perfect writer.  If my last excerpt is any indication, I have vast deserts in my writing aching for improvement.  But I am honest to a fault, and I guess I chose to go with old adage "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

I guess what I'm seeking here is some really sound advice for what to do when I hit that wall again.  I do believe in the merits of critiquing, both for the person doing the critique and the recipient of said critique.  I truly do want to be better at it.

How do you deal with a difficult critique, where you're struggling to offer positive comments?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Maiden Voyage Of The Godspeed - Get On Board

I've been anxiously awaiting this day, and although I wanted to spill the beans, I've kept a tight lip on today's post.  For those who weren't aware, today is the launch of the incredibly awesome Beth Revis' debut novel Across The Universe.  And her publisher - Penguin Young Readers Group - is launching this book with all the fanfare they can muster.  It is astounding to me how much effort they have put behind assuring Beth's book is a huge success, as it rightly should be.  Amazingly enough, Working My Muse has been selected (among a number of other blogs) by the Penguin Young Readers Group to help get this party started and I'm very proud to be a part of it.

To get things kicked off, I want to provide you all with a look at the Across The Universe trailer:

I absolutely love this thing.   The narration is awesome, and it tantalizes in just the right way.  It's a little short, to be sure.  But if you think Beth and Penguin would leave you with only that little bit, you'd be wrong.  Check out this exclusive interview with the amazing author Beth Revis herself:

This is really cool, and something I personally haven't seen for a book launch (though I guess to be fair, I have to mention I haven't exactly been a part of too many book launches either).  In any event, I love watching Beth talk about the labor of love that is her debut novel.  She's worked hard on this, and it's great to see all her hard work pay off in such a grand way.

But what is Across The Universe?  Rather than try to stumble through my own description, I'll let Beth's words do the talking:

Amy is a cryogenically frozen passenger aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed. She expects to wake up on a new planet, 300 years in the future. But fifty years before Godspeed's scheduled landing, Amy's cryo chamber is unplugged, and she is nearly killed.
Now, Amy is caught inside an enclosed world where nothing makes sense. Godspeed's passengers have forfeited all control to Eldest, a tyrannical and frightening leader, and Elder, his rebellious and brilliant teenage heir.
Amy desperately wants to trust Elder. But should she? All she knows is that she must race to unlock Godspeed's hidden secrets before whoever woke her tries to kill again.

Now if you haven't had the opportunity to check out Across The Universe yet and are still just thinking about picking it up, there's one place you absolutely need to visit:  http://www.acrosstheuniversebook.com/  This is an amazingly cool website where you can actually check out various parts of the ship and learn all kinds of awesome stuff about the Godspeed.  There are even a couple areas that are off-limits, something I found cool because that way the story isn't spoiled.

Being an IT guy, I have to say I am very impressed with the technical and graphical beauty of this web page.  The images are crisp, the links bring up relevant information quickly, and moving around the page is actually really fun.  If I had to pick my favorite area of the ship though (based on what I see on the page anyway), I'd have to go with the Engine Room.  The image that pops up is really intricate.  A lot of work went into just that one image, and I absolutely love it.  My wife's however, would be the Farm - because she likes cows LOL.  There is of course, the descriptions Beth has so nicely provided too.  Awesome job!

As a writer, I also have to say that I am so proud of and impressed by Beth.  I stumbled on her blog a while ago (back when I first started this writing journey) and I've always found that Beth has so much to teach us and inspire us with.  Since she was a teacher before becoming a full-time writer, I guess that makes sense.  And the Penguin Young Readers Group is treating her the way she should be treated - with excellence and an amazing level of support.

I'm going to try scheduling this post (something I've attempted - and failed at - in the past before) for 11:11 AM - which would be really cool if it works, y'know (1/11/11 11:11AM).  And though I usually don't post link-fests, this is one book I absolutely must jump on the bandwagon for.  Oh, and check out the io9 link.  They are posting a 111pg excerpt from 11:11 AM Eastern to 11:11 PM Eastern today.  You can ONLY find this at io9, so don't miss it.

If you're a Facebooker, you can hit the Across The Universe page.  Beth's page is must visit, and if you aren't following her blog yet, you definitely need to!  You can also catch her on Twitter (for those of you Tweeters out there - is that right?   I have no idea, I don't Tweet yet LOL).

