Thursday, August 30, 2012

I Write Like Stephen King (Seriously!)

Thanks to a former colleague of mine providing a link to I Write Like, I can now with a good deal of confidence say that I have that much more in common with Stephen King.

Let me start with the similarities.  King grew up in Durham, ME, and attended Lisbon High School.  Several decades later, I also attended Lisbon High School.  Ah, yes, many people can say that.  I had the teacher who famously told King he couldn't write very well (she taught me, among other things, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and I wrote a bad English parable and some dude named William for her; I liked her just fine, and for the record, her name was Prudence Grant).  I also ended up attending the University of Maine in Orono (at one time abbreviated as UMO, but later revised as UMaine, because we're the, ah, main campus), to which King is an alumnus, and wrote for the Maine Campus, which King did, and for the opinion section, which King did.

For the record, he did come back during my time there, to make a speech about somesuch.  I was offered to do an on-camera interview for a local news station about it (mostly because I had arrived early and sat near the back), but politely declined.  I'm weird like that.

Some ten years later, I follow a link and have several pages of Monorama analyzed, and it comes up reading like Stephen King.  Now, part of that may seem not so surprising.  I mean, we attended several of the same schools, had at least one teacher in common.  Ah, well, I guess it's a little beyond the reach.  Regionally, perhaps, some of the same language seeped into us, which is something I would certainly like to believe, because I've always wanted to believe I had a certain brand of culture behind me.  Most people who think of Maine think of Mainahs and chowdah and lobstas, but that's on the coast.  I suppose there's a certain amount of small town life that exists throughout Maine, except for places like Portland (home of the Sea Dogs) and Augusta (the capital), maybe in a few more communities here and there.

King is known for horror, but by the time I started reading him (strangely, not in high school, where his books occupied a special case in the library, where I regularly volunteered and spent free time), I understood that he approached his fiction from a very folksy perspective, which resonates throughout The Stand, for instance (this is the same vibe that The Walking Dead attempts to emulate, which original show runner Frank Darabont has done successfully several times on film).  I suppose that perspective is entirely appropriate, given what I've just explained about Maine.

While at times I've attempted to emulate his Constant Reader approaching to talking about things, I never thought that I wrote all that much like King.  Perhaps it's because I still haven't really immersed myself in his books.  I've read maybe a half dozen.  Therefore, when I think about him, it's more about his ideas and perspective.  I'm just realizing as I write this that those are the two things that I always strive to emphasize myself.  Maybe I Write Like isn't so crazy after all!

But I'm not telling you I'm destined to be as successful as Stephen King.  King became a huge success because he wrote visceral stories, especially at the start of his career, which were easily categorized as horror, which no writer had done successfully in American fiction since Edgar Allan Poe.  He was a breath of fresh air that critics maybe didn't understand, but readers completely got.  It wasn't until King pulled away a little and just started writing about people in peculiar circumstances that the character of his writing really rose to the surface.

If I was in wrestling, the solution to success would be to start marketing myself as Tony King, Stephen's kid brother.


Monday, August 27, 2012

The Babylon 5 Dilemma

I think one of the major problems faced in entertainment is the simple presence of a filter.

What I mean is, creators have a filter, and their audience has a filter.  This filter affects both the product and the perception of the product.  Some creators know what their filter is and how to handle it.  Some creators don't.  The creators who don't accept compromise so often they eventually don't even realize it's there.  They may not be a very good writer, but they're really good at coming up with stories, for instance.  So they keep writing, and the filter produces a lot of mediocre results, despite the best intentions of the creator.

The audience is the same way.  Using the same premise, they like a good story, and don't pay attention to the actual mechanics.  I call it the Babylon 5 Dilemma.  Babylon 5 was a science fiction TV series in the '90s, created by J. Michael Straczynski, who has since gone on to become geek royalty, largely because of his creator-rights approach that kept much of the series firmly under his control, without a lot of outside interference, or collaboration.  He literally wrote most of the episodes.  Fans loved the intricate arcs he devised, and the way he stuck to them for five seasons, even when the fourth season almost became its last and he had to deliver one version of a conclusion before getting another chance the next season, which ended up like something of a bonus.

