“I Write Like”

My friend Beth was horrified to be told she wrote like Anne Rice (or HP Lovecraft). The validity of her horror is entirely subjective. Personally, both are authors with vast, detailed imaginations… but if you aren’t a fan… well, it isn’t my place to say whether Beth should be happy or sad- I am sad that she is sad. Let me just say that.

Granted, nobody really likes to be told “you write like blank” unless Blank= The writers favorite author- and even then, don’t we all worry that we are being too derivative?

So playing around with the admittedly self-indulgent “I Write Like” website, by being amazingly self-indulgent and cycling Each and Every chapter of my WIP through it I came across a discovery:

I can live with it.

The Prologue (that Courtney yelled at me until I put in) is apparently “Like Mark Twain.”

SOLD!

The 1st half of the book is full of chapters that are apparently very Stephen King, with a single chapter apparently being Stephenie Meyer (the one with the Jersey Devil, strangely enough) and one being James Fennimore Cooper (the Hessian Peggy/Pine Witch chapter). Huh.

The 2nd half of the book is Chuck Palahniuk (all the hobo or biker stuff) alternating with King- with Douglas Adams taking over for the chapters where the hero is visited by visions and hallucinations. Oh, and William Gibson shows up for the last three chapters.

I AM SO VERY OK WITH THIS, WEIRD INTERNET SITE.

(though I apparently need to rewrite the fuck out of that one chapter in part one).

I don’t love Chuck P (or Douglas Adams, or William Gibson) but I GET what they do well, and why they have fans. I DO love King- when I first gave an early draft of the WIP to my dad I was worried he’d compare it to Neil Gaiman.

See, I knew he had recently picked up AMERICAN GODS and while the books aren’t very similar, they were (to my eyes) obviously written by two men inspired by a lot of the same things. But my dad said no, he didn’t think it was Gaimanesque at all, but very Steve King- and believe it or not, to me that is high praise.

King is a terrific storyteller- he isn’t always the best “Writer”, and sometimes his stories don’t work. But I can’t think of another author who consistently gets to the heart of a semi-rural non-southern American experience. Bradbury nailed it with SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, but it is the only of his novels I really love.

King, on the other hand, has more hits than misses- and that is out of a LOT of books. Or At Bats, if we are going to brutalize the baseball metaphor. Or is that football?

So being told that my “childhood’s end/idyllic rural Americana where dark things writhe and bump in the shadows” story is King-esq, even by a silly algorithm and blues website, is kinda fun.

Anyhow. When I was in bands throughout much of college, it was always disheartening to hear someone say “you sound like ___”.

Now, much older and wiser- it doesn’t hurt nearly as much, and in fact kind of tickles my fancy.

Don’t get me wrong- I’m pretty unhappy about that one chapter. But the rest?” I can live with it.

Discomfort and Disarray

When do morals or ethics come into play for a writer? For a storyteller?

There seem to be readers who take umbrage with certain aspects of story- I hesitate to use the word “trope” since (a) certain website(s) have hammered the word into meaning virtually nothing but becoming a microscopic look at window dressing- that mirror Life.

Wait, I’m starting too big.

At some point or another someone gave my wife (or I) one of the Stig Larsson “The Girl Who…” novels. I was vaguely aware of their existence, partially because when it was announced that an American version of the Swedish filmic adaptations was in the works, an actor friend of mine lamented that she might not get to read/aud for it, despite being a good fit for the role of Lisbeth Salander.

That was the extent to my awareness of the series, that and that there was a sort of Grrrl Power thing attached to the books- or the films- due to this character apparently being an ass-kicking chick and what not. Now, again: this was my vague cultural awareness, despite not having read a word (or a review) or seen a frame (or read a review) of either the novels or the movies.

Time passes, I run out of books to read, so I pick up The Girl Who Played with Fire. I am unimpressed. I’m also mildly concerned about the rumblings I feel I’ve heard about Lisbeth Salander being a pop-cultural feminist hero. Mainly because it seems like lip-service feminism, and disingenuous.

My father chastised me for reading the second book first: “You need to read them in order! It makes more sense-” he said.

I strongly disagree with him: these are pulpy, formulaic thrillers (and I must point out, I love thrillers, there is nothing wrong with that) but this is a highly successful series of books. I really, really doubt that I’m missing some fundamental understanding of the texts by skipping the first one.

