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.