The Darkest Path Sequel! Available Now!

Hi everyone!

So for awhile now one of the biggest reasons people have visited this site has been to see if there's news about a follow-up to The Darkest Path. Well now there is! It exists! And you can buy it!

It's called The Darkest Path: Bear's Story and it's ready for you to purchase either as an ebook or a paperback.

I've been working on this for awhile now and am really excited to finally have it out in the world. It's a little bit prequel and a little bit sequel and is told entirely from the point-of-view of Bear, the intrepid dog Cal hooked up with early on in The Darkest Path.

The inspiration for this book came from a few big unanswered questions in The Darkest Path. The first being--how did Bear end up all alone in the desert where he met Cal? Where was he before? Did he have a family? If so, what happened to them?

On top of that I was wondering the same thing many of you were, namely, what happens after the end of The Darkest Path? Does Cal find his parents? Does he ever see Bear again? All of these questions, and a few more, are answered in The Darkest Path: Bear's Story. Plus I think it's a pretty darn good, fast-paced adventure story in its own right.

Hope you enjoy it! And Happy Holidays!!!

The Guilty Conscience of the Infrequent Blogger Who Checks his Stats

Hi all! So, as the title suggests, I happened to check the stats for visits to this site and saw that quite a few of you come here only to find very little in the way of new content. Sorry! I think I'm not necessarily the most adept blogger in the world. But I'm so happy all of you come to check out the site. So here's a little update that, hopefully, explains what I've been doing instead of blogging! This also might give you a little insight into what it's like to be a full time writer person!

Basically I've been writing. A lot! I'm currently in process for three different books. They are, briefly:

Black River Falls - This is the new standalone novel coming out Summer of 2016 from Clarion. It's about a kid growing up in a small town that has been quarantined due to a plague of amnesia. I'll be getting the final round of edits from my editor soon so it's almost done. Very excited about this one!

The Darkest Path Prequel/Sequel - The tentative title for this right now is The Darkest Path: Bear's Story, but that could change. The first draft is written and I'm giving it to my editor in August, which hopefully means that it'll be ready for you all to see in late Fall/Early Winter. Yay!

Untitled Standalone Novel - This will hopefully be my follow up to Black River Falls. I have a completed first draft and am editing it now to get it ready to send to Clarion. I can't really tell you anything about except that I'm really enjoying writing it! (and I really need to finish the blog post and get back to it!)

Miscellaneous  - As always, I'm in the midst of generating ideas for new projects. Lately I'm thinking alot about a short and fairly bloody horror novel, a sci-fi epic for kids 8 and up, and a Western. Whew!

Oh! And I'm also acting in a play! Things are busy around here! 

What are y'all up to?

Happy Holidays Everybody!

Hope you all have an absolutely awesome holiday season! And if your holidays are of the Christmas persuasion and you need a dose of Christmas spirit, allow me to recommend my very favorite Christmas movie ever. A Christmas Carol starring George C. Scott. I watch it every single year and the whole thing is on YouTube.


That quote about "killing your darlings" is totally fascist.

You know that writing quote about "killing your darlings?" I was thinking about that today as I edited this 1st draft I'm working on. I think it's a really cool quote that urges writers to think of every component of their writing–each paragraph, each sentence, each word–as something that doesn't exist for its own sake but exists to serve the whole. You may write the purtiest most thoughtful sentence you've ever written in your life, but if it doesn't work to further the goals of the book then, the quote instructs, it's got to go. 

This is one of those quotes that I think is awesome right up to the point where I think it might be total nonsense.

See, what I worry has happened is we've all taken this quote so seriously (myself included) that we've become delete key happy. Something doesn't fit right away? Delete it. Something seems just a little too pretty, a little too whimsical? Delete it. All those beautifully oddball paragraphs and scrappy orphan sentences? Delete! Delete! Delete! 

I think the appeal of this is that doing it makes us feel like we're real writers. Weren't not some dilettante following our muse up our own butt. We're tough. We're merciless. We take no prisoners.

It's just so....fascist. 

I mean, your darlings are your darlings. They're beautiful and awesome and sure, maybe that sentence doesn't seem to fit into the grand scheme of things right away, but maybe that means the grand scheme is wrong, not the sentence. 

What I'm saying is, when you come to an oddball piece of writing, something you love but aren't sure has a place in your book, remember that you have a choice–You can delete it or you can try and find it a home. The first one is the safe choice, no doubt about it. But it you choose the later, if you let the unexpected or the oddball effect your writing then maybe, just maybe, you'll make your work richer and stranger and more interesting.

The Darkest Path Sequel

So to answer the question which, according to my analytics, brings the vast majority of you to my website.....Yes! There is going to be a sequel, of a sort,  to The Darkest Path. I just finished the first draft of a short companion novel currently titled Unification Day. It's going to tell you a whole bunch more about what happened both before and after The Darkest Path. And the whole thing is told from the POV of Bear the Dog. 