Check out what else Penguin Teen has as well.  They have a main page, they're on Facebook, and Twitter too!

If you like the banner at the top of this post (which I think is awesome looking), hop on over to Novel Thoughts and thank Jeremy.  He did an wonderful job on it.

Most importantly however, pick up Across The Universe at Amazon or whatever your favorite retailer is.  Do it today.  Pick up an extra copy for a friend (because we both know you won't want to lend your copy out).  And head over to io9 to get a glimpse at the exclusive excerpt.

This has been a long post I know, but feel free to tell me what YOUR favorite part of the Godspeed is.  And if you've already bought the book, spread the love.  Beth is an amazing writer, and she deserves all the support we can give her.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Blog Chain - Schizophrenia

Today we're going to talk about the very serious subject of Schizophrenia.

It's not serious.

Shut up and let him talk.

Ba dum dum dum!

Seriously though, welcome to a new year and to a new round of blog chain questions.  I seem to say this alot, but the question posed by the ever-challenging Sandra is another one I found really difficult to answer:

What do you think your strengths and weaknesses as a writer are? Did you have to develop your strengths, or did they come naturally to you? How are you trying to overcome your weaknesses?

The hardest part for me (which I'm sure surprises nobody) was coming up with strengths.  I hope I'm not alone in this, but identifying my strengths is a difficult task.  With that in mind, I'll start with my weaknesses.  

One weakness I have is not describing enough as I write.  I have an image in my mind, but I either forget to put details in or I subconsciously assume the reader is seeing what I see.  The good thing is that (thanks to recent critiques and people willing to tell me so) I am aware of the problem and am working on it.

Another of my weaknesses is the fact that I'm a pantster by nature.  I HATE to sit down and write in an organized manner.  In fact, it severely stifles my creative process.  I can't do character profiles, I can't chart out where I'm going with a story (on first draft at least), and it causes me alot of problems.  I leave out things and I find myself slamming into plot walls.

Probably the most important weakness I have is distraction.  If I don't actively focus on the writing task at hand (or if I allow external things to distract me), I easily lose momentum.  And once I get distracted, the quality of my writing plunges into ugly depths.

On the good side, I do have a few strengths.  Being a pantster is a good thing for me, in some respects.  I truly believe I find the story better by just writing it than by plotting it.  I discover the characters better this way, and I am (in later drafts) able to refine them easier.  I even surprise myself sometimes with where a story takes me, which I count as a plus since I figure if I didn't expect it, the reader won't either.

I believe I have a knack with creepy and suspenseful writing.  It's something I enjoy, and I can tell when the writing is not quite in the zone, so to speak.  I am also willing to sneak into the dark places where others might not tread.  If I need a truly evil character, I have no problem making it so and not pulling any punches.

I'm getting much better at beginnings, whether it's the beginning of the story or just a new chapter.  This wasn't always a strength, but I've worked on it and have improved.  I can see when an opening line isn't going to catch the reader's attention as much and when it's really good.

The reason I titled this Schizophrenia is because I don't think I'm of one mind with regards to my writing yet.  There are some weaknesses I have (which I'm improving on where I can) and there are some strengths (which I try to identify when I can, just for a pat on the back if nothing else).  Probably the only thing that comes naturally to me where writing is concerned is the fact that I'm a multi-headed hydra trying to control and refine myself AND my writing.

At this point I'm going to turn it over to the illustrious Michelle McLean for her answer tomorrow.  If you haven't had a chance to check out how Michelle Hickman answered yesterday, get on over there.  She's awesome, and so is her answer.

As you think through this question yourself however, be careful.  It's easy for us as writers to identify our weaknesses (and we probably see more than are really there).  Take the time to identify your strengths as well, and make sure you celebrate them.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Wednesday Writing - Trapped

Taylor pressed the button for the 7th floor.  The silver door closed with a grunt, as if to mirror the irritation he felt inside.  Coming to see his mom for lunch was never fun.  She rarely had time for him these days, and Taylor ended up sitting in the corner picking through greasy french fries or cold chicken nuggets.  You'd think she'd be happy to see her only twelve year old son.  But she was different now, ever since the funeral.  He wiped away the tear without thinking.  Dad was gone.  Maybe they both were different.

