Post Funk


I spent the last two days in a bit of a funk, brought about by that irksome between project doldrums, a tweaked neck, and a bit of the summer malaise. I attempted to flush it from my system by getting out of the house and spending time with some of my delightful friends, which also resulted in an opportunity to visit Paper Hammer up in Seattle. The storefront of the Might Tieton artistic community, Paper Hammer is chock-full of letterpress goodness. I went looking for ideas that could be used for the print edition of The Potemkin Mosaic and came away with thoughts of accordion books and message bottles.

Otherwise, I’ve spent a few days noodling on the opening of HERE BE MONSTERS. I suspect that’ll go out in a few days and we’ll see what Mr. Agent Man can do with it. I still need to do some more marketing for Queen of Faith, as well as some outreach for Earth Thirst.

I’m spending a lot of time thinking about presentation and new projects and big ideas. But it’s a lot of thinking yet.

Reading: Rob Ziegler’s Seed.
Watching: Justified – Season Four.
Listening: David SylvianGone to Earth [disc 2]; Scylla Unreleased Demos*.

*Wikipedia claims these are a “poor quality bootleg,” but it’s basically Curve as an overdriven garage band playing IN YOUR GARAGE, which is still better than 90% of the crap out there.

On 37signal’s Rework: a Writer’s Perspective

Book Talk

I just finished Rework by the lads at 37signals. I’ve used a couple of their products in the past for managing writing projects (the text to note function of Backpack was especially handy), but I’ve lost track of their Signal vs. Noise blog over the last year. They’ve put out a book which is intended for the small business audience, but I found a number of their examples and aphorisms to be equally valid for writing projects. Because, after all, we are but businesses of one, aren’t we?

Planning is Guessing. I’ve come to realize that I prefer writing to planning, and invariably any given outline never survives any contact with the actual writing process. Which isn’t to say that an outline isn’t useful, but it is a guide to where your thinking is right now. This is the direction you point yourself. Modifications to your course must be allowed to happen. If you know the true shape of the book you are about to write before you start, then where is the possibility for discovery? It does depend on your comfort zone, certainly, but part of the act of writing is discovery.

Scratch Your Own Itch. And if you allow that discovery is an important part of this process, then the book is offering you some enlightenment, some realization about your own thinking, or the world around you, or human nature. Yes, Pulp is about entertainment, and pure entertainment has a different reward, but I challenge any writer to not come clean that their current project isn’t scratching some itch of theirs. It may be as simple as a tool by which a specific technique is explored, but ultimately there is some reason the work is being done beyond the fact that it equals a paycheck. James Patterson can, of course, disagree, and I won’t fault him for it.

No Time Is An Excuse. We never get the time we want, and we rarely appreciate the time we have. Incremental work means the book gets done–eventually–versus never being started.

You Need Less Than You Think. Lightbreaker is a bit overwritten because I was afraid I didn’t have enough story to fill out a full novel. Heartland is thirty thousand words longer, and I still don’t know where those words are because I felt like I was dropping every other line out as I was writing it. James Ellroy leaves out 80% of every sentence in White Jazz, and it feels denser for it.

Embrace Constraints. Let’s use White Jazz as the example. Ellroy chose a very idiosyncratic style, and it forced him to write the book in a very distinct way. If you look at the transition from The Big Nowhere to L. A. Confidential to White Jazz, you immediately know the sort of cop that David Klein is on the very first page. You know you’re going to have to buckle up and knuckle down if you’re going to survive the ride. “Downtown. A dress for Meg. I do it every time I kill a man.”

It’s probably been ten years since I’ve read White Jazz, and yet I can still quote those lines (and a few others). Embracing constraints gives the work its own life.

Start At The Epicenter. See Kurt Vonnegut’s Rules For Writing. “Enter the scene as late as possible; leave as soon as you can.” Keep your focus. Know the point you’re trying to make. Trim the fat.

