Vacation Time

Hey Everybody, it’s summer and I’m trying to take it easy. With family vacation, more vacation coming, writing, working and house work…I don’t have much to time to blog. So, just stopping by to say “Hey!”Beach

My latest vacation was intense. It involved deep-sea fishing (with a side  of crabbing), beer festivals (bourbon-aged beer…mmmm) and dredging a lake which, as a co-worker pointed out, all sounds like “manly stuff.” I guess it was, I guess it was…

Anyway, I’m back home now and researching (which means reading), writing and thinking about my next fiction piece. I’ve got to focus on that for now and I will be back next time with something a bit more involved for you to chew on.

In the meantime, get out there and enjoy life—it’s way too short! August is a great time to mix it up and have some fun. Who knows? We might even run into one another.

See you soon,

Darius

Advertisements

The Craft: Plot, Plot, Plot

Lately, all I’ve been thinking about is plot. That’s right, that little thing that makes a big difference in your story. And like anything we obsess over it’s been invading my subconscious starting with my dreams.

Can’t get Plot out of my head…

So, there I was a couple of nights ago, just enjoying my sleep, minding my own business when I had this dream, which I jotted down as soon as I woke up:

Suddenly, I was reading pulp fiction. A big, long book—400 pages or more. Stephen King, Dean R. Koontz, Kresley Cole or something like that…I read and read and read, faster and faster. I understood where the plot was going, where the characters were headed, how the conflict was moving ahead…I was looking down on the words from above.

Suddenly, I turned the next page and realized it was the end of the chapter.  The author wrapped it all up perfectly. The tension reached a climax and—bam! That last sentence was dynamite. It propelled everything forward, but put in that last bit of mystery and fricking INTRODUCED a new, unanswered question.

“Damn! I thought! This guy/girl is good.” I put in my bookmark and thought—I can’t wait for tomorrow night when I can pick this up again and FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. That guy/girl is a CRAFTY author.

And that was it. That was all. But it was enough. It’s exactly what I’m trying to do subconsciously when I write. My conscious brain is too overloaded with dialogue, scene-setting, action, etc., etc, etc., when I’m actually writing to worry much about plot. But that (from the dream above) is exactly what I’m aiming at. So now, the subconscious sleeping Darius and the subconscious awake (and writing) Darius are in synch. United and working on the same problem: How to build tension slowly, all while turning up the heat bit by bit. It’s something I’ve screwed up massively in the past and I really want to get this right this time.

It’s great place to be with the writing for now, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Until next time…

Keep Reading, Keep Writing,

Darius

4 Years of My Blog

Writer writing

Wow. WordPress is telling me I’ve been writing this blog for four years. (It’s actually a bit longer than that since the blog started over on Goodreads). I can’t believe it. So, today, I want to do a quick look back and, more importantly, a look ahead.

First, here is the first post on my blog from July 20, 2012:


Well, here goes nothing

My first novel has just been published. It’s on the Amazon Kindle store here. It’s also on Goodreads.

Please take the time to leave a review. And a big thank you to all of you who have already got it and are reading it.

,D


My posts have come a long way since then. They even include pictures, which apparently is an unwritten rule on the Internet. So, to continue the look back: what have I done, in my writing life, over those past four years? Glad you asked. This is what:

  • Self-published a novella.
  • Got three of my stories traditionally published in magazines.
  • Wrote a fricking play. (Thanks, Fink!)
  • Wrote 171 blog posts. (Was it that many?)
  • Shared the blog with thousands of visitors.
  • Changed the frequency of the blog from weekly to biweekly.
  • Kept focused, kept disciplined, kept writing.

That last one is the most important to me. Constancy. I’ve written about that a lot here on the blog. But it’s one thing to write about something, and quite another to do it. To sit your butt down and write every weekend, when you could be doing other things. I’m really proud of that.

So, what’s next? Number one: keep writing fiction. I also want to re-christen the blog. It’s not going to be a “Writer Begins” anymore. If it needs a title, it’s going to be “A Writer Writes.” I think that fits just fine because that’s what I’m all about. And with three published stories, I feel a new chapter has begun. I’ve done a lot and learned a lot since I started this blog. There’s always more you can learn, of course. But that third story felt like some sort of milestone. One time could be lucky—a fluke. A second time, could be a coincidence. But getting published three times—There’s something to that. Three times is no accident. And with that comes an assurance you can do it again and again. Even before you put pen to paper.

