Book Haul for April 2017

 

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I love books and I love reading.  I love going to bookstores and libraries and just walking down the rows of books, pulling out books that look interesting, reading the blurbs on the dust jackets and the backs of the books.  However, I don’t love the modern incarnation/conception of libraries and bookstores with their focus on book “communities,” reading “clubs” (aka reading “circles” or “groups”), and focus on other non-narrative media (movies, audio, and even video games are fine for me because of the narrative aspects of those media, but when start moving into toys, and food and beverages, that is where I lose interest).  However, I discovered that if I’m able to get to the bookstores/libraries early enough in the day, I can recapture some of that joy in cruising the aisles in order discover that special book that I can lose myself in.  So, I thought I write this week’s blog entry on the four books that I bought recently at a used bookstore.  I don’t know if this will become a regular feature of the blog, but it seemed like something fun to write about.  I bought two fiction books and two non-fiction books this time around.

TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT (Book 13 of the Wheel of Time Series) by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

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I have read this book before.  I have completed the entire Wheel of Time novel series having started reading them way back as an undergraduate when I started my college career at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville (UTK) before I transferred to U.T. Chattanooga (UTC) a couple of years later.  This series is one that I found with help from a friend from high school who was also attending UTK  (An aside: quite a few of us actually ended up at UTK, especially in that first year and we often talked about cool Fantasy novels that we were reading).  I read this book about a year or two after it was published.  I didn’t read it initially because I concerned about Sanderson’s (or any other writer’s, for that matter) ability to successfully conclude the story that Jordan had been working on for so many years.  However, after reading an Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC) of Brandon Sanderson’s Way of Kings, I felt confident in Sanderson’s approach that I went ahead and finished the three books the Wheel of Time Series.

WRITING FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION: HOW TO CREATE OUT-OF-THIS WORLD NOVELS AND SHORT STORIES by Orson Scott Card, Philip Athans, and Jay Lake & the Editors of Writer’s Digest.

Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction

Source: Amazon.com

This is one of those books that I simply couldn’t resist based on the cover and the title.  I try to buy only one book in each genre (in this case, how to: writing), but I simply couldn’t help myself when I saw it.  It covers a lot of material that I already know and/or have in other forms somewhere else, but I”m super interested in transitioning from short form Fantasy and Science Fiction into long form Fantasy and Science Fiction and I’m looking for any tips and techniques that I can find to aid me in my process.  It also has a very comprehensive “reference” section that relates to various historical elements that might be useful to a Fantasy writer, in particular and I just couldn’t resist.  I don’t think it will be as helpful to me as the other book on writing that I bought (see below), but it did have a dragon on the cover.  Note to future authors: if you want to pique my interest, just put a dragon or a spaceship on the cover.

BLEAK HOUSE by Charles Dickens

bleak houseOkay, so this is one of those books for “school.”  My program has a fairly exhaustive list of famous/important literary works for incoming PhD students to read and take a test on.  Now I’ve already taken (and PASSED! 🙂 ) this exam, but I the idea of a list of important literary works is a “challenge” that I really want to undertake.  So I’ve made it my goal to finish all the books on this list.  I actually downloaded the audio version of this book to listen to on the drive to and from school, but I really do follow the story better when I can read it, rather than listen to it.  So, I decided to buy this copy and read it during my “downtime” between classes, waiting in lines, etc.  I’ve read Dickens before, but not this specific book, so I’ll be interested to see if I like it as I do all of the other Dickens novels that I have read.

