Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Should make for an interesting read

I wrote more again tonight. Got out an even 300 words. It was between bits of sleep. I have a cavity that will require a root canal. I can't get that done until next Tuesday, so to make me able to function until then the dentist has prescribed me Vicodin. It's a low dose and moderately successful at easing the pain. The problem is that it makes me sleepy.

Should be a fun time going through what I wrote tonight to see how much makes sense.

Critique groups

Here's a questions for those writers who may be reading this blog. If you have experience with critique groups, at what stage in a story's progress did you take it to be critiqued.

At the next meeting of my writers group we are to bring 20 pages to exchange. I am wanting to take this monster story with me, but I don't think it will be anything more than a first draft. Is it smart to take a first draft with me, or should I take something that has been edited?

Any help is appreciated.

More progress

Wrote some more last night. It was like pulling teeth, but I kept going. I did figure out a way to work in the bit that I was sure would come out. It makes sense with the flow of the piece and actually helps move the plot along. That was a nice surprise. It still may come out in the editing, but at least I know it can stay if I think it needs to.

I am hoping that I an have this wrapped up by the end of the week. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The end of summer. The end of good times.

I don't think I've ever mentioned this, but if you follow the links to my job you may have cleverly deduced it, but I live in Dallas.

As the title of this post says, today is the end of summer and the end of good times. At least for me. The Dallas Cowboys opened their training camp today. That means non-stop media coverage. Head coach press conferences. Interviews with and stories about guys who have no chance to make the team. Two weeks from now they'll be back to cleaning pools and stacking bags of concrete at the hardware store.

But for me, the baseball fan, today means that the one sport I really care about will be relegated to an afterthought, even though the Rangers are still in contention and are playing some exciting baseball.

( I know I've mentioned the Royals in posts before. Let's not talk about them and the massive collapse they've had. Move along. Nothing to see.)

UPDATE: I posted this initial post at 3:06 p.m. I started writing it because the Dallas Cowboys training camp press conference had just started a few minutes before. It's an hour later now and it just ended.

Short story trailer

Electric Literature presents Jim Shepard's "Your Fate Hurtles Down at You" (trailer) from Editors Electric Literature on Vimeo.

Check out this animated trailer to a new short story in Electric Literature. The story "Your Fate Hurtles Down at You" is by Jim Shepard, and I'll admit it -- the trailer worked on me. I'd love to get a copy of Electric Literature and read this.

I have seen trailers for books before. A few have been well done, but most have looked slapped together by the author using software downloaded for free.

This is the first time I've seen anything for a short story and it's the first time I've seen something done so well.

It makes me want to write for Electric Literature and I've never even read the publication.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Progress update

Wrote almost 600 words tonight. A page and a half on the monster story. It's still fun to write, even if this is unfamiliar territory for me. I am hoping to have it finished by the time that I meet the writers' group again. I am 15 pages in and feel like this is wrapping up soon. Like I said in a previous post, I know how this is supposed to end and we are getting to that point.

The only frustrating part of what I wrote tonight is that I know I went off on a tangent that will almost surely come out in the editing. It's not advancing that plot at all and the resolution will be unsatisfying. I already know that even though I haven't resolved it. But I'll write it anyway and ignore the inner editor that has already told me to hit the backspace key. If nothing else it's an idea that I like and can see it being useful in another story featuring these characters.

Nomad'er what

I added a new blog on the right side a few weeks ago. It's under the Author Blog heading. It's called Contemporary Nomad. It's interesting. Read it if you like thriller/espionage books. I read Olen Steinhauer's The Tourist while we were in Mexico. He contributes to Contemporary Nomad.

The real reason I bring it up now, though, is that I really like the way that it looks. It's got a clean design. Crisp. Gina has been bugging me to dress my blog up some. She says it's a little boring, and she's right. I should tweak the look of this place a bit. I might in the coming weeks. If I do, you've been warned. No surprises.

What's in a question?

