Confessions of a Gay White Dude #WeNeedDiverseBooks


post2

So I’m 27k into the first draft of my current manuscript: Gaydreaming. And I’m encountering some real-time (and welcome) struggles and challenges as I go.

This is my 6th YA novel, and with all of them, representing the spectrum of sexual orientation and gender flavors has been an important aspect for me. Because of my own experience and life and goals, you see. I mean, I’m kinda queer. (Okay, okay, fine…I’m way gay.) I was married for a whole lot of years and have two amazing, phenomenal kids. I’m now with my partner of 4+ years in a state that’s still currently on the wrong side of history. I live in and understand a lot of the nuances of the LGBTQIA community and culture. What I don’t understand, I seek to. So, the orientation thing—I can comfortably speak on it & write about it.

I grew up in NC, admittedly as a not-like-the-rest-of-us-closeted-artistic-weirdo. To be sure. Still, I’m a white dude who started life in a microscopic, closed-off-to-the-world NC town. Later, I joined the Army, then my nomadic self kept me moving around a lot. Seven states. Multiple cities & towns in some of those. I’ve lived in random places and enjoyed a ton of experiences. I’ve met amazing people all over who greatly opened up my worldview and augmented my micro-town upbringing. All that to say, I’m comfortable writing about queer characters and experiences.

In some of my previous books, I also chose to dip my toes into racial & cultural diversity. (Apologies in advance. The word conscious is probably going to appear a lot in this post.) At the outset of this current manuscript, back in my meticulous plotting stage, I made a conscious effort to give this facet of diversity the same attention I’ve always given gender identity and orientation.

Right away, I knew that choice would start with a setting, a real-life geographical region which inherently possesses a diverse population. That would give me a strong, natural starting point I could (hopefully) build a cast and their stories from. I knew I wanted this story set in NC. Because home. But the one-stoplight-99%-white village I lived in until 4th grade wasn’t really gonna cut it! So I went a-researching for the most diverse metropolitan area in the state.

CITY DATA at http://www.city-data.com/  hooked me up.

The site contains a wealth of stats of all sorts, interactive maps, tables, and charts. Seriously, play around with it and see what it can do. So, Gaydreaming is set on the edge of the Research Triangle Park. For thematic reasons in the novel, I slid the setting to the southern edge of this diverse region, to a sort of limboland between Raleigh and Durham. (Perhaps fictionalized a ~little~ and given the regional name Umstead. I AM, after all, a writer.) Using the City Data info, I created my characters to accurately represent the population in this geographic area.

The base characters were in place! The basic foundation for a diverse cast was laid!

Then the more difficult part came. A million tweets and articles and conversations all swirled inside me: things to avoid, things that must be handled gingerly. In random order—just some of the snippets from personal experience and informal, online education—here are a few cautions and goals that are still thrumming through the process. It’s far from the exhaustive list. Maybe not even the most important items. But it’s a snapshot of some of the Post-its stuck to my mental walls.

  • FFS, don’t compare skin-tone to food. This link, If White Characters Were Described like People of Color in Literature, proves the point perfectly: http://www.buzzfeed.com/hnigatu/if-white-characters-were-described-like-people-of-color-in-l#.xwMBQdv1D
  • Hell! Avoid mentioning skin-tone or any non-essential appearance markers altogether! But then, my brain fights back, will the diversity be clear enough? Not feel glazed over? Then it swings to: well only mention such things if it matters to the POV character. Which, again, circles back to difficult. Would my pair of MCs, teens who grew up in a diverse community & are themselves POC, even make note of such things in their stories? Would they even notice?
  • An old lesson bubbled up: an article I read years ago about the crutch/stereotype/plot device of the “magical negro.” (If you don’t know what this refers to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_Negro) I confess, completely unconsciously, I created a character that was too close to fitting that mold a few novels and years back. Not exactly all the way, maybe only 33%, but that felt like too much. I’ve since revised that character. Because I learned, and I revisited my own characterization from way back then. There’s no risk of this particular error in my current WIP, but it’s still one of the Post-its. (And, maybe, you can add it to yours? Just in case.)
  • (FEAR INTERJECTION POST-IT: What if I ruin this? What if I get everything wrong? Screw it all up? Make bad decisions? F%&k s#*t up in this attempt?! Maybe I should just stick to the stuff, the experiences, I know firsthand. Maybe I should stick to gay, white characters, who grew up cowering in the closet. But the entire cast can’t fit that description…This story is so much more than that. Ugh ahhhhhh…)
  • Not making my characters diverse just to be “diverse”, but because representation is important. Because readers are important. Because we all have stories to tell. Because we’re all made of emotions, and wishes, and hopes, and fears, and dreams. Because even fiction, or maybe especially fiction, should echo and mirror and trump reality. Because #WeNeedDiverseBooks

