Monday, March 31, 2014

Vintage Monday: Ladies Man

I found this old postcard at the flea market and thought it was cute. The guy wears red and white striped socks and it makes me think he might be an ancestor of Denton Mills, aka Dead Man.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Status Update

Dead Man and the Army of Frogs is off to my beloved beta readers, and I'm busy doing preproduction for my next book. So far I've written 1,800 words of plot outline and it's not even the detailed one. The story is a sort-of-mystery, as mine often are, and what I've figured out is that instead of what will happen in the narrative, the first outline should contain what happens everywhere, including stuff my protagonists are not privy to. Put it in different terms, this is a chronological, omniscient description of events. The next step is to distill it into a bullet point list of events from the POV if my narrator(s).

I like this phase—it's exciting, and a little scary, but mostly all potential. I haven't always done it, but now I find it exceptionally useful. For example, giving names to all my characters even before starting the outline helps me to flesh them out. This is also the time I start doing research. I'm very visual and tend to look for a pictorial reference for every little thing that appears in my story, even if it's for one line.

A chunk of the book is to take place in a two bedroom Craftsman house in Silver Lake, so I drove around there to scout, then spent an hour on Google searching for photos of Craftsman homes. I even downloaded and printed a floor plan—it'll help me to visualize the scenes.

I grabbed another floor plan too, even though the place will probably only appear in one scene. It's a bungalow belonging to Mme Layla, aka Layla Maurell. Yeah, she's Bran's mom from the Dead Man books. :) I like having supporting characters walking from one book to another. This time I'm also planning guest appearances by Detective Lipkin from Dead in L.A. and Sandy Baker from Hanging Loose. Well, that's the plan. You know never know what actually happens once you start writing.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Wednesday Word: Marginalia

marginalia |ˌmärjəˈnālēə|plural nounmarginal notes.ORIGIN mid 19th cent.: from medieval Latin, neuter plural of marginalis, from margo, margin- (seemargin ).

Writing into a book seems such sacrilege, and I rarely do it, but I think it can also raise the value of the book on a personal level. Especially if it's by somebody you know, perhaps a long-gone relative. Those notes on the margin give a glimpse into the mind of the person who left them. Reading is an intimate experience and reading the marginalia is like reading a diary.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Vintage Monday: Fancy Pants

Don't these guys look like a collection of classic Bond villains? Especially the blond one. I remember the flared trouser legs from that era, but I've forgotten the high collars.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wednesday Word: Till

till  |til|preposition conjunctionless formal way of saying until .ORIGIN Old English til, of Germanic origin; related toOld Norse til ‘to.’USAGE In most contexts, till and until have the same meaning and are interchangeable. The main difference is that till is generally considered to be more informal than until. Until occurs much morefrequently than till in writing. In addition, until tends to be the natural choice at the beginning of a sentence: until very recently, there was still a chance of rescuing the situation. Interestingly, while it is commonlyassumed that till is an abbreviated form of until (the spellings 'till and 'til reflect this), till is in fact the earlier form. Until appears to have been formed by the addition of Old Norse und (‘as far as’) several hundred years after the date of the first records for till.

I have a tendency to use "till" in writing and speech more often. Maybe it's a European thing, I don't know. But I've had crit partners and editors both "correct" them in my manuscripts before.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Vintage Monday: Tussle

These guys are supposed to be wrestlers but they seem more like having a roll in the hay.

Sunday, March 16, 2014


With every single book there's a point where I hate the whole damn thing. It might be one I'll look back fondly one day. I can't explain why, but I decided it means it's almost finished.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Writing Exercise: Hard Boiled

I did this a while back for Ursual K. LeGuin's Steering the Craft. I don't remember which lesson, though.

"Spread them," Detective Mackie spits the words.

I do. He pats me down. Left pocket: pencil, paper, and a pack of gum. Right pocket: a gun, no bullets. I shoulda tossed it.

"What have we got here?" He crows. His grin: broad and brutish. It matches his mug.

"That, detective is a gun."

"No shit, Sherlock. What's it doing in your pocket, that's what I wanna know.

"Not much. Just sitting there."

"Hey, Mack, we got us a comedian," Detective Mackie's partner joins in.

"I reckon we do, Polchek."

Detective Polchek: a pie-faced Polak, chewing on a cigar like candy. Oral fixation, I bet.

"We'll just have to take you downtown, then. Have a little chat."

Polchek cuffs my wrists behind my back. Mackie watches.

"I think we just caught the Klump Street Killer. Captain will be happy," Polchek comments.

Stupid shit. I had enough. "You couldn't catch a three-legged dog at the pound, you fat fuck."

His fist hits my jaw like a jackhammer. He moves fast for a ball of dough.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Smexy Excerpts and a Givaway

Josephine Myles and I are guest blogging at Joyful Jay's place today. The books in question are Jo's Tailor Made and my Academic Pursuits. They are both smutty college stories, we wrote them both for the same call, and we both re-edited and re-published them after getting the rights back. I even designed the cover for both. Jo's is the better one.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Wednesday Word: Frisson

frisson |frēˈsô n |nouna sudden strong feeling of excitement or fear; a thrill :a frisson of excitement.ORIGIN late 18th cent.French, literally ‘a shiver or thrill.’

