Saturday, October 31, 2009


Pulled from the headlines of today! Apologies in advance for the political talk. I've tried to resist, but it occurred to me that if I feel strongly enough to write on any subject that I had better be willing to. And frankly, I should be looking to get my blog posts together any way I can.

As reported here, moderate Republican Dierdre Scozzafava has withdrawn from the New York House race, leaving Conservative party candidate Doug Hoffman as the de-facto Republican nominee.

In some respects, this is a great day for grassroots democracy. Scozzafava (who has possibly one of the greatest last names ever)was hand-picked by the 23rd district's county chairs because she was considered the most electable candidate. There was no primary and no caucus - understandably so, given that this is an unscheduled election resulting from the previous district's Congressman, John McHugh, being named Secretary of the Army.

Scozzafava's nomination angered the party's conservative base, mainly because she is pro-choice and supports equality of marriage. Doug Hoffman saw this and beat her like a gong, garnering support from high-profile Republicans like Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh, and practically everyone except Newt Gingrich and the RNC.

In my view, seeing a third party candidate topple a candidate from one of the Big Two is cause for celebration. Every now and again I think the country needs proof that you can be something other than a Democrat or Republican and still be electable, despite the examples set by Ross Perot and Ralph Nader.

On the other hand, Hoffman's defeat of Scozzafava is another degree of swing for the GOP towards the far right end of the political spectrum. Despite the attacks against her, Scozzafava was never anything other than a moderate Republican. GOP members in New York are a different breed, Republicans who have mostly ignored the Christian Coalition and the Southern Strategy, so Scozzafava's pro-choice and equality of marriage stances were well within the tolerances of the area. Her other major sin, voting to raise taxes, was done when it was a requirement to meet budgets.

But Scozzafava was also against drug law reforms, against gun control, against labor, against benefits for multilingual police officers, against reforming knockless warrants, against foreclosure protections, and for tort reform when it came to health care. Again: moderate Republican.

That Hoffman was able to drive her out of the race in New York by abusing her social conservative bona-fides is a red flag for how much power the right-hand wing of the party has these days. It's the same thing we've been seeing with Arlen Specter abandoning the party, Michael Steele becoming a hardliner, Meghan McCain's feuds with Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin, and the widespread abuse of so-called RINOs (Republicans In Name Only) in general.

I consider myself a political moderate. The last thing I want to see is one of the main political parties in my country falling under the control of its most extreme members, but that seems to be exactly what's happening to the GOP. If we don't get more politicians on the right side of the aisle in the next few years that are willing to compromise for the greater good, then I expect the partisan divides in this country are going to get a lot worse before they get better.


Author's Log

Completed and submitted three one-page novel pitches solicited by a publisher. I have about a month to wait until they'll get back to me, which is the perfect amount of time for me to complete a Nanonovel.

Current Reading

Just finished two of the latest books in Black Lagoon, a full-on shoot 'em up manga series by Rei Hiroe. A definite recommendation for the shonen set.

Also, if you have an interest in good political writing, check out Senator Joe McCarthy by Richard H. Rovere. It's a biography of Senator McCarthy that was written in 1959, but is still available from Amazon. Rovere injects his own opinions into the subject almost constantly, but he still manages to give an unbiased account of McCarthy's history, and I consider the book essential reading for any political pundit you care to name.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Truth Can Be Less Interesting Than Fiction

Feeling a little cheated. On Friday I had two of my wisdom teeth pulled. Here are the horror stories I got to hear in the week leading up to that:

"You'll end up spitting blood for two days/five days."

"Your face will swell up for a week/a month/a whole damn year."

"You'll go to sleep and wake up in a Giant parking lot."

The actual result? I was in and out in an hour, have barely felt any pain, and have not had any significant bleeding since yesterday. My meds aren't giving me any hallucinations, pleasant or otherwise, and I don't even remember getting a gas mask shoved into my face.