This will be a digital only release. I'm not entirely sure when it's going to be out yet, but if you go here and add your name to my mailing list you'll know before anyone else when it's available. 

Can't wait to get it to you!

My New Site!

Hi all! I'm so excited about this new, cleaner, simpler website. Have a look around and let me know what you think. This site was built using Squarespace, which I can't recommend highly enough. It's super flexible and super easy to use. 

My ferris wheel logo was created by the incomparable Leigh Baumann.

I recently decided that blogging is something that is best left to real bloggers, not moonlighting novelists. Given that, you won't see a ton of posts here. I'll be using this space mainly to keep you updated on the latest happenings with me and my books.

Fundamentals

When I go to schools I find myself comparing being a writer to being an athlete alot. Which is probably weird since I'm about the furthest thing from a sports fan as you can imagine. But I was thinking about this again today as I was editing Dog Soldier (which, by the way, is not going to be called Dog Soldier much longer. Not sure what it will be called instead yet. Stayed tuned) and I came to a scene that was just not working. I came at it from one direction after another until I finally realized that the problem was that I had absolutely no idea what one of the two characters in the scene wanted. I had no idea why she was there. That, my friends , is that the sporty folks would call a problem with my fundamentals.

See, when you think about it, baseball comes down to throwing a ball, catching a ball, hitting a ball and running. As you move higher up in the sport layers of strategy and complexity are put on top of that but the foundation is always throwing, catching, hitting and running.  Look at pro athletes, no matter where they are in their career they are still practicing those fundamentals. It's the basis of everything they do.

I think with writing, especially after you've been doing it awhile, you can get too wrapped up in the complexities of things and, like I did in that scene, lose sight of the fundamentals. To move forward I had to stop thinking about theme or character arcs or any of that stuff and simply ask myself...why is this person here? What does she want in this scene?

Of course this raises the question of what exactly are the fundamentals writing wise? Opinions absolutely vary, but for me at least, I think they are....

  • What need is each character trying to fill?
  • How do they go about trying to fill it?
  • What gets in their way?
  • Specificity and clarity of language.

I'm curious. What do you all think are the writing fundamentals?

 

Magisterium is a Junior Library Guild Selection!!

Hi all! Not alot of detail yet and nothing to link to, but I can tell you that MAGISTERIUM  has just been made a Junior Library Guild Selection for Fall 2012!!

This is super exciting! If you don't know the JLG, their mission is to help libraries wade through the mass of books published every season and pick what's best for their collections.  They review thousands of upcoming titles and pick just a few as their official selections in several categories.

So happy to be a part of it! Thanks to the Guild!!

Things I Learned About Writing From Prometheus

Just as a heads up, this brief posts assumes you have either A) have already seen Prometheus B) Haven't seen it, don't plan to and therefore don't care about spoilers. If you answered B, well, all I can say is that after having seen the movie I wish I had made the same decision.

Don't get me wrong, there was some good stuff in the movie (Pretty much the beautiful visuals and Michael Fassbender) but there were also things in the movie that are really great object lessons for people who write. Namely:

Don't set up that your characters are all brilliant and then make your plot dependent on them acting really really stupid: Honestly this is the movie's worst failing. Sure, no one says that the crew are all geniuses or anything, but hey, they're scientists good enough that a company is sending them a trillion miles from earth in what may be the greatest scientific expedition of all time. They've probably got some game, right?

Well, if they do then one would think they wouldn't:

  • Remove their helmets on a completely alien world. Sure, we know the air is breathable but how can they possibly know that there isn't some alien super flu (or whatever) just floating around ready to make their innards into soup? I mean, wouldn't it  pay to be a little extra cautious when you're the first person ever to step onto an alien world?
  • Stuff alien artifacts into ziploc bags and the take them onto the ship to examine them without bothering to put them into some kind of isolation before you do it. (Also, why were they in such a hurry? Sure there was a huge storm coming but this stuff had been sitting there for thousands of years and I don't think the dead guys head was going anywhere. Again, a little caution was called for.)
  • See a bizarre alien cobra thing floating around in an icky black lake and think "Hey! I know! I'll just go ahead and touch it!"

Now sure, smart people do dumb things all the time and maybe these people are overcome with, I don't know, space madness or something, but if that is the case the audience needs to be made aware of it. I need to understand why they're making these decisions or else I just wonder why the mega corp sent the  Three Stoooges on a trillion dollar mission

Don't do things just because they're convenient for your as a writer:  Ok these drove me nuts as well. Three things. Fassbender using his weird helmet thing to see Rapace's extremely exposition heavy dreams,  the incredibly convenient but baffling Engineer holograms we see running around inside the ship and Rapace's magical de-aliening surgery.