I get that the books are called “The Men Who Hate Women” in their original printings. I certainly recognized that rape, sexual slavery, and abuse of women are a real and serious issue.

I also get that the late author was an investigative reporter (like his other lead character, Blomkvist) who was traumatized and guilt-ridden over witnessing a rape when he was a young man- driven by this to being a damn good investigative reporter who helped uncover abuse and the ways in which the system marginalizes sex workers etc.

My issue with Salander as a “feminist action hero” isn’t because she is a rape survivor- nor am I saying “Larsson can’t even write a feminist lead because he has a penis”-nor is it even really important here. I found Larsson’s fetishization of Salander to be creepy, I found his technique of having every single male who doubted Salander’s innocence/ability (even a little) to be later revealed as genuinely Evil to be a really weird choice that actually devalued the story for me.

If Every, Single, Man who isn’t Blomkvist (and a few other sterling silver, upstanding perfect exceptions) is
a sick misogynists with weird lesbian hate, or porn addictions that make them violent, or just run-of-the-mill rapists- it kind of lowers the stakes of the novel, rather than raising them. I became so desensitized by Larrson’s nihilistic world view that I was just shrugging by the end of the book. “Eh, serial killing cannibalistic rape Nazis, whatever”.

So ANYway- as well as people who Love these books/movies, there is a lot of “YUCK!” type responses. I read a bunch at a website the other day, and while a few people seemed to articulate the same general feeling of unease that the “feminist” or “pro-woman” tag was being applied erroneously… most of the disgust or dislike for the books wasn’t based on the writing, but on the subject matter. As in, how dare he write “another” character who has been raped and now fights back, eeew, that is so gross.

And that got me to thinking: well, certain things like Racism and Rape and Intolerance are just bad- I agree on this. Everyone I know seems to think so. Violence isn’t really cool or sexy, it is fucking gross. Yet, we also can all agree, they do happen.

So when is a writer or storyteller obligated to drop it?

When do we change the back-story, to avoid the dark alley? I understand that “glamorizing” or romanticizing or using rape/incest/whatever for titillation is just creepy. I KNOW that, but what if a writer doesn’t intend it as such?

“Oh, not ANOTHER tough young female character who is a rape/incest survivor!” the cry seems to go up on every board or comments section about fictional characters, be they filmic, TV or print. Is filmic a word? Can it be?

That is kind of like saying “oh, not ANOTHER reluctant hero.” or “oh not ANOTHER cop/detective who is On The Edge.”

I like to think that we (as readers, viewers, story-catchers) only will react like this to poorly told stories. Because it is usually then that these characters, devices and ideas seem stale and overly familiar.

But (creaky grampa voice) “nowadays with this dern interwebs” it seems that EVERYTHING falls into those “tropes” to someone. And it makes me wonder…

I certainly don’t think that Larsson’s books are outright awful or anything. I certainly don’t think they should be banned or edited to not have all the rapey parts (which, granted, wouldmake them a lot shorter) removed.

But I do wonder- is it the creator/writer/storyteller that is duty-bound to present fictional events that mirror real life atrocities and horrors in such a way that we are reminded of “the horror… the horror”?

In my never-to-see-the-light-of-day novel there is a rape survivor, there is some pretty unsettling violence (according to 2 of my readers) and there is a pretty horribly racist asshole. I guess I would defend these choices by saying that it is true to the story. I think violence is and should be unsettling. The female survivor is a bit messed up in the head from what happened to her. Is this exploitive? Am I being a gross storyteller who should be censured for using unpleasant aspects of the real world in a story that I have tried- pretty damn hard and for about three goddamn years now- to make emotionally truthful?

In the first draft, my two protagonists called each other “Fags” from time to time. I edited that- uncomfortable that I was making it “ok” to be mildly homophobic by not having my protags learn the errors of their way. I didn’t write a sequence where they said: “You know, we shouldn’t use that word, it is disrespectful to homosexuals.” because I don’t feel that such an awakening would happen to a pair of 15 year old blue-collar kids. They also call each other retards. Should that get fixed?

