Friday, December 21, 2012

Closer to Adele

Damian tried not to stare as the gorgeous woman sauntered toward him. Something in her gait reminded him of a big cat on the hunt.

Been watching the discovery channel too much, Damian mused. His stomach did a flip as their eyes met briefly.

Close your mouth, Inigo advised.

Damain’s jaw snapped closed, and he looked away, cheeks burning. He missed the tiny smile that his obvious discomfort elicited. By the time he’d worked up the courage to turn his head back, she was standing in front of him.

“Okay, on a scale of Taylor Swift to Adele, how bad was it?”

It was the voice of heaven. The barkeep put on a sympathetic smile and Damian’s world faded to a tunnel. Her teeth were the brightest thing in the room. It was as if a spotlight operator was painting her from above.

What the hell had she just said? Damian’s mind stumbled all over itself.

She continued to smile, but one dark eyebrow arched and a booted foot began to tap. Even her impatience was sexy. Damian felt jealous of the grimy floor.

She spoke again. “Only two types of folk in here tonight, the desperate and the lonely, and I know that look.” Her eyes locked onto Damian’s and held him there, a prisoner in their speckled, emerald depths. “So… how bad?”

Her voice had a light lilt, just enough to keep Damian aware of her tongue. He tried his best to prevent his own from wagging.

Ha, Inigo laughed. It worked, did it not?

What worked? Damian wanted to know.

My summons! Hurry, you must respond before she is ensnared by the others.

A group of men to the right looked as if they might seize the opening and start up their own conversation. Panic gripped Damian as he realized his chance might be slipping by. Thinking quickly, he formulated a proper reply.

“Uh,” Damian said.

He regretted it immediately.

Eloquent, Inigo agreed dryly.

The woman’s renewed smile was salve to the burn on Damian's face. “That bad, eh?” It was the third time she'd spoken to him, and she still seemed to be expecting some sort of reply. Something more than “uh.”

Quickly, Inigo whispered, repeat after me: I apologize, but your beauty hath momentarily disarmed me. What would my lady suggest?

Damian parroted, his mind still mostly blank. To his surprise, the boot froze mid-tap. The bartender giggled; Damian's heart bubbled right along with the laugh.

Amused eyes kept him pinned down. “Well, that gets points for originality, anyway.” She gestured vaguely behind her. “How about a beer?”

Damian nodded.

His eyes followed as the woman bounced away. With casual familiarity, she flipped a glass up, caught it, and then slid it under the tap. Beer frothed forth, golden and inviting. She tipped the foam from the top and danced back. When the beer was beneath his nose, Damian was surprised to find her sizing him up.

“Was that a Spanish accent I detected?” she asked.

Crap. “That depends,” he said.

Inigo, of course, was nowhere to be heard, now.

She raised an eyebrow. “On?”

“Have you ever been to Spain?”

She shook her head, setting her curls aflutter. “No, but I think I'd like to.”

“Me too,” Damian admitted.

It is not all that and a plate of patatas fritas, Inigo grumbled.

She giggled again, genuinely pleased. The corners of Damian's mouth soared. He took a sip of beer to hide his idiot grin. When he set the beer back on the counter, he was wearing what he hoped was simply a friendly and inviting smile. Smooth would probably be too much to ask.

“I'm Damian,” he said, extending a tentative hand.

She took it. Her skin was silk. Damian held it expectantly.

She cocked her head over a shoulder. “Genny."

Her name was displayed on a hanging placard above a half-filled tip jar. It had been handwritten; both the leading and trailing letters were embellished with swirls. Damian felt his stomaching mimicking them.

With a quick squeeze, she broke contact, heading to the other end of the bar. Her departure was like ripping off a bandage. Suddenly, the pain that had brought him to the bar came crashing back. Damian took a long pull of the beer. He watched surreptitiously as Genny served the group of boisterous men. He couldn't help but notice that she wasn't shaking any of their hands.

His satisfied smirk warred with the recently ripped hole inside of him. Was he here to bury an old love or chase fruitlessly after a new one? Seemed like there were some decisions to be made, despite his intentions.

You can guess at my vote, no? Inigo chimed in.
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Scene Intro - Hope Springs

Didn't get around to posting last week, sorry. Holidays are busy and stuff, right? It's okay, though, because we have a slightly longer scene this week. Plus, I totally snagged one of the early lines from a pretty popular Internet meme. I think it's pretty hilarious, and fits in the context of what is going on. The only danger to using memes like this is, well, in ten years will it make any sense?

In this case, I think folks will be able to pick it up even if the artists are unknown to them. Plus, it's not really necessary to get the joke in order to get the scene. I was told, once upon a time, that dating yourself is a bad thing. I tend to agree if we're talking dinner and a movie. Otherwise, I like to see a bit of personality in my characters, and of course a bartender would "know the look."

There's a reason Genny spells her name with a G, and I needed to find a clever way for Damian to learn the spelling. We're sort of viewing the story through his eyes, and it would bug me to read an abnormal spelling and not understand how the protagonist knows. Don't ask me why; it's completely unnecessary to explain in 3rd person, especially we're mostly omniscient in this story. I try to refrain from head-jumping, but I wouldn't classify this as strictly limited either. Maybe I'm wrong. Point is that I was hoping to draw attention to the spelling more organically than just plopping it on you and not explaining anything. I think having it appear in the world makes one kind of go, "It's weird, but the main character doesn't know why it's spelled that way, either... so it's okay, for now." We'll learn more later.

I like having Inigo leak over into Damian. If you've not caught on by now, the leaking tends to occur when Damian loses self-control. It's also important to note that Inigo is not malicious when he leaks in. One might correctly surmise that an entirely different relationship between the two could easily have formed. One where they are not so friendly.

Also, if you consider Damian's formal reply... I find that hilarious in your typical bar setting. I sort of want to use that line some day. I also use the word aflutter, which I had to look up to make sure I wasn't making up. Word nerd points there, am I right? I may be exposing the underlying romantic in me...

Perhaps one of my favorite themes is exemplified in this scene: "In the depths of despair... hope." Left are these three...

Anyway, here's the scene. Enjoy!
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Friday, December 7, 2012

A Diamond in the Rough

The bar was a dive. They tried to hide it with sub-optimal lighting, but the effort was ineffective. Light didn't hide the grimy, sticky floor underfoot. Neither did it help the awful crooning that crackled through the ancient sound system.

At least the music is good, Inigo said. He was still in control, and had Damian bobbing his head in time to the dreadful beat.

Ugh, Damian replied, I hate country. And the speakers are at least a decade old. Can’t you hear the signal distortion?

You have not experienced the minstrels that I have. This is not so bad, Inigo replied. Besides, your women appear to enjoy it.

Damian's head swiveled toward the dance floor. Even calling it a dance floor was generous. It a space without tables. Several scantily clad older women gyrated in the middle. Their clothes might have looked at home on younger girls. These ladies obviously took pride in the fact that they could still rock a mini-dress. Damian supposed they had a right to their pride; they were very obviously in good shape. He was being unfair, but he did not find it alluring.

Cougars, he sighed.

What do felines have to do with anything? Inigo asked.

Damian chuckled. His mind-companion had some difficulty with colloquialisms. As Damian was trying to craft an explanation, he realized that his body had stopped halfway from the entrance to the bar counter. He was grinning at the dancing women. One had already begun to smile back.

Just take us to the bar, Damian ordered. We're supposed to be destroying memories tonight, not creating more I'll wish to forget.

Inigo acquiesced and they glided across the room with far more grace than Damian thought he could manage had he been in control. Not for the first time, he puzzled at why this was. How would a fragment of his mind be able to coordinate his muscles better? Why should it make a difference? Nothing he'd studied about schizophrenia had shed any light on this. In fact, most of it suggested that he shouldn't even be aware of the other voices.

Easing onto the wobbly wooden stool, Damian-Inigo turned to look at the row of gleaming taps. If there was one positive thing that could be said about the place: it carried a wide variety of beer. At the current point in time, though, there was no bar tender.

Just my luck, Damian whined.

Let me deal with this, Inigo said.

"Barkeep!" Damian-Inigo hollered.  "I desire ale!"

Several of the patrons turned to glare. Most, though, simply ignored the outburst. They were drowning in their own problems. Damian snickered. In previous centuries, perhaps yelling for the barkeep had been more effective.

Then, she appeared.

Spilling from beneath a classic Stetson were dark ringlets of perfectly shiny hair. Her skin was sun-darkened with an olive cast and her red lips shone like sin. She wore an understated tank-top that bowed in all the right places, though only a modest amount of cleavage was exposed to the smoke-laden air. Her jeans appeared to have been painted on, though most of the fun views were obscured by the half-apron she wore with the implements of her trade stuck in it: straws, napkins, and a bottle opener, among other things.

Damian was willing to forgive her the cowboy hat. Hell, he was willing to forgive her murder. Damian felt the sudden urged to regain possession of his faculties.

Hey, Inigo whined.

