Monday, February 28, 2011

Update - Brainstorming

Since last week was the Week From Heck, and this week is scheduled to be worse, I didn't keep word counts much. (This is the problem with just updating the widget in my sidebar, I can see the progress, but not remember the actual amount I did each day.)

I'll reset the end date on this segment of The Dare when I get a chance to breathe -- probably Saturday, but maybe Thursday.

I have had a very fruitful weekend in terms of brainstorming, though. I've got a stack of short story ideas. (Unfortunately, they are the darker colder kind of story -- a la Alfred Hitchcock Presents kinds of twists. I like to do these, but I don't think they represent my books. Lack of a warm character or something. This is why I haven't actually written any of them. They are lower priority.)

But the big thing is that I discovered the absolutely ideal MacGuffin strategy for Old Paint. An approach that takes the story to a much higher level. It doesn't change anything, but changes everything.

The problem is that it's a MacGuffin strategy, not the actual MacGuffin. I now have to recast the item to fit the strategy... and it's turning out harder than I think. As I mentioned in the MacGuffin post the other day, I want it to be simple, but it's got to meet three criteria to work. They are all simple criteria, but it has to work with all three, which makes it less simple.

So my goal through Wednesday night is more brainstorming. I will set a half hour at a time, and just start listing possibilities based on the various criteria. And then variations on the possibilities.

Usually how I would do something like this -- especially when I have a knotty problem -- is to set a very very high goal on ideas. Like 300 ideas by the end of the day on Wednesday. The thing about a high goal like that is that it forces you to think outside of the box. (Tomorrow, if I'm not so wiped out I can't think, I'll probably post about my Magic of 100 Method of Brainstorming.)

However, in this particular case I am very close to the solution, and I expect to be very tired, so I'm just going to go with a timer. If I do not find the solution by Wednesday night, I'll go for the Magic of 100 on Thursday.

In the meantime, I have Harsh Climate back listed for free again on Smashwords because it's so hard to coordinate the timing of prices with Barnes and Noble. This time we're keeping it that way for a month. It's already ranked in the top four thousand on B&N. Some of the other retailers have picked up the sale. We'll see if Amazon takes notice and puts it on sale too.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Story Notes - Becoming an Autonomous, Moral Grown Up

Yesterday's excerpt, was from The Adventure of Anna the Great.

That was the first novel I completed after I went to Clarion. You could say it was my first real novel. I learned so much at Clarion and in subsequent writing classes (but mostly Clarion) that I had a hard time pulling all that knowledge together at first. I had learned exactly how much I had to learn, and it was paralyzing.

And, of course, this was a time when everyone was writing those huge complex trilogies -- very very ambitious works of fantasy and science fiction, and a time when everyone was out to prove that sf was not junk, so there were all sorts of extra rules in writing them. So I got hopelessly tangled in some very ambitious projects.

I decided to write something simpler, and something with less pressure. I chose to write in a "dead" genre, the swashbuckler. Now, I know a lot of people think these days that a swashbuckler is usually a pirate story, but that wasn't always the case. Certainly the pirate sub-genre is a part of the genre, but so many of the great swashbucklers were what they call "cloak and sword" stories. Stories of spies and mystery as well as action and adventure.

I also decided that I wanted to cut out the romantic subplot, and make it a YA adventure. At that time, in particular, the original swashbuckling romantic plots had a problem. They had been taken over by sexist romances of the forties and fifties, and some really good tropes were sullied by meaningless repetition.

In particular, there was one trope that sometimes cropped up in early swashbucklers, in which the woman was stupid and went for the villain before she learned the error of her ways. This bothered me on two levels. On one level it bothered me because the woman was being treated by the author as a child who has to learn her lesson. The other was that often the villain is more interesting than the hero. So...what kind of lesson was being learned here?

I thought, okay, what if this isn't a romance? What if this is the story of a child trying to make sense of life? Especially a life/world that makes grown women into children? This girl wants to grow up to be a grown up.

And what if the villain really IS more interesting than the hero? What if the hero is a good guy, but every inch the stodgy representation of the world that makes women into children? And what if the bad guy is a rule breaker, who is very much a bad guy, but also represents an alternative path?

To the Victorian mind, those are the choices that life presents. What does this mean for Anna who is both moral, and who wants to be an autonomous grown up? What if she wants both freedom AND responsibility?

Once I had that as the question of the story -- as the theme or premise -- I had a story which told itself. It was fun to write, and it was fun to play with. Someday I think I may produce an illustrated version. The first draft of this story got me into grad school with a full fellowship, and it got me into some personal correspondence with editors.

Unfortunately, at that time nobody wanted to publish a young adult swashbuckler, but they wanted to see what else I wrote... and I didn't write more young adult fiction. (And when I finally did, I went "off the grid" again in terms of genre; writing a stand-alone book that looks like a series novel, and nobody could decide if it was for adults or kids. Sigh. You'll hear about that one later.)

So I put that book in a trunk, and wrote on. This past year, though, I took it out and gave it another rewrite, and published it for Kindle. I've had some requests for sequels, and I might do some someday. Anna is definitely an irrepressible character. But I've got a lot ahead of it. Maybe I'll do a shorter work, some smaller novella length adventures.

* * * * *

Check out yesterday's excerpt, The Royal Stableboy.

The Adventure of Anna the Great is available in ebook form at Amazon's Kindle Store, Kindle UK Store, Smashwords. and Barnes and Noble's Nookstore. Look for it at Apple's iBookstore, Sony, Kobo and Diesel, too.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Royal Stableboy - An excerpt from The Adventure of Anna The Great

Today we have another excerpt from The Adventure of Anna the Great, a story of adventure, intrigue and horses.

Context for Today's Excerpt: Anna disguised herself as a boy, Albert, and set off looking for adventure. She tried to foil a kidnapping the night before, and failed. (Although in the process she injured the mysterious kidnapper she calls "The Gentleman in Black" in the hand.) As a reward for her attempt, she was given a job as a stableboy in the royal stables of her tiny country.

* * * * *

An Excerpt from Chapter 5 - "The Royal Stableboy"
(In Which Anna Comes Face to Face With Two Troublemakers, One With Two Legs, The Other With Four....)

* * * * *
Safely shut in my room, I stripped and tried on the livery. The trousers were too large, but with the help of a belt it did not look too bad. The jacket was long enough to conceal the worst of it, and the pant cuffs were hidden in my boots. The only trouble was a bit of bagginess around the knees.

I was nervous. I supported the queen, but that did not stop me from being excited about meeting Prince Hugo. He was, after all, the Prince Hugo. I looked in the mirror and carefully adjusted my cap. Hans burst in without knocking. I noticed he had a cap on now, and without the silly feathers. He did not say anything, but he glanced at me and went to the mirror to adjust his own cap.

“You say it looks smart?” he asked.

“Oh, yes,” I said. “Especially on you. Yours fits.”

“Not that it matters,” Hans said, looking back at the mirror. “We can never look too sharp for Uncle Wil, and nobody else will notice.”

“Somebody might. Maybe Hugo.”

“Oh, yeah. Hugo.”

“He’s pretty bad, you say.”

“It’s not really him,” said Hans. “He rides in a carriage usually and doesn’t come back here. It’s the people with him. They won’t really be so bad, though. Not for you. It’s me who it’s rough on. Hugo’s got this nephew, Tybalt von Stenbau....”

“That viscount you were talking about.”

“Yes. He hates me, and his horse hates me too. Every time he comes he seeks me out, because he knows I’m afraid of his horse.”

“Point him out to me and I’ll take the horse first,” I said.

“He won’t let you. He hates me.” Hans gave me a resigned smile.

“We can try,” I said. “Maybe we can shake him up a little.”

“If you really want to,” said Hans. “I won’t complain. The horse is dark grey, kind of unusual because it doesn’t have any dapples. Just solid color, with a black mane and tail.”

“Is it really that awful a horse?”

“No worse that Sea Sprite, probably. But Tybalt makes it hard by giving a lot of instructions, and I guess once I let him run over me the first time, he just plain won’t obey.” Hans shook his head. I could not tell if he meant the man or the horse.


From the gateway of the stable yard we could see a number of carriages and horsemen approaching. It was a large group, though at that distance and angle I could not see how many carriages. The whole speeding mass made a lively clot of motion on the roadway, with the carriages trundling and horsemen darting in and out. It was moving very fast, too fast for the people who were beginning to gather along the street. Then it passed from my view as it entered the center of the city.

“That’s all we’ll see,” said Hans. “The carriages will go to the front, and only some of the horsemen will come back here.”

“Quite a show, though,” I said. “So many. They must be coming to stay a while.”

“If you’re courting a queen, you do it in style.” He let out a short laugh and ran a finger around his collar.

“What have you heard about the wedding?” I asked. “Is it certain?”

“Well, there are still only rumors,” he said. “There’s been a lot of visiting back and forth, but as you say, it looks like Hugo, and Sigmond and the rest of their lot are here to stay. I bet there will be an announcement very soon, or none at all.”

“Maybe while I’m here,” I said.

“You’re not staying?” he said, looking around quickly.