WRITING THE BLOCKBUSTER NOVEL by Albert Zuckerman

Writing the blockbuster novel

Source: Amazon.co.uk

This is another book that I’ve read before–I read it at the Chattanooga Public Library long before I started working there.  It didn’t really make all that much of an impression on me at the time as I was primarily interested in learning “short story” writing.  I wanted to learn how to write short form fiction before stepping up to the “big” works of novels, screenplays, and the like (graphic novels, while around, were not really viable options at that time).  Now, however, I think that I’m ready to learn the lessons of novel writing.  I especially love the fact that point number on the dust jacket in the inside cover is “how to develop and use an outline.”  Anyone following the conversation that I had two weeks ago with a blog commentor named Tom Cordle will appreciate the fact that I like outlines to guide my stories into rough draft stages.  Outlines make sense to me where as just jumping in blind does not.  I can’t tell you how many novels that I have “in my mind” that did not make the translation onto the page because I did not complete a strong outline/rough draft.  I’m hopeful that this book will allow me to produce an outline for a novel over the summer and (fingers crossed) a rough draft for it by Christmas of this year as well.  Well, I can dream big, at least.

Well, that’s it for me.  Here’s hoping you have wonderful, book-filled, week.

 

It’s that Time of Year Again . . .

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Source: Letour.fr

Yup, it’s that time of year again–The Tour De France 2016 (aka “my annual 3 week production drop”).  It’s that time of year when my brain goes into “shutdown” mode and I gorge on four hours plus of race coverage for 3 weeks straight (including the “Rest Days” as I end up watching reruns of the previous days race even when there’s not a race on because I can’t bear to be without the race.  Sad isn’t it?  :0 )

I love watching the Tour and I have since the mid-80’s when Greg Lemond was participating in the Tour.  This (after E3) is my unofficial “Me” time where I put most everything aside and just watch.  I’m not a huge TV watcher, meaning that I’ll turn it on , but unless I’m invested in a (sci-fi and/or BBC) show, it is just “background” for me.  The Tour is one of those few exceptions.

“Project Storm”

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Source: learningenglish.voanews.com

Surprisingly enough, this year I’m actually still producing work.  I just started a new short-story tentatively titled, “Project Storm.”  For those who are interested, it was inspired by “The Open Boat,” by Stephen Crane.  I’m less interested in the actual plot of the story and more interested in some of the comments/thoughts of the men.  More on the genesis of the story in an Author’s Note when I finish it.  This one may be one of my shorter works–I’ve finished Section 1 and I’m thinking there’s only going to be 3 sections, but that may change.

Outlining Longer Works — “Project Skye”

 

A few posts ago, I was bemoaning the fact that I’ve not outlined anything any of the longer works that I would like to work on and summer break is quickly coming to an end.  So, with that in mind, I grabbed my notebooks and began going through them looking for ideas that I could use for Chapter Headings/Titles.  I put down around 60 or so possible chapter titles (whew!).  I’ll start whittling them down and then I’ll see if I can put a sentence or two description about what happens in each chapter while watching the Tour.  Who knows, if I’m really lucky, I might have a novel outlined by the time race concludes in 3 weeks.  How cool is that?  Wish me luck!  🙂

Goal: to have an outline finished by Summer 2016 so that I can start writing chapters in my (rare) downtime, so that by the end of the 2016-2017 school year, I have the “rough draft” of my first novel completed!

 

Nulla Dies Sine Linea (No Day Without a Line)

SpaceShip_MaurizioBarabani

NO DAY WITHOUT A LINE”

It’s summertime and school is out!  As I write this, it is Memorial Day, an American Holiday to remember those who have served (or are serving) in the military and who have been willing to sacrifice themselves in defense of the nation!  Go Troops!

It is also the “unofficial” start to summer in the U.S. and for most teachers, it means that school is out until the fall and that the next 2-3 months are our own.  Usually, that means housework/yard work that we have put off during the spring months to concentrate on finishing off the school year strongly.  While I have my share of yard work and housework to do, I also have decided that summer should be a time to recharge/refocus my writing.

To that end, I’m going to follow the latin line: Nulla Dies Sine Linea (“No Day without a Line”).  Everyday, I’m going to write something.  A paragraph for “Project Light,” or plan out a chapter for “Project Librarian,” or something similar.