Like I said, this is only a portion of the massively long list I’m consciously balancing. Beyond the struggle, though, I believe I’ve also (possibly?) found some creative solutions, ways to portray a cast of diverse, well-rounded characters without tumbling into the pitfalls. (God. I’m going to be honest here. This feels like doing jumping jacks naked in front of all of you. I’m not sure about any of this. But I’m damn sure giving it a go.)

  • UPDATE: I (thankfully!) stumbled upon the Writing With Color Tumblr http://writingwithcolor.tumblr.com/ WOW. Great info & dos/don’ts from a PoC’s perspective. Multiple moderators answer writerly questions and provide positive examples & guidance. This is a beautiful resource, which is, I believe, the reason it exists. I’m soaking up every drop.
  • Character names can help, right? First names, surnames. This obviously has to be handled carefully, too. Because stereotypes can slip in. Just to make it harder on myself, because of the real-life stats for fictional Umstead, a lot of families are culturally blended. It’s an international region. Still, I believe carefully chosen names can help in a subtle way.
  • There’s one kid in the friend group who is an aspiring chef. His family owns a restaurant/hangout place the characters frequent. I don’t know if this is going to work (because I haven’t gotten there in the draft yet) but Adrian’s character study says he likes to expand his skills and dish repertoire and asks for family recipes from the other characters. IDK? Maybe? That might be another subtle way to introduce the characters’ cultural backgrounds without being overt? (I’m trying here, guys. REALLY trying!)
  • Along the way, even in this first draft, I’m giving things a shot. Experimenting, I guess. (Insert that conscious word again.) I include a bit of description or characterization that’s hopefully just enough but not too much. I weigh it, take it out, put it back in, tweak it. All this will get edited again and again (and again), but I want even the initial draft to be carefully beautiful in how representation is handled. Not just for the queer or POC characters, but for every.single.character.

The point in me sharing any of this (because, seriously, it’s scary as hell) is to show that I’m trying, that I’m being conscious of my writing & characterization choices. I’m genuinely making an attempt. This story would be (get this) easier if I just didn’t worry about this aspect, right? But I do to care about it. I want to do these characters justice. I must.

So, yeah, my anguished junk’s laid bare. And, at this point, I have no idea if this attempt will be a success or a complete and utter failure. I’m hoping, expecting, for the first outcome in that list.

In case it’s not clear enough, my struggle with writing with diversity in mind begins and ends with a single word: conscious. But I guess a similar word, conscience, is in there , too: the complex of ethical and moral principles that controls or inhibits the actions or thoughts of an individual.

*stops doing naked jumping jacks*
*hopes something in these confessions helps somebody else, too*

Writerly Thoughts – Starting Tomorrow via @tangynt


future

One of my writer compadres shared this in an online group earlier this week. It could be a New Year kinda commitment, but I feel like now is a great time to share & think on these thoughts. The holiday season, after all, is a time to be thankful, celebrate, splash in nostalgia, and also look ahead.

With Leatrice McKinney’s full permission, please enjoy her writerly thoughts.

Starting tomorrow, I’m gonna take it easy on myself.

I’m not gonna think about the negative aspects of the industry or how I really feel about my WIP right now.

I’m not gonna focus on what I didn’t accomplish this year or where I wish my career was, but instead look at how far I’ve come and count my progress for the true difference it’s made in my life and my craft.

