Wednesday, April 28, 2010

X-Ray Specs

So we've reached the last week of Arlee Bird's A to Z blog challenge, and probably the hardest letter in the alphabet. I thought about this all night long, and I kept coming back to these crazy glasses. I always wished I had a pair of these when I was a kid.

Sometimes, I still imagine what it would be like to have some x-ray specs. Imagine what it would be like to... hey, stop being naughty, I didn't even get to finish my sentence!

As writers, we have a kind of built-in x-ray vision, don't we? We see through the top layers of the mundane to the fabulous items underneath. Using the x-ray specs of our imaginations, we have the ability to observe pretty much anything we want. We can see through reality, and use it as fodder for our wild imaginations. We can turn any person, any situation, any object we see into something that isn't quite as it seems.

Now, I want you to imagine you've got a pair of these on your face right now. Look around the room. Can you see the intricate wiring in your computer? What about the energy flowing out of the power socket, up the power cord, and into your PC? What does the inside of your desk look like? Look through your walls. See any mice?

Look at your hand... you can see right through the thin covering of flesh to the bones and tendons beneath. You can do this; you've got a great imagination. Your x-ray specs are built in, remember? Look at the veins in your hand, the way the smooth panels of muscle are knit together. Cross your index and middle fingers. See the X your bones make?

Let's look through the mundane world today and see what we find. How much can we uncover to put into our work? Use your imagination, friend! I give you full permission to pretend you are ten years old today. What will you see with your mental x-ray specs?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Wake Up

I realized while I was getting ready for the Clark Kent job this morning that I forgot all about music Monday!!

Geesh! What kinda blogger am I? An off-the-cuff, disorganized, but still lovable one... well, mostly anyway. So to make up for it, I want to talk a little about one of my favorite songs by the Arcade Fire. It's called "Wake Up" and it's off their 2004 debut album Funeral. I first heard this song a few years ago, and I fell in love with it immediately - it's everything I want in a song: epic lyrics, a shifting, moving melody, and an overall uplifting sound. If you get a chance today, you should really give it a listen (click on the link above!). It's worth it. And it's only about five minutes of your life. You've spent more time in drive-thru lines. ;)

I love this piece of lyrics:

And children don't grow up
our bodies get bigger, but our
hearts get torn up
We're just a million little gods causin' rainstorms,
turnin' every good thing to rust
I guess we'll just have to adjust...

I really identify with this. Do you ever feel like you're still a kid inside your grownup body? I know I do. Stumbling around, wondering if what I'm doing is the right thing, wishing for some kind of direction... more often than not doing more damage than good. It's at times like this that I remind myself to breathe. And breathe. And breathe some more. I think terms like "adult" and "grownup" don't necessarily apply to artists. We are awake, fully awake, so much more so than most people - we don't really care so much about which celebrity is dating who, or what the stock market trade value of a certain company is, or whether or not the clothes in our closets are "in", or which reality show is currently kicking butt and taking names.

We're more concerned with the bright pinprick of light that's the evening star, set like a startling jewel in the velvety cobalt of the twilight-filled sky. We observe people while in public places, marveling at their secret lives on display for us to see, even though they don't realize it - listening to their conversations on airplanes, watching them play with their kids in the park. We are awake to the real world, a universe of color and sound and drama. It's our job, our calling as artists to capture that world to the best of our abilities.

Last night I was dragging from a ten hour day at work so I went to my local coffee shop for a delicious caffeinated beverage. On the way back to my house, I saw a little carnival set up in a parking lot, a study of flashing lights against the deep blue evening sky. Instead of passing on and heading back to the house, I pulled over and took a couple of pictures - and bought myself a bag of fresh cotton candy!

On the way out of the tiny cluster of lights and bells and barkers, I saw a Greenville County deputy parked beside the lot, leaning on his car and observing the few cars and people who'd gathered. I smiled and introduced myself, told him I was writing a book and that one of my main characters was a police officer, and then had a great little Q & A session with him about police work. I found out he's an English minor who's also working on a novel, and we had a really cool conversation about writing. We also traded info and he agreed to read my first draft after it was done and offer pointers on what will make Jack a more realistic police officer! YEAH!

See? I was AWAKE to the possibility of magic in my life, and the universe delivered! I could've passed on by, left the carnival and its enchanting little pool of twinkling lights and whirling rides behind, but I listened to that voice inside me, the one that said, hey man, maybe we should take a closer look at that, whaddaya think? and was rewarded for my efforts.

This can and WILL happen to you. You just have to keep your eyes open. You just have to be awake.

With my
lightning bolts a-glowin'
I can see where I am
go, goin'!

You better look out below!


Monday, April 26, 2010

Vigilant and Virtuous

I can't help but remember this scene from V for Vendetta when I think of the letter V. Our friend Evey has just been saved from certain deflowering and possible death by a mysterious stranger in a Guy Fawkes mask.

Evey Hammond: Who are you?

V: Who? Who is but the form following the function of what, and what I am is a man in a mask.

Evey Hammond: Well, I can see that.

V: Of course you can. I'm not questioning your powers of observation; I'm merely remarking upon the paradox of asking a masked man who he is.

Evey Hammond: Oh. Right.

V: But on this most auspicious of nights, permit me then, in lieu of the more commonplace sobriquet, to suggest the character of this dramatis persona.
VoilĂ ! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a by-gone vexation, stands vivified and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin van-guarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition. The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous.
Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it's my very good honor to meet you and you may call me... V.

Evey Hammond: Are you like a crazy person?

V: I am quite sure they will say so. But to whom, might I ask, am I speaking with?

Evey Hammond: I'm Evey.

V: Evey? E-V. Of course you are.

Evey Hammond: What does that mean?

V: It means that I, like God, do not play with dice and I don't believe in coincidences.

And neither do I. I believe everything happens for a reason, every choice we made in the past leads us to where we are now, and that we are all exactly where we are supposed to be. My whole life has a purpose. It's up to me to define what it is. I'm answering the creative voice inside me; I've stopped denying I am a conduit for the universe to speak through, and given myself over entirely to the calling. I'm choosing this profession, this lifestyle, this quest with open eyes and arms. Every decision I make is chosen with the future in mind, and it's starting to show more and more in my everyday life, flashing through in brief glimpses. It's just enough to keep me going, at least for one more day.

I refuse to give up. I will succeed.

And so will you, friend. All you have to do is listen to what you really want... and you truly have the power to make it happen. Your project. Your brainchild. Your heart's desire. I believe in you! What vigilant and virtuous action are you taking to realize your dream today?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Update on the Novel, Take 2

I'm sequestering myself away from the world today. Only stepping out into the internet for a couple of moments, to post on Facebook and give you guys, my amazing group of blogfriends, a much-needed update on the progress of the novel.