As a consequence of that I feel the characters and the stories and the writing are all maturing. And improving. Now, the challenge is to keep going and build on that solid foundation.

And that’s what I intend to do. So, here’s to bloggers blogging and writers writing. Let’s keep this going.

Thanks for Tuning In,

DJ

Moving House—and Books

Hey everybody, just checking in. Moving house this weekend. As part of that, I’m taking 10 boxes of books with me. If fact, when I move, it feels like it’s mostly books. Anyway, not much time to talk/write today, but wanted to let you know I’m still out there writing and creating. Moving house

So, here’s a quick update on the writing. Getting admissions and rejections back from publishers and will send my play to the proofer soon. Next weekend, I plan to get back to writing drafts in earnest. Looking forward to that. It’s time to get back into the mix and to start “getting black on white” again. Now that this house-moving thing  is about over, it’s high time I get back to it.

More soon,

Darius

One More City–with Merle Haggard

So, you probably don’t know this about me, but I’m a huge country music fan. Huge. Not the new stuff, but the classic country. From around the 30s to mid-70s (from about Jimmie Rodgers to Waylon Jennings). The modern stuff doesn’t really do it for me. BigCityMerleHaggard

As such, I was truly bummed this week to learn Merle Haggard had passed away. Many of you, especially those  of you outside the U.S., might not have heard of him. Well, let me cure you of that with a look at three songs from one of America’s greatest singer-songwriters. All written and performed by Haggard.

I’m including just the lyrics because they’re lyric-driven songs and I love the simple stories they tell.


1. Big City

Always loved this one. It’s a simple story really, about a guy who has had enough.

I’m tired of this dirty old city
And tired of too much work
And never enough play
And I’m tired of these dirty old sidewalks
Think I’ll walk off my steady job today.

So, he takes off running way out into the middle of nothing.

Turn me loose, set me free
Somewhere in the middle of Montana
And give me all I’ve got coming to me.

And Merle, being Merle, couldn’t help but pack a little political edge into the song.

And keep your retirement and your
So called Social Security
Big city turn me loose and set me free.

I love that “so-called Social Security.” I always feel the guy who ran was better for it, happier and just plain freer. And for the record, I have blasted this song while driving my truck through the middle of Montana. Near a place called Grass Range. Literally.

2. Here in Frisco

Haggard famously dissed the City by the Bay in one of his most famous songs, “The Okie from Muskogee.” Fair enough. But what a lot of people don’t know is that he wrote one of the most beautiful songs ever written about the city. It’s kind of a love song for the city and whenever I’m there, I can hear wisps and catches of it playing in my mind.

It’s four a.m. in New York City three a.m. in Dallas
The night is still early here in Frisco.

One a.m. is pretty early for San Fran. I’ve seen it “swinging” at 3 a.m. and even after that (especially, on St. Patrick’s Day).

They say it’s raining in Chicago and it’s cold and clear in Denver
Been windy all night long here in Frisco
Trolley cars are clinging, the big Bay Town’s swinging
And I’m still all alone here in Frisco.

That nails it for me. I just feel myself transported back there walking through the streets, hearing the trolleys clanging, the wind blowing. It’s a great little tribute to the city.

This is a deep track on his Keep Movin’ On album, but very worth tracking down.

3. Silver Wings

Another favorite. It starts out well enough.

Silver wings,
Shining in the sunlight,
Roaring engines,
Headed somewhere in flight.

But this is a country song, so things head south fast.

They’re taking you away
Leaving me lonely
Silver wings
Slowly fading out of sight.

You can tell where this is headed: Nowhere good.

Don’t leave me I cried
Don’t take that airplane ride
But you locked me out of your mind
Left me standing here behind.

All that’s left is that sad, sad refrain.

Silver wings
Slowly fading out of sight.
Slowly fading out of sight.

This is another deep track from the A Portrait of Merle Haggard album.


So what does this all mean? First, sad to see him go. Second, I learned from him that you can tell a great story using a few, simple words. It doesn’t require complexity or big words. You can convey a whole mood and idea very, very simply. And tersely.

