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Oddly Specific

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I don’t watch Downton Abbey. I’ve tried a few times, and I found it mildly engaging, but somehow I’m just not as into it as so many people seem to be. Which is strange, since I usually do like that kind of thing. And it’s got a fabulous cast. Maybe I should try it again . . .

In any case, this post isn’t about Downton Abbey (though I’m happy to hear comments about the show and why you love it—or don’t, as the case may be). It’s just that I had an oddly specific dream last night that reminded me of [the very little I know about] Downton Abbey, and that got me thinking about it.

The dream was actually about playing a kind of parlour game in which each participant took on the role of a member of an aristocratic British family. There was an element of charades about the whole thing—we even dressed up—but there were complicated rules as well. There were papers where we kept track of who owed money to whom and all the little in fights between characters. I was Sir Thomas, the eldest son of . . . I dunno, the two rich parents. Even though I was the son, I was an adult, as were my two younger sisters. And we had a family friend who’d been the mistress of Sir Alfred, Lordy Tennyson.

Weird thing was, though everything was very Victorian in flavor, all the dates on the papers in the game were in the 1700s. (And yet Tennyson was the 1800s, wasn’t he?) Like, something happened in 1707. And then we traveled the Continent from 1714–16. And we took a trip on a huge steamer at some later point, too. I remember wearing a dinner jacket and bow tie and the like, and I can picture my sisters in their white, lacy dresses and big Victorian hats with ribbons . . . I was lying on the floor of the parlour (no idea why) and the girls jumped on me, laughing and teasing. That part is very vivid to me.

I suppose it means something to dream about being (or pretending to be) a man when I’m not, but really, I always had to be “the boy” when I played with my friends, and it never bothered me. So the dream might just as easily be speaking to my actual experience. I’ve never worn a tuxedo, though. That was different.

No one playing the game with me was anyone I actually know. I have no clue why I was at this place, playing this game to begin with. Seemed to be some kind of house party . . . ::shrug::

Anyway, I woke up thinking it was all rather Downton Abbey. At least, from the little bit of the show I’ve seen. I found myself wondering how one would play such a game when the events were so clearly laid out; where is the room for chance or whatever? I suppose the fun was to be had in the acting it all out, like a theatrical. (And there was no set dialogue, only the events.) And I wondered whether it was a real historical family or something made up . . . It was just a very strange and oddly specific dream. And I’m used to having these kinds of dreams, but . . . There was something different about this one, though I can’t quite put my finger on what or why.

Getting There

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Whenever I start to feel discouraged about my writing “career” (if I can even really call it that), people inevitably step up to tell me what a great writer I am and that I’ll “get there.”

I take issue with this.

For one thing, There is a moving target. Everyone’s personal idea of success is different. Plenty of people think it’s amazing I’ve won a screenwriting award and had plays and movies produced. And there was probably even a time when I would have found that amazing. But now I just want to make it to the next There.

But what really sort of irritates me is how smoothly and quickly people assure me that I’ll make it. Because logically—and it’s often my logic that squelches things, acting like freezing air on a helium balloon—none of these people are in a position to know, or to ensure my “getting there.” And statistically, it’s far less likely that I’ll make it than that I will. Depending, of course, on your definition of “making it.”

Just think about it: How many authors become big names and bestsellers? Like, of the New York Times variety, I mean. How many screenwriters manage to sell their scripts, much less get them turned into movies that people actually pay to see? There are millions, maybe even billions of “creatives” in the world, each of them trying to get their efforts noticed, each trying strike at just the right time. Some of these people have genuine talent, but they still aren’t going to get an agent, a publisher, a producer, etc.

This isn’t much by way of a pep talk, and it’s not meant to be. Because I believe in being realistic.

In the face of all this, there are days—weeks, even—when I can’t bring myself to write. It feels futile.

But then (and this is how I know I’m truly a writer) I’ll start to get restless and antsy and generally unpleasant. Because when I don’t write, it all gets bottled up, and when I start to get worked up, it’s like shaking that soda can—everything comes spewing out. Better to have it pour out onto the page than drench the people around me in my animosity. If all goes well, my characters take the brunt of it.

So, yeah. I write. And I submit. And either I get rejections or never hear anything, and I start to feel discouraged again . . . It’s a vicious cycle.