“Only for a while,” I began to say. A loud clatter of hooves interrupted me.

“Here they are now,” said Hans. A small group of horses entered the yard, making more clatter than their number seemed to account for. “There. That’s the one.”

I turned in the direction Hans pointed and ran to take the bridle of the tall, slate grey horse, which was the one making most of the noise. I stopped short, however, when I saw the rider. His lean form swung down gracefully, in spite of the animal’s stamping and shying. It was no other than the Gentleman in Black.

My hand took the cheek piece of the bridle, of its own volition, for my mind was too stunned to command it. The rider turned and reached out a gloved hand to snatch it away. The glove was bulky, as if it had a bandage under it.

“Where’s that other boy? I want....” He stopped as he saw my face, his mouth open in surprise. Then he closed it and smiled. “Hello, Pipsqueak.”

“I have a name, sir,” I said. “It’s Albert.”

“Oh, I beg your pardon. Albert. Of course.” He said it with half a grin and half a look of mock seriousness. The horse threw its head up and backed off. I went with him, for it was useless to try to pit my weight against his.

“See here,” said the rider. “I don’t want you snatching at his mouth with the reins. Take him by the cheek piece. Oh, so you have.”

When the horse saw that I was not going to fight with him, he relented to a few gentle tugs and I led him back. The rider rocked back on his heels and played with his riding crop. He was still dressed in black, but now he had on a long grey overcoat with a black fur collar. He wore a cap too, which was pushed too far forward. He nodded thoughtfully as I came back to him.

“See to it that he is well walked out. He’s had a hard ride. Loosen . . . oh.” He paused as I reached back to loosen the girth. “When he’s cool give him plenty of water, but be sure that it isn’t too cold. I want it tepid.” He started to turn away and the horse laid back his ears, baring his teeth at me. I had, at least, control of his head and he could not bite me.

“Sir? What’s his name?” I asked.

“Regis,” he said, turning back again to face me, “because he’s nobler than anyone here.” He shot a glance at the palace. “Excepting me, of course.” He paused to look me up and down. “Somebody get this boy a proper set of clothes,” he said loudly. “His pants are falling down.”

He turned heel and walked briskly away. My pants were not falling down, but I was embarrassed all the same.

I was not sure what to do. I had to report this to the marquis, but I also had this horse to care for, a horse which was ardently trying to follow his master. I pulled gently on him, and after a short battle I had him walking forward at least, though not entirely in the direction I wanted.

Since the culprit already knew I recognized him, and had not yet run away, and as I had his horse, I decided that it would do no harm to finish my work before I sought out the marquis.

Regis was very uncooperative for the first few minutes. He planted his feet suddenly and even gentle coaxing would not budge him. Then he exploded into a stomping fit and while I was occupied with his feet, his head snaked around, teeth bared. He hit me in the hip, but he did not bite because he snapped his head away too quickly. I took a hold of his snaffle rein to get more control. I did not care what my orders were, and I had no intention of snatching at the animal’s mouth.

The animal’s mouth, however, had every intention of snatching at me. He bit at me again, at my arm, taking a mouthful of sleeve and tugging. He paused, one ear coming forward.

“You’re all bluff!” I said to him, and he laid back his ears again. I scratched his forehead and called him a silly boy. The ears came up and he started walking. I think he was too tired to play anymore.

We turned in our circuit to walk in the direction of the palace. I looked up at it and saw, on an upper balcony, a slim dark figure leaning on the balustrade. He was watching me. I did not know how long he had been there, and I stopped. In a moment two women came out and spoke to him, and he went in with them. I turned to Regis and felt his chest. He was cool enough, and I felt a sudden urgency to see the marquis.

* * * * *

Tomorrow, I'll post a little more about the writing of this clip.

If you'd like to read more of The Adventure of Anna the Great, you can find it in ebook form at Amazon's Kindle Store, Kindle UK Store, Smashwords. and Barnes and Noble's Nookstore. Look for it at Apple's iBookstore, Sony, Kobo and Diesel, too.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sometimes You Get The Bear....

...and sometimes the bear gets you.

I crashed on Wednesday, and I'm crashing again today. This has been a really tough week, and I was just getting ready for a tougher week next week. (This happening, of course, right when my union needs me most. Sigh. I will miss the big rally at the capital on Saturday, but if I value my job -- and especially those of my lesser paid co-workers -- I gotta be there Monday....)

I mentioned how important sleep is in equipping yourself to write. I need sleep.

After next week's marathon run, however, we have spring break, and I have some flex time.

The Fuel That Drives A Story

The fuel that drives a story is the antagonist's goal.

Now, your main character's goal is more important. It gives the story shape and flavor. It's what the audience cares about.

But it doesn't drive the story.

The antagonist's goal provides the opposition to your character. It's what gives the story conflict, and conflict is the source of all drama. And this is true whether you're writing a literary story in which the antagonist is the meaninglessness of the universe or an action story where the villain wants to kill the protagonist.

The antagonist's goal doesn't have to be exciting or new or complicated. It just has to be solid, understandable, and believable and have enough oomph to drive the story without too many explainations. After all, the villain is not on screen as much as the hero, and often keeps his true motives hidden. We're going to spend a lot more time with the hero's goals, so those are the ones that can be most interesting and subtle and complex.

One term for what the villain wants is a "MacGuffin." Some people get the MacGuffin mixed up with "plot coupons." Plot coupons are just things your character has to seek. As in a fairytale where the hero has to seek out a magic sword and a spell book and a ring before he can acquire the magic to kill the dragon. And I can understand why people would get these mixed up -- they are similar.

Hitchcock more or less invented the term MacGuffin. He defined it as: "It's the thing that the spies are after but the audience don't care."

And it's true, the audience doesn't really care about the villain's goals any more than they care about the magic book or any item in the story. They only care how those things impact the character.

The thing that sets a MacGuffin apart from your average plot coupon is motivation. It isn't just what your main character needs to perform some task, it's the thing that drives and motivates the forces that oppose your hero. It is the secret, the true source of all the trouble. It's like the Dude's rug... it ties the whole room together. (Or for those who haven't seen The Big Lebowski: it's like the Force, which binds the universe together.)

If you want a story that really holds together and seems to drive from one end to the other, motivate your villain. (Even if that villain is "fate.") It's got to be good enough to make your villain persistent and strong. Remember that your hero is only as strong as the force he opposes.

Tomorrow an update, and then this weekend I'll post another excerpt from The Adventure of Anna the Great, which features the villain, and his horse.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Long, very busy day at work. Came home, ate, nearly crashed, but then had Ideas. Did some mad scribbling of illegible notes. But now I'm ready to crash again. Day off tomorrow. Hope to make up the difference.... Zzzzzzz.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Changing a Location Can Mean Everything

Old Paint: Dead or Alive, the second Mick and Casey mystery, is moving along well now. I had two problems, though. One was a secondary character who is a little too colorful to play a minor role -- so either I have to cut back on the color, or I have to make more use of this character. When I'm in a situation like this, I always play with the second option first. For one thing, it's not good to dull down a story. For another, a character without enough to do is always an opportunity.

The other problem was more subtle. As a matter of fact I didn't even know it was a problem, until the solution presented itself.

When I develop a novel, especially a mystery, I sometimes end up with events which are just too dense. I do it because I believe mystery stories should have a lot of layers and complications, AND I also tend to move forward pretty quickly. So a lot of the time, I have to pause and loosen everything up. I go in and put in breathing room and put in some layers of characterization and foreshadowing and atmosphere. Let it play out a little more.

But that's not what I have a problem with right now. This story is loose. I have several major movements of plot, a number if scenes in mind, but there is too much space at the moment. And yes, I can help that by playing out layers of chacaterization and such -- it not only fills space, but the details of life give you hooks on which to build more story. You can start thinking, okay, so if that character is cranky, maybe the reason is something other than I thought, and the crankiness can become a clue....

But that's just providing opportunities. You need major stuff to really pull a story together. You know, like the finding of a second body. That changes everything in a mystery, usually. But in this story there's an apparent suicide which is not investigated, and Mick and Casey only hear about it. It is an important event, because it drives them to start on a new journey. Except it's off-screen and doesn't really drive anything.

In the meantime I had another scene which I have sketched in, and I like it a lot, but it's just a clue discovery scene. It doesn't really take the story in a new direction.... Then I realized that it was a great scene for finding a body.

Moving the body-discovery makes a huge difference, for both good and bad. When someone hears about a death, it's easy to let them take it all at face value. It's also easy to control how much the audience and characters know. The audience may say "Ha! That's suspicious," but because it's not vivid and on screen, it's easy to distract the audience with shinier and more immediate clues. Especially if the characters are going to investigate things that are related to the death.

So the down side of a full-blown body-discovery scene, is that the death won't fly under the radar -- it becomes front story. It's like opening a can of worms. This will be the second body they found in suspicious circumstances, and the sheriff already doesn't like them. It's going to raise a lot of questions that I had the luxury of putting off.

But it's also going to give me a chance to explore a lot of questions I didn't want to put off, but didn't have a hook to draw Mick in. It gives more info for Mick to hang some theories on. It gives me a chance to mislead the audience too. It puts a kink in the road of the story.

