Author Archive

WWW: Bill Watterson

Alright, it’s WWW: Thursday Edition. I have a bad grasp on days of the week right now. I came across this on Tuesday, so there’s really no excuse.

As creators, it can be difficult to explain to others why we’re doing what we’re doing. I was once asked by the most senior member of management I interacted with at my old company what my five year plan was.

I said it was to have my first novel published.

I was then told, in no uncertain terms, that that was the Wrong Answer. That the Right Answer had to do with being more advanced in my current day job career track. I never entirely forgave him for deciding that my idea of where I wanted to be in five years was wrong and that his idea was right. That my long term plans weren’t allowed to be about what I wanted to actually do with my life.

I’m not sure he ever fully understood that. Since his title started with the letter C and ended with O, it was hard for me to really tell him. If I was still there, I think the answer would be just putting this on my door.

The illustration comes from Gavin Aung Than. The words come from Bill “Calvin and Hobbes” Watterson during one of his rare public appearances, a commencement speech delivered to the Kenyon College class of 1990. The sentiment is living a life around your own definitions of success, rather than anyone else’s.

I could quote the words, but they need the illustration, too. So go. Read. Print it out and put it over your desk. Live. Write. And work to succeed on your terms. “…and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.”


WWW: Elmore Leonard

I’ve never read any Elmore Leonard. However, his is a name I kept coming across, mostly while watching movies. His novels became, among others, 3:10 to Yuma, Get Shorty, and Jackie Brown. Clearly he’s a man who was doing plenty right when he put words to paper, so I thought I’d share this list that’s going around. It’s Elmore Leonard’s ten rules for writing:

  1. Never open a book with weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.
  3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
  6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

As with any rules on writing, they’re more suggestions. However, several I’ve seen elsewhere (#3 and #4), some are just common sense (#10), and one is something that drives me crazy when poorly done (#7). He goes into further detail on all ten rules in an article recently reposted by the Detroit Free Press.

Edit: The Onion, as always is brilliant. They have posted an obituary for Leonard that breaks all ten rules.


WWW: Watching Bridges Burn

Anyone who has been following my blog has recently seen a series of three posts I’ve made that started with a request that we all just sit down and talk about why there are so many blog posts about sexual harassment at cons, harassment within SFWA, and a general perpetuation of an old boys’ club atmosphere within some portions of the genre community. This post was followed by one by Linda here on Unleaded, a follow-up on my blog about a Twitter account called SFWA Fascists, and finally why I felt that account served some perverse purpose.

This is an important subject, one I’ve never really talked about before even when I’ve felt very strongly that something should be said. My problem? I was afraid of burning bridges.

Burning Bridge

Look, I know a lot of genre writers who are very public with their personal views and beliefs on their blogs. However, as I’ve been trying to create an online presence as a writer with just three short stories and no published novels under my belt, I’ve tried to tread lightly. Don’t be controversial. I’ve seen several agents on Twitter say they’ll do some cyber stalking of a writer they’re considering for representation, making sure he or she isn’t a loose cannon, or someone else that they don’t wish to be associated with. So I’ve kept my politics mostly (but not entirely) to myself. I’ve made passing reference to my religious inclinations, but never made a stink about them. I’ve been trying to keep my nose as clean as possible.

So what changed?

I think I finally found a bridge I wasn’t afraid of burning. There was finally that point where I decided if someone was going to refuse to do business with me because of that stance…then good. I probably didn’t want to do business in the long-term with them, anyway. I don’t expect this will be a decision that will have long term negative implications. Right now, the response has been largely positive, with increased traffic (still not matching Unleaded’s numbers, if you’re curious, Day), supportive comments, and even a name drop from one of the PC Monsters of SFWA. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to necessarily make a habit of social justice on the blog, but it does mean that I’m glad I finally did.

Perhaps I was a bit of a coward before. Perhaps I was a little too afraid of what the big bad internet with its infinite memory would say about me. It’s hard to say. However, I do feel like I’ve come out of this with a little advice. Don’t be afraid to be. Just be aware of the potential ramifications. In my case, I realized that anyone who might be in favor of a strict old boys’ club, anyone who feels that a slap on the bottom is an appropriate way to greet a woman, anyone who would be willing to start a Twitter account seriously feeling a need to mock a call for moderation withing SFWA…they might find that one day and decide I’m not someone to do business with.

Consider those consequences. And if, as I did, you decide you’re fine with them…well, go right ahead. Remember, the internet never forgets, but that doesn’t mean we need to walk only on eggshells. And it doesn’t mean that occasionally, every now and then, we need to go River Kwai on a few bridges.