Of course, nowadays there are ways to be sure one at least achieves the goal of publishing something, namely by self-publishing it. That reduces some of the pressure to find a literary agent and/or publisher. Certainly, if no one will take Peter, I’m fine with doing it myself. Though that means more work in the marketing and all that.

It’s far more challenging to make your own movie, though people are doing it more and more. I’m not sure I’m to the point that I could take that on myself.

And I guess I need to figure out where my There is. At what point will I be satisfied? What will it take for me to feel like I’ve “made it”? I don’t know. I keep thinking I’ll know if and when I get there. But with every victory—a play being produced, someone licensing a script—I find I want to reach a little farther.

Still, don’t promise me anything. Unless you’re an agent or producer who can actually put things in motion, don’t tell me I’ll “get there.” I realize you’re trying to be kind, but I can only find it exasperating. Offer me concrete advice, or sympathize with my situation, but don’t go the avenue of false hope. Lifting me up only gives me farther to fall if I fail.

TBT: Parageography Outline #4

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I know you’ve all been waiting for more of these, right?

Apollonius of Rhodes: The Voyage of Argo,
There are Nearly Back Again,
Hitting the Hinterlands with Half a Hundred Hunks,
Cruise to the Crimea for Fun and Profit!

I. A Pithy Restatment of the Course’s Aims and Procedures

He had bought a large map
      representing the sea,
   Without the least vestige of land:
And the crew were much pleased
      when they found it to be
   A map they could all understand.

“What’s the good of Mercator’s
      North Poles and Equators,
   Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?”
So the Bellman would cry:
      and the crew would reply,
   “They are merely conventional signs!

“Other maps are such shapes
      with their islands and capes!
   But we’ve got our brave Captain to thank
(So the crew would protest)
      that he’s bought us the best—
   A perfect and absolute blank!”

–Lewis Carroll
The Hunting of the Snark, Fit II

I.* Apollonius of Rhodes and Parageographical Sophistication
     A. Tradition and Reality as Limits
          1. The Odyssey previsited
               a. Aeaea [Aiaia] = Aea2 [Rieu, p. 165]
               b. The Sirens at Anthemoessa [171]
               c. Scylla & Charybdis [Skylla & Kharybdis] [172]
               d. Thrinacia [Thrinakie] [173]
               e. Wedding at Drepane [=Skheria=Kerkyra=Corcyra=Corfu**] [178]
          2. Dealing with the Known: Phineus’ Exhaustive Prophecy [79–84]
          3. The Traveller’s Guide to the Black Sea
               a. The Thermodon River [99]
               b. Missing the Amazons [100]
               c. The Chalybes [100]
               d. The Tibareni [101]
               e. The Mossynoeci [102]
          4. Dealing with the Unknown Known1: Book 4
               a. Europe
               b. Africa
          5. And, as for the Really Unknown….
     B. AEtiology: TIME Gets Into Space
          1. A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far. . . .
          2. Ktiistic Legends, e.g.:
               a. The Apsyrtians [160]
               b. The Temple of Concord on the Island of Thynias [92–3]
               c. Calliste [104]
          3. Forerunning the Odyssey [as in III.A.1 above]
               a. Scheria once again. . . or, rather, once before
          4. Curious Result: The temple-studded landscape
     C. The Voyage Itself: Structure
          1. The Foci of the Ellipse: From Aea to Aea2
               a. Well, actually, it’s inaccurate to call them Foci
               b. And it’s rather as though there were Two Ellipses. . .
               c. . . . better make that Three
          2. Wunnerful, Wunnerful: The Incidence of Marvels
          3. Unlikely Expansions
               a. Po and Portage
                    [1] Into Darkest Europe
                    [2] Hoist that Boat!
               b. Rechauffées
               c. Technology
               d. Mentalism
     D. Knowing the Territory: Two Examples
          1. The Syrtis Affair [pp. 180 ff.]
               a. Confusion of Realms
               b. Moral Space: The Effect of Landscape
          2. The Distressing Affair at Bear Mountain [pp. 62–4]
               a. The Other Side
               b. The Night Side
               c. Moral Space: The Effects of Landscape and Time
     E. Variations on the Themes
          1. Amechania and the anti-hero
          2. Amis de voyage
          3. Here there bee Dragons
          4. The Garden of Aeëtes
          5. Confusion compounded
          6. Sex rears its many heads: (R & R)n
          7. The landscape of Olympus
          8. And what about Apollo?
     F. Not-so-brave-new-world
          1. Altered Nature
          2. . . . and more than Nature, Art
          3. Witchcraft
          4. How beastly the bourgeois is. . . .
     G. Disturbing Limits: The World in a Bell Jar
          1. The crack in the dome [181]
          2. Happily Never After [195]
Time PerspectiveII. Looking Backward, 275 BC–1200 BC
     A. Fascinating Arcs, and all that, but what do they mean? [And why is the diagram openended, so to speak?]
          1. Treating the Mythic Past
               a. The Past as Present
               b. The Past as Future
               c. The Future as Past
               d. The Past as Non-Existent
               e. The Past as Spectacle
          2. The Role of NOW
          3. Intertextual Complexities
          4. And so, the not quite hermetically sealed Bell Jar:
               Happy, happy, happy pair,
               None but the brave,
               None but the brave,
               None but the brave deserve the fair….