Yes, his budgets were minuscule compared to Star Trek, which ran three different series during the same decade (the only one that ran its complete run during those years was Deep Space Nine, which had many comparable elements to it), but on the whole whatever resulting quality derived from monetary concerns was nothing compared to Joe's inability to trust anyone else.  One might say his fears were justified in the short-lived Crusade spin-off.  I prefer not to dicker.  The fans who loved Babylon 5 gave themselves a lot of filters.  The ideas were great.  The execution was not.  They will never admit this.  It is a cult favorite to this day, but you don't see a lot of people, much less Joe himself, trying to reboot it.  Part of that is that the core audience still feels it was perfect the way it was.  Nothing is perfect the way it is, by the way.  But Babylon 5 was less perfect.  It took shortcuts all over the place.  Susan Ivanova, for one specific example, was probably the worst element of the series.  Even the BattleStar Galactica reboot, when it initially introduced the new female Starbuck in pretty much the same mold, realized its mistake eventually.  You can't get by on an archetype.  If you don't understand what I mean, think about Superman's reputation.  Superman's reputation is that he's impossible to take seriously in a story because there can't possibly be any truly compelling threats against a man with so many fantastic abilities.  That's filters of a different kind.  In the actual stories, Superman makes sense against a broad array of foes.

People who thought Babylon 5 worked as originally presented probably will never get that.  They might even end up writing a story where Superman takes a grandiose walk across the country (Joe did that), which is fine in concept, but in execution...even a second writer couldn't salvage that one.  Joe tried a grandiose story with Wonder Woman at the same time.  And even a second writer couldn't salvage that one.

My point is, the idea of a story is not always the same as the story itself.  A good writer will know that.  They will spend a great deal of time fretting over how to get a tricky concept to work correctly.  A bad writer won't.  They'll just skip to the writing.  Their audience counterpart will do the same.

In Hollywood, execution has become something that very few filmmakers can actually botch.  (Most critics don't seem to realize that.)  It's the concept that gets a lot of them in trouble.  If you don't actually know what to do with the Avengers once you've assembled them, some people will end up noticing.  Most people, as I said, walk around with filters.  They don't even realize they're there.  They've grown too accustomed to them.  Babylon 5 actually underwent something of a revision in its second season.  Maybe Joe will always insist that that's exactly what he had in his notes all along...but the lead character changed, and was never referenced previously, and the female lead changed physically, and quite drastically.  Clearly someone realized things needed to change.  And yet they didn't, not really.  And the fans were perfectly fine with that.  They maintain to this day that Babylon 5 was sheer brilliance.  In a way it was.  In other ways, it absolutely was not.

Filters will help some audiences look past problems because they're able to focus on other areas that they really like.  The King's Speech won Best Picture at the Oscars on the merit of being a serious-minded drama that had room for some goofiness.  It seemed relevant, topical, resonant, whatever.  It is not actually a very good movie.  It's always funny when something wins an award, and people who don't really want to go out of their way to be contrary disagree with the selection, in a way where they don't think it should have been nominated, or it if was, that it should not have had a serious chance to win.  Yet The King's Speech did win.  And it's not a bad movie, it's just not a great one.  It's not even particularly notable.  I mean, who really cares about a king's fears of public speaking when the same war exposed the brilliance of a prime minister who until that point got no respect at all, and made his name largely through speeches?  Conceptually, for any discerning audience, the movie just doesn't make sense.  Critics with their particular filters of wanting serious-minded drama with maybe room for goofiness don't understand that, in much the way viewers of Babylon 5 who really loved a dedicated, ongoing arc in a TV series didn't mind that it was executed poorly.

(Which, of course, makes it all the more ironic when something like Lost comes along, does its bit brilliantly, and is criticized by some filter or another for not being obvious enough.)

Joe Straczynski desperately needed someone to step in and help him guide that ship.  There's a reason why there was a small group of writers who steered Lost, Deep Space Nine, and even to a lesser extent BattleStar Galactica (sorry, Ron Moore).  Great visions sometimes need a little help.  Know when you need it.  Remove thy filter.  The King's Speech desperately needed a little perspective.  None was taken, and none was given.