As life experiences go, the whole thing was very boring (which, compared to the horror stories, is probably a good thing). The only worthwhile part was getting to sit in a lobby that looked like it was pulled straight from The Shining. There's just something inspirational about blood-colored marble floors, which is an excellent choice for an oral surgeon's office, by the way.

Ah, well, maybe I'll mix my meds with a beer or two, see if the great Gazoo would care to impart me with some wisdom. Or else I can just get back to finishing up the pitches.


Author's Log

Ah yes, the pitches. I'm currently standing at four possibles, each one page long, giving a fair description of a possible novel.

Pitch writing doesn't give you a big word count, but it can be a great learning experience, and I'll go ahead and recommend it for anyone writing a novel. For one thing, you'll probably have to draft a pitch eventually to sell the book, and there's no harm in getting started early (except for the possibility of an extra revision or two, of course). For another, distilling a story that runs for 100,000 words down to a single page really makes you think about what the most important parts of your story are. If you're obsessing too much over a subplot or background details, cutting your story down to the bone might be enough to get you back on track.

Current Reading

I've read a fair few books over the week worth mentioning.

Death Troopers, a Star Wars novel by Joe Schreiber, brings the terrifying menace of the undead to a galaxy far, far away. It sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, but it's actually a very well-executed horror story that fits itself into the Star Wars universe surprisingly well. It's not a necessary read to follow the Expanded Universe canon, but if you're looking for something scary to read and don't want to wait for Stephen King's latest, you could do a lot worse.

Shamanslayer, a Warhammer novel by Nathan Long, continues the long-running story of Gotrek & Felix by setting them against a horde of Beastmen (half-men, half-animal, all evil). Some old characters from the William King books resurface, an old and nearly forgotten plotline gets resolved, and lots of carnage and mayhem occurs throughout. It's probably not a good idea to read this book if you aren't following the series, but longtime fans will find a lot to like here.

After a long delay I finished Fool Moon, the second Dresden Files book from Jim Butcher, which concluded in high style with lots of werewolf-on-werewolf action (minds out of the gutter...). I've just started in on the third book, Grave Peril, which looks set to delve into ghosts and the perils of the Nevernever. Still nothing but good things to say about this series.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Setting Goals - Abject Failure

Well, let's tally the final results, shall we?

The Goal: 2,000 words per day, six days a week.

The Result: 2,000 words in a week.

I suspect that trying to match Stephen King right off the bat was a bad idea. On the bright side, I'm up 2,000 words from where I started, and they're nice, character-developing, story-telling words, not notes or synopses or the like. Some of those words might actually see print one day.

Still, the scourging awaits. Do your worst, friends.

Author's Log

1,000 words since the last update, plus some work on a pitch. I'm not sure, but I imagine it's easier to pitch a novel you've actually written beforehand than it is to pitch one you haven't written, especially when it might be one that you will never write.

Current Reading

Unseen Academicals, the latest Discworld book from Terry Pratchett. I'm only halfway through, but this one seems to meet the usual Pratchett quality standards, and has a nice focus on the inhabitants of Unseen University that we don't usually get (which is to say that the wizards are actual protagonists this time out, rather than supporting cast).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Setting Goals - Midweek Update

1,000 words. That's all I've managed to write so far, just 1,000 words.

Do I intend to whine about this? No. I'm going to post this, shut up, and get on with the work. 11,000 more words to go this week.

Author's Log

So far this week, I've indulged in the following excuses:

  • Donated blood to support our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • Went to lunch at the Cheesecake Factory with the wife. Word of advice: Always get the cheesecake, approach the rest of the menu with caution.

  • Worked out of the home to catch up after the recent vacation.

  • Played with the dog.

  • Cuddled with the wife.

And then there's New Comic Book Day tomorrow, like a dark cloud crawling across the sunlight of my resolution...

Ugh. If I'm coming up with similes like that, I need to wrap this up.

Current Reading

About a quarter of the way through Fool Moon, the second book in the Dresden Files. More excellent stuff, including a smattering of "proper" werewolves, from back before they went all Hollywood.