And then- and then- and maybe the female character should NOT be a survivor of rape. And maybe she SHOULDN’T use sexual favors as currency, despite being a drug and alcohol addled runaway who has been living in hobo camps for over a year. And maybe the racist character SHOULDN’T use “The N Word”. Maybe he shouldn’t have SS tattoos or a swastika ring either and I should drop that whole “Prison Aryan Brotherhood” aspect of that villain, since there were REAL Nazis who did AWFUL, TERRIBLE things.

I mean, I edited out “fag”, I should lose the sexual violence, the trauma, the villainy and horror. The violence should be toned down too- so instead of the sound of a man’s cheekbone shattering when he is struck in the face with a weighted club, followed by his whimpering and spitting out blood and teeth while curled up on the ground he should just get “knocked out”.

My panic, my discomfort, my unease comes from “but am I using these elements because they are True to the story, and the characters?” Because what if I’m not? or what if someone thinks that I am not? what if the reader thinks I am being gross or exploitative?

It is easy to say, “ah, well that is on the reader than.”

Not for me it isn’t.

What I hear?

I hear that stomach lurch of self-doubt, that I’m just using “tropes” rather than moments. That I’m being exploitive because it is “cool”. And then I worry that I’m Stig Larsson. Except, you know, not dead or published.

Because I really doubt Larsson was all: “I’m gonna write me some sexy sexy RAPE and shit, and then make it ok by having the girl be a bisexual sexy asskicking super-hacker math genius kickboxer who falls in love with a fictionalized version of ME!” while eating a Swedish meatball and drinking some akavit.

I bet he was writing a story, telling a tale, and it happened to be dark and kind of nasty.

So, you see, I’m the reader. It is all on me there. I think that The Girl Who Played With Fire is creepy and seems bullshitty about it’s “feminist” heroine.

So what makes me any better?

She Came Out Of Nowhere

Lets talk, for a bit, about gender roles in specific settings.

For Christmas, as a sort of gag gift, I got Bettie the D&D 4th edition Red Box- a starter kit for fantasy RPGs, essentially. There probably were fantasy writers before D&D who let female characters be heroic- without resorting to pure damsel, or the Heinlein “sharpshootin’ tomboy girlie girl” archetype (wherein the lady is slightly mussed, gorgeous, deadly with her chosen weapon and willing to throw back a drink with the guys until she melts into the arms of the hero and bats her long lashes at him)- but I’m not familiar with them.

If we look at the real founder of the contemporary fantasy story, Robert E. Howard, he would let women be badass- so long as they were sexy as all get-out too. They were also, whether Valeria of the “Red Brotherhood” (a pirate), Red Sonya (A Ukrainian mercenary during the late middle ages) or Dark Agnes the swordswoman, the exception, not the rule. In Howard’s writing (and in most historical fantasy or pseudo-historical fiction) the woman who stood up among men and was their equal (as a warrior) was a rare thing.

Now with D&D- or any fantasy setting- obviously you don’t want to limit female characters to “traditional gender roles”, because then you are limiting your potential audience (in theory). Which is probably where the kind of ludicrous “Rogue” archetype showed up. The female archer/thief, all lithe and cat-like reflexes, agile and sinewy (and acrobatic), with a bow or maybe a pair of daggers or a quarterstaff- basically, some sort of sneaky/long range support character. Supporting what? The big man-tank armor and flesh Thrud guy who wades into the front with an axe- the Conan, if you will.

The Rogue archetype has been a lead, a sidekick, a love interest- and probably all three. Villains, henchwomen, whatever- More niches, I’m sure, have been filled. Er. Moving on.

To the point: the traditional fantasy/historical fiction place for a female- in an action based role, not as a conniver or a damsel or involving magic etc.- is usually as a Rogue, right? Or a variation therein? Ok.

This kind of bothers me. For one thing, the bow. Until the birth of modern archery and those nifty compound bows with the wheels and thingies- it took a LOT of upper body strength to shoot an arrow far, accurately, and with enough power behind it to punch through armor. I’ve read accounts of the English longbow having a drawing power of 200 pounds. Can you pull 200 pounds back with one arm? I doubt I can, and I’m not a small guy.

“But we HAD to give the girl SOMETHING to do!” I can almost hear the collective voice of a thousand nerds cry out. “She didn’t want to deal with the rules for spellcasting!” or some such.