Shut up, Damian replied. I think I might want to keep my memory, after all.
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My original concept for having a voice in Damian's head was born out of a desire to convey a lot of story through dialog. I always enjoy conversations between characters, and it's a heck of a lot more interesting than long internal monologues. The thought skittered across my mind: But what about internal dialog? I wanted a companion without having a companion.

Inigo is a lot of fun. If you've not caught the Princess Bride reference, then I'm giving it away now. That's how I imagine Inigo's voice. We'll learn more about Inigo, but I thought it would be fun to have an old-fashioned, swashbuckler type consciousness alongside Damian's analytic, engineering mind.

If Inigo's input sound somewhat stilted, that's intentional. I want to convey that English might not be his native tongue. If you're asking yourself, how can a made up voice in Damian's mind know things that Damian does not or could not know... good question. More of that later. The short answer: he's not a figment of Damian's mind.

Now, Damian isn't exactly a bar-goer. Still, sometimes when we're really lonely, we'll take any sort of human interaction we can get, am I right? I wanted to convey that Damian is not chasing tail in this scene. That's not really his thing. (Inigo, on the other hand... well, he's not exactly picky.)

I liked the idea of Damian just sort of sitting back and letting Inigo "drive." As far as Damian is concerned, the lack of control is simply another facet of his condition. Since the voice is in his head, it's not as if someone else is controlling him, he simply cannot summon the will to care right now. He's depressed, so Inigo can control things a bit more than usual. This is important to consider down the line. We can see that when Inigo takes control, Damian is smoother, more nimble. I'd also imagine his voice takes on a light accent. The implication here being that these are traits Inigo might possess.

Ultimately, it is important to note, Inigo cannot do anything that Damian does not allow. When Damian directs Inigo away from the women, Inigo follows. When Damian wishes to seize back control, he can. There is, most definitely, a hierarchy of consciousness here.

Finally, I introduce Genny, the barkeep. We'll find out a lot about her, but the correct question her is: What's a girl like you doing in a place like this? Ever been to a dive bar on a work night? Interesting clientele, let me tell you. And if the good-looking bartenders have a choice, they'd work when there'd be better tips. So what is Genny doing here? Not simply serving drinks, I'll say that much.

Damian seizing control is hopefully as interesting as it is slightly humorous. Ever met someone that causes you to sit up just a little bit straighter and take notice?
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Friday, November 30, 2012

Home Alone Part 2

She's gone.

The thought blew through Damian's brain, spreading like wildfire on dry brush, igniting an inferno in the pit of his stomach. It was the mug that paid the ultimate price. With a wordless cry of pain and rage, Damian wound up and threw a strike, directly into the waiting mitt of the plaster catcher that masqueraded as an apartment wall.

Unfortunately, the mitt wasn't ready. It cracked under pressure, quite literally. The mug caught firmly in a pocket of plaster, but the handle ripped free and went cartwheeling through the air. The newly liberated piece of plastic tumbled to rest inside of the dusty rectangle that indicated the former location of an end table.

Ha ha! Inigo exulted.

Damian sighed. He didn't like letting his temper get the best of him. In younger years, he'd been known to punch things. Not people, mind you, but things. Like lockers. Or random cinder-block walls. It wasn't uncommon for Damian to return home from school with busted knuckles. He'd probably even broken them on occasion, though he never went to the hospital or anything. The pain was refreshing. It cleared his cloudy mind.

But Damian was an adult now. He had put aside childish things like unrestrained anger. Besides, bloody knuckles looked foolish on him. He was an engineer, not a bouncer. Were people to believe that he beat his spreadsheets into submission?

Shoulders slumped, the young man crossed the room as if approaching a funeral pyre. His steps were a dirge. His downcast eyes, a requiem. Death cut a livelier figure than this poor soul. Beneath it all, the rage smoldered.

The mug came free of the wall with a puff of white. Damian ignored the mess. He crossed the room to the kitchen and rinsed out the drinking implement. His eyes fixated on the water swirling down the drain, and his thoughts became a similar spiral. Coffee detritus and rage drowned with equal efficacy. White dust still clung to the mug when he set it aside.

Damian marched back across the floor and sank into the lone recliner. The footrest would no longer retract, so Damian had no choice but to prop his feet up. Scuffed loafers stared at the lone bulb burning above. Damian's green eyes found the spot where the TV had been. He stared at the wall.

This is quite the melancholy, Inigo noted. I believe you are even making me sad.

She's gone, Damian repeated. Finally, irrevocably… gone.

Of course she is. That is the way of women, my friend. They come and they go, eh? Might as well get used to it.

But... she was everything to me. Damian’s left thumb scratched at its associated ring finger, a nervous habit he’d developed lately. It found only a strip of slightly paler skin.

Inigo chuckled. Perhaps. However, I believe she did not share in your devotion.

A partially strangled snort escaped Damian’s mouth. Obviously. Damian wanted to cry, but the tears would not come. He simply felt hollow. He continued his loyal patronage of the wall channel.

Trust me when I say it is for the best, friend, Inigo said after a long moment. She was not right for you.

Damian wanted to argue, but couldn't. The relationship had been rocky at best. He had seen this end coming from miles away. It had always only been a matter of when.

I say we find a tavern and drink her away, Inigo suggested.

Solitude seemed dangerous right now. Damian stood up and walked to the front door. It was still open to the night. The keys were on the floor. He scooped them up.

I'll drive, Inigo offered.

Damian nodded. He let the voice take over. It was nice just to… drift.

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Damian Comes Home Part 2

Not much of an intro needed this week. I took Thanksgiving off, obviously, but wanted to get the next part out. Barely squeezed this in... it's been a hectic work week. Since this is simply a continuation from last week's piece, I'll let it do the talking. I cleaned things up a bit, but nothing huge. Anyway, here 'tis...
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Friday, November 16, 2012

Home Alone

The car chortled to a halt and Damian twisted the key to kill the engine. Gathering his trusty coffee mug, he opened the driver's side door. It squealed in protest, resisting until pushed past the rust. With a quick foot, Damian hooked the freed door before it could crash into the shiny BMW in the adjoining space.

You should have let it go, Inigo muttered in his brain.

Damian shrugged. Too obvious.

I believe these magnificent automobiles can be moved, no?

The rust would have given me away, Inigo.

Ah yes, the rust. Of course.

With a deep sigh, Damian twisted his way out of the small, two-door vehicle. Not for the first time, he reflected that he really should upgrade. With his lanky frame, the beater wasn't really optimal. He'd be much more comfortable in a larger sedan. A beamer even.

But he drove a beamer.

Damian pushed the thought from his mind. It would only serve to make him angry, and the day had been stressful enough.

What about a truck? Inigo offered.

Damian didn’t answer. He realized the futility of the suggestion even as it skittered across his mind. He was simply too cheap. He'd be stuck with the beater until it disintegrated around him, leaving him sitting in the threadbare captain's chair, skidding down the highway, sparks flying behind him like an Independence Day sparkler.

Such a destructive holiday, Inigo noted.

You don't celebrate the Fourth of July in Spain?

Inigo laughed at him. Silly American. No, where you celebrate your Declaration of Independence, we have Constitution Day in December. I would think it more logical to remember the establishment of one's Constitution, no?

Damian paused. I wonder when our Constitution Day is.

September 17. Though in 1952, your President Truman changed the name to Citizenship Day.

How do you know all this, Inigo?

Luck. I was aware of those dates. Also, I have been with you for several Septembers now.

Damian pondered that for a moment. He wasn't sure what to make of the voice in his head. When he was younger, his parents had taken him to doctors. They'd tried to get him to take pills, diagnosing him with Dissociative Identity Disorder. None of the treatments had ever worked. In fact, it seemed to Damian that the more chemicals they put in his body, the more voices spawned. Left alone, whatever afflicted Damian seemed to produce only Inigo.

It hadn’t taken Damian long to figure out that he’d rather just have the one voice to deal with. So, he’d lied. It was pretty easy to figure what his parents and all the doctors wanted to hear. He told them that he was better, that the voices were gone.

And so began my solitary hermitage, Inigo chimed in.

Is it really so bad in my head?

Inigo chuckled. I have been in worse.

In high school history courses, Inigo had even started earning his keep. The voice knew a surprising amount about ancient history, things that Damian was pretty sure he’d never learned anywhere. It was one of many reasons that led Damian to suspect that Inigo might not be as simple as a figment of his imagination. Problem was, Damian didn’t know what else Inigo could be.

I have told you, Inigo said. I am a friend.

Most friends have a distinctly physical component.

You wound me!

Damian rolled his eyes. The apartment door in front of him did not respond.

Juggling his mug and overloaded key-chain, Damian found the correct key and jimmied it into the lock. He twisted the knob and put his hip into the door, backing his way into the dark room. Key in mouth, Damian fumbled for the light switch. The click was followed immediately by the clatter of the key-chain hitting the floor. Damian looked down with a sigh that only deepened as he raised his eyes.