And it's dramatic. Finding a body, the stress, the confusion, the need to do something. No matter if you're a cool-headed young gunslinger -- it's a dramatic moment.

The biggest difference, though, comes from the location itself. Originally I had the death take place in a very expected and logical place. I could have brought Mick and Casey to that place, and had them discover the body there. That would have brought in the drama just fine.

But by changing that location I can do so many things. For one thing, it's a twist. The audience can be busy anticipating something completely different. Furthermore, if this isn't where the body belongs, then it has to be explained. Why is this body here, rather than there? And that goes back to all those lovely questions, and red herrings...and truths. In this case there are all sorts of things about the location that hook back into the story. (Sorry I can't explain more - don't want to give spoilers. Maybe I'll talk about it in detail on the spoilers blog after publication.)

So if you've got something doesn't move as well as you hoped, or seems too loose, or draggy, consider changing the location of a key element. What if your hero has that fight with his girlfriend at his mother's house? What if the final duel takes place on the hero's home territory, rather than the villain's? (Or in the villain's mother's house?)

Sometimes ramping up the story this way is too much. You have to think of the creative consequences first. Sometimes it doesn't work in a story I've already packed full of complications. However, if you don't have enough complications, consider changing a location to ramp the story up a little.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Progress update

I got about 1500 words done tonight. I didn't do that much this weekend, though. I really like what I wrote tonight, and it got me very close to the next fun scene. (This one turned out to be more fun too. I may post an excerpt of tonight's work next Sunday.)

I also started prepping some of the next stories for publication. I was going to publish the GIRL GUNSLINGER screenplay next. That's the back story for Mick and Casey. However it was my first screenplay and the style is a little too dry, especially in the opening. I think I need to do some work on it to give it a little more flavor.

So I may swap that to the April release, and do another short story collection in March. I've got that one mostly ready, but I need to come up with a cover concept. I also have to figure out how to describe the genre. It's "speculative fiction" but not everybody knows what that means. Two of the stories are set in modern day, real-world, but have a fantasy element. The third is a space opera, but more emphasis on the interpersonal element than on hardware. (You know, TV sf.)

I think the title of the collection will be "Alternate Solutions, three speculative fiction stories" or something like that.

Story Notes - About "The Scenic Route"

One night a few years ago, I dreamed that a friend and I were driving endlessly around and around a suburb, looking for the on ramp to the interstate. The dream roved, as my dreams always do, to the country, and then for a short time we were the Beatles, on a hill top giving a concert (or perhaps just rehearsing) and then making an escape in a helicopter. But for most of the dream we were robbers driving around the country trying to make a getaway.

By the time I was fully awake, I had most of the plot of "The Scenic Route" (see yesterday's post for an excerpt) worked out in my head. The suburbs, the Beatles and the helicopter weren't part of the story. But being lost in the country, that was the vivid thing. That was a story.

The thing about the country is that there are few signs, and what signs there are aren't very helpful much of the time. If you make a wrong turn, you can go for many miles without realizing it. So the thought of two hapless robbers attempting to make a getaway, and they miss the on ramp to the interstate... that's pretty much hopeless if they are not country folks, and don't have a map.

I myself am really good with maps. I kind of have a compass in my head too, but I do have one problem:

I can't tell left from right to save my life. Not quickly.

So I decided to inflict that on my poor benighted robbers. Not only is it a fun detail to play with, but it also makes a great metaphor for Luther's whole problem with society. He sees right and wrong the way I see right and left. He's working on it, but it takes a lot effort. And aside from loyalty to friends and treating a lady right, he's pretty much given up on figuring it out. He and Sol live in their own little world, without reference to the rest of society. It's just easier that way.

The other major element of this script -- something not in the excerpt -- is that the story is a bit surreal. That is partly because it came from a dream, I suppose, but mostly because it is a journey into hell, or at least into heck. And that really comes from the characters themselves; the fact that they live in their own little world means that reality feels alien to them. So I gave them a world that exaggerates their view of the world -- the world filled with people and problems they don't understand, because they never really tried, except now they're trying and it's not going so well.

But it's also a world where Luther is forced to see what it is to be a bad guy, but he also has a chance to be a good guy as he understands it.

It was a lot of fun writing this story, and I hope one day to write more about Luther and Sol, but the tone is just too hard for me to nail in fiction. It seems much more suited for a screenplay, which is why I chose not to adapt it before publishing it as an ebook.


"The Scenic Route" is available as an ebook at the Amazon Kindle Store, Amazon UK and Smashwords (where you can get many different formats). Soon to be available at Apple's iBookstore, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Sony and Deisel.

(Warning, The Scenic Route is an R-rated crime comedy -- with bad language and mild sexual situations, and main characters who have serious trouble understanding right from wrong.)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

"The Scenic Route" - a screenplay excerpt

For Sample Sunday this week, I'm posting an excerpt from my screenplay, THE SCENIC ROUTE. (NOTE: THIS IS NOT IN PROPER SCREENPLAY FORMAT. I modified the format to make it easier to read on small handheld devices and across multiple platforms.)

The Scenic Route is the story of Luther and Sol, a pair of young bank robbers who have been on the run pretty much their whole lives. They just pulled off a big robbery but got lost during the getaway and then more lost, and more lost.

As of this point in the story, they have shaken off the cops, and others who are chasing them to take the money from them. They've gained a friend in Brenda, a retired show girl who needed a ride, and they finally have got some great directions on how to get back to the interstate. Well, pretty good directions, anyway....

by Camille LaGuire


The Cutlass is parked at a stop sign. The road here ends at a crossroad and river. Luther, Sol and Brenda stand beside the river, staring across.

SOL: She said we should cross the river.

BRENDA: Maybe she meant swim.

LUTHER: We're on the wrong road is all. We're still going in the right direction.

BRENDA: How do you figure that?

LUTHER: We're supposed to cross the river, and there's the river. We've just got to go along and find a bridge.

SOL: Okay. Which way?


He points right. Sol nods and heads back to the car.

BRENDA: Oh my god. I don't believe this.


BRENDA: What way did you just point?

Luther points again.

BRENDA: No, say it. Which direction, right or left?

Luther can see what's coming. He drops his arm.

LUTHER: They're just words.

BRENDA: I can see how you boys got lost. You can't tell right from left.

LUTHER: I pointed.

BRENDA (to Sol): And neither can you.

Sol shrugs.

SOL: That's how we hooked up. Skipping special ed together.

BRENDA: You're dyslexic, right? Can you read?

LUTHER: Of course I can. I'm not stupid.

BRENDA: I didn't say you were. But if you were skipping class....

LUTHER: I can read just fine. I can't write so good, and I get a little confused on left and right. That's all.

She nods and starts to reply, but he interrupts.

LUTHER: They're just words. People get all hung up on left and right but you know, you turn around and left isn't left anymore. All of a sudden, it's right. That's stupid. There's that way and that way. If I say "left" and point right... (he points left) ...Sol knows what I mean.

SOL: Yeah. That way.

He points the same way. Brenda sighs and shakes her head.

BRENDA: There are tricks you can use to remember.

LUTHER: It's not memory. It's a different way of seeing things.

BRENDA: If you hold up your left hand, your finger and thumb make an L for left. See?

She holds up her hand to illustrate. Luther holds up his right in mirror image.

LUTHER: So does your right hand. The L just points the other way.

SOL: We learned that one when we were five.

LUTHER: If either of us really have to figure it out, we just gotta stop and think for a minute. A left turn goes across traffic. Right turn on red.

He points, and for the first time his gestures match the direction he's talking about.

BRENDA: Sorry, boys.

LUTHER: No problem. I mean, we're lost. Right and left are just meaningless concepts.

SOL: Constructs.

LUTHER: Right, constructs. Like right and wrong. We're outlaws, and we're lost, so we don't care what right is. It's all arbitration.

BRENDA: Arbitrary.

LUTHER: That too.

They all head back toward the car. Luther pauses before they get in.

LUTHER: That was a joke.

BRENDA: I know.

LUTHER: I'm not dumb. They gave us a test in juvenile hall once, and it showed I wasn't dumb. Sol's even smarter than me.

BRENDA: I thought you'd never been caught.

LUTHER: As a kid, yeah, but not as an adult. Which proves I learn pretty good, doesn't it?

In tomorrow's post I will give you some background on the writing of "The Scenic Route."

NOTE: The Scenic Route is currently not available for purchase (some vendors might still have it around, though).  I am going to revamp it, maybe novelize it. It will be re-released as a new book later.

(Warning, The Scenic Route is an R-rated crime comedy -- with bad language and mild sexual situations, and main characters who have trouble with right and wrong as well as right and left.)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Friday Night Update, Plus Links

Long week, and I'm very very tired. I had a lot of catching up with a lot of things to do too. I need to go to bed.

So no words to report today. I have been back to writing daily, and all new words at the moment. I'm having a very creative period, with progress on five or six different stories. cropping up all at once. As of yesterday, though, I am back on the job with Old Paint: Dead or Alive.