I guess my problem is that it has become an archetype- I have no issue with a unique and extraordinary female heroine who can do things most women can’t, the same way Conan is awesome (because he can do stuff a lot of guys can’t), it is when “chick with the bow” becomes the default female role (or, for that matter, hugely muscled barbarian who breaks things is the norm for “barbarian”). The archetype is what annoys me, because it feels so incredibly stale and stagnant.

So I was watching a western- bear with me, this going somewhere- Return To Lonesome Dove, a sequel to the extremely successful and popular miniseries starring Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones.

LD was a remarkably well-shot, researched and acted miniseries. It had some great characters, including several well fleshed out female ones. Return… not so much. For one thing, it stinks of contemporary meddling.

“Well, the original only had one strong woman, the Angelica Huston part, and she still wore a dress!” the Exec might have said.
“Sure,” says the Producer. “Because it was the 1870s, and most women did. But she was strong, argumentative, spoke her mind and ruled her land.”

“Eh. Can the first character we see in the sequel be a chick gunfighter who dresses like a guy, but sexy?”

And so we have a female gunslinger. And later, a sassy young girl who dresses like a boy and shoots rustlers- with two women showing similar traits, the 1st no longer seems extraordinary, but like a late 80s/early 90s “Grrrrl power!” feeble swipe at getting an audience that- the execs fear- wouldn’t like a western.

Now I have no problem with female characters being allowed to slip outside of the norm- but way too often it feels like they are a sop, a cheap gimme to either the perceived need by female audiences to see a “strong” female character (which “Creative” types seem to see as “like a guy, but with tits”) or some sort of tomboy/sexy girl fantasy for the Otaku types.
I sort of kind of totally hate the “just like a guy, with tits” type of “strong female character”, because it seems so hacky, so very trite and poorly thought out.

How do writers avoid the archetype? If you were writing in a fantasy setting, would you avoid the Rogue archetype because, jesus-fucking-joker-christ, it has been beaten into the ground? Would you try and find a way to subvert it, or at least draw attention to it?

Can an archetype avoid being a stereotype? Is it just in the writing- if the character feels alive and fleshed out and fully formed and real, do you forgive the archetype?

Wouldn’t a “strong” woman, who dresses and acts and fights (and fucks, etc) like a Man be viewed as a threat by men? By most “normal” women? Would or should they be the norm, or be the rarity- the oddball maverick?

How do YOU feel about the “strong female” archetype, how should a strong woman be portrayed particularly in (fantasy, sci-fi, horror, whatever) genre settings?

…and THAT is one to grow on!

Today I was reminded that I once read part of a Dan Brown book. It wasn’t my first encounter with a best-selling novelist who held the #1 spot on the NY Times Bestseller list for an ungodly amount of time, it wouldn’t be my last.

As most of you know, I am still hacking my way through Stephenie Meyers’ magnum opus, The Twilight Series (Japanese translation: No Sexy Happy Fun Time Sparkle GO!). I’m pretty sure it has sold more copies than anything else I’ve read in the past two years other than JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books.

And today, I realized, I have LEARNED important and valuable LESSONS from best-selling authors!

Let me share some with you!

1. Keep your chapters SHORT, silly! Glenn Beck and Dan Brown agree on that one! This is because the average reader (the people whose buying of books enables an author to arrive on that magical NYT list) doesn’t really like to read. Reading is hard.

Also, don’t use big words for the same reason.

2. Did you put a lot of work into making your characters fully realized, living breathing personalities with feelings, hopes, dreams, and body odor? Well, you sure wasted a lot of your time!

All you need to do for characterization is tell the readers what they think of them! For example: “Kelly was a really sexy girl. I watched her sexily walk across the floor. My heart lept into my throat at how sexy she was.”

Now, the reader is going to be sure that Kelly is sexy! If you want to make it clear that a character ISN’T sexy, just tell the readers in plain English! There is no reason to look for the right balance of reaction and instinct in your characters, just say how they feel as bluntly as possible! “Dwayne was disgusted by how unattractive Misha was, especially when she stood next to sexy Kelly” can save you a lot of those pesky words!

And remember, just a few quick descriptive words (handsome & tall, or short & dull, or dreamy & sparkling) are all you need to make a character!

3. Why develop a plot “naturally” and have your character discover what is going on around them, when you can just have characters deliver all the information in (small, digestible) chunks of exposition? No reason! Exposition is so much faster! Tell, don’t show!