I’m not gonna compare myself to other writers. I don’t know what moats they’ve crossed to get to where they are or what waits for them on their journey. I’ve got my own path to follow.

I’m not gonna pull out my phone to check my email every five minutes, essentially LOOKING for rejection. It and acceptance will come on their own, my refresh button will not speed up or slow down the process.

I’m not gonna give my self-doubt an inch of room to try and grow. As a matter of fact, that mofo’s got to find somewhere else to set up shop entirely. GTFO.

I’m gonna celebrate my accomplishments, because—contrary to how I feel sometimes—they are there, and they are numerous.

I’m gonna celebrate my friends and colleagues’ successes. We’re in this together, and one writer’s advancement is NOT another writer’s hindrance.

I’m gonna focus on the love and acceptance from the people in my life who support me and what I do.

I’m gonna allow myself to feel victorious in the fact that I’m still moving forward.

If you understand, feel any of this, agree, or simply want to encourage her in this commitment, please give a Twitter shout out to @tangynt and let her know. You can also slide on over to her website: http://tangynt.wix.com/elle.

Thoughts on, like, voice. Or something.


Angela Chase + Jordan Catalano

Angela Chase + Jordan Catalano

So, I’m in training for this new job, right? Today is Day 3 of an 8-week session. Which, on the surface, sounds like a long time to train for a Customer Care Rep position. But the amount of info and data we have to access & interpret makes me believe this timeframe is fitting. Also, a large portion of this time will be hands-on, in-the-trenches, with coaches hovering nearby. If we newbies hit an issue we can’t deal with, we [literally] flip up a little, red mailbox flag and a coach will swoop in to bail us out.

I could definitely run this post in the direction of:
Wouldn’t it be cool to have little, red flags in every day life? We encounter some random patch of trouble, so we flip up our flag, and a hero comes swooping in to save the day?

But, instead, I’m gonna head in this direction:
My trainer has a lot of repetitious catchphrases.

I recently re-watched all 19 episodes of the My So-Called Life series from the mid 90’s. If you’ve experienced the show, then you may remember that it has a very distinct “voice”. For instance, the teen characters always seem so non-committal about most everything they say.

“I was just, like, thinking, that maybe we could hang out. Or whatever.”

“I mean, it might be fun to, like, go to the party. To try it out. Or something.”

Another recurring element which I couldn’t ignore was how everyone used whole names when referring to another character. Even though both teens in a given conversation totally, like, knew the 3rd party, they still added the last name for like, clarification. Or something.

Angela Chase
Jordan Catalano
Rayanne Graff
Rickie Vasquez
Bryan Krakow

I counted the occurrences of this phenomenon in one of the episodes: 25 times in an hour-long [Minus commercial breaks] show.

[Fun fact: The exception to this full-name-rule is, of course, “Tino”. He is the supposed leader of Jordan Catalano’s band, Frozen Embryos. He is mentioned in almost every episode, but is never seen on-screen. If he has a last name, it’s never spoken.]

At the time, I pondered my own writing and looked for my personal go-to phrases.

My trainer has me doing that again.

I’m sure some of his style/voice comes from the Official Trainer’s Training Guide. Here are some examples.
1) If anyone enters the room, like, for instance, the HR guy, a supervisor, or an employee who’s coming to share his/her work experience with us, we must clap. Before we even know who it is, we clap as they walk in. They speak, we ask questions, and then we clap again when the visitor leaves.
2) When a trainee answers a question, the trainer repeats the answer back. Every time.
3) Once the answer is repeated, the trainer follows up with a pat-on-the-back word: cool, awesome, good, sweet, nice. Every time. These words are also used to signal the completion of a given activity or module. You could set your watch by them.
4) Then there’s this one: After learning a new aspect of our positions, What questions do you have for me? Not, Does anyone have any questions about what we’ve just covered? But, What questions do you have for me? [Note: I may count the occurences today.]