This most certainly goes for short stories, too.  That's something I'm taking away from the Shootout, and in a weird kind of way WRiTE CLUB, too.  In a weird sort of way, the horribly unfulfilling and slightly mismanaged (and not completely Martin Ingham's fault, since he was following an established tradition in how he ran it) Shootout helped me figure out a few things about how writers see themselves, and how to figure out how to approach them even when they don't have the first clue about the actual quality of their writing.  Some people you absolutely cannot tell them that they have filters.  They will only assume you have filters of your own, and not the ones that are able to identify theirs.  They only want to succeed, the same as you.  They really don't want to be told that they can't, or shouldn't, because as I'm starting to realize, a large percentage of any audience has their own filters.  They will ignore what's wrong in favor of what's right, and most of the time, "what's right" has nothing to do with the actual experience, but whatever they were expecting to enjoy in the first place.  That's fine.  I don't begrudge popularity.  It's how anything survives.  We wouldn't have toast today if it weren't popular.  It's not particularly complicated.  It's not the best thing since sliced bread.  But it has its value, and a lot of people still enjoy it today.

And yes, we still use sliced bread as the best ever invention because it rocks.  Popularity is not always wrong.  Sometimes it is very, very right.

But it's important to distinguish that vocal reactions are not always accurate reactions.  If nine out of ten people really like something, that does not mean that the tenth person is wrong, and vice versa.  You need to be able to figure out the filters.  In the Shootout, it seemed to be a game run by filters, which everyone implicitely trusted.  WRiTE CLUB is different.  I've begun to appreciate that.  Warts and all, it's a better execution of what I'd hoped to get from the Shootout.  Maybe there're tons of filters out there, but at least the exercise is still helping me process the experience more productively, one round at a time, figuring out why I should continue to read an endless file of writing samples that invariably has more duds in it than jewels.  Most of the comments and results will not affect anyone's filters, but there's a greater chance of learning something than in a contest where filters defined everything.

The funny thing is, my odd relationship with Babylon 5 has never particularly prevented me from watching it. I may not think it's the greatest thing since sliced bread, but the charms its fans admire do exist.  Joe had a vision.  I like space opera.  And Babylon 5 is still one of the better examples to come around.  I'm writing about it now because I cannot for the life of me dismiss it.  You dismiss things that have no value, where filters have basically completely obscured them.  Sometimes filters are good like that.  Doesn't mean you should always trust them, though.

Sunday, August 26, 2012


The third round of the Shootout determined the three finalists by determining those with the highest scores in each of the three groups.  That means that as of today, I'm officially done with the Shootout, at least as far as writing.  There's still deciding a winner, which all participants get to vote on when the final prompt delivers the final stories.

Martin Ingham is using the final round to select at least one story for inclusion in a forthcoming Hall Bros Entertainment anthology.  I've had a mixed history with HBE anthologies.  I worked with A.C. Hall (one of the, ah, Hall brothers) on a literary journal that kind of fell apart some five years ago, and so I've been in contact with him since that time (aside from the fact that we met writing for a now-defunct comic book website), and he's humored me quite a lot, publishing one effort as an editor's selection in Villainy, but turning down half a dozen others, which may or may not include the one that was still sitting on the table when their most recent anthology was cancelled.

(Martin's announcement for his anthology can be found here, by the way.)

HBE is currently trying to catch up on things, including my manuscript for Yoshimi, which I'm petrified will either be rejected or become a victim of an implosion.  I suck at networking.  The participants in the Shootout will probably suggest that I don't play well with others, too, and readers of this blog may know a few reasons why.  I have certain expectations for the things I read.  I don't just want a story that's technically readable.  I don't just want reasonable grammar.  I want something that feels like it should have been written, by someone who feels like they should be writing.  It's always a little odd to suggest that some people shouldn't be writing, because there are so many people who call themselves writers, and if I say that some people really shouldn't be writing, it may come off as frustration that I have to compete so fiercely to be heard.

People say that adversity is good for character.  I mean to suggest that people only say that because for most people, competition is inevitable.  Some people get lucky breaks, know the right people (which admittedly is exactly how Yoshimi was first breached with HBE), seem to have no trouble at all in finding success.  Others never do, or at least find it after many frustrating years and advice that suggests if they just do it this way they can't help but succeed!  And suggestions for improvement are always welcome, but you must understand that what worked for you won't always work for everyone else.

In sum, it sucks to be human.

