“Something tells me I’m into something good…”

I’m not complaining, but I’m just stating the fact that 2011 hasn’t been a very productive year.  Oh, I’ve produced things.  I pulled off my first academic presentation and am still awaiting word of what could be a huge publication score.  I have things coming down the pike in the next couple of months.  But you know, I think part of my damage is that for a couple of years now, I’ve been writing “made-to-order” stuff.  I think I need to write something for me.  But what?

I don’t know a lot about the Brill Building.  I have a sense about its place in musical history.  I have a vague notion of what they talk about when they talk about the “Brill Building Sound” (and of the controversy behind that term).  I kinda know some of the big names involved.

But here’s the thing: I know is that it’s the place where I want to set my next short story. 

I first learned about the Brill Building as I was looking up a bit of background on songwriter Laura Nyro.  I always knew I was going to write something inspired by her or her music from the first time I really started really listening to it. But this idea of the Brill Building really grabbed me.  Something about this music factory, this place that was (arguably) just as much about commerce as it was about art, where people competed to get their songs heard by an executive, published, and made into a hit record is resonating with me somehow.

Apparently, it’s the subject of a documentary due out soon.  Tell me this doesn’t sound more or less like the racket we writers are involved in, huh?

Anyway, I have no idea what this story is going to be about, or how much of it will actually involve the Brill Building, Laura Nyro, or her music.  I do know that this is the story’s playlist so far (all by Nyro):

  • “The Confession”
  • “Billy’s Blues”
  • “Stoney End”
  • “And When I Die”
  • “He’s a Runner”
  • “Wedding Bell Blues”
  • “Lu”
  • “Eli’s Coming”
  • “Timer”
  • “Stoned Soul Picnic”

“God give us the blood to keep going”

I’ve had a bit of trouble getting a handle on my current work-in-progress.  It had such a promising start, judging from the critiques the first two acts have received.  But I struggled with the third act, so I took some time away from it to write other things.

This story’s for a closed anthology, and it’s due in about a month.  Time to get cracking again!  So after doing another round of hack-and-slash copyedits, I decided the piece needed a soundtrack.  So I picked some songs to mirror the sort of mood evoked from the picture above, and a couple of songs for different characters’ motivations.

Take a listen:

  • Chicago, “Prologue, August 29, 1968”
  • –, “Someday (August 29, 1968)
  • –, “While the City Sleeps”
  • –, “State of the Union”
  • –, “Dialogue (Pt. 1 & 2)”
  • –, “All the Years”
  • Depeche Mode, “Walking in My Shoes”
  • Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, “Battle of the Species”
  • Manic Street Preachers, “If You Tolerate This, Your Children Will Be Next”
  • Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens, “I’ll Take the Long Road”
  • Sons of Champlin, “Light Up the Candles”

Yes, I know there are a lot of Chicago songs on here, but at least it’s their cool ’70s and/or Robert Lamm-written stuff.

“…going back to my old school.”

I never did buy into the whole “shit happens when Mercury is in retrograde” thing, but today I came close. 

Lots of stuff actually did go wrong today, but it started off badly from the jump.  I get up, get out of the house, and make it to my morning writing spot with a good hour and fifteen minutes before work.  And my beloved netbook, which worked fine before I left my place, refused to turn on.  I heard the hard drive doing… something… whenever I hit the power button.  But it just refused to boot up.

This is the point where, in the past, I would’ve gone off in a rage.  Actually, I’m not sure why I didn’t.  Still, I had a few options.  I had a similar problem sometime last year, which I fixed by flashing the BIOS.  I had a “rescue USB” drive with me, but I’d forgotten how to use it.  I could’ve gone back home, gotten online, and looked up how to fix what I thought was the problem–which would’ve eaten up my writing time–or, I could just take it back old school with an ancient method known as “longhand.”  And, that’s what I did.

Because, that’s how writers do it.  With a red-eye and no fucking excuses.

