Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 - The Year That Was

The bread is in the oven, and the meat for the meatballs for the New Years Eve Game Night party is thawing.

It have a very little time to look back on 2014.

On the one hand, I want to say that 2014 was a horrible year.  Health and family issues consumed it utterly.  I made very little money at writing, and my sales came to a near stand-still -- but that was entirely in proportion to the effort I did not put into it.  Same with art and pretty much everything else I might have done in a professional way.

And yet....

It was all in proportion to the work I'd done on it.  And I did make a lot of connections, and set myself up for some future moves.  And in spite of the serious stress of things going on in my personal life, taking a real break from work was... nice.

I have perfected my bread, and also the art of roasting nuts.  And these meatballs I'm making tonight... they're da bomb.  And though we recently lost our favorite Thai restaurant, a new Burmese place opened up in town, and I was introduced to a new dish -- Burmese Pickled Tea Leaf Salad. OMG!  It's magnificent.

In the way of sort-of-work, sort-of-not, we went to a major sf convention this summer -- Detcon -- and I got to see those great Diego Rivera auto industry murals real live in person.  Another magnificent thing.

(It may not seem like much, but these are Bucket List level things.)

Furthermore, this fall, life settled down and I could get back to creative things....

Which is when I rediscovered sound.

One of the things I always do when life throws everything for a loop, is see if there is something I can build on, something I've already done.  Look for new markets for old stories, or pick up writing fresh on a half-written story I abandoned long ago.

Or find a new format to release a book in.

I expected that I would be doing paper copies and illustrated versions of my books, or repackaging old blog posts into a book or something like that.

But instead I decided to look into audiobook versions.  And golly, I got swept up in that -- because performing my books as audio is like creating them again.  I am bringing them further to life.  I am completing them.

I don't know how long it will be before I get back into real writing production.  I will certainly finish and publish something in the coming year, but I can't say what or how much just now.  Certainly some short fiction.  Probably a Man Who novel or a return to the serial at least.

Oddly enough, this time off has given me a real sense of perspective what's going on in the industry.  When you're striving and striving, you get tunnel vision.  Your focus is too close.  You can only get the big picture when you step back.

I don't usually like to make predictions, but I do have a sense of a few things for publishing, and I'm going to talk about that tomorrow.  In particular, I want to take a look at the "crash" many people are talking about in the indie community, and how I think a lot of people are getting it wrong in what it means.  (And how, the next Big Thing is going to be the Rise of the Amateur.)

The other thing I hope to do this week is to rewrite my old "The Times That Try Writer's Souls" post and record it for the Daring Novelist Podcast.  I figure tomorrows post and that (the text of which will be posted here) are companion pieces.

But just now, the bread's coming out of the oven and I've got to get to those meatballs....

See you in the funny papers!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Holidays!

I've been taking a bit of a break from the blog.  I expect to be back with a New Years Eve post (probably something about how resolutions and "bucket lists" are NOT the same thing).

In the meantime, I read a noir Chirstmas story, "Deadmen Don't Eat Fruitcake" on the podcast this week. AND I sang that catly Christmas carol "We Three Cats."

You can listen directly from the blog at Reading in the Attic -- or go to iTunes and download the MP3.

Have a happy holilday, and....

See you in the funny papers.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Your Story's Soundtrack

While prepping the next few episodes of Reading in the Attic (one just posted, two more coming) I found myself scrambling for music.

I've got the theme music for the podcast.  I don't know why I suddenly need songs for each story, too... except I find that I do.  And I've been adding small sound effects here and there....

Maybe it's just the frustrated movie maker in me, but I find that, now that I have the chance to present the story formally to readers/listeners, I am recalling certain elements of the creative process.  You could say that it's really the frustrated writer in me.

On every writer's board out there, there will be long discussions of the music writers listen to while writing.  For some, it's just background noise and mood music that they hardly hear.

Or for those like me, I will sometimes listen to a certain playlist -- actually listen to it -- before a writing session.  The songs may evoke certain feelings or moods. They can get me into the story.  And the music will often seem wrong for the story, but is right for me.

For instance, when writing Have Gun Will Play -- which is a western -- I would listen to Herman's Hermits, "Something Tells Me I'm Into Something Good."  Which might seem strange, except that song is Mick thinking about Casey.  So in spite of the shoot outs and mysteries to be solved, and all that, THAT is the song that puts me immediately into Mick's mindset.

I have a number of songs like that.  A friend on Twitter sent out a call for songs to set the mood for herself while writing a scene with her heroine deciding/preparing to go after some bullies.  I had several (they were my theme music for work when I had a day job) -- Bob Seger's "Shakedown" and Abney Park's "Below the Radar." (Abney Park is particularly relevant to anyone writing Steampunk, as they are a steampunk band.  Airship Pirates and all that.)

Music can be great for setting any mood.  I listen to Patsy Cline when walking (even if I'm not "out after midnight"), also Nancy Sinatra (even if I'm not wearing boots made for walkin') or The Proclaimers (even if the distance I'm walking is not "500 Miles" or 500 more).

(Pause to put the playlist with The Proclaimers and Bob Seeger.....)

The thing about mood playlists, is that they can be completely you.  You don't have to explain how Herman's Hermits applies to an old west gunslinger. 

Furthermore, when you're writing fiction, you can imagine what your characters are listening to.  (It is tempting to overdo this, of course.  Your listening to it is NOT the same experience that your audience will have.  Remember that a lot of your audience may not know the songs, either.)  But it can spark a scene. 

I'm thinking of the middle of The Man Who Did Too Much, when George -- who has had a very bad day -- shows up at Karla's door, depressed.

There was music playing inside--some bouncy alternative rock classic.  He knocked again loudly, and it was only a moment before she flung the door open.

"George!  What are you doing here?" she said.  She seemed exceedingly happy, which was suddenly very annoying.  Even worse, she had a sock puppet on her left hand.  It was bouncing and singing silently to the music as if it had a life of its own.

I didn't mention what the song was, because George probably didn't know and he was in no mood to listen anyway -- even if it was a song with a message he needed to hear.  But for me, knowing George's mood and Karla's whole lifestyle, it was good to have just listened to her whole playlist.  And to know that the song she was listening to, was "Tubthumping" by Chumbawamba.  ("I get knocked down, but I get up again, you're never going to keep me down....")

It was enough to know that, and for characterization, it was enough for the audience to know for the sake of characterization that it was upbeat alternative rock.  Especially because immediately after this is a chapter break -- and a change in point of view Karla, so I DO name the next song....

He looked awful.  Hair mussed, unshaven, rumpled.  He had this stiff tight-lipped kind of expression, and a gleam in his eye that made her think that she should see that his day didn't get any worse.

She cleared some tapes from the end of the couch where she had piled them for sorting.  He looked at the spot like he didn't know that a couch was to sit on.  The music player switched to the next song, and Judy Garland broke out into "Come On, Get Happy!"  George frowned at it.

"Weren't you just listening to punk rock?"

"I have eclectic tastes," said Karla.  She turned the music down.  "Would you like some orange juice?"

"If it's got vodka in it.  And you can hold the orange juice."

 I named the Judy Garland song here for two reasons.  One is because we're in Karla's point of view, and because she knows the song in detail, and she knows how badly it conflicts with George's mood, so she will thinking in specifics. She would never think "a Judy Garland song" or anything generic like that. 

The other reason, though, is characterization.  Karla is someone who listens to Chumbawamba and Judy Garland (and Kermit the Frog, and Edith Piaf) on the same playlist.  And furthermore, all these songs belong together to her.  The message, ultimately, is "Come on, Get Happy."

And as with everything in Karla's life, George struggles to grasp that.

And... that leads to a third reason I named the song, though it's not something overt that the audience will necessarily get: Come On, Get Happy is a song about washing your sins (and troubles) away in the tide and going to the Promised Land.

George has headed for Karla's house because it's the Promised Land.  He's flailing his way across the River Styx here (and has been for pretty much all of his life).

So the song has a thematic meaning that makes it the one which, in the end, I decided to name.  It's a subtle thing, and not flag I want to wave up front. 

Which leads me to why I'm thinking about this.

Real Theme Music

I'm going to read an excerpt from The Man Who Did Too Much on an upcoming episode of the podcast.  And, as I mentioned up top, I have taken to picking a little music intro and ending for each story I read as well as for the podcast as a whole.  Just a little something to separate the chatter from the story itself, and to set the mood.

The ironic hipster in me would like to choose something like the Proclaimers as the theme music -- because that's a song about a guy who, like George, is prone to do too much (walk a thousand miles just so he can fall down at his girlfriend's door).  But that's under copyright, and I don't necessarily want to be that overt.

