Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won't do…

May 11, 2015

Progress Report – The sticky middle

Filed under: Uncategorized,wordsmithery — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 12:18 pm

I’m a writer. I am, really.

Only, I’ve barely written a word in the last fortnight. Since Easter weekend – a month ago – I’ve written maybe five thousand words on A Flash of Black Wings. But really, if I were to look at my spreadsheet, I would probably be forced to acknowledge that it’s not even that much.

I put the intial problem down to bad timing. The expected disruption over Easter coincided with the part of my outline that has the vaguest plot points (“there’s an attack by mysterious people”, “our heroes go from here to there, encountering difficulties”). Up until that point in the writing process, I had a pretty firm idea of what was going on, even as my plot-as-written was becoming more complicated than the outline-as-planned.

Then I had to make some decisions. Uh oh. Decisions are NOT my strong point. I am an Olympic-level indecisionist.

I’m stalled on a plot point, being roughly “how do I move the characters from their current predicament through an exciting and essential action scene to the next phase of the story without completely breaking my own suspension of disbelief?” I need them to be somewhere else, but I’ve trapped them in a situation that it makes no sense to escape.

Agh. Structure is hard.

The solution, as far as I can see through the fog of self-doubt, is to just hammer out the scenes I need. Regardless of whether the scenes are justified by or even follow logically from what’s gone before, I need a complete draft. Once I’m finished, I will have something to edit.

That’s the lesson that this novel is teaching me all over again – finish the thing first, edit the thing later. Don’t edit it while you’re writing it.

My own process baffles me sometimes. A big part of the whinging I do on this blog is just trying to figure out how my own brain works and why I keep getting in my own way. And hopefully using the latest insights as a launchpad for resketching my internal road map (to mix my metaphors into a grotesque and unpalatable word-gruel).

So, a plan:

1) Keep writing. I need to get my streak back, because the write-every-day model is one that clealrly works for me. But on the other hand I also need to lower my expectations of my own productivity. When I was at full flight, I was writing an average of 750 words a day. Until I get back into the habit of daily writing, I should accept that 400-500 (a bit over a half-hour’s work for me, typically) is more reasonable.

2) Rework my outline. This is the job I’ve been putting off and putting off (see indecisiveness above) but I really can’t avoid it. My outline doesn’t work any more and I really don’t think I can end the novel where I was planning to. Too many characters have developed in directions that pull against the ending I’ve been aiming at, and I doubt I can get them back there without breaking them. So I need to redraw the map and see where I’m going (or if I need to kill someone I wasn’t planning to kill)

2) Mix it up. I have that half-edited short story (formerly known as “School Hall”) I was talking about above, plus another one that’s about a thousand words from a complete draft, plus another one that needs a rewrite, plus another one that’s been outlined in detail, not to mention a couple of others that are ready to start writing. Except for the “School Hall” edits, I was pretty determined to put off everything else until I finished my novel draft. But I think now that it would help if I have another project or two in my back pocket, for the (inevitable) times when I get really stuck and/or disillusioned with A Flash of Black wings. It’s bound to happen again, and better that I be working on something that wallowing in self-doubt and indecision for the better part of a month.

And with that, I’ll go back to the draft and hammer that bastard into submission.

May 2, 2015

Review – Seeing Red (Ambassador #1) by Patty Jansen

I haven’t actually formally signed up for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015, but I am still trying to include as many Australian writers in my reading diet as possible. To that end I’m going to try to review at least one Australian writer (or editor/anthologist) a month in 2015 (yes, yes, I’m behind on that), keeping an eye on the gender balance as I go. To start with, here’s what I thought about the first volume of Patty Jansen’s Ambassador series of SF diplomacy.

***

Seeing Red is the first volume of Patty Jansen’s Ambassador series, featuring Cory Wilson, Earth’s brash neophyte representative to an alien coalition called the gamra. About equal parts science fiction mystery and conspiracy thriller, with romance and social commentary subplots thrown in for good measure, Seeing Red is a delicious meal.