Seriously? The dream helmet thing? It was used once in the whole movie simply to communicate a piece of exposition that A) the robot could have known in many other ways and B) could have been simply communicated in a line or two of dialogue. (For brevity's sake we'll ignore the fact that it really wasn't an important piece of exposition anyway)

And the Engineer hologram thing? I grant you that it looked neat and all but, why would it have existed? I guess the aliens were recording everything they did on the ship in hologram form. Why would they do that? Seems awful convenient for our heros. And our writers. Again, ultimately I guess this was done to communicate some exposition to us and the team but man, it was a pretty heavy handed way of doing it.

And the surgery? Ok, we sometimes have to fudge the timeline on things a little, but seriously? She has what is essentially a C-section, while awake, and then she is stapled up and running through the ship literally minutes later. I think, at most, she winces once. Now honestly, it's not so much that it wasn't realistic that bothers me, it's that the writers put a character in a huge and interesting predicament and then solved it with what is essentially a punt. "Eh she gets magic surgery and she's fine. Whatever. Let's move on."  That's just weak writing. I think if you embrace the difficulty of a problem and the seeming impossibility of solving it, you are forced to come up with  better and more creative solutions.

Shut up already: I had this same problem with Dark Knight Rises. Too often writers think that if characters spend alot of time talking about big heady issues--like faith or the responsibility of creators to their creations--then it means that the movie is about those things in some significant way. It's not. A story is about, say,  faith when we see the ways in which faith, or the lack thereof, effects a characters actions, when it creates conflicts, when it is the engine of the story. Not when people talk about it. This is a classic show vs. tell problem. Don't talk about your ideas, show us your ideas in action and let us make the connections.

How about y'all? Anybody see this and take other lessons from it?

Movie Style Ratings for YA Books?

So have you guys seen this? Basically there's some talk that there should be movie-like ratings created specifically for YA books. On one hand, I get it. I'm not a parent but I can get why parents would want a hand figuring out which books do and do not conform to their values.  There are alot of books out there so asking for  a simple way to look at a book and it's content isn't out of line.

But I think my problem isn't so much it being done, as it is how it would be done. Any rating system is going to be based around a list of flagged content, right? In movies its nudity, language, violence, smoking, drug use, etc. When it comes to books some board will have the job of deciding what deserves to be flagged. Langauge? That one is pretty cut and dried. Violence? OK, but how do you deal with the way violence is depicted? Is it action movie type glorification? Is it critiqued? Does it matter? And what about sexuality? Will hetero sex be flagged in the same way and to the same degree as gay sex, for instance? How about the way religion is handled in YA books? Could "blasphemous content"  become an issue thats flagged? I can sure bet there are people who would want it to be.

And once a list of flagged content is determined  how do we weigh these instances and arrive at a rating?

The MPAA, the group that does movie ratings, is frequently challenged for it's tendency to allow astonishing acts of violence in a PG-13 movie, but will slap an R on something that has a tiny bit of sex or a few bad words, no matter the context. Or, in another recent controversy the anti-bullying film Bully, a well reviewed film and an important one for our time, was given an R rating for using a bit of bad language. (As an aside, the MPAA is primarily made up of former big movie studio execs and, in what I'm sure is a total coincidence, the board tends to be much harder on indie films, even when they have similar content to studio films.)

And all of this brings us to the huge economic issues that will be at play. If a book is rated as being for more mature teen readers will B&N carry it? Will Target? Or Wal-mart?  Now, buyers may read a book and decide that despite challenging content it's an important book and deserves to be on their shelves. Once you start putting letter grades on things suddenly it becomes very easy for corporations to make a blanket statement that they won't carry anything with this or that rating, no matter the context. Saves them from being criticized. And once buyers say they won't take them you'll see publishers stop publishing them.  This ends nowhere good for books.

So in some ways I'm at a loss. I get some parents desire for this but I just can't think of how this can done in a way that doesn't get hopelessly tangled up in politics and doesn't ultimately hurt publishing and deny readers good books.

Any wisdom out there on this?

101 Uses for a Brick (Or a Ghost)

Hi all! I'm coming off a pretty intense few days of book events and have now caught myself a bit of a cold. But before I finish up my tea and put myself to bed I wanted to put together a short Halloween related post. If you haven't seen it yet, Nova Ren Suma (Imaginary Girls) is doing a great series of Halloween themed posts on her blog. Mine will be up there later today. By all means give it a gander. But I also wanted to talk about one of the other posts in this series that went up last week. Nina LaCour (Hold Still) wrote up an awesome true life ghost story that, in addition to being supremely creepy, illustrates an important writing principal.

From here on out there are going to be SPOILERS so before we go any further, read the whole story. Don't worry it's short. I'll wait....

Read it?

