Category archive: Writing

My Dirty Little Secret

I wrote a vampire novel.  There’s nothing like it to let your creativity flow.  You’re unencumbered by reality and free to concentrate on characters.  Unlike any other kind of fiction, the vampire novel immediately brings up all of the fundamental moral problems that face mortal humans.

What would you do to live forever?  Would you become a serial killer?

How will you face the end of your life: fighting or surrendering?

Do you believe in heaven and hell, reincarnation, a greater universe than what we see?  Are you secular, agnostic or atheist?  What would you do if incontrovertible proof of an alternate reality walked up and said, “I vant to suck your blood.”  Preferably stated with a Romanian accent.

Oh yeah, and since Bram Stoker, vampires have always been about sex.  What’s not to like?

But a writer with a vampire novel is invariably branded as a loser chasing a tired cliché–unless they get the wild success of Stephen King, Anne Rice or Stephenie Meyer.  Each of these writers produced wildly different flavors for that same soup–all tasty and all unique.

So what’s a writer to do with a vampire novel?

I’ve been warned by many pros over the years that your first novel is your brand, and forever after you must write in that field.  One agent compared it to a retail store: if you arrive one day for coffee and donuts but the next day the store is a sit-down gourmet restaurant–well the coffee crowd won’t be coming back, and the gourmet crowd probably won’t ever go because they thought it was a donut shop.

So my dilemma?  I’ve got my literary novel, In a Country Burning, about a lost young man caught up in Afghanistan’s war against Soviet occupation.  I even traveled with the mujahideen in Afghanistan in 1988 to research it–truly putting my life on the line for this novel.

But it’s my first, and despite endless rewrites, tweaks and effort, The Fogel has slammed it, stating that I need to look at the fundamental plot.  Not just an edit but a sit down and do-this-all-over from scratch deal.

But my vampire novel has a strong plot and unique story.  It’s tight, probably because I wrote it for fun–probably because I didn’t risk my life for it.

So do I send it to The Fogel?  Do I break all conventions and open up my store with a vampire novel and hope that the literary crowd will read In a Country Burning, my true passion, when it finally comes together?

Will my brand be forever tainted?

Or am I the brand.  This blog is about breaking all the traditional publishing rules.

Am I a Closet Luddite?

I think of myself as a tech using guy, but with technology changing so fast we’re always tested.  I hope I will never catch myself using expressions like “new-fangled.”  I’m determined to march through middle age without saying, “Back in my day we didn’t need…”  Refer to latest gadget here.

So I was surprised by my gut reaction to this link sent to me by The Fogel. She describes it as a toy for reviewing my novel, and her point is that there are some words I use with monotonous frequency.

This toy is designed to search your text, find those overused words and put them up in fun graphic displays.  The more you use a word, the bigger its size.

But Hemingway, Fitzgerald,  and all the greats didn’t have this toy.  I can’t imagine Margaret Atwood needing it.

Then I remembered my creative writing teacher at University of Toronto.  He told us that he prefers to write with an IBM typewriter, the way Hemmingway did back in the thirties.  I had to repress a derisive snort.  Hemingway used a typewriter because it was the word processor of his day.  I’m sure he had contemporaries who preferred to write long hand, and I bet they had all kinds of excuses like: the pen flows with my thoughts; the typewriter is too jarring and loud.

Hemmingway was using the modern tech gadget of his day. Writing a play with a quill won’t make me William Shakespeare.

So I will put my novel through this toy, because I want to use all the tools at my disposal to make it effortless for the readers.

But I admit I’m worried about the word brown.

Marathon Publishing

Writing–and I mean from the first moment fingers touch keys to the day someone buys something you wrote–is like running a marathon.  I can say this because I ran one yesterday, so unlike journalists who report about marathon bargaining sessions or marathon fund raising, I actually know what running 42.2 kilometers feels like.

Writing the novel is the easy part, the first half of the marathon, when you’re still excited from the start line and hoping for a quick and painless race to the end, to crossing that finish line, to getting published.  But once it’s written, you’re only half-way.

Editing is like 21k to 30k, when you realize that this is going to hurt, that you won’t get to the end without a fight.  You begin to consider dropping out, or at least slowing to a walk.  A lot of writers give up at this point.

Publishing is the wall at 32k.  Your body begs to stop.  Your mind starts to play tricks on you, like a cartoon devil on your shoulder whispering, “Just a little walk.  Just stop for a little walk and then you can make up the time.”  You’ll send to an agent next month.  You’ll search for a publisher after one more draft.

But luckily the cartoon angel on the other shoulder whispers, “Keep going.  Don’t give up.  Keep those legs moving.  Keep striving to get published, to get a reader to buy your book.

Promoting your novel is like the last three kilometers going uphill.  You’ve got nothing left, and it’s the most important part.  What’s the point of writing if hardly anyone reads your work?  What’s the point of running a marathon if you give up with the finish line in sight?

There is, however, one big difference between writing and marathons.  Marathons have a finish line.  Always.  You know success is there if you just keep going.

With writing there is no guarantee that you’ll reach a place where your sales are so good that it’s like having someone put a medal over your head and help you off to the refreshments tent with a pat on the back.

So when I think about it: running a marathon is a lot easier than writing and publishing.

But hopefully publishing doesn’t leave your muscles so stiff and sore.

Running Naked Through the Mall

The naked slating dream.  I know three other camera assistants who’ve had this dream, and I had it several times during the decade I spent as a Second Assistant Camera in Toronto’s film and television industry.

In the dream I was on set standing naked in a corner.  No one had noticed yet, but the 1st A.D. calls, “Roll Sound!”

Crap!  I’m the slater, the guy who holds the time-code slate in front of the camera and calls, “Thirty-six Apple.  Take One!  Marker!”  Smack the slate and get out of the shot ASAP without tripping on anything or ruffling the lead actor.  But I’m naked!  How can I jump into the middle of set?  The director, the producer, continuity, the A.D., the operator and the focus puller, this is the one moment they’re all looking straight at me, mostly waiting for me to do my thing and get out of the way.

But this dream doesn’t happen to just 2nd ACs.  Some of you have had this dream.  Maybe you were naked at the mall, running to get out before anyone noticed.  Worse, perhaps you were in your underwear in the high school cafeteria…and you’re a teacher.

Well writing is like that.

It’s easy to pose as an intellectual at a party.  No one really needs to know that your favorite show is Battlestar Gallactica.  All you have to do is spout back what you read in the newspaper.  It helps if it’s politically correct, or if you punctuate your found opinions with emphatic statements like, “We’ve each got our part to play in solving…”  Insert current crisis of the year here.  Presto!  You’re a thoughtful person—an intellectual.

But writing is like running naked through the mall.  People see you at your most vulnerable.  They can see inside your skull.  They can judge, they can smirk, and if they read on they KNOW what you were thinking.

If they’re smart.

So take a look.  Railroaded and Burning Moose are up there already.  The rest of my Storyteller Magazine stories will go up soon, to be followed by my contest winners and placers.  I’m letting you into my brain, my soul.

I’m running naked through the mall.

I like it.