These aren’t criticisms, mind you. Simply observations. And they have triggered me to analyze my own speech patterns, and any repetitious phrasing I fall back on in my writing. Not that a pattern is a bad thing. Certain identifiable ‘markers’ can go a long way towards establishing voice. The speech in My So Called Life and my training class are irrefutable proof of that.

Cool.

So, those are my thoughts on such things. Or whatever. I challenge you to listen to the folks around you and see if you can pick out phrases and physical cues which make them uniquely them. Since you don’t have a little, red flag to flip up, this exercise might help when it comes time to create your next character. I mean, it might be useful. Or, something. Maybe, paying attention to real people will make the fictitious ones more solid and believable. Or, whatever.

Sweet.

What questions do you have for me?

There Aint No Formula


Deviation

Yesterday, a friend in an online writing community noted that I hadn’t blogged in a couple weeks.

Have you noticed? There aint no formula for juggling all the stuff in our lives. I feel like I ought to tell y’all why I’ve been away. Like submitting a report to a boss or something. Here are some of my goals outside of blogging which have been keeping me from it:

There have been creative things. The biggest of which was completing a series of pieces for an exhibition which opened this past Sunday. The show is running on autopilot, so I’m over the hump on this one.  [Btw, the copper-clad, taxidermied bear was a huge hit.]

There have been business-related things: auctions, a ton of Ebay listing, and prep for the massive biannual show at our antique space down in Columbus. All the green tags are up and the stuff is selling like mad. This creates the need for regular trips to keep it fully stocked and maintained. The pressure will let off a bit when the sale ends this coming Sunday. Until then, the goal is to sell a ton of shit.

Ahhh, intellectual things. Catching up on some reading and helping a bud with his college Stats class. I know some folks may vomit at this statement, but…

I ❤ math.

Even though I never took a Stats class, I dig it. Part of the reason I like this task is because I’m only functioning in the role of tutor. The final grade isn’t up to me. I just get to assist, make observations & suggestions, guide the guy through the process and try to help him understand the concepts. He has failed this class twice already and it is the last monster keeping him from his degree. Once it’s slain, he’s got an easy ride. My goal is to help him skewer it. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot of concepts on number-crunching and have memorized the algorithm for Sample Standard Deviation. [It’s that lovely image serving as the intro to this post.]

As for writing, I’m continuing to hammer away at Phreak Show. Somewhere along the way I got a wild hair to check out paying markets for short stories & flash fiction. So, there has been a lot of editing of existing pieces and the creation of some new ones. The first batch goes out next week. My goal is to complete Phreak Show by March and have some shorter works out fighting for their right to be published.

Then there’s this: I start my new job this coming Monday.

The antiques business is a lot like gambling or playing the stock market. There are wins and there are losses, peaks and valleys. Expenses drop in massive chunks, then profits roll back in unpredictable waves. It’s cyclical. Feast or famine. All that. So, to augment that fluctuating income, I’m getting a day job.

Now, the search for this began 12/31. Part of the looking back at last year and moving forward, what do I want to accomplish this year process. A piece of that is knocking down some debt and doing some travelling. A solid way to make that happen is to have a steady, reliable income so I can set a monthly budget and plan ahead. [Which is kind of fun in and of itself.  I ❤ math, remember?]

If I was keen on being a Truck Driver, an assembly line worker, or a CNA – I’d have no trouble finding a job. Those are just not my jam. There are more *interesting* job titles out there, but they’re not quite what I’m looking for either. Here are a few available positions from today’s feed:

“Swine Baby Pig Attendant”
“Nephrologist”
“Special Agent (Cyber Crimes)”

My job title sounds pretty banal. I snagged an entry-level position as a Customer Care Representative just a short drive from home. You know the guy [or gal] that answers the phone when you call your cell company to ask about issues with your bill? Yeah, that. The position doesn’t use much math. It doesn’t tap into my years of management, payroll & human resources experience. As far as I can tell, I won’t touch a single spreadsheet. [Sadface.] The pay is, uhh, mediocre. But it will be steady money rolling in. The culture of the place seems very employee-friendly and I’ll only be dealing with inbound calls–not outbound telemarketing–so that’s a plus.

It’s all about the goals.