For those of you that aren't aware, I've been working on my WIP for several months now, and am nearing its completion. It's been an exhilarating and exhausting experience. This is my first full-length novel and I'm scratched and bruised but have escaped serious injury so far... and I'm having the time of my life. I've learned a lot of things about myself as a writer with this project. Like the fact that I'm not really a short story writer and have been long-distance writing all this time without even knowing it. Or the fact that I'm an extremely linear storyteller and want to plow through the story scene by scene instead of skipping around to write the parts I'm excited about. And the knowledge that my characters have stopped being words on a page and have started being thinking, breathing creatures which I created with my own mind and determination... now that was a killer realization (no pun intended, heh).

I set my book in the South, because I live in South Carolina and I'm frickin in love with this place. It's got a deep mystery which has barely been hinted at in fiction, and I thought it would be the perfect place to set my horror novel. The story is about a man who's trying to reach his dead wife through an old woman who has supernatural abilities. There's a lot more to it than that, of course - like the telepathic cop who's the brother of the dead wife, the peach orchard which was a second home to the bereaved husband, the mysterious murder of a local on a stormy summer night, and the dark entity which manipulates and influences the old woman to stir up a horrifying situation - but that's the basic gist.

Now I'm to the most important part of the book - the next three or four chapters are going to be pivotal and critical to the story. To be honest I'm intimidated by them. There's so much I have to put out there, and I want to get every bit of it right. (Perfectionist much? Sigh.) Really, I just want to make sure I do the story justice. This is the point which people will have been reading the whole book for, and I want it to be as scary and as riveting as it is in my imagination. I'm hoping I can carve out quite a bit of it today and tomorrow during my little writer's retreat in my bedroom - no TV, no phone, no internet, etc - and if you guys get a chance today, send me some positive vibes, ok?

I have 290 pages and 84,000 words. My goal is to reach 100,000 by the first of May. I still think I can do this. I don't believe the story will be finished by 100,000 words, though - I think it'll surpass that by at least a few thousand words. The initial goal I set was to have reached 100K by May 1st, though, so I'm not going to worry too much about whether or not it's finished on the first. I will have it completed sometime in the month of May. And believe me, there will be a PARTY when it's done. All of you are invited too. Hell, I just might throw a contest as well.

Thanks to all my blogger friends who're continually offering support and encouragement through this crazy project. You guys keep me going and you're invaluable. I wish you the best and major success with all the projects you're working on.

All that being said... happy Saturday, y'all!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Twitter, De-Mystified

Do you Twitter?

I do - my user account is @bmillerfiction. You can see the last few entries on my Twitter feed on my sidebar, about halfway down on the right. I started using Twitter last year, under a different account I use primarily for personal updates and info I'm not entirely comfortable sharing with the whole free world. I didn't have much to do with the personal account for a long time. It sat dormant for weeks at a time, because I'd forget about it. When I remembered, I just didn't see the point. Isn't this what Facebook is for? I'd think, shaking my head.

Then in January, I started working on building up my writer's platform. I beefed up my Facebook fan page, started this blog and created the B. Miller Fiction twitter account. What really decided me was finding other writers on Twitter and reading the things they had to say - namely Neil Gaiman, Poppy Z. Brite, and Joe Hill. Each of them just posted about their regular everyday lives along with whatever writing tidbits they wanted to talk about. I thought this was pretty interesting and I wanted to do it for my own writing - I like to daydream that one day I'll have lots of fans like the writers I just mentioned, and they'll be interested in what I have to say.

Since I started using Twitter I've met lots of new people and fans and found some really great sites through different tweets. It's definitely something I'm going to keep doing; it's a low time investment activity that I can do every day while getting the word out to the internet about my writing. But I hear a lot of people in the blog-o-sphere talk about how they don't like Twitter or they haven't taken the time to "figure it out" yet. I wanted to post a few basics about Twitter that you guys may not know, so you can start working on building your own Twitter feed.

Here's some tidbits to help make your Twitter dealings easier, in no particular order:

Hashtags - Have you noticed the highlighted words with a # before them? Those are known as hashtags, and they're a way of grouping tweets from different users together as a topic. I use the #writing hashtag a lot - especially when I post new blog entries!

Replying to tweets
- make sure you put the @ symbol before the person's name. If you don't, they may not realize you're talking to them. Twitter uses special characters like # and @ to designate names and topics that should be linked to. If you don't use the special characters, they're just words!

Search function - you can use Twitter's search function to find people who may be talking about the same things you are. Here's an example: after my post about Murder By Death's concert I attended last month, I searched for "@murderbydeath" - to see who else was talking about the band. I found three new followers this way, just by messaging them about the blog I'd written and sharing how much I liked the band's music. You can do this with just about anything!

Organizing Tweets - I use a nifty program called TweetDeck to keep an eye on my tweets, who's mentioned me in their tweets, and other trending topics I'm interested in. It puts everything together in one layout on the screen so I don't forget to check anything. It also saves all my preferences and keeps everything in order without me having to maintain it. I use Twitter a lot more now that I have a program to help me organize it all. Without TweetDeck, I felt overwhelmed by Twitter, too.

Hope this info helps some of my blogfriends get a little more comfortable with Twitter. It's an important social media tool that I think can help us all get our names out there a little more effectively. Plus it's another way for us writers to communicate with each other! I know I need that every day now, because nobody else understands my crazy ways.

Do you use Twitter? If so, let me know your user name! I'd love to be your follower.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Short Stories vs. Novels

My apologies, friends, for my absence yesterday. And for my lack of an "R" entry - but if it counts for anything, I was on a Road trip to Atlanta, so at least I was doing something R-oriented, right?

I'm nearing the end of the first draft of my novel, and I've been thinking about what I'm going to do during the month or so it's sitting in a drawer, breathing and resting and aging accordingly. I do have a few short story ideas rolling around in my head; one particular brainstorm involves a rental van and a haunted DVD player, which made me laugh maniacally for about fifteen minutes when I thought of it.

I'm looking forward to trying my hand at some new short stories; it'll be a nice change from the looooooooong project of the novel. But I'm wondering if I'll be able to get back into composing short pieces as easily as I once did. I've mentioned before on my blog how once I began writing the novel I realized I've been a long-distance writer all this time. Writing a book gives me the chance to tell the reader everything, I mean everything I want to about back story, character histories, quirks and tiny details. I can meditate upon anything I want, take as long as I need to explain it, and not have to worry that I'm getting too wordy.

Short stories are hard already because they're a single vital punch to the artistic senses. In 7,500 words or less I have to make my reader wholly believe something and experience it vividly - so much so that they'll want to read it again. Everything is stripped down and left with its bare bones gleaming. Nuances are placed to the side in favor of slick prose and snappy dialogue. Concepts must be introduced and expounded upon in paragraphs, not pages.