Tomorrow I will probably post something from the screenplay, and, in spired by the silly crime aspects of the screenplay, I have come up with some ideas for short crime stories about a "Fairy God-Burglar." No, he's not magical, just something of a kleptomaniac do-gooder who intervenes in situations he comes across, as only a burglar can.

I also have dug up a few more Mick and Casey short stories to finish.

In the meantime, I promised some interesting links.

  1. Zoe Winters posted this week a reminder to writers who are in too much of a hurry: Slow Down, the Tortoise Won!
  2. Kris Rusch posted a very valuable post about the kinds of skills a modern writer needs.
  3. And a Kitteh goes bowling (short video).
(Say good night, Gracie...)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Dailog Tags - "Fear Them Not," Said She.

And just on the heels of talking about how Dorothy L. Sayers has a tendency to write long rafts of unattributed dialog... I come across a debate in a writers forum where people are discussing the proper way to attribute dialog. In particular, whether it's proper to say "said Bob" or if one must always say "Bob said."

This is the kind of debate you'll only hear among writers. And it's a new debate, something I never heard before this year. In all the short stories I've published, not one complained or corrected a "said Bob." But some people were so adamant that it is grammatically incorrect (and archaic to boot) to reverse the subject and noun like that.

Has the world changed since I was a young writer? Could this be true? I decided to check it out by glancing through some recent issues of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.

I found a few interesting things:

1.) Most writers used "he said" rather than "Bob said" the vast majority of the time. Like ten-to-one at least. When they felt the need to use a character name, they used it in description and left off the tag. (Such as: "I don't know what I'll do." Mindy started to cry. "I'm scared to death.")

2.) When they did use character names it was pretty evenly split between "Bob said" and "said Bob." (Maybe leaned slightly toward "Bob said" but not much.) About a quarter of the authors used both, depending on the situation.

3.) When they didn't have a name, and had to use a description (i.e. "the cop" or "the waitress") they usually put the verb first, i.e. "said the cop."
Hard-boiled writers are really fond of starting sentences with the attribution. Like this: He said, "Why didn't you call the police?"

4.) Just an oddity -- the two writers I came across who used way too many dialog tags both used exclusively "Bob said" and also tended toward said bookisms -- i.e. using other verbs instead of said. "Watch out!" Sally warned. "Why so?" Bob inquired. "There are bad guys out there," Sally noted. (I think they were trying too hard.)

"He said" and "she said" tend to be invisible to the audience, and I think part of the reason writers argue about it is because most writers never notice how other writers use dialog tags either. They just assume everyone uses them the same way they do - or the way their favorite teacher taught them.

There is another perennial debate over dialog tags: how many to use. Some writers believe that you should never use them at all, if you can possibly avoid it. Frankly, I think this is purely a writer thing. I don't think readers notice, unless it's super repetitive. (Or the writer is trying too hard to be creative with the said bookisms.)

So here is my conclusion: Don't sweat it. Use dialog tags as they come naturally to you. When you're editing, edit it like you would any other kind of language. Cut or change the repetitive and awkward stuff. Otherwise leave it alone. You don't have to make it fancy, you don't have to prove how clever you are by writing around it.

Dialog tags are there for one purpose: to keep the audience from getting lost. Road signs are a good thing. Keep them simple and discrete, and those who don't need them won't notice them. But if any are missing, those who do need them will be in trouble - so don't be stingy.

Tomorrow, an update and some interesting links.

* * * * * Advertisement * * * * *

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Writing and Schedules

Finding the right schedule can be critical to writing. I always hear about people who were able to greatly improve their writing situation by getting up earlier or staying up later, or rearranging this or that.

I've been vacillating on the development of this blog, and I think it's time to try to impose a posting schedule. I'm not very good at imposing such restrictions on myself, but I think I ought to try on this.

The main goal of this blog has always been to support my daily writing habit -- just a place to post progress. But over the past 500+ posts, the blog has evolved to being more about writing and issues in fiction. I've been posting 500-1000 words a night on the blog, and I think it might be time to claim back some of that for my regular writing.

So I'm going to start a schedule of posting: I will still post every night, but on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights I will post only updates on my progress, and maybe talk a little about what I'm working on. Saturday and Sunday nights will be for fiction and the "about the story" postings. That leaves only Tuesdays and Thursdays for posting the think pieces (although if I have a three part series or something I may add Friday to that part of the schedule).

We'll see how this works. Honestly, I've never been good about sticking to a schedule.

In the meantime, it's a Wednesday Night, so here's my progress: 336 words. On The Man Who Did Too Much. (I know, where did that come from?) Today was my long long day, and it was a busy one, so I am reasonably happy with that.

Reading Dorothy Sayers - Some Thoughts on Old-Fashioned Modernism

A critical part of your research for writing is to read other things in the genre you are writing in. I hope everyone knows that. You need to know your genre, because your readers certainly do. Sometimes, though, you read for a less factual reason.

A really important aspect of preparing for a novel for me is getting the feel of voice. Since I'm prepping to write something that "feels" like certain kinds of fiction of around the 1920's, I'm currently reading books from the 1910s to 1930s. I read a lot of these books a long time ago, and yet they surprise me with their freshness and fun. But they also often bug me with writing practices which are Simply Not The Done Thing any more. And yet many of those practices are the very thing that make them feel fresh.

It is irony or kismet that this period has an awful lot in common with the current one, especially in publishing. Things are changing rapidly. People are inventing things as they go. This was a period when even cheap trashy fiction was an experiment in new styles and attitudes -- and that's what I want to talk about tonight.

A little over a year ago, I stopped to study the first pages of several books and did an analysis of them. (The series starts with "How To Start a Novel Badly.") In the last installment of that series I talked about why I had so much trouble getting into Dorothy L. Sayers. It was all because the first page of the book I was trying to start with was just not a good place to start the series.

So this past week or so I've been reading a different Sayers book -- the first one, Whose Body? What I found was that it was much easier to get into because it sets up the characters better. The later one I read, I think, was written more for those who had read more of the series. However in both books, Sayers uses a lot of the same tricks - in particular the disembodied voices.

It was one of the first things I noticed -- she wrote like a playwright a lot of the time. Often she even forewent the use of tags like "he said." And the characters would often say things to hint at what was going on, rather than the narrative describing it. For instance, at one point early in the story, Whimsey is explaining something to his police friend, and he interupts himself to talk to his valet Bunter, or to comment on what Parker is doing in reaction -- all in dialog. We don't see Bunter enter the room, we don't get to see what Parker is doing.

Now, it all made sense to me what she was doing. I was an English major. I even went to grad school for a while. And I was taught that in twenties, Hemingway and all the other New Critical darlings were inventing this style (a few years after Sayers was using it -- odd, isn't it?). The idea was that photography and film (and other inventions) were changing what Art was. And WWI utterly changed society, and in this brave new world, one thing that was "cool" was to remove the narrator and do things like write only in dialog. Be objective. Experiment. Play with styles.

And later many literary writers (especially the French) began to acknowledge that pop culture, and pulp fiction and film in particular, were a major influence. Writing for sheer entertainment value, without thought to literary legacy was very existential, after all.

And all these ideas were certainly around in the arts movements before WWI, and so I can't say that Sayers wasn't doing it consciously. She wasn't doing it all that consistently either. I mean, yes, the dialog and internal monologues she did consistently, but she also tended to crop up with a whole different style for a page or two. She might switch to second person for a while. (Yes, that's right, second person. She'd be inside somebody's head and they'd think: "His Lordship is all right, but you can't understand what these high-falutin' fellows say half the time. They give you a cigar and treat you well, but you don't really know where you stand. So you sit and listen..." And pretty soon she has moved from speculation and thought to what's going on in the scene... and she's still using "you" as the main pronoun.)

So aside from historical curiosity, what does this mean for the modern writer?

Well, first, it's a way to stop and question our current styles and habits. Which of our deeply held rules really matter? Given that we're in a period of change, and some of our current rules are going to go, which might you want to go away? Do you want to start playing with dialog only? Do you want to be able to use second person, or go head hopping?

The answer is not in justifying oneself: "Dorothy Sayers did it, so I can too!" Rather you whould read something like this to identify the experience of the reader with these different techniques and styles. Most writers these days have been trained so well that it just bothers the heck out of us when someone goes head hopping, or violates some other firm convention. However, if you can find a way to let go, and just read it, and say "what effect does this have on me? Why does this work or not work?" You might learn something from the experiments of another age.

For me, the disembodied dialog works when I feel that I am watching or listening to a great actor do a monologue. The other things that I'm not seeing don't matter. However, it can also make me feel like I'm locked in a dark closet and can only listen to things going on in the next room. If I miss too much of what else is going on, it annoys me. And it's not good to send me searching for who is saying what -- because on a small screen e-reader, I may have to page back and forth quite a bit to figure it out. And by then you've thrown me out of the scene just because you were stingy with the "he said."

I'm also a little less afraid of long speeches. I heard recently that some blame the internet for writers becoming more long-winded. I don't know. I think that we're going back to an older style -- a style from before the telephone and the sound byte, when we wrote letters and expressed ourselves in long-form and in monologue.