A single bare bulb burned above what passed for the living room. The other lamps that Damian had grown used to were gone. Where the couch used to be, only a dusty outline remained. There were similar silhouettes for the end tables and the TV stand. The bookcase had been left behind, but all of the pictures that had adorned its shelves were gone, leaving only the actual books. Nearby, Damian's ratty old recliner rounded out the sad lot of possessions. Damian didn't even need to lean his head into the adjoining bedroom to know that its occupants had been similarly culled.

The worst part? He still had the awful metallic taste of the key in his mouth as he nudged the door shut.
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Scene 2 - Damian Comes Home

I think I wrote this scene on Citizenship Day, hence the random history lesson in the middle. The side note adds a bit of character to Inigo, so I left it in. One of the things that I've noticed I like to do is find completely random things on Wikipedia and integrate them into a story. I have a naturally curious mind, so I'm always looking things up, for no good reason. When I can find character-based ways to weave some of that random knowledge into a story... it's like when you find that one puzzle piece that finally fits. Just makes me smile.

One of the changes I'm making this time around is that Damian isn't just coming to terms with the end of a relationship, but the end of "the" relationship. That is, it'll become apparent over time that Damian was married and on the wrong side of infidelity (obviously drawing a bit on my own recent experiences, for those that know). Apart from being cathartic, it really gives Damian the emotional wounds that I'd like to work with going forward. I deal with things just a bit differently than Damian, but Damian's character provides me a chance to explore the process from the outside.

Before I think I was afraid to go "there" (there being divorce). Gosh that's still seems such a shameful word to me. But it happens. It's part of life. Probably one of the most painful ones. When I sat down to start writing again, I was drawn to Damian's story, and dealing with divorce in his world is one of the big reasons why. Stories allow us to experience rough stuff with a degree of detachment that life generally does not afford us.

The shout out to DID definitely draws on my experience with psychology. The field has always fascinated me. DID is what most would call "multiple personality disorder." DID is the more clinical name. There's a bit of social commentary in the post where Damian sort of flippantly remembers his childhood treatment. If you couldn't tell, I'm not exactly a huge fan of the tendency to medicate everything these days. Sometimes I think solid therapy, support, and listening would be far healthier than the latest chemical cocktail that a pharmaceutical company has dreamed up. (On the other hand, there are a lot of pretty awesome drugs out there. I'm not a zealot or anything... just a light jab at the medical world.)

We'll learn more about the nature of Inigo and Damian in future scenes, but when I started this story the idea of friendly, helpful voices in the head of the main character really interested me. I like to think that dialog is one of my strengths in writing, and voice-in-head provides a very convenient, omnipresent story-telling option. It allows me eliminate a lot of backstory and tell it via interaction, which I think is far more interesting.

This week is a "to be continued" scene. I'll try to edit the rest for next week. In the book I eventually plan to put together, these sorts of scenes will just flow into one another.
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Friday, November 9, 2012

Soul Searching

“Just… look,” Genny said.

Damian frowned, but did as he was told. As he turned back toward the mirror, something happened. A shimmer? A flash of light? He couldn’t honestly have said. His eyes seemed to squint at the same time they were being thrown wide. It felt as if the world around him suddenly got sharper, more vivid, and not the least bit… prickly.

That was the best description he could muster. Something about the air around him poked at him, prodded him, grated against him. Yet at the same time, it wasn’t altogether unpleasant. It was a pain that hovered on the verge of pleasure. A seductive tremor.

“What is…?” Damian trailed off.

He noticed his reflection in the mirror for the first time, and the image took his breath away. He’d expected, well, himself. The same boring visage that stared back any other time he made use of a mirror.

What he saw instead was a battled-hardened street tough. Oh, the shape was still his, but everything inside was not, like a coloring book where a child has used all the wrong colors. Orange grass, green sky, a purple sun.

The arms of the man in the mirror were corded with muscle, taunt and twisting beneath gray, heavily scarred skin. Tattoos wound around his wrists and crawled up under his shirt, except they weren't ink; they were furrows, intricate designs carved directly into the skin. The cloth covering his legs was ripped, as if he’d just gotten out of a particularly nasty fight, and his knuckles were raw and bleeding.

Still, it was not the grisly body that frightened him the most. Rather, it was his face. The designs on his arms snaked up the back of his neck and wrapped over the top of his bald head, tapering to seven points where his hairline should have been. His cheeks were sunken and severe, his mouth a grim line. It was still his basic bone-structure, but harder. More chiseled. Even the eyes staring back at him seemed full of stony chips, and deep in the heart of his irises, flames danced.

Damian stretched one gnarled hand outward, and then took and involuntary step back as his reflection did the same. “W-what? What is this?”

“It is a reflection of your soul, Damian,” Genny said, her voice sounding curiously metallic and resonant.

Damian tried to find her in the edges of the mirror, but one of the overhead lights seemed like it was amplified by the strange phenomenon. It was far too bright and stabbed at his forced open eyes. He held up an arm, trying to shield himself from the radiance, but it didn’t help.

Squinting, Damian turned to look for his friend, and the spell was broken. The room muted out. Genny stood nearby, arms folded and looking somewhat embarrassed.

What did she see? Damian wondered.
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Random Scene: Damian's Soul

I have a random scene for today. I totally meant to go edit the next logical scene in the series, but just never got around to it. Instead, I'm giving you a brand-spanking new scene today. Something that just popped out in the last few weeks.

This is one those scenes that will probably raise a lot of story questions. There are a lot of holes in the story before we get to this scene. The danger of sharing this is that I may need to go back and change parts of it to actually fit. Still, I said I was sort of winging this story and putting it all out there. This is part of that.

I'd been doing a lot of soul searching of my own in the last several months. The scene that popped in was a literal bit of soul searching by Damian. Genny is, shall we go with, not-completely-human. When I intro her, she is an obvious love interest, but I'm not sure I've given away that she is much, much more than that yet. Spoiler alert, I suppose. She's more than meets the eye. Like a Transformer (except, you know, she doesn't turn into a truck or anything).

Both Damian and Genny possess a wide variety of special abilities that may or may not come in handy. This isn't magic, really, but we can call it magic for now. Faith-based magic, I guess. Genny is able to see and reveal the soul of humans (and other creatures).

The scene then, was very simply... if Damian could see his soul, what would it look like?

I think it's a pretty cool question to ask yourself. How do you imagine your soul? If someone were to try to describe it from a reflection in a mirror, how would they do that? What words and images would you use, and what would they mean?

This is the 1st draft of the scene. Feel free to point out jarring errors or inconsistencies. I'm not sure exactly how/where I'm going to fit it in yet...
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Friday, November 2, 2012

A Satisfactory Beginning


There he sat, shredding the air with his stare. Watching as the sausagey fingers of his sworn enemy hovered above a shared foe. This peaceable union would never last. It was a simple matter to slay the metaphorical Jabberwock between them and then go galumphing back to a meaningless and antagonistic coexistence.

With a smooth, practiced hand, the enemy of his enemy plunged that mightiest-of-all-weapons downward. Dry scratching filled the room as the wicked instrument of doom worked back and forth, grinding relentlessly until black blood stained in a pattern that was pleasing to the manipulator. Even so, the tragedy was not the sacrifice on the mahogany altar, but the tick, tick, ticking of the round observer on the wall, forever lost down the rabbit hole and funneled directly into Tick Storage Room A.

With a final snicker-snack, it was over.

"I've gone ahead and marked your performance as satisfactory for this quarter."

His boss spoke in a flat monotone. The man’s dry, ashen hair had all but deserted the apex of his head, growing ever thicker as one moved downward to where salt and pepper whisker battled with trembling jowl. Two chins rounded out a face schooled in multiples. Even the beady brown eyes seemed a copy of each other, as if only one had been faxed in by God with instructions for the Earth-bound souls to "go ahead and take care of that."

"Thank you, sir," Damian heard himself reply.

Now is your chance, Damian! Press onward!

He had named the voice in his head Inigo. Or perhaps the voice had named itself, he couldn't remember. It had been a constant companion of his since grade school. The name fit with the Spanish accent, so it had never occurred to Damian to call it anything else.

"Is there anything you'd like to add?" his boss asked.

Damian was pretty sure his boss had a name, too. He could dredge it up from his memory, but that would require effort, and he was loathe to give the man even that. It was rumored that, deciphered from its native Managerican, the name would roughly translate as Door Mat. In English, it was probably Bob. Weren't all bosses named Bob?

"No, sir. Thank you."

Bob nodded, pleased with the stability of the boat. "Back to work, then."

Damian felt himself return the gesture. He watched, detached, as his body rose and took one step toward his boss.

What am I doing?

For the briefest of moments, he entertained the notion that he might actually punch the man on the other side of the large desk. But that was silly. He couldn’t afford to lose his job. Could he?

Damian shuddered and pushed the thought from his mind. Hitting the man was not a smart idea, and Damian was not many things – not striking, or strong, or smooth – but he prided himself on being smart.

His body turned and exited the office. Hands balled into fists, Damian stalked away from the corner office. Feeling began to return to his extremities only when he’d made his way back to the forest of cubicles.

