Draft Zero (or perhaps, Orez Tfard)

Lots of smoke, lots of shrapnel, lots of life changes over the last year, but I’m still here trying to put one word in front of the last word, whether or not those two words are friends, regardless if the second word once said something bad about the first word’s mother… DAMNIT, it’s MY project, and I’m going to make those words get along.

I’ll write more about the demise of my last  project, but tonight, I have to talk about the status of my new endeavor. For years, I’ve wanted to write a Southern Gothic novel. The fact that I had only lived in the south for a year when I first decided this meant nothing. The fact that I wrote primarily magic realism or fantasy with modern twists (the Dwarfs with Steampunk technology) also meant nothing. This might be linked to my early, impressionable years spent reading Stephen King and John Irving (New England Gothic, if that’s a thing) and my early writing years with Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner. No matter. After a couple more years of working on a lot of different things, including moving and traveling for a living and spending my time with three people weirdly creative and respectful of my introversion, I picked up a pen last August and wrote 100 pages and four chapters about a family in northern Georgia, where I’ve hiked since first moving to the south, and kept going until I wrote into a hole. So I decided to read it from the beginning.

It sucked.

A vacuum cleaner running Windows Vista in the middle of a black hole could not have sucked harder.

But writers are nothing if not stupid… I mean, persistent, and I kept that on the back burner. After sending another project to oblivion, I went back, and thought, “I need to outline my characters and chapters and try again.”

Ten failed pages.

“Okay, how’bout I set this in northern Michigan, where I grew up? Okay, well, where I spent a lot of time about three hours to the north of where I grew up.”

Fifteen failed pages… wait, NO!

The prologue, all twelve and a half pages of it… which somehow emerged from my head after simultaneously thinking of The Brothers Karamazov and The Princess Bride… actually worked, when I reread it. It worked well. I yelped and jumped for joy. Actually, that was the other way around… I live in a house with low overheads. If you’re 5’13” like me, don’t ever jump for joy in such a place. Anyway, there I was, with a satisfactory prologue in front of me, and “Chapter One” at the top of the page.

Then at the top of another page.

Then at the top of a third page, with three pages of blah blah blech in front of it.

I’d thought that cutting out the first two chapters of my original attempt would help. I could start the story where the action started, and only insert those details that needed inserting, something that editing coaches and Lower GI Tract Doctors both advise. But that still didn’t work. I felt like I did the second day I drove a stick shift in San Francisco on a hill in stopped traffic… I was stalled, gunning the engine, and rolling backwards. At least in that case, I figured it out. I learned how to drive a stick shift in about two seconds. In this case, I think I have it.

There’s a writing technique called “Draft Zero,” though I’ve also heard it called “Expanded Outline” and I think I called it “Summary Outline”  myself, once. The object is to write out your story as absolutely fast as you can, skipping details unless they’re immediately there in your head. The result is something like a long outline (like, half the length of your finished project) or a stripped down draft. Then, you go back and rework it into a proper rough draft. I myself have usually called my first draft “The Raw Draft” and the second pass-through “The First Clean Draft.” (If nothing else, it’s clean because all the profanity I sometimes scribble in the margins doesn’t make it.) I thought… maybe if I try this technique and do a Draft Zero, or a Raw Draft for my Chapter, it will…

Well, it didn’t. I couldn’t even get out a sentence.

But something else stuck in my noggin. A lot of things do. By the end of a writing day, my superior temporal gyrus looks like the underside of a bus seat. A lot of it is crap, but just like that bus seat, some of it is tasty and useful. (Hey, I’m willing to try anything to get a book out.)

A few other writers, Margaret Mitchell among them, wrote backwards. Not word for word, but chapter for chapter, or even scene for scene. “What if,” my Muse suggested, “what if you write a rough outline-like raw draft for your first chapter, starting with the last scene?” Because, I knew how the chapter was supposed to end. I could see that vividly in my mind, and there was even a possibility that it was vivid enough for other people to see it as well, leaking out of my pores. But getting there… every time I tried, I just wrote around in circles. But… write what you know, right? And so, I did just that.