On the eve of his appointment as the ambassador of Nations of Earth to the alien gamra, an explosive assassination attempt propels Cory Wilson from Earth to the alien city of Barresh where he must prevent an interstellar war, solve a murder and figure out which of several alien factions is behind it all. Wilson is behind the eight-ball almost the whole time: separated from his alien partner and his fiance, his resources cut off by a suspicious Earth, and caught between the interests of bickering alien governments.

Wilson’s a fun character – overconfident and arrogant, but resourceful and more dedicated to his job than anyone around seems to give him credit for. But the real entertainment value of Seeing Red comes from his navigation of the complicated politics of gamra, the alien organisation that runs the star-travel network known as the Exchange. Gamra is like a cross between Dune’s monopolistic Spacing Guild and a United Nations Security Council where everyone is expecting war to break out. By comparison, Nation of Earth is also like the UN, except that it occasionally behaves with the sophistication of an unruly local council Chamber of Commerce.

There are a few nice action set-pieces keeping the debates and conspiracy-hunting from slowing things down, and the linked central mysteries are well-constructed and satisfying. I found the ultimate villain of the piece was not too difficult to identify, but saying that there are plenty of surprises to be had. In terms of Wilson’s very complicated romantic life, I felt he was sometimes a bit improbably dense or in borderline-cruel denial, but it resolved well and I certainly never felt it got in the way of the intrigue or the shooting.

Seeing Red is an excellent thriller, with what seemed to me to be solid science underpinning the intrigue and action. I’m planning to read the sequels.

April 12, 2015

Progress report – The streak is dead. Long live the streak.

Filed under: fitter/happier,wordsmithery — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 12:12 pm

My writing streak is broken. I didn’t write a word over the Easter long weekend.

I don’t regret that one bit. I had a lovely relaxing weekend in the company of good friends and loud children, eating ridiculously delicious food and playing games. I finished reading a book that I liked and admired (Andrea K Höst’s The Pyramids of London – review incoming).

Then on Wednesday I had my very first ever migraine, which was – well, let’s just say that I know a few chronic migraine sufferers and I have a newfound respect for their ability to function at all. It’s five days after my attack and I still feel like warmed-over garbage.

However, that’s by the wayside (I hope). It seems a good time to review where I’m at with the novel, now that I’ve completed a distinct block of work.

Up until the 2nd of April, the A Flash of Black Wings manuscript was sitting on 31500 words or so. I’ve managed another couple of quick sessions since then that have dragged it up to nearly 33K. The writing streak that produced that wordcount took place over 43 days, at an average of 730-odd words per day.

I’m fairly satisfied with that as an overall result, although I am conscious that I can easily produce about 400 words in a half-hour block, which points to the fact that I am not exactly putting in stellar hours to get the project finished. I try not to beat myself up about the numbers, but the time could definitely stand to do some work.

What have I learned so far?

1) Working from a loose outline definitely helps to improve my productivity. Even though I am continuously stopping to think about how the characters should respond to situations, to make up some new bit of setting detail to dress a scene and to craft halfway decent dialogue, it helps to know where I have to start and end with a chapter.

2) Having an outline is no protection against meandering. I still write a lot of unnecessary fluff. In the middle of scenes I have often found, as mentioned above, that I need to make up some detail in order to give a scene a sense of place or to address some plot point or give context to a line of dialogue. I usually respond to this by writing a paragraph or two of info-dump setting material that has no useful function in the scene I’m writing. It’s stuff that’s necessary for me to understand my own world and characters, but it drags the hell out of the scene in play. In the editing phase I’m going to be needing to lift a lot of chunks of text like this out and either discard them or find a more appropriate home for them. I guess I could address a lot of this by doing better planning up front, but that’s a lesson for the next book, not this one.

