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Mar. 19th, 2012

Eye/Pineapple

Micro-outlining: outlining for everybody!

Originally published at Cogs & Neurons. You can comment here or there.

First off: apologies for the week of radio silence. I’m trying to update this site more regularly, but international travel for work pretty much put pay to that last week.  But I’m back in NYC now, so let’s get things rolling again.

I’m in the middle of novel-writing right now, which is always an evolving process.  I’m an outliner by nature.  I tend to have a short paragraph fro each scene/chapter in the novel, just going over the basic action, any major character events, and anything I need to happen to set up future action.  As a general rule, my outlines run around 8 pages, so they tend to be on the extensive side.

Outlining, I realize isn’t for everyone.  Some people, I know, just can’t write that way.  But even these more organic writers, I think, tend to plan a few steps ahead.  And that’s something I’ve noticed in my writing, that the big uber-outline doesn’t allow so much for.  Despite knowing what’s going to happen in a scene or chapter, the minutia of it isn’t there in the plan. Which point do I cover first.  What action depends on what other piece of action?  Where can I most naturally slip in that bit of foreshadowing?

These days, I’m trying to crank out a novel a year, which is tight with a dayjob, so anything I can do to increase my daily wordcount is appreciated.  And that’s where micro-outlining comes in.  Before leaping into a chapter, I take five or ten minutes to come up with a short bullet-point list of everything that needs to happen, in the order it needs to happen.  Then I don’t have to worry about that so much as I write, letting me stay in the moment, and cranking out words.

As an added bonus, this technique also lets me quickly play around with the structure of the chapter up front, rather than cutting it up and creating a terrifying Frankenstein’s monster later on in the editing process.

So, that’s what’s on my mind today.  What’s on yours?

Mar. 13th, 2012

Eye/Pineapple

Feral kid – wild art

Originally published at Cogs & Neurons. You can comment here or there.

I believe I have mentioned before my love of, and reliance on art as a writing prompt.  Creating a visual library for each novel is a big part of my novel writing process, helping me get a sense for the tone I want to it, and also helping me generate ideas.

I’ve also written before about my love of James Jean, who among other things used to do the covers for the Fables comic.  He has since moved into fine art, and the man who stepped up to the plate is Joao Ruas, who masquerades on line as feral kid (see the title of this post makes sense now).

Gorgon III (2011)

There’s a beautiful, lyrical quality to Mr Ruas’s work.  His lines and figures flow, drifting in ethereal, undefined landscapes.  There’s something dreamlike and inviting.  A mystery waiting to be solved, dream logic waiting to be unraveled.  But there’s a darkness too, something off-kilter and threatening, a sense of danger lest we pry too deep.  It’s a wonderful counterbalance of emotions, but drawing the viewer in and pushing them away.  Beauty and horror in delicate balance.  His online gallery is simply amazing, and well worth checking out.

Cover illustration for Fables 107

Minerva (2011)

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Mar. 12th, 2012

Eye/Pineapple

The allure of competence

Originally published at Cogs & Neurons. You can comment here or there.

I just watched Cowboys and Aliens for the first time last night.  It was about exactly as good as you would expect a movie called Cowboys and Aliens to be.  So I guess you get out of it what you bring in.  But it put me in mind of something I only recently figured out, and which I should have realized forever ago.

We really, really like competent people.

We want to know about them.  We find them fascinating.  Even when we probably shouldn’t.  And the opening of the aforementioned cowboy-alien culture clash flick is a perfect example of this.

As a warning, I am now going to utterly spoil the opening two or three minutes of that movie.  That’s it.  But I am going to spoil those minutes.

The set-up is simple.  Daniel Craig wakes up in the middle of some badlands, clearly discombobulated and confused by a metal band on his wrist.  As he’s trying to get it off, 3 men on horseback ride up.  The think he may be an escaped prisoner, so point a gun at him and tells him to follow them.

At which point, the unarmed Daniel Craig murders them all violently.

Would you trust this man with your kids?

So, going through it again.  A man who knows nothing about himself, and about whom I know nothing, brutally kills 3 men trying to do the socially responsible thing.

And is my response shock and horror at this act?  Am I outraged by what a psychotic asshole this man is?  Or do I fist pump and think what an outstanding badass he is.