I doubt I’m the first person to ever think of that, but I’m definitely glad that I did. I now have a stack of index cards numbered from 0 to -5, and I’ll keep writing them, backing up a scene each time, until I’m at the place I think my reader wants to begin. Each card has about three sentences on it… I didn’t completely fill them up. Next step is to write a zero draft of the cards, probably going in the same reverse order… I still need to work from that ending. But then, then I’ll get to write from the beginning to the end in my manuscript, and for the first time since first thinking “Southern Gothic sounds fun,” I don’t dread working on this project.

It feels nice. Frighteningly nice.



“But That’s Not How it Was in the Movie!”

There are a billion and seven articles and posts on the InterWebs about the myriad ways that movies get the book wrong. And while I may be on record with my attestation that they never filmed a version of The Neverending Story, rather, they pissed all over the ending of the film and then turned, faced the screen, and said “This is Hollywood, kids,” I’m not going to add to the circle-jerk and back-slapping of readers complementing themselves on reading and laughing at the poor benighted losers who weren’t blessed with the story in its original form. Not right now, at least.Plus, while there are readers who can defend their argument, many people haven’t been able to tell me why they liked the movie better, without just saying “Well, the director imagined something differently; I totally pictured John Smith in a blue coat and in the movie, he’s wearing green.” Or they have little knowledge of the requirements of drama, and refuse to acknowledge that movies sometimes have to change things in order to be an effective dramatization of the story.

Which brings us to my brand-new mostly-regular feature where I talk about those instances where the movie either was better than the book, or at least got a few things very right. I welcome suggestions, of course, and even arguments. I’m more of a reader and writer than I am a movie junkie, but I have studied film on my own ever since the days when I’d watch Sneak Previews with my Dad in the late 70s, and even more so once I had the ability to stream movies.

Case in point today:  Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone vs Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. (Yes, that’s the English title and not the American one; that’s what JK Rowling named the book, and that’s what I’m going to call it.) I’m a huge fan of the books, as entertainment and as literature, and I think I’m not alone in saying that the series really took off when the third book was released. (I also might be biased because that was when I started reading the series.) Really, though… the first two are fun romps in a magical world, but the third is when the dark themes that dominate the last few books first start to show up. So, when Alfonso Cuarón’s film of Azkaban came out, I was a little nervous, mostly because of what they’d done to the first one.

On the surface, the first movie is a perfect adaptation. Perhaps Hermione and Snape look a little different than how they’re described, but I’m a firm believer that a good actor can create any role, and both actors acted perfect for the parts they played.  But otherwise, the movie felt a little off to me. It wasn’t until I watched it a second time that I realized what it was. They’d included nearly everything that was in the book (well, everything except one of the puzzles at the end and a few bits of dialogue here and there), and as a result, the film felt rushed and overloaded. The book had a good story but it was also a fun school-year exploring a strange and different world. The movie felt like an hour-long tour of a college campus, with some person giving you twenty minutes of information in less than five and then pushing you along to the next stop.

Azkaban, though, was actually adapted to film, rather than just translated, and as a result, it works so much better. There is a long list of the things they left out or changed for the movie, but none of them (with one minor exception) goes against the spirit of the story. So he’s restricted to The Leaky Cauldron, or the class lessons are a little different. Everything that is changed still works with the story, and acts as shorthand for a lot of things they had to leave out. And even the minor bit of Harry practicing magic at the Dursley’s House makes sense, as it shows him longing so badly to go back to his magical world that he’s willing to actually study, something he’s not known for doing back at Hogwarts. (True, that should have brought a warning from the Ministry of Magic, but, well, I don’t know. Maybe they were busy looking for Sirius Black or something.)