“For the love of a(n Elder) God, you say, Not a letter from an occupant”

It’s one thing to take my roller derby nom-de-guerre from H.P. Lovecraft without having read any Lovecraft.  But trying to write a story based on the mythos without doing so could end up making me look like an asshat. 

The story I’m writing concerns a tidbit I happened to read about The Deep Ones.  No, I’m not gonna tell you which tidbit–that’d spoil the story.

Anyway, I didn’t want Wikipedia to be my only source, so I did some digging into my own library and found the first story with the Deep Ones, “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” in my copy of The Tales of H.P. Lovecraft edited by Joyce Carol Oates that I bought awhile back but never opened.  Last night, I picked up The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories for the title piece, another (as it’s commonly agreed) Deep One tale.

And, as I looked these books up on goodreads, I’m reminded that I have a copy of HPL’s Supernatural Horror in Literature.  Cool!

Anywho, I haven’t finished “Shadows” yet, but I have to say this research is fascinating.   Lovecraft has spent too long on my “bookshelf of shame” (i.e. writers whose work I have but haven’t read), and while his style doesn’t appeal to me, the mythos does.   And the more I learn about his work and that of his publisher August Derleth (good, bad, or indifferent), the more fascinated I become.

What’s even better is that this material has actually caused me to think about my seekrit nonfiction project that I’ve been working on in a new light.  It’s could take me in a direction which sends me back to the drawing board.  And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“Their features are changing. Their bodies dissolve, and I am alone”

My current short story in progress is headed (Elder Gods willing) to Cthulhurotica – An Anthology of Lovecraftian Lust, which will be published by Dagan Books.  I worked out its soundtrack, just like I do for most of my stories, to help me figure out which emotional pulses I want to hit in different scenes.

Take a listen:

  • The New Pornographers, “Failsafe”
  • Eleni Mandell, “Bigger Burn”
  • Manic Street Preachers, “Your Love Alone Is Not Enough”
  • Arcade Fire, “Ocean of Noise”
  • Air, “The Word ‘Hurricane'”
  • Cassandra Wilson, “A Little Warm Death”
  • The Blue Nile, “Body and Soul”
  • Genesis, “Domino, Pt. 1 – In the Glow of the Night/Pt. 2 – The Last Domino”

The lyrics to “Domino” are about as Lovecraftian as I’ve ever heard Phil Collins sing, which should be proof that anyone who thought Genesis just plain sucked post-Peter Gabriel wasn’t paying enough attention.

Blood on the windows
Millions of ordinary people are there
They gaze at the scenery
They act as if it is perfectly clear
Take a look at the mountains
Take a look at that beautiful river of blood

The liquid surrounds me
I fight to rise from this river of hell
I stare ’round about me
Children are screaming and playing with bombs
Their features are changing
Their bodies dissolve
And I am alone

-Genesis, “Domino, Part 2”

I suppose the lyrics to “Invisible Touch” could work, too. But then I’m sure I’d lose what little respect you might have for me. 🙂

“What’s my name, fool?”

I should apologize for the ratio of roller derby posts to writing posts lately, but you’ll probably see that ratio continue to skew just a little bit more in the coming days.

Last night at a scrimmage, I had a crash course in the art of penalty-box timekeeping, making me a Non-Skating Official (NSO) in my local derby league. My first bout will be in two weeks.  Unfortunately, I’m out most of July, what with Readercon and the “annual camping trip”* with friends.  But I’ll be around for their bouts in August and beyond.

The only thing missing, they tell me, is my roller derby name.  So, I’m taking suggestions.  Tell me something good in the comments.  Or if you’re one of my tweeps, you know where to find me.

My wrojo seems to have bounced back.  Toldja these ladies were an inspiration.  But while I’ve reconnected with my Inner Drill Sergeant, my Inner Gordon Lish is still MIA. I’m 700 words into the puke draft for a flash anthology with a 1,000-word limit, and I haven’t gotten to the point of the story quite yet.  I have time to play with, though–about two weeks.