But on the other hand, short stories meet my need for (nearly) instant gratification. Dependent on how long the project is, I can finish the first draft in a matter of hours or days - not months or years, like a novel. Revision is so much less of a hassle. Continuity issues are much easier to spot and fix. And if you get to the end of twelve pages and decide the story is a real stinker, it's not a heartbreak - it's a minor setback.

It'll be interesting to return to the world of short story composition next month. I'm looking forward to comparing and contrasting novel writing and short writing when the time comes. What about you? Which medium do you prefer to write in?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Quintessential B

Each of us has our own signature style, something that sets us apart from others. You might have a flair for the dramatic, or have a passionate love for blue hats. Someone else could insist on only eating off green plates. Another person might harbor a secret passion for museums on Tuesday afternoons.

What makes the quintessential B? There are many things which I consider part of my signature style, and every one of them has shaped the person I am - and the writer I want to be. Movies, music, books which I've discovered and saved over the years. Here's a rare look inside B. Miller and what could be considered my inner workings - without these things, I may just not be me.

Y'all know I have a passion for Murder By Death and Stephen King. But did you also know I'm a Star Wars nut? It was my first movie - I was two years old and I saw it from the back of a Subaru hatchback, at a drive-in. My parents got the first movie (A New Hope) on Betamax when I was five. By the time I was six, I could quote every line of dialogue without the movie going. (I can still do this with most of the lines.) I've been told by more than one friend that I also specifically quote Han Solo's lines in my sleep. Obsessed. Yeah.

Star Wars gave me a passion for sci-fi as well. I love Star Wars, Star Trek, Babylon 5 (yeah, I admit it), Heroes, Dune, Stargate, all that geeky stuff. I'm a HUGE nerd. I can't help it; I've been that way since I was a toddler. Always on the outside looking in, that's been me my whole life. It's ok though - I think it's something that helps my writing. I've been observing how other people work for most of my life, taking in all the details I can. Now I'm dumping it back into prose.

I love villains. Often the villain is my favorite character in a movie. Some of my favorite villains from TV, movies, and books are: Darth Vader (aka Anakin Skywalker), Khan Noonien Singh, the Shadows, Randall Flagg, Sylar, and Rene Belloq.

I have a deep love for the South, specifically my home state of South Carolina. I'm proud to've been born here. This was the state, after all, who had the cajones to stand up and say, "hey, US government, we don't appreciate you taxing the crap out of us and trying to take away our states' rights without our say-so. So we're making our own damn country!" I appreciate the courage it must've taken for so many people to do that. The South has made me who I am and the writer I've become. This is a great region to live in and you'll find some of the nicest people in America living in the Southern states.

As for quintessential pieces of my writing style - I love to focus on tiny, mundane details to offset the weird crap I put in my stories. I bring in every sense of the character in my writing, focusing particularly on hearing and smell. I use a lot of Southern dialect in my prose, dropping so many g's at the ends of words that it sometimes makes my writing partner Gail Gray (a damn yankee herself, but we won't hold it against her) clutch her head and moan in pain. I like to put things together you wouldn't normally expect, then bring everything crashing down on my characters before allowing the sun to shine through the dark clouds again. I love horror and have a flair for gore - ha! It comes in handy.

What about you? What are a few things that make up the quintessential person that YOU are? Please share - I'd love to get to know you better.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Plotting a Murder

J.W. Patterson, you are not long for this world.

It's nothing personal. Nothing you've done to me. Nothing you've done to anyone else either. You're still going to die, though. You just saw your last sunset about an hour and a half ago, in your world - the world I've created out of words and pages. Your last beer was a Pabst Blue Ribbon, sipped while standing next to your brother on your mama's back porch, talking about his broken Camaro.

I kind of feel sorry for you, J.W. - your death is going to be horrifying. I already know all the details. And I won't hesitate to write a single one of them down. No, I already know what the last thing you're going to see is. I know what the last taste in your mouth is going to be - and it's not that beer I just mentioned. I know the sounds you'll hear as you struggle in vain to stay alive. And I know the only scent in your nostrils as you pass from this world to the next will be the smoky, earthy smell of thick red clay.

I know all these things. And by the end of my book, my readers will too.

You'll be mourned by your huge family and the good people of your town. The bowling alley will probably put up a picture of you on their wall of fame - after all, didn't you come within one spare of a 300 last year while bowling on the Jokers Wild league? You'll be missed even more by your creditors and the bank which lent you the money for that beautiful new truck you've been driving around.

But your death will serve a purpose, J.W. - more than one, actually. You'll baffle investigating officers because of the mysterious circumstances of your death. You'll prove to Jack Taylor that his brother-in-law, Dan, is involved with more sinister things than he'd ever imagined. And (this is purely selfish) you'll further the plot of this novel, drive it that much closer to completion. And I thank you for that.

So die well, J.W. Patterson. Godspeed. And when you get to whatever's next, I hope there's beautiful women, a never-ending supply of beer, and perfectly oiled lanes waiting for you.

Music Monday enthusiasts, I haven't forgotten you. Here's my song for this entry. Ha!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Out of the Blue

I found out yesterday that my short story, "Out of the Blue", has been accepted for publication in the spring issue of moonShine Review!

"Out of the Blue" is a short story about a man whose brother comes home after years of being out of touch. The missing brother wants to say goodbye to their father, who is in the hospital, dying of cancer. This is the only "literary" piece I've ever had published. Most of my stuff tends towards horror (as you know), but this piece is pretty mainstream. It was the result of an experiment I tried a couple of years ago, where I decided to write a story based on a song. I picked "Brother" by Murder By Death. The title actually came from a contest put on by the ACW club. I entered a truncated version of the story (they limit their entries to 2,500 words) and it won!

After editing and editing and editing until the story became its own particular entity, I started sending it out to markets I found via Duotrope. (Have you found Duotrope yet? It's amazing!) It was in rotation for about a year and a half before moonShine decided to pick it up. moonShine is a beautiful perfect-bound bi-yearly journal that showcases (from their website) original, previously unpublished works of short fiction, flash fiction, and creative non-fiction. They publish work from anywhere, but preference is given to artists from Charlotte, NC, and the Southeast. I found them through Duotrope, but was further encouraged to submit to them by my fellow guerilla writer/Reedy River Rat Gail Gray, who had a short published in their anniversary issue last year.

I'm so excited to have another publication credit to add to my writing resume! I wonder if this giddy feeling ever stops happening when you find out your work is getting published. I hope not.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Nothing but Silliness

So dear readers, it's Friday. I've been sitting here for the last hour or so going over possible N words for the A to Z Blog Challenge today, and my Lord, it's like my brain is made of Swiss cheese. All the good ideas just disappear in those holes and I'm left with nothing but words like Nepal and Nickelback and Neverland... uh, yeah. SO, since it's FRIDAY, I'm giving myself (and you) permission to just be silly.