III. Some other vresions of the ARGONAUTIKA for the curious
     A. Pindar, Pythian IV [5th BC]
     B. Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica [late 1st AD]
     C. “Orpheus,” Argonautica [4th AD]
     D. William Caxton, The Historye of Iason [1470?]
     E. William Morris, The Life and Death of Jason [1867]
     F. Robert Graves, Hercules, My Shipmate [1945]
     G. John Gardner, Jason and Medeia [1973]
     H. Tim Severin, The Jason Voyage [1985]
IV. An Attempt at Getting the Argo’s Voyage on a Single Page:
Argo Voyage
* Yes, Doc Parker used I. twice, so I’ve left it true to the original.
** I went to Corfu the summer after taking this course and could only keep thinking it was the island from the myths . . .

1 To distinguish it from Asia Minor, the Known Unknown

Finding What Works

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Screenwriting, I’m learning, is kind of like cooking. There’s a basic broth/recipe (formula, structure, however you prefer to describe it), and then you add your own personal ingredients to the mix. Then comes the taste testing and the tweaking.

And just like with food, no one soup is to everyone’s taste.

What got me thinking about this is the fact the rom-com I co-wrote has had some wildly varying feedback from a number of readers. My co-author and I wrote and added stuff and took out stuff until we thought we had a pretty good “dish.” Friends read it and said, “Too much salt,” or “Needs more pepper.” So we tweaked our recipe and sent the script out.

One agent said, in effect, “It’s overcooked.”

Another reader really, really liked it. (Now we’re waiting to see if it goes anywhere in that particular competition.)

And yet another reader also really, really liked it but still said something “tasted funny.” Well, what he actually said was there were some “stylistic details” were lacking. So maybe it didn’t so much as “taste funny” as was missing some ingredient, though he didn’t seem able to specifically name what that ingredient might be. Still, he did say he’d look at another draft AND would possibly consider the writers for other work. That’s a bit flattering.

The rule of thumb, for me, is if a lot of people make the same remark—if several people say there’s too much tomato or whatever—that’s when I know to take that remark seriously. If, on the other hand, one person says there’s too much tomato and another says there’s not nearly enough . . . Well, I probably need a third opinion. But on the whole, I can go with my gut about those kinds of things. Because some people just really do or do not like tomato, and so even a little would be too much, or even a lot would still have them asking for more.

This probably goes for prose as well. Workshops are handy, and beta readers and critique partners, and if you’re getting a lot of the same notes from many different people, then it’s probably time to revisit whatever issue the readers are having. But if one person loves something and another person hates it . . . Either get more input or go with what feels right to you as the author.

As for the rom-com, it seems like a lot of readers find it very commercially viable. We may yet see success with it. Someone, somewhere, may find our work suits his or her palate.


Effigy Released

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Hey, remember when I revealed that cool cover? Well, now you can own it. Go to CreateSpace for your paperback copy. Kindle and other versions to follow.

