Thriller, Anyone?

Paris, Las Vegas, taken in 2013.
Paris, Las Vegas, taken in 2013.

I believe I mentioned some time ago that I was working on a thriller type novel, featuring an FBI agent and a cast of characters to support/impede her in her investigations. I’m not saying more than that, because projects come and projects go, but here are a few things I’ve learned so far about writing this type of story.

It can’t stop moving! They don’t call them “action” films for nothing, do they? Every chapter has to have something in it that involves a threat, a chase, some real danger, an amazing development, something that gives a sense of moving. Forward, sideways, or backwards, that’s up to where the plot is going at this point, but it has to keep moving.

Act one is going to miss a lot of stuff in the first draft. I have a string of notes to myself reminding me to be sure to put in character or development or background or all three in the first part of the book. I’m somewhere in act II, but I don’t expect this to stop happening. I don’t think I can adequately draft the thing until I’ve gotten to “The End” for the first time. I hope that my experiences with previous projects will cut down the total number of revisions somewhat, but there will be plenty, that’s for sure.

Characterization is presented in a lot of little ways. Does she like sushi? Does she hate Game of Thrones? (Example only. GOT does not exist in the world I’m creating.) How does she react in a given situation? How is she with dogs, cats, birds, zoo animals, other drivers, her boss, her co-workers? There is no room in this sort of story for more than minimal descriptions, and even then it has to be through the character’s prejudices. Cool, huh?

As I learn more about this new for me genre, I’ll post more about it. I, for one, am looking forward to reading this book!

Uplyfting

Scene near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon
Scene near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

In my unending quest to expand my store of possible stories, I have begun driving for Lyft. I am hoping that this results in my meeting scores of wonderfully story-worthy people. It’s been two weeks now, and here are a few stories.

There’s the woman I picked up on Sixth Street who was going to a clinic on North Rancho. I had trouble understanding what she was saying. This seemed odd, as she was talking loudly enough. As we got to the destination, it occurred to me what the problem was. She was speaking Spanish! And, the odd thing is, from that moment on I could understand her! Apparently my ears need to be expecting a language to hear it properly. (I occasionally use Spanish in other places, too. A veces.)

Then there were the four young women who were with the Las Vegas Market 2017, a big old home furnishing expo, held in the World Market Center. Never went near the place. They were rushing back to their hotel to watch Game of Thrones at 9. I was nice, in that even though I told them that I had watched the East Coast Feed at 6, I didn’t tell them anything about it. (Not a Game of Thrones fan? I suggest reading the books. They are excellent, much better than the video series.)

And there was the young couple who I picked up inside a taco joint. Yep, inside. They gave me a nice tip, too. And the woman I picked up outside of Sapphire Gentleman’s Club at 6am, who I’m pretty sure was asleep when we got to her hotel. She’d been up all night, on her feet, and I hope she made a lot of money. But the two women I took home to their Southwest apartment complex from Fashion Show Mall had her beat. They got in the back seat, laid down, and slept all the way home.

Hmmm. This may actually work! And if you’re in Vegas, and if you call a Lyft while you are, and if I pick you up, please give me five stars and a tip, okay?

Ideas

This is the tree that blew down in a storm last year. It was a Giant Sequoia in a California State Park.
This is the tree that made the news when it blew down in a storm last year. It was a Giant Sequoia in a California State Park.

If you tell people that you’re a writer, soon or later you’ll be asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” Fair question, I suppose. My cynical answer is simply that “I use my brain, fool!” I have never used my cynical answer, because, amongst other things, I write things that I hope to sell, and having people thinking you’re a wise-ass might tend to drive them away. But, as this is a post intended for writers, I’ll tell you where mine come from. It’s encouraging, for people like me, at least.

I daydream a lot. Almost all of my teachers, even ones teaching writing, seemed to agree that daydreaming is a bad idea. An idea you shouldn’t embrace, that is. And it is a bad idea, if your goal is to stay firmly attached to this world at all times. Somehow, though, the advice of “live in the present moment” ignores the fact that the present moment can be boring as Hell. Yet, I do agree that being anxious is living in the future, and anxiety is bad, and being depressed is living in the past, and depression is bad, too. So, the present moment is what is left for us to live in. Except for that boring part, I agree wholeheartedly.

But, there is a place that is not in the future, not in the past, but still not exactly in the present moment. And that place is daydreams. When I daydream I’m not anxious, nor am I depressed. I’m present in whatever I’m dreaming up. So, it’s perfect, in that I can stay firmly rooted in the present moment, and ignore the world at the same time! Writing stories is the perfect career for someone who likes to daydream! So, if you’re a writer, I’ll bet you enjoy getting lost in your own imagination, don’t you? That world is a hoot, a gas, the bees’ knees, a helluva lot nicer than the one in front of your eyes, at least most of the time. So, when something you see or hear or experience triggers a story idea, you have a place where you can go to explore that idea and see if you can make a world out of it. Take that, boring teachers! Stick that in your Roberts Rules, Madame Chairwoman! Ha! I can escape you all!

