Howzat?

Messy_Meisner_Cover_for_Kindle

I look on Amazon every so often to see how sales are going (or not, right?) Today I noticed that there were Eight new copies of Messy Meisner available , plus one used! Sales to date total zero, which is about what I was expecting. Which leads me to wonder how in heck anybody got ahold of a used copy? They’re good, is what. I guess.

What it is, is a service from Amazon, they call it Wordery, that sells your books in the UK amongst other things. That is fantastic, but I still wonder how they can claim to have a used copy. Let’s see, they printed one out, passed it around a third-grade classroom for a month, then put it up for sale? Huh. You tell me.

(Okay, it’s a marketing ploy. They’re selling the first one at a discount.)

And that is this weeks WTF special. Thanks for reading.

Resting the Work

Last week I posted about doing nothing. Since then I’ve finished the second draft of a YA romance. It still needs plenty of work, but it seems to be readable. Now once again I’m doing nothing. I hear you ask, “why?”

Because I need a week or so away from the project in order to see what truly needs to be done. This is not just my opinion, but one shared by most of the writer/bloggers I follow. Second draft isn’t as bad as the first, in the sense that I’m no longer in love with all my wonderful creations. In fact, after the slog of editing the thing into readability, I think I’m starting to hate some of them. They make too much work!

But I’m still much too close to the work after editing it intensely for the past week. It’s a good story. The ending brings tears to my eyes. But I still read what I meant to put in there, not what is there. In a week or so I’ll open it again and (I hope) see what’s there. Then I can compare that to what I remember intending. If there is a discrepancy, I’ll make the work match the intent. That’s how it goes.

And, how come in chapter 4 that guy is in the room, but in chapter 16 (same scene from another character’s point of view) he’s not? Sheesh!

What I’ve Been Up To

Besides no good, of course.

I’ve been editing a Young Adult romance. I admit that I stole the plot idea from a great writer, but trust me, you won’t be reading the same thing they (see how I’ve given up on that personal pronoun?) wrote when you read this story. Editing is something I’m decent at. I must admit that, like whom I know not said it first, I’m not a good writer, but I am a good editor. And that is today’s topic.

I drafted this particular book last year and set it aside to be edited later. That was deliberate on my part, because for one thing I wanted to try to “finish” Messy Meisner, whatever that means. Messy may have a rough row to hoe, for reasons discussed in “How I Became an Author” (link on the sidebar.) But I think that this project, about a couple of teenagers in love against odds, may actually grab the attention of a professional publisher. (I don’t think of myself as one; for one thing I haven’t made any money at it yet.) The book is written in three parts, with three points of view. I started on part one first, possibly because Word opens a document to that page by default. What I found was a wall of dense prose, information dumps, telling not showing, superfluous modifiers (really, truly bad, eh?) and frankly something that was hard for me to read. And I wrote the thing!

But, taking it paragraph by paragraph, line by line, word by word, I’ve managed to convert the first portion of the book into what is, I kid you not, a decent story. (I’ve only just started on the second part. I hope to have the entire thing ready to submit by the RWA conference next summer.) By editing the manuscript (funny term for something banged out on a computer) one bit at a time, I find that I can pay attention to each little detail to a degree that lets me actually convert the dense prose etc. into something someone might actually like to read! And that is the point of this post.

Don’t worry about getting things right on your first draft, because you won’t. That’s all, you simply won’t. Instead, learn to go over your messy draft and polish that sucker into the next Huckleberry Finn! Gravity’s Rainbow? Horton Hears a Who? Well, you know, whatever it is.

Have fun!

Check This Out!

There have been a few changes in this blog of late. Mostly just design elements, but that is the idea. To the left, you will now notice links to help you buy my latest project, Messy Meisner. And also my latest Twitter posts. You can subscribe to an RSS feed from this blog. Subscribing via Feedburner, which you can do by clicking the link on the sidebar, gives you in effect a subscription to a newsletter consisting of posts to this blog. I post (almost) every Wednesday, and more often if the muse (or whatever) moves me. This blog is not about writing exclusively, and the sales pitch is generally limited to what you see on the sidebar.