Of course I fist pump.  You just did it a little bit too.

I mean, I just watched something, which is borderline psychotic and I’m cheering for the guy.  And simply because what he tried and succeeded in doing was really, really hard.

This is I think an issue some people have with No Hero.  Arthur Wallace wasn’t competent enough for them.  Even while he dukes it out with intergalatic aliens, he’s worrying about it.  He’s reliant on the more obviously super-powered in his group.  So a big part of the edits on Yesterday’s Hero, was doing just this – making Arthur more competent, and more of an active agent, while still trying to keep him quintessentially Arthur.

So, I just figured it out, I thought I’d point it out here.

Happy Monday, all.

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Mar. 8th, 2012

Eye/Pineapple

The reading problem (reviews + more time management frippery)

Originally published at Cogs & Neurons. You can comment here or there.

When I started writing 5 days a week, I found that my reading fell off tremendously.  At the time I possibly needed to read the most (to quote James Rollins, writers should write every day and read every night) I was doing the least I’d ever done.

My spare time can roughly be divided into time-when-I-write and time-when-I’m-too-tired to write.  Unfortunately when I’m too tired to write, I’m usually too tired to read.  I don’t know what it is, but I get about half a page in and then my eyes close.  I can play video games and watch movies for hours (which I shouldn’t but I do any way) but books go out the window.

Which is pretty much why I can’t sing the praises of audible.com highly enough.  Because, while I don’t have time to sit down and read, I do have some time to walk around and listen to someone else reading.  I can do it while I walk from the train station to work.  When I’m driving.  I can do it when I was the dishes or make breakfast in the morning.  Suddenly chores are enjoyable because they’re reading time.  Or listening to reading time.

So, in the spirit of encouraging others to join me in my audio fixation, here are a few recommendations.

Hard Magic, by Larry Correia. With his Monster Hunter series, Larry Correia proved that he could right tight, fast, funny action, with badass , exquisitely human characters.  With Hard Magic he takes his writing to a whole new level.  This was probably my favorite book of 2011.  I loved the hell out of it.  It’s epic historical urban fantasy, or something damn close.  But there are mutant superheroes in the 20s and its hardboiled as fuck, and there are ninjas, and zeppelins, and pretty much anything that you can think of that is awesome.  It’s a tremendous piece of writing, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Furies of Calderon, by Jim Butcher.  I have to confess I haven’t made it to the end of this, but that’s because I’m in the middle of this right now.  I grew up on epic fantasy, Tolkein, and Weiss and Hickman, and Katherine Kerr, but recently I’ve largely lost my taste for it.  ”Epic” too often seems to mean, “nothing interesting happens for the first 150 pages.”  Mr Butcher side steps this neatly and completely.  Really pulls off the same trick that he did with his Harry Dresden book, which is to combine traditional genre fare with the plotting and pacing of something from the contemporary thriller aisles.  And he’s just as deft at combining the two genres here as he is in Storm Front and its sequels.

The Strain, by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan.  Another book that combines traditional genre fare with a more mainstream thriller structure.  In this, the beginning of an excellent series, the traditional vampire story becomes a medical thriller.  The main protagonist, Dr. Eph Goodweather, works for the CDC.  How nerdishly awesome is that?  It’s atmospheric, genuinely disturbing in parts, and just as good as any of Stephen King’s horror pieces.  (Well, maybe no IT, but most of them). Plus, not only is it written by Guillermo del Toro, genre deity, but its narrated by Ron Perlman, by goddamn Hellboy himself.  Which is just putting the cherry on the cake of awesome as far as I’m concerned.

And that should be enough to get anyone started.  Happy listening.

Plus, if anyone has any recommendations for where I should spend my credits, I’d love to hear them.

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Mar. 7th, 2012

Eye/Pineapple

Writing and the giddy art of time management

Originally published at Cogs & Neurons. You can comment here or there.

The hardest part of writing, I find, is starting.  I love it when I’m actually writing.  Seriously love it.  Sort of, bed of roses and romantic lighting love it.  Possibly a little more than I should.  But actually sitting down, putting arse in front of laptop, setting finger on keyboard.  That bit I have some trouble with.

