Thursday, April 17, 2014

#TBT and SLC Comic Con

I'm at SLC Comic Con FanXperience today, tomorrow, and Saturday. Today was great but exhausting. Some great panels, lots of creative costumes, and James Marsters. Yes, that's right, I spent just a wee bit of time with Spike today, and that was awesome.

The costumes got me thinking, though. I didn't plan on dressing up for this Comic Con because I wanted to present at least a vaguely professional front, but it did remind me of some fun times Raych and I have had dressing up for random stuff. So, while I have never done a #TBT before (throwback thursday, it's a thing), I'll try one now. Check it out:

The Joker. I can be creepy when I have a mind to be.


Raych and some friends as Trelawney, Rita Skeeter, and Bellatrix LeStrange, at the HP 7.2 premier.

Final Fantasy! Black Mage, Moogle, Aeris, Tifa, Cloud.

Making this Buster Sword may be one of the greatest things I've ever done.

The Avengers - Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, Black Widow, Thor.

Comic Con has def made me miss this hair....
So, there you have it. Proof I'm a complete nerd, and I don't care who knows it. Who am I kidding, you all knew that already.

So, yeah. I'm going to enjoy Comic Con. You may or may not hear from me in the next few days; if not, I've fallen into the black hole of conventions.........

Some Site Updates

Updated the following:

Changed my bio a bit.

Reorganized my Formative Influences page and explained #FIF.

Updated my Current Projects page, detailing the Blood Queen series and the currently existing projects in that universe.

Check 'em out, yo!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Story Structure (and Dan Harmon is Awesome)

So a couple weeks ago, before I dove into Dark Immolation, I was researching plot structure. My agent, when he first gave me notes on Duskfall, pointed me towards Dan Harmon's ideas of story structure, and reading his stuff got me thinking. Then I got to more reading. And suddenly I'd read a bunch of books and websites on story structure. So, I think it's safe to say that I'll be writing a series of posts on story structure in the next month or two.

But today I want to focus on Dan Harmon's method, which is pretty much the lens through which I'll be looking at the other forms because, let's be honest, it's the best. Or at least it's the best one for me. I've studied story structure in the past--most notably Dan Wells' 7-point structure, as well as Lou Anders' "hollywood formula at Worldcon last year--but nothing cemented in my brainbox quite like Dan Harmon's. I'll briefly cover it here, but he's a lot better at explaining it than I am, so if you're interested I suggest checking out the following:

Story Structure 101: Super Basic Shit
Story Structure 102: Pure, Boring Theory
Story Structure 103: Let's Simplify Before Moving On
Story Structure 104: The Juicy Details (this one is by far the most comprehensive, and what motivated me to go out and actually read things like Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces, but I suggest at least starting with 101 and 102 to get the basics down first)
Story Structure 105: How TV is Different
Story Structure 106: Five Minute Pilots

This is from my white-board wall, btw. Have I mentioned I have a
white-board wall? It's awesome.
So Harmon's basic idea is that you draw a circle, as demonstrated, with the following eight points around it:

  1. You
  2. Need
  3. Go
  4. Search
  5. Find
  6. Take
  7. Return
  8. Change

Ignore the stuff written in the middle of the circle; I may or may not go into more detail on that later (but Harmon does, so again, if you're interested, check out those websites above). For now I'm just going to focus on the eight plot points.

The story begins with you, a character who either is you (metaphorically or otherwise) or with which you can empathize, sympathize, or to which you can relate in just about any way. Said character then discovers they need (/want) something. S/he then goes to a location, condition, or set of circumstances that is unfamiliar to them (hence the shaded lower half of the circle--it represents the unknown, the un/subconscious, the dark basement where chaos reigns) and searches for the thing s/he needs, often by/through adapting to the new circumstances. S/he finds what was needed, and takes control of his/her destiny and pays the price for it. Then the character returns to the comfortable/familiar situation, having changed in significant, life-altering ways, after such a fashion that s/he now has mastery over the world in which s/he lives.

It's simple, it's elegant, and what perhaps hits home most of all for me is how much Harmon emphasizes the every-day-ness of it all--this basic journey is reflected in all narratives. The circular pattern of descent into chaos and return to order drives all stories; Harmon says to
Get used to the idea that stories follow that pattern, [...] diving and emerging. Demystify it. See it everywhere. Realize that it's hardwired into your nervous system, and trust that in a vacuum, raised by wolves, your stories would follow this pattern. ("Story Structure 101")
That, more than anything else, draws me to this method of structuring stories. Other methods, to me, seem a bit too focused on plot points and what-happens-where and get a little too specific for me. This, instead, simply teaches me what a story is, and then gives me the freedom to make what I want with it.

