Plotting and The Electric Church

By | June 30, 2014 | 2 Comments

The Electric ChurchRight, we all know the drill now, right? I’m giving a plot seminar at The Writer’s Digest Annual Conference (see here) because like Iggy A I am fancy, and thus I am writing a series of essays about how I plot novels by way of proving my bona fides, right? All right, glad to have that out of the way.

So: The Electric Church. The story about this book is an epic in and of itself. It’s actually simultaneously the book I plotted most, and perhaps the most epically pantsed novel in history. I wrote the first draft in 1993 in about six months, just pantsing along merrily. The end result was a sloppy narrative with what we in the writerly industry refer to as a shit-ton of problems, but it had spark, and verve, and a premise that I wanted to do justice to. So I never quite gave up on it, picking it up a few times over the next decade and starting a few revisions.

Then, in 2004 I saw an ad for a fiction market. They were accepting proposals and required a detailed plot outline, character sketches — the whole nine yards.

As aside: In what has proven to be a reliable rule, the markets that pay the least have the most strenuous requirements. I’ve sold novels to major publishers who ran the book through a warm room full of copy editors and proclaimed it ready for prime-time. Stories and books for which I was paid in admiration and slaps on the back? Gruelling rounds of editing. This was one of those: No money (I did eventually earn $3.14 from it — that is an exact number — but the submission process was epic.

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The Very Merry Pranksters

By | June 27, 2014 | 0 Comments

I

Henry stared at the coffin, and thought about killing his wife.

The room, perfumed and stuffy, was filled with the blurry sound of chat, a hundred polite conversations going on simultaneously. Ted the Infinitely Wealthy had passed away suddenly, shockingly, and his death seemed unreal to everyone in the room, one of Ted’s famous pranks, and everyone half-expected Ted to pop out of the coffin with a bottle of champagne and demand that everyone dance. The closed coffing added some weight to this delerium, as everyone secretly wondered if it was maybe filled with sand, or someone elses body entirely. It was a meme that jumped from person to person without being spoken, mysteriously, and the whole room was making idle chatter while thinking, ashamed of even the thought, that maybe Ted the Infinitely Wealthy had not died of a sudden aneurysm after all, that maybe he was hiding somewhere, watching them all on closed-circuit TV, laughing.

Ted had done similar things in the past. Henry put his wife out of his mind for a moment, recalling some of the pranks. He’d never found them very funny, personally; pranks always seemed mean-spirited to him, as if it wasn’t bad enough that Ted the Infinitely Wealthy was so infinitely wealthy, he had to treat everyone around him like they were players in his personal troupe, entertaining him with their antics. To Henry’s thinking, the frequency and complexity of Ted’s pranks had increased in direct proportion to how ruined by money he’d become. Ted had always been rich, born rich, but as a kid his terrible home life—a nasty divorce, a father who’d kept his mother and Ted in near-poverty as they sued and counter-sued each other over support—had made him a moody, melancholy, but grounded individual. When he’d finally come into infinite wealth on his eightteenth birthday, it hadn’t seemed real for some years, and he lived simply, Henry remembered, for some time after that. Slowly, though, the money had crept into his life. The pranks had begun as good clean fun, an acknowledgment that Ted was rich and could do amazing things if he wanted. As time went on, though, Henry had detected a streak of meanness in the pranks, and in Ted.

Faking his own death, Henry thought suddenly, actually wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.

He went back to staring at the coffin and thinking about killing his wife.

The coffin sat on a raised dais, surrounded by flowers. A large picture of Ted the Infinitely Wealthy was displayed on a stand, a smiling, tanned young man with thinning hair and a growing paunch, dressed casually. Henry couldn’t tell where the picture had been taken, but it looked recent, and gave the impression that Ted had been caught by surprise, turning suddenly and smiling reflexively when he saw the camera. The effect of pleasant surprise was so perfect, Henry thought it gave credence to the idea that the whole death and funeral business was faked, that the photo had been taken a week ago in preparation.