And, maybe, with hard work and diligence, I can get you all to buy a copy of what I dream up. Wouldn’t that be swell, though?

Later. Right now I have someplace to be.

Where There Is Money There Is No Art?

This is an interesting take reinforcing my recent post on Commercial Fiction. Please Click and Enjoy!

Here’s a truth: I have earned precisely zero dollars for my fiction. Two decades of studying the craft, thousands of practice pages, tens of thousands of hours. But you know what? That’s OK b…

Source: Where There Is Money There Is No Art?

ENCORE! ENCORE!

El Castel en Chetzin Itza
El Castel en Chetzin Itza

Yes, that caption is in Spanish. Be happy this whole post isn’t.

The Encore is the theme of this posting: Commercial Fiction. I’ve written about the topic before, here and in former web presences. But, every few years, I like to go over it. I am inspired at this time by an article my wife shared about Romance Fiction. It was the six reasons people put down Romance Fiction. All six of them were, “They’re Jealous.” Yep.

Commercial Fiction, which of course Romance Fiction is an example of, is fiction meant to sell. When I was in college I knew a number of people, both fellow students and professors, who put down anything meant to sell as somehow inferior to that which was written for some higher purpose. Art, I suppose, or serious social commentary. Whatever. This is a common theme, and one, I believe, exacerbated by jealousy, because Commercial Fiction actually does sell, which makes its authors some money, whereas Art Gratia Artis makes for starving artists. So, yeah, some folks are jealous. But, here’s what I have to say about that.

Will Shakespeare didn’t want to write great literature. He wanted juicy parts for himself and his friends, and to pack the house, because, after all, eventually he owned the theatre. I’m sure he’d be pleased to know that his plays are considered great literature, but that wasn’t his goal. He just wanted to keep doing what he liked doing, and making enough money at it to keep it up. He was a success in life, even though his life wasn’t a particularly long one.

Mark Twain wasn’t trying to create great literature when he wrote Huckleberry Finn. He was trying to show the evils of racism through telling a great story. He didn’t want literature, he wanted to make a living writing stories, and, in spite of some setbacks along the way, he was a success.

I could cite hundreds of examples of this were I so inclined, but I’m going to refrain because this blog features mostly succinct posts. You want a treatise, hit up an academic. I doubt that very many famous artists started out to create great art. What they started out to do was to make a living selling their products. Some times it worked, and some times they starved, or kept lifelong day jobs. But they almost all hoped to live off of their art, whether it was great or not.

And that’s why I write commercial fiction myself. It’s too damned much work not to keep refining it and honing it and tweaking it until somebody is willing to pay me for it. If you’ve tried writing stories, you know that it isn’t an easy thing to do. But, you can make a few bucks (Euros, whatever) at it if you persist. And that, by definition, is Commercial Fiction.

Literary Criticism

CaptureThis is a picture of a post I shared on Facebook the other day. It’s funny, but I think it would be better if it substituted “literary critic” for “teacher.” Not all teachers are literary critics, and some of my favorite teachers were responsible for the foundation of what I know about language, so I don’t want to insult them unduly.

Literary critics, though, are a different story. Besides the obvious question of, “Who died and made you the arbiter of things artistic?” there is the issue of destroying art via deconstruction. Sure, it’s fun to do sometimes, but if you’re really enjoying something, be it a painting, a book, a show, whatever, delving into the details of how it’s made will only take away the attraction. And, that’s what happens, a lot, especially with movies, or movie-like entertainment. That “Look Inside the Episode” at the end of each Game of Thrones episode is worthless for anyone wanting to write good drama for themselves, and it does absolutely nothing to advance the story, characterization, or plot. It is, in short, a waste of electrons to watch.

And this is not a modern phenomenon. Way back in college, in a previous century, I read an article by John Ciardi explaining what Robert Frosts’ poem Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Day is all about. You know the one: it ends with For I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep. I imagine that you, having at least the brains of a hamster, can figure out what Frost is saying with those lines. It, as they say, ain’t rocket science. (Truth to tell, some of the rocket scientists I’ve met haven’t seemed all that bright, but that’s another story.) But Ciardi goes into excruciating detail about the meaning of each line, his description of the area, the deep, metaphorical significance of it all. By the time I’d finished reading the explanation, I didn’t want to see that poem ever again! I have since recovered, because the art endures long after the taint of deconstruction fades.

For an artist in words (that’s a writer, you know) the moral is simply that you must make your meaning so clear that even a detailed analysis of your work will fail to make people fall out of love with it.

As for the critics? Deconstruct ’em!

So, You’re Having A Bad Writing Day

You’re having a shitty writing day. It happens. I get a crap writing day at least once a week. Maybe twice. Once in a while, I get a whole bad run of writing days, like I’ve got some ki…

Source: So, You’re Having A Bad Writing Day

Here I am retweeting this guy. Again. He’s, um, demonstrative, and his advice is good. Remember, smart people use more profanity than normal people. Click it and read, it will help you to write!