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WWW: Hey, Barnes…

I’ve had a draft post sitting on this blog for awhile. It’s called “Stop Scaring Me, Barnes,” and it’s been in the drafts folder since February of 2012. That’s how long Barnes and Noble has been scaring me, how long it’s felt like they’ve been teetering on the edge, about ready to collapse. I can’t find a number as to what percentage of bookstores in America have the words “Barnes and Noble” over the front door. It has to be high. And in some parts of the country it’s 100%.

So, for better or for worse, those of us who love brick-and-mortar bookstores have our futures tied in with the last behemoth still stomping around, the one that outlasted Super Crown and Borders.

Barnes isn’t the one I would have personally picked to survive the downfall of the big box book store. I was a Borders man, myself. This is in part because Borders had better granularity in shelving books (Barnes and Noble does not believe horror to be a shelf-worthy genre, for example). Borders also felt more welcoming, more willing to blend in, less likely to kick out a writers’ group that met at their store for years and was very loyal to spending money at the store. But Borders had two fatal flaws, their bizarre inventory system and their early online outsourcing to Amazon.

So Borders died.

And we have Barnes and Noble. And, in spite of having far less competition in the brick-and-mortar market, Barnes isn’t looking all that strong. The CEO just resigned, the Nook has basically failed, and there are any number of questions about how the company can stay alive.

So whither goes the bookstore? In the DC area, there are a few used book stores, there’s a few Books-a-Million locations, there’s Politics and Prose… But I don’t know what happens to book buying if Barnes fails and moves out. Commercial rent being what it is in this area, I don’t know who decides to move in, who decides that selling new books to human beings in a physical store is a winning prospect. And should they? Do I only bemoan the loss of the bookstore because I, personally, love bookstores? Prefer walking the shelves and pulling out volumes than buying through Amazon? Am I the weird on here?

And what can Barnes do to survive. Gawker has asked that question, and the two answers I like best are to better localize their stores and focus a little more on children, who are a market eBooks currently isn’t and can’t capture as well. Maybe they’re the solution. Get them to enjoy going into bookstores. Being among books. Though I’m not sure if Barnes can survive long enough for them to grow up.

In the end I can only watch. And worry. And stake my hopes on this one last company, that maybe they’ll figure something out, stop the slow motion collapse. Because I find the alternative just too damned depressing.

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WWW: Be Necessary!

XfilesiwanttobelieveSo last night my wife and I watched X-Files: I Want To Believe. This was the second X-Files movie, the one that came out six years after the original series sputtered to an end and eight years after the show was actually about Mulder and Scully. If you’ve never seen the movie, only the reviews, let me say that every single bad thing you’ve heard about the film is true. The script feels slapped together, includes many pointless platitudes, and has a b-plot whose only relationship to the main story is to make the movie long enough to be a movie. It’s poorly directed, pulling lack luster performances even from actors that I know are better. There’s really no detail of the movie that isn’t a complete mess. But the worst crime of all?

It’s completely unnecessary.

Not just unnecessary because it attempted to breath life into a franchise six years dead. Unnecessary because it didn’t do anything with that franchise. Characters reemerge the way we remember them, just no longer working for the FBI. They flail around for awhile, going through all the motions of the TV series (Mulder is Certain, Scully has a crisis of faith). Then the movie ends. In between…what? There are scenes, things happen, but nothing really happens.

We’re story tellers. We’re asking people to spend several hours of their lives with us. For a movie maker it might be just 2 hours. For a TV show it might be 26 hours a year. For a novel it could be anywhere from 5 to 35 hours, depending on the length and the reader. Audiobooks can run up to 50 hours. These are not insignificant amounts of time we’re asking people to give us. Somehow, I think that the biggest crime we, as creators, can commit is to be unnecessary. To waste that time.

Some people might call this aboutness, some might call it dynamic characters, but in the end it’s all about believing that the story matters in some way to its characters. Only then will it matter to the reader, or watcher, or listener.

So. Be necessary.

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WWW: Welcome Back, Us

Alright, this is purely an administrative post to announce that, as of yesterday, this site appears to be stabilized. It’s always tough to know exactly how long something like that will last, but for time time being the site is loading, and loading with the appropriate quickness, and isn’t coughing and sputtering. To pull back the curtain, apparently one of the widgets (those are those bits of information over on the left bar) decided to spontaneously error out on us. I’ve replaced it with a widget that provides the same functionality without the added feature of excreting building materials from its posterior, and the site is working again.

If you have any continuing problems, please let us know in a reply to this post. Otherwise, things should return to normal around here over the next few days.

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