The Defeatist

Just downloaded a free Kindle book from Sophie Bowns, “The Defeatist.” The novel begins with a brief prelude that I didn’t find compelling, but the first chapter is complex and taught, and has me hooked. I’ll follow with a more detailed review once I’m finished.

KBoards

Taking up advice from Ana Spoke, Author, I’ve decided to join Kboards, “a community forum for Kindle Users and Authors.” While I’m not necessarily planning on publishing to Kindle, epublishing in general is definitely an option I’m considering as I become more ambitious in promoting my writing. Creating my Kboards account today was a small step, but perhaps the first in a very long journey.  

Smart car 10 AUTOpsy

Fiction about cars fascinates me. When drafting my novel, many of the scenes I’ve enjoyed most have taken place within automobiles; some dynamic exists in those moments (the occupants can’t avoid each other, there’s a shared destination, a finite amout of time to kill, and limited options for distraction) that make them ripe for meaningful conversations. I’ve also used car ownership within the novel to reveal character — Coach Dan’s sedan (beat up and durable), Double-J’s coupe (flashy and loud), Jimmy’s van (creaky and utilitarian), the Hutchinson’s Cadillac (large and stately). Occurs to me that somebody needs a pick-up; maybe Butch’s family.
Thoughts such as these make me curious about other uses for cars in fiction, and that curiosity is in part what leads me today to Doug Hawley’s recent story on Nugget Tales. This isn’t a conversation within a car, but a conversation with a car, and an engaging parody of artificial intelligence and the “smart car” concept. I seriously doubt there will be communicative cars in my novel, but it’s an idea I may pursue in a short work such as this. 

The Point Of Living

Peter Wells, of the countingducks blog, is a proficient author of short fiction. Each of his stories exists independent of the others, and while they are typically only a few hundred words long they never leave the reader asking what’s next — the writing is precise and focused, providing a thorough examination of a concept or character while also being consistently entertaining, with the occassional clever line that never seems forced or overbearing.

His About page is worth reading on its own, and contains its own little gems —  Life soon passes, my skin attests to that.

His latest story, The Point of Living, is the first-person narrative of an unnammed man who follows numerous paths to personal fulfillment, each of which leads to a dead end. Over two decades of this man’s life is summarized in just a handful of paragraphs (approximately two mouse clicks are required to traverse from beginning to end, your exact effort a function of  screen resolution), and at the conclusion the narrator is as uncertain as ever, yet somehow in exactly the place where he’s most comfortable. Like most of Peter’s stories, it provides an image that lasts far longer than the time required to read this clever little fable.

Ten Questions for a Fictional Character

Justina Luther posts new works of short fiction to her blog on a regular basis, and supplements most of those works with an interesting technique. Justina invites her readers to ask questions of the story’s lead character in the comments to her stories, and then chooses ten of those questions for an “interview” she conducts the following week. Her story from last week, Reasons, is a suspenseful study of a man struggling with his past, and her follow-up interview this week provides additional insight into his character.

I’m interested in employing a similar technique with Gray Metal Faces, the novel I’m drafting on this blog (Chapter Seven will be starting soon). I’d love to give Annie, Double-J, Coach Dan, and my other characters the opportunity to interact directly with my readers. Especially Double-J, my angy young sabre fencer who never seems satisfied with the way I describe him; he’d relish the chance to push me aside and speak directly with a reader. (He just snorted at me as he wiped his black moustache with the back of hand; “You do realize you suck at post-modern narrative, right?”)

Returning to the start without starting over

Corngoblin and I share an interest in writing about the craft of writing, what I call metawriting. I’ve also found that my metawriting posts tend to elicit more likes and comments than almost any other type of writing I upload. This has surprised me, as I’d assume most readers would find such posts self-indulgent and distracting; they are, however, also very honest and revealing, so that might be why they’ve generated such interest. So, since Corngoblin has just posted an interesting work of metawriting, I’m interested to see what happens if I use that essay to reflect on the novel I’ve been drafting.

Corngoblin’s essay discusses the strategic importance of beginnings; while it doesn’t say much that’s terribly original, it is entertaining for his distinctively absurdist, self-deprecating humor:

When you’re planning the beginning of the story, your job is the same job you have when you break out a board game for your friends to play: you need to make sure all of the pieces are on the board. Some games are really complicated, though. They’ve got a lot of pieces, but you really want to play, so you need to make sure you get all the pieces down as quickly as possible, or your friends are going to get bored and go do drugs or something instead.