Now that I know that my writing will fail without proper planning, why not use the time time that I’ve been blessed with during the summer to make sure that I get the ideas, plots, characters and projects down on paper (in the computer, tablet, or notes) and make sure that I have plan for everything that I want to work on during the upcoming Fall.

HAVE POSTCARDS, WILL TRAVEL

To that end, I’ve broken out my old standbys: unlined postcards.  I used to use these in graduate school for jotting down/taking notes for some of the more esoteric philosophies of various rhetoricians and tracking the arguments of various orators.

They’ve also served me well when I wanted to work out the basics of a plot outdoors (I don’t live in a neighborhood that’s conducive to showing off your possessions.)  Postcards are extremely portable and as long as I have a writing instrument, I can jot down notes/ideas as they come to me (something that I’ve been using my phone/tablet to do lately).

I’ve jotted down a character idea that’s been floating in my head for most of May and on the back, hopefully a story idea (aka plot) will present itself.  If so, I’ll jot it down along with a quick rough draft of the story and then move on to the next idea.  If I can consistently do this for the next 2.5 months before school begins, I should have an outline of quite a few short projects and a COMPLETE outline for a few longer projects.  So far, I’m batting 1 for 1 as I’ve already completed my postcard for today (Yay me!)

PATROL SHIP “FIRE ANT” IMAGE BY MAURIZIO BARABANI

So, when I was looking for an image to illustrate my title, I stumbled across this spaceship image that I found pretty intriguing.  I decided to investigate and discovered that the image came from the website of an artist.  While it looks like he mostly does contemporary art, there are some genre pieces in his Portfolio.

The artist’s name Maurizio Barabani.  I’m linking to his Website/Porfolio Page, his Facebook Page, his Blog, and his ArtStation Page.  It looks like he’s Italian.  Man, looking at some of his genre work makes me wish that I could speak Italian.  It would be awesome to work with him on a Graphic Novel of some sort.  Anyway, give him a look and perhaps a “Like” on his Facebook page.  He’s doing some awesome work!

The Outline’s the Thing to Catch a King (or, in this case, a story)

outline1

Here is a slide that I found online that is super-relevant to my topic today: THE OUTLINE.  I have been in a fugue for the past 2 months in terms of creative writing and here is the reason.  I HAVE NOT BEEN OUTLINING MY STORIES.  It is as simple as that.  I’ve been trying to do what Brandon Sanderson and the crew of the “Writing Excuses” Podcast calls, “Pantsing,” (aka “writing by the seat of your pants.”)  Essentially, you have a character, setting, inciting idea and you run with it.  You let your “characters” drive the narrative forward.  There are many famous writers who swear by it (Alice Walker, Toni Morrison) come quickly to mind.  Anytime you hear a writer say, “Oh, my character “speak through me” and I just record what they are telling me, you essentially have a “Pantser.”

I CAN’T DO THAT.  It’s that simple.  For me, writing is all about knowing what my characters are going to do and figuring out how the revelation at the end will affect both the character and the reader.  Everything I do starts with PLOT.  If I don’t know the plot, I can have the best character, setting, etc., but the story WON’T come together, no matter HOW HARD I TRY.  I NEED to know where I’m going and what the emotional payoff is going to be at the end for me to write effectively.  Anything else–well, that’s when my fugue starts to kick in because I don’t know what I’m trying to say/express.

I’ve even tried writing the ending first and then backtracking to the beginning and working towards the ending.  Nope, doesn’t work.  I tried working backwards, ending first then section before ending, then section before that, until I get to the beginning.  No way, that won’t work either.  Starting in the middle?  No, No, and No.  I HAVE to build my stories sequentially.  I HAVE to start with plot.  I HAVE to work from beginning to end.  I HAVE to find my characters by writing.  I HAVE to find the ending by figuring out through the course of writing what my characters want and will they be able to achieve it.  Any other way, well, “There lie madness.”

