Wednesday, June 25, 2008

June is still a pain in my ass

More so than any other month this year, June has been consistently difficult in many ways.  This isn’t the difficulty of a challenging project, but almost like my ability to live a normal life is being stymied.  It feels like death from inertia.  I’m stalled and can’t get going.

My motivation to pursue goals has been sapped from my bones.  Ninety percent of all interactions with my girl end up in misunderstandings or conflict.  Work is work with an extra dose of bleh.  It’s almost as if all my internal wiring is crossed.  Thankfully it will be over soon.  My only concern is that some of this crap spills over into July.  That would really piss me off to no end.

Its even a chore whipping up a dismal little post such as this.  I haven’t had the urge to finish my TMBG concert post or pursue my story ideas or anything.  I read a couple of books, but even that hasn’t sparked any mental juices.  This lull has been professional, personal, mental, physical and spiritual.  Frickin’ jacked from all angles with no relief in sight.

Friday, June 20, 2008

I just read a bad book

Every so often I come across a book that makes me say aloud while reading “I could do better.”    Book One in the Anita Baker series, “Guilty Pleasures” by Laurell K. Hamilton is one of those.  I’m not even going to link to it because I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone.

First let me say two things.  One, this post will probably contain spoilers for those interested in the series.  Two, I’m not a published author so I technically don’t have a leg to stand on in that respect, but I am a consumer of written materials so my criticism stems from being an unsatisfied customer.

Let’s start with the length of the book.  Barely over 250 pages its definitely light reading.  I find the Jim Butcher “Dresden” series to be enjoyable popcorn books (similar to popcorn flicks) but even those are respectably over 300 pages. Not to mention better in many more ways.  Also, the events in the book occur over the course of basically 72 hours.  To have that much bullshit jam packed into three days is crap. 

Characterization in this book is flimsy at best.  We spend more time reading about what characters are wearing than seeing any action from them or dialogue that reveals them in any real fashion.  Anita Baker is the stereotypical tough “short chick.”  Even with a first person narrative you really don’t get a sense of her.

Motivation is also another issue.  Actually, a HUGE issue.  This is a book about vampires, werewolves and all that bump in the night shit.  Suspense of disbelief is de facto with this genre, but when even in these situations you’re wondering what the fuck is this character thinking, you have problems.  Anita really doesn’t do anything of her own volition.  She rolls with the punches and barrels ahead with no real thinking.  The book is painfully plot driven.  At one point the phone rings and she jets off to put a zombie back in the grave, instead of formulating a plan of attack to kill the 1000 year old vampire that’s after her.  Her excuse to perform this ritual is so paper thin it hurts.  Its just an excuse for the author to put her in another “situation” that she needs to get herself out of.  Very very lame. 

Even one of the main traits of this character is brushed off at the end.  From the very beginning of the book we see Anita rail against mind control.  She has an intense fear of it as is shown throughout the book, YET at the end of the story she lets the one vampire that is actually infiltrating her mind live.  Intense pathological fear that gives her the willpower to resist it most of the time and she lets the one that CAN invade her mind live cause he’s a lace wearing frilly pretty boy. Nice.

The final showdown was disappointing as hell too.  Anti climactic to a T.  You think a 1000 year old vampire would A, fight a hell of a lot harder and B, not be such a 1 dimensional “sadistic child” character.  We get that she’s a child bride figure.  It’s written almost every time the character appears.  We get the fucking point, but it seems that the author forgot that the child bride deal was supposed to be a facade for the vampire.  You don’t live 1000 years by being a petulant child, you accomplish that by being a ruthless cold blooded motherfucking killer with Machiavellian skills.  How did this temper tantrum throwing little bitch become a master vampire of St. Louis? 

The more scrutiny the book is under the more it falls apart, which is sad.  I was looking for a good supernatural series in an Anne Rice sort of vein.  Instead I get this weak attempt at a narrative that might get better for the first couple of books, but which devolves into thinly veiled pornographic romps with nightmare creatures.  C’mon, Anne Rice’s sex was erotic not Skinamax.  I’m not willing to invest any more time in a series that might be ok for 3 or 4 books but slide into shit (as per what many of the reviews have said).

It was like a bad film, not B movie or campy enough to be amusing.  All it did was leave me unfulfilled and wanting my money back.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Joys of Technology

Allow me to get a little nerdy here.  Digging through my storage I stumbled upon one of my first laptops, an eMachine M6805.  I decided to pull it out and use it for a pet project, namely a Kubuntu installation.  With a 64 bit AMD chip and 1.25 GB of RAM it’s a solid little machine for being several years old.