Later I may talk a bit about head-hopping. Sayers doesn't do that very much, at least not in this first book, but there are a few other writers of the period that do. It's a tricky thing in a mystery -- since eventually you're going to have to end up in the killer's head, or disguise the fact that you never went there.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Benefits of Reading -- A Primo Procrastination Tool!

Reading does a lot of things for a writer, and I'll probably go over a bunch of them this week, but I want to talk about something NEW I learned about reading. It is the greatest tool ever invented to deal with one horrible thing that afflicts writers all over:

Reading can break the internet habit!

It can also break the TV habit, or the "too much marketing" habit, or the stats checking habit. Applied properly, it might even help with other addictions. I don't know.

I just know that by declaring reading for fun to be an Important Activity that can be used to avoid writing, I find myself doing less of those things I need to stop doing. When I tell myself, "stop playing on the internet and get writing" I often think "Okay, just as soon as I check my stats this one last time..." and that leads to checking email just that one more time, which leads to checking something else, etc.

But if I say to myself "you're just doing this to avoid writing, so go avoid writing by READING" I find that I instantly go and read. I don't pass Go, I don't collect $200. Which breaks the cycle and then I get a good writing session in after I read.

Reading puts your brain in a different mode than it's in when you're surfing the internet.

Usually when I'm not the internet, I'm in information-gathering and practical planning and business mode. When I'm in that mode, my imagination lends itself to writing blog posts and figuring out marketing strategies. And when I'm in that mode, sales and pricing and strategy all seem really important. I'll read what Joe Konrath has to stay, and read where Dean Wesley Smith disagrees with this but not with that, and I get wrapped up in shaping my career -- even if the conclusion of all those thoughts is to "write!" it draws me into thinking about writing, not doing it.

Reading, on the other hand, draws my imagination right into where it belongs -- into resolving critical life-and-death situations the characters are in. Marketing, sales, arguing with people who are wrong on the internet? Bah! That is unimportant! Will Binky fix his sno-cone machine and save the ice race? That's important!

My mother unintentionally (or maybe intentionally) taught me this. She had a rule that when there were chores, she would never interrupt a child who was reading. Nothing else matters as much as the story. That's the mode your head has to be in, and if you're a writer, that's the mode your head WANTS to be in. But life has a way of pulling you out of that mode, and convincing you that other things -- you know, like reality -- are as important.

A book will always help you snap out of reality.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Story Notes for "Balancing Act"

Yesterday's "sample Sunday" story was Balancing Act -- a short romance/crime story. It was a trunk story, but here is a little about how it came to be:

Women's World is a cheap magazine you get at the check out. Not a tabloid, just a magazine full of cooking, health and beauty tips and cartoons, and they always have two stories in every weekly issue, one mystery, one romance. They were a great market because they paid well and they publish quite a lot of fiction. They were very very specific, though, in what they wanted. The mysteries were light and fluffy, and pretty close to exactly 1000 words. (They've changed now to a "you solve it" format, which is even more limiting, but suited to their audience.) The romances were, if I remember right, 1500 words, and also light and fluffy.

Everybody in the Short Mystery Fiction Society were working to crack WW back when I was trying. So often, though, a story just doesn't settle into that length. Or if it hits the right length, the tone is not right. (There are many a failed WW story out there published by other magazines.) I was tempted to try for their romance slot many times, because it was a little longer and easier to write for, but...

I'm not a big chick-lit person. I have to admit that up front. When a guy on a science fiction forum I hang out on suggested that one way to improve Sex In The City 2 would be to replace any of the four lead actresses with Danny Trejo (don't change the script, or the characters, or the costumes or anything, just have Danny Trejo play one of the women) I had to agree THAT would be a movie I'd pay to see.

I do like romance, though. There is often some kind of romance featured in many of my stories. Mick and Casey and their ongoing courtship (since they got married the day they met, it's kind of an interesting marriage) would be a major case in point. I think romance makes a good motivator, and any kind of close relationship makes for great interactions. Whether it's the friendly sexy banter, or a temperamental clash of egos -- there is a nice form of tension to be had in a relationship.

And I like the chick-lit end of the mystery spectrum. I love romance/mysteries, as long as they have a good driving mystery plot. And I love romantic suspense. Since Women's World is really chick-lit oriented, though, I realized my only hope was to write it as a crime story. A fluffy crime story involving a gorgeous guy and an expensive ring.

"Balancing Act" was perhaps too fluffy for the romance side of the equation. It did not come out long enough, and I couldn't make it any longer. I tried. I think in the end I edited it to be a little shorter, and it got rejected for the mystery slot.

And then what was I to do with it? There really isn't a short romance market out there -- not for fluffy stories anyway. And it isn't enough of a crime story for the mystery market.

So it became a trunk story. Someday I'm going to write more stories as fluffy as this one and put them together in a collection. I think there should be more short romance fiction out there. There used to be. I bet there will be again, especially with the advent of Kindle and Nook.

Of course, since I'm not writing them for Women's World, they'll probably come out a little quirkier. Maybe not Danny Trejo quirky. (Or, maybe so. I mean when I think about my screenplay with the young bank robber and the retired showgirl...definitely not Woman's World material. But no, I've got some classic mystery romance stuff up my sleeve. I can do romance. I know I can.)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

"Balancing Act" a romantic little jewel theft story

Seeing as it's close to Valentine's Day, I decided to post this bit of light romantic fluff for Sample Sunday. It's about a klutzy woman, a charming man and a the theft of a jewel. The question is whether the fellow was just a bit too charming....

* * * * *

by Camille LaGuire

"MY GOD, THAT'S gorgeous!" said Minnie. She clutched Lisa's hand hard as she admired the ruby ring. Lisa didn't mind. She hadn't seen Minnie since high school, and it was fun to show off her hard-won success, especially since Minnie had been the one who always seemed to have everything. And now, at the company's charity ball, Lisa could shine a bit. Minnie ogled the ring and kept talking. "It's huge! Where did you get it? A fiancé?"

"No," said Lisa. "No, I've been too busy working to have relationships. I bought it myself, with the bonus I got for saving the company so much money this year."

"Hmm?" said Minnie, unimpressed by Purchasing Agent of the Year. The ring, though, was impressive. "I am so jealous, Lisa."

She looked up from the ring, eyes wide with admiration, but then she saw something beyond Lisa that made her squeeze Lisa's hand harder.

"Ow!" said Lisa, but Minnie kept her tight grip and looked beyond her, eyes going wide with even greater admiration.

"Now I'm really jealous over him," she said, lowering her voice. Lisa turned to see a very good-looking guy across the room, watching them. Minnie clutched her arm and leaned closer. "Is he yours?"

"No," said Lisa, although frankly she wouldn't have minded if he was. "I've never seen him before."

"He's had his eyes on you ever since you came in." Minnie let go of her arm and gave her a little shove toward the man. "If you don't introduce yourself to him, I'm going to hit you."

Lisa murmured a protest, but she had to admit she was interested. It had been a long time since she had paid attention to her social life, and here she was dressed beautifully, coiffed and bejeweled, and there he was ready and waiting.

He was good looking. Tall, with dark hair and eyes that moved and took in the whole room--not nervously, but intelligently. He looked at her again and caught her looking at him. He gave her a crooked smile. Crooked smiles were her downfall.

She took a breath and headed across the room. Unfortunately she was concentrating so hard on her elegant walk that she didn't see the waiter who was rushing across her path. She stopped short and tried to draw back. The waiter did the same and managed to sidestep her, but she was off balance. She waved her arms, one foot in the air, and tried desperately not to tip into the buffet table.

Luckily Mr. Gorgeous, as she'd come to think of him, dashed forward, nimbly avoiding any accidents of his own, and not even spilling a drop of his drink. He grabbed her hand and pulled her upright.

"Thank you," she said, blushing and closing her eyes in absolute mortification. I look like a complete idiot, she thought.

"Glad to help," he said, crooked grin and all. But before she could actually die of embarrassment, or reply, he tripped. Thank god, she thought, as she reached out a hand to help right him. He weighed more, and it took more effort to steady him, and he ended up almost leaning on her.

"Oh, sorry," he said. "I guess 'Pratfalls Are Us', eh?" They both laughed, and he gestured toward the corner. "Maybe we should sit down before we hurt ourselves." But then his smile went away. "Oh, wait, I...can't. I've got to talk to somebody. I'll be back. I promise."

He headed off across the room, his head raised to look over the crowd, but somehow he seemed to be heading toward the exit. She laughed at herself. I'm not that scary, she thought, even when I do my Daffy Duck impression. She sidled to the buffet and thought if she did see him again, she'd have to flash her ruby at him quick....

She looked at her hand. The ring was gone.

She looked at the ground, but didn't see it on the clean white carpet, but she realized it couldn't have fallen off. It fit too well. It had been stolen--pulled off her hand in a wild grab.

She wheeled and looked across the crowd. He was moving purposefully but not fast, but he was almost to the exit. She dashed across the room, not looking elegant, but she didn't care. She grabbed his arm, and he turned and looked surprised.

"That trip was fake," she said angrily. "I can't believe I fell for it."