But perhaps the biggest thing I admire about him is how he brought country music into the modern era. All those things he sang about above are modern things: big cities, San Francisco, jet airplanes. Before him, country music singers sang about honky tonks, white lightning and trains. He wrote about those things too, but he also brought in new things, keeping the old sounds and phrasing. Every great art form contains within it tradition and innovation. If tradition become the dominating feature, that art form stagnates and dies. If only innovation dominates, the good things about that tradition can be forgotten and the whole art form can be lost. The key seems to be finding a balance between tradition and innovation to create something new within an existing tradition. That’s when really great artistic moments can happen.

And Merle Haggard will always be a fine example of that.

Rest in Peace, Merle. And Thanks,

Darius.


If you want to learn more, Wikipedia has a great article on Merle and you can pick up one of his greatest hit albums to start with and then dip into his actual albums if you’re hungry for more. I hope you will be.

See you next time,

DJ

Vacation Time

Fink Beach

Taking a little break. It’s the summer and I’m on vacation, so not much time to update the blog. Or write. I’ll do a bigger post when I return on August 14.

Until then, I’ll be wrapping up a draft  of my latest short story “P” and resubmitting some stories that I’ve already finished. Just so you know it’s not all vacation.

Will see you all again soon with some more updates on where my writing is going.

,DJ


Elmore Leonard’s Rules for Writing
To tide you over until I return, here’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules for Writing. Great stuff here and lots of modern writing seems to follow his rules. His points keep on rolling around in my mind.

Alright, I’m out of here. Till next time…

A Look Back at my Year in Writing–2014

Wrapping things up here on 2014. So, I wanted to look back at my year in writing and talk a little about what I accomplished and maybe a bit about what I didn’t. Next week, we’ll look forward to 2015. But this post is about the year that was. Here are the highlights one-by-one.


1. I saw my name in print for the first time.  Never_Look_Back
If I had to single out one highlight of my writing year, it would be seeing my novelette, The Ghul of Yazd published in Strangelet Journal. It was so great to see this story get accepted and finally see my name in print on, you know, an actual page of paper. And I almost fell off my chair when the editor asked me to put footnotes back into the story, thus preserving my original vision for the story.

It was doubly nice to hand a copy of the magazine to my parents as a Christmas gift this past week.

I also enjoyed the protagonist, Yusuf, in this story so much I wouldn’t mind visiting him again sometime by writing another story with him in it. I miss him.

2. I got a response to a query letter for the first time.
I finished writing my comedy-horror novella (AFTA) and got an editor interested enough to respond to my query letter. It’s too early to see if it gets picked up, but, hey, it was still fun to have another “First” even if the editor ultimately decides to pass on the manuscript.

3. I attended my first Con.
This was a resolution of mine last year and I stuck to it. This April, I attended my first Con (convention), RavenCon, and it was great. I learned a lot about writing, but I also learned a great deal about the publishing business and what editors look for—thanks to my fellow fiction-writer attendees and a handful of editors from Tor. If you’re a speculative fiction writer and you haven’t done this yet—get thee to a Con! You won’t regret it.

And, FYI, I will attend RavenCon again this year, so hope to see you there.

4. I finished a novella and two short stories.
It’s tough to fit writing into the daily grind, you know? But somehow I was able to finish a novella  (completely) and two short stories (almost).  A short synopsis of all three is now on my “Works in Progress” page. That’s not bad output, considering I have a full-time job that isn’t writing fiction.

(Truth be told, I still have to wrap that 2nd short story, but I should have that done in short order.)

5. I kept the blog  going.
It was no easy task, but I managed to write something for this blog at least every 2 weeks. Toward the end of the year, I was able to post something every week.

6. I said I would write short stories and I stuck to it.
As I said in my writing resolutions last year, I wanted to write “short or long,”that is, to write short stories or novels. Well, I did. I’ve written two short stories so far and I’m planning more to come in 2015. Who knows? I might even work on a novel next year.

7. Reading was the weak link.
Talk about not having time. After the day job, writing fiction and keeping up the blog, there isn’t a lot of time left. I resolved to read all sorts of things this past year, but it didn’t happen. That’s the way it is. I’m not going to loose any sleep over it, especially since I kept the fiction writing rolling

8. I kept submitting stories.
I’m proud of this last one. This is tough. You write your heart out, you take care of a piece. You write a solid first draft. Do the major polishing lift in 2nd draft. You polish some more in the third and/or fourth draft. Then, you proof it. And maybe somewhere in between, you workshop the piece. Finally, you research markets to find a place it might fit.