4. Use words however you want to! Your readers won’t care.

For example: “Joe Bob smirked at me when I told him his t-shirt was kind of cool.” Now, a lot of you reading this might think: “Wow, Joe Bob is a fucking tool!” And you would be right- but only in the real world. In the world of best-selling fiction, “Smirk” doesn’t match the definition of: ‘a smile expressing scorn, smugness, etc., rather than pleasure’.

If you can write like a best-selling author, ‘Smirk’ means that Joe Bob is beautiful and smart and handsome and so talented. And the t-shirt is probably from Ed Hardy.

5. Make lots of references to other, vastly superior, well-written works of literature! See: most of your audience will have only read the Cliff Notes, so they will assume that you are Smart and your characters Interesting.

Also: be sure to open your novel (if not each chapter) with a quote from some work of classic literature, poetry, or even the Bible (for symbolism). That will make a click in your readers head, and they will think: “Aha, that is a work of classic literature/poetry- the writer must be quite smart to be aware of this Shakespeare/Blake/Tennyson fellow, I’ve heard of them too! This book is high brow!”

6. Symbolism & Foreshadowing- when you can you should use really simple stuff that everyone gets. Like have your main character have dreams about being chased by people that they know are their enemies, and then later in the book have this actually happen! Wow! I’m getting chills just thinking of it!

I’m pretty sure that was Foreshadowing, whereas Symbolism would be if your character has a dream about their mother getting picked up by an angel and flown to heaven, and then later the mother is in a plane crash and dies. Woah, man! That is some “heavy” stuff!

7. Formula. Just imagine you are lucky enough to not only write ONE book and get it published, but the audience and publisher want you to do MORE! Wow! I get all tingly just thinking of it. But how do you make the follow-up books as good as the first? Simple, silly, rinse and repeat!

Let us say that, in your first book your main character stumbles through a lot of stuff without really having a clue about what is going on until the finale. Then, when they are about to die/be imprisoned/get expelled you have a mysterious gift/message/character that didn’t seem to have any real reason to be in the story save them/give them the info needed/grant them a fucking wish or some shit. Easy!

You can flog that crap for at least seven books!

Phew- I know this was a lot to digest, but between these Best Sellers I’ve been reading, and this trusty thesaurus I’m ignoring (Just like Stephenie Meyers!), I’m going to get to the bottom of Good Writing! Come back for more!

“Its Mega-Maid sir!” The Creative Vacuum.

Sometimes that Creative Vacuum goes from suck- to blow.

I don’t live in a creative vacuum where there is nothing there (zero atmosphere), and I certainly am influenced by what came before me (thoroughly post-modern Billy). But when I am writing, I am in a vacuum in that very little else matters.

It’s terrible- I feel terrible! I don’t think I neglect my wife and kids (job is another story) but I DO interact with them while I am somewhere else. Conversations are probably pretty fucking tiresome for Bettie and her sister (she lives with us, did I mention that Boopsie, sister of Bettie, lives with us now?) since all my brain can process is What I Am Writing (and what influenced/s it).

I admit- I get kind of frustrated with my own ability to see outside when I’ve (figuratively) locked myself in and drawn the mental curtains to get some writin’ done. I imagine it is worse for them I love and interact with.

I still play with the kidlets, but often my brain is elsewhere. Its like a fresh stab wound- that ever present throb and itch. Or a migraine- a creative migraine, blinding me to pretty much everything but what I’m working on/poised to work on. I can still drive, work, wash, eat, interact- I don’t literally seclude myself.

But there are steel shutters in my head, y’all, and they come down with a fuckin’ clang that resonates from hither to thither and far past yon.

The Hall of the Piper’s Warning

Apologies for the dust. Life has this way of insisting on being lived, and the blog tends to collect the most dust.

The great Querying effort of ought-ten continues with some bites.

I have far less gray in my hair than I expected at 35. Less lines around my eyes too.

The big shock was the realization that I hadn’t written one novel but two; that they are YA novels wasn’t so shocking but more of a shrug and a “huh”. An Agent, Michael, had put the idea of The Novel possibly being YA into my head back in November. Nova fed fuel and fanned the idea, pointing out instances of “edgy” writing- violence and sex- in YA lit.

