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Posts from the ‘Writing’ Category


Carnivores – Utterly Hilarious

I’m not typically moved by book trailers.  Not because of some innate snobbery that overcomes me when media formats attempt to interbreed, but because they rarely manage hold my attention.  This may have less to do with book trailers and more to do with my … LOOK, A PUPPY!

So cute.  Anyway.  Regardless of my shortcomings, of which there are SO VERY MANY, this trailer totally made me snort coffee out of my nose.  That should be taken as an endorsement of the highest caliber.

Carnivores by Aaron Reynolds and Dan Santat:

Via The Passive Voice!


Book Recommendation: Skinner by Charlie Huston


I don’t hate Charlie Huston, but I will admit to having snarled his name out loud more than once while reading Skinner.  It’s a stunning piece of work, even for Huston whose output is relentlessly good, but there are bits of absolute genius in it that spike my writer’s jealousy like few other things I’ve read.  Absolute mastery of pacing.  Evocative, descriptive turns of phrase that convey reams of information in a single jolt.  Lean, muscular confrontations whose nascent violence is more visceral than other people’s epic brawls.  It’s just one brilliant thing after another with this jerk, all book long.  That said, even my Huston-induced pangs of self-doubt couldn’t blunt my enjoyment of this book.  

Here’s the blurb:

Skinner founded his career in “asset protection” on fear. To touch anyone under his protection was to invite destruction. A savagely effective methodology, until Skinner’s CIA handlers began to fear him as much as his enemies did and banished him to the hinterlands of the intelligence community.

Now, an ornate and evolving cyber-terrorist attack is about to end that long exile. His asset is Jae, a roboticist with a gift for seeing the underlying systems violently shaping a new era of global guerrilla warfare.

At the root of it all is a young boy, the innocent seed of a plot grown in the slums of Mumbai. Brought to flower, that plot will tip the balance of world power in a perilous new direction.

A combination of Le Carre spycraft with Stephenson techno-philosophy from the novelist hailed by the Washington Post as “the voice of twenty-first century crime fiction,” SKINNER is Charlie Huston’s masterpiece–a new kind of thriller for a new kind of world.

There’s a perverse kind of synchronicity in the timing of Skinner’s release with Edward Snowden’s recent revelations that serves to underscore how eerily accurate Huston’s portrayal of the intelligence community’s underbelly really is.  Skinner’s world is not only plausible, but probable, in everything but the particular circumstances and scale.  And based on the news recently, I may be wrong to doubt the scale.

Amazingly, the characters remain front and center despite this vivid and frightening backdrop.  Skinner himself is a perfectly balanced blend of monster and victim and hero, effortless to root for and fear at the same time.  Jae, who is as much of a protagonist as Skinner, is equally complex and compelling.  Her tortured genius is executed with a deft hand, never becoming contrived or maudlin.  Together they produce a dynamic tension that’s marvelous to watch, like two pieces of broken glass from different windows that happen to fit together perfectly.  It would have been easy for lesser characters to have become subsumed in a story like this, but it’s never a possibility here.

Bottom line, it’s probably Huston’s best work to date, edging out even The Shotgun Rule and The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death.  I know, bold statement.  But I stand by it.  


My Favorite Bad Review of All Time

A long time ago, back in the before-times of 2008, bon vivant and author-around-town John Scalzi issued a challenge to authors to post their one-star reviews.  Many did, and as you can imagine, hilarity ensued.

In that spirit, I’d like to offer up my new all time favorite bad review.  This one is for Bad Radio:

As I read this I was reminded of some books from the 50s and 60s. It was superficial, the characters had outlandish powers, the guys – to a man (there were no female ‘bad guys) – were nasty, had massive protective body gear, and were easily beaten by unusually intelligent amateurs. Untested space technology allowed them to build huge ‘flying saucers’ in order to fly off to create a new human colony on some planet far away. Give me a break!

I have to say, the bit about space technology and flying saucers really spoke to me.  While a less astute, and dare I say it, a more pedantic person might point out boorishly that there aren’t any spaceships, other planets, or colonies of any kind in the book, I would urge that person to open his mind and not be such a downer.