Henry glanced down at his hands, which he’d cupped soberly so he wouldn’t have to worry about them.

Behind him, he could hear the soft whispering of his wife and Gina Gerrano, usually referred to as The Tart—another in a long series of silly nicknames acquired during college and never abandoned, Henry thought, despite their advancing middle-age and the sheer ridiculous weight of them. He could still refer to The Tart in the company of old college cronies and be instantly understood, just as he could refer to TIW and everyone knew he was referring to Teddy. The origins of these names were sometimes famous stories, recounted endlessly, and were sometimes lost to memory. Henry himself was known as The Hick. He’d never liked the nickname, though he’d pretended to for many years. He’d launched a campaign to discourage its use, but no one took him seriously about it.

His wife, who’d gone to a different college and didn’t like many of his friends, thought the whole nickname thing was silly and didn’t hesitate to tell him so. Her name was Miranda. All of Henry’s friends called her The Shrew when she wasn’t in the room. Henry had taken to thinking of her as The Shrew, and when he spoke about her to his friends he called her by that nickname.

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Get the Blood: The Scar on My Pinky

By | June 23, 2014 | 0 Comments
Almost lost the finger.

Almost lost the finger.

SO, to recap: I’m publishing books this year (Fixer, We Are not Good People) that involve a magic system that requires blood sacrifice, so my main characters (a lot of the characters, actually) are covered in scars. So I thought I’d write a bit about my own scars and invite others to join in (which they have; I’m making videos of some of the responses). Then I’m posting everything with the hashtag #gettheblood, because I am hip and modern and with it.

Last time out, it was the scar on the back of my head, which had not one but three origin stories. This time, it’s the scar on the little finger of my left hand.

THE BURNING QUESTION

Before we go any further – is it pinky or pinkie? I must know before I write the rest of this — aw, too late.

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Plotting and Lifers

By | June 16, 2014 | 2 Comments

Lifers_coverIn August I’m giving a seminar on plotting novels at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference (as mentioned the first of infinite times here; let me tell you, promoting things like that is exhausting) so I’ve been thinking a bit about how I’ve plotted novels. I’ve written a lot of novels — more than thirty, actually, about twelve of which are worth looking at and eight of which I’ve published so far — so I suppose I have something halfway intelligent to say about the process.

While the secret sauce of my awesomeness will only be revealed in coherent form at the conference, I thought a good place to start would be examining past novels and my approach to plot. Last time out I looked fondly at Chum, and today I thought I’d look at my first published novel, Lifers.

I wrote Lifers in 1997, and submitted it to a tiny small press in 1999 without an agent or a clue, and they wrote back and told me they would love to publish my novel if i would send them a check for about $12,000. Vanity Presses did shit like that – they pretended to be a regular royalties publisher and then they sent you a letter detailing the sad state of the economy and how we all had to contribute.

I told them to please burn the manuscript and considered flying to California to burn down their offices as well. The last thing a largely-unpublished author needs is someone trying to scam them out of twelve thousand goddamn dollars.

Then, something odd happened: They called me back 6 months later and said, we’ll give you a $1,000 advance and standard royalties, because we want to publish it for reals.

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Brooklyn Book Festival

By | June 15, 2014 | 0 Comments

BBFSo, looks like I’ll be at this year’s Brooklyn Book Festival at the Mystery Writers of America‘s table – precise time to be determined. I’ll be selling books (hopefully I’ll have some early copies of We Are Not Good People to sell) and shaking hands and dancing for nickels, as usual. Bring a lot of nickels, because my dances don’t last long.

WHEN: September 21, 2014, Time TBD

WHERE: Brooklyn Book festival, Brooklyn Borough Hall and Plaza, 209 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn NY 11201

WHY: The aforementioned dancing.

See y’all there!

Get the Blood

By | June 12, 2014 | 5 Comments

eyeSo, in less than a month the novella Fixer will be released into the wild, for free at first. Anyone can read it! It’s THUNDERDOME!

