Well that’s inappropriate.

The following clip raped my childhood (NWS audio)

This one probably rapes some poor Brit’s childhood. (Again NWS audio.)

This one just rapes you. (Work safe, but not sanity safe.)

Blame the Agony Booth, not me.

In case you’re wondering

Now that I finished the unscheduled spec novel (the first draft anyway) I am now in the throes of doing an editorial rewrite on Wolfbreed #1 (did I mention I need titles?) which will probably take me through mid-April (tax day, wheee). After that’s done the plan is now to attack the second book of Apotheosis, and then Wolfbreed #2 (Did I mention, yeah, I think I did.) and then finish off Apotheosis.

Since what I laid out there is about 18 months work, and a lot can happen in a year and a half, this probably only has a marginal relation to reality. But the upshot is, I’m in re-write land, so we won’t have any counters moving for a month or so.

Hitting the ground running

The first line is always a bitch. Every story needs a hook to draw the reader into it, and your primary tool is those first few words on the first page. Intimidating to think that the entire weight of thousands and thousands of words can be sitting on the shoulders of, at most, a few dozen. Now there are no rues about openings, and there are as many ways to begin as there are novels. My own personal impulse is to compress as many story elements as I can into the first couple of sentences. I want a character doing something, a setting, a sense of conflict or some problem the character is dealing with, some emotion, and a feeling of the tone of the piece. Yes, that’s asking a lot of a sentence or two, but it can be done. Here’s the first paragraph of Valentine’s Night:

“Happy birthday to me,” Toni muttered, toasting the empty chair across from her. She drained the remnants of her cosmopolitan and set the cocktail glass clinking next to a pair of its older, deceased siblings.

Two sentences, 35 words, and you are already in the story. In the first sentence we have a protagonist, a sense of her personality, her mood, and situation. We’re already starting to sympathize with her, we can all identify with being stood up. And her birthday? We already suspect that it’s a landmark birthday (18,21,30,40. . .) because we open with it and Toni obviously feels it’s important. The second sentence establishes the setting almost subliminally. Because there’s more than one glass, she’s as a restaurant or a bar being served drinks. Since the prior sentence had a chair across from her, she’s probably at a table at a restaurant— or at least a bar that serves food. She’s on her third Cosmo, so we know that she’s been waiting a while for someone to fill the seat across from her.

Other things we can infer from this micro-scene: It’s a contemporary story; cosmopolitans are a recent invention in the cocktail world, being invented in the mid-eighties and gaining popularity in the 1990s. Toni’s a relatively young adult; birthdays are important, she’s ordering trendy drinks, and we strongly suspect she’s waiting for a date. We also suspect that it’s a dinner date, since most people don’t down three Cosmos for lunch. If it turns out to be lunch, we’ll probably downgrade our estimate of Toni’s age and/or maturity level. (It turns out to be dinner, and Toni’s hitting the big 3-0.)

A lot of this condensed scene-setting/exposition comes from writing a lot of SF. It is the mundane equivalent to the famous Heinlien line, “the door dilated.” Just as every word in the English language has connotations beyond its literal meaning ( a “book” is not quite a “tome”) every detail included in a story (especially the opening) carries with it an implied back-story.

Unrepentant self-satisfaction

A couple of woo-hoos:

First off, Anne at Bantam has given the ok to the outline I submitted for Wolfbreed #2 (titles, I need titles.) which means that I can go ahead with it as soon as I get the next DAW book out of the way. Second off, we are retiring the Valentine’s Night counter, since I’ve just wrapped up the first draft.

This is shaping up to be my most productive year writing since 1992, when I started doing this professionally. About exactly a year ago, I started writing Wolfbreed #1. I’ve since finished the novel, landed one helluva agent, found a new publisher, finished the first volume of the Apotheosis Trilogy for DAW, and now I’ve wrapped up the first draft of a third novel outside of any contractual commitments.

Busy as I seem to be, my goal of finishing volume 2 for both Wolfbreed and the Apotheosis Trilogy in the next 12 months doesn’t seem particularly daunting. Yea me.

Spam followup

Well, the annoying spam-meisters who’ve been peppering me with ads for self-published books have ended up on the radar of Writer Beware.

I should point out that if your publicist spammer includes in their subscriber list harvested emails someone who works to publicize nasty scams that target neophyte authors (i.e. things like charging to spam your book to people) implies that they do not pay much attention to who they happen to send your promotional materials to spam.