See, I like having a carrot to chase after. And there are solid opportunities to move up within the company. So, while I’m correcting billing mistakes and explaining why a client received Canadian Roaming Charges, I’ll be striving to be the best damn Customer Care Rep I can. Hitting the quality metrics. Making folks happy. Being a team member who’s pulling his own weight. Basically, excelling so I can move up one rung at a time. It’s happened in every job I’ve previously held and I plan to do it again. Supervisor in 6 months? We’ll see.

So, dearest-bosses-I-love, that’s my report on what I’ve been up to and some of the goals staring me in the face. I’ll do my best to be a better blogger boy. I’m still working out the algorithm for squeezing all these variables into my life. I’ll keep plugging in data and simplifying until I reach a solution. In the meantime, I’d encourage you to set some goals of your own. The final grade’s yours, not mine. It’s all on you. Consider this post a kick-in-the-rump tutoring session.

Whatever those goals of yours are: Quit stalling and make them happen. There aint no formula, but you can plug the data into your made-up one until an answer comes.

And if anyone lands the Swine Baby Pig Attendant position, send pics.
And (later) bacon.

NaNoWriMo Month-Long Updatable Update


As part of my #NaNoPrep, I’m hacking in this roughshod post before the clock strikes midnight. Since my main focus over the next 30 days is to knock out the first draft of Phreak Show, I don’t want to waste words anywhere else. [Well, Twitter is–of course–an exception.] And a month of non-blogging is equal to child abandonment in 36 countries.

So, here is the skeleton. If all goes well, I’ll distract myself with an update once per day–slipping it between changing out my coffee IV bag & maybe a birdbath. [Because a month of poor hygiene is punishable by a public hosing in 28 states. Plus the District of Columbia.]

<— The widget over there should track my word count and % progress towards my goal of 60k. So, I’ll probably post each day’s total, perhaps an excerpt sentence, hopefully some epiphanies, and probably some whining–which is to say: venting leading towards more productive creativity…

Let the 30 days & nights of literary abandon begin.

Day 1 – Kicked off NaNo 2012 with a midnight write-in with the local Wrimos at a Steak & Shake. Churned out 632 words in the word war waged during the first half hour. Via three more sessions today, I ended up with 6,332 words added to Phreak Show. Breaking the 5,000 mark earned me a celebratory pack of Rolos. And, like a good boy, I made sure to back-up the file in all the places.

Day 2 – Words added: 2,795. Around 1 a.m. I had to comfort a friend with relationship issues. Friend duties completed, I whipped out a few unexpected paragraphs, then finally crawled into bed. A few more sessions throughout the day. Leaving #PhreakShow on pause at this upcoming scene: Tera is entering a unisex shower where she will encounter Shim the Gender Enigma. [Spoiler Alert! Shim is feeling frisky…]

Day 3 – Started the day with some early writing fueled by mucho coffee . Traveled 30 minutes east for a write-in [and more java] at an independent bookstore. Apparently, Chapter 6 decided to be hot & steamy & full of sexies. “So, are you ready to check out my crotch? Turn your guess into a known fact?” Ahem. 3,528 phreaktastic words added.

Day 4 – A little morning writing gave way to putting the final touches on a few new furniture pieces. Then, more writing. Enmeshed within today’s 3319 words is a bit more unfolding of the first page hook. Emotional? Yes. Today’s section also contains the official ‘1st Plot Point’ of the 4-Part Story Structure–right on schedule. Chapter 7 ends [as all chapters should] with an absolute, no-doubt-about-it, must-stay-up-even-later-to-read page-turner…

Day 5 – I was able to churn out a quick bit of writing before the day’s madness began. After a ton–as in, a marathon session–of cleaning, Micah and I hosted our first writing and art salon of the season. We had a dozen folks come in and out through the evening. [It’s after midnight right now & 5 us are still creating.] The artists seemed to have made more progress than the writers. We’ll get ’em next week. 3,161 words for the day. 19,028 for November. Total wordcount for Phreak Show: 24,868.

