Category Archives: Inspiration

Write a Synopsis of Your Novel, in Two Nosebleeds or Less

Today, my desk is filled with two cats, my third mug of tea, a legal pad full mostly of crossed-out lines with a few good ones hanging out here and there, a powered-down phone, and two half-synopses of my Dwarf Airship Espionage novel, trying to find a way to paste the two together and not make it look like it was written at 3:00AM on the last day of vacation, to quote Charlie Brown’s teacher in her assessment of his Gulliver’s Travels book report. So far, things are looking good, but I’d much rather be in the middle of this book or others and actually playing with my imaginary friends, rather than writing an after-action report about their adventures. I remember too many days as a junior leader in the Navy having to stay behind on a Friday afternoon and write reports on what our division did, rather than leave the ship like my junior sailors got to. On the other hand, I remember being treated a little better, by both sides of the Chain of Command, because I wrote the reports well, so here’s hoping my Navy skills have translated properly.

Synopsis writing is an interesting beast. I don’t know how many synopses I’ve written of other books throughout my decades as a reader and writer, but it is so much easier to write about another author’s book rather than my own. In a book report, I’m happy if I illustrate the main conflict, how it relates to the characters, and the general resolution of the plot, maybe dropping in one or two scenes here and there for illustration. Writing about my own? I either feel like I’m skipping way too many details, or I’m getting caught up talking about the witty comments one character made to another and yet skipping the battle going on behind them, just because I happen to really like that line and I want to be sure that any prospective synopsis-reader sees it, because then he or she will know how clever I am, and will offer to buy all of my books, plus ones I haven’t written yet, and will send enough dollars my way to fill up my Currency Jacuzzi in my beach house in Antarctica. (It’s not crowded at all, and once you befriend the penguins, they bring you all the best herring. I call them… my herring aids. Thank you, I’ll just see myself out.)

The best way I’ve found to do this so far is to write a sentence describing each chapter. Though this can be hard for me to do, especially if I want to include something really neat that I included in that chapter, I find that if I have a good solid idea of what the chapter is about, I can usually puzzle out a way to say it in fifteen or twenty words. Then I add a sentence describing the next chapter. Then I add a sentence patching the two together, sometimes two. Then I read it and add another one, if necessary. It’s a time-consuming process but, aside from occasionally wanting to rip out my hair because I can’t decide which modifier best modifies what I’m modifying, but I wind up with a finished product. It might not be as exciting as the novel itself (at least, I hope the novel is more exciting), but it explains the course of the story, and most importantly, shows any agent or publishing representative that I have a completed book and I know enough of the craft to at least look like I know what I’m doing. At least, that’s what I hope I look like. We’ll see.

So far, as I stitch and polish the last part of a submissions package, the one “Lesson Learned” I’ve picked up from this is to write my one-sentence synopsis after every chapter as I first write it, and update it after each rewrite. I think this will make the job of picking out the truly important details a lot easier, especially during a re-write and a re-re-write. At least once on every second draft I’ve wound up deleting something I didn’t think mattered, only to find it explicitly referred to three chapters down the line. When I finish my final draft work and get back to the long novel I’m roughing out (or another story about my haplessly intrepid Dwarf spies) I’ll be able to test it out and see if it works as good as I hope. At any rate, knowing how to tell my story effectively in as few words as possible can’t hurt, even if I then wind up adding more words for protein, good fat content, carbs, and just seasoning.

I apologize. Not only am I polishing a submission package, I’m on Week Two of a new diet plan, and nearly everything I think of somehow relates to food. (Insert “eating his words” pun here…) I’ll be sure to have more news tomorrow from the editing, writing, and dieting fronts for your digestive pleasure.

Words, Glorious Words

Today’s post is a little later than I like them to be. I got a late start on the laptop today because I had to spend my morning writing time out on the patio with the cat. She likes to lay outside when it’s nice, or when it’s not nice, or really, whenever she can tell I’m about to settle down to something inside, and she refuses to let me rest until I go out with her for at least a little bit. Then I had to run a couple of errands for our family business. Also, I slept til 0900, and that was mostly because I stayed up wayyy too late last night, but that’s another story.  Perhaps because of the mild discombobulation I endured this morning, I’m trying something a little different. Instead of blogging about books or writing or the insanity caused by too many books or too much writing, I’m going down a level in complexity and writing about three words… two favorites and a new (to me) word. I’m doing this in conjunction with Wondrous Words Wednesday over at the Bermuda Onion blog. If you like words… and I suspect that since you’re reading them, you do… you should check the site out.