Hence Darth Disco. Wouldn't it be cool to have one of these? I'd try to make one if I was crafty. (OK, I'm crafty in other ways, just not like this.) I'd hang it in my living room for parties. Of which I'm having a small one this weekend... at my house, which my roommate likes to call Neverland. (He also calls me Pan, sometimes.) BANGARANG! We'd party under Vader like it's a long time ago in a galaxy far far away... such as, 1999, in Nepal. Dancin' with yaks and Sherpas. OH yeah.

Last night Nickelback came to the Clark Kent job. NOT kidding, folks. The band's playing here in Greenville tonight, and they wanted to do something fun on the night they got into town. So they came bowling! Cool huh? I set this up with our local top 40 radio station. The joys of being a sales and marketing director! The band was a lot of fun, and they brought their road crew too. They ate about a dozen BLT's from the snack bar and went through a BOTTLE AND A HALF of Jager. But they were really fun and loved our center, and we all had a great time.

Nickelback invited us to the concert and to hang with them backstage, but I think I'll pass. It was fun hanging out with rockstars, but I'm not really a fan of their music. Besides, I need to get ready for the party tomorrow night - which means cleaning the house and settling down to write as much as I can, 'cause I'm giving myself tomorrow night off to blow off some steam and socialize.

I'm making a punch for tomorrow. Half a handle of vodka's been hanging out in the house (why can't this be an H day??) for a couple of months now, so it's time to put it to good use. If anyone has a suggestion for a good punch, feel free to share. We're probably going to play some games and listen to music and hang out until the wee hours of the morning. I expect anywhere between fifteen and twenty people, so there will be lots of fun stuff going on.

I have the perfect house for a party too - three stories, with a finished garage/basement and a huge living room and kitchen, plus a deck out back. We're secluded from our neighbors so we won't bother them with too much noise, and I have a fire pit in the side yard we're going to make s'mores with. It's gonna be a blast. Wish I could teleport some of y'all here to SC to hang out with us tomorrow.

And Darth Disco too!

I hope you guys have a fantastic weekend.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

May - Magnificent Movie Month

My friend Alex J. Cavanaugh has a great blog about Movies today for his M word in Arlee Bird's A to Z blog challenge. It's a fun read and Alex goes over some of his favorite movies (which are some of mine as well, though that didn't surprise me at all!). I wanted to talk about movies today too, specifically the movies which are releasing in the next few weeks.

For many years now, the movie industry has been pinpointing May as the "blockbuster" month, and this year is no exception. You can usually count on at least one big-budget film from each of the mainstream movie genres to hit the theaters during the month. This year we've got some really cool stuff coming down the pike:

Starting out on May 7th is Iron Man 2 with Robert Downey Jr. I saw the first of this series when it came out in the theaters a couple of years ago (in May, of course). I instantly fell in love with the setting, the story, and especially the supercool character of Tony Stark. I was so impressed with Robert Downey Jr.'s interpretation of Stark, and I don't think they could've found a better person to cast. The new movie promises to be even more exciting, with Scarlett Johansson as the notorious Black Widow and Mickey Rourke as the terrible Whiplash. This is sure to be a lot of fun, and this is my number one pick for the movies in May.

Next is Robin Hood on May 14th, starring Russell Crowe as Robin Hood and Cate Blanchett as Maid Marian. This was also directed by Ridley Scott, and I love his epic style of film direction. I'm not a huge Russell Crowe fan per se, but my favorite movie of his is Gladiator, which is also directed by Scott. The movie is supposed to be the "the true story" of the legendary hero, and my interest has been piqued by the few trailers I've seen. Robin Hood has been one of my favorite anti-heroes since I watched the Errol Flynn version on a rainy Saturday afternoon with my mom back in the eighties, and it'll be interesting to see what Scott has in mind for the legend.

May 21st is the release date for Shrek Forever After, which is the fourth (and supposedly final) installment in the uber-successful series. In this movie, Shrek is transported to an alternate universe where Fiona is a barbarian, Puss in Boots has become a lazy kitty who cares nothing for his usual romancing antics, and Donkey is just... well, he's Donkey. I enjoyed the first two films in this series, and hope this release can make up for the disappointment that the third Shrek movie was. My niece will probably clamor to go see this, so I might get dragged along... and I'll probably secretly enjoy it when I do. ;)

The last weekend of May holds two new releases, and they couldn't be more opposite: Sex and the City 2 and Survival of the Dead. You know what would be awesome? If somehow these two movies could be combined. I'd love to see zombies spilling over into the flashy, slightly crazed world of Carrie and her gal-pals, chomping New York socialites and fashion designers with abandon. At the same time, I'd love to see Samantha defend herself against a horde of slavering zombies, armed to the teeth with adult novelties and high-heeled shoes. Which of the girls would take over and lead the group out of the city and into New Jersey, and, hopefully, freedom from the undead? Now that's a movie I would gladly pay to see.

So. Anyway. This May... Wanna go to a movie?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Lycanthropy Awareness

Midnight on the mountain is dark and breezy. Fluttering hems of clouds wisp across the moon like rotting lace. From the west, a lone howl lifts up into the sky, echoing across the hills. Your skin is cold, a sharp contrast to the warm evening. An itch spreads under your flesh. Your belly cramps and you fall to your knees, the howl reverberating against your eardrums even though it's faded from the air. Your eyes bulge in their sockets as you feel your body seize.

Your nostrils flare as their diameter suddenly expands. You feel your scalp prickle and begin to bleed as chunks of hair shove through your skin. You raise your hands, hold them in front of your contorted face. They're twisted and locked into grotesque shapes. White knuckles, straining digits, fingernails rippling and popping as they thicken and extend into points. Your ears elongate, every sound intensifying until even the wind in the grass is a thunderous chorus, washing over your senses in an unrelenting flood.

Minute ripping noises reach your ears, sliding in under the dissipating howl's echo. Your shirt stretches and tears into long strips as your torso elongates and widens. You feel ribs rearrange, crackling under the blunt shelves of your expanding muscles. Your bones pull and lengthen, groaning like weathered planks of wood.

You rear your head back, eyes streaming as they dilate and darken. Moonlight washes over your retinas and just for a second you see veins in your eyes, backlit by the hateful blue kiss of Luna. A gathering roar fills your throat. Your larynx expands, straining with the force of your answering howl. The sound pushes past your quivering, thickening lips just as the merciful curtain of animalistic thought drops over your rational mind.

The last thing you clearly process is the sensation of cool dew on your forelegs as you lope easily down the mountain, tatters of clothing hanging like streamers from your haunches and shoulders.

There's a werewolf in each of us - the stranger with the face we don't recognize. We pull it out for examination every once in a while, and some people don't like what they see, don't appreciate what's revealed. Your inner beast only cares for its own needs and desires. Its selfishness appalls us and fascinates us at the same time. We keep it at arm's length, wondering if we should give in to its alluring song... Come with me, it says, Come with me, and I'll show you what life really is.