Perhaps I am a little sensitive about questions because of my day job. When I was in college and learning to do the things I needed to know how to do to make a living in journalism, I had a professor who concentrated on questions. He stressed the importance of asking the open-ended question. You never want to give an interview subject the opportunity to give a yes or no answer.

A horrible example, but the only one that comes to my head.

Did you enjoy the camp?

Tell me about your favorite part of camp.

See the difference?

Anyway, I like Ally Carter's blog. She writes the Gallagher Girls series. The books are about an elite girls' school that secretly trains its students to be spies. I have read none of them, even though I kind of want to. If they weren't geared so much toward girls I probably would. Heaven knows I am not against reading a book for kids. But my stupid machismo gets in the way.

Still, I like Ally's blog and link to her from the right side. She had a post last year about questions that you shouldn't ask a writer and then follows those with the better way to rephrase your questions. I liked it. You might too. Read it here.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Frustrating progress

Met with the writers' group on Thursday night. We agreed to write 10 pages each week. Bring 20 pages to the group each week and then critique each others work.

I think we are going to try and tackle too much at each meeting and I am going to suggest a couple of changes. Mainly, that we critique only one person's work each week. We'll swap pages and then take them home to read. We'll do the critiques at the next meeting. I think that will allow for a more thorough, thoughtful critique and not something that comes from a quick glance.

That's not the point of this post, though. The point is that I am two days removed from the meeting and I have written no pages and maybe only 50 words total.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Long road to nowhere

I am in the middle of reading a book by an author that I have liked in the past. It's from a series and this one is one of the latest books. I'm not going to reveal the author's name or the series, just because I don't think this book is typical of this author or series and I would hate to turn someone against it.

That said, I am on page 231 and have 300 more pages to go and I feel like the story hasn't advanced since roughly page 10. The character is literally roaming the desert. It's frustrating me to no end because I know the writer is better than this. This just feels like a plot that he hadn't developed fully and he is having the main character do a bunch of nothing while the author figures out where he should go.

I spoke with my dad about it tonight and he said that it didn't bother him. He also assured me that it gets better, so I'll keep reading.

But reading this book reminded me of how I've felt sometimes about my own writing. I'll have an idea and be writing along, enjoying where the story is headed and the characters are taking me when I find myself just writing in circles. I have my characters wandering around doing meaningless things. The actions stops and the plot stalls. That's usually the point that I'll give up on a piece. I'll set it aside for a few days, weeks, months, forever.

I mentioned having this problem at the first meeting of the writers' group. I asked the question of whether the other two people there wrote from an outline or if they just went wherever the story took them. Both answered that they went with the story. I said I did basically the same thing but that I ran into the problem of having my characters wandering with nothing to do. One of the other participants said the same happened to him but that he thought it was a good thing. It could sometimes spark an idea. And I agree, to a point.

Sometimes it's fun to send your characters off without a direction and see where they take you. When they automatically show you where they want to head it is fun. I have taken a few unexpected journeys with my characters that way. But what I am talking about is the wandering for page after page while I work through plot problems in my head. I hate when I do that. And I especially hate it when the pros do it. Like I said at the top, I don't think this is typical of the writer in question here, just something that has happened in an isolated case.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Writers' group

I had the first meeting of the writers' group I mentioned a few posts ago. I was a little apprehensive going into the meeting tonight.

First, I didn't know how serious these other folks would be about writing. I am wanting to give this a go and I really want honest critiques from others who are trying to do the same thing.

Second, I have only had a few people, outside of my friends and family, read what I've written. While most of it has been complimentary, these will be the first people to critique my work that I've had to face in person.

Overall, I was happy with the group. It was small, only three people. And I think I am going to get some honest criticism, and that's the biggest thing I wanted from this.

We are meeting once every two weeks and have all agreed to write 10 pages each week and bring them for critique.

I guess I will figure out how good this group is in two weeks, but for now I am excited.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Quick progress update.

Got a late start tonight. I struggled and only pulled out 245 words. I am not going for number of words, though, just consistent output.