One day I looked at the end of Part 1 of The Novel, and said: “Shit, this isn’t an overly long Adult novel, this is two upper-YA novels.” Book 1 has a terrific ending. Book 2 feels less like a wandering afterthought (which it did, to me, before it was Book 2 when it was still Part 2) to the more tightly plotted Part 1 when I realized that it was a different story set in the aftermath of the story of Book 1.

There is still the whole genre question, but I like to call it contemporary fantasy. Some might call it urban fantasy, but since the stories are pretty rural I’m not sure about that, and I feel like it is important to make clear that this isn’t a period fantasy world, but ours distorted through funhouse mirrors.

So there is that.

I miss the desert.

My son grows like a weed, he is all sharp angles and wild curls of strawberry-blond hair. He shows no fear of rocks, wolves, giants or spicy foods. He is a little leery of Wampas, and dogs that aren’t Daisy (of Detective Agency fame).

My daughter laughs with her entire face, her milk-coated tongue rolls in her mouth like a mirthful little sea of white. She sleeps deeper in my arms, it seems, than anyone else’s. I like to think I feel solid to her, substantial, strong and comforting. Or maybe I’m just warm enough and she likes the way I smell. Either way.

My wife gives birth to ideas for yarn and words like a feisty snapdragon. The yarn she works with, the words she often gives to me. What, you didn’t know that snapdragons bore ideas? Obviously you haven’t spent enough time in the garden.

I love my friends. As I get older, and look less like Sam Shepard than I had hoped, I value the friends I’ve kept more and more. I’m, honestly, terrible at making friends. I am great at cocktail chatter, at being friendly, but actually maintaining friendships is somehow beyond me. My wife picks better people than I do, and then she generously shares them with me. I’m pretty lucky like that.

As I get older, and look less like Sam Shepard than I had hoped, I enjoy the little things more, worry about the big things less, and keep writing, loving, reading, cooking, learning and eating.

And sometimes, I get out to the desert.

La Boheme

I’ve been insanely busy on the loading docks lately, so there are two half-writ posts that must sit in the dark and starve a little bit longer. The actual writing, the novels and such, have taken a back seat the last two weeks as well. If it isn’t work, it’s being a father.

Sometimes I feel like if I could just ignore my job and my son, I’d be a much better writer. After all, work takes up 40+ hours a week. And my son, sheesh, I get home from work and I have to play with him and be his Dad and take over so that his mother can have a break! Whatever!

Maybe I wouldn’t even be struggling and rudderless. Sure, sure- thats the ticket! If I focused all my energy on my writing, I’d be a huuuuge success! Right! All I gotta do is live in a garrett and starve for my art, burning old manuscripts to stay warm, and cut off all contact with my child… Yeah! He’ll understand when he’s older!

But you know what the truth of it is?

I’d rather be a struggling writer than a struggling parent.

Another Perfect Catastrophe

Sometimes I grab myself (metaphorically speaking) or turn to my wife (literally) and say: “What the hell were we thinking?” or “What the hell was I thinking?”

This can be about many things. Sometimes about something as seemingly simple and harmless as giving Sam a medium sized glass of juice or water shortly before bedtime, or something as big and life-changing as a second kid or writing another damn novel.

The hardest part is finding the balance, for me. I’m good at being the solitary pre-dawn writer, the doting father, the homemaker, the husband, the not-quite-burly and taciturn dockworker, the boozy raconteur…

Some of those aspects fit well with others. The hardest part is finding the balance.

Right now finding the quiet within to edit, truly fine-tooth comb edit, the first chapter of the “mostly ready” novel in order to enter a contest (thanks, Nova) and to further move along the whole “soliciting an Agent” phase of my career- well, that is the bitch of the bunch.

Sam and Bettie will be heading down South in just over a week for an extended house-sit/vacation, and I am eagerly anticipating the potential quiet time to edit within.

Oh, and a nice bit: my father read my novel. I know, my parents expressed interest in reading it and I was all: “Okay!”

Like that didn’t make me overly nervous.