Defenestrate (dē-ˈfe-nə-ˌstrāt) transitive verb —

  1. 1:  a throwing of a person or thing out of a window

  2. 2:  a usually swift dismissal or expulsion (as from a political party or office)

I first encountered this word while reading Elizabeth Wurtzel’s memoir Prozac Nation around the time it came out. I can’t remember the exact passage, but apparently, Ms Wurtzel was quite the fussy baby, and at one point, she said her father called her mother and said that if she didn’t come take their baby off his hands for a little while he was going to defenestrate her. I had never encountered the word before, but it sounded like something nasty and horrible. When I found out that he was saying “I’m about to toss this bundle of shrieks out the window” I felt a sudden rush of joy at how wonderful my language was… that it actually had a word for such a thing. It’s still one of my favorite words, and I’m always happy when I have a chance to use it. Well, as happy as one can be when talking about windows and things (or people) being thrown out of them.

Absquatulate  (ab(zˈkwächəˌlāt, abˈsk-) intransitive verb
  1.  slang: decamp<a frontiersman preparing to absquatulate and head for the wilderness>

  2.  slang: abscond<the cashier absquatulated with the funds>

I learned this word from my sister Mandy while we were hiking from Georgia to North Carolina along the Benton MacKaye Trail. (Similar to the Appalachian Trail but not nearly as civilized. Great place.) Often, when we were getting ready to leave, she’d sling her pack on her back and say “Let us absquatulate.” It took me a while to pick up what she was saying over the sound of my bones and muscles creaking (walking a couple hundred miles with a 50 pound pack stresses your body in ways you might not even know exist) but I fell in love with it. It’s almost as much fun to say as pasta aglio e olio (garlic and oil… more or less pronounced “Ollie-Oh-Eee-Oh-Lee-Oh,” though I learned in Italy that one shouldn’t yodel it, no matter how tempting it is to do so) and it just so perfectly defines the act of getting one’s tail in gear that I try to teach it to as many people as I can.

Voluminous (\və-ˈlü-mə-nəs\)
  1.   consisting of many folds, coils, or convolutions :winding

  2.  a:  having or marked by great volume or bulk :large<long voluminous tresses>; also:full<a voluminous skirt>b:numerous<trying to keep track of voluminous slips of paper>

  3.  a:  filling or capable of filling a large volume or several volumes<a voluminous literature on the subject>b:  writing or speaking much or at great length <a voluminous correspondent>

Notice how I didn’t spell this “Vol-Um-Ni-Ous?” Until last week, I didn’t. I’m mildly dyslexic, something I was never diagnosed with as a child since the stereotype is that ‘dyslexic = illiterate.’ I suppose it often does keep people from learning to read, but perhaps because I don’t have it too seriously, and because my eyes usually mix up the middles of words and not the front or back (something countless email forwards and viral Facebook posts like to point out doesn’t always affect reading comprehension) no one ever noticed. (Though my Mom did tease me when I told her that a baseball player I liked, “Steve Gravey,” was about to bat, and there are other stories about that kind of lexical misreading in my past.) Fast forward to now, many years later, to a moment just a week ago when I’m proofreading a chapter and trying to figure out why my spell-checker kept flagging ‘volumnious.’ I’d used the word, I’d read the word, I knew damn well it was a word! Then I decided to look it up. Well, I suppose I could spin this as a story about how one can overcome one’s handicaps (“Dyslexics of the world, untie!”) but since my condition is fairly mild, I would feel weird talking about it that way. So, I’m just going to say that the English Language is wonderful, and even if someone like me mixes up the letters in the middle of a word, people can still understand what you’re saying.

That’s all for today. I’ll be here Friday with Book Beginnings and maybe Friday 56, along with news about Part Two of my book (which I can now describe without (very much) profanity) and anything else that catches my eye in the world of those of us who hallucinate while staring at dead tree pulp. Saturday will see my end-of-year review of the books I’ve read, and I’ll try not to put you to sleep with that.


Monday Memories of Memory

It’s Monday. We made it through the holidays, though to be fair, our small, mostly-self-contained family usually does that pretty well. Let’s see if I can make it through a day of writing as well. I did a few errands and such first, and the most important of these was perhaps sitting in Coffee Culture in Gainesville with Rena the Partnerloverperson, drinking a peppermint white mocha and plotting out my writing for the week. (Well, the UPS store was closed, because apparently, 26 December is ALSO a holiday… God forbid federal workers don’t get a free day off if Christmas lands on a weekend. And Rena seemed to recall that she had wanted to call the UPS store that was holding our package and see if they were open. She also seemed to recall that I had said, quite loudly, “Of COURSE they’re open. UPS isn’t a government organization.” Buying her the Nutcracker Latte at the coffee shop down the road was my way of saying “I’m sorry, don’t hate me.”)

