So, I haven’t disappeared. Or died. Or gone into the witness protection system. I’ve just been really busy (and a little lazy) and haven’t had time to do the things I’d like to with this blog. I promise I’ll do better. Just as soon as I get caught up. In the meantime, go buy my dang book!
Category: Writing (Page 2 of 3)
Here it is, live and FREE (this weekend, beginning Friday), or you can have it in your hot little hands now!
Well, my time off from writing and conducting my community band was certainly fruitful. Here’s the result of all that time. It’s a little piece I call Anthems. Don’t let the length scare you–it’s easier than it sounds.I hope…
So, I’ve taken the cover of Swift in a new direction. The knife is more central to the story than the lion, but some people really like the lion. Tell me what you think!
I realized early in my writing career that I was a pantser. Plotting was something you did only if you got stuck. And while I’ve gotten myself stuck many times, I’ve never bought into the idea that plotting is a good thing all the time. Stay with me here, because this post has nothing to do with novel writing.
If you’ve read my blog, you’ll notice I’m writing a new piece for wind ensemble for the first time in years, and what I discovered, much to my surprise, is I’m a pantser with music, too. Who knew? I mean, I’ve got literally reams of paper filled with sketches and form outlines for music I composed all those years ago. And, yes, I’ve kept every scrap over the past fifty years—you never know when you’ll need a theme, incipit, or motive, and even the worst compositions have something useful buried within. That’s one thing that’s rarely true of storytelling. If a plot’s bad, it’s bad, and no amount of massaging and window dressing will save it. With music, I can turn it upside down, run it backward, or do both at the same time, and that crappy little theme transmutes into pure gold.
Anyway… I’ve been pounding away at this piece for a couple of weeks, and just today noticed I haven’t lifted a pencil or gone to the piano a single time. Instead, I’ve committed the most egregious error in all of music—doing it all on my computer without even a midi keyboard for assistance. It’s kind of freeing, in a way; I don’t get bogged down in details, and I don’t have to wait to hear what I wrote. If I want to try a specific chord, melody, rhythm, tone cluster—whatever—I only have to enter it, press play, and hear it in all its instrumental glory. Don’t like the harmony? Nudge a note or two up or down. Don’t like the rhythm? Scrap it and try again.
When I started this project, I had six weeks to write eight minutes of music for large ensemble. Any composer worth their salt will tell you that’s a tall order. For one, we need near absolute silence while we audiate the gestalt of the section we’re writing in our head. Most times, when stuck, I’ll take a road trip on my Roadstar. Well, I’ve already committed over five minutes of fully orchestrated music to “paper”, and I still have about three weeks left. Unless I hit a major road bump, I’ll finish this with time to spare.
I actually did something similar about six or seven years ago, cranking out a seven-minute work for full orchestra in just two weeks. Sure, I stole bits from the piano sonata I wrote in college, but I did everything else at my computer. The entire process was nearly painless, and even when I was almost finished and realized something was missing, I added that with zero effort.
So… I’m a pantser.
I wonder if that works for relationships…
As an author, every article on how to catch an agent’s interest says the number one, most important thing I can do is grab their attention and hold it from the first ten pages. The first page, if that’s possible. Until I read Winterset Hollow, I don’t think I’d seen an author do that more than a handful of times, yet Jonathan Durham succeeds within the first paragraph. To be perfectly honest, he manages this trick before the story even begins with his deft use of verse from the fictional children’s book of the same name.
Without giving away too much, this is a complex tale with many layers of meaning. Its veneer is a thin layer of “be careful what you wish for” but beneath that, it’s got a darker heart beating to the rhythm of vengeance by any means necessary. Other themes abound, but, for me, the central was one man’s quest for who he was as a person, and how much was a gift from his ancestors.