3) Having an outline is no protection against rampant imagination. One of the big complaints you hear a lot from born pantsers (like me) is that writing the whole story out ahead of time kills the creative process. That knowing where the story is going and how it will end takes all the fun out of the journey. That was one of the things I was quietly experimenting with on this project – whether working from a detailed outline would leave me feeling bored or uninspired.

It turns out that during the writing process an entire new plot thread has emerged which completely changes the context of the characters and the situation. This plot thread was not in any way a part of the original outline. It just came out as part of giving a minor character a bit of background depth, and evolved into a core part of the situation. It’s too compelling not to use, even though it ramps up the complexity of the story in ways I haven’t quite figured out how to deal with yet.

4) Outlining is an iterative process. With the new plotline insinuating itself into my otherwise simple survival-chase romp adventure, I probably have to go back to my outline and do some more work to figure out how it all fits together now. I am tempted to run with the change in direction for a little while to see where it’s heading, but there’s a danger of chasing the new plot down a rabbit hole and having to throw away large chunks of work (which I am utterly loathe to do). So I think that for the next week my aim will be to complete the scenes I am writing now, and take a fresh pass through the outline to rework the structure and see whether it will survive the invasion of the alien plot [1].

 

[1] Plot does not contain actual aliens, depending on your definition.

March 20, 2015

Progress report – A month of novelling

Filed under: wordsmithery — Tags: , — lexifab @ 11:40 am

So today marks four weeks since I started work on my novel. Things are going pretty well so far – I passed the 20,000 word mark a couple of days ago, averaging a touch over 700 words a day. I’ve written every day, a minimum of 500 words. Only once in all that time have I achieved four figues in a single writing day, and I’m pretty sure (without having my spreadsheet to hand) that I managed that on a weekend across about three writing sessions. Mostly the writing does not start until after the kids are in bed, so 8:30 pm at the earliest. I’d love to be a first-thing-in-the-morning writer, but it would probably require getting up at 4:30 or so to fit in with the rest of the house’s schedule, and I can’t bring myself to start down that road just yet.

Once again, the writing streak is working for me. I’ve written every day, without fail. Last night, I procrastinated and dithered until well past the point where it became silly (it was very hot and stuffy in Canberra and I was really feeling it), but fear and disdain for breaking my writing streak meant that I eventually sat down and cranked out the words. I wrote exactly 500 words of story, as well as some notes for my next writing session.

Often I need to remind myself that it actually feels good to write once I get started. I’m a dreadful procrastinator (I may have discussed this at length in the past). I’ll make cups of tea, pay bills, burn CDs – anything to get out of starting work. If you see me tweeting up a storm of an evening, you can be pretty confident that I’m sitting in front of the computer with a Scrivener tab open (and pushed to the back).

Anyway – where’s the novel at? I’ve got through four chapters of about 5000 words each and closed out what I think of as the first act (although structurally that might not be quite right). My main character is starting to firm up in my head, and the secondary characters are coming to the fore in lots of intriguing and unexpected ways. An interesting subplot has emerged that was not present in the original outline, one that may need careful management or reining in because it’s probably a bit of a post-apocalyptic YA cliche (and the novel itself is a post-apocalyptic YA story, though not necessarily in the sense that the term is usually used).

A problem is looming in that my primary antagonist is only just coming forward in what is the start of the second act, which is probably too late for her to make the required impact (I’ll know for sure soon, because the next scene I will write is the first confrontation between my POV character and her nemesis-to-be). I suspect that I will need to rewrite the first couple of chapters to establish a couple of characters early, so that when they are off-stage for a few chapters their presence will still be felt. I should have known all this befiore I started, but sometimes strucutral weaknesses only emerge in the construction phase.

(Architecture is not my core competency, obviously).

At some point fairly soon I expect to have to revisit my outline and rework the latter chapters. It’s looking a lot like I’ve distributed the story load a bit unevenly (architecture!) and may have put too much of the action at the start and end. The middle is looking – not boring, exactly, but perhaps the stakes are a little too low and inconsequential considering what comes befoer and after. It’s also possible that the end point I have been working towards is not the right one for this book (which is the first volume in a trilogy).

