March 31, 2009

My Timing Sucks

There's one unsettling thought my cynical mind keeps entertaining: I'm starting a journey towards becoming a published author during an untimely period, economically speaking.

I finally get around to taking my writing seriously, only to look out my window and see the sky is falling. Wonderful. At the rate publishers and literary agencies are circling the wagons, only Norah Roberts and James Patterson will have novels put into print.

Then there's the state of periodicals and magazines. I visited Duotrope and Ralan a couple of months ago, looking for a few prospective markets to send short stories to, and now I wonder how many are left. City Slab died. Dark Wisdom is closed to submissions. Apex is teetering apparently, if their doomsday blog premonitions are accurate. The recession is putting the squeeze on everything, and isn't letting up.

If I had the cash, I'd be more than happy to subscribe to a few of these magazines, anthologies, and periodicals. You know ... support the cause, as it were. Unfortunately, my contributions are relegated to scrounging for older editions I come across in the used bookstores. A few from Analog, a couple from Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Alfred Hitchcock/Ellery Queen mags—the earliest edition I have is from 2003.

I received a copy of Writer's Market 2009 for Christmas. I imagine if I bothered to, I could black out half the publications listed in the thing, either due to being closed to submission or closed entirely.

Idealists might say that it's the quality of the writing that sells, not the reputation and marketability of the author. In 2009, I wonder if those idealists are buying novels from first-time authors. I look at the NY Times bestseller list from time to time,I see very familiar names, and hardly any of them are greenhorns.

March 30, 2009

Why Write Horror?

For whatever reason, the horror genre is looked down upon by quite a few of the literati. It can feel pretty diminishing when an established figure in literature, or even some schmo on the sidewalk, snubs horror as a lesser art. It can be a little infuriating to boot. Is there something so very egregious about the genre? Or, are elitist readers merely placing their tastes higher than those who will read a Stephen King novel?

When someone asks me why
I write horror, I still tend to stumble in search of a quick, concise answer. I suppose if I had to boil it all down, it's a genre I consider to be limitless in potential, and a genre that forces humanity to glimpse at it's own darker side and taboos.

I'm a guy of many tastes, whether it be with movies, music, or books. As the old saying goes, I may not know art, but I know what I like. With horror and suspense, there's something there that challenges me in a way that other genres don't.

Growing up, I was shy and timid little. Whenever my friends wanted to watch a scary movie, I got a little bit nervous. I have an aversion to blood--slime and ooze weren't my favorites either. So, a
Nightmare on Elm Street flick had a tendency to freak me out as a twelve-year-old boy. Heck, I passed out in fourth grade when we learned about the circulatory system. The teacher started describing how the blood traveled through vessels and arteries, and the blood drained out of my own face before I slid out of my desk to the floor like a puppet cut from it's strings. Sitting with my buddies in a dark room illuminated only by the light of the tube, I watched with a stern determination to hide the fact I was scared shitless.

From that experience and others like it, I've grown up to appreciate a piece of entertainment that is out to scare me on some level. I'm still not a fan of gorefests and "torture porn", but if the story is solid enough with characters I can root for, I'll sit down and read or watch.

The Shining with Jack Nicholson is still one of my all-time favorite horror movies--I have yet to read the novel it was based on, but I'm looking forward to it. I love it less for the elevator full of blood, or Jack wielding an axe, than I love it for the stark portrayal of bleakness and descent into madness the family is put through. The Omen with Gregory Peck is another classic I enjoy, not for the blood and guts, but for the sheer terror that lies with Damien's fate.

The movies of the last ten years, which got me to appreciate horror all over again, have been those stark and infinitely creepy films from Japan and other Asian markets.
The Ring, The Grudge, and Shutter all thrilled me with the style and tone of each movie. An American film, Saw, resonated with me for the simple fact of it revolving around a relatively simple plot--a countdown or sorts--and gritty atmosphere. The subsequent Saw films haven't impressed me nearly as much as the first, and I haven't even bothered watching the fourth and fifth incarnations.

So, when I decided to start writing again, I turned to a ghost story. From there, it ballooned into a full, supernatural horror novel. Perhaps it was all the time spent trying to carve out a good story from all of that mess in the first draft that made me appreciate the skill needed to craft a quality tale or terror. I think the only thing harder to write would be comedy. There's something really scary.