In a former life it been my test bed for Vista.  The logic behind that was if it ran well on this it should run well on any newer hardware I acquire.  Not to mention, my main machine was running XP SP2 at the time and I wasn’t inclined to screw with it.

Being the thorough geek that I am, I do a little googling* before slapping Linux on it.  My research proved to be fruitful and I discovered an issue with the older BIOS firmware.  Thankfully a simple upgrade would resolve it.  Well, I thought it would be simple at the time.  Like I said, it was my Vista test bed, so that damn bloated OS was still running on this puppy.  I downloaded the BIOS update and tried to run it.  No dice. Then I went and tried some of the tricks that Vista is supposed to have under it’s hood (running in XP compatibility mode, turning off DEP, running as an Administrator, etc).  Nothing worked.  Not a single damn thing I tried would allow this update to run.

At that point I just had to laugh.  In order to install Linux I would have to install XP.  The fact that Vista couldn’t perform a simple BIOS update was just hilarious.  The more I play with Microsoft’s newest toy, the more convinced I am it’s just a pig in a dress.  Same old stinky shit (a little worse for wear in my opinion) with some pretty trappings to hide the hideousness.  In the very near future Linux will successfully pass the “grandma test” and once it does those cats in Redmond are going to be in for a rude awakening.

Thank you for indulging my very dorky bitching about M$.


* I didn’t believe it either, but this is now in the dictionary.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Books about Writing

Getting back into reading on a regular basis was easier than expected.  It also made me realize just how much I truly missed reading.  I haven’t regularly read books in years which is sad when considering that reading was one of my greatest joys while growing up. 

I recently picked up a bunch of books at once.  A mixture of “writing” books and fiction.  I’ve devoured four so far, which is a pretty good start.  My first conquest was “Telling Lies for Fun & Profit: A Manual for Fiction Writers” by Lawrence Block.  As I’ve mentioned before the moment I finished it I wanted to re-read it, that’s how good it was.  Had that been the only book acquired I would probably be on my 5th read through by now. 

The second book I read was “Storm Front” by Jim Butcher.  I’m a fan of the short lived TV show The Dresden Files so moving onto the source material wasn’t a far leap. It was a quick read and more a popcorn book than anything, but the attempt at a hard-boiled detective novel mashed up with magic in the modern world was catchy.  I’m definitely picking up more in that series.

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles” by Steven Pressfield was the third.  A little arty like “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg yet it had some interesting insights.  Ones that took me by surprise and rang true.  There are some nuggets of wisdom to be found in this one.

Lastly, I just finished “On Writing” by Stephen King.  Since I was a kid he’s been one of my favorite authors.  Not everything in his vast catalog is good, but a majority of them have been and a few of them have been amazing.  Say what you may about the subject matter, the man is an expert storyteller weaving complex narratives effortlessly.  “It” is a perfect example of that.

Of the “writing” books I’ve read the two that have been the most useful are Block’s and King’s.  Both of them detail the nuts and bolts of the writing profession.  The reality of a writer’s life as opposed to the popular fantasy.  They also both espouse several axioms of the writing craft. 

1. In order to be a good writer you must be a voracious reader.

2. Output is crucial to writing.  The more you writer the better you’ll be.

3. Dedication is not the only thing necessary to become a writer, but it is crucial to being a successful one.

4. You must love what you write or else there’s no point in doing it.

A corollary to #4 would be “Write what you know” also known as “Write the truth”.

On a funny side note, King mentions that his daily writing goal is 2000 words a day and that a beginning writer should aim for at least 1000.  Glad to see I wasn’t too far off the mark in my initial thinking.  He also recommends the aspiring author take a day off which I haven’t included in my challenge, but still sounds like good advice.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Which thread to pull?

I’ve been playing with a mind mapping application, trying to organize some of the story ideas I have floating around.  They all have a common root with different facets of the theme.  A couple of the ideas are leftovers from previous NaNoWriMo attempts.  Half assembled, barely cooked, but with plenty of potential.  A couple are much older ideas that keep rattling around never getting past the initial concept phase.  Only one is a recent addition to the pile.

I definitely need a point of focus in order to pour all my writing energy into or else 1000 words a day will just collapse on itself.  I’m woefully behind, but I can catch up.  I just need the foundation to build upon.

Which leads me to my current situation.  Staring at a mind map looking at 6 ideas each glistening with possibility.  All enticing yet none really calling my attention.  The one plus is all this pondering is allowing me to enjoy a 9 Lazy 9 album I snagged.  New discovery for me chocked full of the noise I like.

