Saturday, April 16, 2005

Time to Step Back a Little

A little Learning is a dang'rous Thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring:
There shallow Draughts intoxicate the Brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.

--Alexander Pope, "An Essay on Criticism"

Often misquoted as "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing". Quite true either way.

I have worked myself into a frenzy of self-doubt about writing fiction. The biggest problem is that I know both too little and too much. I have reached a point where concern about the craft has overwhelmed the flow of the art. I have handcuffed myself with worry over plot points, scene structure, dialogue beats, adverbs, passive voice, sentence structure, and every thing else. With all that going on, I'm unable to get myself started on actual writing. That sucks.

I know that this stage will pass. As the details sink deeper into my mind, they will become habitual and second nature. Right now, though, I feel bad about not writing.

I need to write something. Therefore, I have two paths I will follow for the short term until this passes. I will write non-fiction, whether for publication or just for my own enjoyment, and I will free-write. Free-writing is something I have gotten away from lately. I always found it a good way to break open the logjam and just let thoughts flow onto paper. I love that feeling of freedom and that's what I am missing right now.

Self-imposed deadlines be damned. Relax and get back the joy. That's the priority.

Thursday, April 14, 2005


***If Angels Burn is at 148 on the USA Today best-seller List. Way to go PBW!

***You have to see this! Oh...My...God! Somebody's going to Hell for this one, for sure!

***Re the recent Freedom of Speech rant:

Why won't you talk to me
You never talk to me
What are you thinking
Where do we go from here

It doesn't have to be like this
All we need to do is make sure we keep talking

Pink Floyd -- "Keep Talking" (Division Bell, 1994)

***Are you kidding me?

***Someone found this blog using to search for "j.p.thomas" artist landscape. WTF?

***Someone else got here from by searching for We're giving away a Communication Device. WTF2?

I have enough trouble with reality as it is. This stuff just makes my brain hurt.

Duck and Cover

My instincts tell me that calling attention to myself is dangerous. My intellect says that's bullshit. Constant warfare, especially when it comes to submissions.

I e-mailed my query on "Metaphorically Speaking" to The Writer Magazine this morning. My instincts are screaming. I had a big fight with myself yesterday over this. Lots of reasons not to send it. I finally called and got the name of the correct editor to send it to. It's not in the guidelines. You do read the guidelines, don't you? :)

Anyway, I snuck up on myself this morning. Sent the query before I had even finished my first cup of coffee. Translation: Eyes open, body moving (sort of), brain still asleep.

Submitting always leaves me very conflicted. I'm confident I've done the best I'm capable of doing right now, I'm optimistic about my chances for success, and I'm scard to death. What if they laugh at me? What if they post my query on a blog? EEEKK!!!

That one's over. I have a couple more ideas for articles centering around research resources and methods that I want to develop for sale ("write what you know"), but I really need to get back to my fiction. I want to finish "Wolf Moon", I want to finish (and rename) "Bare Trees", and I want to get back to work on Washed in the Blood.

I've been using yard work as an excuse not to write lately. Now that the weather's getting warmer, that avenue is becoming less attractive.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Chalk Up Another One For the Forces of Darkness

I had to let this post sit for 24 hours. The first version was too obscene for even me to put out in public. I had to let the anger ease and the hurt fade just a tad before I could be coherent.

Mik has taken down her Celtic Dreamer blog. It looks like somebody was bombing her with hate mail for something she said. What I don't know. That doesn't matter. Also, let me say up front that I don't know Mik. I do know that I enjoyed reading her blog. I also know that she has the right to live free of abuse just like everybody else.

What does matter, and what is making me so damn mad I'm having trouble thinking straight, is the fact that some unknown person has aggravated this woman to the point that she has decided the hassle is not worth it. We have lost the benefit of a unique outlook, and we need all the different opinions we can gather in order to make some kind of sense out of this mess we live in.

Why are people so intolerant of different opinions? Are so many people so insecure in their beliefs that the just absolutely cannot tolerate disagreement? I think so. Well, how did we get into this fix? That's a subject for an entire book, but I will offer my summary opinion for what it's worth.

Up until fairly recently, well into the 20th Century, education was geared more towards teaching students to think. For a variety of social and economic reasons, that educational philosophy fell out of favor. In it's place has arisen a system in which students are actually discouraged from independent and creative thought and are often penalized for it. The result has been several generations of people who cannot form a valid opinion on their own. They have no reasoning power of their own. They follow whatever authority figure is currently in front of them without question.

This is bad for an awful lot of reasons. For the purpose of this rant, the reason it's bad is that such people are extremely intolerant of differing opinions. They see the other opinion as a vicious personal attack on themselves. Since they cannot back up their opinions with any logic or facts, their only recourse is to resort to personal attacks as a defensive measure. This kind of reflexive scorched-earth reaction quickly turns a debate into a mud-wrestling match, and nothing gets resolved. Feelings are hurt, people get very angry at each other, and rational communication becomes impossible.