Once again, your cowardice shames me, Inigo said.

Damian frowned. It's not my fault, Inigo. There was nothing I could have done.

Lies! Inquiring about the raise you are due would surely have been an appropriate action.

At least I have a job. I should just be thankful. Besides, no one is getting raises, Inigo. And you heard his review. "Satisfactory" does not translate to "raise." Even in Spanish.

Damian, you and I both know that Benjamin just received an increase last week.

Shhh, Damian hissed in his head, we're not supposed to know that. He plodded between rows of desk, frustrated both with the voice in his head and with himself. Mostly with himself. Besides, Ben has been here longer than I have.

Inigo snorted. Yes, a paltry six months, and he does nothing whilst you work.

"You all right, Gardner?"

The voice startled Damian. It belonged to his cube-mate, Ben Windsor. Tall, dark, and handsome, Ben seemed to lead a semi-charmed life, riding the coattails of his suave demeanor and dashing looks to success. Damian was only slightly jealous.

Ben raised a dark eyebrow. Damian echoed his puzzlement at first, but then realized he'd been standing at the entrance to their desk area, mumbling to himself. Heat rose to his cheeks.

"Yeah, we're fine," he replied casually, cursing himself as he noticed the slip in personal pronoun. It had been a rough day. He was losing his focus.

Ben shrugged and shoved an ear bud back in. "Whatever, dude."

The young man spun around in his chair to return his attentions to the glowing screen. Over one of Ben's muscular shoulders, Damian could see a clearly non-work-related video playing. It looked like one of the gentlemen in the clip was about too... yep. Gratuitous nut shot. Ben let out a guffaw, oblivious to the various shades of work going on around him.

Inigo piped up. See?
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Damian Scene 1 Intro

Generally, I try to spread out my posts, but for this whole "live construction" thing, I'm going to do something a little different. I'd like to introduce the scene, maybe place it in context, etc, so I'll make a "scene intro" post prior to the actual fiction post. I think that'll make it a bit easier to follow. That does mean two posts in one day... egads!

Today is what I'm pretty sure will be the opening scene of the story. As such, it doesn't need a whole lot of intro. I cleaned it up a bit from the original posting, both in terms of typos and the hooks I'm leaving myself.

One thing that is interesting about this story is that it's going to delve pretty deeply into my own ideas about faith and Christianity. I've not talked about such things on here much. When creating your own fantasy worlds, I'm sure it rubs off, but it's rarely so obvious. And I'm not a preachy type of person. Still, something I've always wanted to do is make use of my Catholic upbringing to lay the foundations for some world lore. In particular, I've wanted to explore the nature of Angels, Demons, and creatures of that nature. How does one do that without your own faith-bias leeching in? I don't believe you can, or at least not an preserve the characters.

I guess my whole point is that Damian is a very strong reflection of myself and my faith is going to shine through him a bit. I'm cool with it, but religion can be a touchy subject. I wanted to be clear that these are reflections of my faith journey. I'm not pretending to be a biblical scholar here or a preacher or anyone other than a run-of-the-mill, born-and-raised Catholic Christian. I may get some things wrong. Some things may seem skewed to others. That's fine. I'm happy to discuss them. It's one of my favorite things, actually. Just don't expect it to change the story. The reflections are further skewed by the fact that I'm going to make them true to the character, and not necessarily to me. I think that makes sense, especially since the goal is to tell a good story. If you pick up something of what I think of faith in the process, all the better.

Anyway, there's not a whole lot of that in this scene (thought it is introduced). I'd just written a few other scenes recently where I discovered a whole lot about Damian that I'm not sure was even part of the plan... but I think is freaking awesome. That's all I'll say for now. :-)

Scene incoming in the next post!

(I really need to come up with a better title.)
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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Sporadic Scenes

I've been working on this post for about five days now. I keep writing a sentence, then getting distracted and telling myself "I'll get to it later," and then never getting to it. I have been working though! My muse caught up to me last night and held me hostage for a couple thousand words. I also gathered all the Damian posts and compiled them into a Word document. I do most of my writing in Word. I'm a pro at using styles.

I was surprised when the total at the bottom read 10440 words. I'm shooting for 50k for these books. That means I'm already 1/5th of the way there. Pretty cool.

I simply labelled them all "scenes" for now, and write at the end whatever I feel like writing that day. If I'm having trouble mustering the energy to write, I try editing for a bit. I'm going to start by re-sharing the edited scenes on here first, reintroducing the story in the process. Then, I'll try to fill some things in. Maybe I'll share a couple scenes out of order. I don't know. We'll see how it goes. I'll at least try to make it clear where I think the scene is going to fall in the story. If you don't want to be spoiled, you can skip later scenes for now. I'm not sure that's an issue though, because I don't think this plot is super twisty or anything. I guess some of the tension will be spoiled by early reveals, but it may balance out since it's more about the journey anyway, right?

I'm going to try to share or re-share one chunk each week. If I get stuck, I may just lay the situation out there and ask for help/advice. Feel free to point out typos or consistency errors. This is sort of like... live novel construction. My creative process isn't all that scary, promise.

When it's all done, I'll wrap it all up and produce an e-book. Anyone that helped along the way will be welcome to a free copy (via Smashwords code that I'll figure out how to send to you). Sounds like fun, doesn't it! Here's hoping....
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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Another Check-In

Football ended last Friday for me, freeing up some time. The muse is waking up and stretching her wings.(I imagine my muse with butterfly wings, or on bad days, bat wings.) I still have to catch up with all the stuff I put off during the tumultuous end of the season. I suspect November will bring me back to being able to write a bit each day.

The real question is: what should I write. I've started two series. I'm about a quarter of the way into The Binder's Husband, but I'm not sure I want to work on that one. I might be a tad bit too jaded at this point in time to do it right. The themes and undercurrents I had planned for that one were related to specific situations in my own life. Situations that have since changed.

Instead, the story that is calling to me is the one I started on here. Some of you might recall Damian. I wrote some fictional posts with him as a character. He's darker than my typical protagonist (which is still to say, probably pretty light... I'm just not a horribly dark person), and I'm feeling a bit dark myself.

I didn't originally have a plan for a novel featuring Damian, but the idea has slowly formed in my head over the last few months. These would be shorter books for me (I want to shoot for 50k words instead of my usual well over 100k). I have (very) loose plots for 8 such stories. They'd be more like quick hour-long TV shows than full-length movie (at least in my mind).

I wrote a scene from the forming novel last night. I've done pantsing. I've done loose outlining. I generally write linearly. For these books, I may just write scenes, and then, like a puzzle, fit them all together later. For some reason, that sort of approach really appeals to me right now. It makes it really hard to scope the project though. How will I know when I've written all of the scenes, especially without a real outline? I'm not really sure, but that's part of the appeal as well.

To borrow a saying from one of my all-time favorite fantasy series: "The wheel weaves as the wheel wills." I'm not going to fight it. In fact, I'm just pleased as punch that it's still rolling.

I might share some scenes on the blog. Completely out-of-order, completely unedited. I figure, why not, and I'd love to get feedback. I guess we'll see how it goes.
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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Weekly Check-In

Despite my somewhat abrupt leave of absence from writing, I'm still trying to check in once each week. In my opinion, the worst thing you can do to a blog is leave it dormant for long stretches of time. Though the regularity of my content has waned, I don't want it to disappear entirely. I do plan to be back, and stronger than before.

I promised some more information once upon a time, and I'll provide a small bit right now. Apart from my Mom being diagnosed with breast cancer last month, I am also transitioning through a divorce. Such things happen in life, and one of my goals in therapy is going to be to develop a 5-minute version of the story that is mostly positive. I'm not quite there yet, so I won't relate the story. Still with the editor, so to speak.

Yes, therapy. Totally getting it. Totally need it. Totally wish more folks would make use of the many mental health professionals out there. Finding the right therapist can be tricky, but when you find the right one, the dividends are totally worth it. I'm a big fan of psychology and mental health. I think it's something we, as a society, tend to be ashamed of more than is good for us. Consider myself included in that statement. It was definitely a difficult step for me to seek help.

I suppose it feels like failure, but I know that's not the full story. Truth be told, I feel like I'm in pretty good shape given what has transpired. Mom getting cancer, divorce, even alone these can be difficult things to deal with. And I'm getting up, I'm soldiering through. I have a great support network (you guys included). My sense of humor may be somewhat cynical as of late, but I still have it.

For instance, I was researching Indiana divorce law the other night. Real cheery stuff, I know. But on this site were ads. Ads that I'm sure have some sort of targeting algorithm. One of the ads that popped up was for familial insurance. Yes, pictures of puppies, smiling children, and happy spouses. On the "fill out your divorce paperwork online" site. Ad targeting failure.

I did what most slightly unbalanced folks would do. I got angry with the ad, insurance, and the Internet in general. Then, I realized I was mad at an advertisement, and started laughing. So, yeah... therapy.