Subway slight of hand

Subway has a new commercial out and the jingle is catchy in that I want to scrape out my eyeballs kind of way.

All of the people are singing in rhyme about the new six-inch sandwiches that cost just $2.99. I would think that was a great deal if I wasn't aware that the sandwiches just recently cost only $2.49.


Between a few minutes last night and a few more minutes this morning I banged out another 400 words on the monster story. Got a nice bit of back story written and moved the plot along some. Again, it's mostly dialogue.

My concern at this point is that the story is getting long. We are at 3,700-plus words right now. It's becoming a hefty short story and we are at the middle according to the outline in my head.

I wasn't expecting this to get that long, but I figure it's OK. I can't worry about that now and have to just keep writing. I have no doubt that I'll be able to tighten things up in the editing. And, yes, I remember saying I was a lean writer. I just know there are whole sections here that could come out. I'll just save them for something later. I m enjoying this character and this story. It's fun to write and I may just write something else with the same guy at the center. I can use those things that don't make it in this story in one of those in the future.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I challenege ...

... you to argue with this.

Home again

We are back from a weekend trip to Kansas City. I needed to visit my grandmother who is 92 and in a nursing home now. And Gina has told me repeatedly that she didn't want the first time she went to Kansas City to be for a funeral. I was able to get Monday and Tuesday off from work so we took advantage of Gina's summer and headed north.

It was great seeing family and wonderful to see my grandmother again. I got to show Gina all of the places I remember as kid. We ate burgers at my family's favorite burger place and went for barbecue. We had intended to hit the two big KC barbecue spots, Gates and Arthur Bryant's, but were only able to make it to Gates. That's OK though. At Gates I ate what could possibly be the best thing I have ever put in my mouth -- a burnt ends on bun sandwich. My goodness. Gina and I were both swooning over how good this was. Yes, swooning.

Tried to catch a Royals game. Went to the ballpark, paid for parking, entry, souvenirs, and food. Just never saw a game because a constant drizzle canceled the game.

It was a great time. We ate too much but enjoyed ourselves but it's good to be back home

I have a bit of writing to catch up on and am going to the first meeting of a writers group Thursday night. Excited but nervous. It's a group that came together through Craigslist so not sure what to expect. I'll report back how it goes.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The rise of the robots

While I am at work I usually have a muted TV playing above my desk. It's always on one of the cable news channels unless there is a daytime baseball game on.

This morning I have it on MSNBC and am glancing at it every few minutes. Earlier they debated something called The Lucifer Effect with and author of a book with that title. Just a moment ago I saw this headline: "Robots: Good or Evil."

I had to see what that was and figure out if they really were talking about what it appeared they were talking about. Unmute.

They weren't talking about the C3PO style robot that walks and talks. They were talking about the kind of robots that we use to make cars. And the unmanned drones that fly over enemy territory that take surveillance photos. All things that don't have much if any artificial intelligence. They rely on programming by a human to function at all and are made to do a certain task.

That didn't stop one of the co-hosts of the show, Stephen A. Smith, from declaring that he was terrified of robots. He had seen I, Robot with Will Smith. He knew about Transformers. Even thought they weren't talking about those kinds of robots at all. There is nothing like not listening to a conversation you are an integral part of. Make sure you don't learn anything there, Stephen.

I never liked that guy when he was on ESPN. He was always loud for the sake of being loud. I really don't like him in MSNBC.

Writing, are you lean or fat?

Writing last night got me thinking about a discussion thread on Absolute Write the other night. Someone asked everyone if they were a lean writer or a fat writer. I don't think those were the words they used, but they still work.

To my surprise most of the people who answered said they were lean writers, meaning in the rewrite their stories got longer with added detail. For some reason I assumed most writers were fat writers. They would have to go through their drafts and whack bits and pieces away to get at the story.

For the record, I consider myself a lean writer. My first draft is the bare bones. I am just framing out the house. It's in the rewrites where I hang the sheetrock and get some paint on the walls.