"I'm sorry," he said, looking contrite, but the crooked grin was still there. "You looked so embarrassed, I thought it would break the ice if I tripped too."

"And then you took my ring!"

"Ring?" He cocked his head, and looked down at her hands, as if interested. "You weren't wearing a ring. I would have noticed."

"Oh yes I was!"

"Did you shake hands with anyone? Maybe a stranger who claimed to know you?"

"Just you," she said. "And it was on my hand just before that, when I showed the ring to my friend Minnie...."

She could see the realization in his face as he looked up and quickly scanned the crowd.

"Minnie the Moocher," he said, almost to himself. He reached into his jacket for something. It was only then that she noticed the lump under his dinner jacket--a shoulder holster.

"You're a cop," she said.

"Yeah," he replied. He pulled his identification from his pocket and flipped it open, still looking for Minnie. He was a cop all right. And Minnie.... Minnie had grabbed her hand and then distracted her. Minnie whom she didn't know that well, but the police apparently did. Lisa had always thought Minnie was rich, because she always had everything the other girls admired. But there were other ways to have everything.


Sorting it out took forever. Minnie was caught with a purse full of jewelry that didn't belong to her, and there were statements to be made. At least Lisa got his business card and name--Detective Brian O'Brian--and he had her phone number on her statement. Still she waited around until he had a moment so she could apologize for calling him a thief.

"Okay," he said, before she could speak. "I tripped so you wouldn't be embarrassed about your fall. Now what can I do to balance out you calling me a thief?"

"Maybe you shouldn't," she said. "We have too much trouble with balance. Take me out instead?"

* * * * *

For Tomorrow: I'll post some story notes about this one. I may also talk a little more about trunk stories, and the benefits of filling your trunk. I may even disagree a touch with Heinlein. (No, not with the infamous Rule #3, but Rule #2.) Some good writing done today too, btw.

* * * * *
I don't have a related book to mention. The Wife of Freedom is a romantic adventure, but hardly a fluffy romance. Think of it more as an old-fashioned melodrama. (Not for kids.)

Available at the Amazon Kindle Store, as well as at Amazon UK, Smashwords and Barnes and Noble's Nook store. (Sorry not available in paper at the moment.)

Friday, February 11, 2011

What Have You Got In Your Trunk?

I'm much too sleepy to be intelligent today, so I'll leave the talk on Dorothy L. Sayers and other golden age mystery writers until next week. For Saturday, I give you an exercise -- one I recently went through myself.

Anyone who is a writer, or wants to be a writer, has been collecting stories and ideas for quite a while. You may have rough drafts lying around, or partial stories, or outlines, or just ideas. Whether they are physically on paper, or on your hard drive, or just in your head, we refer to these as "trunk stories."

Technically, I suppose that a trunk story is a story you've actually finished, but either never did anything with it, or you got discouraged after a round of rejections and put it in the trunk never to be seen again. However, I include any story you may have abandoned -- including drafts and ideas.

We abandon stories for lots of reasons. Not all of those reasons are good. The story was too hard to write. Couldn't think of what else to do it with it. Got bored. Had another spiffier idea. Ran out of markets.

The thing about most of these reasons is that they go away with time. Seriously. If a story has been in a trunk long enough, you may well find that you now suddenly have better ideas for it. Suddenly you know what's wrong. Or maybe you can see there was nothing wrong with it -- there just weren't any markets that fit back when you wrote it. But there are new markets now. Or there still aren't markets but it's fun, and you can publish it on your blog or in a collection for Kindle.

So today's exercise is to clean out that trunk. Take a look, dig things out of wherever you put them. Or take notes from the dim memory of the virtual trunk in your head. Look at all of the ideas, even the stupid ones. And list them -- list all the finished stories, and the mostly done stories, and the partial stories, and the ideas. Take an inventory.

Is there anything there you might want to publish on your blog on a Sample Sunday? Anything you now have a hot new idea for? Anything you might cannibalize to make another story better?

And if you're a young writer, or you just don't have much of a trunk, I challenge you to start filling that trunk. Takes some risks. Write up some ideas, some openings to stories. Half-baked ideas. Because it's just the trunk, you are free to try things out. Maybe start an idea that you don't know how to finish. Do something stupid.

Give yourself some creative raw materials.

Because, in this new world of publishing, you're going to need it. You will need things to "feed the beast" of publishing, but also to reach out to your audience with. To gain a reputation, whether through publishing it on your own blog, or submitting to magazines or just to other blogs as guest posts.

Tomorrow, for Sample Sunday, I'm going to publish something I pulled out of my trunk -- a mini-romance crime story that I wrote when I was trying to break into Women's World. The story is called "Balancing Act" about an awkward woman, a hot guy and a stolen ring.

Time Flies Like an Arrow (Fruit Flies Like a Banana)

This week went FAST. Where did that time go? There were so many events. Lots of excitement at the day job, and I published a screenplay. Plus it turned out that I was battling a sinus infection. After a few days of antibiotics I feel much better, but I still have to catch up on some sleep....

And then there were the events in Egypt which were quite distracting, and also made me glad I no longer have cable and don't watch TV. However, I was getting a lot of news by following pundits and news people on Twitter. I also happen to follow Steve Martin, though, and now whenever anybody talks about the serious and historic events unfolding right now, I get Steve's "King Tut" song stuck in my head. ("He gave his life for tourism...")

Dean Wesley Smith posted about "Time" today, and he commented that he never takes a vacation. Never has. I believe it. I remember at Clarion he was a very driven kind of guy. However I need a bit of a vacation, so I will be posting tomorrow about reading. Possibly next week as well.

I will say this tonight -- the down side of indie publishing is getting excited about indie publishing. Dean mentioned how he thinks the bane of indies is marketing, particularly in the way many dive full force into it and neglect to write as much as they could because of it. I've got to say that I agree. My goal this year is to write a lot and forget about the marketing end... but I still do one thing: I hang out online with other indie writers. This is a dangerous thing. As with marketing, you feel like you're doing something "useful" even when you're not.

I think I will make better use of my time if I were to read whenever I get the urge to visit one of the forums. I write more when I read. I feel less stimulated and distracted. A little stimulation goes a long long way, after all.

So right now, I'm reading Dorothy Sayer's "Whose Body?" which I am enjoying very much, and which has some interesting stylistic things I want to talk about.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Don't Diss Reviewers!

Sometimes somebody will say something out on the interwebs that gets me thinking and I have to react to it. And very often that results in my best and most popular posts. Nothing wrong with being passionate and opinionated.

But there is one group of people you should never ever ever respond to: reviewers. Just... don't.

Today on a forum I frequent, someone posted a link to a blog where a writer responded to a review she felt was unprofessional. I also happened to have access to the link to the review, so like a good do-bee, I read the review first. It was a highly opinionated review by someone who disliked the book enough that she didn't finish it.

And just as most people reading such a review normally would, I thought "Hmmm, I wonder if this book is anything like what the reviewer says? I don't normally read this genre, but this sounds like it could be interesting...."

Then I read the writer's response, and frankly, my response was "What was I thinking? I'm just not interested in this."

It wasn't that the writer actually talked about her book. If she had, it might have kept my interest, actually. But instead, she just went on and on about how writers should watch out for such "unprofessional reviewers" and my respect -- and my interest -- quickly dwindled to nothing. The writer was the one who came off extremely unprofessional. The reviewer, not so much.

The thing to remember is that a book review is a conversation among readers. It does not involve the writer. The point of a review is to be biased, and honest. A reviewer is not a judge who hands down a final decree on the value of a work. Nobody expects to agree with everything a reviewer says. A review is not gospel.

If a review does not rise to the level of legal slander/libel then it's none of a writer's business. It's nothing to beware of. It just a thing that exists out there in the world, like stinky cheese. If you don't like it, then leave it alone.

Furthermore, when reviewers are very opinionated, they tend to pique the interest of their readers. Very often a horrible review from a sharp-tongued reviewer will spark some sales. (As almost happened with me and this writer's book.)

Unless you are the kind of obnoxious jerk who is famous for his or her entertaining rants about the world, you will never help yourself by responding to a review. And even the most entertainingly mean curmudgeon in the world loses something when they go off on a self-serving rant. So your best bet is to just resist.

Remember that a reviewer, or reader, or critiquer, is always right about his or her opinion. You're always in the wrong when you argue with a reader about he or she felt.

Experiment in Screenplay Publishing

(UPDATE: I am pulling this screenplay from publication. It has sold less than a dozen copies. Normally that wouldn't matter, but I have decided to novelize it instead. I might even serialize it.  As of this note, it is still available on Smashwords, but should be disappearing from all of the partner sites over the next month.  I expect to unpublish from Smashwords in July.)

I spent this evening finishing up the publication of The Scenic Route. It's up on Smashwords right now, but it's going to be a while yet before Amazon and other ebook sites get it up and going. (Harsh Climate is still not up on Barnes and Noble. Feh.)

I'll post more about the story and all that when it is actually more available.