NO OUTLINE, NO NOVEL

outline2

Outlines get a bum rap because they supposedly “inhibit spontaneity” or “are too restrictive for creativity,” but I think it is because it was something you learned to do in school for papers/essays.  Having been a 6th grade Lang. Arts teacher for the past 3 years, I know first hand how much kids hate doing papers.  Too much work is involved for their liking.  Even in college, the paper is one of the most maligned assignments that can be given to students, even though its purpose is to help you learn the information and then present what you’ve learned in a codified manner.

There is this barrier of dislike that is associated with them from school (I’ll save my post on the current wave of anti-intellectualism and the dislike of learning for another time), but I can safely say that I HAVE LEARNED SOMETHING IMPORTANT FROM MY 3 MONTH FUGUE: THE REASON I’VE NOT WRITTEN A NOVEL IS BECAUSE I’VE YET TO ACTUALLY OUTLINE ONE FROM START TO FINISH. My percentage for taking an idea for a novel and outlining it from beginning to end is 0%.  Now while I don’t actually finish EVERY short-story that I outline my percentage is closer to 85-90% on short stories.  Graphic Novel outlines (start to finish): 0%.  Screenplay outlines (start to finish): 0%. In every major category that I want to write (excepting short stories), I’ve not completely outlined a project from beginning to end.  Simple as that.  On my short stories, I outline about 95% (at least I had been up to my recent “fugue” and of those, I completed about 85-90% of the stories.  I’ve only abandoned 1 story in the past 3 years of writing.)

Pretty telling statistics, I feel.  So, while my fugue was pretty painful for me (& apparently some readers of the blog as I lost followers–c’est la vie), it was helpful in that I learned from this failure.  If I want to make this more than a hobby, I’m going to have to force myself to struggle and outline my longer works (& not just the intro) and force myself to really concentrate on getting the plot down.  Then I can go back, rewrite and dramatize the action, and then in the final draft, punch up characterization and any other problems that either beta readers or editors find in the prose.  Lesson learned–hopefully, during the summer I can report back on the progress of my outlining my longer works.

2016 Writing Season (Series 1)

creativewriter

Image Source: The Guardian.com

I’m back in the writer’s chair!

As this is primarily an author’s blog dealing with Science Fiction and Fantasy (with other miscellaneous topics thrown in), I wanted to announce that I’ve started my 2016 writing season!  Huzzah!

I just completed Chapter 1 of my 1st novel (after having already done the Prologue) and gave it to my “alpha” readers on Friday (more on that down below).  I have a short-story that I’m working on and another that I’m brainstorming now.  I just reorganized my writing space to be more conducive to researching markets in order to get a list of potential markets for stories that are finished ready, as well as to make the actual composition of the writing easier.  So, read on to find out what I’m doing/planning this year.

SERIES 1 & SERIES 2

My plan is to divide the year into 3 major parts: Series 1, Summer, and Series 2.  Series 1 runs from January to May and in it I will work on short stories and chapters from my novel.  On weekends, I will brainstorm new projects and decide which ones to write.  The bulk of my writing time will also happen on weekends (the only time when I can consistently seem to write on weekdays is Tuesdays for some reason and that’s simply not enough time.)  But, as I don’t really have as many responsibilities on the weekend, I can convert some of my free time to writing time and push through some of the projects that I want to work on this year.

During the summer, I want to continue working on my novel, but I also want to try longer works, such as a graphic novel & screenplay).  My goal is to work on each one every day during the summer (no school!) and then have a rough draft of each completed by the end.

Series 2 picks off where series one ended: short stories and working on chapters for the novel.  It will end right around the time school ends for the holidays for a break to recharge and then (hopefully) rinse, wash, and repeat, but with a new novel for 2017.