So, in the next couple weeks (months?), I'll be examining at least two (perhaps more) significant methods of story structure, but I'll use Harmon's formula as the lens through which to view them. I think it'll be interesting. If you do, too, come on back and check it out.

Sidenote: By the way, right now I'm watching Community (written by Dan Harmon). For the first time. So many friends have insisted I watch the show, and I've finally gotten a hold of the first few seasons. And okay folks, this show is DELIGHTFUL. It is brilliant and hilarious and uses all sorts of TV and film tropes in wonderfully curious ways. It's a little early to say for sure (I'm only a few episodes into season 2), but it may have already usurped my co-favorite sitcoms, Arrested Development and Seinfeld. It's that good. So, yeah, I might talk more about that one day, too.

Monday, April 14, 2014

So Apparently...

...I missed a really cool thing, like a month and a half ago. For those of you who don't know, I have an agent over at JABberwocky these days. But a funny thing: when I was waiting for Sam to get back to me, before it was official, I would check the JABberwocky website like a dozen times a day just to see if there was any information, the slightest hint, of something official in the works for me (which, in retrospect, is totally crazy, because of course they would contact me with anything official before they posted it online...but my mind is crazy like that).

Once I signed with them, though, I was so flabbergasted and excited I forgot to scour their website for anything related to me. I lost track of my ego for a while, basically, which is kind of awesome, but always a temporary thing for me.

Anyway, my ego recently crept back up on me, and I found this page on their website. It's not much, but in some ways it kind of is. It is for me, anyway. Check out the fifth paragraph on the page, the last largish paragraph. The paragraph with my name in it.

It's these parts of the process that make me love what I'm doing, and, honestly, love where I am right now. Don't get me wrong--I can't wait to write more books, I can't wait to see my books in print, I can't wait to do all sorts of things. But seeing this makes me happy.

I don't know. It's kind of a cool thing. Sometimes an ego boost is necessary.

Friday, April 11, 2014

#FIF: The Things They Carried

I've already told you about what might be my favorite novel of all time. Now, let me tell you about what might be my favorite short story collection.

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien is brilliant. For me, it is the pinnacle combination of sharp, beautiful prose, and engaging, meaningful stories. Characters are vivid--helped by the fact that TTTC could also be read as a novel, as many of the same characters are recurring with there own vague character arcs, and there are some definite recurring themes.

But I prefer to think of it as a set of short stories. Each piece feels more powerful to me that way; they enhance each other but do not depend on one another.

I normally rate stories in collections I read on a 5-star system. Most collections, even by my favorite authors, have two, maybe three stories if they're incredibly saturated with talent, that merit five stars. The Things They Carried has nine*. Nine five-star stories, on my admittedly subjective scale, and not a single story with less than three (which is also a common occurrence--at least two or three stories are below three stars--in single-author collections). In fact, TTTC was the first collection I read where I had to modify my 5-star system simply because a few stories stood out even more than the nine that already achieved 5-star status. While the titular story is phenomenal, and many others are beautifully told, my three favorites in the collection are "On the Rainy River" (filled with brutal honesty, I feel like I'm genuinely in the narrator's shoes, in his head, experiencing things as he experienced them), "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong" (fascinating character study, a change in structure, and perhaps one of the most haunting stories in the collection), and "The Lives of the Dead" (a non-war story that is still very much a war story, a story that manages to display real, tangible, genuine emotions, a story that deals with death, coping, and stories themselves).

But I'm not doing the collection justice. There is so much to say about it that I don't know how to say.

Here's maybe the general thing I'm getting at: Tim O'Brien is a brilliant writer. If I could aspire to write like anyone, O'Brien just might be at the top of my list. (Fortunately, as I writer, I've decided not to aspire to "write like" anyone, mainly because I honestly don't think it can be done, so there isn't much pressure where that is concerned.)