There is no one surefire path to success.  Everything that happens is basically a fluke anyway.  Even if you believe in an intelligent creator, the tenets of free will suggest that even if someone knows everything that will ever happen, it all happens because of the actions of an individual.  And the sad part is, nothing is truly in anyone's control.  The illusion of control (something cleverly demonstrated in the movie Instinct, which I try to support whenever possible) is humanity's greatest folly, something just about everyone seems perfectly happy to ignore, and suggest that it can be overcome.  Well, it can't.  Suck on that for a moment.

The Shootout basically sucked, by the way.  I appreciate that my stories weren't perfect.  My scores were equally imperfect.  They seemed downright insensible.  The people who read my stories used a different kind of logic than I did.  Now, I know this is at least partially true, because across the board those who referenced overall quality of writing said mine was high.  They just kept saying that they wished it had been longer.  Structurally, the second piece improved on the first, and the third on the second.  I wrote longer and tried to be clearer, while attempting to preserve my original intentions.  I didn't write any of the stories in a way to invoke absolute control.  The second story ended in a huge twist nobody really got.  The third was a total play on Dan Brown style thrillers.  By that point, I really thought if I just had a little fun, the reader would get that.  I went back and edited to try and make it obvious enough without outright spelling everything out, just to preserve the playfulness, and still people came back saying that they wanted longer, they wanted more; they wanted a roadmap, basically.

Participants had a hard time with my approach.  Many of them seemed to be writers who knew exactly what they expected to expect, which was what they believed to be fairly routine short stories, which of course were generally much longer than mine and very much structurally different.  The sad part is I truly tried to conform more than I usually do, writing a lot more visually, for instance, while still trying to keep the focus on the particular perspective of the characters.  In the third story, as I said I tried to be playful with that, and the readers really hated that.  They didn't get it at all.  When I didn't get a story, I at least explained why I didn't get it, why I couldn't get into it, but my readers simply said they wanted something other than what I had written.  That's not the point.  I'm not even forcing any of them to read a long story, which most of the participants did, so it's not like if they felt tortured they were tortured for long.  It's just, they had different expectations.

Some participants simply felt entitled, and the whole framework helped them.  For this reason, I believe another Shootout simply isn't in the making for me.  The same is true of WRiTE CLUB.  In this one, there's just too many participants.  It's completely unwieldy.  DL Hammons has all but admitted this, first by his comments this past Wednesday that he regrets being completely lost as host to the contest, and by not even posting a round on Friday.  Part of him is doing this to get attention.  Part of him is doing it to support others.  None of him seems to have taken into account that he's asking far more of the exercise than it's capable of accomplishing.  The range of the writing quality is astounding, as I've said, and nearly every vote is cast basically ignoring this, telling me that most of the participants are about as far from honest as possible.

As someone who's trying to figure out what it means to be in a community of writers, none of this is what I would have expected or hoped to find.  Like every English Major, I went through school believing that writing circles are made up of incredible talent, raising each other up and becoming a movement with its own chapter in literary history and a name that is as famous as the individual members.  The reality, in the 21st century, is that such communities only exist now to support a bunch of amateur writers who hide rather than expose the faults they find in each other's writing.  They're not pushing for excellence, but rather for exposure.  In my book (clearly a work of fiction), excellence breeds exposure.

Maybe I ought simply to emigrate to some other country.  American is full of itself.  I'm as patriotic as the next guy, but we're headed very clearly toward the Roman Empire, not because of inept politicians, but because the citizens have no concept of perspective.  I'd think writers of all people would.  But the increasing truth of American writers is, they don't.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Good News is...

My mom and my older sister love Monorama.  Of course they also loved Cloak of Shrouded Men.  My mom has also loved the other manuscripts I've sent along her way.  She's my constant reader (apologies, Mr. King).  My sister, meanwhile, didn't like Finnegan, never finished it, apparently, but now she's saying the problem was trying to read it on a computer.  Now she's going to transfer it into a file fit for her Nook, and give it another go.

(My oldest brother has had my first three books/manuscripts for a good long while now, since last spring I believe, and has made no progress at all, even though he's got them on his Kindle.  I think it's the formatting that's given him a problem, and I'm not sure he's bothered figuring that out.)

