I think things. Then I write about them. It's the narcissism, you see.

Monday, March 24, 2014

2014 Week 13, Monday



So far so good on getting back into the swing of regular blog and Facebook productivity. Twitter is still hit and miss. Remembering to pay attention to it and having any content to post are both minor difficulties.

As I’m editing the story I just finished (which I talked about a little bit here) I am enjoying it more and more. Of course I’m not the final arbiter. Someone’s got to love it well enough to put it in their magazine or anthology. Since my first book, as a product, exists it seems to make the most sense to concentrate on building interest via other shorter works. And while I have seen helpful suggestions saying that as an “indie author” I should consider posting material for free on line that potential readers can use to discover me, I’m not sure I agree. There is a time and a place for free things (how could I not agree having just finished my first Goodreads giveaway?). But I’m not selling my book for 99 cents as a sort of career generation loss leader. And I don’t really intend to do so unless as part of a short promotion. So I doubt that a free short story will convince too many people to turn around and spend $7.99 on the Kindle version of my book—I may think I’m good, but it’s doubtful my writing causes that kind of devotion.

On the other hand, submitting material to publications, both established and up-and-coming, has the benefit of putting stories into the hands of people who have paid to read such things. It also conveys a certain level of legitimacy. While I shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds me, I can understand the hesitancy of consumers toward self-published material. I, in fact, share it. And for all I know, I’m quite bad. Accumulating mainstream credits is a great way to counter that perception and drive people toward The Loyalty of Pawns and any and all follow-ups.

On the other hand, I am somewhat making this up as I go along. So it’s possible I’m full of crap.

Speaking of the Goodreads giveaway…thanks to everyone who entered it. It ended yesterday, and I got my list of the 15 winners so I will be happily sending free copies shortly. I am considering doing one more before the six month window closes. It was a great way to gain some exposure for the title. I don’t know how many will take the book from their “to read” list and actually start reading it. But it’s a start.

And a bit of housekeeping: Don’t forget to scroll down the page and find commentary for the first three chapters of The Loyalty of Pawns. You might also find other interesting pieces of blather from past entries.

Now, having performed my obligated Monday duty, I have video game dungeons to clear out…

The Loyalty of Pawns Commentary Blog: Chapter 3



The following commentary is meant to give you a look at what I was thinking when I wrote The Loyalty of Pawns and why I made decisions I made. I strongly recommend reading the book first.

You can find a sample of the first five chapters here on the blog or get them free on Kindle.

You can click over to the Commentary Index here.

On to Chapter 3 and some more character introductions...

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Loyalty of Pawns Commentary Blog: Chapter 2


The following commentary is meant to give you a look at what I was thinking when I wrote The Loyalty of Pawns and why I made decisions I made. I strongly recommend reading the book first.

You can find a sample of the first five chapters here on the blog or get them free on Kindle.

You can click over to the Commentary Index here.

Chapter 2...

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Stop Writing! (for just a little while)



Most of my writing time over the last week has been spent on a new story. It unfolded differently than I expected. I think I’ve alluded to the fact that I don’t outline for my writing. I never have. So in that way surprises are part and parcel of my experience with every new idea. Some stories go much as I expect them to. Some change a little. Some radically shift directions away from the original concept.

This story fell in the middle category. I had originally conceived a structure that bounced between two main characters on opposing ends of the narrative. My first sitting for writing it took me to the end of what I thought was one main character’s first scene. My intention when I left it was to begin what would have been the first scene for the second main character at the next sitting.

Well, it’s amazing what a head-clearing bike ride will do.

Actually, it’s amazing what a day at work, a ride on BART, and a head clearing bike commute home will do. As my mind twiddled its non-corporeal thumbs during that combination of human sardine packing and muscle exhaustion, the idea I had for telling the story spun off in a whole new direction.

Now, since brevity has never been my thing—and I refuse to be fashionable by starting now—that was my long introduction to something that I often think about but I never hear mentioned as advice to creatively aspiring people.

The change to the story’s structure—which I knew was a superior way to tell it the moment I returned to my computer—occurred to me while my mind was, essentially, elsewhere. There was no real active thinking on my part. Which I suppose goes to show how effective a multi-tasker—or, depending on your point of view, a procrastinator—the brain is. If, when I started the story, I had had the time to keep writing and had begun the scene for the second main character, I question whether I would ever have hit on the change I hit on. I am certain it wouldn’t have occurred to me while my mind was focused on spinning the words I was typing out at the time. Having finished the story—I just started my first pass at editing last night—I can’t believe I ever thought the idea was best told from two points of view. It feels like a much better character piece now, and—clever plots aside—that’s how I judge most of what I write.
"Take a load off...I'll handle the heavy lifting for a while."