This is a great word to describe that unique moment when your heart beats in your throat and your equal measures scared and exhilarated.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Vintage Monday: Vintage Selfie

Just to show that selfies predate digital photography. It must be a primal urge, encoded in our DNA to stand in front of a mirror and make a record of ourselves for posterity. Technically, all those painterly self-portraits were selfies too. All the digital age adds is a greater potential for future embarrassment when our self-revelations are a little too revealing.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Editing, Editing, and More Editing

I've figure out something: whenever other authors give you advice regarding the writing process, they tell you what works for them.  However, there's no guarantee the same things will be effective for you too. Listening to the advice is still useful though, because it can give ideas for new things to try.

When I started out I flew by the seat of my pants and crafted my stories slowly and fastidiously. Consequently I could give them to my beta reader chapter by chapter. Then halfway through Last Stop I realized I had to make at least a rough outline for the rest of the plot or I'd get lost. I knew how the story would end and the various things that needed to happen to get there, but linking them up in the right order was a challenge.

Also while writing Last Stop I lost steam twice in an OMFG-I'll-never-finish-this! fashion. And that book is barely over 50,000 words.

Since then my writing process changed. I make an outline in the form of a bullet point list, have names for my supporting characters and fictional locations, character sheets, etc. This is all flexible, of course—surprise supporting characters pop up, MCs reveal secrets about themselves, the plot thickens—but overall the underlying structure is there.

Another huge change I'd made is that now I rush ahead and write a very rough first draft. When I get stuck on something I leave a note and move on. I write what I call naked dialogue—without beats or even tags. I give myself stage directions, leave reminders to phrase something better, check accuracy of details, etc.

The benefit of this approach is that I reach the end relatively fast and without getting bogged down. To make the MS actually readable I have to do several passes of edits. First, I go through it and fill in the holes. Next I do another pass and refine the details. Then I make an ebook file and put it on my ereader—and let it sit there for a few days. The eventual read-through is the red pencil phase—I take copious amounts of notes, followed by another round of edits. And that's when the MS finally makes it to my beta readers.

Reading feedback from the beta readers is my favorite part but also the most painful one. This is when I get over my secret fears (This sucks! I suck!) but at the same time those pesky beta readers are excellent at skewering the lazy bits I thought I was getting away with, plus pointing out weak points I missed.

I don't know if there's anyone for whom writing comes easy, but if they exist, they have my full envy. Every time I send a manuscript to my editor I'm astonished I managed to get there.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Wednesday Word: Mooncalf

mooncalf |ˈmoōnˌkaf|noun ( pl. -calves )a foolish person.ORIGIN mid 16th cent.: from moon calf, perhaps on the pattern of German MondkalbOriginally in the sense [shapeless mass in the womb,] thought to be produced by the influence of the moon.

I came across this word while looking for alternatives for the word "idiot" in my 1961 edition of Rodale's Synonym Finder. I love this book; it's so much more than a thesaurus.

In the end I didn't use mooncalf in my MS, but it's an interesting word to remember. Although, I can't imagine many occasions when I'll have reason to use it.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Vintage Monday: Man with Magnificent Mustache

Isn't it just beautiful? That mustache practically has a life on its own. There's too much shaving going on nowadays.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

More Weather

We've had three days of rain and it was all over the news. It was  a big rain, but not exactly a biblical flood. I'm guessing the local news station were desperate for a break from their usual fare of high-speed car chases, shootings, and freeway closures.

There was a threat of mudslides. That's the thing with L.A. geography—we have hills and valleys. Valleys are the uncool places to live but they are less prone to weather damage. Those who can afford it live in the hills, but those areas are covered in vegetation. When we have rains, the shrubbery grows. The more rain, the more shrubbery. During the summer it completely dries out. After several years of this cycle the all that bone dry vegetation says, fuck this shit, I'm gonna burn. And it does.

Certain areas have a big fire every couple of decades, and when you hear on the news about evacuations and houses in danger, those are often (multi-)million dollar homes. (Especially, when it's Malibu Hills.) Built in fire-prone areas. And I'm short on sympathy.

And then when a big rain falls over recently burned areas, there's no vegetation to keep the soil in place, and the result is mudslides.

Anyway, here I am in the Valley, still editing. The sun is supposed to come out again next week.


The print proof of Academic Pursuits has arrived in the mail. Createspace  made a couple of changes recently—one of them is about making previously premium distributing channels free. The other is the option of matte covers. Academic Pursuits has one and I really like it—it's smooth and sensuous, and the glossy cover seems tacky by comparison.

My print sales are negligible but I like to have a few print copies of my books around, just in case. They are more tangible. I tend to buy print copies of ebooks I really liked, too.