There's humor in everything, it seems.
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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

On The Personal Front

For any of you that have been concerned about me on a personal level, I wanted to write a quick post to say that I'm doing well. Lotta stuff still going on in my life, preventing me from really focusing on writing, but I'm pretty optimistic that I'll be back in the saddle sooner rather than later. Adversity seems to provoke the creative mind, so I have plenty of ideas swirling around. I've even jotted some down.

I did whip out a personal post yesterday on my secret public journal. Talks a little more about what is going on (if you're curious) and also a pretty funny story about buying condoms. If that doesn't get you to click through, I don't know what will. :-).

Thanks to everyone that has been supportive. I will be writing more stories at some point, but the dream is still on hold for now.
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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

On Controversy

Since I don't have writing to write about, I'm going to weigh in on other random interests of mine. This is an "author blog," so it can definitely cover the interests of the author, right? We don't have to be business all the time. (Also, George RR Martin writes a lot about football, and that's what I'm going to do today, so I figure I'm in good company.)

Anyone watch Monday Night Football last night? I did not. But I sure did read about it this morning. The crazy ending seems to be on everyone's mind, and for good reason I suppose. Don't worry, I'm not going to pick on those poor replacement refs. I umpired baseball for five years. Did some soccer and basketball games, too. I've never done a football game, but I feel that there is somewhat a fraternity of officials, no matter what sport. Officiating is not an easy job, especially on the bigger stages. Even with the little league stuff I was doing, you often had unruly parents to deal with. Shocker, I know.

(Random side story. I only ever had to call the cops on a parent one time. I like to think I was a pretty good ump, and generally could explain my calls adequately so that most coaches were placated. There's no instant replay in little league, so while they may question your sense of sight, if you can honestly say what you saw, there's not too much they can do. Disagreements will happen, what matters is if you know the rule you're invoking. Get the rule right, and the rest is just opinion. Most coaches realize this and, though they fight for their kids, will respect you at the end of the game.

With regards to the cop incident, the argument wasn't over a baseball rule, but a league rule regarding equipment. To be fair, it was a bit silly, but it was my job to enforce it, as handed down by my superiors. The parent took issue with it, and threatened to "meet me in the parking lot" after the game. He would not leave the premises. We called the cops. That cooled things off, everyone went home safe.)

So I feel a bit sorry for the replacement refs. Not an easy stage, not an easy job. No officiating is perfect. But here's the thing: what do you imagine the television ratings have done this season? Are people watching less because of the poor officiating? If the media coverage of last night is any indication, more people are tuning in than ever before. It's like the old "train wreck" adage. Human nature is fascinated by the adversity of others. I don't know why. I didn't make the rules.

While we all sit here and say "the NFL has to do something," I feel like I should ask "why?" The NFL is in the entertainment business. Are you not entertained? Is angry entertainment still not entertainment?

It's an interesting thought. Any long time football coach can tell you that the Packers didn't lose that game on the last play. They lost the game because they put themselves in a situation to lose. By now, everyone should know not to depend on the refs to bail you out. If a bad call can hurt you, you have to assume it's going to. You need to play the rest of the game so strongly that there is no doubt at the end of regulation. You cannot blame a loss entirely on a referee, no matter how awful the call.

If I'm an NFL exec, I might be sitting back, cackling with fingers steeple and saying, "Let them stew for a bit. Ratings are up. We're making more money than ever. What's the rush?" Meanwhile, the old refs are out of work, and all it takes are some well placed comments to make it sound like they're the ones "holding out." Then the ire turns on them, and the big wigs keep getting rich. Sometime during the season, they can come up with some "miracle" of compromise, bringing the old refs back in to save the day. Perhaps right before tournament time. Can't ruin the Super Bowl, right? Too much $$ there.

Maybe this is a somewhat cynical view. Perhaps everyone is really trying, in good faith, to get the proper folks on the field as soon as possible. I just know how controversy works. Reality TV didn't rake in the cash because of its utter predictability and happy endings. We, as humans, love controversy. It's entertaining, and we'll pay good money for entertainment. One need only look at photos of the Coliseum in Rome to remember how basic our love of struggle can be; how "old hat" it is.

It sucks to be on the wrong end of a bad call. It really does. Losing isn't fun, either. But--dang!--did we have something to talk about around the water cooler this morning, didn't we?
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Friday, September 21, 2012

Not ROWing Right Now

Sadly, I do not plan to join round 4 of the ROW80 challenge. As obliquely referenced before, my world sort of got Blown the Eff Up (to put it mildly). Such things happen. I am neither the first, nor the last to have run this particular gauntlet. I will rise and write again... just not right now. I have to get through today first. And then tomorrow. And then the next day.

I can't make goals and promises, because all the old ones are still sitting around me in shambles, twisted and blackened from the explosion. And me? I'm like that grizzled war vet in the movies when a bomb goes off next to his head (I'm even sporting the typical unkempt stubble). I've got blood streaming from the ears and I'm wandering around aimlessly with a high pitched ringing in my ears. Occasionally, another soldier sidles into my view, visibly yelling, but not making any sound that I can discern. Also, where is the bunker? There's way too much shit flying around for me to be out in the open like this.

Love is a battlefield. Better go and get my armor.

So while I'm off looking for it, I don't quite feel that I can invest myself in anything productive. The goal, this round, is just to Get By. Haven't we all had a round like that? Doesn't exactly make for interesting blogging, does it? Oh, what did you do this week? I woke up, did some stuff, and then went back to sleep. And I did it seven times! Can you believe it? No, I don't really recall exactly what I did. Strange? I guess I didn't notice.

Sometimes life's just like that, though. When you're going through hell, the best thing to do is keep going.

I wish all you ROWers luck. I'll be lurking a little less than usual, but still lurking. Maybe come New Years, I'll be ready to hop back in. I know I still have stories to tell, I just need to get off this damn beachhead first.
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Friday, September 14, 2012

Stepping Back

I missed the Wednesday check-in. That's all right, I had nothing to report. The last check-in I mentioned priorities. I can honestly say that last week was the worst week I've ever had in my life. Totally trumps the week when my dad died and I had go home, do funeral stuff, then head back to college for finals. And that was a pretty rough week.

I've not told a whole lot of people the full story of what's going on right now. I don't plan on sharing all the details here. For now, at least. Eventually, I'd like too. Suffice it to say, for the few people I've told, the most consistent response has been "holy cow!" And then "if you need anything at all, let me know." I have great family and friends.

Unfortunately, writing has to take a back seat. I love it, I still have dreams to chase, but other, more pressing matters have to come first. I'll still write. I can't stop, especially not now. I just can't really commit to writing anything worthwhile.

I still plan to post the occasional blog post (but likely not as frequent), and lurk where I've been lurking. I may even keep checking in, we'll see. And once things settle, I promise a much less cryptic explanation.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me so far. It means more than you know.
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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

#ROW80 - Priorities

Well, I don't have a whole lot to say for this check-in. My writing dream is going to have to take a back seat for a bit. There are some important things going on on the personal side of things that require my undivided attention. As such, I'm going to put my goals on hold for now and just be happy if I get anything done at all. I'm still going to try to learn something every week. My WIP is on hold until I find my way out of the woods. I'll probably read some more. I might blog less, just depends on if I have things to say or not.

The new goals (not all that different from the old, just more relaxed):
  • Lesson Learned - Life is about priorities. When you know yours and one preempts the others, it makes the decision really easy. Set your priorities before they conflict.
  • WIP Progress - 0.
  • Blogging - 2 Here. 3 on the gaming blog. 1 personal post. A couple of football posts.
  • Reading - I'm reading a football book right now called The Jersey Effect. Pretty neat. The goal is to finish it by the end of the season (Thanksgiving). Shouldn't be hard.
Like I said, I'm just going to be happy with carrying on. I still like to add up the words, though. I won't stop writing, so I shouldn't stop counting. It's just what I do.
  • Since last check-in: 2,678
  • New Fiction: 0
  • Round 3 Total: 47,893
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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fifty Shades of Post

If you came here because this popped up on a search and you're looking for a serious post... turn back! Turn back and head for the hills! Rant incoming!

The following rant is brought to you by a local Mexican eatery that shall remain nameless. Let's call it El Bar and Grill.

I should also throw this caveat up front: I'm going to try really hard not to make any disparaging remarks toward the novels. That's not the point of this rant. Plenty of folks have already ranted about that. This is about the Fifty Shades advertising movement. Make no mistake, it is a movement. A jumping the shark sort of movement. Each and every shade.

Let me back up. What inspired this?

I live in central Indiana. For those that may not remember map coloring class in middle school (we called it social studies, but it consisted of a lot of map coloring), here's a quick fact about the great Hoosier state. Our capital is smack dab in the middle. I remember this being somewhat unique, and some history book saying how this has worked in Indiana's favor as far as transportation goes. If the state is a wheel, the capital is the axle, and wheels work a whole lot better when the axle is more or less centered. Smoother ride, or something like that. I'm no historian.

