Saturday, January 15, 2011

Writing what you don't know

I'm currently working on a horror novel (the plot of which will remain a secret for now). In a groove, I was cruising right along although something in the back of my mind kept nagging at me about chapter two. By chapter six the nagging got persistent enough that I stopped and went back.

There's a popular rule of thumb for writers to keep going forward. Finish your first draft and then go back and start editing. If you're constantly going back to edit, you'll never finish. It's good, solid, advice and something that I always ignore. Ideas are constantly popping into my brain for things to change (and hopefully improve) in the previous chapters. I regularly go back and re-edit and yet I've been able to complete three novels thus far. As I've said a number of times, a writer has to do what works best for them.

Anyway, I re-read chapter two for the umpteenth time and wondered how realistic it came across (if you're questioning yourself there's probably a pretty good chance it's wrong). I'm not talking about the supernatural stuff (that's in chapter one and bypasses chapter two), but the human condition in certain situations and how certain professionals conduct business. Okay, I'll give away this much ~ there are cops and lawyers involved. I emailed the chapter to a friend of mine who does have the expertise in that area, and asked if this sounded realistic. A couple of days later we got together for lunch. After the pleasantries and catching up we got around to my novel. She told me she read the chapter and then she just shook her head. She started with 'a law firm would never do that' and went on to explain why. In the back of my mind I'm thinking 'okay, that's not too bad, I can probably get away with creative license.' Then she went to the next part.  A little bit more complex but I figured I could fix it with a minor rewrite. The next point was a biggie. 'That would never happen!' And her reasons were sound. As she went on it became very clear that I'd have to change the entire direction of the plot (let alone get rid of, or at least change dramatically some of the characters). It also meant that chapters three, four, five, and six were useless (well, not really useless, but I'll get to that in a minute). That was a couple of weeks worth of work down the drain. Had I gone with the rule about keep going forward ~ yikes!

Am I sorry I asked for her advice? Not in the least ~ I'm grateful! And I'm grateful to have a friend who I can trust to tell it as it is without sugarcoating to spare my feelings. I'm sure you've all read books where you came across a passage or chapter where it was clear the author didn't know what (s)he was talking about. For me that ruins the entire novel. Unless the novel is great up to that point, I'll usually quit reading. There are enough good books out there that I'm not going to waste my time on a book that pisses me off because of the writing. I just wish I would've asked when I first felt that pang of doubt. Now, after mega rewriting, I feel the novel is much stronger. As for chapters three through six, well, I put them in a separate file. I know there will be places where I'll be able to pick out bits of scene and dialogue and use them later.

It all goes back to write what you know. If you don't know it ~ research (which includes friends).

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Pariah ~ a book review

First off, I have to say that I am in no way (as far as I know) related to Bob Fingerman. I actually discovered his existence when I was googling my name (yes, I do that occasionally). I became a fan after reading his novel Bottomfeeder. I became a bigger fan after reading Pariah. He's probably more famous for his graphic novels, but I digress.

Zombies have taken over the world. How? Dunno. What happened? Dunno. Initially, I was a bit disappointed that there was no answer. The story focuses on a small handful of New York survivors trapped in their Upper East Side apartment building.  Shoulder-to-shoulder, zombies surround their entire universe. With no communication to the outside world, if there is an outside world, the survivors, thus the reader, only know what's going on in the here and now. They didn't know how it all happened, other than it was quick. So as long as they didn't have any inside information that I didn't, all was forgiven.

Hopelessness reigns with starvation gaining fast. As the few left are coming to terms with their fate, from out of nowhere appears Mona, a girl who can freely walk among the undead. Where did she come from? Dunno. Where was she going? Dunno. But she agrees to make a food and supply run and move into one of the unoccupied apartments. Suddenly there is hope, but for how long? Will the group ruin a good thing trying to figure out how she can move freely while they're stuck in their prison?

Pariah is a tension filled, faced paced novel (which says a lot considering that these are the breed of zombies that don't move too fast). There are a number of questions brought up ~ some answered/some not. Some of the non-answers I felt fine about, others I felt put off. I really wanted to know. I guess that's a credit to the author because I was that into his characters. Fingerman writes a colorful cast of survivors and his warped sense of humor is sprinkled not so delicately throughout.

The rod felt good in his hands. Sturdy. He cast the line – the noose weighted with a brass plumb bob – and jiggled the pole to test the swivel's mobility. Smooth. Beer in one hand, rod in the other, Eddie could almost imagine being on the high seas, maybe off the coast of Cozumel. p. 287 Yes ~ Eddie is on the roof of his building fishing for zombies.

Fingerman convinced my sense of disbelief that the world as I knew it was over.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year Resolutions

For a number of years I made the typical new year resolutions ~ lose weight, live healthier, be nicer, blah, blah, blah. On good years I lasted about a week. I'd feel guilty for a little while and then think there's always next year (gave me an excuse to be a fat jerk the rest of the year).  Last year my new year's resolution was to make no new year's resolutions. That way I broke the resolution at the exact moment I made it ~ thus, no pressure. Resolution broken and I could get on with my life. This year, I dunno, maybe I'm feeling a bit nostalgic, but I decided to give the resolution thing another shot. I could just as easily wait a week or two and call them goals, but what the hell. First off, I gotta go with the most popular - lose weight. Nothing more need be said on that one. Besides, this is a writing blog so I'm going to stick to writing topics for the most part.

Okay, my first goal (ooops, excuse me ~ resolution): I resolve to complete two manuscripts before the end of the year ~ at least the first drafts. I can't use lack of time as an excuse.

Resolution number 2: I will update my blog regularly. If I don't, you, dear readers, have my permission to kick my butt (in the figurative sense only - preferably by email).

Speaking of the blog ~ along with occasional book reviews and guest bloggers I would also like to keep this a somewhat open forum. If you have any subject (writing related) that you'd like my, ahem, expertise about, drop me an email and I'll see what I can do.

Resolution number 3: Aw, hell with number 3. I think this is enough for the time being. I do have others but they're not writing related so I ain't going there. On that note . . .

I wish you all a happy, healthy, and successful 2011.