Next week, I’ll bring up some horror films that are more frightening on the screen than they were on the page,  sometimes even for someone who had read the book.

* Though, if The Neverending Story ever comes up in conversation, I just might. Or The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. I can deal with movies changing things from the book for the sake of drama, and adapting to a different media. Neither of those movies were changed for those reasons.

Dostoevsky Predicts 21st Century Social Media

A man who lies to himself is often the first to take offense. It sometimes feels very good to take offense, doesn’t it? And surely he knows that no one has offended him, and that he himself has invented the offense and told lies just for the beauty of it, that he has exaggerated for the sake of effect, that he has picked on a word and made a mountain out of a pea — he knows all of that, and still he is the first to take offense, he likes feeling offended, it gives him great pleasure, and thus he reaches the point of real hostility…

The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor M. Dostoevsky, trans. Pevear & Volokhonsky

Either Dostoevsky had a Twitter account (though I can’t imagine him being a fan of the 140-character limit) or people really, really haven’t changed in a hundred and fifty years.


Snowstorm Books

There are a lot of reasons I moved to the south. Waking up to a half-inch of snow, 30-40 KPH winds, ice, and freezing rain, are not among those reasons. However, I have been soup simmering on the stove, a mug of tea on the table, and a stack of books. Up for today:

The Brothers Karamazov: This has been on my list for years, ever since the first time I read The Idiot (not about politics, surprisingly) in the mid-90s and was told that Karamazov was Fyodor D’s best. Finally got around to starting it when the weather started taking a bad turn, and let’s just say that listening to a family of assholes argue about what Christianity means to them is a perfect companion to the wind and rain outside. More posts about this wonderfully, beautifully horrible book a little later today.

The Guns of August, Barbara Tuchman. Her book The March of Folly, about military stupidity in the face of blinding fact,  was one of my favorite books in college. This book is about the first month of WWI, and it reads like a novel. Especially, it reads like one of those slow train-crashes of a novel where you can see everyone doing the exact worst thing in the worst fashion to have the worst possible collision with their enemies. She adds in all of their thoughts and feelings about how the military intelligence of the time was stupid because it told them things they didn’t want to hear. I’m trying to read this without hearing Kaiser Wilhelm II scream “Inconceivable!” in his best Wallace Shawn/ Vizzini voice every time he learns new information, but I’m failing.

The Light Bearer, Donna Gillespie. This showed up on a thread in r/AskHistorians, one I’d discovered while looking up reviews and criticism of the Tuchman book. Historical fiction is perhaps my second favorite form, after any kind of speculative fiction, but I’ve also been burned out by a lot of it, recently. A hundred pages in, it seems pretty decent. She dances dangerously close to a few well-worn clichés but still keeps the story fresh and fun.  Already, I like how the magic/ religious system of the Tribes is shown to be both a positive and a negative influence in their lives, rather than just:

  • A beautiful, incomprehensible system that the modern ugly civilized world  can never truly comprehend, or never wants to, since it belonged to the Unwashed Savage; the last light of a dying age that was wiped off the face of the universe so Man could have Gadgets and Convenience;
  • A horrible, twisted system of control that kept the people of the Earth from advancing, and was only used so the Patriarchy could RUIN EVERYTHING.

Unfortunately, I know enough of the setting and time of the novel to know that it’s not going to have a happy ending, or at least not many of them, but I’m still interested in it.

Up on Deck: Caliban’s War, James S. A. Corey, and Who Fears Death, Nnedi Okorafor.

Suggestions welcome

Book Beginnings Friday: A Suitable Boy

Those who follow me on Goodreads know that I’ve just recently finished the 10-volume amazingly epic (and long… very very long) series The Malazan Book of the Fallen. My plans afterwards were to read a few short (like, exceedingly short) novellas and such, but after flying through two thrillers (The Girl With All the Gifts and the excellent, creepy folkloric horror novel The Black Tongue) I decided to plunge back into the world of large book mansions, worlds large enough to get lost in for weeks. Also, don’t tell my Muse this, but I wanted a break from fantasy fiction. So, I picked up a book I’d read briefly a few years before but never finished, or even got too far in, thanks to a freak New England rainstorm which claimed all 1475 pages as a sacrifice, and I’m already lost in wonderment and memories of my first experience with its amazing wordcraft:

‘You too will marry a boy I choose,’ said Mrs Rupa Mehra firmly to her younger daughter.