The side effect is that we have this "all roads lead to Indy" thing going on. My daily commute finds me starting on the very top edge of the axle, and taking a straight spoke north to the lovely city of Kokomo, IN. Kokomo is a unique city, in that it is sort of large... but I think it lacks a certain urban feel to it. The auto industry has formed the backbone of the city, and the city's demographic reflects that. Very blue collar. Maybe it's just me, but I feel this whole city meets country vibe.

Anyway, as I was motoring into town this morning, I spied a sign on the side of the road. It was advertising El Bar and Grill with a photo of several shots lined up on a bar. The tagline read: "Fifty Shades of Tequila." That was all.

I don't get it. Does the tequila mess with you until your utter the safe word? In my vast experience with tequila, the safe word is "where is the bathroom" and even then it does not relent. You're in for a long night.

But this is part of a larger trend. I feel like I've seen Fifty Shades of Your Product Name Here. It's like, if just slap 50 shades on it, it'll sell. Not just with books, but with, well, everything.

I can't help but wonder about the marketing meetings. How was this discussed at El Bar and Grill? "Well, our target demographic is women who read kinky romance novels. This billboard will speak to them. It will conjure just the right amount of whips and chains that make you think... gee I need a shot of tequila, and maybe some taquitos to wash it down."

Are the words "fifty shades" really that powerful that they can catapult your sales, just by a mere rubbing of elbows? Your product doesn't even have to be related, just slap the words down and, BANG, instant sales. Is that really how it works?

I can't imagine El Bar and Grill was licensing the use of the phrase, either. They're pretty local, as far as I know. This is not a big chain. Same goes for most of the other places I've seen it used. (For the record, I'm cool with it being used with, say, an lingerie line. That makes a certain amount of sense.)

It just all seems so crazy. I don't remember anyone ever being like "We make a tasty tequila... Twilight," or "Have a tequila Breaking Dawn," or "Drink a New Moon... oops, we meant Blue Moon, with a tequila shot." Or, to use another giant book franchise (this one unrelated): "Harry Potter and the Many Shots of Tequila."

To be fair, I'd check out that last place. Just so long as I don't have to experience the sequel: "Harry Potter and the Revenge of Montezuma."
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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

#ROW80 - Breakthrough

I picked it up this week, as you'll see in a moment. It helps immensely that I got past some mild writer's block. I don't really like calling it that. I never really feel blocked. It's more like writer's-spinning-his-wheels-in-mud. I keep writing and writing the awful feeling of not getting anywhere pervades my thoughts. Then, BAM, breakthrough. Usually I'll go back and winnow out the crap, but more often the spinning my wheels feeling was just in my head. Looking back, I can see that my subconscious was setting me up for the big reveal. Or something like that.

Anyway, the goals:
  • Lesson Learned - Brain needs time to chew on things. So it is. So shall it (likely) ever be. Often times the best way out of the mud rut is to give your brain leave to digest.
  • WIP Progress - 7/5 pages this week! Yep, that's two extra. Also I finished Chapter 3. Working on page 73, ~25k words into the novel. That's probably about a quarter done. Rock on.
  • Blogging - Only 2/3 here, but 4/3 on the gaming blog and I wrote a few football articles this week. Plenty of words, says I.
  • Reading - Finished Wise Man's Fear. Reading is on hold for the rest of this round as I will focus on writing. I knocked off two books. After football ends is when I'm going to pick up a new one... if I can last until then.
Words always flow easier after a breakthrough. A couple of the story pieces came together in a neat way, too, so I'm pretty enthused about writing it (always a plus). Not that I wasn't enthused before, just that there always seem to be ups and downs in any long project. The ups are nice.

Here's the word count:
  • Since last check-in: 6,814
  • New Fiction: 2,250
  • Round 3 Total: 45,215
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Monday, August 27, 2012

On Paid Reviews

I saw a couple articles recently that turned my stomach, both as an author and a reader. The short story here is that there exists a service whereby an author can pay money to have a certain number of positive reviews appended to their books on popular sales venues. The industry is in such a state of flux, that I'm not sure there are any spoken rules against this, but I think it could certainly be considered "shady."

Here are a pair of articles describing the issue. One from Lee Goldberg and the other from the New York Times (as found through The Passive Voice). Both descriptions initially turned my stomach.

I should start by going on "record" as saying: I have not and will not pay for this sort of service. Very simply, it doesn't appeal to me. I would love to be successful, but not at the cost of my principles. There's something to be said about doing things right. It's something my father always used to say. If I'm going to succeed, I'm going to earn it, not sneak my way into it.

Before I get too far up on my soap box, though... let me play devil's advocate for a moment. In a digital world, it's easy to see the draw of such a service. Sales can hinge on the all-important "star rating." A solid stable of good reviews can certainly sell a book.

And haven't big-time publishers essentially been doing this? I'm sure there are a lot of truly independent professional reviewers out there, but aren't a lot on some sort of payroll... a payroll that might be added to by big publishers marketing departments? I honestly am asking this question. How do books get chosen for review in some of these publications? Is it truly unaffected by, say, how many advertising dollars the parent company spends with the publication? All over? Just some places? Does money ever exchange hands?

I know publishers buy shelf space in bookstores. Isn't that sort of similar? Not as shady, to be sure, but still using money to "one-up" every other book that doesn't get front shelf treatment. Does anyone feel swindled by this common practice? I certainly don't.

How many blurbs on the back of books are paid for? Any? All?

What about trading free copies for a review? I'd be guilty of this one, though I've always tried to make the review optional. I know most reviewers feel obligated, but I've only wanted them to review it if they felt so inclined. If they don't, well then they got a free read. There are worse things in life. I mean, we are asking for time, and time is valuable. Shouldn't reviewers be compensated in some way?

There are a whole bunch of questions I could throw out there that would muddy the waters. At the end of the day, I think there needs to be a line drawn in the sand. Sand, because it could shift as the industry and society shifts. So much is going on, that any line has to maintain a certain flexibility.

For me, the line is clearly somewhat before multiple false reviews on a retail site. There are just too many problems with this practice. It's a blatant attempt to game the system with false advertising. If they were honest reviews... maybe. If they were only one review per reader... maybe. If the compensation were clearly noted... maybe. But none of this is the truth. We have one guy, writing a whole bunch of different reviews so as to appear to be multiple readers, and clouding the fact that he has been paid by the author to do so. Does he even read the books?

It makes me sick to my stomach. I think of readers as friends. I am, after all, sharing pieces of myself through everything I write. And I have a hard time pulling a prank on friends on April Fool's Day. Honestly. I can only be a trickster if both parties get something from the trick. A shared laugh is enough, but it has to be shared.

Maybe the ends justify the means here. If every reader that bought a book with one of these fake reviews completely enjoyed the book... then is it really a bad thing? I can't help but think, at the end of the day, it still paints the author in a bad light.

Recently, as an Indianapolis resident and sports fan, we went through a bit of local upheaval. The Indianapolis Colts traded Peyton Manning away and acquired rookie Andrew Luck. The intent was as clear as it was simple. Peyton was nearing the end of his career, age-wise, and the Colts needed to begin rebuilding around a new Quarterback. It seemed to make sense for both parties, but I think many fans would say it left them with a bad taste in their mouth. I would be included in this group.

Now, I know football. I coach it. I've actually been fortunate enough to coach alongside former Colts coaches. I've been able to ask questions of "insiders" and understand a little about the business behind the game. I understand why they did it. At its very core, the decision was a business decision, in the best interests of both parties.

And that's exactly why it left a bad taste in my mouth. The sports fan in me wanted to believe, deep down, that it is only the competition that matters. That football is not an avenue for dollars to exchange hands. That the sport means something. That it's bigger than everyday life. That there is more.

I wanted the Colts to keep Peyton Manning because he was our Quarterback. He was the guy that led the team for more than a decade, and brought a whole bunch of success to our city. It would be appropriate for him to finish out his career here, in Indy. I wanted to believe that meant something.

I was naive. Business is business. The trade was like a big slap in the face. Stark reminders of the callousness of the world are often as unpleasant as they are shocking.

I feel the same way about this Paid Review business. It's not "illegal." Some could probable make a case that it's not even "unethical." But it hits me like a slap in the face. It's a callous way to do business that disrupts the fantasy of literature. I want to believe books mean more.

I probably won't go to a Colts game this year. Similarly, I won't buy a book that I know made use of paid reviews. That's all I can do.

That, and wait for the sting to fade.
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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

#ROW80 - Fly By

Ah! Weeks fly in-season. Also, GenCon didn't do much to slow things down. But... the goals! Let's see how bad I did:
  • Lesson Learned - Writing about sex is fine, but writing sex makes me squirm. Go figure.
  • WIP Progress - Let's see... um... 1/5. Not very good. But I went to the Con! I learned! Grrr...
  • Blogging - Here's where I made up the difference. I didn't have a lot of time for fiction, but I at least logged some words. 3/3 here. 2/3 on the gaming blog. Plus I've been writing a whole bunch for the football blog. 7 posts since last Wednesday. Yeah, I should count those. Some of the writing is done for me, and the rest almost writes itself, but still... (I have a personal post left to do this month, egads!)
  • Reading - Still plodding through the Rothfuss book. Great stuff.
Funny I should mention Rothfuss. His prose is widely regarded in fantasy circles as among the best. A writer's writer, if you will. But I wanted to mention a post I read today from Nathan Bransford. It discusses a question I've often asked myself: Sure, there is good writing, and we always want to do our very best... but how good is good enough? I know, I know... I should be stoned for even thinking that. I blame Nathan.