Anyway, the main point is, I've got two readers who love it.  They got paperback copies.  I think I'll concentrate on this paragraph when I think about the book's reception...

Monday, August 20, 2012

WRiTE CLUB and Shootout

I fear I may be testing my readers' patience, talking once again about my questionable experiences in the writer exercises I've been participating in this summer, but here we go again...

WRiTE CLUB is turning out to be something of a chore, and not a happy one.  Because there are so darn many participants, DL has opted to run three rounds per week, so that we get to read two writing samples three days a week (Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays), and hopefully voting for a favorite each day.  I'm finding it increasingly difficult to vote for either option.  Some of these samples are abysmal, and what makes it worse is that the participants/voters invariably gush over them, which continually baffles me.  This is exactly my greatest fear of the blogosphere community, especially those who band together.  Are they supporting the ability to write, or simply someone who wants to write?  I get that we all love and need support, but it only hurts everyone when we're supporting people who would be better off knowing that they either need drastic improvement or shouldn't be writing at all.

I guess it's always been my delusion that people who write are doing it because they have a legitimate calling.  Increasingly, I believe with virtual certainty that most of the people who write do it because they like the idea of it, and they've probably received a certain amount of encouragement over the years, whether early on, or perhaps the very kind that they've since gone online to receive more of as they look to be a success and make a living off their efforts.

The disingenuous nature of this support comes off whenever you go to someone Amazon link (or whatever) for the book they've published and you see glowing reviews, I mean full-star reviews.  Call me crazy, but it's probably more rare than these small-publishers are capable of matching so regularly to create a work of genius.  Are all these writers really coming up with the best books ever, or are the people giving these reviews simply encouraging those who are doing the same things they are, and if they give a good review, then they will get one back in return?  That's what it seems like to me.

I'm not saying these things out of jealousy.  Yeah, I see blogs with a lot of readers and a lot of comments and wish I could get that sort of following, but it's just hard to know where the interest begins and where the networking ends.  Yes, you want connections.  Yes, you want people interested in you.  But you also want to be doing something that will actually amount to something.  A house of cards will always fall down.  The big bad wolf will always huff and puff.  We seem to be taking the lesson that Goldilocks was the hero.  No, she wasn't.

So that's what I get when I read WRiTE CLUB entries.  It's not because there's just so gosh darn many stories to read and they're unrelenting and there's still three months to go (!), it's literally the quality of the pieces and the absurdity of everyone saying everything is so wonderful!  I'm not crazy.  David List had me tested.  (But he should have gone to Houston.)

There's also Martin Ingham's Shootout.  Maybe I was a little fuzzy on the math, but I guess there are four rounds on this one.  I just read some stories from the third round, and for all the brevity that goes on forever in WRiTE CLUB, the writers in the Shootout think they have to write ten-page stories.  I'm here to tell anyone from that exercise that you don't.  In fact, please don't, if you can at all help it.  Without exception, even the best stories would be better if they were missing a few of those pages.  I don't object to long short stories.  I was just saying that mine need to be longer.  But as I said, even the best writers in this one could be better if they wrote shorter.  I don't know what it is.  I know that most people seem to be under the impression that a short story should be a quarter of a hundred pages long (many famous dead writers, in fact), and that may be so, but if you're looking to see how good a writer you really are, maybe you ought to consider writing shorter, so those who are providing you feedback can point out your strengths, rather than figure out that one of them is that the more you write the more control you lose of your own story.

Some of this is a product of writing a story in a week.  If you're at all reluctant to edit when you're completely in control of your timeframe, then chances are you're going to suck that much more if you don't really edit at all.  The best stories in the Shootout could still use a little editing, which is only natural, considering the average participant should seriously be reconsidering whether they ought to be making a future as a writer.  (The worst of them should not even be writing, and of course they're the most visibly neurotic.)

(And yes, the fact that I'm currently very low on the totem pole does seem to suggest that I'm one of those people.  Perhaps the difference is that I know my efforts in the Shootout haven't been what they should be.  I'm using this thing for what it should be.  I seriously doubt everyone is.)

As for WRiTE CLUB, I believe in this instance, too, that many of the participants will only end up believing that they're Swiss cheese (and metaphorically they are, because they're full of holes), when the nakedness of the competition ought to be revealing something else entirely, probably bleu cheese.