 

Oh, the the thing I discovered is that I can’t count. 500 words a day for 90 days does not, as it turns out, add up to 75,000 words. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking when I did my first estimates. It’s going to take four months to get this done, not three – although at the current rate of output, it should not be any longer than that.

As long as I don’t break my streak, that is.

March 9, 2015

Back to the Island 3.3 – Further Instructions

Filed under: back to the island,reviewage — Tags: , , , , — lexifab @ 11:32 pm

Well, I nearly made it six months without a single entry in the world’s least essential recap of history’s most-recapped television program, but here we find ourselves once again. There are various reasons why I’ve not been more regular in maintaining this series, but if I’m honest one of the big ones is that we have come to one of the least-rewatchable parts of the series. That is, the sequence leading up to the infamous 2006 Hollywood writers’ strike, during which, according to legend, the producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindeloff actually sat down and figured out where the hell they were going with the series, which was by this point among the most popular forms of entertainment on the planet.

On the one hand, I sympathise with them having to make the tough transition from discovery writers, working out what the story is through the process of telling it, to being architects who have to plot out the story in minute detail. I’ve been there, albeit not with a production employing hundreds of people, watched by many millions more and costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

The strike came along at more or less the last possible minute to save the show from collapsing under the weight of its own unaddressed mythology (though there are plenty of critics out there who would argue that it sailed well past that point somewhere around the third act of ‘Pilot’). Unfortunately it came too late to save the first half of Season Three from being a hopeless dog’s breakfast of new characters (some better-judged than others), new manifestations of Island-magic craziness and some very bad character decisions made for plot-advancement purposes.

This is one of those episodes, and as you’ll see, I didn’t care for it so much.

 

Back to the Island 3.3 – Further Instructions

“Yeah, I know, I get it, you’re going to go into your little magic hut and I’m going to stay out here in case you devolve into a monkey.” – Charlie Pace

Summary: Locke, inexplicably struck dumb by the explosion of the Swan Station, goes on a vision quest to rescue Mr Eko from a polar bear.

The Best Bit: This episode marks the first appearance of third-season-rescuing new characters Nikki and Paolo, who are – wait, no, that’s not the best bit at all. Well, instead we’ll celebrate the return to the polar bears in a stunning bit of visual effects that – oh, no. No they’re not.

Huh. Well, look, Desmond gets around naked for most of the episode, so I imagine there must be someone who’s happy about it.

The Worst Bit: In expanding the character of Locke, this episode massively diminishes him. “Psych profile said you’d be amenable to coercion,” undercover cop Eddie tells him in the flashback. Pretty sure they meant “deception” or “transparent lies”, but the incorrect word is a script editing problem. The problem for the show is that it’s one thing to have Locke doubt his interpretation of events and the decisions he makes, but it’s another to hang the character trait of “gullible nitwit” on him.

There have been cases on inconsistent characterisation on the show before, but this one finally marks the point at which Locke is basically no longer a viable protagonist. In establishing his vulnerability to being conned by anyone with a convincing-sounding story, it’s at this point that we can give up the concept of reliable narration for any scene in which Locke is the POV character. From now until the end of the show, the only times we know Locke understands the situation correctly is when he is screaming about being cheated or tricked or taken advantage of yet again.

On the other hand, drugging up and going on a sweat-lodge hallucinogenic dream-quest is *totally* consistent with Locke’s character. What a pity it’s such a tedious (and cheaply-filmed) dream sequence back in the airport. (Hi Boone! Nice to see you again! Still nobody cares that you’re dead).

The Mythology: The Island plays its regular trick of appearing as a dead character in order to impart wisdom or guidance to the living, albeit in this case Boone’s appearance gets a non-magical makeover as a heatstroke-induced hallucination. More interesting is the first hint that something is up with Desmond’s perception of time, with his precognition about Locke’s speech. Like everything else in the episode, though, this revelation is slathered with so much significance that it sacrifices any subtlety or meaning.