I get the feeling they don’t play much Parcheesi at the Corn-Man’s parties.

This metaphor has me thinking about Chapter One — how well do I lay my pieces on the gameboard before my reader? The decision to begin with a demonstration fencing bout was certainly strategic; when Coach Dan explains the rules and terminology of the sport to the Bark Bay High School student body, I’m effectively saying to my reader, Here’s everything you need to know about fencing. I also introduce all seven of the principal characters — distinguishing physical characteristics (Annie’s pony-tail, Rex’s height), vocal patterns and tag phrases (Coach Dan’s my friend, Rune’s I dunno), personality (Double-J’s acerbic sarcasm, The Bird’s reticence, Butch’s awkward gentility). In my latest series of revisions, I focused on dialogue and character interactions; I believe those were correct decisions, but I’m now realizing that I have much work still to do with describing the town of Bark Bay, and establishing the tensions that will be developed in subsequent chapters.

To use the language of Corngoblin’s metaphor — I’ve chosen to place a fairly complex game in front of my readers, and while I’ve got the major pieces in place, there’s a few missing, lying within the box of my imagination. There’s more work for me to do before I consider this game reader to come out of beta testing. I just hope I get that work done before my readers start looking for the bong pipe.

 

What I Love about Writing a Blog…

Read a blog post by lillypup today, celebrating the experimental nature of blog writing:

I feel free to do anything grammar and mechanics wise. I continually start sentences with prepositions. No one cares. My text can be set sideways. No one cares.

Know what she means. Can do pretty much what you want on a blog. An entire post composed of sentences with implied subjects? Sure.

Notice I almost never use the word said (or any synonyms such as uttered, declared, shouted etc.)? Don’t like said, word doesn’t have much meaning, linguistic deadwood. Don’t read Shakespeare for the stage directions. Can replace the word with character tag phrases (like my friend for Coach Dan), or distinctive diction.

Give you an example, something Coach Dan might say during fencing practice. Could write it like this:

“You’re point’s too low,” Coach Dan said, grabbing the foil’s blade and pulling its tip towards his chest. “You need to aim higher, my friend.”

Works. But, could also write it like this:

“You’re point’s too low, my friend.” Coach Dan grabbed the foil’s blade and pulled its tip towards his chest. “You need to aim higher.” 

Cut the deadwood, go right from Coach Dan’s first statement to his actions. More dramatic, if you ask me.

All kinds of tricks for not using said and its synonyms:

“You going to the Pizza Place tonight?” asked Butch.

“I don’t know,” Rune said. 

Not so hard to fix:

Butch poined with his thumb past his shoulder, towards the school’s exit doors. “You going to the Pizza Place tonight?”

Rune shrugged. “I don’t know.”

Not always easy. But has its rewards.

Problem with experimental writing? Gets annoying, use it too much. Think we’re there now. Won’t do this, anymore.

Promise.

2016 Writing Goals

In a recent post on her 2016 blogging goals, Damyanti Biswas recommended her peers join one of her online writer’s groups. Her suggestion has inspired me to consider my own writing goals for the coming year.

My primary ambition has nothing to do with blog stats, word counts, or other personal accomplishments. I’m defining success in 2016 by my ability to make connections, both online and interpersonal, with other writers. For too long I’ve been trying to do this all on my own, imagining I was some genius lone wolf who just needed some time in a quiet room in order to find the success I seek. And a computer. Financial independence, as well. Someone to clean the house, cook my meals . . .

Oh, sorry! Where was I — oh yeah, my fantasy writing life, where all I need is myself. One of the valuable lessons I’ve learned since I’ve started blogging is that writers support, and learn from each other. Successful bloggers don’t just write, they read, and comment on other blogs. There is a social aspect to blogging, and writing in general, that I have been almost entirely missing.

That changes in the coming year. Already joined that group Damyanti recommended, will also beat the bushes in my area to find a face-to-face writer’s group. I’ll join, and contribute, to as many groups as my energy can sustain. And I’ll be posting comments and fowarding links on a much more regular basis.

And, of course, posting here daily. Have another chapter or three for my novel to draft, and will take the NaNoWriMo challenge again in November for another round of revisions.

All of a sudden, I realize there’s a lot on my plate this year. Going to be difficult at times, but writing is the only work I’ve ever wanted to do. Looking forward to pushing myself, and hope you’ll enjoy this ride.