So there you go.  You can either be Swiss cheese or bleu cheese.  Or perhaps we're all aiming for good 'ol American cheese.  I guess that's an accurate representation of the middle ground...

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Stewie Says Wil Wheaton

Now, hopefully those of you you are at all familiar with Family Guy know exactly what to do with the title of this post.  That's not really the point I'm trying to make today, however.

I've just finished reading Wil Wheaton's Just a Geek, one of his many recent books, published in 2004, that is ostensibly about his coming to terms with leaving Star Trek and how that has affected his life and career as an actor.  As some of you may know, Wheaton's made a pretty good transition into an Internet life during the past decade, one of the ambassadors of a movement that has come to define the 21st century.  I was first referred to Wheaton's participation through his connection to Fark, and for a long time, until I read this book actually, I believed that he actually ran Fark itself.  No, he maintains his own presence, thank you very much.

I grew up on Star Trek, maybe not in the way Wheaton did, playing Wesley Crusher in The Next Generation, but in a similar enough capacity that I identified the actor as much with that TV series as his seminal appearance in Stand by Me, the movie based on a Stephen King story that also featured the late River Phoenix.  It occurs to me now that Wheaton and Phoenix still have a lot in common, overlooking the fact that one of them is dead, in that they were both child actors who never got a chance to appreciate that Hollywood is a really unfair place for the majority of child actors.

Now, as an fleeting familiarity with the recent history of Disney and Nickelodeon stars will tell you, child actors are primarily cast due to their preternatural precociousness, their biological ability to look like a charismatic kid but their own ability to possess charisma to go along with it.  (Most of the ones who succeed as adults are women who can still make the babydoll image work for them, and men who can do excellent character work.)

In other words, you're screwed from the beginning.  The attributes that allow you to be a success as a child will always affect your future potential, and usually not in a good way.

I'm not sure Wheaton appreciates this fact, or at least the version of him from 2004 doesn't seem to have, and this is not necessarily a bad thing.  Just as the Wil Wheaton who rebelled against Star Trek and firmly believed in his brilliant film success (names like David Caruso also made mistakes like that, so age is not always the determining factor) ended up resenting the thing he escaped from when his dreams didn't come true, the Wil Wheaton who made his name in the formative days of the Internet is now free to interpret his life through his own experiences.

In recent years he's been able to embrace his past in ways he could never have anticipated in 1990, and here I'm thinking of his recurring visits to The Big Bang Theory, as an obnoxious version of himself who flirts with the open hostility of the very geek Wheaton himself has become since his days working on one of the geekiest properties in showbiz history.  Actually, watching this particular sitcom has helped me understand how I'm not the geek I thought I was.  Geeks are all about science and math and technology.  I'm not really into any of that.

The joke is that geeks are so absorbed into that stuff that the entertainment they enjoy comes to define the rest of their lives to such an extent that their social lives deviate so far from the norm that outsiders interpret the resulting behavior as the sole attribute of the geek.  In a paradox that perhaps Sheldon and Leonard could explain, I had to believe I was a geek to realize I wasn't.

That's a little of what Wheaton had to figure out about himself.  He spent so much time avoiding what he only thought he could escape that it never occurred to him that it already defined him more thoroughly than he'd ever considered.  But it didn't mean that his past was the only path to his future.

Today we live in a world where people who are passionate about something can spend their whole lives obsessing over it on the Internet, which has led to a vast splintering of every popular element of our culture.  While that makes new things exceedingly hard to catch on in the same ways the old things these Internetters dwell on did, it also means that we're building a new kind of culture, one in which someone like Wheaton no longer has to dread about the worst mistakes of his life, because there are an excessive number of ways in which he can capitalize on them and move on, lingering on in a thousand permutations, all eerily linked to his past but finally allowing him to escape it.

The thing is, Wheaton is a former child actor who didn't succumb to vices, and has since built a fairly normal life for himself.  His biggest worry in the book is that he won't find work again, and it never seems to occur to him that it's not because he's not edgy enough, but that any casting agent he comes across will already have an image of Wil Wheaton in one moment of time, and that's his childhood, not the particular parts he took, no matter how successful.  The more people encourage him to pursue a new career, which is writing as he exhibits to this day on his website, the more they fail to realize that what they should really be encouraging is his ability to exceed the pigeonhole, take a piece of the pie for himself.