When I got back into reading, it started with Stephen King's
The Dark Half, which is a story I still consider one of my favorites. I got a few more of his books and read those too. Then, I read somewhere--a Writer's Digest probably--that if all you read is Stephen King, you'll probably end up writing like a bad Stephen King impersonator. So, I branched out. Dean Koontz, John Saul, Clive Barker, Jack Ketchum, and others from assorted genres.

And from reading these different authors and sampling various genres in literature, I've noticed something about horror: It's just as good as anything else out there, so long as it's written by a competent storyteller. And there's the rub. I'm striving to be a good storyteller, but when some people find out I'm writing horror, I can see in their eyes that they've already made up their minds about me and my writing.

I shouldn't throw stones though, as I have a tendency to look down on chick lit from time to time--I cringe at the idea of reading
Confessions of a Shopaholic. There's something else really scary.

Canadian Music

The Juno Awards went down last night. I didn't watch. I rarely watch awards shows anyway.

I'm just very jaded when it comes to thinking about the state of music nowadays. I'm a passive fan of music—I don't hunt down the music, I wait for it to come to me. And for the past ten years, the music coming through the radio has been ... well, terrible.

It's not all bad, I must admit. I'm happy to hear bands like Queens of the Stone Age, Elbow, the White Stripes, and Foo Fighters. What irritates the hell out of me, however, is the onslaught of music that all sounds the same. I honestly can't tell one song from the next if it's a collaboration with L'il Wayne or T-Pain. Just give me Jay-Z. Jay-Z doesn't need a remix, he's good enough the first time out.

Canadian music is a different stripe from American music. In the States, it seems like an "artist" is built up through the hype machine for the sole purpose of being torn down a year later. Aside from a select and small number of singers and bands, American music is disposable. In Canada, we nurture and develop life-long appreciation of our musicians, even if they don't show longevity.

That being said, I was disappointed to here Vancouverite singer, Lights, won a Juno last night for Best New Artist. Why? I must be old and out of touch, because all I hear and see when one of her songs play is an artist with all the creativity and panache or a Styrofoam cup. Lights does not make good music. She makes background music for episodes of The Hills and Gossip Girl—two shows as devoid of artistic merit as the music they extol.

For good Canadian music, please check out: Sarah McLaughlin, the Tragically Hip, Sam Roberts, David Usher, Kardinal Offishall, Feist, and Matthew Good.

If you prefer bad music, feel free to listen to the likes of: Lights, Simple Plan, Hedley, Bedowin Soundclash (sp), Avril Lavigne, Raine Maida, and Nickelback.

March 29, 2009

Rain, Rain, Go Away

I'm really a fan of the rain, and spring in general. I'd be happy if it kept raining until every speck of snow is melted and sluicing it's way into the river. Good riddance.

One thing this spring weather does to me without fail is induce cabin fever. After being packed inside like sardine through the winter months, I'm eager to walk outside without copious layers over my ample frame. It's time to "get the stink off", as my grandmother might have said. You really get a sense of how stale the air inside the house really is when you open a window to a soft, warm breeze.

The downside? Bugs. They're not here yet, but they're coming. Like a looming cloud, I sense the impending return of the mosquito, the blackfly, and the bane of my rural existence, the moosefly. If there is a pest I absolutely loathe while trekking in the woods, it's the moosefly.

Oh, and the tick. An insect whose very existence screams to the world that there is no God. Every creature on the planet has it's place in nature, but the tick is an abomination. Species upon species go extinct every year, and I will rejoice when it is the tick's turn to be expunged from the biosphere.


But, I'm still loving spring.

March 28, 2009

How Do You Like Your Sci-Fi?

I'm a fan of science fiction, but not all science fiction. It's a little difficult to articulate the reasons why, but I think it best boils down to the difference between "soft" and "hard" sci-fi literature.

The sci-fi tales I've enjoyed reading most have been the ones that didn't bog themselves down with the schematics and intricacies of the technology. Isaac Asimov may be heralded as an icon in the genre, but I could hardly suffer through his novel, The Gods Themselves, because I felt there was just too much ink being used to describe the science instead of the fiction. I skipped through half the story, and I didn't feel like I missed a thing.

On the other hand, I loved Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. A fair big of text was dedicated to the technology used to train the children in the space station, but the core of the storytelling stayed with the relationships and hardships of Ender and the other children in the story. If I had felt as emotionally invested with the characters in Asimov's novel, I would have found it far more tolerable.