Received double-secret research materials in the mail today for the current project, and am feeling giddy. That gets read tomorrow, with all due apologies to Jim Butcher.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Setting Goals

Alright, long story short, I am disappointed with my writing habits. I have obligations coming up that will require me to be better about said habits, not the least of which is NaNoWriMo. I Need To Set A Goal.

Stephen King claims that he writes 2,000 words a day come hell or high water. He is a full-time writer. I am, at best, a part-time writer. There is no reason on Earth why I should hold myself to that standard. I'm going to anyway. Almost.

Starting tomorrow, I will write 2,000 words a day, 6 days a week, for a total of 12,000 words weekly. That means I should be able to draft a 100,000 word novel (which is a respectable length) within 2 months, if that is all that I write.

Blog posts will count towards that, as will writing that will never see the light of day, but is vital background information for a story. And if I slack off one day, I'm willing to make it up on the next. But I am serious about that weekly word count, oh yes indeed.

If you catch me slacking, Yell. Scream. Shout. Hold me accountable. I have every intention of completing two novels within the next year, and I cannot afford to slack off.


Author's Log

I roughed out three pitches for a potential novel, amounting to about a page and a half of writing. I'll be fleshing these out for the rest of October, and hopefully ending up with at least one acceptable pitch.

Current Reading

Finished off Reiksguard. A good book, possibly a little tame as far as Warhammer novels go (in that no one's soul gets torn to shreds by the dark powers of Chaos), but no real complaints.

Also started Fool Moon, the second book in the Dresden Files. I'm not far into it yet, but so far it's great. I had to force myself to find a good stopping point, which is always a good sign. Glad I picked up the series.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

On Editors, Editing and Etiquette

On Monday afternoon I received a solicitation for a writing opportunity that is, in my Minor Writer view, akin to getting picked for American Idol (but without the snark and the singing). I don’t want to get into details until contracts are signed, so for now just trust me when I say that I really am grinning from ear to ear.

Since I can’t just brag for the whole post, I thought I’d talk about editing etiquette. Bear with me: this will relate to that first paragraph eventually.

If you submit something to a publisher, at some point an editor is going to look at it. Let’s assume the editor likes what he sees, that the work meets whatever criteria he has, and that you remembered the obligatory self-addressed stamped envelope.

If you are very talented or very lucky, the editor doesn’t just like your work, he loves it. The SASE comes back the next day with a juicy, ego-stroking letter and a check. If this happens to you, then congratulations! You’ve won the gold medal. Cash the check, call your friends, go party.

A more likely result is that the editor sees some room for improvement. He reads over your story a few more times, puts together some notes on it, and uses that SASE to send them along. In a few weeks you open that envelope and read the words “We like your story, BUT...”

Sounds a bit too close to a rejection for comfort, doesn’t it? You read over the editor’s constructive criticism, and it doesn’t feel all that constructive. You’ve sent out your best, and it’s still not quite good enough. Maybe you feel your face flush from embarrassment. Maybe you have to hold back a tear or two.

You might even want to crawl into a hole somewhere and refuse to come out. Resist this treasonous urge. Read the critique again.

This time around, I bet you’re going to feel a bit less embarrassed. Possibly, you might get angry. I mean, sure, the editor’s nailed you on your mistakes, no question there, but look at the crap he’s asking for! He wants you to make your main character’s best friend the villain, for crying out loud! And why do you have to cut all these supporting characters, anyway?

You may be tempted at this point to write back with an angry dismissal of everything the editor has said. No matter what else you do, DO NOT DO THIS. Instead, take ten minutes or an hour to calm down, then go get your story and read it over alongside the editor’s notes.

You’ll start to see that the editor knows what he’s talking about. How cool is it going to be when Best Friend stabs your protagonist in the back? You know just the perfect place, too. And those supporting characters were all cardboard cutouts anyway. Let a better-developed character read their lines.