Today, I have 2000-3000 words to write and I think I might be able to make it through. I feel like there’s still a little bit of a block there, but I can see daylight through it, and I’m sure that once I pick up a few of the rocks and shift them around, I’ll be able to find the story thread where I left it and follow it into Chapter Eight and beyond. So before I strap on my industrial-strength thinking cap (complete with ergonomic neck support, environmentally safe padding, and a headlamp capable of seeing into all realms of the Aether where my Muse and her friends are wont to hang out) I’m going to tell you a little bit about what I’m reading. I’m cross-posting over at The Book Date this time, another blog that I recommend you check out some time.

This week’s book is somewhat of a reread. Back when I was in bootcamp, 26 years ago, I found myself with a little bit of time to read. We’d graduated about ten days early because of the Christmas Holidays (our Graduation day should have actually been the day after New Years) but we still had to stay there until our eight weeks were up. (That was an early lesson in Navy organization and the Sacred Rite of Following the Schedule, Even if You Had Doubled Up and Got Everything Done Early. Fortunately, things got a little better after that.) (A little.) (Very Little.) Anyway, a friend of mine had the Tad Williams book The Dragonbone Chair with him, and since I was even more a devotee of epic fantasy fiction than I am now (now, I read other types of fantasy and weird literature) I jumped at it and devoured the book. Not literally, though I might as well have. It was different from a lot of post-Tolkien literature I’d read, in that the author spent a lot of time just exploring and playing in the world and the folklore of the place (much like Tolkien) and the quirky-but-made-to-seem-normal people that inhabited it, rather than just throwing a quest or a dragon or a villain at the Chosen Farmboy, and the introduction of far-north mythology also tugged at my brain and told me that this was something special.

I absolutely loved the book, its characters, and its imagery, and a few months later, during my tech school training and before shipping off to the West Pacific, I picked up the sequel, Stone of Farewell, as soon as it was out in paperback. I never got around to reading it, though, and I’m still not sure why. Perhaps it was the Gulf War getting in the way, or the mix of bipolar and my lack of adjustment to Navy life that kept me from ever cracking its covers. Eventually, I gave the book away to a shipmate who had read the first one, and while I remember staring wistfully at the third book when it came out, and frequently told myself that I needed to revisit Osten Ard someday, I never did, until now, some twenty-six years later. During the few months of researching northern German and Lithuanian and Slavic mythology for my own book, Tad Williams’s book kept showing up as a good example of a modern interpretation. The bittersweet guilt that I kept feeling at never having finished the series became nigh-unbearable. Once I started my project I finally broke down and ordered the first book for my Kindle, and I tell you, I am so happy I did. The things I remember… long passageways, strange yet lovable characters, dangerous magic, and especially the healthy skepticism of the main character, are all here. I’m not flying through it as fast as I did in Boot Camp, but part of the reason for that is that I’m trying to savor it a little, taste it, roll each scene around on my tongue before swallowing. I only have vague memories of the book as well, and often, I only recall something as it’s happening. (Once, I realized that a scene I’d recently thought about, involving Doctor Morgenes and Simon as Simon sets off on his travels, actually came from that book; I’d retained a stark image of the scene but could never recall the book it had come from.)

The lesson here is that it’s never too late to go back to a book you loved, and the sooner you do it, the better you’ll feel. My recommendation is to look for a book you started years ago, and give it another shot. Perhaps you stopped reading because you just couldn’t connect with the plot, or you couldn’t find the sequel when it came out, or your cat ate it. For whatever reason, pick it back up, get it out of the library, do something to get it back in front of your eyeholes, and see if the book speaks to you this time.

Bed Making and Other Composing Techniques

To paraphrase Mark Twain, I’m a writer, and I’m manic-depressive… but I repeat myself. I don’t think there’s a requirement for a writer to be bi-polar or clinically depressive or any other mental illness that requires us to spend a lot of time huddled in a blanket fort and threatening to Taser the face off anyone who bothers us (and in my case, that would be my face more than any other), but it does seem to go hand in hand. I think it’s because we as humans like to be entertained, and when you spend as much time alone as a depressive person does, whether by choice or because you can’t bear to move from your spot no matter how much you want to, you have to tell your own stories.