Day 6 – Writing. Packed the van for a show in Atlanta. Writing. Voted. Writing. Distracted by election results rolling in. Also, the insanely active buzz of Twitter. Impromptu :15 word war with some Tweeps. Checked election results. A tiny bit more writing. In the midst of all that, I somehow added 2,380 words, thus breaking through the 20k barrier. “Spanish moss dangled from the trees like stringy, gray clumps of witch’s hair.”

Day 7 – Most productive day since the kick-off. Was able to focus on writing throughout the day and landed 5,022 words. At this rate, NaNo tells me I need 983 words per day to hit 50K by the end of the month, I think I’m on my way to a “win”. The Phreak Show rolled into Savannah this morning and set up at Forysth Park. Part of it looks something like this: 

Day 8 – Added 3,633 words today which arced me over 30k. I’m halfway to my personal Nano goal. And that damn Tera made me cry today. I wrote steadily through the early hours which left me time to check Phreak Show’s pulse this evening. This included spending some time with my planning notes to make sure I’m on track, and refreshing myself with My Guide to Not Sucking: https://johnlucashargis.wordpress.com/2012/10/24/my-guide-to-not-sucking/  All is well.

Day 9 – Wowserz! Somehow I managed 5,088 words today. They came in fits and starts. Maybe, idk, 4 times, I stepped away, thinking I was done for the day. But when I sat back down and read the last few lines written, I found myself clacking away at the keyboard again. Go figure. Today, one of the exhibit tents gained a new name: Phantasmagorium. Here’s a line: “A pro wouldn’t show up to work in secondhand, old-lady-smelling pajamas.”

Day 10 – Writing traveled at a slower, more deliberate pace on Day 10. Drafted an all-important transition scene which ramped up to the next one: an experience which alters Tera’s entire perception of what is happening in the Phreak Show. The Big Twist is coming up 2 short chapters from now. Have to prime the chute. 2188 words.

Day 11 – 3,475 words and I think I’m done for the day. Maybe. The story is flowing along phantastically. Today’s scenes involving revelations regarding how ingrained the phreak images are within the teens–just, wow. I broke 40k. 20k more before Thanksgiving is looking like a goal I can definitely accomplish.

Day 12 – It’s funny how most write-ins end up more about chatting than actually writing. The writer/writer interaction provides for a much-needed break in the solo endeavor, so it’s welcome. I added 150 words during a 3.5 hour write-in last night. It didn’t boost the wordcount all that much, but it was fun. Total added: 2,881

Day 13 – Some writing in the morning, some writing in the afternoon, a duel with the NaNo Municipal Liaison for my region…all led to 4,149 words today. From here on out, I need to average 120 words per day to hit 50k by 11/30. With only 2,156 left, I’m pretty sure I ought to be able to hit that “WIN” tomorrow.

Day 14 – I’m eating a Special Dark. Because I added 2,590 words today. And because of this:

Day 15 – Took a roadtrip to Michigan and was able to hammer out a few words while in the car. 2,013 added for the day.

Day 16 – Added more words on the ride home, and then a few more late in the evening. Scored 1,902 additional words. Hoping to pick the pace back up over the weekend.

Day 17 – Another low wordcount day. [Compared to my 3500+ average.] Scraped up 1,783.

Day 18 – And…back on track with where I want to be as far as daily wordcounts. Added 4,274 on this lovely day. Also, if you check out that widget over at the top of the left-hand column on this here blog, you’ll see that I hit my 60k. Rock.on.Lucas. That was the goal I wanted to hit by next Thursday. I blazed past it, so any words I add between now and the end of the month are just extra gravy on the stuffing.

Day 19 – Zero, nil, zip, zilch words. And proud of it! Took a well-earned day away from writing to focus on some art.

Day 20 – 1,883 words added today. Left off at a great cliffhanger. Which is to say, set myself up with an excellent starting place for the next drafting session.

Day 21 – You have no idea how good these zero wordcount days feel! If I wasn’t at 60k yet, I’d be all: No! Oh no, oh no. Must right the wrong. Must write. Must meet goal. Ahhhhh! But, since I have accomplished what I set out to do, not writing a thing for a whole day comes with the greatest sense of satisfaction.