At the end of the day, it's the story that's going to hook me. If an author is spending so much time carrying on about a gadget or widget, instead of making me care about the characters using—or being used—the tech, the story simply will not resonate with me on any level.

Three more favorite sci-fi tales: Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451; Spider Robinson's The Free Lunch; Dean Koontz's Watchers

Three least favorite sci-fi tales: The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells; The Truth Machine by James L. Halperin; Man Plus by Frederick Pohl

March 27, 2009

Reading Material

Right now, on my book shelf, I have a collection of unread novels—a few non-fiction titles too—sitting there, waiting to be read, and is teetering somewhere in the range of one hundred titles. I'm not a speedy reader, so I must plod through them at a rate of about two each week. If it's a short read, like an Elmore Leonard title or a hefty novella, I can buzz through in a day or two. The beefier epics like The Stand and Man in Full take over a week. And, it's a little impressive to a cheapskate like me to have spent such a very small amount of money to collect these books, thanks to discovering used bookstores and library sales. If not for them, I'd be forced to read the hand-me-downs given to me by friends and family, the likes of which are not often my cup of tea.

And, despite the plethora of reading material at my disposal nowadays, I still love scouring the aisles to see what gem I might find to add to my to-be-read pile. Friends, family, and online contacts are always recommending books, plus I see the occasional book advertised on television, or hear an author interview on the radio. So, even though I have enough literature in my possession presently to keep even the most voracious reader contented, I am always on the look out for another book to snag on the cheap.

Oh well, it's in my nature now to Easter egg hunt my books rather than just hit up Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

March 26, 2009

Power Outage

Apparently, the power was knocked out through most of the valley this afternoon. I missed much of it since I was on the road scouring bookstores. I remembered to print off my wish list before leaving this time. Hooray for me.

I added some more credit thanks to a small pile of paperbacks from an aunt. I'm not likely to read Nora Roberts or Jackie Collins (Is that her last name? The romance writer?) any time soon—to each their own. Unfortunately, it will have to remain credit for a while longer, as I couldn't pick out any titles to grab. I've made impulsive choices in bookstores before, gobbling up precious credit each time, only to regret ever picking those titles in the first place after reading the first few pages. So, discretion was the better part of valor and I left for the "real" bookstore to see what I could see.

I'm not sure how hard the recession is hitting people around these parts, but the mall was the busiest I've ever seen it on a weekday in quite some time. Quite a few meandering the aisles of the bookstore too. Nice to see.

Me, I had my list in hand and commenced browsing. To buy a book brand new with my hard earned pennies, it needs to be one I am highly unlikely to find in any of my local haunts. I bought Elmore Leonard's Up In Honey's Room back in January due to the sheer rarity of seeing one of his titles on a shelf that isn't Be Cool—I'm still scarred from watching the film adaptation of Be Cool, so I always avoid it. I finished out Stephen King's Dark Tower series by buying books V, VI, and VII when I saw them in the bargain bin of the "real" bookstore. People are always trading in the first three books in the series, but you're better off searching for sunken treasure than finding one of the later books.

I had hoped to see more titles on the shelves from my wish list, but was surprised to see there were very few. I saw no sign of Pat Barker, Brian Keene, Ian McEwan, or Charlaine Harris. But, I did manage to settle on buying Janet Evanovich's One for the Money. A couple of people have mentioned how much they love the Stephanie Plum series, that title will be my official foray into reading her work. It sounds promising at any rate, and it's one less title on my wish list.

Now, all I need to do is eventually find the rest on this list. No rush. I have a fire hazard's worth of novels sitting on my shelf just waiting to be read.

March 25, 2009

Too Many Irons in the Fire

I feel safe in saying I am a different writer now than when I began six years ago. When I first sat in front of my computer screen to write a simple little ghost story, I had a one-track mind. Granted, I'm not much of a multitasker at the best of times. Actually, you could say I still have a bit of a one-track mind. If I'm writing, my mind tunes everything else out. I think it's something I picked up as a television junkie who got used to ignoring family and roommates while engrossed in a show. If someone needed me to listen, that zombie box better have been on mute or they'd only register as white noise in the background. So when I started writing, that was it: I wrote a story and that was all I set my mind to.