Basically, I suspect, it’s because writing is hard work.  It’s a sad truth, but writing never gets much easier.  It’s a lot of mental effort.  And playing another game of minesweeper, or just reading one more chapter of the book I’m reading, or watching just one episode of something on Netflix – well that’s really easy.

It is a cruel mistress...

The closest thing I can compare it to, is going to the gym, which I have to say, I am not half as good at forcing myself to do.  But that’s because at the end of exercising, instead of feeling accomplished, and replenished, and full of joy, I feel like shit.  So screw exercising.

I’ve wandered off topic…

No, writing is like going to the gym, in that both require effort and are easy to put off.  The trick to both is habit formation.  Once you’ve made  going to the gym a part of your daily routine then it’s suddenly easy to go.  It makes sense.  And it’s the same with writing.

My writing really took off once I started writing 5 days a week.  I struggled to do that for several years, but could never find the time. And then I I finally made commitment to really try it.  And I pushed through about two rough weeks, and then it was habit.  That’s really all it takes.

The trick for me was to find a consistent time and place.  My commute in this case.  When I get on a train in the morning or evening, then it’s time for me to write.  So I do.  It’s automatic.  It feels wrong not to do it.  And, interestingly (I think), I find it much harder to start writing at any other time, even if on a train.

So next time you think about writing, then blow it off, remember a two week commitment to kicking your own ass is really all that’s between you and it.

(Gosh, I feel very school-mam-like all of a sudden, how weird…)

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Mar. 6th, 2012

Eye/Pineapple

Move over Dogs Playing Poker…

Originally published at Cogs & Neurons. You can comment here or there.

Sometimes the internet giveth, and sometimes it taketh away.  Today it giveth, because I just stumbled over the artwork of Jason Heuser, and his gallery on DeviantArt, which is one of the most wonderfully deranged things I’ve ever seen.  Seriously, you have to check it out.  Here’s a taster…

 

John F Kennedy Alien Hunter

Paul Revere Midnight Rider

FDR Battle For America

Seriously, this is what the internet was made for.

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Mar. 5th, 2012

Eye/Pineapple

This whole Amazon thing

Originally published at Cogs & Neurons. You can comment here or there.

So, in case you hadn’t heard, Amazon are basically assholes.

I know.  I’ll give you a moment, this is a profound shock.  That’s ok.  Let it sink in slowly.

Another piece of information which may leave you reeling: Amazon is tremendously successful.  Now I don’t want to be one of those correlation-causation guys, but I suspect those two things are related.  As a consumer, I go to Amazon because I can get stuff cheap.  I like cheap stuff.  I prefer free stuff, but cheap is often as close as I can get.  But the reason those things are cheap, well it’s because Amazon is being an asshole to someone.

The big dude is Amazon. The little bleeding one is everything you love.

So when I buy there, I’m tacitly supporting them being assholes.  But when I’m not shopping there, I’m not supporting my bank balance.

Which is, facetiously enough, the basic issue, whether its expanded out to publishing, or wherever.  Really, I think it’s the basic issue with capitalism, but I’m a horrible lefty, so, I probably would.  But, take, for example, Amazon’s move to create an app to let you scan a book in a bookstore and see how much cheaper you can get it on Amazon.  That’s, from a business point of view, unutterable genius.  It gets you to buy from them.  That’s the point of a company.  That’s why it’s there.

It is also, an unbelievably shitty thing to do.

But I do like cheap stuff.

And, to be fair, its exactly what the big bookstores like Barnes & Noble did to all the small bookstores (I know, another shocking revelation, I am full of insight today).  I imagine the main thing that annoys them about Amazon’s app is that they didn’t think of it first.

I think one of my biggest issues with Amazon–as a consumer–is that their replication of a bookstore is just downright bad.  They couldn’t do less to hide the fact that they are selling little, papery bricks.  The joy of entering a real physical bookstore, is browsing.  It’s seeing that book next to the one you were initially interested in, and pulling it out, and finding out it’s so much cooler.  And then the next one and the next one.

That said, Barnes and Noble’s web site isn’t that much better.