The Episode: Some episodes are about moving the plot along, and some episodes are about setting things up for later. This one is almost the latter, but it’s treading water so hard it’s practically levitating. This episode is so obvious and plodding that it borders on the crass – Ghost-Boone’s narky, timewasting name-check of each of the Oceanic survivors in the airport dream sequence is an insult to the clever, layered uses of dreams that have gone before in the series.

Locke’s usefulness as a character is thrown under the bus in order to reposition him as a useful stooge for whichever bad guy next pops his head up out of the Island, and a potential antagonist for anyone with any sense. If Locke is the avatar of faith in Lost’s central philosophical debate, this this episode looks remarkably like it was a fix on behalf the “rationalism” side.

Basically, it’s garbage, even if they did let Dominic Monaghan get in sly references to Altered States and The Lord of the Rings. Two out of ten fingers smeared with trippy homemade peyote.

February 25, 2015

Review – Frost (The Flotsam Series Book 2) by Peter M. Ball

Filed under: books of 2015,books read,reviewage — Tags: , — lexifab @ 9:53 am

This action-packed supernatural thriller improves on the previous volume in Peter M. Ball’s Flotsam series, Exile. Continuing its deep dive into the hard-boiled supernatural underbelly of Queensland’s Gold Coast, the action in Frost centers on grimy, compromised monster hunter Keith Murphy’s bargain with a demonic crime boss and a brewing gang war with a bikie gang.

The action sequences are suitably brutal and inventive, and the tense working relationship between Murphy and the various demon-possessed criminals he is nominally allied with lends real bite to the stakes. It’s very much a vicious, backstabbing workplace drama turned up to eleven by the presence of demons, firearms, murderous ghosts and literal stabbings in the back.

I’m looking forward to the next (final?) chapter of the series, in which I presume the much-anticipated Ragnarok on the Gold Coast will arrive at last.

February 22, 2015

Why I’m Not Happier about Aquaman

Filed under: geekery,things to get mad about — Tags: , , , , , — lexifab @ 9:16 pm

So this image of hunky action superstar Jason Momoa has been doing the rounds of social media in the last day or so:

Brooding action superstar seen here posing with trident and self-important caption

Positives up front. I think Jason Momoa’s a great piece of casting: he’s good looking and cut in the right shape for a superhero movie, and he’s got a great sly wit and natural charm about him that sneaks through even dull or downright terrible productions (I’m looking at you, unnecessary Conan remake!). I’ve never seen him be the worst thing about a scene he’s in. And despite the best version of Aquaman in decades being the boisterous, over-the-top adventurer and singing enthusiast from the Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon of a few years ago, I’m pretty happy about this sea-swept brooding King of the Oceans look.

I had several Twitter conversations about the plausibility of an aquatic civilisation developing tattoo technology, which basically came down to “eh, it’s probably sea urchin quills and squid ink”, but other than that I think this is probably the best possible look for a live-action Aquaman. If you were to go the route of making him less than 100% badass, you’d run straight into jokes about talking to fish.

But – oh jeez, there is just no getting around the fact that the architects of the upcoming  Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice [1] , Zack Snyder and David S. Goyer, are not my favourite film makers. They contrived through a series of deliberate choices to make the worst possible version of Superman in Man of Steel. One where Superman does not take the slightest joy in being Superman, one where Superman makes a choice not to save someone (his own father!) because it might compromise his secret identity, and one where, after utterly demolishing his adopted city in a battle with a super-villain, kills the same super-villain because he has no choice.