Lata avoided the maternal imperative by looking around the great lamp-lit garden of Prem Nivas. The wedding-guests were gathered on the lawn. ‘Hmm,’ she said. This annoyed her mother further.

‘I know what your hmms mean, young lady, and I can tell you I will not stand for hmms in this matter. I do know what is best. I am doing it all for you. Do you think it is easy for me, trying to arrange things for all four of my children without His help?’ Her nose began to redden at the thought of her husband, who would, she felt certain, be partaking of their present joy from somewhere benevolently above. Mrs Rupa Mehra believed, of course, in reincarnation, but at moments of exceptional sentiment, she imagined that the late Raghubir Mehra still inhabited the form in which she had known him when he was alive:  the robust, cheerful form of his early forties before overwork had brought about his heart attack at the heights of the Second World War. Eight years ago, eight years, thought Mrs Rupa Mehra miserably.

‘Now, now, Ma, you can’t cry on Savita’s wedding day,’ said Lata, putting her arm gently but not very concernedly around her mother’s shoulder.

A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth

The book continues on for over 800,000 words of this marvelous, beautiful prose. After the first 50 pages or so, I found myself immersed, flying through the small print as fast as my eyes could crawl over the letters. The characters are rich, the culture both wonderfully strange and hauntingly familiar, and the plot weaves and wraps around the lives and thoughts of these wonderful four families. I will have a full review when I finish, but I have a feeling I will not want to leave this world when I turn the last page.

And as I often like to do, I’m sharing this at Rose City Reader as part of their Bookish Friday Celebration. I’m there right now, but later on, join me at Friday Night Writes on Twitter. (@bovisrex)

Leave it to Angry Robot(s) to leave the door open

So while I was shuffling through my documents and bookmarks yesterday, looking for something  to work on (my current work-in-progress isn’t exactly progressing) I learned that a publishing company I like is flinging open their mailbox and accepting submissions. From 1 December 2015 to 31 January 2016, they will be accepting full-length works of  “SF, F, and a little pinch of WTF.” This means that I might have hope for the two novellas and scattered story fragments staring a rather different uncivilized hero… it’s now time to put these together, make them something that people will want to read, and then smack them over the head until they read it. Err, I mean, publish it and give them the opportunity to honor me by reading my stories. Yeah. That’s what I meant.

If you’re a writer, check out the offer. If you’re a reader, check out their books. I’ve read a couple of them, and they have good taste.

Angry Robot Announces an Open Door Period

Things I learned after eleven months of not blogging

  1. Creating things is hard. Being a creative person is hard. Trying to create things as a creative person while not doing much creating is foolish, not to mention impossible and probably a violation of several laws.
  2. Books are more fun when you share them with friends. Even if your friends occasionally bend the cover back 2°  more than what is preferred by the book owner, the pleasure of having someone to share ideas and concepts with is nearly as essential to being a book reader as having access to books.
  3. Most publishers aren’t interested in stories that have been published elsewhere, even on blogs. Makes sense.
  4. I’ve been missing an essential part of my life. Granted, eleven months ago, I was holed up in a corner of the house and either reading or knitting or doing little else, and now I travel the east coast and hike and travel with my family, so my life is complete in ways I couldn’t dream of before. (And trust me, I have some pretty bizarre dreams.) Still, I’ve been missing this outlet, and I think I realized this when my Facebook posts (original and comments) started to stretch out over multiple screens. Consistently.