I wonder how you write. Are you thick or thin? Lean or fat?


Got another 614 words out last night on the monster story. It came easy again which is nice. It felt like a few years ago when I was churning things out pretty quickly. Whether or not that's good I am not sure. I only like about half of what I wrote a few years ago, but I suspect that's the case or most writers.

I think what happened was I turned off my internal editor for the first time in a long time and just let whatever came into my head come out of my fingers and onto the keys. I know that a lot of it was telling and not showing and will have to be fixed in the rewrite. And there are other parts that will just disappear all together when I go back through with the red pen.

I think we are working our way to the climax. When I sat down to write I knew where I wanted to start, I knew the inciting incident and I knew the ending but had no idea how I would get there. I've enjoyed the journey and like the path my main character seems to be taking. I can see the areas that I need to flesh out and some of the details that I need to polish. But I'm still making progress.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Applying visual arts training to writing

I link to Steve Bucheit's blog from the right side. He's under author blogs. He had a post the other day reacting to something John Scalzi said on his blog, reacting to something another writer said on her blog. Confused yet?

Anyway, that part isn't so much important. What you need to know here is that Steve mentioned he had some college training in illustration. That prompted me to ask, in the comments, how his visual training helped or hurt his writing. I found his answer both longer than expected and much more informational.

Go read it. There is some really great stuff there on keeping your focus on what tells the story.

I think he has the makings of a good blog post there and encouraged him to write more on the subject. I 'll let you know if he does. Or you can just keep checking his blog. It's worth your time.

Monday, July 13, 2009

It's all about relationships

I read the blog of comedy writer/baseball announcer Ken Levine pretty regularly. A blog post that he put up a few days ago coincided with a podcast that I was listening to a few days earlier while I was at the gym. It featured Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci the two writers of the new Star Trek movie.

All of these people were talking about the importance of characters and how, in the end, there is nothing more important than characters and the relationships between them. None of the things that happen in the story matter if the relationships don't work.

Levine's post was about being pitched ideas for sitcoms. He complained that people always told him about funny situations but no one ever tells him about the people who are in those funny situations. He put it this way.
Here’s what nobody ever pitches me: a show about a relationship. THE OFFICE is funny because of the relationship between Michael and his employees. It is funnier still because of the relationships among the employees. What they actually manufacture is completely unimportant.

Start with the characters first.

What about the dynamics between them are interesting, fresh, and could sustain stories week after week? And then, what is the best setting to put them in? One that hasn’t been seen before is a plus but not imperative. How many shows and plays and radio series have been set in bars?
The guys who wrote Star Trek -- which I liked, by the way, but not as much as many others -- said that in their writing process they don't start outlining their story until they know who their characters are going to be and what kind of relationships they will have.

Before they worked significantly on the story they were going to tell they had to figure out that the relationship they focused on was going to be the brother-like relationship between Kirk and Spock.

For some reason all of this is sticking with me lately. I don't know what it means or why I am keying in on characters and their relationships lately, but I am. And these observations by others has been a wonderful reminder for me and a bit of a wake-up call.

In the pieces I have been working on lately I have been writing from one exciting incident to another, working my way through my mental outline just trying to get to the next bullet point. What I have been ignoring are the characters I am putting in those exciting incidents.

It's a nice reminder that this is something I need to work on.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


I have a short story that I am working on. It's different than anything that I have ever written. There are monsters. I don't write monsters. But this time, I've written monsters.

I wrote about 400 words last night. It was mostly dialogue, my favorite thing to write. I have to watch myself, though. I have a tendency to make my characters too clever. They always have the proper comeback or smart way to say something, so I have to watch myself. It's something that can take me right out of a story as a reader and I don't want to lose anyone who may read my stuff.

But I am happy with progress, even if it is on a subject I don't normally try and tackle. Like monsters. And I am having fun writing this one. It's coming easy and that's always when writing is the most fun.