And then, in a sense, comes the hardest part of all: sending it to some unknown editor to see if they like it. Man, that’s never easy. But I’ve gotten to the point where I just go automatic. I say to myself, “this is a good piece” and I bring up my Gmail and press “Send.” It’s never easy, but after about 25 rejections, it’s becoming much more fluid. It’s a small but very significant milestone and I feel this year I’ve come to accept submission as a natural, integral part of the writing process. It wasn’t easy. 


Alright, see you next time when I’ll break down what I want to do in 2015 in writing. That should be a fun one.

,DJ

The Craft: The Ends of Analysis

[This is part of a continuing series on the art of writing fiction.]

I’ve talked a lot on this blog about the craft of writing fiction. About my five top rules for writing from “Get Black on White” and “NO CRITIC” to “Stick to What Works.” I’ve talked about “Grip,” about making your characters endure often painful conflict andDemotivational Death Star metamorphosis and about writing what you love. But there’s a limit to what you can figure out about writing. What you can, alas, put into words. Some things in writing, you just have to let be, without explanation. I’ve felt this especially keenly lately. I feel I’ve learned a tremendous amount about writing fiction this year, especially about writing short stories. But I feel most of it is incommunicable. These things are hard to characterize, but they’re things like:

  • Knowing you’re coming up against a word limit and writing to it. You just sense the story needs ending and you condense action to hit that limit.
  • Writing a section of dialogue and just KNOWING it’s not right for that character or situation. And then deleting it.
  • Getting a feeling that a story is getting off track. And then stopping. And putting it on the shelf for awhile or deleting the chapter(s) and starting over.
  • Smiling when you know that a certain character’s turn-of-phrase or unspoken action is just spot on.

There are a million other things like that in writing. Times when I just feel like the right approach could be something different, something intuitive that I’ve missed, that just needs to be included. This usually happens when I’m caught up in a story, just floating down the surface of it, like some great river.  I’m dodging all the rocks and whirlpools and just gunning down the chute to the end of the run. In such situations you can’t—or don’t—think. At moments like that the kayaker is completely immersed in the moment and making decisions naturally without the filter of rational thought breaking in.

It’s the same thing with writing. When the day’s going well, I’m making the decisions without thinking as I go. It’s only when my concentration is broken through—usually by a loud noise or some particularly clunky writing—that I fall out of the trance and start THINKING again. And thinking like that can ruin an entire day of great writing. So where am I going with this? What am I trying to say? That I learned a lot this year and I’m not sharing any of it? No. I would if I could. But this is beyond teaching and beyond knowing. It’s the pruning back of a jarring, clunky metaphor, it’s reining in some dialogue that got too long winded, it’s throwing the right detail in (even just the turn of a hand or a sigh) at the right moment, or ending a scene at just the right moment. Those things which, in the end, are the essence of Craft.

So, what to do, fellow writers? Despair? Fret? Give up? No. No. Never. Rather, persist. Pick up the pen again and take it to the blank page once more. For if I can not communicate what it is that will one day make you a master craftsman, I can assure you this: if you persist and if you have some God-given talent, you will win the contest. Experience alone must be your teacher. It may not be 5,000 words that gets you there. Or 50,000 or 100,000 or more. But if you keep going, persist, and write day-after-day, the Craft will come to you. You, too, will float along the river, gliding by, making decisions on the fly as everyone watches from the banks. And you will learn when the time is right for a character to be silent rather than speak, to act resolutely but too late, to have someone say it all with a half-seen, insignificant gesture.

All these things will come, but they require two things: talent and hard work. I wish I could say there was another path, but there never has been and never will be. That said, I hope I see you there, a little further down the road. I’ll be there, plodding along.

Good luck! And happy writing,

Darius

The Craft–Grip

[This is part of a continuing series on the art of writing fiction.]

“If it was boring to write it, how can you expect it to be exciting to read?”

– C. C., esq.

That’s my friend and sometimes editor, C.C., talking. He was razzing me ever so slightly about an article I wrote. But he was doing it to make a point. Granted the article was on a snow.0111technical subject, but the problem was, I just kept it there. I didn’t bring in the people and the story behind the technology that would have made it interesting, that would have made it gripping. And you know what? C.C. was right, it was boring to write and probably boring for readers too.