Do your best to address everything the editor has to say. If it’s all simple cuts, make the cuts. More likely, the editor will state a problem, suggest a vague solution, and expect you to run with it. Do so. If you have to rewrite a whole story to get that knife into Best Friend’s hand in a sensible fashion, do it and don’t hesitate.

Maybe the editor wants you to change something that’s deeply important to you. Try to make the change anyway. If that doesn’t work, and you truly cannot bring yourself to make the change, feel free to fight with your editor over it. But if you want to argue over more than one suggestion in ten, you’d better be willing to submit your work to a different publisher if and when negotiations break down.

Once you're done with the changes, read over your story again. You'll probably be surprised at the amount of improvement you see. You'll be improving yourself as well: you'll know what mistakes you made the first time around, and be able to avoid them with your next work.

And being professional about an editor's requests can pay off in other ways. Part of the reason I received the aforementioned solicitation was that, when I submitted a previous story to this publisher, I proved that I could take the feedback they offered and use it to greatly improve the original story. I didn't argue, and I didn't get lazy about my editing. I used the requested changes as an excuse to improve the rest of the story, and the story was better off for it. (And I still saw some changes from my revised draft in the typeset version, and I ended up asking for one or two small tweaks to that as well. So nobody's perfect.)

Criticism stings a bit, no matter how much you deny it. But if an editor takes the time to send you notes on your work, he's doing it because he thinks you've got the skill to make your work better. So grit your teeth, roll up your sleeves, and give those notes another look. Think long and hard about your editor's suggestions, and take them as an opportunity to make your whole story better. You won't regret it.


Author's Log

Brainstorming session, resulting in about a page of notes thus far. Also did some digging for reference materials.

On top of that, I'm gearing up for NaNoWriMo next month. My profile is all set up with the username "Gauss", along with a quickie description of what I'm planning on writing. Definitely looking forward to November.

Current Reading

At the moment I'm reading Reiksguard, by Richard Williams. This is a novel set in the Warhammer universe, which takes an in-depth look at one of the human Empire's knightly orders. I'm still in the early parts of the book, but it's doing a good job of giving a lot of details on a knight's training without boring me, so I'm expecting to give this book a thumbs up.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Home Again

Back from an excellent vacation at Disney World, feeling refreshed, if not fully recharged. I definitely had fun and ate a ton of good food. The highlights:
  • The Coral Reef. My wife and I got seated directly in front of the aquarium, next to a statue of a green sea turtle. Or at least that's what I thought, until the turtle opened its eyes, glared at a stingray that had settled on its flipper, and took off for a swim like Gamera rising from the deeps.

  • Teppan Edo. Excellent community dining, and the chef (Eri) did a great show. Also, my wife got to wear a chef's hat while the whole restaurant sang "Happy Birthday" to her, and survived with only minor embarrassment.

  • The Tower of Terror. Always scary, no matter how many times I ride it.

  • Epcot's Biergarten. Disney does buffet-style dining better than most, and I got a new appreciation for German food and beer.

  • Running into a fellow patron of Third Eye Comics after a fireworks show, and being recognized by my Red Lantern T-shirt. Sometimes it really is a small world.

  • Renting a SeaRay and going tooling around Lake Disney for half an hour, which was just enough time to speed by every hotel on the lake. A very relaxing experience: the SeaRay can go fairly fast, but once you've got it pointed in the right direction you can pretty much just sit back and enjoy the breeze.


Author's Log

Surprisingly, I did get a fair amount of writing done on the trip: two scenes for the novel, around 500 words each. I also wrote a new setup for the novel (which has desperately needed a complete rewrite since the first draft, and may finally get it), and jotted down some vital details for a short story (which shouldn't need as much work, God willing).

Finally, I jotted down a poem across two pages of note paper while I was on the flight home, equating roller coasters and airplanes. As you might expect, there was some turbulence on the flight.

Current Reading

Storm Front, the first book in the Dresden Files, was an excellent read. Harry Dresden is a fascinating modern-day wizard, magic is nothing to be trifled with, and things get very dangerous for everyone involved before the end. I'll definitely be continuing with the series.