It’s also supposed to be a way to introduce yourself to the universe and characters of We Are Not Good People before that novel comes out in October. As such, it’s a prequel, so despite having the same setting and the same main chaacters you don’t need to have read WANGP or Trickster in order to understand and enjoy Fixer. Clever, aren’t we?

I’ve been thinking about the magic system I devised for The Ustari Cycle. I’ve never been a fan of magic systems in books that have no consequences – stories where a “chosen one” is just born with some innate ability to cast spells, and where there are virtually no limitations to their capabilities. Power should require sacrifice, I’ve always thought, and that led to the logical conclusion: What if magic literally did require sacrifice? So in the world of The Ustari Cycle, to cast magic spells you need two things: A knowledge of the mystical Words that act as a grammar and vocabulary for expressing the intention of the magic, and blood, fresh and gushing from a wound. The more blood, the more powerful the spell.

The moment this came together I knew my main character would refuse to bleed anyone but himself. Bleeding someone else — possibly to death — to cast a spell is a pretty evil thing to do, after all, and only the worst sort of people would do that. So Lem Vonnegan, the main character an narrator of We Are Not Good People only bleeds himself, and as a result of years of casting spells is latticed with thousands of scars on his arms and elsewhere.

This got me to thinking about my own scars. I’ve had a relatively lucky life: No broken bones, no serious illnesses. Even I have a few scars, though. I’ll be writing the stories behind my various scars in the coming weeks – because every scar has a story.

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Watch the World Die

By | June 9, 2014 | 2 Comments

This story was published by From the Asylum many, many moons ago – in fact, the webzine no longer exists. I got paid $25, which I immediately spent on whiskey and regret.

Watch the World Die

HE sat on the hood of his car with an unlit cigarette in his mouth, a waxy, unkempt youth in Jeans and flannel, grinning. It was cold and crisp but not windy, a photograph to walk around in. Closer to the wreckage, it was warmer.

The highway had become still as well, a stretch of frozen motion. Behind him cars lined up in quiet rows, in front they were smoldering in quiet, jangled piles. Amongst them, people picked their way carefully, small and tender, some with dazed and jellied expressions, some with cool, detached demeanors. He watched them calmly, the familiar fines of the old Malibu slowly rusting beneath him.

Someone approached from behind and paused to stand next to him, but he didn’t turn to look at the newcomer, a bland young man in loose, easy clothes. His eyes, however, turned slightly, and then flicked back again.

“Did you see it happen?” the young man asked.

“Yep,” he replied.

There was a quick, elastic silence.

“Got a light?”

He smiled around his unlit cigarette and shook his head. After a moment, the bland young man shuffled away.

Abruptly, the end of his cigarette flared and caught fire, a jolly red coal glittering in the night. He took a deep drag and let a great gust of white smoke out into the air. He watched a tall State Trooper approach, his face nothing but vacant disinterest.

The trooper was tall and lean, dark and grim. Be held an open pad in one hand and a pen in the other.

“I’ll need to take a statement.”

The man sitting on the car nodded. “The red car, the Mazda, exploded,” he said with blank enunciation. “Just burst into flames. I’ve seen it before.”

“You have?” the cop asked.

“Many times.” A smile filled his face.

The cop nodded and pretended to write this down on his pad. “Could I have your name, sir?”

“The Mazda,” the man continued, “was driving like an asshole, weaving around, high-beaming everyone. It was really irritating. The asshole refused to see that there was nowhere to go, no one had anywhere to go.”

The cop pursed his lips. “Your name, sir?”

The man turned his bloodshot eyes up to the cop. “Sorry. Daniel. Daniel Eggert.”

Writing this down dutifully, the trooper didn’t glance up. “Did you see what caused the accident, Mr. Eggert?”

Eggert smiled around his cigarette. “I just told you: it burst into flames. The Mazda. The red one.”

This time the cop did look up. “Just like that?”