Despite the failure at the WIP, I'm feeling pretty pleased. GenCon weekend is simply crazy, and I had a good time. Now my schedule settles into a routine and I should be able to bang out more fiction. Besides, I looked at the word count from my novel and realized I'm already 20k words deep! Sometimes the words fly, too. There's so much left to tell (but I'm shooting for around 100k words)... am I really 1/5th done? Pretty neat to think of it that way.

I'm skipping the word count for now. It's late and I barely squeezed this in. Maybe I'll have time to tack it on tomorrow. If not, I'll do it next week.

(Edit: Word count added. I included the football articles that I wrote to make myself feel better. Hey, words are words.)

  • Since last check-in: 4,665
  • New Fiction: 738
  • Round 3 Total: 38,401
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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Clothes My Words Wear

Erotica is apparently a bit of a trend right now. Doesn't really surprise me. One of the first things I noticed about my e-reader was that I could now essentially read anything, anywhere without fear of reproach. Not that I was a real racy reader to begin with.

As a long time fantasy and science fiction reader, a bit of reading apprehension is not uncommon to me. I suppose I can't shake the fear that the cover I'm displaying for all the world to see somehow says something about me. I've never let that fear stop me from reading in public, and it has occasionally earned me a comment (both good and bad).

Sometimes, I just want to be left alone. Perhaps I selected a book that was a bit outside the "norm" for me. I may not want to talk to you at length about it. Or maybe it's something I'm embarrassed about. It happens. When I was younger, I devoured every book that I could find. Once, I'd made it all the way through the bookshelf, and only my mother's Nora Roberts books were left. I read one, and was completely terrified of my mom finding me. It was like I'd secreted away a dirty magazine or something.

The point here is that there are nice things about not being able to immediately pick out a cover and know what someone is reading. It makes sense that racier stories might flourish on the digital platform.

My wife suggested that I try my hand at a sexy short story. I've been thinking about it a lot lately. To be quite honest, the prospect scares me a bit. I wouldn't say I'm a prude, but when I contemplate writing a sex scene, it feels as if I'm gearing up to take naked pictures of myself. Sharing that with my wife is one thing. Publishing something like that, though?

Now, I'm not saying erotica authors are like strippers. What I am saying is that it takes a certain amount of stripper-like confidence to get up on stage and flaunt what you've got. Writers can't help but put a lot of themselves into their writing, and sex scenes are no different. You're inevitably revealing part of yourself, and you're baring it to the world when you publish.

Jen Eifrig wrote a good article about sex scenes. It got me thinking. I know I'm going to write one eventually. I can't do the whole "dim the lights" trick forever, can I? I'm not sure I want to.

We could put on our business glasses for a moment. Sex sells. You can stop well short of nudity and still use sex to sell. E-readers are raising the privacy bar. I don't think there's much doubt that the Internet was the biggest thing to happen to adult entertainment well... ever. Digital publishing seems poised to do the same for the literary side of things. I'd be a fool not to consider it.

On the other hand, a writer can't half-ass a story. Your heart has to be into it. It shows.

I guess my question is: Am I talking about shucking my clothes and running around the house naked? Or am I the guy at the beach in a sweatsuit because swim shorts are too revealing for me? Social norms tend to shape our sense of morality. Would taking a nude photo be considered scandalous in a nudist colony? Or would it just be "taking a photo?"

It's an interesting thought, requiring a lot of insight into how my personal sense of morality has been shaped. It's sort of like the clothes my words wear. They don a style that, at a glance, gives a reader some ideas about who I am and what my values are. So, then, are naked words just as sexy?
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Monday, August 20, 2012

My First Con As A Writer

I mentioned last week that I was planning to attend GenCon. Living on the north edge of Indianapolis makes me a local, so it's really a no-brainer for me to hit up this convention. I don't to go to a lot of the bigger ones held on the coasts. Simply too far for me to travel (without scheduling some sort of vacation). I've been to GenCon before, but this is the first time I can honestly say I attended as a writer.

Perhaps that's being a bit disingenuous. I mean, I've always been a writer. It's sort of like saying this is the first time I attended GenCon as a white male (which is almost equally unique in the crowd, mind you). Still, while I may have been a writer at heart before, this is the first time I attended with an eye looking out for ways to improve my writing.

I checked out the book booths, mainly out of curiosity. Someday, maybe I'll get one. A friend suggested that I should have carried a stack of cards with a free Smashwords code on the back and handed them out to all and sundry. Plenty of folks were doing that, too. I guess I fail when it comes to shout-it-from-the-rooftops marketing. I'm still a little embarrassed about my books. Not that I'm not proud of them, just that I don't feel comfortable "forcing" them on people. I wrote what I enjoy reading. I think other people might enjoy them, but I'm a reader first and foremost. I know that not every book is for everyone.

That's a terrible sales pitch, am I right?

Ah, well. It's not all about sales. Even if I sell exactly 0 books from today onward, I will still look back on this time with pride. Publishing a book is an accomplishment, even if you sell nothing. I don't care what anyone else says. It's a Cool Thing You Did. Period. We wish to make it more than "cool," but you're starting from a basis of cool. It would probably serve writers well to remember that.

I promise I didn't just spend GenCon musing about all the marketing things I'm not doing. I attended panels and readings as well. Pretty much anything with Brandon Sanderson. (Though I found out about two other panels he was on that I missed. They were late additions and I didn't hear about them. Bad fan/author!) And I promise that I didn't spend these entire panels thinking about how much better all the folks up there are than me. Brandon was sitting there, gushing about how awesome Patrick Rothfuss is at prose, decrying his own prose as "merely passable," and I'm looking at my shoes thinking: What chance in fel do I have?

Sounds like a common case of Writer's Guilt. Symptoms: uselessly stacking yourself up against anyone and everyone and finding your own work wanting by comparison. It's an illness that likely shares more with Delirium Caused By Spontaneous Fever than Excessive Dosage of Truth Serum.

The comforting part was when I realized I understood pretty much everything they were talking about. If you've ever attended a writer's panel, you know that they can slip into jargon pretty easily. For such smooth written communicators, writers aren't always great and verbal communication. There are a lot of common constructs used to describe complex creative writing ideas. These get bandied about with a certain carelessness that can render a listener baffled at times.

It is perhaps a credit to me when I say that I followed all of the jargon. I even found myself anticipating a remark or nodding when a panelist picked up exactly where I would have. I have no proof on any of this, so you'll just have to trust me. I felt like: These are My People. I *get* this.

So yeah, attended GenCon as a writer. First time. That means something, right?
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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

#ROW80 - Con Bound

The rest of this week is going to be pretty full. I'll be at GenCon mostly, taking in the sites and hitting a few events.  I don't expect to do a lot of writing the next few days. I will, however, be attending a Writing Excuses podcast live, as well as a couple other events with Brandon Sanderson. As such, this is sort of a work trip as well. Really the first time I've gone to the con with a learning purpose in mind.

Let's check out the goals:
  • Lesson Learned - StoryBundle exists. I need to get in on it. That is all.
  • WIP Porgress - 4/5 pages. One short, but things haven't really settled yet. After this GenCon week, my schedule will be more regular. I'm actually pretty happy I got the 4 done, coming off of a 1 page week. I'm sitting on page 64... need to finish the chapter before next week's check in.
  • Blogging - 3/3 here. Only 1/3 on the gaming blog. Still have a personal post to do. Blogging suffers when time flies, but I'm glad I was able to at least hit one of my blogs.
  • Reading - Still working on the Rothfuss book. Shouldn't have any problem finishing it by the end of the round.
So, while last week could be considered "red" in terms of goals, this week was more "yellow." That's the right path back to "green." Right now, though, I've got to run to practice. As much as coaching cuts into, well, everything, I think I get a lot of inspiration from it. Our head coach said yesterday how he's always claimed that each week feels like a full season in and of itself. He was explaining how you'll get hit with all the ups and downs, successes and failures, and it can be tough to step back and see the bigger picture. I thought it was a pretty accurate description. At the end of the week, there's definitely this sense of triumph, like: "We made it!"

Before I run, here are the word counts:
  • Since last check-in: 4,022
  • New Fiction: 1,307
  • Round 3 Total: 33,736
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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

GenCon 2012!

This weekend marks one of the most exciting weekends in tabletop gaming. Everything from Scrabble to Dungeons and Dragons (and a fair bit of nerd culture, as well) will be represented. I don't get to make it out to a lot of cons (curse the Day Job! Also, coaching in the fall makes travel really tough), so when there's one close to home, we take a staycation.