Are you listening?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Knock-Down Drag-Out

The two halves of my brain have been fighting lately.

Well, maybe "halves" isn't appropriate - it's not like the left and right hemispheres of my brain are warring with each other. I can still read and write and fake math problems with a calculator (as long as they're not more than elementary math, heh). But I do have two distinct sections of my brain devoted to work - one side for the Clark Kent job, which is a sales and marketing position, and the other for my writing career.

As you guys know, there's a lot more to a writing career than just making things up and writing 'em down - there's also blogging, which takes up a couple hours a day (it's not the posting that's the time-suck so much as reading other blogs and commenting), revising and editing, reading my writing colleagues' work and commenting/offering suggestions, and a hundred other miscellaneous tasks which I take on with joy. You feel me, don'tcha? Sure you do.

The regular-paying job is completely different - I go out on sales calls, book events, talk with clients, send emails, compile sales reports, build spreadsheets, organize mailouts, distribute fliers and coupons, set up corporate sponsorships, design ads, network with local businesses... well, you get the idea. "Sales Director" is the title, and it's a huge umbrella which a lot of different responsibilities fall under. Lately we've lost a few people at the bowling center, so I'm also pulling extra shifts and wearing a manager hat, as well.

You guys know I've been working on the novel diligently and want to have it finished by the first of May. (Which reminds me, I need to work in a status update for y'all - just gotta figure out which letter of the alphabet I can use, right, Arlee? Ha!) Since I've been working so much over the last few weeks, the forward momentum has really slowed down and it's now a struggle to produce as much as I want. I'm just so tired when I get home, I don't even want to do anything but collapse and sleep. Not even zone or watch television or anything... just sleep.

I'm frustrated. I don't have a choice about working for a living right now, and I refuse to stop writing. But the regular-paying job is sucking up my energy reserves and my headspace right now. This is why I got out of Corporate America! So I could have a low-stress job which - while it may not pay much - gives me the time and brain capacity I need to really focus on what's important to me professionally (which has absolutely nothing to do with the bowling industry).

I just want to WRITE. Sometimes I wish I could flash forward a year or two, and get past all this stress (especially the pressure I keep putting on myself to complete the WIP and stay on my timeline for going down to the SC Writers' Conference in October). I've worked every day for the last two weeks, and I'm burned out. The two parts of my brain respectively dedicated to my job and my career (two entirely different things) are fighting constantly, bickering and sniping at each other. Sooner or later they'll have a knock-down drag-out fight. It's ok, though.

I already know who's gonna win.

How about you? This was primarily a "venting" kinda post... got anything that's really frustrating you at the moment? Need to have a knock-down drag-out with yourself about something? Feel free to get it off your chest.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Jesus Loves Indiana.

Yes, yes, He does. And the way you can tell? Because He gave Indiana the musical powerhouse that is Murder By Death.

I've mentioned Murder By Death a few times in my blog, most notably in my entry on live music. Today, for Music Monday, I'll be reviewing their brand-spankin-new album, Good Morning, Magpie. This album was released last Tuesday, April 6th, and it's the fifth album from Murder By Death, a band that's a strangely wonderful hybrid of rock and country, with epic accents from strings and a decent amount of folk thrown in for good measure.

Murder By Death has been making music for a decade, and over the five albums they've produced in those ten years, their artistic growth is impossible to deny. I love each album for its own particular voice and story - from the Devil visiting a small town in the New Mexico desert in Who Will Survive, and What Will be Left of Them? to the twelve different interludes about Hell on In Bocca Al Lupo, and everything in between. Murder By Death is known for their dark style and subject matter - the band has recorded songs about jailbreaks, murders, the death penalty, ghost pirate ships, whorehouses, and all sorts of under-the-radar goings on which happen on a regular basis in the dark universes they create with their lyrical and musical style.

Good Morning, Magpie does have its dark moments - the thunderous "White Noise" is ominous and foreboding in its deep study of anger and lost retribution, and "Piece by Piece" is a wonderful take on their fascination with convicts and the choices they make in their lives (see "Sometimes the Line Walks You" and "The Big Sleep" from In Bocca Al Lupo for examples).

But there's a new undercurrent of positivity and hope in this album that outshines the darkness. It's delivered in the traditional Murder By Death style we've grown accustomed to over the years - strong, catchy lyrics; heavy bass and cello expertly mixed; experimental drumlines and inspired rhythms underlying their inventive (yet reassuringly familiar) sound. "Foxglove", a ballad about a ghost lady who falls in love with a traveler in a forest, is a beautiful love song, while "You Don't Miss Twice (When You're Shaving With A Knife)" is quirky and funny, with a great drum set that includes a trash can lid and a propane gas tank as percussion instruments.

"King of the Gutters, Prince of the Dogs" is a wonderful song about being at the bottom but still looking up, and "Yes", a song about moving on after the death of a loved one and remembering the good times with them instead of focusing on your grief, is one of those songs I know I'll be returning to over and over in the years to come. "As Long as There Is Whiskey In the World" is going to be a great drinking sing-along song in concert - I can't wait to see it live. The horn section of "On the Dark Streets Below" is a new sound for Murder By Death, and it really brings that song to life.

The CD I received was packaged in eco-friendly card stock and came with a poster signed by the band (the virtues of pre-ordering). There's also a stunning vinyl press available of this album in midnight blue wax. It comes with an embossed gatefold cover, bound 12 page uncoated color booklet, a 24"x 24" poster, a sticker and a big black feather. These guys really pay attention to their packaging, and it's absolutely beautiful.

Overall, I think Good Morning, Magpie is a triumph. Murder By Death has worked long and hard to get here, and it shows. The album is a wonderful showcase of their talent, dedication, and view of the world around us - a view which is sometimes striking in its raw assessment of how the world works, but never disappointing. They've once again given this horror writer a new group of songs to work into my inspirational playlist - one that continues to feed my creativity and stoke the fires of my imagination.

Thanks to Sarah, Matt, Dagan, and Adam for working as hard as they do, all day, every day, for the past decade. It shows, and you're loved for it.

You can buy your own copy of "Good Morning, Magpie" on CD or vinyl by clicking here, or you can get a digital copy of the album here.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

I'd Rather Be...

Instead of going to the Clark Kent job at 3 and staying there until closing tonight, therefore effectively killing my Saturday, I'd much rather be...