Eggert nodded cheerfully. “Just like that.” He shrugged. “That’s the way it always happens; once the gas tank catches, it’s too late.”

“I’ll bet.” The trooper had a bad feeling about this guy, but couldn’t put a finger on it. His eyes slid down. “This your car?”

Eggert glanced over the cop’s shoulder. “1973 and it runs like new,” he agreed.

The trooper glanced at his pad as he wrote the tag down. “Thanks for your help, Mr. Eggert.”

Eggert nodded, once. “Not a bit of it,” he said.

####

Driving home, Daniel Eggert studied himself in the rear-view with an unflinching gaze. The road was empty and dark and he drove by instinct, thumbs nudging the wheel carefully. His pale face shone in the glass, bright and smooth and framed by dark hair that blended into the dark, leaving him a moon in a constantly shifting night.

After a moment, he reached over and shut off the headlights. Dark snapped in, but his face still shone.

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Plotting and Chum

By | June 6, 2014 | 0 Comments
BUY ME

BUY ME

So, as mentioned previously,  in August I’ll be presenting a seminar on plotting a novel, much to the horror of many, many teachers, scoutmasters, and other authority figures I’ve known throughout my long-departed youth. To say that many people expressed doubt about my abilities to succeed in life would be an understatement. That happens when you discover alcohol at the age of thirteen and immediately take up residence on street corners for lengthy periods of time.

Still, I showed them! I am on the agenda of a major writing conference. Of course, this makes me sweat: As we all know, I take a certain, shall we say, casual approach to life in general. How do you teach something when your process involves getting blackout drunk and then being vaguely surprised at what you find in the morning?

ENTER CHUM

Well, I’ve been looking back on my mighty works and considering how I actually plotted them out. Chum was written (in its original form) in 2003, taken on by my might agent in 2004, re-written a few times along the way, and sold to Tyrus Books in 2013. With a story like that, it can’t be surprising to hear that the plot process on this book was complicated, mainly because I never really considered plot at all.

Chum is, I think, an unusual book: It has a transforming event buried in there, the Big Moment that everything revolves around, but it doesn’t really follow any recognizable model for plot at all. There’s really no rising action, no denouement. It’s told from various points of view and various moments in time, and the points of view vary wildly in states of inebriation and information.

So how did I plot this? I didn’t.

I started off, as usual, with a vision: The opening scene, which is fairly innocuous and humorous, with a slight spice of ominous — and then I saw what the Big Event was. From there, I simply slipped into the heads of my characters and explored what they might have seen, inferred, or eavesdropped, and what would happen to their relationships as a result.

It’s actually an approach to writing that I attempted once before, when I was much younger, in a novella titled “Shadow Born” (let’s not mock me and my titles; I will stipulate that my love for faux-poetic titles is awful and horrible and I am trying to be better about it, promise). The older novella was the story of a rape at a college party and explored how people hear about it, suspect it’s happened, and react to certain knowledge of it. It wasn’t entirely successful, and today feels like Juvenilia, but it felt like there was power in that engine.

Results May Not Be Verifiable

I don’t employ this kind of narrative trick often, because it’s more likely to collapse into a heap of chaos than yield a tight, interesting novel. Chum works because the characters came to life – at least to me, although I now have a few other people, some of whom paid me money, who seem to agree. If the characters had seemed flat or boring, we would have been in a lot of trouble. As a result, this isn’t really an approach I can recommend to newcomers to the novel game – although hey, you never know.

Other novels I’ve plotted differently, including a lot of “Pantsing” and a bit of “Plotting,” though the latter is usually only when I’m forced to. Both have worked for me, but I have to say: Plotting Chum was probably the most fun I’ve ever had plotting a novel out.

These days my plot technique involves alcohol and guesswork. And cats. Cat butts on my keyboard seem to be the secret sauce for my recent novels, actually.