I’m not quite fully recovered by whatever Andromeda Strain put me out for two days.  Between the writing, a bout of insomnia, and last night’s scrimmage, I’m using up energy as fast as I get it back.  It’s like I’m treating my body like a video game character with slowly regenerating life levels, where you’d take some hits to give some until you’re near zero, back off to get 2 or 3 tics of life back, and then go into it again. It’s not ideal, but if I’m going to allow derby further into my life, I can’t let the writing slack because of it.

So, yes–berate me for not taking it easy, just as long as you leave a roller derby name suggestion for me. 🙂

*Yes, this is code. If I say more, ninjas with the dim mak death touch will kill me before I finish typing.

Tough Love

I didn’t post last Sunday’s critique group evisceration due to sheer exhaustion.  But the hardest two weeks of the academic year are behind me at the dayjob. I took an extra day off for the holiday weekend and I pretty much wasted yesterday (on purpose).  So, I figure looking at these crits would be a good way for me to get back into writing today as I (try to) keep live audio and video feeds of Roland Garros in the background.

It occurs to me now that I’ve only looked at the story once or twice since then. I was temporarily seduced by a couple of flash fiction projects, one for a prompt on Zoetrope, and the other by a Twitter joke gone too far, with further yet to go.

Anyway, I brought the next bit of the short story I brought last crit group session, which is for a seekrit project.  The group read the first part of the second act.  With scalpels and machetes out, here’s what they said.


  • Scene I brought was “heavy” and “dramatic.”  Also, “vivid.”
  • Readers had a better idea of the who and the why of the story
  • The scene “comes alive” where the shit starts hitting the fan and was “scary” and “suspenseful.”
  • The struggle between one of the main characters and the viewpoint character contains “tension” and “suspense.”
  • One reader mentioned that the way a particular magic spell was used might not have worked on TV or in a film, but worked just fine in prose form.


  • Wrote about relationship dynamics between characters that were missing for some readers in the first part of the story.
  • One section I wrote where I blended one character’s speech with the jeers of the crowd didn’t work for everyone. (Though the ones it did work for seemed adamant that I should stick with it.)
  • [This one I knew would be a problem going in–and I was caught red-handed.] With all the drama going on between the viewpoint character and one of the main characters, other characters just sort of faded away into the background… the aforementioned crowd, for instance.

So, lots to fix with this story and a third act to write.  Luckily, I have several months to get it together.

Tough Love

It’s been over two months since my last confession piece was eviscerated by the critique group.  Almost forgot what it was like.  Luckily, I picked it up again pretty darn fast!

I’m writing and submitting, even got two publications in so far.  I’ve also trunked two longer writing projects this year that just weren’t working for me.  I hate doing that because it means violating Robert Heinlein’s #2 Rule for Writing: You must finish what you write.  But I was prompted to start a new story by–well, I can’t tell you why, not yet.  It’s a seekrit.  Suffice it to say that this is the first time in a long time I was so excited by an idea.  In one morning, I had a rough plot outline of all the major points I want to hit.  By lunchtime, I had a title.  I almost never have a title until the end.

I spit out Act I in time to submit it for vivisection by the critique group.  And, vivisect it they did!


  • I was worried about being heavy-handed with the story’s theme or of telegraphing anything.  Apparently, I did neither.
  • The prose was “engaging”
  • My setting was “rich” and “full of details”
  • Some readers liked the tone of the story, as well as some of the detail and emotions
  • There were some really good guesses as to where this story might be going.  For all the apparent confusion about plot details (see below), most of the readers picked out all the plot elements/questions I wanted to throw out there, even if they weren’t all understood. 


  • One two of the five pages I brought,was utterly confusing for a lot of readers.
  • I confused one reader (likely, more) about the mechanics of a particular piece of magic being debated between characters
  • My introduction of the viewpoint character was confusing.
  • Pacing was really slow 3/4 into Act I (which wasn’t helped by some really embarassing grammatical errors).
  • I didn’t give enough information about the particular Cause my characters are fighting for.
  • (edited to add) I repeated a few phrases waaaay too many times.