GenCon Indy is this weekend in Indianapolis, IN. Since we live just north of the city, we'll be attending as much as possible. To make matters more tantalizing, one of my favorite authors--Brandon Sanderson--is the guest of honor this year. I've got tickets to attend pretty much everything he's involved with.

The focus is tabletop gaming, but writing and story-telling is an integral part to most games. Authors and books will be well-represented. It's a pretty awesome time and I love Indy. The city knows how to do a con.

I'm going to try to tweet on my @MattHofferth account. I'll be hanging out with a group of friends downtown, taking in the sights and playing games. If you happen to be attending as well, and want to meet up or introduce yourself, feel encouraged to send me a DM through Twitter. I'll probably be all over the place, but we'll see what we can do. Or, if you just happen to bump into me, you'll probably be able to recognize me as the tall blond guy with a red World of Warcraft hat. It has my gaming name, Fulguralis, on the back.

Okay, so that won't make me stick out. My wife's brain wave cat ears might, though. Of course, these could be super popular, who knows? Like most cons, a lot of folks will be in costume. We're hardly unique looking among fellow nerds.

We're really excited about this weekend. Getting to meet any readers, fellow gamers, or simply lovers of all things nerd would be icing on the cake. I don't have a booth or anything (not nearly that cool), but we do tend to end up at the RAM Brewery. The place is usually packed, but the beer is totally worth it.

Like I said, I don't get out to cons much. This is really the only shot I get, so we'll be living it up. I'll try to post some pictures up on here, even if they're unrelated to writing. We'll see how it goes.
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Monday, August 13, 2012

On Piracy

There was a big scandal out among the Interwebs last week, when a bunch of writers banded together to take LendInk offline. One of my buddies at work shot me a link to the story over at TechDirt. Belong to any group for long enough, and you'll probably find a reason to be embarrassed. (As I've mentioned before, I'm Catholic. We've had entire decades of embarrassment).

LendInk is basically a social networking site for folks with e-readers. It helps facilitate lending between readers. The key word there being facilitate. The site simply acts as an intermediary, hooking up two people so that sharing becomes a snap. It does not sell books or give away books or in any way deliver books. It's a peer-to-peer site, similar perhaps to music sharing programs of the past.

Think Napster. The problem with Napster wasn't the sharing, but the copying. It allowed one legitimately purchased copy to become many more-or-less legal copies (probably emphasis on the less, but I'm no lawyer). E-music devices didn't possess the inherent sharing capabilities that readers like the Kindle support. Sharing with a Kindle moves the file from one device to another, deleting it on the original. It is one copy to one copy, a different paradigm.

I feel like I need to proclaim my stance on "piracy." It's a hot button topic among pretty much all content creators in the digital age. It is just too easy to share information these days.

First of all, I want express displeasure with the term itself. Piracy implies stealing. Stealing requires an item to exist in one location and be moved to another (usually forcibly and without the consent of the owner). "Internet Piracy," however, is closer to copying. The original item still exists where it originated from, and it also exists somewhere else. Heck, it could be copied without the owner realizing it.

Stealing is a "bad" thing, most of us can likely agree on that. I mean, it's one of the ten commandments. It directly harms someone. It is bad news in most every culture that I'm aware of.

Copying, though? It's a bit more nebulous. Sometimes it can be bad, sure. When you copy something someone else did and try to pass it as your own (plagiarize). But what if you copy something and then turn it into a joke (parody)? Or copy something and add a bunch of your own work on top? Or just copy to pass forms out in an expedient manner (assuming you have the right)?

I think piracy is a terribly prejudiced term. It does not accurately reflect the potential crime. Still, it is what we have.

Second, I feel that we need to consider the outcome of piracy. Who does it harm? How does it harm them?

Generally, the case is made that content creators are harmed. That they lose sales due to piracy. This seems pretty hard to prove (one way or the other), yet most folks just accept it at face value. People are making unapproved copies, obviously that's bad. Or is it?

Authors rely a lot on worth of mouth. I think most would agree that it is the primary sales drive behind any and all stories. You can do marketing, sure, but word of mouth kicks corporate marketing in the teeth any day of the week (and twice on 50-shades-of-grey-day). There are plenty of cases where piracy promoted word of mouth. Again, it's hard to prove, but what if the author was earning more because of piracy?

My point here is that I don't see a whole lot of hard data on how piracy actually affects sales. We have whole lot of opinions, but not a lot of logical thought. And we all know the saying about opinions.

Finally, I think we're asking the wrong questions. Perhaps instead of spending so much time trying to stop piracy (like we've all already agreed that it is blatantly bad in any and all cases), maybe businesses should spend more time discovering why people pirate in the first place. Oftentimes, it has to do with availability. People can't find it in the store they shop, the format they need, or for the price they expect... so they turn to piracy. If there's one thing humans have proven in the last 2000+ years, it's "where there's a will, there's a way." We exude that principle as a species. It's what has catapulted us to the top of the food chain.

Sometimes, I want to scream at content providers: "If you would just make your content easier to buy, people would pay." Or, as one of my favorite movies puts it: "People will come, Ray. People will most definitely come" (Field of Dreams).

At the end of the day, I adopt a pretty tolerant view of piracy. My biggest hurdle is exposure, and anything that helps that is probably a good thing. If someone were to nail me down and ask, "how do you prevent piracy?" I'd try not to get peeved at the term. Then, I'd explain that I do it by trying to make my content as widely available as possible. I try to communicate clearly where it is available and for how much. I try to give a reader options. Don't want to pay? Check out my specials. There are plenty of ways to get my book that don't require money, or require less money. I'm constantly looking for new ways to provide content. Sometimes I'm hindered by my small scale and pocketbook, but that's okay. That can only improve with time and exposure (so long as I provide good content). If people are driven to piracy, then I look first to myself... what need of my customers am I not reaching? What platform? What price point?

Putting money where my mouth is... a friend directed me to another article on Lifehacker. This one talks about a site called StoryBundle. As a gamer, I'm quite familiar with the humble indie bundle on Steam. It's a great idea, and StoryBundle brings that to books. Awesome. Great way to increase exposure, and they allow folks to "pay what you want." How can you not like that price point? As soon as I can, I'd like to get my books into one of those bundles. It's a cool idea.

And so is LendInk. I guess that's the overriding point here, if there is one. I would love to see more tools given to authors to help with exposure. Options are great. I would be giddy if someone reads my book and enjoyed it enough to push it on a friend. Or, if they'd heard such good things that they went out of their way to find someone to lend them the book so that they could try it.

All this is figured from my basic belief that if you, as a content creator, create quality content, people will pay for it. It may be a bit of an uphill battle to establish yourself, but dedicated fans will pay. They want to see you succeed as much as you do, a lot of times. I know I feel that way about my favorite content creators. I'll go out of my way to buy stuff from them, especially if I know they benefit directly. I want them to continue to make music, write books, design games, or make movies.

Perhaps that belief is wrong, but it's the one I'm operating under, at least until I'm presented with some solid proof otherwise. As such, piracy doesn't seem a big issue to me. If I'm being pirated and not making money... then apparently my content isn't good enough. I should spend my time getting better, not getting angry.

This is just my opinion, though. You do what works for you.
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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

#ROW80 - It's Always That First Word

I'm still in the midst of football two-a-days. That means I work for 13 hours, come home, and my brain is done. Only two more days with this crazy schedule though. Thursday represents the light at the end of the tunnel.

Considering how little free time I've had, I was actually able to squeeze in some decent work on the goals. Let's take a look:
  • Lesson Learned - I wrote a bit about passion and how I found some inspiration while watching the Olympics.
  • WIP Progress - Only finished 1 page. The weekend was busy, and I don't have time during the week. I was lucky to squeeze that one in. I knew this was going to be a fail this week, and it's bugging me, but I need to be patient. My schedule clears up after Thursday, and then I'll be back in the saddle.
  • Blogging - 3/3 on the gaming blog. 3/3 here. August just started, so I owe a new personal post, but there'll be plenty of time for that. I'm glad I hit this goal, because I wasn't expecting to.
  • Reading - Still working on The Wise Man's Fear. After I finish it, I'll need to catch up on some Writing Excuses podcasts. I like reclaiming as much of the "wasted" commute time as possible. Audiobooks and podcasts are a must.
The WIP is suffering, but I expected as much. And when I did get the chance to spend some time with it, I wrote (what I think is) a pretty good page. What's more, it was fun. Sometimes, I think I forget that writing is fun for me. That may sound odd, but when you're staring at the blank page at the start of a writing session, you know what I mean. Perhaps it's how folks feel right before they jump out of a plane. It's always that first word that seems hardest.

After that, things flow. The muse wakes up. Writing shifts from "work" to "fun," sometimes without me realizing it. At the end of the session, I find myself excited and smiling. I can't wait for the next session... right up until I remember that blinking cursor and blank screen. It's an odd sort of cycle.

Anyway, time to get back to work. Here are the word counts:

  • Since last check-in: 3,311
  • New Fiction: 348
  • Round 3 Total: 29,714
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