I’m starting a new phase of life. I’m out of the real estate business (or will be as of January 1st.) I am a writer, a comic, and we’ll be opening an EBay store probably not long after the first of the year. Frankly, I’d rather sell stuff than real estate. I think I’ll post my overall impressions of real estate after I’m not longer in it. But that is not a guarantee.

My various web presences are listed as links on the sidebar. Feel free to check them all out. Please! I don’t know that I’ll change the nature of what I post here, so you can probably get an idea of what’s coming up by seeing what’s gone before. I will publish my predictions for this election season at the appropriate time (which this most certainly is not.) I also remain interested in Route 66, Las Vegas, Comedy, and of course Fiction for kids and young adults.

Please get yourself a subscription. It’s totally free, and I like to think that I have friends out in the world.

See you next time!

Steve

I Like This Quotation

“If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”

Or is that an aphorism? Heck, I don’t know! But I like it.

That’s because I have been the smartest person in the room quite a few times. Professionally, I mean. I tell myself that the others are actually smart, but they just have different opinions. (No, I don’t think you’re stupid because you disagree with me.) It is true, after all, that smart people are more divergent in their views than those of average intelligence. But the truth has always asserted itself one way or another. Frequently by my getting my ass fired, to be honest. That’s not fun, although in every case I was happier, though poorer, without the late job. So, maybe I’ve read a thing or two that spoke to this topic:

“To thine own self be true.” — Shakespeare

“Follow your heart.” — 10,000 self-help gurus

“Only write stuff you want to read.” — Every successful writer ever.

Thing is, I don’t think that people are inferior or superior based upon intelligence. There are a lot of more important things, like kindness, love, generosity, backbone, keeping cool in a crisis, practiced skill, and so on and so on. But if you aren’t using your gifts, intelligence or others, you will simply not be happy, nor are you likely to succeed in your chosen path.

So now I write YA and Middle Grade fiction, and I write and perform stand-up comedy. I’m rarely the smartest person in the room these days, which makes me thing that maybe at long last I am on to something.

Just some things to think about for this Wednesday.

Saving Mr. Banks and Writing

I didn’t see the movie Saving Mr. Banks when it came out. In fact, I only watched it this week. I’m sorry I waited so long, as it is an excellent film. It’s about the making of Mary Poppins. Mary Poppins seems like a story for children, and I suppose the fact that P L Travers managed to sell a series of eight books about the magical nanny speaks to their effectiveness. But I’ve always gotten misty at the end of the movie, when they all go out to fly a kite. It’s just so wonderful that old Mr. Banks has finally seen the light and learned to break out of his shell and play again, or maybe for the first time. And no wonder, because as it turns out, there is a lot of truth in the story of Mr. Banks. He is based upon the author’s father, one Travers Goff (her real name was Helen Goff.) She took his name as her own, which says something about how much she loved the man.

He was “in a cage,” just like Bert tells the children in the movie. He never broke out, at least not before the consumption took him away. So, young Helen was left to try to redeem him all by herself. The movie is about her coming to terms with the real story behind Mary Poppins, and I won’t spoil it any more than to say that redemption did come. My thesis here is that the film works because of the genuine, heartfelt emotion that was written into it, both by Mrs. Travers and the Disney folks who translated the story on to film. In fact, that “Fly a Kite” scene is the exact moment when Mr. Banks, and by extension, Mr. Travers Goff, is finally redeemed. No wonder it’s such a wonderful scene: it’s real!

I look at the stuff I write and I wonder if I’ve put myself into it to that extent. Because I doubt if it will do well if I haven’t. This is the reason, I’m sure, that the #1 piece of advice for new authors turns out to be “only write stuff you want to read!” Sure, there’s craft, technique, word usage, all of that, but what it comes down to, I think, is whether or not your heart is in the story.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think that I have a kite to fly.

Foundation’s Friends

Stories in Honor of Isaac Asimov

Asimov was my first love of science fiction. My sister gave me a copy of the book Foundation when I was 11 or 12, and I was hooked. If you remember Han Solo’s speech about the difficulty of making a hyperspace jump in the first Star Wars movie, that was almost verbatim from Foundation. One of the coolest things about Asimov’s fiction is that he created a world that you could drop yourself into and forget that the real one was even out there. In fact, by the time he finished, he had tied up three of his worlds into a vast future history that is, frankly, one hell of a lot of fun to read. I was saddened when he died, because I thought I’d never get to see inside that world again. But, I was wrong.