I find that my time spent not actively writing is just as important as the hours spent banging out the first draft and then battling with tedium to edit it. I think we need that time to let our brains shift gears—on its own it will probably look at concepts and ideas in a far more creative way than our conscious, focused thinking ever will. And this is hardly limited to creative endeavors—is there anyone who hasn’t figured out the answer to some impossible question hours later when thinking about something else?

Don’t get me wrong. Emphasizing the need to write. Write! WRITE! is absolutely critical. If you can’t finish something you’re never going to get the writing much beyond a hobby stage. But I wouldn’t mind seeing a book about the writing craft that had a chapter telling its readers to put down the pen and paper (or keyboard and monitor) and go hiking or go biking or do some people watching or do any unrelated activity so their brain could do its thing.

"Of course! My ending shouldn't be about the epic battle but about the underlying existential dilemma causing the conflict--oh crap."

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Loyalty of Pawns Commentary Blog: Chapter 1


I strongly recommend reading the book before the following commentary. You can find a sample of the first five chapters here on the blog or get it on Kindle.

So, chapter 1.

I went with the streamlined font, reminiscent of Calibri or Arial, because it felt to me like it had a utilitarian feel that a company might decide to use because its simplicity saves money.
The purpose of the extended quotes at the beginning of chapters is probably self-explanatory. I wanted the world of the book to be as involved—and involving—as the characters; I wanted the reader as curious about that world as they were about the characters. Also, understanding what kind of world a person lives in makes understanding that person’s behavior easier. But here’s the problem: who stands around with someone they know—someone with whom there is a shared common history--and says, “Remember when the government passed that secrecy law and how we have all those information dealers now?” The other option was extended info dumps of exposition in the narrative. But every scene in this book is told through someone’s point of view—I’ve tried to place you as much in the character’s mind as I can without first person narration. So, again, the exposition info dump didn’t feel natural to me. Hence the quotes. They were originally going to precede each chapter. But with thirty-three chapters, I figured I’d be revealing a bit too much mystery—and perhaps constraining myself for the future—if I revealed too much about the world that didn’t relate directly to this book.
I never wrote a version of this book that didn’t start with Blake. We met him at different points on this particular day in his life, but it was always Blake that led the reader into the world. It was always, in one way or another, Blake’s story. And he was always a fish out of water. And to make him even more so in the final book, I introduce him here and build a reason for him to go to Aaron for the first time.
The nightmare here from Blake came straight from me. It wasn’t as existentially crippling as it is to our character here. But it had the same effect on me as I didn’t try to go back to sleep right away—because trying to stay awake after a nightmare scared the crap out of me makes total sense. The dark is totally scary, people. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
The minutia of Blake’s morning lasted even longer in the first draft. This was one of the more heavily cleaned up areas. I wanted to establish how thoroughly mundane Blake’s life was to contrast what would come later. But really—how many of us don’t have a mundane morning ritual? So it definitely ventured into the excessive—as did Blake’s dislike of mornings. The morning thing was all me. I hate mornings with a passion that may well be undefinable. Needless to say, the whole process is shorter and better here.
We also get a peek at Katharine who I will talk more about later. And then there’s the snapshot of the Johnsons’ stilted interaction. I’ll talk more about that later, too.
I have a few digs at Chicago here. I lived in the area (suburbs and not city, thankfully) for a few years and was never impressed. I suppose it’s absolutely petty to take out such feelings in print—but then if I can’t do that, why did I bother to write a book?
I’d always pictured this story beginning with Blake as an established client of Aaron’s. But as I mentioned earlier, I wanted Blake to be completely out of his element—no real experience or established relationship to cushion him from what was coming. It also, I think makes him more relatable to a reader. So this bit about Mitchell Ryan was a new addition to Blake’s story. I think it passes muster and does what it needs to do—which is to get Blake down an alley.
Another dig at Chicago. In fairness, I’m from the San Francisco bay area, and as anyone who’s been to San Francisco can attest—and as someone who enjoys the Mission District, I will completely agree—San Francisco can be quite filthy. So I’m the black pot throwing stones through my glass house at the equally black kettle.
And that question, coupled with one from earlier…
…Pretty much define Blake at this point. The reader gets a lot of thoughts from characters in this book. I didn’t realize it at the time, but those two are the only ones in the first chapter and are, therefore, the first two “quoted” thoughts in the book. I’m not sure that anything else we get from Blake for the rest of the book sums him up as well as those.


Chapter 2 commentary.