Now, I find I've got a few too many irons in the fire. It's my own doing. My horror novel is in it's third draft and being proofread and edited by my literati uncle. So, I try to leave it be until I have some proper feedback to use. While that sits on the back burner, I have taken to writing short stories. I haven't written short stories since high school—every one of them burned in effigy after graduation along with every text book and written work during those tentative years. It's a form of writing I both enjoy and loathe. I enjoy it on the basis that it's a great creative outlet to try little story ideas and scenarios that have crossed my mind. I loathe it because it is ironically more taxing to fit a story into such a limited word count than a novel.

When I wrote the novel, it was like free range writing. With a short story, the ideas are penned and caged like chickens in a Kentucky Fried Chicken coop. It's a solid way to hone writing skills though, and I say "loathe" facetiously. It can be a little annoying though, when I write a rough draft that meanders for a while only to discover I need to either shave it down considerably or throw it to the wayside, as an editor isn't likely to touch it with it's current length.

So, I write a rough draft—some good, some bad—and let it stew while I move on to another one. My problem now is I have multiple drafts of different stories ... all unfinished and each in need of refinement. To look at them as a whole, I find it daunting. I need to focus in and pick one. Reread it, edit it, rewrite it, and reread it again. Do this until I have a final draft I am happy with and submit. All this "write something and let it rest while you write something else" might work great for novels, but I'm finding that the advice isn't helping me at all when it comes to short stories. They're stockpiling, and I need to cull


One-track mind, baby.

March 21, 2009

A Fox in the Henhouse

Ultimately, I write because it's one of the few things I can do in decent fashion and enjoy it. Sure, the craft and the process can be aggravating and all that jazz, but you experience those feelings at some point whenever you're doing something you care about. It's a hobby for me at present for the simple fact I am unpublished, and being able to say I am a published author is a goal of mine. It feels like a pipe-dream too, but I'm a realist and a bit of a cynic, so it comes with the territory.

Professional writers do things which I do not though, and because of that, I feel like an outsider trying to pass myself off as a writer sometimes. Network, they say. I would love to get out there and do just that, but I'm a ruralist—not always by choice. Outside and away from the in-person opportunities to meet and talk with writers, agents, and editors, I must rely on my online presence—difficult when your access to the Internet is less than dependable.

To make up for it, I try to content myself by being the passive participant in the online community. I belong to a couple of message boards, started this blog, and visit several other blogs and sites. The information is bountiful—and dubious if you don't know where to look—but with only a finite amount of time to spend at a public computer, I can't while away my time in an active fashion. So, I have to download everything I can get a hold of to a data stick I received as a Christmas present, take the topic threads and blog posts home, and read them on my own computer. God forbid I want to respond to something right away, as I usually have to wait a week before I can get back online again. Anything topical is now a week old, and I'm out of the loop ... or on the outskirts waving frantically.

Writing was a very personal exercise to begin with, but when you have very few opportunities to bounce your ideas off others who share your love of writing, it becomes an even more personal endeavor. Enough so, that the few moments you get to share company with a fellow writer (online or in person), you feel like a bit of an impostor because the resources just aren't there from which to take advantage the way they do.

March 19, 2009

Charles Dickens

In high school, the only book of the required reading that resonated with me was Great Expectations. I love the character, Pip. He's one of the most sympathetic characters I've ever come across. I love the story so much, I even forced myself to sit through a Gwyneth Paltrow performance in the film adaptation. The Glass Menagerie, The Crucible, Joan of Arc, Fifth Business, and a slew of other stories all passed my disinterested eyes during my teen years, but none stuck to my hide like Dickens.

Oddly enough, however, Great Expectations is the only Dickens novel I've ever read. I'd love to count A Christmas Carol, but I don't think watching Michael Caine ham it up with the Muppets qualifies. Mind you, I am fond of the old 1930's film in black and white. So, when I browsed the used book store yesterday I decided I needed to find another Dickens novel to add to my "must read" list. After trading in Ronald Kelly's Fear and throwing in another eighty cents, I gots me a copy of the unabridged David Copperfield. I figured if the story is good enough to be Dickens' personal favorite of all his novels, it's good enough for me.

Now, all I need to do is get around to reading it. After I slough my way through those two anthologies, I'm fixing to read American Gods by Neil Gaiman―another brilliant Brit author.