I'm particularly fascinated by his treatment of the concept of writing stories in the stories he's written (Tim O'Brien was meta before it was cool). He'll say things like
By telling stories, you objectify your own experience. You separate it from yourself. You pin down certain truths. You make up others. You start sometimes with an incident that truly happened [...], and you carry it forward by inventing incidents that did not in fact occur but that nonetheless help to clarify and explain. ("Notes")
For more than twenty years I've had to live with it, feeling the shame, trying to push it away, and so by this act of remembrance, by putting the facts down on paper, I'm hoping to relieve at least some of the pressure on my dreams. ("On the Rainy River")

Story-truth is sometimes truer than happening truth. ("Good Form" - actually, I could quote this entire story [it's only two pages long], because it gets at the heart of why his stories are so meaningful to me.)
Each one of those ideas cuts to the heart of me, of why I write in the first place. I tell stories to separate the truth of what I've experienced from what I've experienced--because, in my mind, there is a difference. I tell stories to "relieve at least some of the pressure on my dreams," because if I don't, they begin to overwhelm me. I tell stories because they are emotionally more true than the factual world I see around me. That doesn't mean I tell stories for the happy endings; sort of the opposite, actually. I tell stories for the true endings. The one's that are meaningful, that have been worked for, that the story deserves.

Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried speaks to me because almost every single one of the stories penetrates deep down to the very reason I write in the first place. And I love that, because stories are meaningful. Stories are beautiful, and they are true, even (and sometimes especially) when they're not. And, most of all, because
This too is true: stories can save us. ("The Lives of the Dead")

* Those nine stories, in the order they appear in my collection, are as follows: "The Things They Carried," "On the Rainy River," "How to Tell a True War Story," "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong," "Stockings," "The Man I Killed," "Notes," "Good Form," and "The Lives of the Dead." Each one is amazing.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Dark Immolation Progress

You may have noticed the progress bar for Dark Immolation slowly creeping up--at 4% now.

I have to say, it's wonderful to actually be composing again. Revisions have a certain appeal, but they have a certain, well, tediousness to them, too. Composing (or writing a first draft of a story), while much more difficult, is far more interesting, rewarding, and compelling. This is where the magic happens. This is where ideas I've never remotely considered begin popping off the page. It's where characters take shape, where they cut their teeth.

And, I have to say, Sarca--the main protagonist of Dark Immolation--is definitely taking shape. She's pretty freaking awesome. Or, at least, she will be by the time the book is done. DI is a bit of a coming of age story, a bit of a character study, and a bit of a zombie fantasy survival novel. It's basically awesome.

My current goal for writing DI is at least 1000 new words each day. So far that's been turning into 1200-1300, which is good news. I'm starting the goal small because it usually takes a while for me to build momentum with new projects. During the most intense parts of Duskfall I was pumping out 3k, sometimes almost 4k every day--a pretty lofty goal. Hopefully, with DI, I'll get to that point again. But for now it's a minimum of 1k/day. And sometimes those 1000 words take me an hour (which was the case Monday and Tuesday); sometimes they take me five (which was the case today--but that last hour flew). It's sort of weird how writing works, isn't it? As I get further along in DI, I expect to be more productive in the same amount of time. I don't know how that works, but it does. At least for me, at least so far.

It's interesting working on another novel, too. I finished DF five years ago, and while I've technically "started" two novels since then (about 20k words on one, about 7k words on another--which happened to be the first version of DI, actually), I haven't committed to any new projects. Between getting an MFA (and writing a collection of short stories as a thesis--the past 5 years have consisted of a lot of short stories, for me), teaching, and revising DF, I haven't had much time. But, now that DF is basically out of my hands, there's no better time to start something new. And it's exciting. It's also terrifying. The fear of belly-flopping and writing a complete disaster of a novel is sort of omnipresent. The very prose I'm writing often feels just...well...awful. But I'm a discovery writer, and it helps to remind myself of that. My first drafts are almost always, to quote Anne Lamott, rather shitty. First drafts are where the magic happens for me, but later drafts are where the magic comes together in something cohesive, coherent, and relatively well-written. So here's to that happening.

Anyway, there's a brief update on what's going on with me. Progress on DI is creeping along. In other news, my wife and I are planning for a trip to Italy we're taking later this year--we're going to be backpacking around the entire country, from Palermo to Milan. It's going to be aaaamaaaaziiiing (in Jean-Ralphio falsetto, in case you didn't catch that). So that is happening, too.

Basically, I'm just plugging away.