Ugh. No. Superman always has a choice. Superman is Superman because he makes the choice to do the better thing, every time. He always –

You know what, forget it. The point is, if you are going to spend nearly a quarter of a billion dollars making a movie starring a character called Clark Kent who is secretly an alien from the planet Krypton who flies around in a (sort of) blue and red costume and then you change everything else about the character, well, you haven’t really made a Superman movie, have you? You can give a guy laser eyes and the ability to punch holes in the moon – that doesn’t make him a hero. And gratuitous destruction and a neck-snap finisher is the climax of a crappy eighties action movie with Dolph Lundgren, not a Superman story. Ugh.

But apparently everybody involved was happy to conflate the idea of a superhero adventure with hardcore war-porn in spandex. I don’t really trust that the same people who think Superman should be a mope who doesn’t know how to take the fight outside can make a Justice League movie I will care about.

Man of Steel gave us one dour, humourless arse with a colour-leached costume design and nearly forty minutes of harrowing disaster simulations as entertainment. BvS: DoJ is going to feature up to seven of them (that ‘Unite the Seven’ catchphrase refers, one presumes, to the seven original members of DC Comics’ all-star superhero team, the Justice League). Right there in the title, we are promised a throwdown between two characters who have been best friends for about 70 of their 75+ years of existence.

Yeah, no thanks.

Make the obvious comparison: The Avengers had a collection of serious people in fanciful outfits scowling at each other for more than an hour before an alien invasion trashed dozens of city blocks in an orgy of violence. Why am I cutting that movie some slack when I could just as easily have been describing Man of Steel then and probably Batman/Superman to come?

Because The Avengers included some jokes, that’s why. And characters capable of finding the humour in their often terrible lives. Even Bruce Banner – whose life basically consists of the crushing certainty that sooner or later he will Hulk out and be responsible for deaths in the hundreds or thousands, and who openly talked about his own suicide attempt, and whose every scene involved self-recriminating misery – even that guy was allowed to have a sense of humour and some funny lines. Nobody in Man of Steel so much as cracked a wry smile. (Okay, maybe Russell Crowe did, but I am doing my best to forget everything that happened with Papa Krypton).

So how does this all tie back to Aquaman?

Hands down the best version of Aquaman in any medium in the last decade or so (arguably ever) is this guy from Batman: the Brave and the Bold. He’s loud, boisterous and overbearing. He’s the undisputed ruler of Atlantis. And every Tuesday he takes the night off from being the king of his undersea empire to go and have crime-fighting adventures with Batman because that’s how he loves to unwind. (He also breaks into song at the least excuse, but that’s kind of a thing with everyone on that show).

Outrageous!

Seriously, I love this guy. He doesn’t care if people think talking to fish is kind of stupid, because he can lift an oil tanker and ride bareback on killer whales and he’s the king of three-quarters of the planet. He’s happily married, loved by his people and Batman is more or less his best buddy. Why wouldn’t he be the happiest guy on Earth?

The problem with the upcoming DC Justice League tie-in films is that nobody is allowed to be happy in them. Superman mopes. Batman broods. It’s not just that they aren’t going to give us the happy-go-lucky Aquaman of the BBatB cartoons, it’s that it’s obviously a choice that was never in contention. If we’re lucky, they’ll pick out a character to be the wise-cracking rookie who gets a few witty zingers (I’ll bet Green Lantern, but Flash is also a possibility) but I’m predicting they will also make that character a mostly-unlikeable arsehole at the same time.

And Aquaman will be brooding, and serious, and almost certainly the butt of at least one joke about talking to fish.

Screw that.

 

[1] A shoe-in for the ‘Most Pompous Title of 2016′ award at next year’s Oscars

 

February 20, 2015

Timestamp – ‘A Flash of Black Wings’ started

Filed under: news of the day,wordsmithery — Tags: , — lexifab @ 1:03 pm

Alert – Self-accountability post.

Hoo boy. I’ve jumped early. As of 11 pm yesterday, I am once again officially writing a novel. With a working title of ‘A Flash of Black Wings’ (which I very much doubt will survive the writing process), it will be a young adult-ish science fiction survival-action story of between 80 and 90 thousand words. Well, that’s what’s planned, anyway.