The song for the Mick and Casey story was easy. I looked through hundreds of royalty free clips to find one that suggests western but not either too grim or too hokey.  And I found what I think is perfect in this Irish tune: Connemara 9

It's got Mick McKee written all over it.  It's strummy and cowboy-ish -- and very laid back -- every bit as laid back as Hermans Hermits, but not anachronistic.  And, of course, Clarence Francis "Mick" McKee is of Irish ancestry.

But The Man Who Did Too Much flummoxed me.  First of all, the mood of the story is not George's mood. The story is a cozy mystery mixed with a madcap adventure.  George is a fish out of water.  But the story is also about him.  So should I choose action hero music?  No, because that's not the sort of story (I'd be doing the ironic hipster thing again - at the expense of the audience rather than for their benefit).  Also because the bit I'll be reading (the opening) is not really adventure at all.  It's kind of anti-adventure.

And I honestly could not think of any kind of music that would, just by style, evoke a quiet Michigan beach town.   So, since the excerpt does focus on George, I might as well go with him....

George is kind of an exotic guy -- an action hero who does a lot of work in Asia -- so what about a foreign theme?  Something kind of moody and Asian?  And hey, there's one of those in the same collection I bought for the Mick and Casey theme: Que Lie.  I like that one a lot, but I think that it kind of misleads or confuses the reader/listener.  Yes, it hints at some cool stuff to come, and actually has some connections with the story the reader might not expect, but that isn't in the excerpt.  So... I think maybe not.

So... back to action hero.  There's moody action hero music, isn't there?  Like, the James Bond theme would be too flash, but something reminiscent of the title songs (Goldfinger, Sky Fall, Live and Let Die)?  But maybe a little smaller and more personal? 

So I started looking at odd things, maybe more cinematic things, and I came across something that started weird and cinematic but ends up.... strangely suitable in nearly every way.

It's a tune called Point Piper 2, and after the weird opening, it breaks into ... a beach song.  Well, really just some guitar strumming which shifts from minor to major scales and is really both moody and uplifting and relaxed.  The kind of thing someone in any group on the beach might play.  Exactly the mood I'd want to evoke.  (I'll be cutting off those first few seconds and going for the beach with this.)

Phew.  Now I just have to pick something for Harsh Climate -- a story about two teenagers who have to battle freezing weather and a gang of kidnappers.....

See you in the funny papers.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Fiction Podcast is Up

All right....

The fiction podcast is live -- though not yet listed in the iTunes store.  You CAN, however, subscribe to it through iTunes even before it is listed (instructions below.)

Here's the blog: Reading in the Attic

I've got a whole lot of "business" to do -- updating links and archive pages, etc.  Just the stuff that makes it easy for people to find things, without having to explain and link things in every post.  It's amazing how much time and work these "passive marketing" things take.

(UPDATE: both podcasts are now available in the iTunes store: Reading in the Attic, and The Daring Novelist Podcast.)

In the meantime...Damon Runyon

I've been discovering some cool things in old magazines.  I was browsing for things for my mother to read. She is very picky and easily turned off. (So browsing is a problem for her -- because if something turns her off, she turns away from a whole genre.)  She liked some Damon Runyon stories I had. But it's hard to find more these days.

So I was browsing the internet for similar things, books and authors I could at least find used, and discovered that A) Ring Lardner wasn't just a sports writer -- he wrote fiction.  And B) Damon Runyon, before he wrote his famous Broadway gang books, wrote some amazing poetry. And also was a sports writer.

I have discovered at least one early Runyon poem that doesn't seem to have been collected.  (Most of his collected poetry is about army life. Miscellaneous other subjects appear to have been neglected.)  That poem is really quite wonderful.  I will definitely be reading some of his poems (collected and uncollected) in Reading in the Attic.

And I'm even thinking of doing some special editions of some "lost" Ring Lardner work, and offering an audiobook of it.

Back to Audio....

For those of you already interested in audio, you can subscribe to podcasts in iTunes, even if it isn't in the iTunes store.  All you need is the feed address.  You just open iTunes, and look for "subscribe to podcast" under the File menu.  Paste in the feed address, and voila -- you're subscribed.  (Once it is in the iTunes store, of course, you can just go and click "subscribe.")

(And please note: The feed address is actually an RSS address.  If you subscribe to them through a regular RSS reader, you'll get the blog posts.  If though a podcast reader -- like iTunes or Stitcher, or a podcast app on your phone -- you'll get the audio.  But to do that, you have to copy and paste the link - which is why I didn't make them hot links.)

My two podcast feeds are:

Reading in the Attic:

The Daring Novelist Podcast:

For those of you think you might be interested in listening -- either for authorial research or for pleasure -- I'm going to post something about how to listen and how to find podcasts that interest you, etc. later this week.  (Personally, just as I'd like to turn listeners into readers, I'd also like to turn non-listeners onto the joys of podcasts.)

See you in the funny papers.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

DNP Ep 01 -Why Audio (Post and Podcast)

Finally, at last, the first episode of my Daring Novelist Podcast.  The text of the post is below, for those who would rather read than be read to.

NOTE: The podcast isn't subscribe-able on iTunes and other podcast directories yet, but soon will be, and you can subscribe manually via this link - Daring Novelist Podcast Feed. Or you can directly download the podcast with the link just below this, or just listen right here on the blog! (How convenient!)

Daring Novelist Podcast - Episode 1 - Why Audio? 10:00 min

Why Audio?

Readers of my blog know that I have been getting really interested in audio lately.  I'm really throwing all caution to the wind on it with the idea of a weekly fiction podcast.  Just... giving away most of my work for free.

Although, honestly, I don't know where this audio bug is taking me.  I just find that I feel the same way about it as I did about indie publishing when I first realized it was a realistic option.

Until a few weeks ago, I never actually considered doing audio.

For one thing, I went to film school, so I know a little about audio production -- enough to know that it would be a pain in the tuchis.  If you think finding a time and place to write is a problem, forget it.  Even in really bad conditions, you can still physically write.  The right time and place is more mental than physical.

Finding a place and time to record sound?  Nightmare. 

When the cats come yelling into the room (or worse, just outside the locked door) it doesn't just break your concentration. The cat is collaborating with you.  It's in the recording. Along with the furnace, the firetrucks, the midnight train to Georgia, crickets, night birds, and the electrical box. 

(The electrical box, at least, has a constant hum, and can be filtered out.  The neighbor kid's graduation party, not so much..) 

And if you get the kind of mic that doesn't pick up all this extraneous noise, that's the kind that will pick up pops and sibilance from your voice.

And don't talk to me about levels and pre-amps.

Besides, audio is old tech, isn't it?  Other than slickly packaged audiobooks, the kids these days aren't interested in simple audio.  And what does it have to do with indie publishing anyway?  I mean other than the aforementioned audiobooks, which are freaking expensive.  They're really kinda for the elites.  It's rich people and libraries, isn't it? And msot libraries only stock a limited selection of best sellers.

So, no, I didn't consider taking up audio.

Not much.

It's not like I listen to the radio or anything like that.

So the other day, I was sitting my car, listening to the radio.  As I always do.  I don't think I listen to radio, but I do, constantly. I just don't listen to Top 40 or satellite radio.  I listen to news and talk -- mostly public radio, local sporting events and podcasts.

And that day my public radio station was having a fund drive.

While begging for cash, they pointed out how much bang for your buck you get with radio.  They were, of course, correct.  Radio is famously cheap to produce and broadcast.

And I had this epiphany.  You know how they talk about the "Wave of the Future"?  Well, I saw the wave of the past crashing through the future.

It was this image of the old days of bootstrap radio -- tiny stations broadcasting out of a little shack.  Pirate radio and propaganda.  A guy with a mic and a transmitter, playing music and telling stories and giving the farm report.

Before networks and multinational media companies got a hold of it, radio was a lot like the internet.  Heck , even afterward, radio has always been a tool of the little guy.  But in the early days, it was like blogging.  And like the indie publishing revolution.

But it was still kind of expensive, because even though it's cheaper than running a TV transmitter, even a low power radio transmitter is beyond the budget of most individuals.

Ah, but digital audio, which doesn't need a transmitter, and reaches way farther, that's just like indie publishing.  It's just like the entire web.

And... when I look into it, I find it's booming.  It's easy to overlook, because it's everywhere in the background.  People like me don't think we listen at all, when actually we're subscribed to 400 podcasts and listen to all sorts of things on the web and our phone and the radio.  All the time.

People listen as much as they ever did.  It's just that what they listen to comes from many different sources.

A few years ago, all you heard was that the podcasting boom was over.  But now, everybody says audio is the wave of the future.  People who don't have time to read, still like to listen.  In their cars, in the kitchen while cooking or doing housework.  While jogging or walking the dog.  Video is cool, but you can't do anything else while watching, really.

