Pants on Fire

So my friend Jess passed on the Bald-Faced Liar Creative Writer Award to this here blog. THANKS, JESS!! Not just for the award but for another fun game to play along with.

Here are the rules:

  1. Thank the person who gave this to you. (see above)
  2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog. (see above)
  3. Link to the person who nominated you. (see above)
  4. Tell up to six outrageous lies about yourself, and at least one outrageous truth. (see below)
  5. Nominate seven “Creative Writers” who might have fun coming up with outrageous lies.
  6. Post links to the seven blogs you nominate. (Umm… well…)
  7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know you nominated them. (Uh, yeah…)

Anyway, let’s start with the outrageous lies and the one outrageous truth. Can you guess which is which?

  1. Clevelanders are famous for lying about this, but I really was an extra in the parade scene in “A Christmas Story.” I was one of the folks standing right in front of Soldiers & Sailors Monument.
  2. I once got a standing ovation singing “Sweet Transvestite” at a karaoke bar, embarassing another singer the way Huey Lewis did in the film Duets.
  3. I lost my left big toe in a childhood bicycle mishap, finding out the hard way why there are always supposed to be guards around the chain.
  4. I made it through two rounds of interviews for The Real World: San Francisco. Yes, the one with Puck. So glad I dodged that bullet.
  5. Fourteen years ago, I embarassed myself backstage at a Chicago concert by telling the trumpet player, Lee Loughnane, that he was my idol and I wanted to be just like him.
  6. When I was twenty, I once slept with a girl who would eventually become an actress who, until recently, co-starred in a famous network TV police procedural drama. She’d originally planned to be an engineer. (No, I won’t tell you which show.)
  7. As I child, I had dreams of me being a sub in BDSM scenes before I even knew what BDSM was.

Anyway, the real truth is that while I occasionally break my rule of not spamming other people’s blogs, I’m a little wiped to think of seven folks who might be kind enough to play along. How about, I pick… you? I’d only ask one thing, which is that you leave a comment with a link if you do play along.

How Don Is About to Get His Groove Back

As I slogged through my horrendous backlog of Google Reader items last week, I read one of the best writing-related posts I’d ever seen from entitled “12 Secrets to Being a Super-Prolific Short-Story Writer.” I actually know some of these…

  1. Know how your story ends before you begin it.
  2. Don’t just write the same story over and over again, or you’ll bore yourself.
  3. Start crude, then work on refining.
  4. Have a bunch of stories on the back burner, and keep rotating.
  5. Don’t be afraid to stare at the blank screen for a few hours.
  6. Write a bunch of stories in a shared world.
  7. Some stories are just the turning point in the story, not the whole story from beginning to end.
  8. Try creating a character study, or a collection of potent images, instead of just a series of plot twists.
  9. If you’re getting bogged down in a particular story, you probably haven’t found what it’s about yet.
  10. Try an exercise, like rewriting a well-known story from a different viewpoint.
  11. Don’t be afraid to take crazy risks.
  12. Write for different markets.

It’s no secret to anyone that I’m weeks overdue on delivering my Four Horsemen Contest story, for a number of reasons I won’t go into here. But every inch of the teeth-pulling progress I’ve made on the damn thing thus far was made by re-learning these two pieces of advice.

5) Don’t be afraid to stare at the blank screen for a few hours. Sometimes you gotta spend some time chewing over the turning point in your story. Sometimes the ending you thought was so crystal clear when you started out has turned mushy. Sometimes you have to throw out a thousand words of perfectly good story because it rang false and didn’t feel like the direction the story should be going in. There’s no substitute, on occasion, for sitting and sweating it out. Think about the characters, and what they’re actually thinking and feeling in the situation you’ve set up. Think about the themes you’ve established and what sort of resolution they’re leading to. Take the time to visualize the right ending for this story, or put it aside…

I’ve seriously forgotten how to just sit and sweat it out. I’d sit and get frustrated that nothing was coming. I’d make myself scribble some words down. Then I’d hit the backspace key and delete. Then I’d hit Ctrl-Z and put it all back. Rinse and repeat.

It’s a life issue, really. I’ve never had any trouble bleeding, sweating, or crying to keep my momentum going. I’ve had stuff knock me down, and I’ve had to get back up. But when something just stalls? When I’m working and working, and I’m just spinning my wheels? That’s often when I want to give up.

But I’m getting better.

9) If you’re getting bogged down in a particular story, you probably haven’t found what it’s about yet. This is sort of an extension of tip #5, I guess. Maybe you’re trying to make your characters care about what you want them to care about, instead of what it makes sense for them to care about. Maybe you’re focusing on a supporting character, while your main character is wandering around just outside the frame. Maybe the real theme or idea of your story is something you’ve only touched on in passing. The power of storytelling is so great, that when you find what your story is actually about, you may feel it propelling you forward with its unstoppable logic. The characters will be motivated to move forward, the mysteries will feel more and more urgent until someone solves them, and the underlying themes will get clearer and clearer until they form into some kind of potent image. That’s the idea, anyway.