Winterset Hollow, the children’s book written by Edward Addington, is a story in verse of a diverse group of animals living together in harmony within the titular hollow. When Runnington Rabbit hops the hedge to satisfy his curiosity, he sets in motion a series of events that must end in death. While the depth of story in the fictional book reminds me of Watership Down, the verse makes the somber tale palatable in a way only good verse can. I’d love to see Durham complete that work and publish it separately; his poetry is really that good.
Eamon, Mark, and Caroline in the “real” world, each resemble one of the four bloodthirsty fictional characters that leapt from the pages of their favorite book bent on bloody murder, and it is only the bond of the three that offers them any chance of surviving Barley Day. But more than that, Eamon must lean on the teachings of an unbalanced father who abandoned him in the forest, coming to terms with what the man did to prepare him for such a day as this.
Not every character gets their moment in the sun the way Eamon does, yet we learn so much of the antagonists—Runny, Finn, Bing, and Flack—and their motivations, it’s difficult to hate them as they hunt and kill those who came to honor them. It’s this depth of character that makes Winterset Hollow so wonderful a read; every motivation for good or evil is plausible and understandable.
There’s a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming until I was over three quarters of the way through the novel, and that revelation is one final push for Eamon and his last act. The only issue I have with the writing are the number of miraculous escapes Eamon has from what even he sees as certain death, each time musing on its meaning in relation to his life. Once is enough. More than that is overkill. Aside from this one niggle, though, the novel is brilliant and deeply affective. This is one that will stay with you for days or weeks after you turn the last page.
Here we go with another cover reveal. This one is still in the design phase, so I’m down with any suggestions you may have.
Sometimes (and by that, I mean all the time) I wonder what I’m doing all this for. It’s not like people really care about what I write–and that’s okay… no one cares about what most people write. There’s a reason for that. Two, really. One is time. Most people these days just don’t have enough of it. The second is due to Sturgeon’s Law–80% of everything is crap. People know this instinctively, and budget their time accordingly. They stick to the writers they know and like and are often unwilling to take a chance on anyone new. Hence the reason most sales of new writers go to friends and family, and usually only the one time. Even your friends figure out quickly enough whether or not you’re someone they’re willing to add to their list of “writers”.
With that in mind, I offer a little story here for you to dip your toes into the icy river of my words…
An Illusion of Night
by Clancy Weeks
Everything leaked—the window, three bulkheads, seals, and the port reaction chamber; the worst were Will’s head and Paul’s own abdomen, and the second he plugged with two quick squirts of Heal-It. There was nothing he could do for Will, and Lena had trapped herself in the airlock. Next up was the port engine before their universe went boom, but unless he got into an EVA suit soon, it wouldn’t matter. Paul’s trachea burned with every icy breath, and the ship’s alarm faded with every second; in moments, hard vacuum would reduce it to a vibration he could sense only through his boots.
He ran to the nearest locker and shrugged on the suit, ignoring pre-check protocols. The collar on the helmet clicked home when he gave it a quarter turn, and air flowed instantly to his aching lungs. Before he could descend the ladder to the port engine, a fierce rumble vibrated up his boots, through his legs, and into his brain.
“I’m not goin’ in there.” Will shook his head violently, the white-knuckled grip on his weapon never wavering. “Why me, anyway?”
Paul eyed him with a frown, then pasted a smile on his face. “Because you’re the better shot.” Without waiting for further argument, he opened the hatch and shoved the boy through, dogging it closed behind him. The kid stared through the porthole with wide eyes, then spun at a sound from the darkened depths of the hold.
One, two, three shots rang out, vibrating the floor plates under Paul’s boots. There was a short, high-pitched scream, and a bucket of blood splashed over the porthole. The beast that had once been Lena had just pureed Will, then pressed a leathery snout against the glass and licked it clean. Paul pointed his weapon, hands shaking, and blew the glass out with a single blast, accomplishing nothing more than enraging the creature. She bashed the door, and Paul retreated.
Not fast enough.