A lot of people in publishing are talking about creating "enhanced books" to build stronger engagement with their audience.  Something cool to compete with all the noise on the internet. 

But these efforts often fail, or succeed only in finding a niche audience.  I keep telling people that it's because the audience isn't looking for deeper engagement or for more complicated books.

They are looking for simpler things that integrate with the noise. They like that a pure text ebook can be read on their e-reader, phone, computer, tablet -- anything that can handle text.

Sound is just like text.  It's everywhere, and can be accessed from every kind of device.  It's not demanding.  It only requires one sense (the ears rather than the eyes).

And even though there is nothing new about audio to the listeners.  It's not something everyone in publishing does, including the indie community.  Sure, everyone wants to make an audiobook of their novel, but that's kind of a luxury.  It's a niche -- like getting a hardback edition printed.

And podcasting or radio? It's not actually a part of publishing. It's a totally separate venue -- a place to promote your book.

Because, after all, the vast listening audience -- the audience way bigger than the reading audience -- doesn't pay for what it gets.  And when it does pay, it wants it cheap.  The radio/podcast audience is the pulp audience. They are the equivalent of those who buy cheap and used paperbacks, and comic books. Who can't often afford hardbacks.

Amazon, always the leader in business, is working to crack that general audio market by offering cheap Whispersync deals on audiobooks.  Which is incredibly cool, although even there, it doesn't touch  major parts of that audience.  It doesn't touch the huge audience of people who don't habitually buy books, even if they would like audiobooks (because after all, audiobooks are expensive as a rule. You only get that Whispersync deal if you are a READER first.)

And from the publishing side, even the indies, all I hear is whining about how the discount cuts into royalties.  Publishers, including indies, are just not interested in that huge audience, because they don't pay.

But here is the thing: people are used to watching television without paying -- but they still buy DVDs of their favorite TV shows.  They buy a whole lot of other stuff realted to those shows, too.

They do this because free TV, and before that radio, created a generation of people who want TV.  People are willing to pay for something they want.  Even though they can get it free.  People are weird that way.

They pay ten times as much for coffee which they could easily make at home, too.  Cheaper, hotter, better.

And when people in publishing think about that, they whine about how that coffee money isn't being spent on them.

But here is the other thing: It's free and cheap coffee at home and at work that habituates people to coffee. It's the ubiquity of coffee that makes people appreciate great coffee.

And it's growing up with TV available all the time that makes people love TV enough to collect their favorite shows on DVD.

This is another subject which has been on my mind for months -- and maybe I'll post about that next week.  

So much of today's publishing landscape depends on things given for free or very cheap earlier on. And I'm not talking about free samples or the sort of things indie publishers do as a marketing gimmick.

I'm talking about things that are free or cheap as a class:  Pulp fiction.  Children provided with books by their parents and schools and libraries for years before they have money to buy their own, soldiers in WWII given books by all the major publishers.

And more recently, the early indie publishing pioneers who provided a disenchanted audience with ultra-cheap or free books.

In my opinion, writers like Amanda Hocking and Joe Konrath didn't just capture an audience.

They created an audience.

But more about that another time.

Suffice it to say that I think podcasting is an opportunity to make a difference in the world.

Also, for all that recording is a pain, I am a production geek.  I actually do enjoy the editing and technical part of the process. 

And I'm really surprised to find out how much I enjoy the performance part of the process.  My skills are still pretty rudimentary, but it's really cool when I bring the story to life.   Maybe not as well as I'd like, yet often way better than I imagined I could.

As a result, I think I will start recording some of my old blog posts -- the best of the Daring Novelist, if you will -- for a monthly writer podcast. This post will be the start.

If I can carve out the quiet time when the furnace isn't going, and the cats aren't yowling (or purring), and the firetrucks aren't roaring....

See you in the funny papers.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

DNP Ep 00 - Podcast Introduction

This podcast is purely a small introductory episode -- just under three minutes -- to see that everything is set up right (and obviously as a reference for people who are new to the podcast later).

I call it a Sacrifice to the Pancake God -- that is, it's sorta like that first small pancake you make to make sure the pan is the right temperature, etc.

UPDATE: okay the first attempt did not work.  It appears that the RSS feed can't see the embedded link to the file.  (Color me much confused over that, because... oh, I'm to confused to explained.  Let's just say the easiest to find tutorials and instructions gloss over the link....)

So here is a plain old vanilla link, which should work, unless I have to do a whole new post to get the RSS to recognize the change....

(Second Update: For those keeping score, the plain link almost worked (and technically should have worked but didn't quite). I just had to add a "rel" tag that identified the link as an enclosure.)

The Daring Novelist Podcast - Episode 1 - Introduction.

If this goes well, I will post the first real episode later tonight.  (Sometime after Agents of SHIELD....)

Monday, December 1, 2014

Tuesday, or maybe Wednesday, Podcast!

Okay I have got the first episodes of both the Daring Novelist Podcast (which will be monthly) and the Reading In The Attic Podcast (which will be weekly) done.

Sort of.

The recording and sound processing is done.  I still have to make sure I have all my mp3 tags right on the files.  Which includes doing "covers" for them. I have concepts. They won't be hard, but they require work.

I also have to set up associated accounts and blogs and RSS feeds with all the associated information nailed down there.

Then I have to do uploads and submissions.

My goal is to have the Daring Novelist Podcast done by the end of the day Tuesday, so I can finally post the post I wrote for it (with a link to the audio version) here.  It's a ten minute podcast, and most of the posts for the DNP will be realtively short. (They will be, for the most part, old blog posts from here, with an occasional new one.)

The Reading In The Attic Podcast (RitAP) will be longer.  It will consist of fiction and "story notes."  Sometimes my stories, sometimes old stories from various attics, sometimes I'll do excerpts of other current authors.  The first one will be 1/2 hour, and will be a story from WWI called "For Belgium" -- it's the story associated with the image I used in the header of this blog.  The lady with the sword holding off the Prussian officer.

It has music and sound effects. (Not a lot of sound effects -- I just realized that in some places the words just didn't have the visceral effect I wanted, so I added a little something.)

That will debut on December 9, if things don't go terribly wrong.

I have the raw recordings for the next two episodes after that (and more), but they have to be assembled and edited.

But at the moment, I'm exhausted.

See you in the funny papers.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Busy busy busy....

You haven't heard much from me because I'm busy.

And I mean that in a good way. Often when I go dark on my blog, it's because life has gone to hell, and I'm pedaling as fast as I can.

This fall, though, I've been busy with creative projects.  Mainly audio.  Not as much writing as I'd like, mainly because my writing got thrown for a loop by the tsunami of kerfuffle that happened this summer.  (Which actually started in January.)

But this Fall....

Fall is my favorite time of year.  I like winter a lot, too, but Fall is my favorite season.  The last three months of the year tend to be my most creative and productive.

And up until two years ago, those months tended to be the most intense times at work.  And for the past two years, I've had ... stuff going on.

I feel like, this year, the fourth quarter is finally living up to my anticipation.

This particular burst of energy has been mainly setting up my audio production facilities, which include:

  • A cramped little upstairs closet, chock full of clothes (which dampen sound) and little battery operated light, and a folding chair. (Investment - $3 for the light. $25 for the chair)
  • A Sony PCM-M10 portable recorder. (Investment $200)
  • A 35 year old directional condenser microphone I'd bought in college, and had given up as dead. (Investment -- $3 for some panty hose and pipe cleaners to improve the "pop" filter on it. Still not perfect.)
  • Kindle and Kindle light (already owned).
  • Stock sound (Investment - maybe $20 all told - including music and sound effects.)
  • Audacity software - Free
  • Computer (already owned).
  • Some mini-SD cards (Investment - maybe $10?)

And with this, I am launching not one, but TWO podcasts.  The main podcast, a weekly fiction podcast, should launch on or around December 9.  It will be called Reading In The Attic, because that is not only literally what I'm doing, but also evokes the feeling I like for the kind of fiction I'll be reading.  (Mostly my own, but also some old stuff found in the "dusty attic" of internet archives.)

But before then (I hope) I will test the waters by starting a monthly podcast related to this blog.  The Daring Novelist Podcast will mostly feature old top posts from this blog, but I'm going to start THIS WEEK, with a post about why I'm so wrapped up in audio.  (This will also appear as text here.)

There is a whole lot of background trouble involved in setting up a podcast, though, so I can't guarantee this will happen by Monday or Tuesday, as I hope.

Once all that is up and running, I hope to have time to actually get back to fiction, and more posts here.

See you in the funny papers.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Excavating a Genre - Reading Mimics Reading

This is kind of a "meta" post. 

I realized today that one of the things that attracts me to the "Orphan on a Train" story is because it mimics the experience of reading.  Or, part of the experience of reading.