Had I been paying attention, I’d have noticed that this book was already available at the time of his death. It was a tribute to a living author, and one well deserved. I’ve read only the first four stories so far, but they are, well, fantastic, amazing, and astounding. (Long-term fans will get that sentence. The rest of you, meh!)

The first story is about a girl who is a strip runner in future New York CITY. I mean CITY, as in the ones Asimov describes in Caves of Steel. A world where today’s New York is a sort of a bump on a log compared to the reality that is NEW YORK. In Caves of Steel, a detective names Elija Bailey is hired by “Spacers,” those who live on planets other than this one, to solve a crime. Elija comes from a world where paranoia about hygiene is rampant, and where robots are the common way to get everyday labor done. Spacers get colds, and don’t use robots. Our heroine must deal with those facts, and with her crime (strip running) as she learns some things about her world, her CITY, and the Outside. She even meets Bailey. Such fun! An excellent story, in a familiar world that is not the one we really live in!

The second story actually involves Thiotimoline! A practical use for it, and the solution to a difficult problem; a solution with cosmic implications! Thiotimoline is a powder that dissolves before you add water. The story of the powder was originally published in the journal Chemistry in 1948 as a bit of a joke. It reads like an actual thesis, which is what Asimov was also writing at the time. He got his PhD, we got two good stories. It’s a mystery with tongue firmly in cheek, just the way Asimov liked them. Just remember to resublimate your Thiotimoline before use.

The third story is another detective story, a tad grimmer, but still with a joking twist at the end. I think that if I’d been told that Asimov himself had written it, I’d have believed it. Somebody crossed a cabbage with, oh, no, I don’t want to spoil it, in case you haven’t read it. You should, you know.

And finally, fans will recognize the time that Gilmer sacked Trantor. This story is about the Second Foundation and how they deal with Gilmer. Right at the end one of them says something rather hubristic, and fans know the price of hubris, right? “What are the odds?” he asks. “Damned high!” we answer. Again, completely back into Asimov’s world. On Trantor, where you may recall “The Stars End.”

Well, I’m sorry I missed this book all these years, but at least I’m getting to read it now. Dammit, I like Asimov’s worlds, and I’m truly sorry that he had to leave this one.

Read it, you’ll like it!

Foundation’s Friends: Stories in Honor of Isaac Asimov

Edited by Martin H. Greenberg
Prefice by Ray Bradbury
Afterword by Isaac Asimov

Tor, 1989

No e-book, but still available at not outrageous prices used.

Writing Funny

A Fey Cow

Besides using a cartoon drawing of a goofy cow, writing funny presents a unique set of challenges. I like to write, you know that, but it turns out I also like to get up in front of people and tell jokes. You may know that too, but I discovered it only recently. But there is something you may never have considered about being a comic. That is, a comic is also a writer. You have to write all the time. Right now, I’m working on a YA romance, a chapter book involving some fourth-grade detectives (not that they’re low grade, they’re in the fourth grade,) and an endless series of jokes to be invented, refined, and worked into a routine that will, I hope, make an audience pee their collective pants. Or, at least get me hired at some corporate events. (My HBO special will be next year, of course.)

So, oddly it seems to me, every comic you see on television or in person is also a professional writer. In my case, I have never been able to get a serious point across unless I couch it in humor. Hell, I bet you’re bored right now, aren’t you? ‘Cause I haven’t made any jokes yet, have I? Well, be bored then. I charge for humor, after all. But my point is that every one of the comics, from Seinfeld to the guy at the club you dropped in on the other night when you were already too drunk to walk straight (we see you, you know,) writes something virtually every day. And he or she has to write something that’s funny! And that means studying what is funny. (That sentence certainly isn’t.) But, humor can be studied just like algebra, and that’s what comedians do. Can that be funnier? What’s the best punchline? How do I make it funnier? How can I add another punchline? And on and on.