Flying a kite. Listening to the new Murder By Death album, which I just got yesterday. Grocery shopping. Doing laundry. At the beach, starting a campfire. Walking through the woods. Visiting a waterfall. Reading a Stephen King novel. Organizing my sock drawer. Cooking steak sandwiches. Having a beer (or three). Watching a movie. Playing with my cats. Talking about the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek ships, and debating which ones are more awesome. Painting. Building a bookshelf. Swimming in my parents' pool. Exploring an abandoned house. Going on a Zorb. Memorizing all fifty state fish in alphabetical order. Doing important research on leftover Easter candy. Rocketing into space to visit the space station. Cleaning out Jeff. Learning sleight of hand. Finding incredible new movie trailers to watch. Talking about which Hobbit was coolest (Samwise has my vote). Picking strawberries. Taking a nap. Climbing trees.

But most of all, I'd rather be...


What about you? Got something you'd rather be doing? Is your RESPONSIBILITY getting in the way of your CREATIVITY? I know how you feel, friend.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Happily Ever After

Being a horror writer, I specialize in situations that are less than ideal for my characters. Scary, creepy, spooky, downright terrifying? Great. I can do any of those, no problem. But I also have scenes that are drawbacks; I talked a couple of weeks ago about romance and how it's a stumbling block for me, something that I hesitate to write because I don't want to seem too cheesy or corny. It is a part of life, so it needs to go in the book, just like everything else.

I've worked through the romance block and am handling it pretty well, I think. Of course that's something I'll have to review when the first draft is completed and has had a chance to breathe. But there's something else I've been thinking about, something that's been on my mind a lot recently as I've been edging towards the ending of my horrific little tale. I've hinted at some of the elements of the story: ghosts, peach orchards, telepathy, an old woman who may or may not be a witch. But I don't think I've stressed enough that this story is basically a tale of good vs. evil.

Up until this point, I haven't allowed myself to think about who will be the victor of this battle. I've been concerned with getting the story to this point. I'll be hashing out the details in the next few weeks of what actually happens, and now I'm wondering what each of my readers will (hopefully) be pondering when they get to this point in the book: Who's gonna win this one?

I don't know yet. I'll find out as it's written, I guess... but I'm wondering. And it makes me think of the horror novels I've read, and the way I feel about the way the stories end. I've mentioned that Stephen King is my writing hero. I've read almost everything that man has written, two or three times at least. And more often than not, the good guys win. Terrible things happen, but evil is vanquished. It. Desperation. The Dark Half. Needful Things. Misery. There are endings which aren't so great for the characters, but still, evil is defeated. Firestarter. The Dead Zone. Duma Key. Cujo. Christine. The Shining. Salem's Lot. And then there are the ambiguous endings... where you're not sure what happens to the characters, but you've got a feeling they'll be all right, like in The Tommyknockers, Delores Claiborne, and The Stand. Evil does triumph sometimes, but it's rare - the only one I can think of right now is Pet Sematary. I guess Thinner technically counts in that category, but that's a Bachman book, and Stephen King has said that Bachman is much darker than he usually is.

I don't know who's going to win, but it's going to be an epic battle. I can tell just by the lead-up I've created. I think I know who it's going to be... but we'll just have to see. And I'm wondering, which would my audience prefer? Would they rather have all the loose strings tied up in a neat little package for them, with a traditional Happily Ever After-type ending? Or would they rather it be dark and gritty, but a little more realistic? Or somewhere in between?

Which do you prefer?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Greenville and Google

When I started mulling over possibilities for the letter "G" in Arlee Bird's A to Z blog challenge, the first thing to come to mind was the only thing I want to blog about today.

I love my town.

I mean, I seriously love my town - if Greenville was a woman instead of a city, I'd probably marry her. And I can say this after traveling around and living in other cities, larger and supposedly better cities. I lived in Indianapolis for four years, but I just couldn't stay. I had to come back to my home.

Greenville is an oasis of culture and industry, a sparkling jewel nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Here, art and technology happily cohabitate; on any given night you're likely to find a networking party sometwhere downtown filled with equal amounts of techie geeks and artistic freaks. It doesn't matter here what your specialty is, as long as you're passionate about it. I live in a city filled with people who firmly believe in the beauty of their dreams, and those people strive to help each other achieve success in their chosen fields.

A perfect example of this thriving community coming together to work towards a common goal is Google on Main. Several weeks ago, Google announced their plans to bring Google Fiber to one lucky town in America. Google Fiber is a new, super-fast internet which Google is now beta testing. It's supposed to be up to 100 times faster than broadband internet. Google offered its new service to the community who could stand up and show they wanted it the most - by getting as many people involved as they could, including city and state officials as well as individuals from the general public.

Greenville responded by organizing Google on Main, an event which drew over 2000 people to Falls Park downtown. The crowd was given eco-friendly LED color-change glow sticks, and once twilight fell, we organized ourselves into the letters of the Google logo, creating the world's first and largest people-powered Google chain! (The photo above is an aerial view of our accomplishment. You can click on the picture to get a larger view.) This was an amazing feat considering it was organized in less than two weeks, and the heads of dozens of companies, several city and state officials, and even a senator got involved.

I volunteered at the event with my friend and fellow writer Leigh Green, and the powers that be decided I would be responsible for handing out the majority of the glow sticks. I had a blast helping out. Everyone at the event was happy to be there, and showing them how the LED color-change glow sticks worked was a lot of fun. It felt as if I was handing out happiness! Everyone walked away from me with a smile on their face.

Being in the diverse crowd of techies, geeks, artists, moms, dads, businessmen (and women), teenagers, grandparents, and every other flavor of person you could think of really made me proud of my community and what we can accomplish together when we put our minds to it. Google hasn't made any decisions on where Google Fiber is going first, but Greenville's been noticed by the big guys - we even had Google representatives downtown during the organizing of Google on Main!

Greenville is responsible for making me the writer I am today. I wouldn't be who I am without the town I grew up in. It's influenced my career as an artist in so many ways, and I'm so proud to be able to give back to the community in any way I can. I'm sure I'll be posting more about my city in the future.

What do you love about your town? What makes you proud to live where you do?

If you'd like to give Greenville, SC a hand in winning a Google Fiber poll, click here and cast a vote!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Finders Keepers

In my writing hero Stephen King's memoir/manual On Writing, he discusses his belief that stories are found, not made. He compares a story to a fossil in the ground, and as writers we are the archaeologists responsible for digging them up. We have our writer's toolbox to help us accomplish the project: big chunky jackhammers of plot and theme to break the bones out of the ground, and tiny brushes and picks of detail and diction, which you can use to uncover the delicate parts of whatever the fossil used to be.

I love this concept. It appeals to the part of my imagination which loves secrets and mystery. It also explains a large part of the Zone which so entrances me when I fall into it. I'm not composing, I'm finding, I'm digging something up for everyone to see. The story's already there, it's just my job to remove as much of the crud and crap caked around it as I can, so I can show it off to who might be interested. The Universe (or God, or whatever you prefer) sends us these objects, because it knows we as artists will listen and take care of them. It's our job in the grand scheme of things.