Some people bemoan the death of the social aspect of book stores.  Personally that’s not something I’ve ever experience.  I stalk the bookshelves alone, mildly and irrationally suspicious of all sales people.  But I do love physically being in them, being surrounded by books.  I’ve gone to readings, hell, I’ve done a reading, it’s awesome.  I would be very, very sad if physical book stores went away.

But, man, I do like cheap stuff.

Now, some people tout the coming e-revolution, and I’m sure that’s part of the demise of the physical book store.  But, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I think it’s overhyped.  To quote the facts on No Hero again, despite being a quarter of the price of the physical book, e-book sales only make up around a quarter of my sales.  So, despite liking cheap, I still think people like their physical books.

But they do like them cheap.

And, to repeat my point from way up above, I think that’s basically the issue as a consumer: what do you like more?  Non-shitty behavior or money.  And for the most part I think people like money.  It’s an economy of scale issue, and being the dedicated capitalists that they are, I can’t see Amazon letting up the pressure on Barnes and Noble’s throat any time soon.

The other issue I have is as a producer of work.  Recently I’ve seen a bunch of people refusing to sell stuff through Amazon.  This is, imho, incredibly admirable.  But it’s also going to seriously limit the sales of those books.  Amazon is the biggest game in town.  And in the land of book selling, being seen despite the clutter seems to be one of the most vital weapons in an author armament.  Hell, it’s why this blog is looking more lively.  It’s why I’m trying to up my twitter game.  Not stocking Yesterday’s Hero on Amazon would be tantamount to career suicide at this point.

Again, money vs morals.

This has turned into a bit of a downer post.  I would love for Amazon to become a lovely happy shiny company, full of smiles and rainbows, but it’s not going to happen.  And if it did, then I doubt it would be half as successful.  I’m all for someone overthrowing the capitalist system, but that requires there to be a better one available, and I’m not seeing it yet.  I wish I had an answer, a better way to propose.  But I honestly think Amazon is the monster we’ve created, and now we’re going to have to work out a way to live with it.  It’s a sad truth, but I don’t think wishing it away is going to have much effect.

In the mean time, buy from your local bookstores when you can, producers, pimp the crap out of Indiebound links, and let’s all work out a way how to jab a syringe full of unicorn farts and puppy breath into Amazon’s arse.

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Eye/Pineapple

The Green Man reviews No Hero

Originally published at Cogs & Neurons. You can comment here or there.

Over at Green Man Review, Richard Danksy has nice things to say about No Hero, which is very kind of him.  Good reviews are pretty much the best part of being an author, I think.  At least they have been so far.  Maybe there’s a bit where people throw praline chocolates at my feet, but that hasn’t happened yet.  Anyway, a few of my favorite bits:

  • Wood fleshes out an interesting and consistent world, and the electrically powered magic system he proposes has all sorts of fascinating angles to it.
  • The secondary characters add some real spark and flair
  • An engaging read and a promising beginning for a new series.

And there’s yet more love for Winston here, who people seem to like.  Very glad I found a place for him in Yesterday’s Hero.

Plus, another mention of the similarity between No Hero and Torchwood.  Someday I am seriously going to have to watch that show.

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Mar. 2nd, 2012

Eye/Pineapple

A good book for writing good books

Originally published at Cogs & Neurons. You can comment here or there.

As I suspect most writers have, I have built up a small collection of “How the hell does this writing thing work anyway” books.  Different ones have been useful a different stages, as I struggle with different aspects of the whole craft thing.  As things have progressed, and I feel like I have some of the basics down (those of you who have read No Hero can take issue with that if you want…) I haven’t bought as many, but I still do occasionally pick them up.

One I’d heard many good things about was Donald Maas’s Writing The Breakout Novel, so I picked that up a while back, and its a small smart tome that I really enjoyed.  Donald Maas seems to be a very well respected agent, and he has a pithy way of summing up advice.  He covers all the basics, and is insightful in going beyond them. And because I love books about writing, I went ahead and bought the Writing The Breakout Novel Workbook.

I’ve only ever bought one workbook before.  It was a scriptwriting one and I forget the name because it wasn’t very good.  The idea of a workbook seemed like a good one, but in practice I was underwhelmed, and I was, I admit, a little dubious about Mr Maas’s workbook.

But holy crap.