Most of the time, we read old familiar series and books -- books by authors we trust, in genres we can count on.  Reading these kinds of books are like visiting your well-loved grandmother.  You know what to expect, including the nature of the surprises you'll find. (Some genres might be like a well-loved but psychotic grandmother -- a little scary, but at least in a familiar way....)

But looking for a new book or series -- something out of the ordinary for you -- can make you feel a lot like that orphan on a train, headed for an unknown new territory.

We often approach unknown books with suspicion and trepidation.  We fear we are being sent into a joyless existence where we're stuck with people whining or boasting endlessly about things that bore us to tears.

It is a real fear.  Every kid has had to spend time sitting on the couch while the adults catch up on their gall bladder operations or the latest gossip about people we don't know, who did things that are so completely uninteresting, you wonder that they didn't die of it.

That, for most kids, is torture.

And, frankly, most books are a little like being stuck listening to Aunt Sadie's liposuction procedure.  They are suited to some one else's taste, but not to ours.  So we mostly stick to the familiar.

But now and then we have to step outside and try something different.  You hate eggplant, but out of politeness, you have to try that Chinese eggplant dish that your companions ordered at that dim sum restaurant.

And by the time we're grown ups, we've tried enough new and strange things to know that sometimes trying new things pays off in spades.  Sometimes it becomes the new favorite thing - the thing that you want to know more about, and look forward to spending as much time as possible with it.

And when I think about it, many of the books that are on the list I gave at the start of this series, were books I read when I was in that mood: I was out of books, and wanted to try something new, and had been driven into unknown territory.  I was sampling books without jacket copy.  Unknown, untested, likely to be painfully boring, or a bitter as badly cooked eggplant. 

But no guts, no glory.  Somewhere out there are books you'll love that you'd never know about if you didn't jump into it blind once in a while. Somewhere there is shrimp stuffed eggplant in sweet and savory garlic sauce, that is so delicious, it makes you want to faint.

And besides, sometimes there is nothing else available. Like the orphan on a train, you have been forced into unknown territory.

And, to take this to one more level of "meta":

Many of us, as writers, are driven to write by the reader inside us.  We approach a new idea with the same feelings of trepidation and anticipation -- looking forward to the experience of opening up a new world.  And that world has no reviews, no book jacket, nothing to tell us what it will be like.

And sometimes it feels like we're the orphan sent away on that train, forced into something new by the muse, but more often, we're the runaway orphan -- the one tired of same-old, and in search of something new, something we invent ourselves.

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Still working on sound....

This week I finally broke down and bought myself this nifty pocket recorder.  It's expensive ($200) but the sound is good.

However, I also found that I'm still a little limited as to where and when I can record.  Closets are not as good as people say -- it depends on the arrangement of the clothing.  (Clothes act as wonderful sound dampeners, but if you have any exposed walls, sound still bounces off it.)

I did discover, however, that a plastic banker box with a pillow in it is a great miniature sound booth.

I have also realized that a lot of my fiction, especially the odd, extemporaneous stuff (such as Death and the Writer) is really suited to be a told story.

And... I have enough material -- that is fiction and stories -- to keep me reading in a weekly podcast for well over a year. 

(And heck, I could do a "writer" podcast with all the old posts here, and keep going for a LONG time. I might do that as a monthly thing.)


It all comes down to recording time.  And also if I get better at this, so I can spend less time editing.  Still, I have found that I can record a story or chapter a night without much stress to the system. (The editing takes longer, but can be done any time. Recording has to be done when things are quiet.) I just have to see how that works out.

I hope to start a weekly podcast in December, and to continue it through the year.  This will likely interfere with my blogging time, but I expect to continue blogging in fits and starts as I have lately.  (Again, the goal is to blog when I have something to say rather than to be sure to hit my posting goals.)

Just now I have to go back and re-record a few lines of The Curse of Scattershale Gulch which turn out to have purring going on in the background.  (Yeah, purring.  Loud, clearly audible purring.  I didn't think Max liked hearing me read aloud.  Clearly I was mistaken.  He just wanted to join in.)

See you in the funny papers.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Story Game meets Discovering a Genre

I realize that one of the reasons I stalled on the "discovering a genre" series is because I lost track of the purpose. 

I originally had the idea of doing this as an extension of the Story Game.

In particular, I wanted to explore a model for a "create your own" aspect of the game.  When I started this a year and a half ago, with the Situation Game, I picked a certain kind of romantic suspense story because I wanted to work with certain formulaic aspects of it.

(For those who weren't following the blog at the time, you can start with the Introduction to the Situation Game, or ending "Let's Play" post, which has an index to multiple posts.  I've done a few minor games and series since. One day I'll get them indexed....)

So when the "Orphans on a Train" pattern struck my fancy, I thought it might make a case in point for building a game out of a very different sort of "genre."

But, you know what? I don't think the "Orphans on a Train" model is suitable for the kind of story that works with the story game.  It's not formulaic enough.  Yes, there are very common tropes and patterns, and they kind of reach an archetype.... but they vary too much to make a kind of story that works with something like the Situation Game.

(And yet, I have some thoughts about how there could be a different kind of game involved, more on that later, first I want to talk about why it won't work for the game....)

Two things struck me in thinking about this:

1.) Ideal Game Stories are Suitable for Satire:

The kind of story that suits the original story game has got to be both predictable, and that predictability has to be part of what is satisfying about it.  Those kinds of stories are part story and part ritual.  We might make fun of the fact that the villain in a certain kind of romantic suspense is always someone the heroine trusts, but that is also what we read it for.

The Orphans on a Train story doesn't fit because the whole point is that it's a story of discovery.  While it might be predictable on some level, it isn't the predictability that satisfies.  It's actually the discovery that is satisfying.  Therefore the tropes are less obvious.  But I think they are still there.

2.) I Don't Want to Repeat This Story (or not exactly)

I am interested in writing a bunch of stand-alone mystery-suspense stories. But I'm not really interested in writing a bunch of Orphan on a Train stories.  I really only want to write one.  This is because, when I read such a story, I find that I'm not reading it to find out how it ends. I'm reading it for the journey itself.

And I don't actually want it to end.

What I personally want out of the story, is kind of like a TV series or even a serial.   It could be a series of episodes that never end because they don't really have a plot arc among them (just a bunch of little stories) OR if they do have a plot arc, it wanders endlessly like life and soap operas.

This is why I decided to set it in the world of The Serial (see, The Case of the Misplaced Hero). 

I don't think this kind of story needs a game really.  In some way it is driven not by the need to vary the same pattern, but to continuously break the pattern.

But then it struck me -- any series is kind of like a genre unto itself.  This is particularly true of the kind of long, unending series written in the mystery genre.  The great ones have their own patterns, with specific pay offs which are expected and loved by the audience, but also risk boring the audience.

Which is, of course, just like the problems of formula fiction -- how to present the desired formula while keeping it fresh.  That was a part of the purpose of the Story Game: to randomize expected elements to keep them fresh and force creativity to another level.

But for all the similarities in purpose, I don't think this is suited for developing a game.

What it IS suited for is developing an important writing tool that I think everyone should master: the Series Bible.  That's a basic foundation for a whole  lot of activities. (Including the possible creation of a game, later.)

And I think that's where I need to focus the "Discovering a Genre" series.  Examine this "genre" to discover the elements I really want to use.

Next time (I hope it will be next week), I'll pull together what I've already talked about, and look at them in the context of what I want to do with the story that's already forming in my head.

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Coming Off the Busy Week....

I really wanted to have my first actual audiobook ready for your download before Halloween.  That's why I chose the only Mick and Casey ghost story. (The series does not usually have a paranormal element.)

However, it's a novella, which means it's about a half-hour of recording, and recording a half hour is exponentially more troublesome than recording 10 minutes.

Part of the problem was recording quality (the weak USB mic requires that I hold it close to my mouth, which means I have a "pop" problem) and partly because my elderly deaf cat may not be deaf.  It seems like as soon as I start recording now, she comes into the room yelling, and starts running around and sharpening her claws.

Which in turn wakes Max up, who says "Hey,  who are you talking to?  Can I eat this cable?"

As a result I had more re-recording to do than I expected, and not enough editing time anyway.


You guys are getting an audiobook ghost story for Thanksgiving instead. Or maybe Christmas....

I do have some interesting thoughts for you on Wednesday -- kind of a sideways step from the Discovering a Genre series. 

In the meantime, don't forget to vote.  Seriously.  Those who do not vote have no more power than those who cannot vote.

See you in the funny papers.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Death and the Writer - a Halloween audio story

Getting this week's audio file ready turned out to be tougher than expected.  But I did manage to get it done and up on YouTube.

NOTE: at the time of posting, YouTube is still processing the file.  It should be available soon, however.