Sometimes, when I’m at the bottom of a supremely low period, like I was yesterday (and like I suspect I might still be) I wonder how I ever get anything done, but I still manage to push through, day after day, in my journal at least, if not in my manuscript and any current programming project. My journal might be nothing more than me complaining about how I not only suck, but my pages of complaints aren’t even written very well, but I still manage to get things down. I know from bitter experience that if I don’t write something every day, I wind up in an endless feedback loop. Being depressed about not writing for a day makes it harder to write the next day, and if I succumb and take two days off…

This post is about a few things, including my return to blogging, my announcement of a new book project, and my pledge to fill people in on it, along with blips and blurbs about what I read, what I hear, and what I do on those days I decide to leave Fort Blanketopolis, but it’s also about how I learned my Mom was right. If she’s reading this, this is where she says “Oh, that’s nice, he’s writing fiction again,” but I do mean it this time. My Mom, a German immigrant who was born a few years after the war and came to the US just in time to experience Patti Page once she knew enough English to sing along, is a lot of wonderful things. And I really hate to indulge in a stereotype, but one set of genes my Mom got were the ones that dictated order and routine. Apparently, she liked those genes so much she decided to keep them all to myself and decided not to pass them down, and I spent a good part of my childhood arguing about how my clothes didn’t need to be folded, my room was okay as long as nothing was crawling around, and as long as my books were in order, nothing else had to be. I couldn’t see the point of a lot of the things she had me do, since everything was just going to get messy and disordered again. For example, I *DID* think it was nice to crawl into a made bed at night, but was it really worth spending a few minutes doing that every morning, especially when those few minutes took away from the little bit of reading I got to do before the bus showed up? I didn’t think so.

Fast-forward to me now, after serving twenty years in the Navy (where everything had to be in its place, but for a good reason: if something wasn’t, it could fall and trip someone on a damage control party or a firefighting team, or float away during flooding, or hit someone in the head, or in some way cause all manner of horribleness to happen) and I’ll admit to liking things in something resembling order. And I do like having a wide uncluttered workspace, since I know how easily I can get distracted. (Plus, I have long arms, and they need room.)

But, since moving into our new place a month or so ago, I’ve discovered the joy of bed-making as therapy. Originally, I started doing it because we had very little in our room at first, and I liked the idea of seeing everything straight and simple and in place; I wanted to preserve the way it looked when we first moved in. But even now that we’ve settled and arranged all of our things, I still find myself pulling down the covers, pulling up the sheets, and making the bed look decent, and I can’t do much else now until that’s done. Even yesterday, when I had trouble doing anything except for staring at the ceiling and wishing my brain would shut up and let me read, I had to make the bed. And after I did that, I was able to sit down and at least write four or five pages on my projects. I’m next to positive that the three or four minutes of routine activity helped jostle my working brain loose from the crowd he’d been hanging out with (the “I suck everyone hates me” brain, and the “read another chapter/ blog post/ funny comment on Reddit” brain are two particular friends of his). And that part of my brain has been responsible for me having a 110-page Part One of a novel, and is pushing me forward on the rest of the book, too.

So, thanks Mom. You were wrong about a few things, like how you think lamb is disgusting and mayonnaise is delicious, but you were right about this.

Inspiration Tuesday

Today, I’m juggling writing a few pages at least, planning the core argument of my book, and packing up in Atlanta. So today’s quote is brutal.

If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy. – Dorothy Parker

I would add one of the Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition books… they’re great references, and that way, he or she might get an inkling of what lies ahead. Of course, they’ll probably pay as little attention to it as I did.

Inspiration Tuesday: Reads, Teases, and More

I’m somewhat getting back into my blogging schedule, though I’m still not sure if I like the various things I do on the various days. If you have suggestions, send me a note. I’m up for just about everything, as long as it doesn’t involve pepper spray. Still, I’ve found a few things that inspired me over the past week, so I’m going to drop them at your doorstep and see what you think.

In addition to the Malazan series that I’ve been working through for the last twenty months (I’m in a curious place where I really want to know how the series ends and really do not want to step out of that world) I’ve been reading a lot of novellas and old fiction. Really old fiction. From the Völsungasaga:

Better to fight and fall than to live without hope.

In context, this is referring to the death of one of the Völsung Kings, that family of larger-than-life heroes that gave birth to The Ring Cycle, Beowulf, and The Lord of the Rings, among others. I picture most of the heroes in this as something of a cross between Conan and Robocop, and not more than a passage goes by without reminding me of a similar trope in fantasy fiction. But this quote resonated in another fashion. For those of us who struggle with depression or other mood disorders, this passage is significant. Or at least, I took a different layer of meaning to it.