Tone Is In Your Fingers (and Who Cares What They Are Doing?). You can’t NOT be aware of what others are doing, but it is what they are doing and has little relevance to your own work. Your work is YOURS, and that is a large part of why you are writing it. Because you are the best candidate to write THIS book. So, be comfortable in your skin, and let the muse work your fingers. That is the proper way of things.

Launch Now. This one is a bit harder to properly quantify, given that a book does take some time to complete, what with drafting, panicking, trimming, editing, and other fussing that writers like to do. The software world has a theory of Good Enough, which is a call to iterate often. Writers don’t iterate; they finish and move on. To that end, “launching now” may seem to be paradoxical, but more critically, it should be thought of as “Write Now.”

Good Enough Is Fine and Quick Wins (aka Build An Audience). Again, while we don’t have the luxury of iteration, finishing the current book and starting the next one and the one after that is important. A career is not built off one book (statistically speaking). The career rises out of a body of work. A key part of the recent self-publishing success stories is the presence of a body of work. Write Now. Write Often. Finish Occasionally.

Estimates Suck. It will always take you twice as long to write it, and it will also be half again as many words as you thought it would be. This is okay. George R. R. Martin says the book after A Dance With Dragons will be done when it is done, and given the tortuous wait on ADWD, his fans have learned the value of patiently STFU.

Don’t Scar On The First Cut. Their point is more toward the creation of internal policies, but for writers, the same sort of intent is in practice: don’t get sidetracked by the actions or opinions of one person. Stay your course. Correct as necessary. But hold true to your vision.

I wish more books on writing were like Rework, because we don’t need more lessons on how to actually write, we need more observations on how to approach writing.

Do more. Think about what you are doing less.

Waffle Coffee

Book Talk

Little Zee came with me yesterday to the mobile office and charmed everyone. Having a precocious five-year with the biggest blue eyes EVAH tends to endear you to the baristas. She dubbed my “to-stay” drink “waffle coffee” due to the caramel drizzle pattern on top. I’m going to order it that way from now on. “One waffle coffee, please.”

I discovered there’s a tool for importing Livejournal entries to WordPress, and so I’m pulling over the LJ entries and creating a vast swamp of an archive. Mainly because I’d like to keep the content from LJ, but it is getting tiresome to deal with a) the persistent ads that keep interrupting me from doing admin duties over there, and b) the only ones who seem to still be on LJ are spammers. So, over the next space of time, I’ll be tagging and categorizing those entries. I suppose I could also find the old Moveable Type blog archive and import that too. Just to be thorough. We’ll see. It all sounds like avoiding writing to me, but there’s a certain desire to maintain this archive as I do–every once in a long while–find myself looking for a reference that I know I blogged about once upon a time.

I finished Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotist last night. A grueling read, and part of the exhaustion was simply that it hit all of my buttons, but the pair also managed to ratchet the tension nicely without ever going overboard. There’s a number of plot elements that get discarded a little too casually for my liking (as well as a couple of annoying issues with the flow of information), and I never quite felt as satisfactorily connected to the characters as I did in Steig Larsson’s books, but overall, it was a mighty fine read.

Scarlet Imprint’s Red Goddess continues to perch on the edge of my desk, and I’m snatching bits and pieces out of it as I have time. Peter Grey has a nice rhetoric that is inflammatory enough to keep you engaged, but not so fiery as to be overbearing. Plus he calls out Christianity almost immediately for stomping all over existing Pagan structures and lumping them all under the heading of “Devil Worship,” which gets a +1 from me.

Summer Is Here; It Must Be August, Finally

Book Talk

Summer–those extended days of cloudless skies and heat–eventually arrives in August, it seems. I grew up in the desert, where summer arrived three days after the wild flowers bloomed in the mountains, and it always throws me that “summer” is always half over before the days turn successively hot. “Successively” is the key word here. We tend to have a half day of rain just as you’re getting ready to mow the lawn.