Saying that I’m just starting now is slightly disingenuous, mind you. I have been planning this novel in some detail for about a year now, working out the storyline chapter by chapter and doing my best to pre-plan the pacing and structure, in the hopes that I would be able to write it pretty quickly and without too many self-imposed roadblocks. How successful a planner I’ve been will be revealed in due course, I suppose.

So far I’ve written a shade under 500 words. Not very impressive for a first stint, I know, but kicking off at eleven at night is never going to lead to a power-writing session. And 500 is my target daily wordcount for the project, so at least I’m not starting off behind the pace (actually, I am, by eight words, but I’m okay with that).

If all goes to plan, I will be finished the first draft of this sucker by the end of May. In practise it is likely to take a little longer than that, as I still have those outstanding short pieces to finish writing and thence to edit. But as far as possible, I’ll be doing my novel writing first and everything else second each day.

In terms of being tedious on the blog about my process, I’ll probably mention where I’m once in a while, but I’m not planning to post daily word counts or snippets of amusing dialogue.

Right. Time to get to it.

February 18, 2015

Review: The Obituarist II: Dead Men’s Data by Patrick O’Duffy

Filed under: books of 2015,books read,reviewage — Tags: , , , — lexifab @ 12:00 pm

Patrick O’Duffy’s followup to his wildly entertaining 2012 crime novella The Obituarist opens with the attention-grabbing line “ECCENTRIC MILLIONAIRE COMMITS SUICIDE-BY-BEAR”, then immediately subverts that declaration of delirious intent with a snarky deconstruction of its own cynicism and deceptiveness.

The book holds the same mirror up to its protagonist. Kendall Barber returns as Port Virtue’s resident social media undertaker, a systems analyst specialising in discretely closing down the online presence of the recently deceased on behalf of grieving relatives who may not want to know what their loved ones got up to online.

As before, Barber is a study in contradictions – a cynical, shifty smartarse with the cracking skills of a Russian spammer playing the part of a sensitive online undertaker. He’s a beaten-down has-been with a shaky assumed identity and a driving sense of justice undermined by a fluid ethical framework. Considering the rough treatment he collected in the previous story – beaten up, run over with a car, etc – he also has a surprisingly undeveloped sense of self-preservation when it comes to keeping his mouth shut.

Basically, he’s a perfect modern noir anti-hero. This time around he’s caught between an investigation of his racist demagogue client’s affairs, fending off a hot but nosy investigative journalist, getting the snot beaten out of him by the usual collection of brutal low-rent criminals and playing a game of cat and mouse with Port Virtue’s corrupt, violent police department. Oh, and being mauled by unexpected wildlife.

The setting of Port Virtue gets a little more flesh on its bones with this installment – Barber’s client is the local eccentric scrap merchant king, with a notorious private zoo and an off-the-book business as a right-wing crank-for-profit. The discovery of a collection of body parts looms over the story like a winter cloud. And Kendall Barber clearly has a love-hate relationship with the town where nobody knows he’s a native.

The Obituarist II: Dead Men’s Data is coarse, violent and awash with the weary bitterness of optimism dashed one too many times. And that’s a terrible description, because this book is also hilarious and brimming with righteous (and yeah, sometime self-righteous) anger. Kendall Barber is more devil than saint, and he knows it, but he’s determined to do as much good as possible before Port Virtue grinds him up for good. He just doesn’t plan to walk a righteous path to do it, not when tricks and lies will do the job just as well. (Spoiler: they don’t).

It’s short, it’s wild and contains even more creative swearing, grotesque thuggery and cautions against lazy password administration than the previous book. If nothing else, after reading this you will almost certainly want to tighten up your online security habits.