I think anyone that constrains themselves to the actual text of a book is only seeing a small slice of the truth.  I guess how small depends on how much extra stuff you make up, but that’s not the point.  The point is that any book can have as many spaceships as you want, if you can only open your heart to the possibility.  That’s the real beauty of reading.  Uh, or not reading.  Whatever.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m deeply, truly sorry for screwing up the spaceships that weren’t in the book.  I promise it won’t happen again.







Working in the Word Mines – The Goosebump Factor

Trust me.  Throw this thing at somebody hard enough and they’ll never notice that the color is wrong.

I just saw Star Trek:Into Darkness.  Star Trek movies have traditionally been a pretty risky ticket, but I’m the kind of nerd that would watch C-SPAN if it took place on a spaceship, so I went.  And despite a plot that alternated between being predictable and creating logic-twisting  brain cramps, I loved it.  (Be careful with that link, it’s one long hilarious spoiler of the movie.  Click it after you see the movie or vow never to do so.)

The plot holes in it are pretty bad.  Maybe not follow you home and pee in your bed bad, but still bad enough to make you wonder how they survived the final draft.  Now, you may recall that I have a fair amount of tolerance for goofy stuff in books and movies, but this is pushing it.  So the question for the class is … why did I love it?  And not just me, but also the audience I saw it with: a mix of fans and people for whom Star Trek began with the 2009 reboot.  They cheered and laughed and clapped when the credits went up.  If you hang out online and read about all the bits that don’t quite fit together, you’d assume that every showing of the movie across the country ended in booing and thrown popcorn.  So why didn’t it?

It’s called the Goosebump Factor.  This melding of poor plotting and great experiences seems like some crazy paradox, but it’s actually quite common.  Doctor Who is a prime example of pure awesome on top, creaky plot underneath.  Pulp novels and soap operas are also prime goosebump territory.  The only difference between a work being called a guilty pleasure versus a literary paragon is whether or not you have to defend explosive amnesia the plot holes to your friends over beer.  In fact, the more wildly popular something is, the less likely its popularity is tied to an airtight plot with seamless logic.  When the wedding party is tragically devoured by space beavers and the audience is in tears, you look like a real schmuck when you point out that space beavers are vegan.  Everyone will tell you that you’re missing the point, and they’ll be right.

Fiction’s purpose, and I’ll go so far as to say its only purpose, is to create emotion in its audience.  When you get that right, very little else matters.  Would it be better to have your plot not suck while your fans cheer and dab their eyes with a hanky?  Absolutely.  No question.  But as writers, we often fall into the trap of valuing the mechanics of the plot over the effect the story is supposed to be creating.  Your priority must always be the emotional payoff.  You have to pick your battles in this life and, if you’re forced to choose, this is the hill you want to die on.

Don’t get me wrong, plot holes do have an impact on the reader’s experience, but it’s far less than the emotional content of the scene.  Often, after the experience has faded into something easier to analyze, then people can and will pick some nits.  And they should.  But the truth is that how they fundamentally feel about the work is forged during the experience of it.  If the emotional logic works, then your reader will be inclined to either let the plot hole go, or attempt to justify it.  We tend to love or hate things with our guts, and use our brains to rationalize that decision after the fact.  Of course, if the scene is lifeless to begin with, then every flaw is going be painfully, embarrassingly obvious.

I’m not saying that its okay to throw logic out the door.  This is not me giving you permission to be sloppy and blow off that whole logical consistency thing just because you know this particular scene is going to be a real gut buster.  But I am saying to know where your priorities are.  Don’t toss out a scene that works on an emotional level just because you can’t figure out how to get the pasta bowl into the coat room.  Emotional payoffs are pure gold, logical satisfaction is silver at best.

Obviously you can’t get into eye-rolling territory here, but don’t be too quick to put a flawlessly logical plot on a pedestal over everything else.  It’s very common for writers to pass through their first draft edit looking for inconsistencies as the number one issue.  So when it comes time to fix them, the emotional content of that scene may well take a back seat.  Here are a few tips on how to keep your priorities in check, while at the same time keeping your detail oriented OCD satisfied:

The Fast Pass – Read fast and focus on the story.  This is the low detail pass, where you’re just trying to ‘see the movie’.  For each scene make a quick note about the key emotional payload.  It should be clear and evocative.  If any logical issues pop up at this stage, make a note, as these will be the most noticeable to the reader.