Day 22 – Churned out 1,767. Even on Thanksgiving. In the morning. Before mass quantities of turkey were inhaled.

Day 23 – Day 29 – Yeah, so no daily updates during this period. I wrote and edited a little, but at a leisurely pace. Once I rolled up and over that hump, I needed to move away from the drafting for a bit. So many other things going on right now.

Day 30 – The final day. I definitely hit my goal–and them some. Current wordcount for Phreak Show = 70,055. I need another week of focusing on other things before diving back in. The crux of the final 7 chapters is fully formed. I’m letting the characters act them out in my head so the drafting will flow out in all its gloriousness.

Countdown Apocalypse


I have suffered through some horribly cheesy movies of late. This is mostly due to 3 things:
1) Free ‘Premium’ channels on Dish [I set the DVR to record anything that sounded vaguely interesting.]
2) Halloween [Yeah, apparently ‘scary’ and ‘stupid’ are supposed to go hand-in-hand?]
3) NaNoWriMo [Waiting for the 11/1 kickoff, I’ve been wasting time doing things other than writing.]

To be honest, there is a 4th cause to the cheesy-moviethon: I like them. Actually, it’s not that I like suckhole movies. I really do abhor the thin storylines, contrived plots, flat characters, and horrendous dialogue. What I ‘like’ about them, is picking apart all the wonky, god-awful elements.

Last night I watched some stupid flick titled Countdown Apocalypse or Apocalypse Countdown or some such. The supposed apocalypse was utterly, utterly lame. And I never did experience any sort of countdown. The bulk of the movie was some chick wandering around–always moving–in a plane, walking across the desert, navigating the streets of Old Jerusalem, in a car between cities, hiking up stairs in a building, wandering aimlessly down long hallways, etc. Seriously, laid end-to-end, the main character’s footprints would wrap around the equator seven times.

During all this slow walking and uneventful travel, there was no dialogue. Like, at all. Instead of meaningful words to let me in on the lady’s state-of-mind or how horribly distraught she was over her daughter being kidnapped and shipped off to some antichrist processing facility in Tel Aviv, I got to enjoy symphonic music which–I am reckoning–was supposed to cue my feelings. Or something. It just made me sleepy.

About 15 minutes in [translation: 10,987,789 footsteps already traveled], it struck me that only 10 lines of dialogue had been spoken. The main character, Allison, spoke very little. And when she did, 90% of the time it was in the form of a question. Seriously. Lame. Watching with a friend, of course, we started shredding the movie’s suckiness. My job was to simply announce “Question” each time Allison posed one. While the pace of my job was uber-leisurely since she hardly ever spoke, I soon grew tired of hearing my own mouth say the same word each and every time she delivered a worthless line.

My buddy’s job was pointing out every time a character said something one moment only to contradict it in the next breath. Not as some form of characterization, but as [idk the hell what!] perhaps a failed attempt on the part of the writer to infuse tension? Maybe?

So here is how I would write in the style of Countdown Apocalypse:

Allison wore her tanktop which plainly showed the backwards culture that she was a hot, blond American MILF. She walked to the foreign taxi. Although it should only have taken 3 seconds, the journey took days. Slow emotional music echoed in her head.

“Can you take me to Jerusalem?” she asked.

“No. I am on my break. Well, okay,” the cabbie answered.

She rode along over a barren landscape which stretched out for millions and billions and trillions of miles. She stared out the window looking neither sad, nor bored, nor scared, nor anxious. But the somber tune continued to echo all around her. After 40 days, she arrived at the hotel.

“Did my husband check-in?”

“No, he did not. Oh wait, yes he did. Yesterday.”

“Was my daughter with him?”

“Yes. I mean, no. He was alone.” The innkeeper paused as Allison grimaced with horribly acted, false sadness. “Here, have a tissue, you sad American lady. Oh, prophets! The box is empty.”

“Can I have the key to our room so I can put away my stuff even though I will never pay attention to it for the rest of this boring ass movie?”