March 18, 2009

Cabin Fever

Spring is in the air and I needed to soak up the 10C weather while it lasted. Canadian weather is like playing Keno; you have no idea what the numbers are going to be. I figured I would scoop up a few of my paperbacks, which I've either read or given up on, and take them down to the local used book store.

God bless these establishments. They're one of the pearls to any small town, even a big town. I have a wish list a mile long, and the chances of finding one of the titles in any of the used book stores within driving distance are iffy, but it's all worth while when I find one of those books I've been searching for for months and months.

That's how I felt when I finally stumbled across Timothy Findley's Not Welcome on the Voyage. I had been searching the book ever since it was listed as one of the five books on CBC Radio's "Canada Reads" special last year. The special aired in February and I finally spotted the book―the only one of the five books on Canada Reads I could find―tucked in a nook in the Canadian Authors section. Never mind the fact I was a little disappointed with the story once I finally read it, after listening to it hyped so eloquently on radio. I found it and it felt great doing so.

Now if I could only find Richard Matheson's Hell House, which is one I've keeping an eye out for over the last two years, I'd be a happy camper.

March 16, 2009

A Wealth of Resources

The best way, they say, to learn how to write is to put your butt in your chair and either put fingers to keyboard or pen to paper. Practice makes perfect ... or salable at least. So, I write.

Along with that come the writing conventions and workshops all over the world where a writer can network with his peers and potential agents and editors. I'm stuck in a very small town and can't get out to these shindigs, so I'm out of that loop.

There's the online community. In the absence of mobility on the road, I can at least sink my claws into places I come across on the Internet. So, I've got plenty of bookmarks, downloaded podcasts, and a plethora of blog I follow from month to month.

And then, there are books and magazines all over the place on how to write, what to write, how to sell what you've written, promote it, and study up on every other facet of the business. So, I have a small bookshelf with books and magazines, many of which I purchased through Writer's Digest, thank you very much.

The very first book on writing I ever purchased was a used copy I happened upon while browsing eBay's listings. It was Orson Scott Card's How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. Since the novel I was working on had a supernatural element to it, I figured the "Fantasy" section of this book might be worth looking at. So after winning the auction and mailing off a money order for ten bucks, I had myself an honest-to-god book on how to write. Watch out world, here I come.

It's a good read. I can't say I became a better horror writer by reading it, but I did become a better writer. For one thing, I learned about the types of stories to write (event driven or character driven), point of view (first person, third person, etc.), and world building. For a guy a long ways off from his English classes, I considered the straight talk of this book valuable. And, definitely a bargain for the asking price.

I have eight more books on writing, all of which I've read from cover to cover and picked up more and more appreciation for the craft of writing with each read. And, there are a few others I've since handed off to used book stores, which I read yet didn't feel were telling me something I hadn't already read or figured out myself through trial and error. I can't say reading books on writing alone will make you a better writer, but it can't hurt and it beats reading nothing at all.

The other books on my shelf right now: On Writing by Stephen King, The Complete Guide to Writing Fiction and Nonfiction by Pat Kubis and Bob Howland, Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul by Jack Canfield, The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing by Meg Leder and Jack Heffron, No More Rejections by Alice Orr, On Writing Horror by Mort Castle, First Draft in Thirty Days by Karen Weisner, and Writing Fiction by August Derleth.

March 15, 2009

Being Well Read

To be a good writer, one of the key ingredients is reading voraciously. I learned this the hard way. I started writing again in 2003 for reasons which escape me now, to be perfectly honest. Perhaps I was simply bored, or there was something deeper to it like a yearning to create and express. In any case, I hadn't written creatively since high school, and along with that I hadn't read very much either. In the nine years between graduating high school and beginning my new journey into writing, I had read a total of ten books at best. Television, cinema, and video-games are the mediums I searched out for entertainment. Books didn't interest me in the slightest, as I still saw them as those things that were required in grade school.

Among my modest book list in those years, the majority of titles can be found in the humor section of any book store. Drew Carey's Dirty Jokes and Beer, Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect, and another title by Jeff Foxworthy. This is not a fantastic well of resources when starting down the road to becoming a writer. But, at the time I didn't know any better―ignorance is bliss after all.