The elevator began its ascent, the jiggling and swaying of the car making Trevor nervous.  He shrunk his lanky frame into the corner,  his hands warm against the cold walls.  The fake wood paneling and lack of handicap rails screamed obsolescence, but taking the stairs was out of the question.  It was too dark, full of echoes, and climbing seven floors wasn't his idea of a good time.  Even an unusually tall kid like him could get taken in places like that and nobody would hear.  They'd find his body on a landing between five and six, and they'd probably never think of accusing Mr. Barlow.  What a weirdo.  Every time he saw the guy, Trevor had to smother a grimace.

The lights went dark and the elevator jolted him off his feet with a thunderous groan.  "Holy Shit", he said.  Then he slapped a hand over his mouth.  If mom heard that, he'd be eating soap for a week.  The car was pitch black, so much so that Trevor couldn't see anything at all.  What did they do on T.V.?  His heart beat faster as he tried to remember.  Wait, didn't they have a telephone or something built into these things?  He didn't know for sure.  What if he ran out of air?  Trevor sucked in a deep breath, panic building within him.

"Okay, knock it off Trevor.  People get stuck in these all the time.  Don't be such a wuss."  Then he thought about the cameras that these things probably had and grimaced.  Great, make a fool of yourself for the camera.  Bet they're laughing it up on the other end.

Crawling on his knees, Trevor felt along the wall until he reached the front panel.  He felt upwards with invisible hands, counting two rows of six buttons.  But nothing else.  Damn.  Maybe he should yell.  Somebody will hear him.  After ten minutes however, he wasn't so sure.  The only thing he could hear was echoes.  That and the groans of this damn freakin' elevator.  He slid down the back wall, shrinking into the corner once more.  They'd come for him.  Somebody was always paid to monitor this shit, right?

A half hour later, Trevor began to wonder.  He closed his eyes and began to pray to a God he wasn't sure he believed in.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Monday, January 3, 2011

A New Year...With A More Refined Goal

Welcome to 2011, everyone.  Hopefully everyone's holidays were wonderful, with lots of good food, good times, and fun family moments.  I know some of you have had to deal with personal tragedies and difficulties recently, but I hope this new year will bring you great things - great enough to help you overcome those difficulties.

As you can see, I have made some changes here.  The foremost (to me at least) is the description of this blog (directly under the title).  It used to read "This blog is one author's attempts to work through those dry deserts known as writers block, using free writings, ramblings, and plain old storytelling."  I think the new description more adequately describes what I'm here for.  It's also a bit more of a positive outlook on who I am and what you can expect when you come here.  Rather than focusing on the moments when I am unable to write or have difficulty writing (which I hope will be less often this year), I've chosen to focus on what I really want to strive for.  In essence, I want to be a good writer.  There will still be some stories, some free writings, or ramblings.  I am just choosing to focus on the writing itself rather than the dry deserts between bouts of writing.  Heck, with a few rain dances, I might just eliminate those deserts completely.  Sorry, no Youtube videos scheduled for these performances.

I've also changed the background and colors, partially because I wanted something new.  I like the torn and yellowing page in the background.  In one way, it reminds me of my writing.  The edges are a little rough, but the page has lots of room for improvement.  As for the blue banner and tone, I guess I just like that color.

I'm really energized for the new year.  I got up this morning and did some exercise (pushups) before heading off to work.  I've made a few tweaks on the blog (and there may be more coming, who knows).  And I'm actually looking forward to getting home this evening and squeezing in some writing time.

My vacation was wonderful (the whole reason I was absent for the past 10 days).  I slept in a little bit, spent lots of time with the family, and didn't do homework OR writing.  Now some of you may be cringing out there as you imagine how much writing I could have gotten done during such a break, and I completely understand. But I needed to take a moment and examine where I was and where I want to be.  Take stock of things.  So while my goal of being an exceptional writer hasn't changed, I'm more energized to work on it because of the break.

There will be more fun coming as the week unfolds.  And I hope everyone else is ready for a great year.  I am overly optimistic, and I'm really looking forward to what new works I can create.  How about you?  Do you have some goals for this year?