In the same vein, I also believe that if you don't take advantage of a story you've found, someone else will. Stories are in limited access, and they all need to be told. If you're not willing to write your story, someone else will. Do you think there's only one person who's thought of a love triangle between a teenage girl, a vampire, and a werewolf? Of course not... but Stephanie Meyer was the person who plucked it out of the ether and transcribed it to the best of her ability, so well that she captured the hearts and imaginations of squealing tween girls all over the world.

(Oh God... I did it... I used a Twilight reference in my blog. Grudgingly, but yes, it's still there. OK, someone can come to SC to put me out of my misery now.)

So. Back to the entry, right? *shakes it off* Once you conceive of a story, once it's pulled out of the ether and been formed (at least partially) in your mind, you're responsible for it. You're the caretaker. You're the midwife, charged with birthing it into the world. If you don't... someone else will. But it's our charge as artists and writers to DO it. Even if we only create it for ourselves. We have to. It's what we're born for.

So... about that story, set in the South, about a desperate man who needs to talk to his dead wife? And how he goes to talk to the local "witchy woman" to see if she can help him get in touch with the other side? And how the witch isn't really a witch, but is being influenced by powers darker than she'd ever imagined? Not to mention the man's latently telepathic brother-in-law, and how he's struggling with trying not to fall in love with his dead sister's best friend? Uh, yeah, that's mine. I found it. I claim it.

Finders keepers.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Eating the Elephant

My entries lately have been of the go-go-go-cheer-yay-write variety. I hope I'm not becoming repetitive. I don't plan many blogs; even the A to Z challenge is mostly off the cuff. So my entries naturally gravitate towards what I need/want to hear as a writer. And right now I need all the encouragement I can get. I feel like that person who's been hiking for 87 miles on a hundred-mile trail. Sore. Tired. Starting to wonder why I'm doing this in the first place. Good things too... grateful. Inspired. Proud of the work I've done so far. But it's close to being done, and I guess we all go through this in one form or another at different points in our individual writing processes.

Which brings me to the old adage: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. I have to keep reminding myself of this metaphor lately. I want it to be DONE. I'm ready to get it into its proverbial bottom drawer and let it breathe. I love the universe and characters I've created, but my brain is yelling for a rest, and then something new. I'm committed to getting this finished, and I don't want to set it aside now - the story's hot, and I'm afraid if I stop now and come back in a few weeks I won't be able to finish. But working on the book plus all the rest of the stress in my life is really starting to wear me down.

It's times like this I remind myself of Lester Burnham's words in American Beauty:
"Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst. And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it. And then it flows through me like rain. And I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life."


I've gotten here one chapter at a time. One page at a time. One paragraph at a time. One sentence, one word, one letter at a time. It's not going to materialize on the page by itself. I need to make it happen. But it's going to happen in its own time. This elephant has been vanishing bite by bite. Now I've got a little bit left... it's daunting, but I'm determined to finish the whole damn thing.

What do you do to remind yourself of how far you've come? How do you sustain your enthusiasm for a long-term project? What kinds of things do you do for yourself to encourage completion of a long WIP?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Dog Tag Dedication

I never knew my maternal grandfather. He died in the late sixties, several years before I was born. My paternal grandfather passed away even earlier than that - when my dad was still a kid. When I was younger, I never gave much thought to not having a grandfather; like most children, I accepted the ins and outs of my family dynamic without question. Other children had granddads, and of course I understood the concept. I just didn't have one of my own.

We never really talked about my dad's father - I guess he was just too young when his dad died to be able to relay much about him to us - but my mom talked about her father every so often while telling me stories of her childhood. I remember being fascinated by these tales of my mother as a girl. I listened faithfully, rapt in her memories, learning about my grandfather (whom my mother referred to as "Daddy" and my sister and I always called "Papaw"), his huge heart and wicked sense of humor. There weren't many of these anecdotes, and I can still quote them chapter and verse. But they were still only a handful of glimpses into the rich life of a man who passionately loved his town and his family.

In recent years I've grown much more interested in our family's history. I discovered some interesting facts about my heritage, such as my grandmother's membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Daughters of the Confederacy. I learned I was related to two governors of South Carolina (both held office in the 1700's). I also found out that my great-great grandfather, Yelvon Brown, was an officer in the Confederate Army in Virginia. What a lineage!

Yesterday while I was visiting with my family for Easter, I found a bag of my mom's "keepsake jewelry". Through the plastic I saw the distinctive shape of dog tags tucked in with assorted bracelets, watches, pins, and charms. I dug them out and was delighted to find they were my grandfather's. They list his name and Army serial number, next of kin, and religion. There was also a small weatherproofed portrait of my grandmother with the tag, and on the opposite side of her portrait was a real four-leaf clover pressed against the photo's backing paper, perfectly preserved under the clear plastic. Mom said my grandmother had it made for him, just before he was shipped out.

Mom gave me the dog tags to keep for a while. I asked for them; I felt compelled. Now I can't stop thinking of my grandfather in the war: a couple years younger than me, homesick for his town and his wife, proud to help his country end the war as however he could. He wore this chain overseas and back home again; it was around his neck as he wrote letters to my Mamaw and slogged through mud and wished on evening stars to get back safe to his home in the Appalachians. He looked at the picture of my grandmother thousands of times in the two and a half years he was at war, wishing he could step right into its black-over-white composition and take her into his arms. He pressed his thumb over that four-leaf clover for luck over and over again as he faced dangerous situations, and its magic never failed him. Wearing these tags, I have the clearest sense of him as a real person I've ever had.

Eight months ago, I started a journey. One month left. It's an uphill battle but I refuse to surrender. I'm using this totem to remind me of the bravery I come from; the determination and pride which runs in my family. In me. I'm wearing the tags around my neck right now. That four-leaf clover is getting a workout, let me tell you.

As for Music Monday... This post might not be entirely music related, but I do have a thought for you. Long ago my mother told me what my Papaw's favorite song was. I think I'll go listen to it now. So, friends, if you know "Sixteen Tons" by "Tennessee" Ernie Ford, feel free to hum along.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Coercing the Muse

On Wednesday my friend Watery Tart talked about Neglected Muses at her blog. She named some ways you can piss off your muse and make it not want to come around, and talked about how to be kind when it's around. It's a great entry, and you should go read it now. Don't worry, I'll wait.

OK. Done? Good.

This made me think about what I do to lure my muse into my writing room. I used to try to force it. I tempted her with blank pages, great music, the perfect arrangement of pillows in my writing space. But my muse was a fickle bitch for a long time. She'd whisper in my ear just before I was falling asleep, then run away, giggling. Or, she'd give me one or two lines of poetry and then just stop, refusing to talk, smiling her infuriatingly enigmatic smile. BAAAH!! So frustrating.