The List – This is a slow pass, where you make a note of key logical declarations in your story.  You assert that Brad only has one eye?  Make a note of it.  Put a gun in the kitchen drawer?  Note.  Ignore setting and atmospheric detail, just list things that impact the logic of your story.  Every time you hit one of these items, check your quickly growing list to see if it has ever come up before, and if it has, verify that it’s consistent.  Anything that hits this list needs to be labeled as key to the scene’s emotional payoff or not.

Fit and Finish – Now you have a list of stuff that doesn’t line up.  By the end of the book Brad has three eyes and the gun is taped to his forehead.  Oops.  Go through the list BACKWARDS to select items to fix, then go to the first mention of that information on the list as close to the start of the book as possible.  It’s much easier to mention all of Brad’s eyes the first time we meet him than to add in some eyeball multiplication surgery in the middle.  This will fix most logical errors, which are typically created through imperfect author memory and assumptions.  Anything not tied into your readers adrenal glands/tear ducts will be easy fixes with few consequences associated with the change.

The Leftovers – This is the weird and scary part.  It’s possible that you have an amazing emotional payoff early in the book that hinges on Brad’s one good eye.  Then at the end, it’s critical that all three eyes are glistening with remorse as he dumps his heist partner’s body into the ocean.  And of course, there’s no such thing as eye multiplication surgery.  You need to be very careful here.  Your first instinct is going to be to put all the emphasis on the logical issue and just fix it in the first scene, dumping the emotional payoff as a sad but needed casualty of war.  Take a deep breath instead and flip your priorities.  Preserve the emotion first, its pure reader candy, even if you have to fix the eye problem in a less elegant way.  A kludgy, rickety logical bridge later involving discount glass eyes and superglue is still a hell of a lot better than losing even a smidgen of reader manipulation.  Fix it as best you can, but keep your priorities straight.

There is no higher purpose than to move your reader in some way.  Don’t lose sight of that fact when you edit, or you risk doing far more damage to your book than you fix.


Bad Radio is Free This Week!

I dunno, because it’s spring?  I’ve recently suffered some kind of head trauma?  Government conspiracy?

Whatever the reason, Bad Radio is free until Saturday.

Pick up your copy before we run out of electrons!

EDIT: Wow.  #1 in all my categories and #9 on the free list overall.  Hugs and cake for everyone!*

*hugs and cake only available in my kitchen, dogs excluded from cake offer unless extremely cute


A Winner Is Crowned!

Congratulations to Ed, vanquisher of foes and claimer of books!

Your spoils will arrive shortly, signed by yours truly.  Signature authenticity will be verified by Cher and, in the event that there is any doubt , co-verified by Mojo.  BB used to be on the validation committee, but he tends to nip the corners off the covers as part of his ‘process’.

Even though the contest is over, you can always join the mailing list by clicking the link the sidebar.  After all, isn’t the real prize being notified of free and forthcoming books?

Well, no.  The real prize is a box of actual books that are being mailed to Ed as soon as I deface them with a Sharpie.  But the mailing list is still awesome and you should totally sign up.

Thanks to everyone who entered!


Working in the Word Mines – Copyright

How do I copyright my work?

This is a popular question in writing communities, and not just among people looking to self-publish.  It also comes up from new authors worried about sending out short fiction to magazines, posting snippets on their blogs, or even before sending out novels to agents.  Fortunately, it has the best possible answer.

Don’t worry about it, you’re already covered.

From the horse’s mouth, aka the U.S. Copyright Office official FAQ:

When is my work protected?
Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

Do I have to register with your office to be protected?
No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work.

Piece of cake.  You’re covered for your entire lifetime, plus 70 years after your death.  Personally, even as a holder of copyright myself, I feel that’s a bit much.  If you’re interested in why and what the downsides are for these extremely long copyright terms, take a minute to listen to the entertaining and eloquent CGPGrey on the topic:


Blatant Bribery Without Remorse

Here’s the deal.  I am, without a doubt, the least organized writing guy in the world.  Among my many failings is the fact that I announce time sensitive stuff on my blog.  Or worse, put on a promotion and fail to announce it anywhere.  I have been informed that this is not super helpful.