Quite possibly, I should’ve let this draft cool before bringing it.  But apart from obvious fixes, I got a couple of really good suggestions that I’ll implement right away.  And hopefully, I’ll have at least Act II ready for next session which, because of scheduling around some holidays, will be next week!  Gotta get moving…

      Tough Love

      Wow, last week was a shitty one for writing. I’m not making excuses. Just stating the plain fact that between the crazy shit going on at my dayjob and life in general, I just couldn’t pull the end of this story together like I’d planned. Of course, being fixated on the Australian Open didn’t help, either. What can I say, I’m a sucker for Grand Slam tennis, plus it was my escape from dayjob hell.

      I did manage to pull together Act II of my story, and that’s what I brought to the biweekly crit group vivisection yesterday. Here’s what they said:

      For the Win

      • This section was “intriguing.” (I get that a lot these days)
      • Good character details: e.g. being a member of MUFON; scene on the train ride in; what she wears to work
      • Apparently, the way I wrote a section showing “The Battle of the Moon” was 95% win, in terms of its description and most of the details of how my protagonist came upon it.


      • Good question on one reader’s part: I never described wtf MUFON was.
      • I ended Act II with a confusing situation. Out of seven readers, only one verbalized what was going on, and even that was only a guess on his part.
      • One thing I apparently failed to fix from the last section I brought, my character still isn’t showing enough of her alleged skepticism. She’s still taking what’s told to her at face value.
      • The 5% of “Battle of the Moon” fail had to do with exactly how the MC stumbled onto it.

      I probably will not be bringing Act III to group. I’m behind, not only in terms of my personal goal of finishing and sending off one new story per month, but because the deadline to submit this story as the opening salvo in my contest with the other Four Horsemen is today. I did get some plotting help from the other members of my crit group, and I already have one of my trusty beta-readers on what I already have. The plan is to finish this bitch and fire it out to the rest of my beta readers today or tomorrow. Okay, Wednesday. After all, Mercedes has already drawn steel.

      Tough Love

      It’s been way too long since I’ve had an example of my critique group’s biweekly vivisection of my writing (Holy shit–August? Really, Don?). If you’ll recall, the latter portion of 2009 was spent rewriting. But, one of my 2010 goals is to write a story a month, so I had to have something to bring this time around.

      I brought Act I of the story that I hope will make people dance for me.

      Here’s what the group had to say…

      For the Win

      • One reader was drawn to the main character. She “loved her voice.”
      • Another liked the description of the internet communications between the main character and the supporting character–an alien.
      • A few readers liked the opening hook, which let them know what kind of story this was, and more importantly, what kind of story it wasn’t.
      • One commented on the “pop culture/sci-fi mix” I worked into the story. cf. the film Contact, except for the immediacy of the meeting between human and alien in my story.
      • Everyone thought one aspect of the story–which I’ll keep secret for now–was a really good device.
      • Overall, the story was called “fun” and most of my descriptions “good.”


      • The main character had a bit of skepticism in her, which she should’ve shown during her first alien encounter…
      • In particular, one piece of evidence I invented for the alien to convince the MC that he was an alien wasn’t all that convincing (this is why I hate writing sci-fi ;)).
      • One reader had a different opinion of the way I wrote the initial internet communication between the MC and the alien (emails and chats). He saw what I was trying to do stylistically, but wondered why I just didn’t write the emails like emails, and the chats like straight up chats.
      • My description of the alien, while generally clear–except for the alien’s clothes–raised questions as to certain mechanics (especially regarding the aspect of it I need to keep secret right now :)).
      • There were some beats missing in the last scene of Act I–readers questioned the way things escalated between the MC and the alien.

      I don’t mind telling you that the whole thing went a lot better than I thought it was going to go. I was able to come up with (what I believe to be) quick fixes for most of the problems the group pointed out to me. In the end, though, I’m glad the problems seemed to be in the details, rather than in any fundamental story flaw.

      There’s a first time for everything, huh? 🙂