And, I’m almost there.

Part of the problem (and no, I don’t really count the hell my work life has been the past few weeks) is that my writing process has moved soooo far away from starting with an idea. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with “First contact with mutual attraction between the species.” But I had a hell of a time starting with that because that idea, in itself, said nothing to me at first. Given the right germ of a scene, maybe a character interaction or a piece of dialogue, that idea might’ve occurred to me.

But, I’m not bitching! It took a bit of struggle, but I’ve actually found something resembling a theme, related to the “First contact with mutual attraction between the species” idea, that I can sink my teeth into, based on the characters and situations that have already presented themselves in the puke draft. And that’s what I’ve been working on, trying to hammer it into shape in the Forge of Vulcan (i.e. my netbook).

Yep, I can feel my groove coming back, slowly but surely.

Up a Slipstream Without a Paddle

Because I’m perpetually behind on my blog-reading, I only just found out that the proprietor of Lobster and Canary is going to attend Arisia at Cambridge, MA, the largest sf/f convention in New England.

The items on L&C’s particular schedule are of particular interest…

  • Non-Standard Fantasy
  • The Undefended Borders of SF
  • Interstitial Fiction: Dancing Between Genres
  • Inherent Darkness of Fairy Tales
  • The City as Character
  • Myth and Folklore in Fantasy

Of course, Daniel is scheduled to read as well, but I wanted to focus on the panels listed (I assume they’re panels).

(Oh, and yes, Calista — I now regret not coming and will plan to come out next year.) 🙂

Anyway, picture the sort of fiction that comes to mind when you hear those topics–love it or hate it–and you’ll have a good idea of the sort of stuff I aim to write. Aim, and still fall quite short of the mark. Still, unless the “please feel free to send us more” is part of certain markets’ form rejections, I remain hopeful. In any case, it brought to mind a conversation I had yesterday which dislodged a memory of a blog post from writer Steven Barnes…

You should read ten times as much as you intend to write. Want to write 1000 words a day? Read 10,000 words. Furthermore, this reading should be BETTER than your current ability, and BETTER than your intended goal, if possible. Want to write comic books? Read pulp fiction. Write pulp fiction? Read popular fiction. Write popular fiction, read bestsellers. Write bestsellers? Read classics.

And you want to write classics? Well…pick your grandparents very carefully.

I’ve internalized this advice to the point where it actually took me a second to remember where it came from. But it begs the question, what do I read that’s “better” than my intended goal if I want to write what I say I want to write?

Now, I’ve done or am doing most of the “required reading” — Feeling Very Strange, Interfictions and Interfictions 2, Conjunctions 39 and 52, Tin House 33, The Best of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, (edited to add:) Trampoline, and most of the individual short story collections published by Small Beer Press, and others. But there are times when I feel like I’m being shown how to do the breaststroke before being taught how to properly do a front crawl. Don’t know where the swimming analogy came from, but it’s as good as any.

And I guess the main reason I’m thinking about all of this–assuming it’s not a symptom of the Andromeda Strain I’ve been fighting off the past few days–is that I seem to be feeling a bit of existential angst about my writing. I don’t even care about, Will this pay off in the end, or not? I care more about, Am I doing this right or just spinning my wheels? Are my goals reasonable? What am I doing as a writer?

Also, Who the hell am I as a writer, anyway?

Too Slow to Use “Shield.”

Everybody, thank Calista (I can hear the Bundy family going, “Thanks, Calista.”) for tagging me on her blog. I thank her, because I’ve been scrambling to figure out what my next topic is going to be.

1)What’s the last thing you wrote? What’s the first thing you wrote that you still have?
The last thing I wrote would be part of the current manuscript I’m working on. As for the first thing, it was a murder mystery/romance that I never completed. Maybe someday.

EDIT: Why didn’t anyone tell me I copied/pasted Calista’s answer verbatim?

Last thing I wrote was my attempted comeback into a certain lit humor magazine of an Irish persuasion. Submitted today. First thing I wrote that I still have is my first attempt at a “literary non-fiction” thing. I forgot WTH it was even about, and that’s probably for the best.

2) Write poetry?
Yes, but it’s not fit for human consumption.

3) Angsty poetry?
No more so than my fiction :).

4) Favorite genre of writing?
Slipstream. (Whatever that means) 🙂

5) Most annoying character you’ve ever created?
A minor character in my very first published piece of fiction. An obsequious toad who, if memory serves, got his in the end.

6) Best plot you’ve ever created?
That first story was probably my best plotted.

7) Coolest plot twist you’ve ever created?
That would be the end to this story.

8) How often do you get writer’s block?
Generally, I agree with comics writer Brian K. Vaughn, who wrote, “‘Writer’s block’ is just another word for video games. If you want to be a writer, get writing, you lazy bastards.” Except in one circumstance.

