Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Sometimes it’s helpful to listen to other people’s conversations. Of course, you’re not going to try to transcribe them. You’re going to listen and mark interesting phrases or turns of phrase or parts of conversation and use them sometime down the writing road when you’re in a scene. Most likely you’ll use a reasonable facsimile of them. I heard two teenage boys talking at the pool the other day. Not that I was purposely listening, but there I hanging onto the edge of the pool and they were talking loudly and what could I do? My ears were open. (I should mention I live in Austin, Texas.)

“It’s totally illegal to bury ashes on a mountain in Alaska,” one of the boys said.


“Illegal, Dude. I’m just saying.”

“Travis said throw his ashes off the mountain. That’s what he said. He said he wants his parents or someone to throw his ashes off a mountain in Alaska when he dies. ”

“Totally lame.”

“He didn’t say bury.”

“I’m pretty sure you can’t throw them off a mountain either. I'm pretty sure there’s a law against it.”

“Oh, come on.”

“There’s a lot of things you can’t do up there. Like you can’t throw a Moose out of a plane. You’d probably get like a huge fine for it.”


“What about Caribou?”

“I think Caribou are okay.”

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Happy World UFO Day


According to Wikepedia: June 24th was selected as World UFO Day because the first UFO report that was widely reported took place on June 24, 1947. This UFO sighting was reported by Kenneth Arnold. He spotted nine unusual objects flying in a chain near Mount Rainier on that day.

I begin some novels with characters and some novels with situations and some novels with voice. I began ALIEN INVASION & OTHER INCONVENIENCES with a situation. I decided that I wanted to have a vastly superior race invade earth for labor and settlement. I didn’t want this to be a story of invasion though. I wanted the invasion to take about ten seconds. (the novel begins like this: It took them less time to conquer the world than it takes me to brush my teeth. ) I wanted the story to be about what happened afterward, and I wanted to work on the theme of how power makes people arrogant. Our history is littered with examples of powerful nations treating weaker peoples as if they aren’t human at all. Slavery is just one of the consequences of this way of thinking. These aliens in my novel sure don’t treat humans as if they’re worth anything. They make them slaves. They think of them as product. So this novel began with a situation and the characters and voice and tone of the novel (kind of comic and kind of serious) came out of that.

Every novel, for me, begins differently. I think you have to be flexible because each novel begins in a different place and requires different things from you.

BACK TO UFO DAY and my novel:
In honor of WORLD UFO DAY, Candlewick, my publisher, is giving away ARCs of ALIEN INVASION & OTHER INCONVENIENCES on twitter. If anyone is interested, go to Candlewick on twitter and do this (and I have to admit to being twitter and tweeting illiterate so I’m not sure what this means exactly)--- Follow+RT today, June 24, for chance at 1 of 5 Alien Invasion & Other Inconveniences ARCs.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

why write?

This is from an interview over at Editorial Anonymous http://editorialanoymous.blogspot.com. If you’ve never looked at this blog, you should. This anonymous editor has some interesting things to say about the business of publishing and writing. Sometimes she has interviews. She had one recently with Adam Rex whose new YA novel—coming out this summer—is titled FAT VAMPIRE. I haven’t read it yet, but it sounds great.

Anyway, towards the end of the interview, E.A. asks him if he has any advice for writers or vampires. He responds:

ADAM REX: “There's a joke in there somewhere: What's the difference between a writer and a vampire? One of them leads a pallid, lonely existence, sucking dry both loved ones and strangers alike in his ghoulish quest for immortality, and the other one is a vampire. Ha ha.”

Uncomfortable twinge, right?

Why do we want to be writers at all? What drives us to do what we do? It’s different for everyone, I guess. I love the process, the making of a story, but sometimes I think it’s a ridiculous way to live: sitting around making up stories while life goes on all around me. But, for me, making up stories is one way that I do live. It’s one of the things that makes me feel alive. So, I say, suck away.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Sometimes it feels like we walk through life half-asleep much of the time and then something reminds us we’re alive. What wakes us up?