I write regular stuff, so I’m hoping that by posting this about writing comedy I might help some of my fellow writers to appreciate the amount of thought and effort that goes into a comedy routine. I doubt that, just taken as a person, Lewis Black is any more angry than anyone else, but his anger schtick earned him a movie role as, well, Anger. And if you think Seinfeld is just a bunch of goofs kicking stuff around, I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. Seinfeld is a bunch of professionals who polish and analyze and polish and analyze and polish some more, until it’s funny enough for prime time.

Think about that next time you see or read some funny stuff. A whole lot of serious work goes into making it that way. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

Stages of Anguished Joy

A short post this week. I want to mention the stages I go through when I’m writing a new work. It’s simple:

First, I draft the thing at a furious clip. Then I read it over, and guess what? It’s the most wonderful story ever conceived. I’m so lucky to be alive at the time of its creation!

Second, I put it away for a while, so that I can see it with fresh, and newly re-amazed eyes.

Third, I take it out and start reading through it, looking for things like superfluous modifiers, excessive gerunds, unclear phrasing, and so forth.

Fourth, I sink into the depths of despair because I now see that the project is some of the most awful, unworthy, boring and repulsive prose ever spawned. I can’t imagine what I was thinking when I drafted it.

Fifth, I start working on revising it anyway, looking for characterization, crisp prose, clarity, grammar and spelling. But all the while I stay depressed because I just know that no matter what I do it is going to be be a dog in the end. And I don’t mean dog in a good way, either.

Sixth, I put it away again for a while. Maybe a long while.

Seventh, I get it out again and read it. Now I’m surprised because it doesn’t actually suck. In fact, parts of it are actually reasonably good! So,

Eighth, I revise it again to clean up the stuff I missed the first time, and now the work is all ready to go.

To somebody else to read, after which I look at the revisions and sink deep into despair again. But, that’s all a part of the process, innit?

Stand Up, Sit Down

Fight, fight, fight?

Okay, it’s not a fight. But doing stand-up requires writing, of course, and just like other writing, the writing requires revision. I even have a few jokes about writing. They’re not great, but I did write them myself.

You may not know this, but query is an old Sanskrit term that means, roughly, “Throw it down a deep well.”

Okay, not that funny. That’s because I used it once, in my first stand-up class, and never used it again. It’s never been revised. But anything I do on stage certainly has. For instance, here’s a revision sequence for a joke I’m probably going to include with my next performance.

1. My cousin got a ticket the other day. Used his turn signal.

Not a bad idea, but is it funny enough? Who the hell knows? But could it be funnier? Well, almost anything could.

2. Traffic in Vegas is sort of weird. My cousin got a ticket last week for not using his turn signal. He caused a six-car pile-up.

More detail, probably be funnier when delivered. Is it funny enough, though? (See above.)

3. Traffic in Vegas is so weird, a friend of mine got a ticket for not using his turn signal. They’re sending him to traffic school to learn to be an asshole like the rest of us!

#3 is the funniest of those, and the most revised. I prefer it because it flows more smoothly, it includes more people in the punchline, and it’s a lot more unexpected at the end. That’s one joke that takes maybe fifteen seconds to deliver, and you can see what a bit of revision has done for it. I did a lot of that revision aloud, and I’m not saying that it will remain as you see it here, just that it got better at each revision. And now, I come to my point about writing and revision, to wit:

When I revise out loud, I stand up. Then when I type it into my file of material, I sit down. (See how I cleverly worked in the title of this post here?) Revising out loud helps me see where things hit snags, where I can make something stronger, and which parts maybe I should just toss and forget. (What? Forgettable jokes? Say it ain’t so!) And this technique works not just for comedy, gentle readers, but for any writing.

Right now I’m metaphorically bleeding as I slowly revise a YA romance I drafted during the last Nanowrimo. The revision will take a lot longer than the first draft, I can tell you. Sometimes I find that reciting a passage aloud provides a lot of insight into what’s right and wrong about it, which makes the process a lot easier. How about that? A perfectly serious book can be helped by a technique from stand-up comedy? Who knew?

You may not know this, but “First Draft” is an old Farsi phrase meaning “Five-Hundred Hours on Facebook!”

That last one is true, of course. ;-)