I consider this a tragedy. Every time an opinion is suppressed, a light goes out, a little spark of humanity dies. Every act of intolerance reduces the quality of life for all of us. We're better than that. Every human has the potential to be a benefit to the world. We cannot let ignorance and intolerance smother the creative intelligence of the species. There are fates worse than mere death.

I challenge the person or persons who attacked Mik to come out of the closet. Say your piece right out in front of God and everybody and sign your name to it. I will be glad to engage in intelligent, cogent conversation on almost any topic. I challenge you to convince me that you are right and I am wrong. If I am wrong, I can change my mind. As a human being, I have that innate right. I don't see changing my mind as a weakness on my part, but rather a strength. It shows that I am mature and reasonable. In other words, I am an adult.


So once again, I find myself in the all-too-familiar position as the Champion of Lost Causes. Well, OK, that's a little melodramatic. The responses to my Openings post do show how much individual tastes and perceptions vary.

I agree, Michelle. Blood and violence are pretty commonplace these days. Using them as a hook to grab a reader's attention is singularly ineffective. There has to be something deeper.

As a long-time horror reader/writer, I am probably more inured to blood and gore than many other people. In the horror genre, that's really kind of expected. It's almost part of the scenery, unless it's just too over-the-top with senseless violence and sadism. In this case, the violence is certainly extreme, at least in the first part of the chapter, and hangs over the rest of the chapter like a pregnant thunderhead looking for the right victim, and the expectation of violence carries over into the second scene. That suspense is one of the reasons I want to keep reading.

Debra, the biggest reason I want to keep going is exactly the same reason that you don't. As someone with a connection to childhood trauma, the impact that this scene has on the protagonist's later life intrigues me. Does he think and feel in a way I can relate to? How does he deal with the horror and "survivor guilt"? In the second scene, there is a suggestion of violent potential in his encounter with his wife and kid. I don't want him to be the violent one. I want him to have made at least a little progress away from that. But I can't be sure. That draws me on. People have their dark sides. This guy's has to be darker than most.

One of the things I really like about this opening is the way he uses all the characters senses. His ears hurt, he sees the blood, hears the sound the knife makes. Then there is the touch of realism of the boy trying to distance himself emotionally from the horror. He sees a body, but is able to keep the fact that it's his mother at arm's length. He hears the sound and thinks about canteloupe and supper. That's a very realistic defensive maneuver. He wants to keep the blood separate so someone can "fix" it later. All these things are signs of a mind overwhelmed by the trauma. All these things will come back to contribute to his problems later on.

Finally, and crucially, I want to know how and why he survived. I identify with this boy. I feel for him. I want to know about him. For me, the novel has an effective hook.

But then, I'm famous for being weird.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

OK, Now I'm Really Scared!

Jon Carroll at the San Francisco Chronicle has blown the lid off the latest terrorist threat. Unitarian Jihad! They better hope Donny and Condi never find out where they're based.

My Unitarian Jihad Name is: Brother Atom Bomb of Compassion.

Get yours.

Random Acts of Stupidity

Why do school buses have those little strobe lights on top? If there's somebody on the road that can't see something that big and that yellow with that many bright, flashing lights all over it, will a dinky strobe really make any difference?

Why do people insist on wasting maoney on high-performance exhaust systems for 4-cylinder rice-burners? FYI, guys, it doesn't sound "bad", it sounds like a 4-cylinder rice-burner, only annoying. I take that back, it actually sounds like a sewing machine with a chest cold. It's also dangerous. It's hard as Hell to keep my car under control when I'm laughing that hard. You want a car that sounds "bad"? Find you an early-seventies Pontiac Gran Prix with the 454 V-8 and 4-barrel carburetor. Put some Glasspacks on that bugger and make some real noise.

Cardinal Bernard Law said Mass for Pope John Paul II at Saint Peter's Basilica yesterday. Yes, the same Bernard Law who resigned as Archbishop of the Boston diocese when he got caught hiding and protecting predatory pedophile priests. American Catholics were not amused. What were they thinking in the Vatican?

Enough. My head hurts.


This week's selection for the Horror Book Club at DearReader is Like Death by Tim Waggoner. Since I subscribed to this book club (they send out excerpts of books by e-mail), I have mainly been disappointed in the quality of the horror fiction that has been presented. This book, though, has something special--a real hook. You can read the first chapter and decide for yourself, but I am impressed. Warning: violence and adult language.

Waggoner has reached deep inside me and pulled something out that is visceral, something slimy, stinky, and real. From the first sentence, the intensity is, well, intense. He does not try to spare my delicate sensibilities. He does not back away and let me hear about it third hand. He puts me right into the protagonist's mind, seeing through his eyes, smelling through his nose, hearing through his ears.

This is how to open a novel. Conflict? Oh, boy! neck deep from the first step. Understanding a character? What better introduction than to witness something like this from inside his head? I definitely think this is worth further study.