This week, a short story for Halloween: "Death and the Writer."  It's a little fable for writers, (and yes, it kinda looks back at the days of legacy publishing, when you needed an agent and publisher to publish a book). 

I still hope to have the audiobook of The Curse of Scattershale Gulch done before Halloween. That will not be posted on YouTube.  I'm hoping to make a downloadable MP3 available to my blog readers and newsletter subscribers.

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Too Busy Writing....

Too busy writing to post anything tonight.

There will be audio tomorrow -- a Halloween story embedded in the blog, and maybe another for download as an MP3 file.  Everything is recorded, but the cats "helped" by adding sound effects, so there will be extra editing and also probably some re-recording.

And that will be the end of the audio "blog" experiment -- but I will take up a fiction-only podcast later on.

In the meantime, kerfuffle and family visits will take place later this week, so... probably no posting again until next Tuesday or so.  (Other than, perhaps, an announcement of the audiobook download.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

First Readings 3 - Choosing a Voice.. and Mick and Casey!

Finished up the third experimental podcast, in which I am teaching myself to read aloud and record.

In this week's episode, I finally read from my own work -- an excerpt from Chapter 7 of Have Gun, Will Play.

It's probably not the best excerpt in terms of reader interest, but it was perfect for this spot in the ongoing learning project, because it had a good deal of narration, and a little dialog with several different characters.  I'm getting comfortable with Mick's voice, but nobody else's voice comes out quite right. 

Still, I had a lot of fun, and it's a stepping off point for doing my first audiobook. I'll be recording The Curse of Scattershale Gulch this week, in hopes of having a free MP3 download for Halloween week.

The video is uploaded, and seems to have finished processing. 

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Story Game - Fortune Cards and Writing Prompts

I came up with a new game -- it's actually going to be part of the larger game later on, but for now it is a fun game for creating writing prompt.

I created a set of what I call "Fortune Cards." These are elements and turns of plots and catalysts that change the direction of the scene.  They might be a character's mood or goal, or something that happens.

My eventual use would be where I could pull out a card at random to throw spanner in the works of the scene.

But I find that I can pull three cards at random, and they make one of those writing challenges.  You know, where someone gives you a list of words or elements and you have to come up with a story that uses them all.

So here is the writing prompt for this week.  Three cards, drawn at random:

  • 1. A large angry dog
  • 2. A conversation overheard
  • 3. A magnetic personality

The challenge is to come up with either a complete microfiction, or a concept of a longer story, using these elements as major elements of the story.

In the meantime, I'll be posting a new audio podcast tomorrow -- this time with a selection from Have Gun, Will Play.

I'm also recording The Curse of Scattershale Gulch as a gift audiobook for those who have subscribed to my newsletter, or read the blog.  I hope I can get it properly done before Halloween.

See you in the funny papers.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Thoughts on innovation and Publishing from FutureChat

There are always interesting ideas that come up in #FutureChat (Porter Anderson's Friday morning Twitter chat - 11am eastern time).  But it's always a little frustrating because even with multi-part tweeting, it's hard to get complex ideas across.  (On the other hand, being forced to communicate 140 letters at a time, including hashtags and reply addresses, can focus the mind wonderfully.)

This week, there were a couple of issues I wanted to talk further about, even explain.  We were discussing innovation, and I tend hold a contrarian position from most publishing folks on just where the curve of innovation happens to be right now.

In particular, I think that publishing is so far behind the curve that they can't recognize it when they see it.  They're kind of like the line from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy about humans, who are so backwards we still think digital watches are a keen idea.

This week, we were discussing the fact that ebooks were still basically plain "vanilla" ebooks -- just linear text.  And yes, basically the same format as oral storytelling.  It was noted that attempts to innovate -- particularly with interactive books -- have failed to catch fire. 

Some people see this as a sign that the reading public is behind the curve. I see it as the opposite: technology has so far bypassed the publishing industry that even the general public, and laggards, are ahead of the publishing industry.  Publishing's most bleeding edge thinkers are, thus, coming up with ideas that suit the technology and world of decades ago.

It's like communications: When I was young, the idea of a video phone seemed like the coolest thing.  We were sure that in the future, everybody would have them.  And yes, we do.  We can indeed make video calls on the internet. It doesn't cost anything. And yet, we don't use it much.  It's something for special situations, where seeing someone is as important as what is said.  Given all the ways we have to interact now, how do people routinely interact?

Texting and old-fashioned voice phone.

The more advanced and bleeding edge we get, it seems, the more the more useful we find to the simplest forms of communication.

Why is this?

Most technological innovation amounts to reinventing the wheel. We don't need to reinvent the wheel. We just need to invent new ways to enable the wheel.  The wheel itself is fine.

We also live at a time when everything is integrating. We don't need to reinvent the wheel. We can make use of wheels that are already out there... as long as we create things that are actually compatible with the wheels that ARE already out there.

What modern, up-to-date consumers need from publishers is flexibility.  We need to be able to consume our content in whatever way we currently like best.  And more importantly, we need to be able to consume it in whatever way we will like best next week.  Because that will be different.

So when it comes to delivering content digitally, SIMPLE is better. No fancy formatting (don't define the fonts and layout -- let the reader choose their own defaults) interactivity via links only.  The idea is that content creators should focus on content, and let the delivery be handled by the forms people are using.

Yes, people will buy great proprietary products -- that is, products that are locked in and too complex to be very flexible --,but only because that one specific product is cool.  We also liked Pet Rocks and Chia Pets.

For a product, that's fine.  For something as wide ranging as publishing, universality will always win out.

The real innovation comes from realizing we are a part of a hive.  Content flows throughout the wildly changing open-sourced world out there.

You want to include extra materials? Just include a link.  And Google and Twitter provide even faster, richer and more enhanced supplemental information.  The internet itself IS the enhanced edition.  Interactivity? More information?  Discussion?  Games and the internet do it better.  No matter how much work we do, we'll never provide an enhanced product better than what's out there.

And no matter how well designed, it will not beat the accessibility and ease of use of the internet.

The real, world-changing innovation in publishing is happening out there in the world.  We don't need to do it.  As I mentioned on #FutureChat a couple of weeks ago:  Amazon created WhisperSync, which connects the audio and text versions of Kindle books.  It's not a sexy new thing.  It happened almost invisibly.  It doesn't require a different edition of the book or the audiobook.  It just connects them up.

Heck the self-publishing platform -- for ebooks, print books and audiobooks -- is the real innovation.  Social media, podcasting. RSS. Blogging.

These are the real innovations that transform the book.

You could say that the things that really transform the book are not about transforming the book.  They're about taking advantage of other, already created resources.  It's about understanding the new paradigm -- which is about connection.  It's modular.

Publishing should be thinking about innovation in terms of content. About creating things that are worth connecting.  It's about creativity, not about technology.  Let tech innovators create the tech. Let the customers decide how they will use the tech. We make the content they consume through that tech.

And most importantly, remember that innovation isn't innovation unless is solves a problem of the user.  It's just novelty or niche products. Like video phones.

See you in the funny papers.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Excavating a Genre 3 - Picaresques, Road Movies and Quests

(This series starts with Part 1 - The Book List), and Part 2 - Looking at Theme with Understood Betsy.)

Many of the stories I listed at the beginning of this are very episodic.  This is true of a lot of children's fiction, and even of the early grown up fiction that influenced so much of children's publishing.

"Episodic" is a kind of plot structure, and I think it's important to this "genre" I'm trying to uncover.  But to identify it, I need to take a step sideways and look at similar genres with similar structures.

Anna and the Picaresque

In college, one of my professors, when he read the novel I was writing as my graduate school entry submission, got all excited and told me the story was a "picaresque."

Later on, I came to learn what a Picaresque really was -- it was a popular kind of story in Spain about a wandering "Picaro" -- basically a trickster/adventurer.  Often very loosely plotted.  And I've heard the term applied to all sorts of books from Don Quixote to Puss In Boots.

And yes, The Adventure of Anna The Great is that kind of story.  It's about a girl who dresses as a boy, takes her sword and her horse and sets out to find adventure.

But at the time, I didn't realize he was using the term to describe the swashbuckling side of the story, or the character.  What he talked about was more the structure of the story.

This was before it was finished -- and before the connecting plot was clear -- so what he saw was a series of episodes.  What I would describe as a "road movie."

On Roads and Buddies and Quests

A Road Movie is a popular genre in Hollywood. It actually has two kinds of story -- the journey story or the relationship story. (I.e. the Buddy Movie -- but one that takes place in a car.) 

The difference between the "journey" and "relationship" type stories is important, though: The relationship or Buddy story is usually about what happens inside the car.

That is, you stick two characters inside a car and trap them there for the distance of the plot, and things boil over and they become better friends or learn things about themselves.  Everything outside the car is really just a catalyst for this relationship.