And perhaps this is another reason I read the old myths. True, I have to read them in doses, since they are nowhere near the same fashion of fiction that I grew up reading. But like most things you take in small doses, it’s well worth the effort. In an article from The A.V. Club about six years ago, Keith Phipps made the argument that if he could, he’d convince everyone to read The Canterbury Tales.

And—and this is where I tend to lose people—not in translation, either. It takes about half an hour to learn the basics of reading Chaucer’s Middle English, assuming it’s well-annotated, and the payoff is worth it. It’s another language, sure, but it’s a language you already know on some level, just waiting for you to reclaim it. You may never read Dante in Italian or Flaubert in French, but reading Chaucer in its original form is the birthright of anyone who speaks English.

That phrase, “the birthright of anyone who speaks English,” holds true for anyone who reads fiction and wants to get to the roots. The early epics… this one, the Eddas, Snorri Sturlson, Beowulf, The Niebelungenlied, and many others I’m neglecting to mention or haven’t gotten around to reading yet… are the root of epic fantasy. Without the epic, we’d have no Tolkien, and none of the authors who inspired him. Reading these works is like peeking at the source code that runs the application that is modern fantasy literature, to use a programming analogy. It’s like getting a sneak preview at what makes our mythic mind tick.

That’s the tease for today, and the inspiration I myself need to finish this story and study a bit more as well.

EDIT:  Holy Crap, I forgot to link back to the blog Should Be Reading. Among other things, it hosts “Teaser Tuesday,” where readers and bloggers tease two sentences from the book they’re reading, (I just quoted one, but then I talked about it for three paragraphs, so I hope that’s okay.)

Reconstructions of Literary Characters

A few days ago, Moviepilot linked to an awesome blog, The Composites, uses police compositing software to create depictions of what famous characters look like according to their author’s descriptions. A few of these were spot-on to how I pictured them while reading the book (except I thought Annie Wilkes had blond hair?) In cases where a movie was made of the book, I felt vindicated at my own image rather than what many of the movies came up with. Definitely check it out.

The Composites

Interpretation is Key

Something struck me today. No, not on the head. That’s happened enough. But I recently reread a Mental Floss article about whether or not famous literary authors intentionally put symbolism in their work, and that led me to the idea that a reader’s interpretation (within reason, of course) is at least as important as the author’s, and indeed, can sometimes be more important to the reader than any official meaning.

Case in point:  I’m going to dig into the archive of noted poet William Martin Joel. In his song “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” a song I grew up listening to (had no choice but to grow up listening to it, really… thanks, Mom…) he sings, in the first bridge

There’s a new band in town
But you can’t get the sound
From a story in a magazine
Aimed at your average teen

Gently cynical words, of course, and it adds a little depth to what is otherwise just an example of an adult contemporary pianist wanting to rock out for at least one album. (Later, he apparently dropped acid and angry pills and filmed the video for “Pressure,” which left a much different impression on me, but those stories will lead us back into why I like dark psychedelic fiction.) However, I didn’t have the liner notes when my Mom would play that song; I just had to pick out the words myself. And what I heard was:

There’s a new band in town
But you can’t get the sound
‘Cause it’s only in a magazine
Aimed at your average teen

Much more bitter, I think. And for years, that’s what I thought he sang. When I finally learned what the real lyrics were, I was disappointed. My version was what I held on while growing up, as something of an average teen, and reading about the important new changes in music that were revolutionizing the industry, and how important new bands (picked by the editors, and usually, conveniently, with a new major label album on the shelves) were going to enter my ears and change everything about how I hear and feel and even taste music. Somewhere in the back of my mind was that four-line phrase, what I thought I heard from a Billy Joel song, and I think that kept me from jumping all-in and marching right along with everyone else, rebelling in exactly the way we were all approved to rebel. Or at least it kept me from doing it too often and marching for too long.

Anyway, when someone tells you that your interpretation of a book is way off base, you can throw my Billy Joel story at them, or at least you can tell yourself that if it means something to you, everything is copacetic.

Oh, and today’s Billy Joel’s birthday. I’m not the biggest fan (and the whole time I drove through Pennsylvania, recently, I had that damn “Allentown” song in my head, playing on repeat for a good two hundred miles’ worth of I81) but he was still an influence.

Enjoy your day.