February 16, 2015

Writing goals – The other stuff

Filed under: wordsmithery — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 11:47 pm

The goals I talked about in the last post are what I consider my baseline: the minimum I need to do for me to meet my own definition of a working writer. Without wishing to quibble over definitions, if I get that stuff done, then I know that I’ve been working on my craft (critical to success), contributing to my community (important if incidental) and building a public platform (a necessary evil to support a future career).

But let’s face it: I get bored easily. I crave novelty. I’m not going to be satisfied with diligently knuckling down and doing all the homework I set for myself. To keep myself from going spare as soon as things get boring and/or difficult, I came up with a collection of other projects that I am either hoping to fit into my year or quietly turning over in my head to see how to make them work.

Collaboration

Apart from a few round-robin stories and Lexicon games, I’ve never actually collaborated on any writing project longer than a song. I’ve never co-written a short story, scripted a comic for an artist or a film maker or written a play for live production [1], much less plotted and written a novel with someone. I like working with other people on creative projects. More to the point, I finally feel like I’m at a point in my life where I could stand my collaborator telling me that one of my ideas sucks and we should go in a different direction. Once that would have been a crushing blow to my ego. These days – eh, ideas are easy, and if by chance I disagree about the suckiness of the idea, I can always use it for something else.

One of the things I will be doing this year is looking for opportunities to collaborate. With someone. On something.

Serialised fiction

I keep going back to look at Wattpad, a mobile-friendly platform where tens of thousands of authors post short fiction for readers to consume on their phones. Apart from masses of fan-fiction and fictionalised erotica concerning members of boy bands, Wattpad hosts a large quantity of serialised fiction. Some writers post their draft novels chapter by chapter (in various state of polish from ‘ready to publish’ to ‘might have been spell-checked’) while others just follow the story and see where it takes them.

The idea of writing in full view of the public is in equal parts repellent and fascinating to me. I’ve seen authors discuss using Wattpad as a sort of crowd-sourced critique, which I think would definitely have its pros and cons. I’m personally uncomfortable with the idea of someone watching me as I write, reading over my shoulder and commenting as I go. In trying to imagine what that would be like with even a tiny fraction of Wattpad’s 40 million readers, I’m coming around to the idea that I have to try it, just to see what it’s like.

If I dip my toes in that raging torrent, it will be with some form of serialised fiction – short chapters of a longer piece that might or might not cleave to novel structure, designed to move along at a fast pace and have reusable characters and setting. That’s a kind of writing I feel reasonably confident with, although I would definitely have to work on nailing my endings.

Shared world

I’ve always liked the concept of a shared world, where different writers working from the same core idea, often outlined in a ‘setting bible’, come up with their own storytelling angles. George R R Martin used to be famous for a series called Wild Cards (a modern, realistic take on superhumans before that was its own subgenre) and I’ve always liked the concept if not particularly the execution of the shared world anthology. Which is not to say that I think I could do it better, per se, but it would be interesting to create a source document laying out the world, the tone, the important characters and setting details and see what other people make of it.

I think the only thing stopping me would be working out what to do with it afterwards. Well, that, and coming up with an world sufficiently interesting that anyone else would want to play with it.

Comic script

I mentioned this earlier, but I’ve only ever dabbled secretly in writing comics. I’ve written/drawn a few over the years (none remain!) but I’m pretty sure I’ve never written a straight script to be illustrated (either by me or by someone else). I’d expect to find scripting challenging – a focus on spare dialogue and crisp description doesn’t leave a writer with much to hide behind – but it feels like something that would be worthwhile.

 

That’s my list of standby projects, in case I suddenly inherit a great wedge of spare time from somewhere. and of course in between all this I’m working, minding kids, doing domestic chore and house renovations, regaining the minimal command of the ukelele I had when I was eleven or so, and doing all that writing stuff I mentioned in the last blog post. Easy!

 

[1] Actually I kind of did a couple of these back in high school, mainly with my buddies Evan and Chris, but I wasn’t usually the one who took the reins and made anything happen, so I don’t really count those either. Besides which, that was going on thirty years ago…

 

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