The non-relationship Road Picture, though, is about what happens outside the car.  As with the story of the lone Picaro traveling from town to town, it usually has a single hero, or a team of characters whose relationship is reasonably settled.  Or just a relationship that develops, but not so excitingly as to overshadow what goes on outside the car.

And now that I think about it, there is a third type of story -- which is a hybrid of the two.  I think of it as the Wizard of Oz model, but I suppose it's really a variety of the classic Quest story.

This kind of road story begins with a lone hero who travels along and acquires companions, who each have a quest or two of their own.

I think, though, that Quest stories tend to lean in one direction or other when it comes to whether they are a relationship story or a journey story.  They are more often about the Quest -- which is "outside the car" -- but not always. Sometimes the quest is just a MacGuffin, and it's all about the bonding among the characters.  I would say a good example of this is many of the "Male Bonding" comedies about a bunch of friends who head out on the road.

(I want to pause to point out here that I'm not talking about character development here -- and I'm not talking about the difference between "character driven" and "plot driven."  A quest story can be totally character driven, and have amazing and deep character development. And, frankly, a buddy story can be strictly by the beats and still be totally plot driven.  What I'm talking about is the structure of the plot itself.  Regardless of characterization, what drives the plot?)

But to get back to "outside the car" stories: A lot of classic television drama fell into this model -- from Maverick to Route 66, to The Fugitive to Kung Fu.  An itinerant hero travelling from town to town, experiencing an episode at every town he meets.  Of course, the "episodic" nature of this kind of story is ideal for a TV show, but it shows up in movies and books as well.

The focus of these kinds of Road Stories is often a series of encounters in which we, and the hero, learn about something new and unknown.  And the hero may make a difference to that new and strange situation (in classic Wandering Hero style - slays the monster and moves on) OR the hero may learn and be changed by the wisdom or example of the strange folk he encounters.

And that takes us back to Understood Betsy and the whole concept of being faced with new and strange things and coping with them and learning from them.

And that, I think, is where the Picaresque and the Road Movie fit perfectly with the Orphan on a Train sort of children's story.  These are stories about life -- in all its variations -- outside the car.  Out in the real world.

Next time I'll talk more about a couple of these stories, which provide great examples of variations on this structure and this focus on the world out there.

See you in the funny papers.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

First Readings 2 - One Voice at a Time

The second episode of the "podcast" is up.

I didn't do the reading from a Mick and Casey story because I realized that excerpt wasn't right for the subject of the podcast -- which is about a preliminary step in learning to do voices, before going all out for dialog.

In this episode, I picked a poem from a pulp magazine I was studying ("New Love" March, 1943) and read it in four different voices.

The audio is a bit sloppier in this one because I had a lot of fun playing with the voices. (I only did four on the podcast, but I did a dozen or so in the privacy of my basement.  Editing is a wondrous thing.)

Unfortunately, YouTube seems to have screwed up the "thumbnail" in the preview -- so the video comes up with that blank, three dot icon of deleted images.  I am told that sometimes the thumbnail catches up.  Here's hoping. (The video plays just fine...)

 Tomorrow, the next written post about Excavating a Genre.

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Update - Genres, Voices, and My Cat Thinks He's Star-Lord

One of the reasons I'm having a hard time moving forward on the Excavating a Genre series is because it fits in with this audio stuff I'm doing.

So every time I sat down to write, I would git distracted with an "oooooo, shiny!"

But eventually I figured out that I was also trying to move on to the wrong subject in that series: I've got to talk about genre structure, and a couple of similar genres next time -- in particular the 'Road Movie' and the quest, and hte "Buddy picture" (which is not actually a part of the genre I have in mind, but overlaps with it a lot).  But it also has something in common that a teacher in college told me that I was writing -- the Picaresque.

And that explains to me why this genre, or trope or pattern keeps making me think about The Serial, and it's world.  What I have in mind has a different tone, a different pace, and is likely for younger readers -- but the genre nails the same structure and themes.

So that's what I'm going to post about on Wednesday.

Tomorrow, I'll likely post the next audio/podcast experiment.  I have the rough cut all recorded, but it definitely needs editing, and I don't have visuals yet.

For those waiting for my promised reading of a Mick and Casey excerpt -- I decided not to go with that this week, because something more frivolous actually met the needs of the subject.  I read a short poem over several times in different voices.  It was fun.

In the meantime....

My Cat Thinks He's Star-Lord.  And Drax.

So Max likes to have disco music on in the background when we play "Mousie" (in which I throw the mouse and he catches/chases/wrestles it).  But I have to throw it just right for whatever game he's playing at the moment.

Lately, with the "Awesome Mix Tape" soundtrack from Guardians of the Galaxy playing in the background, he wants me to throw it so it lands inside the "Temple of Doom" (aka, the remains of the cat tree) and he makes a bunch of wild and awesome moves to retrieve it.  Just like Star-Lord in the opening of Guardians.

Then, at the end of the game, he plays Drax the Destroyer, where he parks himself somewhere, and NOTHING goes over his head.  His reflexes are too good.  He will catch it!

(This, for those of you who have not seen Guardians of the Galaxy, is a reference when Rocket points out that Drax is very literal, and that metaphors go over his head.  Drax says:  "Nothing goes over my head!  My reflexes are too fast. I would catch it!")

If you haven't seen Guardians of the Galaxy, btw, you've missed something that's a LOT of fun.  All Marvel movies seem to have more of a human touch than most comicbook/action pictures, but this one has an even sweeter, lighter touch.  Clever, funny, human -- especially in depicting the non-humans.

See you in the funny papers.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Post Delayed Due to Sleepiness

The next Excavating a Genre post is coming. Honest.  It will be about rebel orphans, and the "Picaresque" tales and maybe some related literary genres -- like road picture and buddy stories. (Although that may be saved for another post....)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

First Readings 1 - Getting Used To Your Voice

My first audio podcast is up on YouTube. (And also embedded below for your listening pleasure.)

I had a little fun with the images (which are presented in a boring slideshow over the sound track), and a little trouble with levels (I've got a cheap mic -- sorry if you have to turn it up and down).

This is a learning experience for me. I have a little audio learning from film school (waaaayyyyy back in the seventies).  Teaching for 25 years made me not all that shy, but I really don't feel comfortable reading fiction aloud.  So I've been practicing my reading aloud for awhile, and now I've got to move on to do something more formal.

I was going to do a written blog series on this ongoing project, but I realize that is silly!  I need to do audio, so why not do an audio blog!

The first four minutes is the "blog" part -- where I give some advice on the first step, Getting Used to the Sound of Your Voice.  The rest is a reading of the first few pages of a classic -- and out of print -- mystery novel.  Murder in a Hurry by Frances and Richard Lockridge.

If you can't find a used copy, you can read it on line at The Open Library. (Murder in a Hurry online.)

I picked that particular book because the opening pages have no dialog, and I wanted to start with something that didn't require voices.  It's also kind of difficult.  Richard Lockridge was prone to write convoluted sentences.  (But the advantage of recorded audio is...EDITING!)

Next time, I'm going to start on character voice -- but I'm also going to start with something easy, something that requires only one voice: Have Gun, Will Play.  I'm going to try to do Mick.

See you in the funny papers!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Finding a Blogging Schedule

The kerfuffle in my life seems to be relenting a little bit.  The plan I had, before things spiraled out of control, was a new schedule.  I never got a chance to try it.

Find Your Best Time To Work

That's what everybody says is the most important thing about writing productivity.

I find that, for me, the times closest to sleep are the best time for my writing. However, I have to be free of any kind of social interaction.  In the morning, I have only had good luck writing when I didn't actually have to interact with anybody before the writing session -- and I mean not even making eye contact.  Even the slightest interaction, and suddenly I am out of the dream-state and into reality.

Unfortunately, I'm a night person, so the world is always waiting to pounce on me when I get up.  So morning is right out, unless I'm on a roll.  Morning is a good time for kerfuffle.

Which leaves my other prime creative time as evening.

The problem with evening is... blogging.

Blogging has deadlines.  The natural time to finish up and post to a blog is last thing at night -- because you want it to post in the morning (for a number of reasons I won't go into here).  So unless you are an early riser (which I am not) your last chance to make those little tweaks and changes and such happen the night before.
And because it is my best working time, I tend to do a better job of writing a blog post at night as well.  (Actually, that is when I tend to finish a post. During the day, I write unfinished posts.  Then when the deadline comes up, my brain kicks into gear, and I finish it.)

So, a couple of months ago, I decided that what I should do is allow myself to blog all I want.... before 5pm. After 5pm, no blogging at all.  I can do anything else, but not blog.