For some reason he comes to believe the cameo cut from Star Trek Nemesis was his last chance to say goodbye to Wesley Crusher.  The thing is, he had multiple opportunities for that last chance, including one of the final episodes of Next Generation, which concluded a character arc begun in the first season of the series, in which the character, like the actor, realizes that he wants something different from what everyone expected of him.  Since the book, Wheaton has embraced his budding comedic instincts, something he learned sitting next to Brent Spiner on the bridge of the Enterprise, and anyone who's seen "Wil Wheaton" on Big Bang Theory will tell you that this is a guy with a future.

He's believed he could make a second life for himself as a writer for more than a decade, and as he's maintained an Internet presence for all this time, maybe he's right, but he's also done very few things with his writing other than what's directly related to that website.  He's never released a work of fiction, or nonfiction not related to himself.  All that writing ability his seventh grade teacher reminded him about has only been swallowed by the new pop culture, the one where you can upload any video and have it reach a million hits, and still leave no real impact.

Wheaton's calling is the same as it ever was, and he's closer now than ever before to getting it back on track.  I can't help but think that Wheaton himself may not realize it.  Just a Geek is supposed to represent his triumph over a sense of regret that Wheaton lived with for a decade, his ability to overcome the need for vindication, and to silence his ego once and for all.  Except many times over in the book, he provides a followup note to similar boasts he's made on his site, saying that once again that pesky ego was covering up what he was really feeling.  Sometimes we exaggerate our triumphs in lie of success and satisfaction.

It really is a fascinating read, and a powerful insight into an actor whose experiences resonate with my particular generation, someone I can instantly sympathize with, and support.  As I struggle from a much worse position (of being a never-been), I can still take notes from someone on a similar journey of discovery, fighting to make a dream come true when it seems like everything is trying to tell me that it will never happen. Wheaton is no doubt every bit as vulnerable as he sounds in the book, even if there's a veneer that is impossible to ignore, things he takes for granted that I could only hope to have one day, well after a childhood where I played at being what he was paid to pretend for years, opportunities his name alone provides him, even when he believes no one cares about Wil Wheaton anymore.

Once you're a name, especially today, you're always a name.  Wheaton could still star in a TV series that runs for fifteen years.  He could still land a movie role that makes him immortal.  It doesn't erase the struggles he went through to reach them.  He could write something that readers a hundred years from now study in a classroom.

Then again, that's my future, too.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


Suffice it to say, but the title of this blog refers to my continuing Shootout experience.

I'm getting creamed in the ratings.  Results for the second round have just been released, and I can no longer pretend that my effort so far has exhibited me in the best possible light.

Maybe it sounds a little presumptive, but based on the twelve other writers I've read so far, I would go so far as to say that I ought to be in the top ten percent in scoring.  I'm currently languishing in the bottom ten.  It's all due to my efforts.  The first story was shorter than it should have been, a victim of my extensive Sigild conditioning since last year, and the reviews pointed out exactly where I went wrong.  The second story was a more honest effort, but it still left too much to the reader's imagination, a victim of assuming too many things on my part.  Readers don't like ambiguity.

One of the things I had resolved after the first round was to write something longer for the second, and I more or less did.  I had some fun with it, but in all honesty I let it get away from me when I realized what I wanted to do with it.  A better writer probably would have rewritten it on the spot, but sometimes I can become attached to material that deserves to be scrapped.  I'm usually reluctant to rewrite, but I've done my share of it, not the whole piece, but the parts that need it.  Sometimes that changes everything, as I draw up a whole new picture to better suit my intentions.  Sometimes I start over several times, and once I get the beginning to a point where I'm satisfied, everything else just starts to flow (or so I imagine).  Mostly I hate rewriting, though.  I'll be honest.

Anyway, so I wrote my story for the third round in much the fashion that I've written the other entries, not so long after reading the prompt.  Except this time I resolved to not stop writing until the story had really come to an appropriate resolution, and I felt I had explored the story to its necessary potential.  I ended up, again, with something slightly longer than the last time.  (At this rate, I'll be one of those participants that I hate to read, droning on for ten pages when there are five other stories to get through.)