In almost every instance where I just cannot, for the life of me, get words out, it’s usually because there some unattended piece of business has latched on to what David Allen calls my “Psychic RAM.” If I can somehow process that thing, then any further “writer’s block” on my part is simply time-wasting.

9) Write fan fiction?
First and only piece when I was 12.

10) Do you type or write by hand?
Whatever gets the words out fast enough at any given moment. I have my netbook and/or legal pad and/or index cards around me at all times. All times. Weddings, funerals, whatever. All times.

11) Do you save everything you write?

12) Do you ever go back to an idea after you’ve abandoned it?
As long as I can hone in on whatever resonated with that idea in the first place.

13) What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?
My one, and so far only, piece that was ever accepted by McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.

14) What’s everyone else’s favorite story you’ve written?
I still get more juice out of that McSweeney’s piece than anything else, and that was almost five years ago, now.

15) Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?
I didn’t think I did, until an editor decided that one of my stories was “Fantasy/Romance.” Hey, ain’t nu’in wrong with that, I say :).

16) What’s your favorite setting for your characters?
Down the block, a few years ago, or twenty minutes into the future.

17) How many writing projects are you working on right now?
I’ve taken on some fun small side-projects this month, sort of as a break from the shell game of submitting/resubmitting my backlog of stories.

18) Have you ever won an award for your writing?
I placed in a flash fiction competition, but didn’t win.

19) What are your five favorite words?
“We would like to publish…”

20) What character have you created that is most like yourself?
Probably the guy from “Tough Love,” except he’s slightly more of a tool than I am.

21) Where do you get your ideas for your characters?
Usually, a person in my mind, a total stranger, does something stupid and then wants to tell me about it. I write it down for my amusement.

22) Do you ever write based on your dreams?
Not directly, though as I think about my dreams and put them into words in my head, occassionally I’ll come up with a phrase and say, “Ooh, I’m gonna use that.”

23) Do you favor happy endings?
My stories are like life… sometimes you get the happy ending, sometimes you don’t. And whatever happens, happens ;).

24) Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?
Hukt on foniks werkt fer me!

25) Does music help you write?
Yes. And don’t ask me to describe which kinds help me when–that’s a whole separate blog.

26) Quote something you’ve written. Whatever pops in your head.
“Maybe if I stay really, really still, the clowns won’t find me when they come out of the mirror.”

I’m not usually a tagger, but that doesn’t mean you can’t play along in the comments or linkback to your own blog!

Catching Up is Hard to Do

I’ve decided that part of the problems I’ve been having with writing have to do with all the stuff swimming in my psychic RAM that needs to be dumped out. So many blogworthy things going on; so little time to blog them. So, here goes.

Just ‘cos there haven’t been my usual Tough Love posts doesn’t mean that I haven’t been attending the biweekly evisceration. I just haven’t had anything to be eviscerated, not by the group, anyway.

I’m eviscerating my current short story in-progress, formerly titled “The Six-Hundred Dollar Man.” With every section of prose I clean up, I feel like I’m butting my head trying to stick to the story I want to tell.

You may be thinking, “Maybe it’s not the story that needs to be told.” Except I know in my gut it is.

And aside from that, I’ve got 3 other stories that I need to finish revising and send off.

I entered The First Annual Brain Harvest Mega Challenge a little while back. The Second Place Winner has been posted. And I have to say, if that’s second place, I think I’m pretty sure I didn’t make First Place. 🙁

Last Friday & Saturday, I attended the 2009 Rod Serling Conference. I’m still processing the experience, a weekend filled with scholars, fans, and artists including Serling’s surviving fammily and the legendary George Clayton Johnson on whose every word we hung.

A modern-day John the Baptist, if I ever saw one.

I’ll blog the blow-by-blow later.

And now that I’ve taken time out to process my inbasket and tickler files, I can get some sleep and hit the WIP tomorrow.


Because I know you’re all dying to know.

Where besides Twitter can I…

Bat Out of Hell: Urban Fantasy Soundtrack?

Something to pass the time, since LoudTwitter is apparently FUBARed.

It occurred to me that the romance subplots of the urban fantasy/paranormal romance fiction I’ve ever heard discussed seem to have already been summarized back in 1977, at the beginning of Meat Loaf’s classic “You Took the Words Right out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night).”

BOY: On a hot summer night would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?

GIRL: Will he offer me his mouth?

BOY: Yes

GIRL: Will he offer me his teeth?

BOY: Yes

GIRL: Will he offer me his jaws?

BOY: Yes

GIRL: Will he offer me his hunger?

BOY: Yes

GIRL: Again, will he offer me his hunger?

BOY: Yes!

GIRL: And will he starve without me?

BOY: Yes!

GIRL: And does he love me?

BOY: Yes


BOY: On a hot summer night would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?


BOY: I bet you to say that to all the boys.

I’ve always said Meat Loaf was a sage, ever since I first heard the truism, “There ain’t no Coupe de Ville hiding at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box.”