And seriously, I have no idea where monsters came from.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Word count

I mentioned in a previous post that I was going to add up all of the things I'd written to see how many words total have come from my head and to the keyboard.

I started that process but there are just way too many snips and bits of things that I've written that to add it all up would take hours. Instead I added up the six best pieces I have written. That includes short stories and a few novels in progress.

Totaled up those six pieces come to almost 70,000 words. I figure that if I add up all the snips and bits I'd be pushing 100,000 words. Maybe even more than that.

Honestly,that's a little disappointing. But it's a bit motivating too. I took a few moments to read some of those main six pieces and I like them. A couple of them I like alot. They need editing in a desperate way, but the stories are solid. The writing's not too bad either. So I want to dive back into them and get them finished. I think I need to pick one piece that I feel most jazzed about and push forward with it, but that will have to wait for another day.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Favorite book finds

There was a time, a few or more years ago, that I was a regular at the used bookstore about 15 minutes from my apartment. Odd thing is, when I was there I would rarely go inside the store until it was time to pay for whatever it was that I had found.

Instead, I would spend all of my time browsing the carts out front where everything was $1. I was able to pickup some classics at great prices, but my favorite thing was to take a flier on something. I did it often and, honestly, was burned often. But there were times when I would find a book that grabbed me from the beginning and wound up being a favorite of the moment.

The best of those books was by Jasen Emmons. It was called Cowboy Angst, and from what I can tell it was his only book. It also appears to be out of print.

I don't know if it was reading at just the right time in my life or what, but the story got holdof me and I couldn't put it down. It's about Dennis, who drops out of law school to play drums in a country and western band. He spends the rest of the book dealing with his family and the ramifications of his decision. Not the best sales job on the book, I know. But I loved it and I especially loved that it was something I discovered on my own, just because I liked the look of the cover and the blurb on the back.

So, what about you? Do have a book that you stumbled upon that you wound up thinking, "Man, I'm glad I read that."

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

5K training: Day 1

Last night was my first night to train for the 5K. Pretty simple. I am using the training program at Cool Runnings.

I decided, spur of the moment to skip the first week and just jump to week two. Bad idea? Not sure. Last night's run was pretty easy. I never felt like I struggled the entire 20 minutes I was alternating between running and walking. I did feel like I was pushing myself. One of the reasons I skipped to the second week was because I didn't think week one would be enough of a challenge.

Once I got off the treadmill I was sweating and my heart rate was up, which was the point in the end.

I am supposed to be doing this three days a week. Not sure what the next two days will be this week, but I figure that will sort itself out.

So, one day down, who knows how many to go.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Some great advice

Joe Konrath is judging a short story contest and, through his frustration, offers a repost of some great writing tips. It's a post he wrote last year but the advice is still solid. Most of it I have read before, but it never hurts to hear/read it again. You can find the post here.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Yes, I am crazy

So after thinking about what I'd mentioned in the previous post, I have decided that I am crazy. Instead of trying a triathlon, I think I'll go small goal first and just give a 5K a shot.

I know that it's quite the step down, going triathlon to 5K, but it's a more sensible move for multiple reasons.

First, going with a triathlon would be like deciding to eat a two-pound steak as the way to break a hunger strike. I should start with a nice sandwich first. That's what the 5k is. It's a ham and cheese on rye. It's something that's much more manageable and doable since I have never tried any endurance kind of activity before.

Second, triathlons are expensive. I'd have to buy a bike. Those ain't cheap. I'd have to pay entry fees. Thanks to my shoddy research I have no idea how much that would be, but it's an expense. I've also read something about needing special clothes, some sort of unitard that can be worn while you tackle all three disciplines.

With a 5K, the only expense I'd have is the entry fee. I can do the training either at the gym, which I already pay for, or just on the street outside my apartment.

Plus, there are training programs you can follow online that will get from the couch to the race in a matter of months. And, for me, that's something that I think is important. If I were to train for a triathlon it would probably be a year or more before I was ready to compete. That's too long for me. I don't do well with distant goals. I need something that is closer and can be accomplished. The 5K will give me that.