Who’s on First?

Fog off the Coast near Monterrey, California, 2010
Fog off the Coast near Monterrey, California, 2010

It can be hard to tell sometimes who is where and doing what, but even though I really wish that our President had remained merely a reality TV host, and that, oh, you could recite the litany, right? But none of that carping gets you anywhere. Thing is, screaming and yelling and acting like the asshole you hate is a good way to become the asshole you hate. Better you should take the advice of Tolkien’s Gandalf, and remember that little acts of kindness, of being good, and kind, and loving, are what defeats evil. Not great armies. Evil has lots of great armies; it can always raise another great army. You’ll never beat it that way. But good deeds, and love, get passed along, and always under the radar. Yes, unnoticed by news outlets and other media, and that’s good. The news may not be evil, per se, but it does evil’s work by making people upset enough to forget about loving kindness, which leaves evil looking undefeatable. Evil likes that, you can bet the farm on that fact.

So, as a writer, the best way for you to maximize your loving kindness is to write loving, and kind, material. Even if it’s full of terrible shoot-em-ups and horrid monsters, you can infuse it with love and kindness. Not polyannishly, you fool! I mean that even loving kindness has to overcome all sorts of terrible things in defeating evil, and, in fact, that’s loving kindness’s job! So, sure, terrible things happen, but love prevails. In the end, that is always the case. And to practice, all you have to do is spread good deeds around in your personal, real-world, life. Do that, and your life will get better, and then your writing will get better. Good things, you see, come to them that fights evil through acts of loving kindness.

Later, gator!

It’s a Mystery From Me

For One Month, It Was Real!
For One Month, It Was Real!

The mystery for you this week is, when and where was that picture taken? And, did I have a Squishee?

But what I’m talking about is my latest project, which is a mystery. My protagonist is an FBI agent, who is trying (this is the underneath part) to get back at, if not get, the people who murdered her parents when she was 12. Yes, I always know the backstory of my major characters. Don’t you? Anyway, I’ve never tried a mystery detective story thing before, so I turned, as one does, to a book. In fact, to Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel, by Hallie Ephron. Is it a good book? Well, for a mystery fan, probably not. But if you’re trying to make one up out of your, what is it, fervid, fetid, fetishy, whatever, imagination, it will hold your interest just fine. I do not have the latest edition; the link takes you to the edition that I do have. If you want the latest, and can’t figure out how to get there from where I’ve sent you, then don’t try to write a mystery novel in the first place, okay?

It’s been fun, so far. And this may result in my least messy first draft ever. Not that it won’t need revision, but I appear to be getting better at cutting out superfluous modifiers on the first pass. Even if I publish it myself, it will be a long time in the works, so hold not thy breath. But, it’s what I’m working on. For a while. Oh, but, you’ll love it!

 

Be a Smarty!

This Gentleman Lives in the Atlanta Zoo
This Gentleman Lives in the Atlanta Zoo

It seems to me that we, as a society, expect way too little of each other. A good illustration of this fact is the way that our media, and anyone communicating publicly, tend(s) to simplify things so that the audience can understand. We assume that the audience, even if they are literate (you know, people who read books?,) won’t understand anything that is overly complex. Consider the first Harry Potter book. The title is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Except in the United States. Here it is the Sorcerer’s Stone instead. Why? Well, the publisher (Scholastic, no less) decided that American kids wouldn’t know what the philosopher’s stone was, so they’d better change it to something obvious that stupid American children could understand. That is, unfortunately, true.

And it pisses me off greatly!

American kids, like all kids, are capable of learning. Heck, I knew, when I was a child, what the philosopher’s stone was. (If you think I’m going to tell you, you’re not paying attention!) In fact, there never was, prior to Scholastic, anything at all known as a “Sorcerer’s Stone.” What the heck would it be? There is absolutely no reason to confuse our own children with what is, after all, a lame excuse for a brilliant title. Scholastic should be ashamed!

By not assuming that kids are smart enough to learn from context, or look something up (and they do have the Internet, you know) we are condemning them to staying just a tad more ignorant, and ultimately stupid, than they would have been had we assumed that they had some brains. Maybe it is an Anglo conspiracy to keep minorities down, as I’ve read, but that doesn’t explain why every single copy of that book has the wrong title on it. American copy, I mean. This is an insult to the intelligence of our children, and a great wrong to society. If we expect our kids to be stupid, we get what we expect. How about, instead of expecting good grades, we simply expect them to be intelligent enough to figure out a basic problem (like the definition of a word) and proceed from there? What if that started us on the path to being a smarter nation? Hey, it could happen!

And, for the record, it’s not too late for Scholastic to change that title back to what it is supposed to be for future printings. You listening, Scholastic?

Yeah. I figured.