Upon finishing my first draft of my very first novel―the longest piece of writing I had undertaken since my last Christmas wish list―I read it. Have you ever woken up in the morning and felt particularly fresh and bushy-tailed, ready to hit the day like a hammer to a railroad spike? And then you pass the hallway mirror―that full length one―only to discover the stark reality of just how disheveled and unattractive you actually are in the first moments of the day? The feelings running through me and I poured over every page of my first draft could be compared to such a moment. It was awful.

As I entered the arduous task of revisions through the second draft, my head hung low in humility, I took to reading more and more. Stephen King was the first novelist I gravitated towards, reading quite a few of his books before moving on to Dean Koontz, Clive Barker, and others. I may still beat myself up over every one of my first drafts, I'm at least more aware of what works, what doesn't, and what some of the mortal sins to writing are. And, I've made it a point to read as much as I can―assorted authors and assorted genres―both as a reason to gain a better understanding of the writing process and as a superior alternative to the dwindling quality of television.

Heck, I may be learning as much from the novels I hate as I am from the novels I love.

March 14, 2009

I Miss George Carlin

If there's one person I would classify as the funniest comedian in history, I'd end up giving the accolade to the late George Carlin. The man was like a razorblade against the hypocrisy and B.S. of the world. I'll never forget when I found an old Carlin LP my parents had, the one about the seven words you can't say on television. For a pre-teen boy who inexplicably got the giggles whenever someone cussed, I fell in love with Carlin's brand of humor. The only people who come close to putting me in stitches as much as him are Chris Rock, Richard Pryor, and Lewis Black.

I read "Napalm and Silly Putty"―a must read for any Carlin fanatic―this past week, after finding it in a library book sale this winter. It was the best dollar I ever spent. The book is fairly short and contains a great deal of his 2000-2001 stand-up routines, but I still managed to thoroughly relish every syllable. It's just such a shame he had to die, as there won't be another one like him for a long, long time ... likely never.

March 11, 2009

Working on the Pitch Line

My horror novel is in the midst of being read by an uncle with a penchant for reading. Family members aren't exactly the best people to seek out for advice and feedback―my mother's pearl of wisdom was, "It's nice, but a bit too much swearing for me."―but my uncle isn't the type to slow pitch his response to spare my feelings. I told him to rip it to shreds if he feels he has to, so long as I can use it to make the story and the writing better.

In the meantime, I've been trying to think up the much-needed "elevator pitch" for the story. It's not always so simple to break it down to a single sentence without making it sound too vague. It can be done easily enough, but it's one of those things in the preparation that a writer can agonize over. Especially, a guy like me. I have a couple that show potential, but I still want to hash them out to get one that's baby porridge.

The synopsis is going to be fun too, as I have yet to figure out just how I should go about it when the novel has two parallel storylines running in different time-lines. I remember reading on one site that it's best to write the synopsis out like a summary that runs chronologically. I'm not convinced such an approach would work for me. Ah well, I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

March 9, 2009

Curmudgeon

I just got done watching a great documentary on TVO called "Curmudgeon" about all the malcontent critics, comics, and writers out there. God, that hit home. Sad, huh? There was something, however, that gave me a little bit of solace—misery loves company, eh—in knowing there are people in the world who recognize the epidemic of bullshit going through our culture. Granted, I'm not as pissed off as most of the people highlighted, but maybe that's because I allow myself my own healthy degree of ignorance and blissful blind-eye-ism.

A good example of that might be my addiction to television. I don't watch a lot of it these days, but when you take into consideration the ungodly amount of schlock aired each and every day, there really isn't a valid reason for anyone to watch television anymore. There are still a few shows I enjoy though, like "Lost" and "Family Guy". There's "Heroes" and "Supernatural" as well. I try to watch "The Daily Show" whenever I can, and I even watch an animé show called "Bleach" from time to time. These are about the only shows still airing new episodes I can be bothered to watch on a regular basis.

As an aspiring writer, I shouldn't even be watching as much television as I presently do. It is, however, a helluva lot less than I used to watch in years past. I used to be able to waste time staring at the tube for hours at night, without a genuine care for what was on. If friends and family were watching something terrible, I'd sit and watch it with them half the time—kind of like an addict who forgot why he started the habit in the first place. I've weened myself back, but there are still those few shows I actually look forward to seeing. But, if I ever did put a shotgun shell through my television screen, I know deep down I wouldn't miss those shows very much.