Of course I’m juggling work emails/responsibilities at the same time.  Multi tasking may be the way of the future, but its giving me a wicked case of ADD.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Why 1000 words a day?

When sharing my frustrations with my girl last night she asked me “Why did you make it 1000 words a day?”  Since those reading this blog might have the same question, I decided to answer it with a post.

1000 words a days is not a completely arbitrary number.  Yes it’s even and round which makes it appealing, but that’s not the only rational.  If I had went for something as measly as 300 words a day, I could have achieved that scrawling on cocktail napkins in a bar.  That would not have made me a better writer.  Same goes for 500 words a day.  Its a better goal, but still not pushing it and definitely bush league. 

With 1000 words a day as my goal I feel like that is a good start for the type of output a professional writer is required to produce in order to keep on track.  Granted, professional writers probably churn out a hell of a lot more than 1000 words per day, but for me it is the entry level requirement.  If I can achieve this then I can begin to seriously consider full time writing as an option.  Until then, it’s just a fantasy.

That’s another reason why I’m shying away from stream of consciousness writing in my posts or stories.  I need to produce the kind of writing that can be molded into readable material, not an overflowing spout of pointless drivel aimed at a word count.  Everything I’m writing is something that another person can read.  Whether or not it’s any good or enjoyable is a different story, but it is definitely readable. 

There are several authors these days that thankfully are a source of inspiration in my endeavor.  Wil Wheaton for his easy to read style that just brings you into the story.  He’s one of the first to make me seriously consider putting more effort into my writing.  John Scalzi for his nonstop output both in books and his blog.  Also easy to read, pulling you into his world be it through post or a story.  Neil Gaiman who’s amazing worlds continue to ensnare me.  American Gods, MirrorMask, Stardust… need I say more?  The one quality that ALL these great authors share is that they are approachable and normal.  They don’t spew prose from an ivory tower.  They don’t boast their accomplishments while crushing others.  They are normal everyday folks weaving tales for a living while still being firmly grounded individuals.  That sort of accessibility is what draws me to them even more and keeps me drinking from their kool-aid. 

I would love to join their ranks one day.  To me this self imposed challenge is the first step in that journey. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

June has been a rough month

For reasons I still don’t understand, June has been an uphill battle.  All my actions, thoughts and movements feel like they’re being done under water.  Constant friction in everything I do.  Even with a new bed (which is oh so lovely) waking up has become infinitely more difficult.

My word challenge has been going poorly, which is obvious from the chart on the left.  I’m very far away from target.  Posts alone will not help me reach it.  Unless I put my effort toward a novel or novella it will be a lost cause.  Then again it would help if I had an idea for any story, let alone a novel length one.  I tried writing a conversation between characters recently and that was downright painful.

As with any new endeavor you have the initial barriers.  Once I break through these it should be smoother sailing. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

I vomit words at the screen

Writing a thousand words a day is a bitch.  Hell, writing even a hundred words on a daily basis is a pain.  Writing is one of those few things that so many aspire to do, yet is a chore most of the time.  On a good day I’ll hammer out a thousand words of something worth reading in around an hour.  No stream of conscious cop outs, no incoherent babbling.  When I write something I want to be able to share it with others and at least be willing to admit I created it.

One thousand words in an hour is about 16.6 words a minute.  That’s easy to hit if you’re transcribing something or not worried about the words making any sense.  As soon as readability is thrown into the mix it gets exponentially harder.  One thing I’m beginning to grudgingly admit is that if I’m going to make this goal, I need to read a lot more.  Only when I add more ingredients to the soup will I produce something with flavor. 

I just finished “Telling Lies for Fun & Profit: A Manual for Fiction Writers” which was a fantastic read.  Actually, the moment I was done I wanted to read it again from the beginning.  The writing style is easy to follow, the advice solid with no mumbo jumbo or “hidden” tips.  At the core of it all, a writer just needs to write.  And one of the ways to become a prolific writer is to be a voracious reader.  I can tie my largest spurts of production when I was younger to my insatiable hunger for the written word.  As real life slowly creeped into the mix, a career, responsibilities, etc, I found myself with no time to read.  It had been at least a year since I picked up a book when I started up again in London. 

I’m not going to overdose on “writing” books so I’ve switched to a fantasy title, the first Dresden File book by Jim Butcher.  I may not make a thousand words each day, but I do have an overall total of 365,000 words in one year.  Hopefully, I’ll pick up the slack here and there to make up for the gaps.