That incident happened with my writing-for-a-living job a few months ago, but it’s just as applicable to my fiction writing. Even more so. And here’s a recent example I’d like to share.

I was writing my latest story, a story called TMWSE. It’s a horror short story. The first chapter was great, gripping. Full of grip, one might say. So, I started writing the second chapter. It started well, but about half way through, I noticed the characters had spent a good deal of the chapter talking about mechanical issues and getting bogged down in a rather fruitless philosophical discussion. Now, there’s nothing wrong with philosophy, but if you’re going to put it in your SHORT story, it better serve the plot, hit its basic points and move on. Mine didn’t do that. Here’s a sample of the dialogue:

“…At that time, man was obsessed with demons. They were thought responsible for all sorts of maladies. In this more…rational age we tend to blame demons less and mechanistic causes more.”

“Where are you going with this?”

“What if I told you that all this is an illusion?” Caldicott raised his hands to indicate the room, the skies and all the firmament beyond and above them. “All. That neither the world’s religions, nor modern science truly understands the Ground, the world as it really is. What would you say to that?”

“But you do?” Don leaned forward.

“No, no I wouldn’t claim to that. I know how little I—or any man—will ever know. And how blissfully ignorant the mass of men are. But I—thanks to an accident of heredity and lineage—know more than most.”

There’s nothing wrong with what’s above, it’s just sort of long-winded and doesn’t point to anything, doesn’t drive the characters and plot anywhere. At least, that’s what I felt when I reread it later that day.

So what did I do? I hemmed and hawed and thought about what to do. I realized I had not plotted out the short story before I sat down to write it. The more I write short stories, the more I’m convinced this is a horrible mistake. Why? It’s essentially because of the economy of this medium. It’s best to plot out each chapter, even if it’s only one sentence on an index card per chapter. (I find that’s all I need). This way, you know where you’re headed and where the action should go, generally speaking. (Novel writing is completely different and I’ll get to that later).

As a result, I stopped writing, pressed the pause button. I essentially stole a device from playwriting, coming up with a five-chapter plot in long hand on a piece of paper with:

  • 1 chapter for the set up. To introduce characters in conflict with one another (the plot) in a setting.
  • 3 chapters of rising action, with the final climax in chapter 4.
  • 1  chapter of denoument or wrapping up.

That was enough, just one line per chapter. I rebooted my word processor, deleted all of the old chapter 2, but retained chapter 1 because the setup was solid. Then, I started chapter 2 over from scratch, only retaining a chunk or two of old chapter 2 that still worked. The new chapter 2 had much more “grip” and it ended on a mini-cliffhanger, unlike the earlier Chapter 2. That little mini-cliffhanger not only can keep the reader interested, but it acts as a perfect break in the writing process itself. Using that as a guide, the writer can return to a piece a day, a week, even a month later and know exactly where the action left off and know where they need to go next.

So, in the end, ‘grip’ is not only about drawing the reader in and keeping them interested. It’s also about keeping the writer interested and, more importantly, driving the story where you want it go. And in a short story, that’s what you want to do. Grab the reader, pull them in and drive them and the story to a fulfilling conclusion. It’s very much like a sled ride or a roller coaster. You have to lock them in at the top, draw them up into the story and only let them go at the very end. (This is weak metaphor, but you get the idea).

In the following weeks, I plan to finish the story. Right now, I think it’s well in hand. I simply have to write Chapter 4 and 5: the final conflict chapter and the resolution chapter. But now, I’m excited to just write and see the end result. And I know if it’s exciting to write, there’s a good chance that it will be exciting to read too.

Wish me luck.

Until next time. Keep reading, keep writing,

Darius

A Writer Marries

All,

Some tremendous news of a non-literary nature:

I’m getting married this Saturday! I’m about as happy as a man can be and can’t believe I’m going to marry the woman of my dreams…wedding-car-007

In recognition of this life-altering event, I’m going to be, alas, taking a bit of a blogging break. Look for more of my blog later this month  (October).

That’s about all for now. I have to run. In fact, right now I should be heading to the rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding. I’ll be back later with a few more details on the wedding and more of “A Writer Begins.”

Stay tuned, things could get interesting.