And we’re fully into the dog days already. Even the cat is too worn out by the sun to put up much of an argument when I shoo him back indoors. Motivation is difficult to sustain, and interest in anything other than wondering when the ice cream man is coming ’round is hard to dredge up. The words, they come slowly in the heat. A good time, perhaps, to go through the old stacks of paperwork that need filing or shredding, or to finally get around to alphabetizing the library. Or even figuring out where everything is. Back in the day, I remember how confounding it was that our European Overlords took August off. There is something to that, I think.

The Rouge edition of Scarlet Imprint’s Red Goddess is out, complete with a lovely cover by Christopher Conn Askew.

The Red Goddess was Scarlet Imprint’s first publication, re-released now in paperback form for those who missed getting their hands on Her the first time around. It was a mighty roar of an arrival, this one, and as Peter Grey says in his introduction, it isn’t necessary to be an old hoary hand at Magick in order to find something new in this book. You simply had to be “young, raw, hungry, and passionate.”

In the summer heat, when motivation comes slowly, one could do worse than to rediscover their muse. Though, as Grey notes, “in the end the words will not count.”

New Books

Book Talk

I stopped in Portland yesterday during a rattling trip down I-5 to find the family, and “accidentally” wandered into Powell’s for a little while. I had been hoping to find a copy of Mary Lovell’s biography of Richard Burton, A Rage To Live (which I did), but I didn’t run for the exit quickly enough.

An hour later, my stack comprised of: the third volume of the Library of America collection of Philip K. Dick novels (because one can never not have enough copies of VALIS floating around); Dave McKean’s erotic art book, Celluloid; Michael Moorcocks’ The Chinese Agent and Modern Times 2.0; and Jean-Patrick Manchette’s Fatale. One of the recent short-term goals is to keep bookstore purchases to a stack that can be consumed within the week. It will still probably take me six months to get around to all of these; any longer and they suffer the distinct possibility of never being read.

The new McMenamins Crystal Hotel is now open, and I stayed overnight. Edgefield and the Kennedy School are still favorites, but you can’t beat the location for the Crystal Hotel. The place was filled with the typical McMenamins charm, and according to a review I noticed in the Portland Mercury, the Zeus Cafe is a step up from the typical McMenamins pub fare (having had breakfast there, I submit that the Mercury is pretty spot on).

And that’s probably the extent of my carefree vacation time this summer. Back to the word mines for me. Chapter 38 of The Mongoliad came out yesterday. After the action of the last few chapters, this one slows down a bit and dwells on characterization.

Written and Read

Book Talk

I’m in that “having written” state again, lolling about and feeling like I have gotten something accomplished. Of course, it is a temporary respite as the weekly deadline continues for another thirteen weeks or so, but for a few moments, there is the lull.

The current light reading is Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotist, the latest Swedish import. Written by a pair of literary authors, I’m quite taken how much this isn’t a crime novel, while still adhering to most of the tropes. It’s not that they don’t know how to write a crime novel, the pair comes at it with such an intensity that makes everything vividly raw and fresh. In all the best crime fiction, the crime itself is somewhat beside the point and what keeps the readers entranced is the lives of those who are impacted by the crime, but these two have brought a great deal of emotional intensity to the proceedings. Everyone is falling apart, and it’s heartbreaking to watch how these little cracks in people’s relationships are ruptured into huge fissures.

I’ve also recently finished Will Thomas’ Some Danger Involved, the first of the Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn books. Victorian-era enquiry agent novels, with more than a dash of the sort of flair that a student of the Western Martial Arts will find enjoyable. Barker is enigmatic without being an ass about it; Llewelyn is a much more interesting straight man than Dr. Watson ever was; and Thomas’ love of the era is readily apparent. There’s a half-dozen more in the series on my shelf, and I’m looking forward to digging in to them.

And why is that the Internet at this Starbucks is flakey ONLY in this chair by the window? I will never understand this. Nor will I learn, apparently.