Real Writers Write Real

In one of her posts this morning on Silent Bounce, Holly wrote about writing real. Real not meaning realistic, but real as in meaningful in a fundamental way. That really struck a chord with me.

Reality is a somewhat slippery concept. The "concrete" reality that we see around us, material objects, is ultimately an illusion. Just ask any Buddhist or quantum physicist. This reality is really empty space inhabited by probabilities. Or maybe possibilities. When you get right down to it, the "fact" that we exist at all is really not a fact, just a supposition based on the way our observations affect the probabilities around us. It is easier on us to assume that reality is actually real, though, so we ignore the real facts and accept the illusion. Always, though, there is that tiny itch way in the back of our minds. What is real? What does that mean?

Descartes wrote "Cogito ergo sum". I think, therefore I am. As Mad Magazine pointed out in a comic of some (ahem) years back: "But am I thinking, or do I just think I'm thinking?" Dangerous ground. Here be tygers.

Luckily, some of us are in touch with a reality that is more real than Reality itself. This is the Reality of the Mind. This is the reality where thoughts and dreams live and breed and sweat and bleed and die and are born again. This is a reality that we all share, the Jungian collective unconscious, inhabited by archetypes.

As a writer, I dream of touching that reality in my readers. I don't want to force my vision an anybody, I want to share our common vision, speak our common archetypical language, explore our common dreams and nightmares. That's what writing real means to me. That's what I want to do. This is my answer to Holly's question from April 3. That is why I write.

Thank you, Holly for opening that door and kicking my butt through it.

Monday, April 11, 2005

The Writer's Responsibility

I have been working my way through the Jungian Novel Writing site. Interesting stuff. As I was reading the Myth-Making page, today, I came across this statement:

When all is said and done, the author must evaluate her/his work for moral
content and revise it accordingly...Stephen King, after learning that a boy used
one of his novels as a model to kill one of his fellow students and hold his
class hostage, expressed regret that he'd ever written the novel...An author is
responsible for what s/he dumps into the world.

I take issue with a couple of parts of this statement. While I am certainly responsible for the words and works that I bring into the world, I am in no way responsible for what other people do with those words. This is an issue of personal responsibility. Each of us is responsible for his or her own actions and statements. I'm terribly sorry if a person had a miserable childhood, but that does not excuse that person from responsibility for their behavior. The same goes for discrimination, whether racial, gender- or age-based, or whatever. People who discriminate are responsible for their own actions, and you are responsible for your responses to them. As adult humans, we are each responsible for controlling ourselves and for facing the consequences if we fail to do so.

Can my words have an effect on other people? Certainly. My writing may influence other people to act in certain ways whether I agree with them or not. Does that, then, make me responsible for the actions of those other people? No. I have no intention of trying to control another person. I offer my writing to the world as a glimpse into my soul, a brief explanation of my personal mythology. My responsibility is to tell the truth as I see it and as the story demands it.

I am not responsible for saving the world or any of the people in it. I am responsible for saving myself and offering the world a look into the how's and why's of that process. I don't have the strength for any more. Take what you want and leave the rest. If I tell you to jump off a cliff, whether or not you jump is up to you.

"Revise accordingly?" I don't think so. Sometimes the truth is ugly. Sometimes the truth hurts. Sometimes other people do not and will not like my truth. That will not stop me from saying it.

So there. ;-)

Ask And Ye Shall Receive

If you don't ask, you sure-as-hell get nothing.

So, query letters. I spent all weekend researching and learning. Most helpful to me was Moira Allen's Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches, & Proposals. I cheated and bought the PDF . So far, Chapters 1 (The Perfect Pitch: Ten Steps to a Winning Proposal) and 2 (Writing the (Almost) Perfect Query) have been invaluable.

Ms. Allen proposes a 5-part query letter:

  • Hook - grab the editor's attention, including several optional forms and several do-not-use hooks

  • Proposal or Offer - explain what you are selling and why it fits this market's needs

  • Body - outline the article in some detail

  • Credentials - explain why you are qualified to write this article

  • Close - thanks and other courtesies

She gives excellent advice on professionalism and what not to do. Highly recommended. Ms; Allen also has some articles posted on line.

So now I'm off to start drafting the query to send to The Writer for "Metaphorically Speaking".

Garden Update

Corn and pole beans are up and growing like crazy. Michelle, we should be ready to cook out in about 6 weeks. :-) Squash, Cukes, Tomatoes, and Peppers have taken hold and are beginning to grow. Broccoli still going strong. Lima beans just starting to sprout. Okra planted today. Damn, that's a lot of vegetables in only about 350 square feet.

That does it for the first summer planting. Around mid-May, I'll put in a second planting of corn and beans interplanted with the first crop. By the time the second set of plants needs the room, I'll be cutting down the first set. Timing is everything. I may even be able to squeeze in a third planting. Gotta love a long growing season.

Then it's time to think about fall. Currently on the agenda are: turnips, collards, kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce (loose-leaf), beets (for greens), and Sugar Snap peas. Subject to change without notice. Void where prohibited by law.