That’s my goal anyway.  We’ll see how close I come to it. 😀

PROJECT LIBRARIAN (Novel)

My 1st novel is what I’m working on right now.  I’m calling it “Project Librarian” and it is set in a post-apocalyptic world with a (you guessed it) Librarian as a protagonist.  I was a Library Assistant for 17 years before becoming a teacher, so I went with the old adage to “write what you know” for this first novel.  I’ve completed the Prologue and 1st Chapter so far so I’ve a ways to go.  One of the shows that I listen to on NPR had a guest who called the creation of a novel, “the slow accretion of pages.”  So my goal is to simply create the pages of my novel all through the year and have a rough draft ready by the end of the year.

PROJECT LIGHT (Sci-Fi short story)

This is a short story that I’ve wanted to write for the last 3 years, but the time seems right to do it now.  It is sort of the “Halo-Killer” story that I wanted to see from Sony during the Microsoft X-Box 360 days, but that Sony never did.  It is my take on the “Space Marines” genre.  I’m on the first section of the story now, but I may have to push it back.  I just reread the guidelines for the anthology that I want to send it to and they specify no planet/star stories and this definitely takes place on a planet.  The planet is crucial to the plot, so I can’t just change the setting.

PROJECT SHADOW (Sci-Fi short story)

So there is a “deep space” story that I’ve wanted to work on for a while.  I wrote down a “concept” in one of my writing notebooks, but to my dismay, I could only find bits and pieces of the concept (necessitating the reorganization of my writing materials).  I’m writing it to a deadline, but I’ll wait to post it here.  So far, I’m 0 for 3 on hitting my deadlines when I post them, but I’m 6 for 6 when I keep them in the back of my mind and just try to hit them naturally (rather than trying to force/pressure myself into hitting them artificially).  If I finish it and submit, I’ll add in the information here when I write an Author’s Note for the Project.

MARKETING MY WORK

The last thing that I’m trying to work on this year is getting better at marketing (selling) my work to various markets.  I’m going to create a list of 5-10 markets that I want to sell the story to (& that I feel are the best fit).  If “surprise” anthologies come along and the story is open, or if it comes back before the anthology closes, then I’ll definitely submit ASAP (that’s how Faerie Knight, Knight of the Wylde West were published), but otherwise I’ll stick to those 5-10 markets until I’ve exhausted them and find 5-10 more.  I’ve been using Duotrope and while it is useful, there are so many places to send stories, that it is almost overwhelming to keep up with it all on the limited amount of time that I have during the week.  So, I’m going to narrow my focus.  I’m picking a completed story, deciding on 5-10 most important markets (pay, prestige, or both) and then submitting until a market takes it or I need to find another 5-10.

I did much BETTER in completing stories in 2015 in a timely manner, but much WORSE in actually selling them/getting time published than I did in 2014.

Well, that’s probably more than you cared to know about my writing process/goals for this year, but it helps me to fix it down in print.  That way I can periodically come back to this post throughout the year to encourage myself to keep writing, no matter what!

 

IT’S NOT THE DESTINATION; IT’S THE JOURNEY

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I’m a fan of the Tour De France—I have been since I was a child watching Greg LeMond tear though the mountains and flat stages in the early and mid ‘80s. I was (& still am) fascinated by the beautiful scenery of the French countryside in the summer, the myriad of tactical decisions that come into play during the race, and the incredible, almost zen-like focus and discipline needed to maintain hours of both training and racing.

As I watch this year’s tour, I was struck by a commercial that is currently airing during the tour. I was specifically struck by the words (& I’m paraphrasing): the destination should not be your focus, but the journey. In other words, enjoy the process.
Cycling is hard. It is physically draining and exhausting. Well, writing is hard as well. It is mentally draining and exhausting. Cycling is also fun—at the end of the day, you have traveled from point A to B and have seen new sights. Writing is no different. When you’ve finished for the day, you know more about your story than you did the day before.

