Thursday, May 30, 2013

My History of Writing

I've been writing for as long as I can remember, or rather, I've been creating stories, which for me is a good 90% of my writing process; the act of transferring those stories to the physical form of words on paper - writing - plays only a small part.

Like any child, I created adventures to put upon my plastic soldiers, or whatever toys I was playing with. Yet, unlike many children, I think, I would imagine an adventure in great detail - all the plot points, the protagonists and their enemies, and the story's conclusion - long before beginning to play.  

I recall one particular day when I laid out a rather involved war story, a Where Eagles Dare kind of adventure. I had all my men in place, arranged the living room just-so to accommodate the landscape I'd envisioned, and prepared for battle. Just then some friends of the family showed up with their son, who was about my age, and who I was instructed to play with. He immediately tore into what I had painstakingly set up and proceeded to ruin my plans with some kind of improvised conflict he made up as he played. (Sacrilege!) I was very unhappy, as much by having my "story" dashed aside as by his encroachment upon my maturing anti-social tendencies. 

My writing would take many forms. I created comic books, complete with advertisements. Mind you, these were not artful in any way, the drawings were simplistic and rudimentary to say the least, but they were a means to put my ideas to paper. 

I typed up short stories on an old Remington. Very short stories, with random plots to no logical conclusions. And then, I discovered a friend's Super-8 movie camera! From there, for many years to follow, I put a great deal of energy into film making. (Wasted energy, it turned out, as my heart was never really into the technical aspects of making movies; it was only about the telling of my stories.) I attended the San Francisco Art Institute and discovered the world of avant-garde film...which I had no idea what to do with, but loved.

I wrote a horrible one-act play in college, and throughout the 80's and into the 90's I penned a few screenplays. Action movies, mostly. None of which, of course, made it to the big (or any-sized) screen. There's one, however, that I was quite fond of, which I co-wrote with a friend. It was a horror story about a newly married couple who are killed in a car accident. The man is brought back to life by an experiment with a regenerative spell cast by a coven of would-be witches. Unfortunately, the man comes back to life in the same condition as when he was dead - with a broken neck and mangled limbs. He takes revenge on those who caused his car to crash, and hunts down the witches with the intent to use their spell upon his dead bride. It was sort of an homage to the Dr. Phibes movies, starring Vincent Price, that I loved so much as a kid.

From there, I tried my hand at short stories, again, and...that takes us to my previous posting.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

My First Book

I finished writing my first novel, Gospel for the Damned - about a journalist who spends three days within the quarantined city of San Francisco - a little over two years ago. I had developed it from a short story I wrote in 1994, almost thirty years before! 

The short story, A Little Reality Never Killed Anyone, is about a group of teens in some kind of dystopian world who play dangerous truth-or-dare games to conquer their fear of living day-to-day. It's not very good. I'm not just saying this to be humble or self-deprecating, it's really not good. (One magazine that rejected my submission wrote - and I'm paraphrasing, only slightly - "We're not interested in your story. We only publish good writing.") But, it was one of the first and few short stories I ever wrote, and I will always cherish it as one of the many, necessary steps I took in becoming a novelist.

So, why thirty years to write my first novel?

Several reasons:

First, I didn't know what the hell I was doing. A story of a few pages length is one thing. A book of 200-plus pages, with real character development, detailed settings, and a cohesive story arc is a whole other realm of organization and creativity. I must have written a dozen or more outlines, trying to figure out how to connect all the different elements that were swirling around in my imagination.

Also, I had a number of strong characters with very distinct experiences. So I wrote three or four first drafts, each from the perspective of the various characters (written in first person). Yet, none of the early drafts worked because I couldn't coherently tell the story of all the characters from the point-of-view of only one of them. I also tried approaching it as a collection of stories connected by a common thread, like Sherman Alexie's The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, or Hemingway's Nick Adams stories. But that merely complicated what had already become a daunting task.

How about writing from the omniscient or detached viewpoint? I thought to myself. I wrote one such draft that just didn't sound right; the story called for a more intimate narration than that. 

In 2004, I took a course in the writing of research papers. (I had a vague plan of getting a degree in the field of linguistics.) I wrote two pretty good papers, if I do say so myself, both of which had an unintended journalistic voice to them. And there was the answer to my dilemma: write my novel from the point-of-view of a journalist, from the outside, looking in. It was quite astounding how everything fell into place with that realization.

The second reason (or excuse, depending on how you look at such things) was the single greatest challenge that I think every writer faces - Life. It can sure get in the way. Working to pay the bills and a difficult first marriage, to name two things. But, and this would be my first piece of advice to any aspiring author, it's amazing how much you can produce with only one hour a day dedicated to writing and only writing. That's all. An hour a day. 

Lastly, the greatest deterrent to the completion of my first book was, simply, fear of failure. I'd spent (or wasted, depending on how you look at such things) so much of my life chasing rainbows (like a linguistics degree) that when it came to doing the one thing I felt I had a certain amount of skill in and true passion for - writing - I became incapacitated with the fear of it not working out, of failing, and then where would I be?

Well, it did work out, because I realized the only way I would fail is if I didn't try.

You can find my book on Amazon, in a paper version or for Kindle, at

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Welcome to my blog!

A couple of months ago I released my first novel through the self-publishing platform CreateSpace, an Amazon company. And now, as my audience slowly grows, I want to also develop a correspondence with everyone, and I can't think of a better way than through this page.

Here, I will talk about my process, projects I'm working on, or anything that strikes my fancy regarding my life as an aspiring, and finally published, author. I hope you'll find my posts, if not informative, at least entertaining, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks for reading.