So, that's my fitness goal for now. I want to run a 5K by year's end.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Am I crazy?

I have found myself looking at THIS site a few times the last couple of days. Not really sure what has gotten into me.

I like to swim, I think bikes are fun, and I've never thought poorly of running. Well, that last part is not exactly true. But something inside of me says I should try this. Maybe it was the folks we saw in Mexico who were in the middle of one that made me want to do it. But I am really thinking about at least starting the training to give it a try. God knows I need to get into shape and having a goal to work toward like this may be what it takes to keep my butt in the gym and working.

No better time than in the middle of a 100-degree Texas summer to kick things off, right?


I promise things will get back to writing here very soon. I know that there aren't that many folks who stop by my little corner, but when I started this it was intended as a writing blog. I am also aware that there hasn't been much writing talk lately. Hopefully that will change very soon.

While we were in Mexico and this last week being away from the day job has given me some time to think about writing and the process, and I have have some questions I'd like to pose to other writers who may stop by. I'll post them soon and look forward to the answers.

I don't know what it is that so fascinates me about the creative process, but I can read about it for hours. I love to know how others do what they do, and the steps they take to get to the end product.

Anyway,more writing stuff coming. Soon.

Transformers: the 10 word review

Just got back from seeing the new Transformers sequel. I have a soft place in my heart for these movies since I spent a nice little bit of my childhood playing with the actual toys the movies are based on.

I will admit that I was more of a GoBots guy when there was still a choice. They were made of metal and smaller, and I for me that made the difference. Looking back now, they weren't cooler. Their transformations weren't as elaborate and the toys weren't as well articulated. But they were my preference. Ultimately, I did have more Transformers than GoBots. And I watched the cartoon every day after school. But more than anything, I think the Transformers and the toys of that ilk inspired more drawing fits that hourslong play sessions. I'd create my own robot characters and make them the subject of flip books and comic books.

Watching the Super Bowl this summer there were ads for this Transformers movie, the GI Joe movie coming in August, and the Land of the Lost movie with Will Ferrell. I commented to Gina that it was like Hollywood had decided Summer 2009 would be the Summer of Jarrett's Childhood. There was a GI Joe preview tonight. Honestly, it doesn't look like much of a movie, but I'll see it. The story will be awful and I know my memory won't allow me to remember who is who, but I'll still be there. The Land of the Lost will have to be something I see at home. Will Ferrell has burned me too many times lately. Gina and I suffered through Blades of Glory and Talladega Nights in the theaters, each time leaving with the feeling we'd just wasted our money. We actually left 45 minutes in to Step Brothers we were so bothered by it. So, if we see Land of the Lost at all, it will be at home.

So, tonight's movie. Here is my 10-word-or-less review: Good, not great. Wonderful special effects, but too dang long.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Hello, USA.

We're back. Have been for two days now, but been busy ushering a new niece into the world. She's adorable and I am sure you will hear more about her later.

Mexico was fun and the beach was relaxing. The sunburn that continued to get worse and worse throughout the first day was neither.

My piece of advice if you ever go to Mexico: Don't lay under a thatched umbrella thinking that you are protected from the rays. My shoulders and legs and Gina will tell you differently.

But, other than spending the week feeling a little medium rare, we had a great time. We swam with dolphins. We went snorkeling. We explored downtown Puerto Vallarta and were assaulted by salesman hawking junk.

When we left a hurricane was spinning off the Mexican coast, but it brought us nothing but a bit of rain our first night. Every day after that was beautiful. I finished one book -- which I really enjoyed and am thinking I'll write about later -- and started another. Gina did me one better. She finished two books while we were there. I have never seen the woman read so much.

I took my computer with me and had thought I would write some. And I did. Got a couple of pages in on a short story I have been working on, but that was it. However, I am coming back refreshed and recharged, so I figure that's OK.