But here is it in Victoria Strauss’ own words:

Here’s why you should not E-blast me (or use any other kind of mass email campaign, such as those offered by some self-publishing services).

– It pisses me off. I’m always happy to consider a request to review–but I want you to approach me personally. I want you to be at least somewhat familiar with my reviews, and to have a credible reason to think I might be interested in your book. I do NOT want to get an email that says “Dear Reviewer,” or an E-blast that has no content other than a link I have to click, or a request for a review that’s obviously inappropriate for the magazines I write for.


– I didn’t give anyone permission to E-blast me. If you think that services like Eblast are subscription-based, think again–these services build their lists by harvesting email addresses off the Internet, just as other spammers do. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no difference between your book E-blast and a penis enhancement spam.

– Did your E-blast campaign include me? Shit. Now I’m on a dozen other lists, and I’m getting E-blasts for beach rentals and consumer goods. Before, I was only irritated with you. Now, I hate you.

It’s also interesting who Media eBlast includes among their clientèle. Apparently they’re as picky about their clients as they are about the people they eBlast spam.

3 things No Country For Old Men can tell us about storytelling

A thread on the Agony Booth got me thinking of this movie again (see, they don’t just talk about crappy film there) and like Lost, it is unconventionally structured which in some ways highlights some of the storytelling mechanics. So I thought I’d come up with another list (which may be spoilery.)

1) Any time you set out to illustrate a theme, it should be both simple and readily illustrated by the majority, if not all the scenes in the work. No Country does this in spades. The theme is pretty much, “The world is random, violent place, and men cannot control it.” Every scene in the film feeds back to this idea, from Tommy Lee Jones’ monologues, to the penultimate scene where the ruthless assassin who’s driven most (but nowhere near all) of the violence is the victim of a completely random, and very nasty, accident.

2) Follow the action. Find a way to show the interesting things that happen in the story even if the nominal “protagonist” is not present for them. In No Country, by most academic definitions, Tommy Lee Jones is probably the main character, since he is the one who has a character arc. However, like The Great Gatsby, our protagonist has an internal low key struggle while most of the “action” happens without him.

3) Clichés can be great tools for misdirection. While it is generally good practice to, as they say, avoid clichés like the plague, they can be a tool like any other narrative element. If you introduce half a clichéd situation, there’s a built-in expectation that, as they say, the other shoe will drop. If you instead drop a brick, you surprise the audience. The whole plotline of No Country can be thought of as being built on this premise. The whole film is constructed of cliché genre set-ups that resolve in ways other than expected. From the large, having the climatic gunfight happen off-screen with the “wrong” guy losing, to the small, the whole business with the coin flip. I bet the second flip didn’t end how dozens of action films led you to expect.

Sir, please back away from the sex scandal

Ok, there are some internet folks out there that need a whopping cluebat of perspective. May I please provide your clue:

  1. Sexual solicitation is a non-partisan activity
  2. Spending $20 bucks for a blow job in an airport bathroom my be sleazier than buying the service of a $5000 call girl in a luxury hotel, but is on the same moral plane (unless you’re wincing at the gay sex, but that’s another post.)

Here we go again

Like I mentioned with Wolfbreed #1 some time ago, there’s a point in every novel I’ve written where I feel like, “OMG what kind of garbage am I writing here?” It always happens in the last third of the book. I hit a wall where I feel everything I’ve written is total shit and I have to slog my way through the next few scenes no matter how excited I am about the project. However, I must still be growing as a writer, because I’ve just made two discoveries about this phenomenon.

First, this did not happen with Prophets, and I think it must be related to the fact that it is the first book in a trilogy, and really is only the first third of a narrative and not a stand-alone book.

Second, and more important, in today’s “slog,” I discovered a way to short-circuit the process. I skipped back into the first third of Valentine’s Night and added a new scene retroconning a plot point I realized I needed for the ending. Turns out that, while it wasn’t my intent, adding the scene (where my vampire RN heroine gets to set her own compound fracture in a wrecked police car) managed to re-ignite the enthusiasm that made me launch the project in the first place. Now I’m back to being excited about attacking it this weekend. Got to remember this for the next novel, it’d save me some angst.

On an unrelated note, I got notes back from Anne for Wolfbreed #1 (still need titles), and with them I have the first word on when it will see print. As of right now, we’re looking at Summer 2009. Mark your calender.