What wakes you up?

For me it’s all kinds of things. Sometimes it’s just a sentence I’ve written or one I've read. Sometimes something someone says. Martial Arts did when I was doing those. Various passions. Issues I care about sometimes will wake me up. People wake me up ETC…

When it comes to fiction, I come back to an idea I’ve heard expressed different ways but one that Robert Olen Butler expressed most succinctly for me: the moment to moment experience of our characters, if expressed with specificity and detail, makes the reader experience that moment. SO we, as authors, must be awake to the moment our characters are living through and express that. Those moments, linked together, will give our reader an experience.

I do think a lot of times that denouement is our characters coming awake in a manuscript, being aware of something in such a way that it brings their story to a natural conclusion.

Friday, June 11, 2010

kill your darlings

When you’re deep into a manuscript, maybe working through it the first time after the initial draft, there are scenes you love and points of character and plot that must change even though you don’t want them to. A first draft is going to be full of wrong turns.

What I found myself doing as I was reworking a manuscript, or I should say caught myself doing, was trying to keep something that happened to a character and that revealed character because I liked it. I think I knew, deep down, it was wrong but I wanted to keep it so I wrote another scene and another scene to justify its place in the manuscript. BUT all I was doing was taking myself further and further off-course.

So here’s my point: the old Faulkner advice, “Kill your darlings” is sometimes true. I think you have to pay attention to your feeling that a manuscript might be heading in the wrong direction or that a scene you really love might be distorting some aspect of a story and even leading you in the wrong direction. A novel, to get where it’s going, needs to be heading down the right roads. I don’t know that I would agree with Faulkner but I would, at least, say BE AWARE or BEWARE of your darlings.

Or so I think today.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

writing and canine criticism--year one

In honor of my first year of blogging. Here's my first post.

Last week my Old English Sheepdog, Merlin, pulled some of the manuscript pages of my latest WIP from my desk and began to eat them. Merlin, like most dogs, is adept at non-verbal communication. Of course he is also, another noble trait of the canine, notoriously good-natured and non-judgmental. I wondered what could have driven him to such uncharacteristic and extreme criticism.

After I managed to wrench the somewhat chewed but readable manuscript pages out of Merlin’s toothy grip, I started to read them. A growing uneasiness began at the nape of my neck and spread and that uneasiness became queasiness and that queasiness became despair. It was, alas, all wrong. Started in the wrong place. Went on too long here and not long enough there. Most importantly the life, somehow, had been squeezed out of it and the characters moved as if they were clueless stick figures rather than living creatures.

Merlin was right.

So though I am going to write about writing in this blog, and though I’ve written a lot of words and sentences and pages and have learned, maybe, a few things that might be of some small use to beginners, the truth is no writer, on any given day, really knows more than a sheepdog happily chewing away on a manuscript. And what we know on any given day is sort of a stab at the truth. Another day we might feel differently. I should probably end everything I say about writing with—Or so I think today.

That’s a good idea.

Or so I think today.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

revision--chapter summaries

In my last manuscript, Alien Invasion & Other Inconviences, I struggled with several plot points. My editor did something I’d only tried once. That time it hadn’t really worked for me. This time it helped a lot.

She did an outline of each chapter of the novel (there are about fifty so this was no small thing). It wasn’t a detailed outline. She just wrote a few sentences explaining what each chapter was about, the major points. (It really needs to just be about two or three sentences for each chapter, I think, so you can keep it focused.)

The chapter summaries helped me see structural problems in a way I couldn’t see them before. I realized I needed to do some rearranging, which meant being open to moving chapters around. I think this chapter by chapter summary can be very useful for the big picture revision that every writer should face at some point (a good time might be after letting the manuscript sit for a while to get a little distance). Anyway, it was really helpful to me to do a rewrite just focusing on story points and using the summaries as helpful signs to guide me. It became easier to cut whole chapters or move them and I did both. It was hard but I think it made the manuscript better.