I seriously can’t say enough nice things about this book.  I’m noodling away on a project at the moment, and having worked my way through about a quarter of the workbook so far, I’m already indebted to it.  I thought the plot was pretty solid, but now I’m adding a very substantial subplot, not because of narrative wholes, but because suddenly I see whole new ways to enrich character, to flesh out the novel in important ways, that I would otherwise have totally missed.

It’s really, really good.

Is this book for everyone?  No.  Because not everyone is going to be having the same issues as me (after years of struggling with plot and narrative tension, I’m now struggling with developing my characters better).  To some people this will be obvious advice.  And some people, I’m sure, will dislike the direction Mr Maas seems to want to push fiction (this is not really a book for folks who want to live in experimental territory, for example).

But it is definitely a book worth checking out next time you find yourself in the writing section of your local bookstore.  Because it may be the book for you, and if it is, it may just be invaluable.

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Mar. 1st, 2012

Eye/Pineapple

Scorpion King 2, or movies I love but shouldn’t

Originally published at Cogs & Neurons. You can comment here or there.

Let me make this clear, Scorpion King 2 is a terrible, terrible movie.  Just awful.  However, I must state with equal veracity, I fucking love this movie.

First, the awful.  Michael Copon plays the lead character, and his previous credits largely include Power Rangers which gives you a sense of where we are with the acting chops in this one. And he’s the best actor in thisBy FAR.  The quintessential bad guy is played by Randy Couture of UFC fame, and he seriously could not act his way out of a paper bag. Though fortunately he has fists the size of my face, so that would probably help him make his escape.  And bear in mind Randy Couture was touted as the main attraction here.  Because… he has fists the size of your face?  I don’t know.  I really don’t.

Also, anyone who takes offense at chain mail bikinis should take note that this is not a movie that considers the covering of vital organs an essential function of armor.

What's not to love? Apart from, you know, everything.

This is also a movie that employs the standard action movie comic relief character #6 – the nerdy guy who contributes nothing except sarcasm, and seems to have wandered in from a different movie, and generally serves to try and destroy any sense of immersion.  I thought we killed that guy at the end of then nineties, but apparently he’s still around.

Plus this is the sequel to the Scorpion King, a movie so bad it basically derailed the entire Mummy franchise, which is one of my favorite franchises of all time.  This movie was straight to DVD, so has basically been judged inferior to Scorpion King 2, which stinks of crap so badly I needed to air out my DVD player after watching the thing.

But I love it.  Fucking love it.  I said it up top, why are you making me repeat myself?

Because despite its awfulness, despite the fact nobody can really act in it, despite the ho-hum been there, done that feel to its plot, Scorpion King 2 manages to find a little bit of charm, to tap into some kitschy pulpness.  It knows it’s going to be a budget movie and it works with that.  It saves itself and sparkles where it can.  These people try, dammit.  They want to elevate their material limited though there ability to do so may be.  And that’s a damn sight more than can be said for the original, where ever seems happy to wallow in hokiness.

There are some genuinely good ideas in here. The standard Mummy franchise Egyptian mythology wanders into greek mythology.  The aforementioned comic relief character is supposed to be Aristophanes, which takes me back to some of the better classics classes I took at college, and made me smile.  Someone, at some point, did a tiny bit of research.

There’s a fight with Minotaur, which is rarely a bad thing and a trip to the Underworld which is genuinely quite cool, and a confrontation with Lady Astarte (another nicely researched piece of greek mythology) which adds some genuinely weird touches to what could otherwise be a movie by the numbers.  Randy Couture, quite wisely, is given very few lines, and in addition to his general face-punching skills has magical ones as well, which taps into a very Robert E. Howard kind of vibe.  This is a halfway decent swords and sorcery movie, and genre fans don’t get many of those.

And the action, for the most part, does rise above the typical budget fare.  It’s not great, nothing in this movie is great but often its a cut above what you might expect.

Come on, that's kind of cool

So, a movie to be watched when your brain needs a break, and when you appetite for “good” is satiated and you just want “fun.”  It’s a movie with heart, with gumption.  An A for effort, if the actual achievement falls short, and that charm has wormed its way into my heart like some godawful parasite, and I can’t shift it.

Just, please, bear in mind when you watch it and want to come back and throw things at me–I warned you, it’s terrible.

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