So, we’re back. I’ll still talk about books and my programming projects and my writing, and I’ll still welcome the readership of the blogosphere to tell me where I’m wrong and exactly how wrong I am. I’ve missed that as well.

We’re Moving!

Not that this blog has been a hotbed of activity, but I still have some plans for it. That said, the plans I have will easily fit on a smaller blog, so at the first of the year, Stark Writing Mad will be living at cjcasey.wordpress.com. I have a feeling things will work out better for the blog over in their community.

As for this site, I’m turning it over to my private work… namely, the programming and design work that I’ve been doing and am expanding, by myself and with my girlfriend/ partner/ companion’s family. There are a lot of changes going on in my life right now, positive changes (including the strange possibility of me spending part of the year back in Florida again) and this blog and website will reflect that.

New posts tomorrow over at the new home. See you soon!


Book Beginnings: The Iron King

Well, I finished a couple of books this week, including the Malazan book I was reading (Return of the Crimson Guard… good, but still not quite as awe-inspiring as the main series), and I’ve also been fighting off what I really hope isn’t the Walking Dead virus. I do live in Atlanta, so that is entirely possible, though. I have a few shorter books that I’m reading (a book of essays about books by Anne Fadiman, A Clockwork Orange (yes, yes, I’m sorry, I’ve not yet read that) but the one I’m going to share today is The Iron King by Maurice Druon.

I only recently heard of this series and I kind of regret that fact. Already, the first book is captivating me in a way well-written historical fiction does. (That’s perhaps the reason I have little to no patience for poorly written historical fiction.) The series was apparently a big influence on George R. R. Martin and his own A Song of Ice and Fire, and while I haven’t gotten to any of the more colourful happenings of that series, I can already tell that I’m going to plow through all seven books of the Accursed Kings.

Here’s the prologue:

The Grand Master felt surging within him one of those half-crazy rages which had so often come upon him in his prison, making him shout aloud and beat the walls. He felt that he was upon the point of committing some violent and terrible act — he did not know exactly what — but he felt the impulse to do something.

He accepted death almost as a deliverance, but he could not accept an unjust death, nor dying dishonoured. Accustomed through long years to war, he felt it stir for the last time in his old veins. He longed to die fighting.

He sought the hand of Geoffroy de Charnay, his old companion in arms, the last strong man still standing at his side, and clasped it tightly.

Raising his  eyes, the Preceptor saw the arteries beating upon the sunken temples of the Grand Master. They quivered like blue snakes.

The procession reached the Bridge of Notre-Dame.

That’s from the very beginning, and the book proper starts in the early 1300s during the reign of Philip IV. The entire series promises to be good, and I’ll keep you updated on it. I’ve heard from many readers I respect that it’s a shame it’s not very popular in the US.

As with every Friday, I’m linking to Rose City Reader and their “Book Beginnings” feature. Earlier, I spent a bit of time this afternoon waiting for the cold drugs to take effect, and I will say I’d rather spend five or ten minutes browsing the beginnings of books that other readers are enjoying than mindlessly consuming clickbait. Check them out.

Cameron Esposito on Being Exposed

This is an excellent article in AV Club by Cameron Esposito about overcoming body issues. All I want to add is my own story about how I had pretty serious body issues until my early twenties, when I was finally persuaded to go to a nude beach in broad daylight. That walk, from my beach blanket to the ocean, was the most awkward I had ever felt in any situation that didn’t involve tubes, wires, and latex-gloved fingers going in places that weren’t really designed for such a thing. Then that first wave broke over my head, and I felt the complete and utter absence of anything between myself and the ocean… no cloth, no polyester, nothing between me and the sun and Planet Earth. I felt alive and freed from an old, outdated existence. I stood up in knee-deep water and said “I AM ONE WITH TRITON! WORSHIP ME, LESSER FOLK OF DRY LAND!” Then the second wave smacked me in the face and I got a seashell stuck in my nose.

Exposing Myself


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