Having a goal is fine—as a matter of fact, I think that it is super important to set goals because they give you something to strive towards. But it is very easy to get caught up in the trap of “finishing.” When you have a goal in mind, you know where you are going and you have (at least) an approximate idea of how you are going to get there. However, I need to remind myself as I attempt this novel (especially in the dark times when nothing seems to be working) that writing is FUN! Otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it. Yes, like cycling, it is hard, demanding, and leaves one exhausted, but writers get to try to recreate the images in their minds with words.

Writers don’t need budgets, CGI special effects or practical effects. We don’t need actors or sets. We don’t need extras, or catering. All we need is a good imagination and something to record what we write. And we need words, just plain old, simple words.

How cool is that?

Lots of Things

Today is a “Lots of Things” day.  I had 1 topic that I wanted to share, but it has suddenly ballooned to 4 things based on events from last night and this morning.  I’ll try to be brief with them, however.  Here goes: 

 1) PROJECT DARK TOWER – started a new story for an anthology that is accepting submissions.  It is a story about the Dark Tower (from Robert Browning’s Poem–Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came).  This story has been in my head for years.  It was supposed to be my “breakout” novel (as Robert Browning’s poem is already arranged in 34 stanzas/cantos already).  I’m still learning how to write a novel, however, and this story is demanding to be written now.  It is coming together in my mind and there is a tangible market asking for stories about the Dark Tower.  I have my main character, Roland, who is a fully realized protagonist in my mind, so I figure its time.  Maybe I will expand it into a novel later, but right now I think I’ll strike while the iron is hot. 

 2) WIFI ISSUES – Readers of the blog know that I’ve been struggling with my wifi since Christmas 2014 when I integrated a new router to my network.  Apple JUST released an update to iOS that fixes the multitude of issues that my phone and ipad have had since Christmas.  So far, so good.  Now, my computer is temporarily out of commision, and I think that my Keychain access that holds my wifi passwords was also at fault for the lack/loss of connectivity.  Not sure if my Mac OS has had an update yet, so some issues may still persist, but hopefully, my wifi network is on the mend.

 3) HACKED! – So about 2 weeks ago, thanks to Gmail’s security team, I was able to intercept and stop an attempt to hijack my email account.  However, this morning, I woke up to 2 emails from Microsoft that said that my gmail account had been linked to a outlook.com account and that outlook account had changed to sblaylock2012@outlook.com.  This is NOT my account–so if you get messages from this account be sure to delete them (I think they’re trying to gain access to my Amazon.com account as I intercepted and stopped an attempted breach there about 1 year ago).  I spent about an hour on the phone with the Microsoft Accounts Live department and they said that my gmail account did not appear toenou be linked to this account.  I remain skeptical of this (based on the attempt hijack 2 weeks ago), so I’m going to create a new email account (actually 2 email accounts–1 personal & 1 professional) and then abandon my current gmail address.  Unfortunately for the scammers/hackers out there: I’m not emotionally tied to email addresses.  I abandoned my AOL email address after 6 years and I will abandon an address when I feel it is no longer useful.  It’s not really all that difficult to change your credentials at various sites–just do the most important ones in a day or two, then do the others as you log into to them/use them. 

 4) LEARNING HOW TO WRITE A NOVEL – That’s my big focus for this year.  I’ve heard that novel writing is “simply the accumulation of pages day after day.”  I don’t think I have thought about my story, setting, characters well enough when I try to write a novel and I think that’s why it falls apart.  I just don’t know enough about the world, the people, the plot, etc.  When I write short stories, I don’t need to know EVERYTHING, but when writing novels, you do need to know how it all works and relates to each other.  I bought 2 notebooks and I’m going to use 2015 to fill them up with everything that I have (notes, characters, story, setting, etc.)  At the end of 2015, I’m going to pick a notebook and start drafting the novel.  This year is all about “preplanning” the stories that I want to tell (aka “training” for a marathon to use a sports metaphor.)

Well, that’s it for this week–hopefully I’ll be back next week with my computer and not my iPad (& hopefully with a stable wifi connection).  Later.