Monday, February 16, 2009

Extinction Enterprises

Usually, when an idea for a short story comes to me, I don't do anything with it for awhile. Just a sentence or two jotted down in the notebook. Weeks or months--sometimes even years!-- later, I write it, and because the basic premise has had time to mutate in my head it winds up being considerably different than what I'd originally conceived of. And that's fine.
This one, though, went from amusing concept to complete story within about two hours. Maybe it suffers for the short gestation period, I don't know. But I like the idea. What could be funnier than the corporate planning behind the complete eradication of all humanity?
Anyway, you be the judge. It's over in the usual spot.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Say it with Action

Editing and revising your work is par for the course; unless you're some sort of literary genius who can whip off a perfect manuscript with a first draft, you're gonna spend a great deal of time fine-tuning, cutting, lengthening, etc. But just recently I had to completely re-write two chapters in my novel from scratch.
The reason: no action!
My novel isn't a mystery exactly, but there are some mystery elements, in that the narrator, Drake, has to "dig up" some important info to get to the next stage of the story. While writing it, I really just wanted to plow through and get where it needed to be, so what I did in one of the chapters (chapter two, to be precise) was have Drake overhear some vital information (that is, stuff my reader needed to know) on the television news. On the news! Very lazy of me. My friends in writer's group, Christian and Janine, called me out on it, and they were right.
So, chapter tossed. In the re-write, I have Drake getting the info by visiting a drug den, finding a stoolie of his, and intimidating the information out of the guy. Much better, yeah? That way, it's not just an info dump, it's an actual scene, with actual characters.
The other chapter: Drake learns some details about a shadowy secret society that could be behind all his misery. What did I do in the first version? I, um... I had him go to the library and look up things on the internet!!
Good god, man, what was I thinking? Fortunately, I caught myself out on that one. One laborious re-write later, Drake takes a trip to visit a paranoid drunken writer who knows all about the society. He gets the info from him.
The lesson: when you're writing a chapter in which some revelation occurs, try to include other characters as the source of the revelation. Don't hand the revelation to your protagonist on a silver platter. Make him work for it. Use it as an opportunity to introduce new and interesting inter-actions that reflect more than just the new information.
When you need to tell the reader something vital, why not say it with action?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Clay Morrow & the Bones of the Conquerors

Here's the second and (so far) last Morrow story. It was actually written first, but chronologically it takes place after "Nine Pale Men". I don't know. To tell you the truth, I sorta like it better now than I did at the time. At one point, I had a whole saga planned around Morrow, taking him all over the world and into one crazy situation after another. Being removed from this story by about a year, I find him a little more interesting than I did before, and the action is pretty good. Maybe I'll give him another shot, eventually.
Check in with him, right over there on the right again.

Friday, February 6, 2009

A Rant about Language

One thing I really loved about George Carlin was his understanding of language and all its nuances. He clearly had a love for linguistics, that guy, and a clear disdain for people who abused words.
Carlin was on my mind recently, when I saw a headline that read "Woman survives fatal car crash." Carlin would’ve loved that one.
He was also a great one for heaping scorn upon clichés or self-important “power phrases”. Man, I really wish he was still around to lay into some of these assholes, don’t you?
Phrases like: “Thinking outside the box.” I’d like to know, and I’m sure Carlin would have to, is exactly what fucking box are we talking about? How about, instead of thinking outside the box, we think outside the stupid, meaningless cliché?
Or (and I know I’ve mentioned this one before) “Failure is not an option.” What sort of dumb-ass thing to say is that? Last I checked, option means choice, and who chooses to fail?? You can’t stop someone from failing just by telling them that it’s not allowed, can you?
Here’s one from a store window: “Everything UP TO 70% off, or MORE!” It’s either UP TO or MORE, right? It can’t be both, man. The most distressing thing about that one is that it was in the window of a bookstore, where you might suppose there’d be more emphasis on literacy.
Here’s a few from the headlines, and I swear I’m not making any of these up:
“Cold weather linked to temperature.”
“War dims hopes for peace.”
“Man refuses to work after death.”
“If stalemate isn’t settled soon, it may last awhile.”
But the news sources aren’t the only ones guilty of talking nonsense. People are always walking around using words and phrases that are completely devoid of any real value. Some prime examples that really get on my nerves:
The word “Guess-timate”. Oh, for Christ’s sake. People, stop saying that already.
“Let’s come together as a team on this one.” Fuck you.
“…in that regard.” People say that when they need to fill up some empty space between other words.
“So, having said that…” Sorry, having said what? I wasn’t listening.
“Synergy”. Is that even a real word?
“Oh no you didn’t!” Usually said with a sort of fake African-American inflection.
“That’s my boy!” See above.
"You da man!" Yeah? Well, you da asshole.

Well, you get the idea. For anyone reading this, leave comments and tell me what you think are some of the more annoying catch-phrases, words, or mis-uses of the language that you can think of. I’m gonna go work on my novel, ‘cuz failure to finish it is not an option!!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

One Damn Thing After Another

I've been immersing myself so thoroughly in film noir and crime fiction lately that I dream about guys in fedoras showing up at my door with guns and threatening to shoot me, right in the belly ('ya don't like it in the belly, do ya, ya squit?'). There's just SO much good stuff out there, and frankly I have a lot of catching up to do. It's been a good fifteen years since I read (and watched) the genre so intently, and all the things about it that I loved then are coming back to me with a vengeance: the stripped down, unsentimental prose (or cinematography), the lack of pretense, the unapologetic nature of the characters. And it's all so character-driven and focused. Between the lines, of course, the best crime novels and films have something worth saying about the world they inhabit or reflect--usually something existential, or even nihilistic, but something relevant, anyway. They tend to show you the world in the way you maybe always suspected it was, in your nightmares.
This has been nothing but good for my own novel, City of Heretics. It's coming along nicely; I'm well into act two currently, keeping it moving, using tricks I've gleaned from the masters-- don't get bogged down, don't get sentimental, don't get soft. Keep the stakes rising higher and higher, don't let up.
Lawrence Block, in his terrific book "Telling Lies for Fun & Profit", said that the definition of suspense is "One damn thing after another". Perfect. That describes the best films noir and crime novels out there. And it's the credo I keep in mind with my own work.
So. Back to work, ya dirty squit.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Clay Morrow & the Nine Pale Men

The story this week is something a little different. It's an over-the-top supernatural horror-adventure story that takes place in 1890, and features a stoic Southern gentleman named Clay Morrow, globe-trotting around the world on a quest of vengeance. Along the way, he encounters all manner of bizarre creatures and conspiracies. This one finds him in Hong Kong, facing an ancient evil out of the mists of Chinese legend. It's Robert E. Howard meets HG Wells.
This is the first of two stories I wrote about Morrow. Perhaps there will be more; who can say? Enjoy. It's over there in the usual spot.