White Lady Blog Tour

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White-Lady_front-cover_no-quoteDo you like to read psychological thrillers? Well, Jessica Bell’s giving away her latest release, WHITE LADY, for FREE, to every single person who signs up to the “Two Lies & a Truth” Blog Tour (taking place October 1–31). It’s hassle-free. All you have to do is post what she sends you to your blog (or Facebook page) and Bob’s your uncle. She will also be giving away a copy of the book to one lucky reader of your blog. More details and sign up form here: http://goo.gl/0EsZLo

You can also view the book trailer here: http://goo.gl/BeYPXV

I’ll be hosting Jessica on October 16th, so be sure to stop by then (and I’ll remind you closer to the date, too, of course).

, ,

Still Here. Kind of.

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I’ve been lax about posting, but mostly because there’s so little to say. I have a list of writing projects to edit and finish, and even some I’ve hardly started on . . . But I’m having a bit of trouble staying focused these days. The kids are home for the summer, and then there was vacation, and there has been some family things popping up and absorbing a lot of my energy. And then there are the everyday errands and chores . . . All excuses, I suppose, more than reasons for not getting more work done.

But it’s difficult to stay motivated sometimes, too. I find myself restless, waiting to hear about this or that submission, and when it’s bad news I tend to spiral downward for a couple days (at least—and the more I hoped for good news, or the more I expected a positive outcome, the longer the nadir). This is probably very normal, but it means I must be mindful and continue to plow ahead regardless. Easier said than done, however.

So, yes, I’m here. And around. And hopefully will have far more exciting things to say in the future. (In the meantime, follow spooklights for reviews and such.)

TBT: 1995

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My best friend’s mom posted these on Facebook. I can hardly believe . . . Well, anyway, we were at a party at a lakehouse in Austin. I’m on the left here (and that’s my best friend Tara on the right):


Of course I had to have my Dr Pepper!

And in the middle here:



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I borrowed this from Suzi over at Literary Engineer. The “game” is to take your current or most recently finished WIP, go to page 7 or 77, go to the 7th line and reproduce the next 7 lines. I’m using The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller. This is from page 77:

The room seemed suddenly too big without Gamby there to take up most of the space. Peter envisaged himself and Charles as two planets separated by a vast expanse of airlessness; in Peter’s mental picture they rotated slowly, each moving in its orbit, with not enough gravity between them to pull them together. But what did they orbit? What was their sun?

“You can’t go back.”

Peter tightened his grip on the plate he’d been drying, not out of anger but because the sudden sound of Charles’s voice had startled him. But Peter saw how Charles’s keen blue eyes found the white knuckles, watched the conclusion being arrived at in Charles’s mind.

I went with 7 sentences rather than actual lines since it would have been weird (I think) to stop mid-sentence.



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Like so many writers, I have peculiar relationships with my tools: paper, pens, pencils, typewriters, computers. I’m picky. Which makes sense because the physical side of writing requires a smoothness to allow the mental energy to flow uninterrupted.

I have pens and they all have particular jobs. Some for marking manuscripts up, some for actual writing. I have notebooks devoted to myriad tasks, each a size and color and design that seems “fit” for its job. But I have this one pencil . . . I love this pencil. The lead in it is perfect and it isn’t scratchy. It sharpens beautifully. And I got the stupid thing from a hotel of all places—I’m not even sure which hotel because the writing has rubbed mostly away. And the pencil is nearly a nub now, so I’m starting to worry what I’ll use when it’s gone.

I have other pencils, of course, but somehow none of them quite measure up to this one. I have a couple that came from the Lab (Sandia, here in town), but they have that weird lead that isn’t dark enough no matter how hard you push, and they don’t sharpen right. When you sharpen these, the wood parts from the lead and so the lead gets loose, sometimes even falls out entirely. There’s the government for you, using crap pencils. And I have a box of unsharpened PaperMate “American Classic” wooden pencils that write okay (once you sharpen them) but have useless erasers.

If I could figure out which hotel this pencil came from, I might find such a place and go see if I could thieve some pencils. That’s seriously how much I love this one. It is, quite possibly, the best pencil I have ever had. And it’s about to leave me alone in a vast world of paper and sub-par pencils . . . A writer’s nightmare . . .

Honestly, I think the pencil says “alofthotels.com.” I must plan to stay at another one of these to scope out the pencils.