The innkeeper searched the desk, his pockets, the empty Kleenex box. “I’m sorry, it seems I have lost the spare key. Wait! Here it is. It was waiting right here with this important envelope I was supposed to give you. Enjoy your stay!”

“This hotel has a staircase, right? Would you mind if I took it up to the 785th floor so I can stare at the unopened envelope for 45 minutes as I climb?”

“No, I’m sorry. We only have an elevator.”

“Then what is that door with the stairway symbol?”

“Oh, I guess we do have stairs after all.”

“So you mind if I take them? How are the acoustics in there? Will the sad music effectively emote for me since I don’t have the capacity to do it for myself?”

The innkeeper nodded his head in slow motion to indicate that the sound in the stairway was awesome. “No, the sound in there is horrible,” he said.

Allison ate up 20 minutes of screen time, eventually reaching the door. Pausing, with her hand on the knob, she spoke through the wood, “Isn’t there some kind of countdown I should be worried about? Shouldn’t I be racing to save my daughter before it’s too late?”

The door stood silent. But the music droned on.

I won’t even go into the contrivances, false tension, lack of real plot or resolution, or the stupid ending I waited 6,500 hours to discover. What I will share is that I don’t understand how ‘stories’ such as these become actual movies. It really baffles me.

Going into NaNo–the 4th cause of me watching this P.O.S. in the first place–I am extremely aware of the need to avoid dead scenes, empty space, and groan-worthy dialogue. Also: stereotypes, dangling elements, lack of emotion, a pretend ticking clock, and subplots which go nowhere. While I was already well aware of those pitfalls, this fustercluck of a movie drove all these points home. So, maybe it’s a work of genius after all? Ummm…

“Why, oh why, do I subject myself to this crap?”

:: Cue heartfelt, symphonic music as Lucas trudges ever-so-slowly towards November ::

Current countdown to NaNo at the time of this posting: 15 hours, 12 minutes, 58 seconds

The Plotting Wall


This was my writing nook earlier this evening: ambient, cozy, uber-organized & highly functional. But that focal wall behind my laptop was looking a bit empty. Too empty, in fact, with me being so close to beginning the first draft of Phreak Show. So I printed out some of my OneNote plotting info and turned that blank wall into this:

Now I have a visual reference for the major elements: call to adventure, refusal of the call, crossing the threshold, plot points, pinch points, mid-story twist, climax, etc . There are also setting notes, conflict opportunities, specific scenes, and random lines thrown into the mix. Over the next two weeks, these strips will move around, and probably triple in number.

I’m a very visual person. This set-up grants me a bird’s-eye-view of the story. When I begin the actual drafting, I will mark through each reference with a highlighter as it becomes part of the story. Maybe it’s silly, but I like seeing that colorful progress. It motivates me to keep going. I used this process for the first time when I wrote Freeborn. As I got into the thick of it, I knew I would use it for every future novel.

One tool I didn’t utilize with Freeborn, but am using with Phreak Show, is character cards. I created one of these for each of my named characters:

While I have all these in a digital file, I wanted to hang them right in front of my face—like an open photo album. Historically, Victorian sideshows had at least 10 attractions; more commonly, they had 12-15. Phreak Show has 11. That’s a lot of folks to keep up with. I’m counting on this set of cards to keep the characters fresh in my mind, make sure I keep their descriptions consistent, and remind me of anyone I leave out for too many consecutive scenes.

Every part of the writing process is fun to me. But this next stage, where I begin filling in the gaps & fleshing out the details, is one of my favorites. With the concrete, tangible scraps of paper in front of me, it really feels like something is being accomplished—like the story will take shape, that it is coming to be.

If you wanna stop by and have a seat on one of the settees, then consider this an open invitation. The coffee’s always hot. And if you’re nice, I might even let you pin something to the plotting wall. I know, I know! I get pretty excited about it, too.

{Sidenote: See that lovely hand cutout? It pivots like a mailbox flag. When it’s up, it means: Leave me alone. I’m writing. Only bother me if I need to back up my files real quick before bolting out of the burning building.}