…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.

Sick Boy: A Long Weekend

When I get sick, it is always on the weekend.

As I get older, my healing factor has a lot more to deal with. I’m a bit front heavy and I utterly ignore my Core exercises (not even sure what those are: where I steal copies of a shitty Aaron Eckhart/Hillary Swank movie and throw it vast distances?), my diet probably isn’t as healthy as it should be, and I work outdoors- interacting with a daily rotating roster of delivery drivers: serious illness vectors.

Still, I don’t get sick too often, I’m still hardy. Not as hardy as when I was a kid or a young man, I healed and recovered at speeds that were remarkable to my friends and family alike.

But when I do succumb to a bug or a sniffle, it is always the weekend. Annika thinks it is because I have this fucked up work ethic where I pretty much ignore any illness or discomfort while I’m trying to get something done, and then when I finally relax my body goes: “Aw shit, we’re not doing so good!” and collapses.

I was feeling mildly out of sorts Tues/Weds of last week but brushed it off as allergies or just poor dietary choices, and even though I was feeling pretty exhausted by the time Thursday finished off (a solo night at home juggling Sam’s dinner and bedtime as well a lot of laundry) that isn’t too irregular.

Friday morning started slow- and got slower. By mid-day Friday every extremity ached and I was shivering, despite it being in the mid-70s. “I am not good,” I told Annika. “I don’t want to drive the scooter home like this.”

So she and the kids picked me up. Yay!

“Oh honey, you look terrible she tells me. Boo!

Home, sleep. Fever broke in the night- I know this, because at first I thought Gracie had a leaky diaper, but then I realized she was still out in the living room with her mom, brother and aunt and I was laying in a giant pool of sweat.

Saturday: sleep all day. Woke up, showered, decided that I was on the mend after having been fighting this bug for at least half the week (and thusly wouldn’t be contagious no mo) and went to my Wife’s birthday party.

Yay party!

Even though I barely got to see anyone for more than a few moments, it was awesome (though chasing after Sam whilst all wrung out from the fever kind of sucked). I am constantly reminded that my wife (and I, by default, because this is California so they are HALF MINE!) has some really awesome friends.

Laurie Ann deserves special mention, because she loaned me her (hardback, yo!) copies of a CERTAIN SERIES OF QUESTIONABLE QUALITY that I am reading as part of a SECRET PROJECT to put my motherfuckin’ money where my motherfuckin’ mouth is. (on my motherfuckin’ plane, sans motherfuckin’ snakes, obviously)

The special mention is mostly because Laurie Ann made covers for the books, presumably to hide my shameful reading material, and the covers say: “THE BIG BOOK OF VERY MANLY THINGS” (Vol 1 etc.). AWESOME.

In retrospect too- though Sam was kind of a pain in the ass for the last hour and a half at Ernie’s (the Mexican joint we celebrated at) he was fine for over an hour. And really, I can’t expect a 4 year old to be content to sit still (or at least only play around in the back room where we were) for more than an hour, so he exceeded expectations (it was just exhausting and frustrating at the time).

By the time we had hit TJs for a few things and gotten home past the Hollywood Bowl (on a Saturday night- ouch), Sam was out COLD. Barely woke up when I transferred him to bed.

Aw, and I did get to see my buddy Perfect Tommy for a bit. I don’t get to see Tommy often enough and that was super awesome.

Sunday we all just kind of chilled. Sam and I watched some episodes of the cheesy/kind of fun “Magnificent Seven” series from the mid-90s. Michael Biehn really only works in ensembles- at least for me- because he just isn’t strong enough to be a lead without other performers to outshine him or support him. Ron Perleman has THE SCARIEST TEETH EVER. I think he is just great.
Dale Midkiff and Ron usually took the writing and elevated it a bit, and Anthony Starke had a lot of fun with the flashier role of the cardsharp.

Oh, and Annika and I took Sam to the Farmer’s Market which was great, and I had Fatburger. The Last Great American Burger Stand was appropriate for the 4th. We watched the fireworks from the roof, Sam loved it. Gracie loved it too, but she’d love about half of the many Chinese Hells if her brother was there to enjoy them with her.

Monday was awesome, because we could just kind of collapse until the evening, when it was time for Deadlands.

Deadlands is, in brief, a table-top role-playing game. An RPG. A geek’s passtime. I’ve been playing that game for well over a decade- it is probably my favorite game setting (flawed though it is). I’ve been running a regular game for over a year now, with a mostly stock set of players that just added two- in the same session that two regular players introduced new characters. This was a potentially tricky night- balancing the introduction of FOUR new characters in the middle of an established story arc- especially since the two oldest surviving PCs were both out.

Well the game went pretty well, I think. I always find myself second-guessing the decisions I make, spur-of-the-moment, after the fact. Playing out the game (or telling the story, really, and I probably have a huge post inside me on how I view gaming, at least a game I run, as storytelling) is like a rough-rough draft, so afterwards I am kicking myself saying: “Man, I really should have exploited the secret of that Croatian immigrant girl more,” or “Geez, I could have really played the way they found Smiling’ Jack buried under corpses in the basement for more of a horror/suspense beat”.

Also, we had Golden Bird fried chicken before we played, and Annika picked up one of those mini-kegs of Newcastle. I LOVE THOSE SO MUCH.

Then came Tuesday- which was a very special day, since it was Annika’s birthday! Starting with my 35th birthday back in January, and continuing with Sam’s in May and now Annika’s- we have a pretty set-in-stone birthday tradition, which is great.

After breakfast we go to the Glendale Mall (basically, we go to the mall as many times a year as we have birthdays) to visit the Lego Store. Sure, Annika went to Macy’s too, but Sam and I mostly went to the Lego Store to browse. He also discovered the Disney Store (lets be honest: The Pixar Store) and he stood, transfixed, in front of all the Toy Story displays. He didn’t want me to press any buttons or look too closely at any of the boxes- I think he wanted it to be his discovery, his exploration. When we left to find the girls, he was very quiet for a few moments, almost awed- like he’d been in church. I guess, in his own way, he kind of had been.

After the Mall (and were we all glad to leave, oh boy, we HATE malls) we had lunch at The Golden Spur and went home to COLLAPSE. And play Lego: Harry Potter, the game. I have enjoyed all of the Lego games, this one has strong potential to be my favorite, being the most diverse. The Star Wars games are fantastic, but Jesus Christ we’ve played the ever-living shit out of them. I enjoy the Indiana Jones game, but the constant stream of enemies (like in the Batman game) gets annoying when I just want to explore/build/collect monies. The HP game seems to recognize this and lets you do a lot of non-combat exploration.

I made a Jamaican rub for tofu and pork for dinner, a jerk rub. It was delish. And now, sadly, tragically, I am back at work. But I had 4 days off, with my family (and my friends) and that was pretty much perfect- even with my weather being a bit under.