Television really does placate the masses, which I find ironic given the amount of garbage people willfully sit down to watch week in and week out. I suppose if we didn't do that though, we would just Skype and text each other constantly as a way to feel like we're on television ourselves. A population of TV addicts with the technology now to act as our own celebrities for friends and strangers alike. Who needs that? Let's just keep watching "Survivor" and "The Apprentice" and "Rock of Love" and stay away from the few sane people remaining on the planet.

March 5, 2009

Research, Schmesearch

I love writing, but to do it well it comes with a lot of strings attached. Research may be one of the biggest provisos of the bunch. Now, it's not that I hate learning. Far from it. It's just that it can have an insidious way of throwing a monkey-wrench in my initial plans for a story. That, and I was never a big fan of homework when I went to school. It's simply a necessary evil, in my view.

What helps a lot, I find, is when I come across resources that are more accessible and reader (or viewer) friendly than your run of the mill textbook. I've read a few books on writing, thanks in large part to the Writer's Digest Book Club, but the one that's helped me the most thus far has been one I found in a used book store (my favorite kind of book store, by the way) by Stephen King titled, "On Writing."

The book is less a how-to than it is a testimonial/confessional on the craft. There isn't anything specific on handling research more efficiently, but the book has allowed me to view writing with a healthy mix of joy and reverence. And, that's been the most valuable piece of information I've accumulated yet. Encyclopedias, journals, and handbooks be damned.

Actually, I need to get some more research done this week for future reference with some story ideas. I need to study up a little on bounty hunting, the Halifax Explosion, search and rescue procedures, and comas. I can just imagine if I threw all those tidbits into a single story.

What's In A Word Count?

When it comes to taking a word count of my novel, or one of my short stories, I get the idea that the option in the Tools menu of Open Office isn't what editors and agents have in mind. Mind you, it's so convenient I can't help but use it as my measuring stick while typing.

As best as I can understand it, word counts comes from a little equation. The first thing I have to do is write with a courier font, so each character is of equal width (the "m" needs to be as big as the "i"). The font also needs to be sized "12", and the page double-spaced with one inch margins on all sides. Once I have it formatted just so, I count the characters on a single line, which (by my count) works out to be sixty-four. Since there is an average of six character per word, I divide 64 by 6 and get ten plus change as my answer, so I'll round it down up to eleven. There's twenty-three lines to a single double-spaced page, so I have 253 words to a page. Let's say two-hundred and fifty.

Now, my horror novel is in it's third draft, and so far I haven't confronted the word count as something to be tackled (the whole project has been my trial and error approach to writing). If I go to Tools, then click on Word Count, Open Office tells me it's about 150,000 words. If I follow the formula, I end up with 170,000 words (250 words per page, and 680 pages).

Since I am under the impression that most published novels run in the range of 80,000-120,000 words, it's fair to say I have quite a lot of editing ahead of me in the fourth draft just to properly address the length of the story, let alone the quality. I probably should have gotten a better handle on it after the initial rough draft was completed—I clicked on Word Count then and it told me 110,000 words, so 40,000 extra words got in there somehow. Ah heck, save that little mystery for the fourth draft.

March 4, 2009

The First Wag

This doesn't seem to be the greatest time to be an aspiring author. At least, in the traditional sense of the term. Publishers, agents, and every "power that be" is circling the wagons it seems. Unless you already have a foot in the door, it feels like you should be prepared to remain on the outside looking in. Well, that's been a recurring theme in my life, so it's easy enough to get used to.

I'm stubborn though. And I'm still learning the craft.

I can't even remember with any clarity what prompted me to start writing again in the first place (I spent nearly ten years after high school writing little more than shopping lists). What I do remember is that without writing, I didn't really have an outlet through which to express myself. I'm a shy guy, so public speaking isn't in the cards for me, or any other venue requiring a want for the spotlight at center stage. So, I write. It all started off with a ghost story, which swelled into a full-length horror novel. Now, my goals are to refine it into something I feel confident in submitting to agents and publishers, and getting to work on even more stories. I may never see my name in print, but if I was writing solely for the money, fame, and accolades then I would be wasting my time. I write for me.

As one more way for me to keep a routine going with my writing, I've started this blog. I've done a couple in the past. Well, I've started a couple, but each one lost steam and I let them rot. I've made a promise to myself though to keep this one going. It may not be pretty in the early going, and it may shift focus more often than not, but so long as I'm writing something I can take pride in myself. If only just a little bit.

Fingers crossed.

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