I never got a chance to try that out.  Stuff happened.  The kind of stuff that has you scrambling to remember what day it is.  What I usually do to protect my sanity during those times is stop trying to do things that matter (so I haven't been writing fiction or doing art) and start screwing around with things I had on the back burner.

Which is mainly, for me, rough drafts of blog posts (unfinished, because I'm writing in the day), and .... audio.

Or more specifically, reading aloud, as a practice for creating podcasts and audio books.

Or even more specifically, writing unfinished blog posts about my experiences in reading aloud in preparation of creating podcast audiobooks.


For this week, to get back into the swing of everything, I'm going to break my rule about no blogging after 5pm, and finish up some blog posts to be posted later.  And....

I'm particularly going to finish up those posts about my Audio Project.  But I'm going to do something interesting: They're going to be audio blog posts.  I'll post them on YouTube and embed them here.  Each post will include a few minutes of blathering about the project, and I'll read aloud an excerpt of some fiction -- mostly other people's but sometimes my own. I expect to post them on Tuesdays.

I have finished the audio portion of the first post.  I need to put some images to it to turn it into video.  (This will be faux video: just some "slides" to accompany the audio.)  I think I'll have this up tomorrow.

See you in the funny papers.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Excavating A Genre 2 - Coping with Understood Betsy

(This series starts with Part 1 - The Book List)

When I was a kid, I had access to lots of dusty old books with no jacket copy, and no indication of what the book was about.  I also had access to lots of discarded paperbacks of all ages.  My dad was a book hoarder.  So were most of the other people I knew.  We were the sort of people to buy books from used books sales which offered "Fill a grocery bag for a dollar!"  My schools tended to have stacks of books just lying on counters for kids to pick up.

We also had a farm house far in the distant country where we went during the summers (and sometimes winters -- though I didn't really have central heat).  That farm house came full of books.  OLD books.  Weird books. But also fun books. It was there I discovered Trixie Belden, for instance.

Combing through the silt for nuggets of gold was a favorite pastime of mine in those long dull summers.

I honestly don't recall how I came across Understood Betsy.  I can't even call it one of my favorite books.  All I know is that it struck a tone that stayed with me.  It was a tone I found in other books that weren't necessarily my individual favorites, and looking back on it, I responded to those books the way one responds to a genre.

It was the archetype.  The pattern of the books over all, rather than the details of the individual books, that grabbed my imagination.  Some of them rose above.  Some did not.

So the experiment in this series of posts is an attempt to dig up the bones of that genre and study it.

Understood Betsy

Recently I rediscovered this book, and re-read it.  I found the first chapter to be a slog, but the rest more and more interesting -- partly because as a grown up, I could see why it got past my "wholesome" filter.

As a child I hated wholesome.   Well, I could abide a certain amount of it.  I could abide some quaint and out-of-date attitudes.  And when I stumbled across Understood Betsy I expected it to be one of those stories about the superiority of wholesome, clean-living country folk, vs. city sophisticates.

And in some sense, I was right.  That's kind of what it's about on the surface.  And yeah there is definitely a preachy agenda to this book. But it was kind of a subversive agenda.  It wasn't about the superiority of clean-living or country life.  It was about approach to life. In particular, the raising of children.

The author, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, was a radical education reformer.  She was a big proponent of the Montessori method, in particular.  So the book was really about how you should give kids things to DO, and not smother them with either protection or rules. Let 'em grow naturally.

The agenda is not what appeals about the plot, however.  Frankly, if that's all there was too it, it would not have become a classic, liked by people with all sorts of beliefs about child rearing and wholesomeness. (Including the very strict church-going mother of a friend of mine who loved that book, and was shocked when hippies said they'd liked it too.)

The agenda, though, did something for this book that made it ring true to a theme of lots of great children's books -- and books for adults too.  IMHO, that's what makes it kind of a model for the "genre" I'm digging up.

The Story

Betsy -- or at the beginning, Elizabeth Ann -- is an orphan who was raised by a pair of aunts who were the 1910s equivalent of modern "helicopter parents" -- smothering, anxiety-ridden, indulgent.  The aunts learned their parenting skills via the latest modern book on How To Raise A Child.  And went after raising Elizabeth "right" with an OCD fervor.  (One of the things they wanted more than anything was for Elizabeth Ann to feel "understood" -- something they simply never managed -- hence the title.)

So by the time Elizabeth Ann is nine years old, she is a sweet neurotic who is afraid of everything and unable to do anything.

And then disaster happens: one of the aunts becomes ill and the other has to take care of her, and Elizabeth Ann has to be sent, entirely on her own, off the horrible, crude, country cousin side of the family.  She has been raised all her life to believe these people to be ignorant and strict and mean.

Turns out they're relaxed, laissez-faire sorts of folks.  But still scary because... they expect Betsy (as they call her) to do things for herself -- and don't worry over it at all!  Like they think she can do things for herself.

My favorite scene is when Betsy is picked up at the train station by her "much feared Great-Uncle Henry" with a horse and wagon.  As soon as they get on the road, he turns the reins over to Betsy to drive, because he's got some "figurin'" to do and he needs to concentrate on his accounts book and pencil.  She is in a panic, but dutiful and obedient, so she throws her all into figuring out how to manage this plodding, relaxed horse, makes what she considers to be horrible mistakes and barely manages to fix them. All the while her cousin sits figuring and doesn't seem to notice at all.

And that's kind of a mini-version of the whole story.

It's really a story of discovery -- which was my first instinct in naming this genre, but I think that's more of an umbrella category.

Throughout the story Betsy is faced with various situations in which she doesn't know what to do or what to think, and she has to figure it out.  She learns that she can deal with these; She can deal with life.  And as she develops into a fully autonomous human being, one of the things she is faced with is being lost while being responsible for others.  The climax of the story has her stranded far from home with a smaller child in her care.  But this time she has the inner resources to come up with a multi-step plan and get them both home safely.

And she has the confidence to do it.

The Great Theme of Childhood: Coping

The author of this book might have intended it to be the "Uncle Tom's Cabin" of childhood education -- which I don't think it did -- but the reason it became a classic because it reflected one of the great tropes of childhood: Coping.

In some sense, all fiction is about coping with things we are not prepared for.  But as adults, we're long past the stage where basic life is a series of crises. We don't even remember that for a baby, a game of peek-a-boo is a high tension suspense story.  If you can't see Mommy's face, she's GONE! You're alone! Who will feed you? Who will love you?

That level of life is pretty stable, and we have some control over it. So for adults, most fiction deals on a more sophisticated, and varied, smaller issues that we have to cope with.   Achieving, competing, loving, healing.  We only get back to that elemental "survival" aspect in a disaster story.  Which, of course deals with extraordinary circumstances.

But for children -- and somewhere deep in our psyche, all of us -- coping with simple existence is still new, and it's still an every day thing.  While most kids are allowed many choices by their parents, they really don't control where they sleep and what they eat and what they wear.  They know full well all their choices are subject to approval.

Now, we think of this as something limiting and bad. Something to strive against.  Wouldn't it be nice if we were older? sing the Beach Boys. 

At the same time, though, having a parent making decisions and taking responsibility is safety.  Even if you can choose for yourself, even if you fight to choose for yourself, you can still fall back on Mom and Dad and teacher and authority.  It's much more comfortable to have the right to choose if you have experienced back up who can give you guidance if you want it.

And what about all those decisions you never wanted to make?  The ones you didn't know you needed to make because they were made by others in the background?  One anxieties of growing up is that, you begin to realize how much more there is to the world than you thought, and your parents are out there managing it for you.  And one day, they're not going to do that any more.  You're going to have to do this on your own.

For children, there is a very thin veneer between real life and the fictional life of the lost orphan.

And that risk continues into adulthood: you might carve out a pretty steady and relatively comfortable existence for yourself. That is, not necessarily comfortable in form (because your house may be too small, and your bed used and lumpy) but it's still comfortable in understanding. You know when the rent is due. You know where the bed is, and where the lumps are.  You are familiar with most of the problems that will come up and have some idea of what to do to handle them.

And yet....  we're adults.  Most of us understand that there are things in this world we have no idea how to handle.  Most of us, even in the U.S., are one major illness or accident away from being homeless.  If you travel, you're one wrong turn from being lost in a bad neighborhood where you don't speak the language.

That's where the appeal of disaster and survival stories come from, but our anxieties are broader and also subtler than that.  Moving to a new house or taking a new job -- especially if it means moving across the country -- can make you feel a little like a lost orphan.  You're tearing loose of your resources, going into unknown territory. You don't know if it will turn out your have a psycho-boss or psycho-neighbor.  You don't know if you'll fit into the new local culture.  You're bound to make some faux pas.  You have no idea the consequences of a small mistake -- will it be smiled at and ignored, or will it cost you new friends?  Or worse?