He liked it a lot. My mother read it too- but I didn’t expect her to really “get” it. Try and picture a Shelley Duvall or Jane Lynch or Mary Tyler Moore kind of obliviousness. I’m thrilled my mother read it, and more or less enjoyed it, but she is entirely the wrong audience. My father is a bit more accurate as a potential audience for the story. His notes were great, purely a readers notes, and each one resonated with concerns I had for the various areas. But more than suggestions, he had questions for a few things- not questions that made me realize I’d written something badly, but questions that made me realize the world and its characters had sunk their hooks into him and he wanted to know more…

Hooks that I crafted, hooks that I made. That is a pretty exciting feeling.

“The characters are great, I want to spend time with these characters- even the bad guys, and some of them are truly horrible people, or not-people, but I liked them anyways, I enjoyed them,” he said.

I’m no wordsmith. At best, my writing is passable. I’m okay with that. But if the characters sing, and the world is fascinating and the story leaves you hungry for more… well shit, I did my job. And that is better than good.

This has little to do with the frustration of the Edit, which I am horrible at, conflicting with playing with my son or hanging out with my wife. But it was a real high point, a real shining moment.

The little moments help a lot.

Rats in the Hallway

Let this be a warning: blog entries CAN be boring, depressing, and not advance the story at all.(*)

I am a bad blogger. I’ve always known, deep down inside, that I wasn’t meant to be a blogger. Not me. Quick links or “man I had a weird dream last night” spurts on Livejournal were always my style- but when the ball would get rolling and I’d write something interesting or funny or well-written (the last the least likely) someone would usually say: “Livejournal sucks, you should write a blog”.

Mostly my wife.

I admit I’ve never understood the LJ/blog feud. People have tried to communicate it to me, but the truth is I don’t care. And I know that I could write a blog entry not unlike my old livejournal entries- but somehow the blog feels like it deserves more formality.

Lately I haven’t had any energy to devout to formality. I am tired, dear readers. All the damn time. And what little time I have had for writing has- I am happy to say- been spent writing books. And a screenplay. And some treatments. But, you know, mostly books. And a very slow going query letter for a book, and an even slower going synopsis for said book.

I don’t feel like I have a lot left to give, so the internet becomes the ignored child. Life keeps me busy, my writing keeps me (in)sane, and my job kind of almost pays the bills. My son makes me happy. My wife makes me happy too, but I know her well enough to know that she won’t begrudge me the almost miraculous level of joy that Sam can bring me. Seriously, hanging out with him is the best time ever.

I used to be able to blog from work, but I just don’t have the time anymore because it is the only time I have to write. Of course, I do have actual work that needs to be worked on while working. So I resent my job because it interferes with my writing- and it is also, frankly, a numbing, achingly dull job. So I resent it for not challenging me at all, while I resent it for making it harder for me to get any writing done.

When I’m home, my time is divided between playing with Sam (so bettie can get a break or, bless her, get some of her own writing done) or chores, and even some relaxing but I can almost never get any writing done at home. I have to get up insanely early to get any writing done- I don’t mind getting up early. In fact I like the rush of creative energy to deal with first thing in the morning. But it isn’t easy to get up easy consitently without the use of an alarm clock- using one would almost definitely wake Sam up too, and I cannot write when Sam is up. For one thing, he thinks my computer is his T.V.- we used to let him watch Bettie Boop and Flip the Frog cartoons on it in the morning while he ate breakfast, before we realized that he thinks that means anytime the computer is on, it is his.

It is hard for me to argue or convince someone who doesn’t speak a language I know that what Daddy is doing is important. So the computer stays off while Sam is awake. Once he goes to bed, between eight and nine at night, I’m only good for doing the dishes before rapidly following his lead and crawling into bed.

So I’m kind of resentful, because I feel like there is no time that is my own. Oh! But it gets funny, because in a couple of weeks Bettie & Sam will be housesitting for our dear friend Cassy down south- which means that for at least a week I’ll have my mornings and evenings to myself since I’ll be staying home to commute to work…

And while a small part of me rejoices at the thought of having uninterrupted time, the larger part says: “Jesus, what the hell am I gonna DO with myself without Sam around?”

To say that Bettie and my current writing schedules conflicts with our having much time together would be an understatement- or at least it feels that way.

Man. Next wife(**)? Not another writer. I think one writer is almost more than any marriage can take. Because it means we’re both so damn needy, and paranoid that we’re ignoring Sam to focus on our make-believe worlds, while ignoring our spouse because we’re obsessing over our own story.