Here is a little bit more about the adventure of creating an ebook/screenplay:

In Hollywood, screenplay format is sacrosanct. You don't mess with it, and so the only electronic format that is right for it is PDF. The problem is that the 8.5 by 11 inch pages are simply not readable on a tiny device like an iPhone. They aren't all that great on a Kindle either -- although many people in the business do read on them. The iPad or a net book are really the best size for screenplay reading.


That formatting that is so hard to read on an iPhone? It makes screenplays just plain hard to read for ordinary folk who are not in the business. It takes practice to read a screenplay, and your average person is not interested in learning the skill.

So when I decided to publish some screenplays for e-readers, I decided that I have to simplify the format. It would make the thing more readable on small devices AND... it would just make it more readable. Ordinary readers are not looking to read a blueprint of a movie they intend to produce, they want to play that story in their heads as they read it.

The question is whether I can get people intersted in reading it, or whether only screenplay fans will give it a try -- and they'll be pissed off because I changed the format.

(Apparently both Smashwords nor Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing didn't quite like my format, because they both added a slight indent to every paragraph, as if the thing is a novel. It is, however, still quite readable, I think. I have to wait until Kindle is done processing so I can check the sample on my iPod Touch to be sure.)

I think I'm going to have some fun with this particular experiment, even if it fails. I'll keep you apprised.


"The Scenic Route" is now available as an ebook at the Amazon Kindle Store, Amazon UK and Smashwords (where you can get many different formats). Soon to be available at Apple's iBookstore, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Sony and Deisel.

(Warning, The Scenic Route is an R-rated crime comedy -- with bad language and mild sexual situations, and main characters who have serious trouble understanding right from wrong.)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A New Cover and Creative Procrastination

For February I am publishing a screenplay. It's called THE SCENIC ROUTE, and it was a finalist in the Find The Funny screenplay contest, and I even got some requests for options on it. (Unfortunately, the people asking for an option didn't want to fork over much cash and I was not at all confident in their ability to carry it off. So I declined.)

I spent much of the weekend formatting that and designing a cover. I still have some work to do on blurbs and front matter and end matter for it but I hope to get it up tomorrow or Wednesday.

Today's activities bring up two subject:

Using covers and titles to help readers identify what they're getting.

I've been talking with some folks on Kindleboards about using patterns in titles and covers to help readers figure out what they're getting when you have several different types of books. I'll talk more about that as I get to those covers and titles. But I think this screenplay cover is a good example. I'll use the same format for the screenplay I'm publishing next month as well.

Now the next one will be extra interesting, because the screenplay in question is the back story for my Mick and Casey mystery series... so I want to visually connect it to that too. What I plan to do is to use the black "film" frame and the top and bottom text fields the same as this one. However, the illustration in the middle will be from the Mick and Casey logo at the bottom of their books (see Have Gun, Will Play in the sidebar). Only this time it will feature Casey's silhouette as the larger fore ground image, with the Mick silhouette (probably reversed) reining his horse to chase after her in the background.

The other subject: productive procrastination.

There was a book published a year or two ago about a new technique of using procrastination as a productivity tool. It's a pretty simple theory: when we avoid doing something, we will often work twice as hard to do something else, just to avoid the first item. So this guy came up with the theory that to get one job done, you just give another job a higher priority.

For some reason I have been avoiding the work-in-progress this week. But I've been using it to get a whole lot of other stuff done. Well, not at first. At first I was cat vaccuming. Checking stats. Dealing with people who are wrong on the internet! (Click that link, especially if you aren't already familiar with comics.)

And then I figured out that I could do stuff I've been putting off in order to get the work-in-progress done. You know, like writing other stories, or editing the screenplay I want to publish this month, or doing covers.

Ah, psychology. Gotta love it. (I get tired of feeling like I'm a character in somebody else's story, though.)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Story Notes for "The Hot Bun Man"

Yesterday's story, "The Hot Bun Man" was the first story I ever sold, but alas, not the first one I ever published. The market was an interesting little press called Story Cards, and they published little flash fiction chapbooks as greeting cards. Unfortunately, it just wasn't a good business model, and they went out of business before they published my story. They did pay me a $150 kill fee, however.

The story itself was inspired by two things. One was Chinese green onion pancakes -- something I had never experienced in a restaurant at the time, but I had an excellent cookbook and I learned to make them myself. You make the dough with boiling water, and it has an added sweetness and tenderness that's just plain yummy.

The other element was a fantasy world I had developed for this major magnum opus I was going to write. You know, the kind of door-stopper fantasy trilogy that everyone was writing back in the 1980s? It was beyond my skill, and of all the work I did, this was really the only story that actually came of it. The 'businessman' is actually the major antagonist of that series. Martin the Clairvoyant - a slave who grew up in sheer misery and raised himself to he most powerful man in the kingdom via fierce self-control and anger.

I guess you could say that the Hot Bun Man changed the course of history by giving that man a good day. I mean, how can you spend your day foiling the plots of heroes when you're busy enjoying some nice dim sum? I suppose the story of Les Miserables would have been a lot shorter if someone had just given Javert a nice Bao in the first act, too.

But that's not the most important thing to say about this story. No, the big lesson of the writing of this story came not from the writing, but from what happened when I sold it.

I knew a wonderful amateur artist at the time, and Story Cards was open to submissions from him. So I gave him the story and let him see what he could do.

He did up a nice pen and ink drawing -- really quite beautiful. The business man in the foreground, just about to bite into the bun, as the wise old vendor watched over his shoulder. A lovely moment. Of course, since I had not specified the culture this story took place in, he dressed his characters a little differently than I expected. The business man was in a top hat and that worked, but the old vendor was Mexican. With a mustache.

Which surprised me, so I guess I made a face.

I didn't know I'd made a face. It wasn't voluntary and it certainly wasn't a comment on his work. I was just, you know, surprised.

But the next day I found out he went and destroyed that lovely first drawing. And he desperately worked on another which was not so inspired, but still pretty good, but when he realized that I'd liked the first one, he got depressed, and so he destroyed the second one and drew a more precise but only adequate one.

In the end, he didn't get the gig. Not because he wasn't good enough, but because he didn't have the confidence in himself to survive a momentary frown. He was like those authors I mentioned in the Leap From The Lion's Mouth post -- he had artist's remorse and he was too busy scrambling back to make the leap.

So that's another lesson. Don't worry about imperfection. And really seriously, don't worry about little frowns and negative comments here and there. If you keep correcting things you can end up with perfect mediocrity.

Remember: I life lived in fear is only half a life.

Be bold.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Hot Bun Man - a story about food and generosity

We'll be going out to have some dim sum to celebrate Chinese New Year, so I thought I should post this story for SampleSunday. It was the first story I ever sold to a professional marketthe first I'd ever sold at all, actually. In it, an old street vendor and a rich man discover that generosity comes in many flavors.

* * * * *
The Hot Bun Man
by Camille LaGuire

WITH THE rising of the sun, the food vendors came to the streets, and the Hot Bun Man was always among them. He shuffled quietly, slowly, like an old man, his back bent under the pole across his shoulders. From the ends of the poles hung a pair of buckets, on the left a stove, on the right, supplies.

He was dressed like the other vendors, in a ragged shirt and a woven sun hat, and a short pair of trousers which came to his knobby knees. His bare feet were flat and his calves sinewy from years of trudging, winter and summer, and the left foot displayed small round scars from the hot splattering oil. He advertised his coming by clicking his wooden tongs on the lid of the stove.

Every morning he went first to the wealthy district, for only they had the money to buy a quick breakfast from the vendors. Each morning it was the same. When they heard the clicking of tongs and lids and the cries, the housewives came to their doors, or sent their maids. They called to the vendors they wanted. Many waited for the Hot Bun Man, for though he looked no different from the others, they knew he could work wonders with food. They always wanted the meat-filled spice buns. They never asked for the other, and he never offered. The fried sweet onion buns, the Happiness Buns, as he called them, were reserved for the poor, and for children. They cost next to nothing, made from sweet wild onions gathered for free, and flour, and a little water too, and to be sure the oil for frying, but from these simple ingredients the Hot Bun Man could make a smile. The rich people did not know what they were missing. When he looked into their thoughtless faces, he was glad he did not tell them.

The woman at the corner always came to the door herself. She wanted to bargain with him, though she was his richest customer. She would not buy unless she thought she had a deal, so he was forced to raise his price at her door just to stay alive. She never let her children out to buy. When they clamored through the door for the other kind, she tossed her hand at them.

“Happiness?” she said. “What nonsense are you talking? I want a dozen Spice Buns.”

“A dozen Spite Buns?” he replied every morning. She did not seem to notice; she thought he could not speak well. Then she began to haggle, and sometimes she brought the price down too low, because by then he only wanted to get away.

By mid-day he started the fire under the oil and began to fry up the Happiness Buns for laborers and workmen. If he had had a good day with the rich people, he would give some fried bread free to the children and beggars. He kept a secret pot of salty dark vinegar which, splashed upon the hot buns, brought a thrill to the tongue. He brought it out for those who asked, or those who needed extra cheering. Every child and beggar knew he had it, and it was hard to keep on hand.

By late afternoon he would be tired, for he stayed out until all was sold, and he ate nothing himself during the day.