And you have no idea if someone will hand you the reins and expect you to drive the wagon, when you have never seen a horse up close before.

All the same, we have learned, through the years, that we can survive unknown disasters. We have survived the emotional roller-coasters of adolescence. We've been lost, we've had near misses. We've had grief, we've mourned.  We've had to deal with unexpected bureaucracy, we've made mistakes and had to pay penalties.

Kids aren't sure of these things, so pure survival of these is a bigger theme in children's stories, but even as adults, the achievement of coping with the unexpected and mastering new skills is still an incredibly satisfying trope.

So my first thought about the models for this "genre" is that this is the overriding theme of the kind of story.  (As I pull apart other stories, there may be others, but I certainly think this is what tied the stories together to me.)

But theme does not a genre make.  It doesn't even make a trope.  It's just the meaning of a set of similar tropes.

I think I need to look at a few more titles before I get a sense for form.  Next time I will look at a couple of other stories that come to mind on the same model, and see if I can pull out a few more tropes that they have in common.  And I'm also going to talk about a related literary genre, the Picaresque story.  While it is different in theme, it is often similar in form.

See you in the funny papers.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Life Rolls and Irregularities

Just a note to say that I've got stuff going on in my life that keeps me from even knowing what day it is most of the time.  Some of which I will talk about later (like my uncle who passed away -- I want to do a tribute post). And some I won't because, even though it seems like I tell folks everything, I really don't.

Dean Wesley Smith calls these periods "Life Rolls."  Bad luck comes your way, nothing you can do but clean up.
They tend to sneak up on a person.

I want to post 2-3 times a week.  I actually have roughed in posts written -- lots of them -- just not finished.  One of those unfinsihed posts explains why I'm not finishing them (it's actually a strategy).  For now, I expect that on Wednesdays, I'll continue to post the Excavating a Genre, because I think it fits in my schedule.

I also have a couple of posts on how I'm teaching myself to read aloud.  Also some thoughts on building a generation of readers.  And a few other things I don't remember.....

See you in the funny papers.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Excavating A Genre 1 - The Book List

I am a cross-genre writer.  You could even say that I am a low-brow literary writer, in that I like popular/commercial storytelling -- I like movies, and TV and comic books and kids' stories and various kinds of pulp fiction from the past -- but I also like experimenting with it and mixing it up/  I like to take a literary writer's approach to it.

My goal as a writer is to be sui generis -- of my own type. I am my genre.  This upsets genre purists, but like Pop-eye, I yam what I yam. (Toot!)

And yeah, much to the detriment of my success as a writer: one of my favorite things is to take genres and tropes that I find boring or clichéed or dated or over-done and pull them apart and find something wonderful about them -- and put them back together in a way that I like.

That's why you'll see me talk about flawed, non-masterpieces here as often as great classics.  Mining for diamonds in the rough is something I enjoy.

And I write about it here because 1.) it interests me, and 2.) I do think that the methods I use can be useful to more conventional writers who may not want to invent their own genre, but do want to find their voice -- the unique thing in their own imagination that sets them apart from others in their genre.

Last year I created the Story Game (best place to start with that is probably the index post at the end of the Situation Game) to this end.

Orphans On Trains

The project I am wrapped up in now was spawned by a bout of nostalgia last fall, in which I noticed a certain pattern of many stand-alone books I read as a kid.  These weren't always the best books I'd ever read, but there was something about them that stuck with me, when some of my favorite books have faded.

Furthermore, I find that I use the the tropes from these stories within many of my own stories. (Just as I usually have some aspect of mystery in them too.)  And this particular batch of stories is old-fashioned and really suit the retro world of The Serial. (I.e. the silent movie era inspired world of The Misplaced Hero, and Misplaced Baroness.)  So I'm thinking developing a junior version of that world (which I'll tell you about later).

The first thing I noticed about what these stories had in common was that they started with a journey of someone; usually a child, bravely (though often fearfully) heading alone into an unknown situation. Often involuntarily.  The protagonists were often orphans or virtual orphans (i.e. parents suffering from a disease or misfortune that made them unable to care for the kid). 

There are a few variations, and I'm going to explore the books that interest me and figure out if they actually constitute more than a theme or trope -- if they rise to a formula or genre. (And in the meantime, I'll talk about several types of similar genre/tropes that overlap with this.)

Here is a list of some of those books.  Some are classics, but many of them are lost, out of print and hard to find, but those of you of a certain age may have read them too.  I'm going to talk about these off and on for a while here on the blog. For the lesser known books I have included a line about how the book fits into the theme. And also in some cases, links to where you can buy the books at Amazon or download from Gutenberg project.

Understood Betsy - An over-protected orphan city girl, who is sent to live with easy going country relatives in New England. (Don't buy any commercial ebooks of this -- most are rip-offs of the Gutenberg version.)

The Avion My Uncle Flew - a boy from Wyoming whose single father gets a job in France after the war. The kid unwillingly learns French and solves a mystery involving spies and the murder of a prize pig. (Out of print, but available used at Amazon.)

Emil and the Detectives - a boy traveling alone is robbed and must track the villain down with the help of people he meets. (Best version with original illustrations at Amazon.)

For Love of a Donkey - an orphan, her donkey, and the old man sent to take her to an orphanage, walk across post-war Germany in order to save the donkey. (Out of Print, available used at Amazon., and also available to read online only at The Internet Archive's Open Library.)

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - a "poor relation" is sent to live with her rich cousin. Melodrama and adventure ensues. (In print and available at Amazon and other ebook and paper book retailers and your local library.)

Unknown Title/Author - Story about an orphan girl taking a buckboard and driving across the outback of Australia.

Unknown Title/Author - a girl sent out west to live with relatives in a fort. (Post Indian Wars)

The Railway Children - A family sent to live in the country after their father is disgraced and arrested. (Available everywhere, including free at Project Gutenberg.  Also a really nice free audiobook at Librivox.)

More famous and classic books with similar pattern:

Oliver Twist
King Of The Wind
Jane Eyre
Lemony Snicket

The first thing these books have in common is a theme, and that theme is most reflected in Understood Betsy -- the book that spawned these thoughts in me. It's a rather more quaint and wholesome book than I liked as a kid. (As a kid, I despised Bonanza in favor of the more gritty High Chaparral, for instance.) But I found that I actually liked it when I read it, and elements of it stuck with me.

So, as I mentioned above, I really do have to tear it apart and find out why that wholesome book was so memorable to me.

And that's where we'll start next time -- likely on Friday. (I'll be posting these on Wednesdays and/or Fridays.)

See you in the funny papers.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Next Up - Excavating a Genre

This was a hell of a week.  Actually, when it come to medical, family, social, technical matters, it's been a hell of a year, but more than usual this month.

All the same, my brain is back in gear, and I have plenty to blog about and to write.  It's just taking me a little longer to get all the pieces in place.

I had this idea about a shift in my schedule that should make me oh, so much more productive, and the very next day, a series of disasters commenced that kept me from getting anywhere near having any kind of schedule at all.  I couldn't even predict when I would be sleeping.

All the same, I'm getting back on track, and I think I have the real next blog series for you: a series about exploring some familiar tropes and building a genre out of them.  Or at least a sub-genre and personal voice out of it.

The approach I'm taking is similar to the approach I did when I was doing the first work on the Situation Game and started with exploring the "character structure" of certain kinds of romantic suspense stories.

The point of that was to unearth not just the core of the actual genre, but also to identify my own personal sub-genre.  The points that appeal to me about the genre, and make it mine as a reader and a writer. 

This time, though, I'm looking at something a little more nebulous. Something that is an identifiable trope, and yet doesn't really have it's own genre name.  You see it mostly in children's fiction, or stories about children, but sometimes you see the pattern in books for and about adults.

I think of it as the "Child Embarking on a New Life Alone" story.

Like the "Hostage Story" I wrote about last year, this pattern crosses over a whole lot of similar genres.  It fits with road stories and journey stories. It certainly crosses with heroic "quest" adventure.  It suits the "picaresque" type story I learned about in college. It even fits with the classic "issue" stories of the past.  It's also a kind of pioneer story -- which usually involves a whole family rather than a child alone.

So over the next few weeks I will, sporadically, write about those genres, and the various books which struck this specific chord with me over the years.  I'll also be talking about how these tropes have influenced various of my own books.

(Not the least of which is the book I hope to release next month: Moon Child, Ready or Not.  This is a long fantasy book -- kind of a meta-quest book -- that I think hits pretty much all of those types of stories.)

I don't know if I'll have a full post ready for you on Wednesday, but I will at least post a preliminary book/movie list of the stories that I'll be talking about.  Many of these books are out of print. There are a few that I don't even remember the title or author.  Some are famous and current.

See you in the funny papers.