*(because Nova doesn’t believe me)

**(no, we are not getting divorced or even squabbling more than is healthy for us. Keep your resumes to yourselves, ladies)

Leggo my Lego!

This just in for the 2 people that might read my blog before reading my wife’s, don’t follow either of us on Twitter, and aren’t our friends on Facebook: she is pregnant and we are expecting our second child in January.

Oh, and the Novel is almost finished-finished, like 2nd draft I’m excited to start showing it finished, which is also kind of cool.

In other news, Sam had his 3rd birthday on Tuesday and celebrated it for damn near a week. The biggest day of the festivities was on Saturday, wherein a number of his friends of varying sizes and ages came and played with him for an afternoon of pizza, wings, soda and beers, and a delicious ice-cream cake shaped like a giant Oreo cookie that his mom made for him…

Sam likes Star Wars. When he was an infant, I remember a Thursday night wherein Annika was going off to her knitting group, leaving me and the baby at home. Sam lay on a blanket in front of the TV and fell asleep while I had the Clone Wars cartoon on- it was the OG Genndy Tarakovsky one, I enjoyed it, he fell asleep smiling.

As the years have passed, Sam has continued to enjoy the Tarakovsky “bridge” stories, the actual “Clone Wars” that Lucas neglected to show much of during the Prequel Trilogy. I say he “enjoys” but only a parent can understand what that actually means, so for those of you who don’t have or haven’t had a small person, it means Obsesses. The kid wants to watch their favorite story once a day- at least- they start noticing things that are related to it, toys or books or art- things that didn’t interest them before begin to, because they resemble the story… you get where I’m at.

Sam likes Lego Star Wars: The Video Game (a lot). When he was little, he’d ask us to play it for him. Now he plays it on the PS2, badly. We need to get it for the Wii for him, because he totally understands the Wii’s control system and doesn’t like the PS2’s in comparison.

Anyways, about 2 months or so ago Sam and I were at Target looking for something, and we wandered down the Lego isle- Sam likes Legos, having mostly outgrown his Duplos and whatnot- and he saw a Star Wars Lego set for Annakin’s space-ship (the one he flies off in towards the end of Episode 3, not the dog-fight one from the opening)- and most importantly, it came with a lego mini-fig of R2-D2.

Sam also likes R2-D2, a Lot. Once, after finishing the Clone Wars discs for the umpteenth time, Annika slapped in The Revenge of the Sith- figuring that since the movie started right where the Clone Wars episodes ended (with Griveous wheezing and having captured Palpatine, Annakin and Obi-Wan flying to rescue him through the space battle over Coruscant), that he wouldn’t really mind the transition from animation to live-action (mostly). And she was right.

What we didn’t count on was Sam falling in love with R2-D2. Majorly. To the point of reaching out and trying to catch the plucky little droid when he falls down the length of the hanger during an action set-piece.

When Sam saw the R2-D2 Lego mini-fig (he already had appropriated a trio of SW themed mini-figs the McQs had given me for Xmas some years ago), he grabbed the box and dragged it to me. He asked for it, I told him maybe sometime soon- a $20 dollar set is cheap, but we is po.

Well, for his Birthday we got him the set- and a pair of lightsabres, and a sticker book, and his mother made him an AWESOME Jedi robe as well as an R2-D2 knit hat.

His R2 love seems to have cooled a little since it’s halcyon days, but he is still a Star Wars kid. The lightsabres excited him to no end. But the real joy I got was the look of total glee and recognition on his face when he unwrapped the Lego Star Wars set with Annakin’s star-fighter and the R2-D2 minifig.

At the end of the day, with everyone full of food and good cheer and happy, Sam was quietly playing over by my computer while Annika and I cleaned up. Ignoring the starfighter, the lightsabres, his blaster pistol (it makes noise, and is a much beloved gift from one of his guests) Sam had taken his R2-D2 mini-fig as and his 3/4 inch R2 (the standard Hasbro action figure, an early gift from his gramma) and was playing with the two of them.

Sam got a lot of love and a lot of great toys and presents at his Birthday Party and on his actual birthday- a lot of non-SW stuff as well. But for me the stand-out moment was the two R2’s of varying scale and style, sliding back and forth next to each other, under the watchful eye of the Happy Birthday banner (complete with Darth Vadar, Yoda, and some Storm Troopers).