I suppose you could stalk me to fix this, but as they say on the internet, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”  Also, there’s only room for a couple of people to peer through my office window at a time anyway.

So, in the spirit of being less crap about this kind of thing, I’m announcing the following contest:

At midnight on Friday, January 25th, I will pick one person from my mailing list at random and send them the three books pictured above.  I will even render them slightly used by scrawling my signature inside.

Once on the list, you can expect to hear from my lazy ass very rarely.  I’ll send out a notice when I do a free promotion, which is about once a quarter, and whenever something new is going to come out.  That’s pretty much it.  I’m not a fan of being bombarded with sales stuff, and I know you aren’t either.  That said, I would like people to know I’m doing stuff while they can still get in on it.

To put your hat into the ring, enter your email address at the link below.  Please make sure it’s an address you actually use, because that’s where i’m going to send the winning notification.  Also, note that if you are already on the list, there’s no need to do anything else.  Your name is already in the drawing.

Click here to enter, and good luck!


Working in the Word Mines: Exercise and Creativity

Fun fact number one: writing is a sedentary profession.  The first tenet is AIC or Ass In Chair.  This often means 4 to 8 hours of near motionless staring and typing.

Fun fact number two: your brain hates that and will retaliate by stabbing you right in the creativity. Like it or not, your brain is a physical organ that is heavily influenced by the rest of you.  Fitness in general and recent exercise in particular have a significant impact on cognition.  There are a bucketload of studies that demonstrate this, if you want to read up on it.

Fortunately, fixing this is pretty easy, even for those of us that like to count coffee cup raises as ‘reps’.  For those that are wondering what the absolute minimum effective dose is, it’s about 30 minutes of brisk walking three times per week.  But frankly, that’s pretty weak sauce.  For best results, you want to hit 20-30 minutes of cardio per day, where your heart rate is some distance above from it’s resting rate.

You can get a basic idea of a good heart rate target here.  It takes about three seconds to figure out.  A metric is good, but now you need to measure.  If you have an iPhone, here’s an excellent heart rate monitor that uses your camera (similar to the way throwaway hospital pulse monitors work).   Here’s the Android version.  I’ve tracked these against a dedicated device and they’re surprisingly accurate.

The excuses for not exercising come from the same pool of suck as the excuses for not writing.  What works for me is combining the two into a single event.  Start your writing with a walk/run/chin-up marathon/burpee throwdown/whatever, and use the time to not only get your blood moving, but also as a chance to get away from your desk for a bit and clear your head.

If you follow Neil Gaiman’s blog or tweets, you know he frequently goes running to work out sticky bits in his stories.  It works.  Part of it is just letting yourself think about nothing in particular.  If you’ve ever had an epiphany in the shower or while driving, you know what I’m talking about.  But doing it while exercising works even better, since thinking while moving is what humans do best.

The results are non-trivial.

This is something that I’ve been aware of for some time, but it really hit home in the last couple of months.  I’d let myself fall out of the habit of regular exercise sessions since  I was putting in a ton of hours on the final draft of Liar’s Harvest.  Priorities, right?  I’d just let it slide.  Huge mistake.  I wasted a ton of time staring at the screen and making crappy revisions.

Fortunately for me, while casting about for a way to procrastinate and avoid more painful writing sessions, I picked my exercise routine back up.  Guess what?  I had to stop my first workout before I was finished to run downstairs and jot down a fix for a passage I’d been struggling with.  I kept my daily routine up through the completion of the book and it made a world of difference.  Higher daily word counts, easier to get started, less time feeling stuck on a difficult section.

Oh yeah, and I feel better.  So there’s that, too.

There are ton of reasons why you can’t find half an hour to exercise every day.  But none of them matter as much as the reasons why you should.


It Has Arrived: Liar’s Harvest Paperback

Mmm, that new book smell!

Mmm, that new book smell!

The paper edition of Liar’s Harvest is now available to be grasped and fondled!

Try that with an ebook!  (But not where I can see you, thanks.)