The metal screamed, and the door popped open like a can of biscuit dough. She gripped the ragged metal and pushed the door wide; head and body revealed an inch at a time. Paul fired into her abdomen and head with no effect, and she lunged and seized him around his chest. She tore the rifle away, taking most of his right arm with it. He cried out in agony, his vision blurry from pain and rapid blood loss, but clear enough to see her mouth open wide. Rows and rows of glistening teeth awaited, and he smelled Will’s blood on her hot breath as she—
The upper half of Will’s body exploded in a fountain of gore, bits of bone and brain raining over Paul’s head. The creature lifted Lena high into the air, its roar of rage shaking the ground, and he shouldered the weapon and prayed this time his aim was true. He took a deep breath and pulled the—
Dr. Jackson lifted his hand from the control panel and rubbed his temple. The power of the machine humming through every surface faded, then stopped.
“Why did you do that?” Inspector Janet Hardison stood on the other side of Paul’s body, studying the holo-field over his head. “We’re close.”
“He’s spiraling, Detective.” He shifted from rubbing his temple to scratching the five o’clock shadow on his cheek. “The longer he’s inside, the greater the chance of trapping him in a loop.”
Janet rubbed the side of her nose with a forefinger. “I think we were close a few iterations back.” She frowned and furrowed her brow. “Can you re-run from there?”
“Do it.” Her tone left no room for argument.
“How long do you plan to continue?”
She sneered. “The man murdered his wife and son, Doctor. I want that confession.”
Janet straightened. “As long as it takes.”
Will’s body lay splayed on the ground, his head a mess of red oatmeal, while Lena screamed under the weight of the bald man with all the tattoos. A wave of déjà vu washed over Paul as the other bikers struck him over and over with their lead pipes. How many times had he been here? A thousand? Two?
Blood poured from a deep cut on his forehead into his eyes. They burned and blurred, but he refused to close them. One leather-faced animal wound up like a major leaguer and—
In the universe of authors, there are really only two forms of intelligent life: “plotters” and “pantsers”. I admit it—I’m a “pantser”. I open my Surface, fire up Scrivner, and let the words fly without a single thought about the plot. Sure, I have an overarching whisper of a hint of a possible idea, but I rarely know the complete picture going in. In fact, a novel I have been working on for years is mired in writer’s block hell because the entire story is already in my head, and I can’t put it on paper well enough to do it justice.
I usually start in the middle of the action, pulling a character out of thin air, place him/her on the page, and start throwing crap at them until they react. No matter how detailed I make my character sketch, though, the damn buggers always seem to have a mind of their own. Sometimes a new character will just barge into a scene without even asking, mucking up the grand schemes of my protagonist. I rarely know what will come out of their mouths until I type the words. A few have even refused to exit the story when their fifteen minutes is up.
What happens, though, when pantsing isn’t enough?
I once wrote a serialized novel for the website Channillo and reached the painful conclusion that I have to at least plan better. I like to write a chapter in a single shot, then go back and revise, sometimes not reconciling plot holes with earlier and later chapters until the first full revision. Sometimes I move scenes around or add new characters.
That simply can’t happen when you’re posting individual chapters online as soon as they’re finished.
Sure, I can make cosmetic corrections such as spelling, grammar, or some minor word choices. What I can’t do is change the plot after the fact, since doing so makes everything your audience has read wasted effort. That’s a great recipe for losing readers.
I remember a certain television show based on a bestseller setting up a major character, with a major storyline that should have had an arc that lasted at least to the final season, only to see it all wiped out in a single scene. Worse, it made every scene leading up to that completely pointless.
I nearly threw a book at the screen.
Don’t be that guy. Those writers make me see red.
Just a quick note to show you guys the cover to my first horror novel, The Ward. I plan to release this in both print and Kindle formats in February. I’m also trying a new size format for this book, making it more like something you’d find in a bookstore–something a bit more pocketable.
Comments are welcome!