I've been thinking, and I've realized that one of the reasons my muse was so tricky for so long is because she wasn't really interested in the work I was doing at the time. Short stories are fun, she says in her lilting, musical voice, and I love poetry - it's in my blood, I AM related to Calliope, after all - but can't you write something... longer?

Of course I constantly blew her off for years about long-term projects, but she kept handing me ideas that could easily be turned into books. My first published short story, "Avenue of Dust", is about a man who starts the end of the human race by administering some kind of poison into the water system of Paris. The story's not very long, maybe ten or twelve pages - but everyone who's read it cries out to know what happens next. "Does Frank get away and get back to the states?" they ask. "Do they find a cure? Does everybody die?" I always say, "I dunno, what do you think?" in return to these questions. (In truth, I think almost everybody died, including Frank, but that's a whole other story... eh... novel... right?)

Other stories are also little snippets in a larger tale. My poor muse! All this time, I've been feeding her short rations. Until the last nine months or so. And let me tell you, when you finally give a muse exactly what she wants, she doesn't want to leave. She's not teasing or tricksy. She loves you and appreciates what you do for her - after all, you give sound to her voice. You're the medium she chooses to work in. Once you prove it to her that you're not going to quit, she will open up and give you an entire universe of ideas.

But you have to take care of her. You have to remember to give her what she wants and needs, or you'll end up just as frustrated as she is. Tempt her with the things she wants. Is it a long, freestyle lyrical poem she wants to dictate to you? Maybe a screenplay! Or maybe she wants you to paint tonight instead? Listen to her. She'll tell you what you're supposed to do. And the best way to coerce a muse into giving you inspiration? Offer yourself and your talents to her, and be open to whatever she suggests. It gets easier once you start practicing this on a regular basis. Don't fight it. Don't force it. She'll let you know what it is.

And when she does, it'll be amazing.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Beating Self-Doubt

It took me a long time to decide to write a book.

I've been writing for most of my life (since I was four or so). Over the years, especially in my school career, I've written more short stories and poems than I can remember. I went to Governor's School in 1991 and 1993, and went to college on a writing scholarship (a fun but short-lived higher education experience; I left college a year and a half after I started). After college, I kept writing, but didn't get serious about it for several years. When I finally started writing again in the spring of 2000 - this time for an online writing contest at the ACW Club, I wasn't sure if I still had the knack for making things up and writing 'em down. I won the first contest I entered, and two more after that, so my confidence was bolstered and I kept writing stories here and there, never considering sending them out for serious consideration by writing markets.

Until I met my fellow writing compatriot and Reedy River Rat Gail Gray, I'd only gotten the courage to send one of my stories out for publication. I sent it to ten different markets and got rejected ten times. After that I gave up submitting for a while, until Gail convinced me I should try again. The self-doubt was overwhelming, but I finally did it... and to my surprise, the piece was accepted.

What a rush! The self-doubt got beaten back into a corner, squealing in pain (but still alive, oh yes, it's almost impossible to kill - like some kind of mental cockroach *shudders*). I started sending out more pieces, and found a few more homes for my stories. This bolstered my confidence even more, and I realized one day about a year after the first acceptance that I was writing all the time. Short stories and poems, mostly, but still good stuff. I was attending a regular writers' meeting and the quality of my work got better and better. "You should write a book," they told me. "It would be amazing!" Every time I'd bring a new short story to the table, Gail would tell me, "You could turn this into a novel." (Seems like I've been long-distance writing my whole life and didn't know it, heh.)

But still the self-doubt remained. I never finish anything long-term, the self-doubt said disparagingly. I'll just get so far into it and quit. Or that's just too long of a project, the self-doubt would whisper. Why work on something that'll take at least a year to finish and then never get published?

The prologue of the novel came to me one night in early August, and after composing it in a white-hot fever of creativity, I sat back and read over those first few pages, wondering to myself, can I keep this going? Can I actually write a book? Is there enough in this story to make it believable and entertaining? Is this something I...

"Oh, quit it already," I said to myself. "Just do it, for God's sake." For a wonder, the self-doubt shut its mouth and I kept on writing.

Since then, it's crept back over and over again, but I keep beating it back with the biggest stick I can find. I show it all the pages I've written, the encouraging notes from writers' meeting, the way the plot has developed and taken on a mind of its own. When self-doubt whispers that I'm not (flourish of trumpets, please) a REAL WRITER, I remind it to look my writing credits, my query letters for short pieces, and my blog and the people who follow me, because all those things prove that I am what I say I am. I show it my timeline for getting the novel completed and published, and I remind it that I'm using the Clark Kent job as a means to an end to get where I need to be.

I tell it, in no uncertain terms, to f&$k off.

And sometimes - MOST times, at least lately, while I'm riding the high of creating this crazy novel - it does.

What do you do to beat your own self-doubt? How do you remind yourself that you are exactly where you're supposed to be?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Auditory Detail

I'm participating in Arlee Bird's monthly blog project called the A to Z Blog Challenge. Here's my first entry in what I hope is going to be a fun endeavor.

I'm a very descriptive writer. I think it comes from being a storyteller for a live-action roleplaying group for several years. When you're weaving a tale aloud, immersing your participants in your story, the best way to suck them in is give them lots of little details which help them imagine what's going on. I like to focus on the senses of my characters. Every writer understands you must describe what your characters are seeing (after all, they're the lens you hold up to the world and invite your reader to look through), but do you concentrate on every sense your character has? I find myself leaning towards a lot of auditory description in my WIP.

Here's an example from a recent chapter:

"A long silence played out between them, filled with the soft summer song of birds twittering their good-nights and the long, low rush of cars passing by on the street beyond. The twilight deepened, thickening around them like gathered folds of velvet. Shouts of children echoed over the neatly manicured lawns in Jack’s neighborhood. Two yards down, the click-click-click-fisssssss of an automated lawn sprinkler whispered over and over in a mechanical monotone. At the end of Jack’s driveway, the streetlight’s transformer hummed as it began to power up for the evening."

When I wrote this, I wasn't thinking about what I was focusing on, or the fact that every sentence except for one in that paragraph is describing what the characters are hearing. I just wrote it. I was in the Zone, and you know how that is. You dump everything on the page and then come back later to see what you got. (Kind of like panning for gold.) But when I took these pages to writers' meeting, both Gail Gray and Brian K. Ladd mentioned how much they liked the different details I'd offered and it brought them even deeper into the story.

I love focusing on every sense the character has - the color of fistfuls of leaves on trees, the smell of baking grass in the hot summer air, the sensation of a prankish breeze playing cool fingers across prickly hot skin, the sound of insects singing in the reeds by a chuckling river, the taste of metal on your tongue as you drink cold water from the hose. Each sense we decide to focus on as writers gives the reader another map-marker which leads them deeper into the illusion we're creating.

What are some details you decide to focus on to bring your reader closer to your vision? What sort of extras do you weave into your prose?