Ok. Wow, spooky right? A few nights after I read this I flew into Los Angeles late at night and as soon as I got myself settled into my big empty hotel room this story came rushing back to mind and I got properly freaked out.

Now about the writing principle I think this illustrates. For me, this story works so well because of the twist at the end, where Nina theorizes that it wasn't some kind of ghost taking the pictures but the girl herself waking up in the middle of the night as this malevolent "other person" and taking the pictures. There's just something so chilling and unexpected about that interpretation. That there's this other person living inside you that lives to terrify and undermine you. Nina could have easily left this story as just a creepy occurrence, maybe it's a ghost, maybe not, and it would have worked perfectly fine. That she takes this extra step to come up with a novel interpretation of the event is really what does it for me.

One standard test of creativity is to ask someone to list as many different uses for a brick as they possibly can. You know, you can hold a door open with it, you can crack a walnut with it etc etc. Generally when people do this the first few uses they come up with are the most obvious ones and then the longer they go the more outlandish and surprising the uses get. The idea is the more credible uses you can come up with for a brick the more creative you are. To me, this is what LaCour did so well with this story. She didn't stop at the most obvious explanation for the occurrence, a ghost, she kept going until she found something that had the shock of surprise. She found a new use for a brick.

This is something I'm trying to keep in mind as I work on my new book. If a character needs to get out of a tight spot, I don't want to stop with the first gambit that comes to mind, I want to come up with as many options as possible and pick one that feels fresh and surprising. It's the same thing when it comes to interpreting a character's behavior, or exploring their point of view, or describing a feeling or an image.

Our first idea is not always the best, often it's simply the most conventional, but if we keep pushing we can get somewhere really surprising and, in this case, scare the hell out of people.

What about you all? Do you make a point to push past your first ideas and find new ones?

Are Movies Killing Books?

Over the last few years we've seen a major transformation in the publishing industry. No, not talking about digital books this time, I'm talking about all the ways the publishing industry is coming to mirror the film industry.

There are some surface similarities of course, the film industry survives on the blockbuster genre series, now so do we. Movies do trailers; now we do trailers. How many times have you heard a new book refferred to as being X meets Y? Harry Potter meets Twilight? The Hunger Games meets Sweet Valley High? That all comes from the film industry.
But most importantly, when people talk about books these days, especially when they give advice on how to write one, what I hear sounds alot like Screenwriting 101: 
  • Use a 3-act structure that includes a very early inciting incident, major plot reversals at the end of each act and a couple mid-act turning points.
  • Focus on character arcs where a character must grapple with and overcome a personality defect in order to succeed.
  • Create very clear protagonists and antagonists.
  • Skip descriptions and backstory whenever possible.

Now screenwriters didn't invent any of this--the 3-act structure has been around since Aristotle--but structuring a story around points like these has become the standard way of writing a screenplay, and since film is the dominant storytelling medium at the moment I suppose it makes sense that these points have come to to dominate other mediums as well. And, hey why not? It works and everybody likes a tight, well-structured story.

What concerns me though is that if we adopt the language and techniques of screenwriters will we lose a sense of how a book is a fundamentally different experience than a film?

All mediums (fiction, film, poetry, theater, non-fiction etc) have particular strengths and weaknesses when it comes to storytelling. So when you choose to write a story you have to decide which medium's strengths and weaknesses work most to your advantage. You ask yourself "This idea I have, is it a book? A movie? A poem? A play?"  You can only answer if you know what the strengths and weaknesses of each are.

So what are the strengths and weaknesses of fiction vs. film? 
To speak in a few ridiculously broad generalizations, I think a book excels at being an immersive experience. We'll spend days or weeks poring over a book, while we'll generally spend no more than 3 hours with a movie. Because of this a book is good at doing a deep, sustained dive into characters, relationships, and worlds. Books are great at historical sweep and complex multi-layered stories. Fiction is also better at presenting ideas and character's inner lives. 
Film, due largely to time constraints, is a more compact medium. Films tend to have fewer characters and settings and take place over a shorter time frame. They also need to get to the point very quickly and keep the action at as brisk a pace as possible. For this reason film has really embraced the 3-act structure we talked about above. It's a structure that's all about keeping a story tight and moving. 
Now, if this is true, if our talks about writing fiction have become overwhelmed with talk of film structure, a structure that maybe serves another medium far better, what do we do about it? How do we talk about writing differently? Do we?
I have no answers here so I'm eager to hear any of your thoughts.  Are we fiction writers veering too much into a film world? Do we need to make our books more...booklike? If so, how?

Thumbs up for Rock N Roll!

Ok, everyone may have seen this at this point but there's some truly timeless wisdom here. 

From now on if anyone asks me my thoughts on pursuing writing or publishing I'm just sending them to this video.  Sometimes we adults make things too damn complicated and it takes a kid who just learned how to ride his bike to put things into perspective.