The Sigild reference, so you don't actually have to explore it yourself, means that I have spent a great deal of time recently believing that a page constitutes a worthy effort.  For some people, that would actually be good enough.  Some people, like me, think a short story that goes on for twenty-six pages is not really a short story, but a chapter.  (Yes, Monorama has short stories that go on for many pages.  I claim the right of hypocrisy!)

Except sometimes to grow as a writer, you literally have to write more.  I'm discovering that for me, this means something different than it does to others.  You've all heard the common advice: write every day.  I don't particularly agree with that, but it's surely worthwhile to write often.

On my Twitter feed, I recently tweeted that I had titled the chapters for my next book.  For me, something that simple can make a huge difference.  It's as important, when a book needs names for chapters, as naming the characters or the book itself.  If I've at a particular crossroads as to how exactly to approach it, chapter titles can make all the difference in the world, especially since I'm a nut about having a particular scheme in mind, borrowing them from certain sources, certain contexts.  (Hey, the whole manuscript for Finnegan got its chapter titles from "Bad," a song by U2 off their The Unforgettable Fire album.)  Another project is currently sitting on my computer with much the same naming scheme as I just described for Seven Thunders, and that helped a great deal there, too.  I'm a writer who sometimes need to gimmick his stories to make them more interesting than they might otherwise be.  (Yoshimi has this running gimmick in it that forced a different interpretation than I'd originally had for the actions sequences.  Hopefully my publisher for it sees the gimmick the same way I do.)  My point being in this aside, my writing process is a little weird.

If the third round turns out better for me, I'll be thanking Dave Barry, by the way.  I think we ought to thank him for everything, but for this particular story, I doubt I would have written it without him.

Monday, August 6, 2012

New Improved Monorama Kindle Edition!

Last week I updated the Kindle file of Monorama to match the exact version featured in the paperback edition, a disparity that had been bugging me since the book's release a month ago (!).  What happened originally was CreateSpace's somewhat obsessive urging to put the Kindle file together, which became an issue when I kept going back to make changes in the paperback format together, and repeatedly coming across issues that I wanted to see go away for the most professional (ish) product possible.  The original formatting didn't work as well as I thought it did, and neither did subsequent tweaks, until I broke down and just converted everything into the template CreateSpace has available.  That's what the paperback got, but as I said, not the original Kindle eBook.

So that's all squared away, and I will hopefully cringe a little less about editorial concerns I still did not catch and will pop out at discerning readers like sore grammatical thumbs (which, as in gardening, are green) when buyers stumble across my book, no matter how they purchase it.

I'm still a little baffled by the eBook craze, especially among self-publishing writers, many of whom at least in my experience choose to go exclusively in that direction.  From a certain point of view, it makes sense.  Many of the readers for these things are also self-publishing writers, or at the very least do not have a lot of many to fling around, and so are more willing to buy the less expensive, technically nonexistent book than the real copy that might have to compete with a lot more than the convenience of something you can cart around in the same device that you tweet, text, groove, surf, and sometimes even speak with that can fit in most pockets.

(Yeah, I tend to write like that.  I call it Byzantine thought, and it's my specialty.)

Anyway, the Shootout has somehow already reached the point of the second round where I am asked to read six more stories, and I did that earlier today.  On the whole, they were better than the first round entries (it should be noted that I'm reading a different set of writers this time), and featured what might be considered an aberration from the Amateur Writer Archetype in that I could easily see myself reading it in a traditionally published book.  My experience so far in the Shootout has tended to confirm my suspicions that most writers who participate in these things and publish self-published books aren't very good.  Most publishers and agents believe the same thing, except it's worse when they do it, because they are far less likely to catch the ones who don't deserve to be thrown into the Amateur Writing pile.  I'm seeing the same thing in WRiTE CLUB, by the way, so any stray Shootoutists here should not feel ashamed.  It's what these things are really all about, supporting writers who are not aware that their writing is mediocre at best, but sometimes amazing, in all the right ways (not in the Overachieving sense, then).

It's funny, because movie critics are always judging movies in exactly the manner of my Amateur Writer Archetypes.  But that's a subject for another blog.

Yes, it's with extreme hubris that I write dismissively of Amateur Writer Types while also admitting that my existing books are self-published.  But some misguided publisher will someday change that...
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