The Inner Swine Summer 2014

By | June 4, 2014 | 6 Comments

TIS 20-12As I sit here madly rapping Fancy by Iggy Azalea, I am very conscious of no longer being the hip young demographic that advertises love. Yet I still have things to say! Or, write. Many of these ideas are ill-advised and poorly formed, and so I keep them in a ghetto of my own choosing: My zine, The Inner Swine, established in 1993 and still going. For some reason.

As it is Summer time, it’s time for the Summer issue! And it has been released to Barnes and Noble and Amazon for your e-reading pleasure:

Nook

Kindle

Go and buy it. It’s just a DOLLAR for god’s sake, what are you, fancy?

(see what I did there? GENIUS.)

Categories: BAM!, The Inner Swine

Reasons Why You Should Join the WANGP Street Team

By | June 1, 2014 | 33 Comments
Street Team

Street Team

SO, on October 7, 2014, the world will change forever. Well, not really. What’s actually going to happen is my next novel, We Are Not Good People, will be released. Whether or not I spend 2015 dancing on street corners for nickels or ordering rounds of drinks for strangers as I blaze, briefly, in alcoholic splendor before doctors arrive to harvest my ruined body for parts, depends entirely on what happens in the bookstores and online venues in the days and weeks afterwards.

In the past, with the Avery Cates novels, I organized a Street Team (organized may be a strong word here) to help with promotion, and we had a lot of fun, so I’m doing the same, gathering blackguards and bravos from around the world to help make it seem like a passably good idea to spend money on my book. And I want you to join the Street Team. It will be ever so much fun.

We have a forum: http://wearenotgoodpeople.freeforums.net/

The book has a website: www.wearenotgoodpeople.com

I understand your hesitation. I am a notably unreliable author who is easily distracted by glasses of booze and things like videos of kittens acting surprised. So, here are

REASONS TO BE ON THE WANGP STREET TEAM

  1. You love me. You may not realize it, but you do.
  2. You fear me and know if my writering career goes south I will start showing up at your door, begging for a couch to sleep on.
  3. There will be swag — free books, signed things, T-shirts, bookmarks, anything else we cook up to give away or what have you, Street Team members will get first dibs. In the past every member got a T-shirt or a hat and some other stuff just for being awesome.
  4. Meet new people! Who are not me pretending to be other people just to make my Street Team seem huge and imposing, promise.
  5. All Street Team members pat and present earn the Right of Cocktails, which means they can march up to me at any time under any circumstances and, once they’ve identified themselves, demand that I buy them a drink, and I will.
  6. Did I mention the swag?
  7. The forum is there to exchange ideas and suggestions, so if you’ve ever wanted to humiliate and destroy me publicly (and who hasn’t) here is your chance. Why not suggest I dress up in a pig outfit and dance on your lawn? Because if everyone on the Street Team votes for it, I will totally do that.
  8. The abbreviation of We Are Not Good People is WANGP, so you get to throw around the word “Wang” a lot and no one can complain.

    The Pork Avenger (Artist's Conception)

    The Pork Avenger (Artist’s Conception)

  9. Someday, when they decide to make a documentary about me (most probably because I snap mentally in 2016 and start showing up in public in a pig outfit and dancing, eventually becoming known as The Pork Avenger) they will totally come to interview you about it.
  10. Because I am dancing for right now, even though you can’t see it. And also weeping. How can you be so cruel?

So there you have it. There’s no official sign up or anything — just participate. Send me your contact info via email or message, let me know you’re interested, join the forum and say hello and suggest things. What can you suggest? Well, anything:

  • If you know of a bookstore that would love to have me come read, let me know.
  • Ideas for swag or giveaways
  • Ideas for digital graphics that I could create and distribute
  • Forums or other sites that people could post on
  • Ways to tweet and post about the books (or my other books), write reviews, or otherwise spread the word

Or, just lurk until something gets suggested that appeals to you. Literally, anything you want to do is appreciated and I’ll be extremely grateful for.

Onward! I’ve just discovered I will have to have my Pork Avenger outfit let out a little. I’m … not a young man any more.

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