It was at such a time when a man, walking quickly by—as everyone seemed to do—paused. He was well dressed, in the finest cloth and latest cut, and he seemed busy, but something had drawn his attention to the street vendor, perhaps the inviting click of tongs. His heavy lidded eyes looked slowly down and up, and an expression of pity flitted through them. He reached for his purse and took brisk strides forward. The Hot Bun Man did not notice the coin extended toward him. Instead he saw the tightness of the hand that extended it, and the tightness of the face above it, the sharpness in manner, and the weary wretchedness in the eyes.

The Hot Bun Man bowed repeatedly and set down his stoves with a smile. He snatched up a sweet onion bun and slipped it into the oil before the man could say what he wanted.

“No, no,” said the man, impatiently. “I do not want anything.” He tried to force the coin into the old vendor’s hand.

“Only a moment,” said the Hot Bun Man, smiling and bowing again. The man waited in awkward silence until he pulled the bread from the sizzling oil with his tongs and offered it. Seeing it was hot, the man whipped out a white silk handkerchief and tried to offer the coin again, but now the old man had bent down. He drew forth his ladle and splashed his salty sauce on the bun, splattering the handkerchief, and the man’s sleeve as well. The man flinched, and heaved a heavy sigh. With a glance heavenward, he finally forced the coin into the vendor’s hand.

The Hot Bun Man bowed and smiled, and he watched the man march away. That man looked too businesslike to waste good food, even unwanted food, and sure enough he raised the bun to his mouth and bit. There was a hesitation in his stride. He stopped and tilted his head, then set out again at a slower pace while he ate.

The Hot Bun Man looked down at the coin in his hand. It was gold, and large, something he had never held before. He put it in his own little purse, hoping it would not be insulted to ride with common copper and bronze. He shouldered his pole and began again to click his tongs.


In the evenings the Hot Bun Man would come home to his family, for he did have one of his own. There was usually no meat, since it was expensive and he had to sell it all. The family had to make do with bread, but there were always the sweet onions, or if they were not in season, some other thing free for the gathering. They did not starve, and their father could work wonders with the simplest food. After dinner, they would all work to prepare for the next morning.

This particular next morning, however, when the sun came up and the vendors came out, the Hot Bun Man was not among them. The housewives, and the children, and the beggars waited, but for that one day, at least, he stayed home.

Now kings and emperors may spare no expense to feed themselves, but none have had a banquet to match the feast served in the Hot Bun Man’s house that day, for their chefs, with all the wealth, could never match what the Hot Bun Man could produce from a single gold coin.

* * * * *

Have Gun, Will Play - featured at Daily Cheap Reads today!

I suppose the title says it all.... My western whodunnit mystery is featured on Daily Cheap Reads this evening. The normal price is $3.99, but Amazon has it on discount for $2.99 just now. Whoo hoo. Check it out!

Friday, February 4, 2011

I'll Miss The Dictionary Game

I was looking at the books at Daily Cheap Reads -- a really great site for finding Kindle bargains. (They're going to feature Have Gun, Will Play tomorrow!) They always have something I didn't know about. For instance a day or so ago they featured Murder on The Links by Agatha Christie. It was her third book and unlike the first two, is not a public domain book. And it was only 99 cents. I picked that up, plus a few others. (There have been a lot of golden age mysteries coming back into print right now.)

But one of the other sets of featured books had a novelty book about how to survive a zombie attack. I don't think it's in the same series as the "Worst Case Scenarios" survival guides, but it reminded me of them. These are funny novelty books, but also kind of interesting because the author actually did do research. I like to thumb through them for quick random reading. (I usually keep one in my bathroom, actually.)

And I realized something I'm gonna miss when the world goes over completely to ebooks: Opening a book to a random page.

I suppose we'll learn to do something like it eventually. But it just won't be the same as closing your eyes, grabbing a book at random, and opening it. It's more conscious, more deliberate.

So before that capability is gone, I'm going to give you a great idea generation assignment. All you need is a dictionary (although you can do it with any book).

1. Decide what you want to generate ideas on. It could be a new story, a flash fiction, a romance for upcoming Valentine's Day, or just a scene you have to write that needs a little more something.

2. Get your dictionary (or other book).

3. Open the book to a random page and close your eyes and point to a spot on the page. Open your eyes and see what word you are pointing to. Write it down.

4. Repeat Step 3, and write this second word down.

Use this pair of random words as a source of ideas. If you are working with an existing idea, think about how these words interact with your idea. If you are coming up with a new idea, think about how they interact with each other.

Start writing down quick ideas. At least ten, but twenty or thirty will be better. (Odds are, your first ten will be obvious, your next ten will be stretching and weak because of it, your last ten will be new and interesting.)

Good night!

The Leap From The Lion's Mouth

You know the part in the third Indiana Jones movie where Indy has to commit and act of faith by stepping out into an open chasm to save his dad's life?

Writing is like that. Certainly publishing is like that.

Two things this week bring this to mind. One is the recurring theme of quitting your day job, which has come up in conversation many times lately. The other is the fact that no less than two writers on a forum I frequent had a case of writer's remorse. (Remember folks, you won't get anywhere if you don't commit, and it isn't a commitment if you can dither and call it back. Just sayin'.)

I'll start with quitting your day job....

One of the things that held me up in my writing career was that I knew so many people who were ahead of me. And I saw every one of their problems. The bad contracts. The way publishers dropped them after a couple of only moderately successful books. And one of the things I saw was that there was a big chasm in front of every writer who was trying to turn writing into a full-time occupation. And that chasm is usually a combination of time and money issues -- and is often symbolized by the idea of quitting your day job to write full time. Very often you have to write full time in order to make the money you need to quit your day job so you can write full time.

The people I knew who made it across had mass and momentum. They wrote a lot, and did not hesitate, and that carried them past a lot of the gaps. But a lot of people fell into the chasm because they misjudged it. They thought that being published got them across it -- and it didn't, and they didn't have the resources to carry them the rest of the way.

I have to admit, when I saw the kinds of advances that people who wrote children's books were getting, and I looked at how much time and effort we had to put in to writing.... I didn't see a way across that chasm. To maintain a career, you had to write as a full time job, and I simply couldn't do that until I quit the day job. And the key thing was the time delay. In traditional publishing, you not only get paid years later, but you also don't know if your first book will even sell until long after you've committed to other contracts, etc.

So I realized my only option was to put in the work before I made the leap -- which is a bear when working a day job. And started saving money and investing to help with that chasm later on. However, biding your time doesn't really work either. And it's frustrating.

However, Indie Publishing actually shrinks the chasm. It made things possible that were never possible before. You start earning income and reputation and audience rigth from the get go. You don't have to try to make a huge splash and then wait three years to find out if you are actually on a bridge or if you're tumbling into the chasm. You build your bridge from scratch, brick by brick. It may take you years, but after those years you've got something.

I like Indie Publishing because you can start small now. There isn't so much of a gap, not such a dangerous one. You can build the bridge before making the leap.

But you're still making a leap.

And that brings me back to the authors who are suffering writer's remorse. It is natural to have doubts. And these writers weren't wrong in wondering if they'd made a horrible mistake in publishing their stories, and asking their friends if they should unpublish them and completely rewrite them. They were worried that somehow their reputation would be completely ruined for life if they left an imperfect story out there where people can see it.

The thing that got to me, though, was not that an author would have these doubts. We all do. We're so emotionally involved with our writing, self-consciousness is natural. But what bugged me was the number of people who spoke right up to encourage this self-doubt.

Now let's just back up. These books were selling just fine. At least one was well reviewed. The people encouraging them to rewrite didn't seem to know anything about the books, they were just doing it on principle. It was their world view -- when in doubt, panic. And these people were supposed to be detached enough to calm the writer down.

So let's get this straight: if you publish something that is not so great, will it destroy your reputation for ever and ever? Well, yeah, if that's the only book you ever write. And if all you do is fuss at it and rewrite it and never do anything else.

As an Indie Publisher, that's pretty much the biggest way you can fall into a chasm, by scrambling backward and stopping your forward momentum. Don't do that. Don't look down. Don't look back. Concentrate on where you're going. Write more. Write better.

I know if you've only got one or two stories, they really seem precious and people judge you as a writer based on that because you don't have anything else out there. But the solution isn't to go fuss over things past. It's to give your audience more to think about. There's an old saying. It's not what you've written, it's what you've written lately.

But say that story is dreck. When you get some place, THEN you look back and see if you want to fool around with it -- but then you're doing it for your own personal satisfaction. When you're a big time writer, then you can pull a George Lucas. (And always remember this: George Lucas' fans HATED what he did to his old clunky original Star Wars.)

In the meantime, I'm working on the new scene in the livery stable, as well as still scouting cover concepts and writing blurbs for short fiction. I realized today that a part of my leap from the lion's mouth is my Sample Sunday commitment. I have to come up with 52 stories or excerpts a year, and I don't want to do any more repeats than are absolutely necessary. That means I may be posting some desperate rough drafts. Many people would be afraid to ruin their brand that way, but I might post tomorrow about why I think an awkward little rough draft would still be a good idea.