Archive for June, 2011

Fortnightcap: What I Bought

What I Bought

A Fortnightcap by DL Thurston

Creative Commons License

This weekend we went to the Northern Virginia Brew Fest, which has nothing to do with this story except that it’s where we were driving home from when we stopped at the antique store.  It was a few miles off Route 7 in towards Old Town Herndon, an odd, narrow store that looked like a single town home divorced of its fellows, just a place that we found on a whim trying to find something else to do on a lazy Sunday.  The inside of the store was the inside of an antique store.  Old furniture topped with old tzotchkes, paintings of disappointed relatives that no one is actually related to, photos of Civil War generals.  Mostly, I noted, Confederate generals.  What can I say, northern Virginia is still Virginia.

It was among the photos that I saw it.  I think I’ve written about the Thunderbird photo on this blog before.  It’s the most famous photo that never, apparently, existed.  I’ve seen it described various places as one person standing over the corpse of a massive bird, three people, four Civil War officers.  People claim to have seen it in one book or another.  I myself remembered seeing it in one of those old Time Life mysteries of the unknown series that I used to love reading as a kid.  I remember it clearly, three men were on a small stage, they had the thunderbird at their feet, and had their rifles resting on their shoulders.  That’s the photo I know I saw.

That’s how I recognized it immediately.

I called my wife over, and she couldn’t believe what we’d found.  There it was, the Thunderbird photo just sitting in an antique store in Herndon, Virginia.  I looked for a price, but couldn’t one.  Only item in the store that didn’t have a price, and of course it’s the one I wanted.  Not that there was really a wrong price to finally prove that the photo is real.  So I took it up to the counter and asked what the owner wanted for it.  She looked confused, didn’t recognize the photo, didn’t remember getting it, and said it should have a price already on it.  She shrugged, and said ten bucks.

I tried not to look too excited putting down the twenty, getting my change, and walking out of the store.  It wasn’t until I was sure that the front door closed that I ran to the car.  There it was, in my hand, in my car, in my possession.  It really was exciting.  I put it on the back seat and headed home with plans of scanning it, potentially reselling it to someone who would recognize what it was.

When we got him, I reached to grab the bag, but it wasn’t there.  Figuring it had slid off the seat, I dug around, but for the life of me I couldn’t find it.  I’ve dug my car up three times now, careful as I put things aside, throw things away, but the little brown paper bag is gone.  And the photo is gone with it.  I’ve tried to find the antique store online, but they don’t have a website, and they’re not on Google maps.  Maybe I’ll try going back there this weekend, see if they remember getting the photo.  See if I left it there, though I know I didn’t.

The photo exists.  I swear it exists.

And just as soon as I find it again, I’ll make sure to post it.

Fortnightcaps are biweekly experimentation into short form fiction. All Fortnightcaps are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. So if you like the story, please feel free to link people back here. And if you didn’t, maybe the one in two weeks will be better.

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Alright, that was fun yesterday, and I’ll probably do that again.  Not on any real schedule, but every few weeks or so when inspiration strikes.

So then, this is a lot of week.  I need a schedule.

Today:  #5MinuteFiction (everyone come and play!), then getting my submission to Future Lovecraft finalized and sent out the door.  Did the final editing pass yesterday, today is about finalizing format and getting the cover email assembled.

Tomorrow: #HumpDayChallenge (everyone come and play again!), Wednesday Writerly Words, then…gosh, it’s a weird hole in my week.  Future Lovecraft will be out the door, my Memory Eater story will still be out for review with my fellow Cat Vacuumers, and my wife will probably be writing like crazy to get two stories out the door by week’s end.  So it’ll probably be alternating between Wii Sports Resort and plot noodling on Nickajack.

Thursday:  Fortnightcap (everyone come and…read!), hopefully people will indulge me as I go non-fictional this week, a story that I really want to tell but want to do it more narratively, hence doing it there.  Then get critiques for Memory Eater.

Friday: State of the Writer, and then BALLGAME!

Three day weekend: Edits to Memory Eater with any eye to getting it out the door by Monday.

Then…Capsule.  I know, it’s exciting.

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Mythology noodling 1

In that time before time the world was a great sea, and there was no land.  This great sea was looked upon by two of four brothers who had long worked together to bring up creation before ultimately fighting and sending it back down into oblivion.  This new creation with its vast ocean offered no people that could be sacrificed to their might and power and no land upon which temples could be built to their honor and glory.

“There must be land,” said one of the brothers, the stiff wind that blew over the sea, churning its waters into white capped waves.

“There must be people,” said the other, the spirit of raw magic that danced on the waves and elicited strange lights even when the sun did not shine.

The brothers knew that in this great ocean lived a leviathan of unbelievable size, the great crocodile monster that prowled the unseen depths where the water is cold and the fish are strange.  There were no nets large enough to dredge it from its home, nor rope strong enough to drag it from ocean floor.  The brothers knew that the creature thirsted only for blood.

And so did the spirit of magic manifest, and with a great blade sliced open his foot, letting his blood fill the ocean which churned red and hot.  The great earth monster smelled the blood and hungered, rising up from the bottom of the ocean to feast upon the flesh being offered it.  And so did it bite at the foot of the great god of magic and might, feasting upon his sacrificed foot.

Before the great crocodile could then sink back to the depths, the brothers set upon it and captured it.  They pulled at its body, which gave and stretched, spreading wide across the surface of the world ocean.  Upon the back of this creature did they place humanity, and instructed them in the power of the sacrifice, both willing and unwilling, in the creation of this world and the land upon which the people can dwell.  And so did the people offer blood to the crocodile earth monster, easing her pain, and to the brothers, gods of this newest of creations.

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Inspiration from the Master

I’m going to write this post very slowly and deliberately so I don’t gush.

Deep breath, and begin.

Last night I was in attendance as Neil Gaiman’s tour promoting the 10th anniversary edition of American Gods hit the Press Club here in DC.  (Holy crap, guys, I got to see Neil Gaiman).  The event was a metered affair, featuring a few readings, talking about his inspiration for writing the book, and taking submitted questions from the audience.  (He totally announced his next book for the first time yesterday).  I’ve never had a chance to listen to an author that I respect so much just talk about his inspirations and, to a lesser extent, his process.  (He’s totally the bestest writer and I got a signed book and…)

Shut UP inner fanboy.

Alright, decorum.

The goal of the event was largely to push purchases of American Gods, a goal I can understand and respect.  To a certain extent almost everything that an author does in public is about driving sales.  Hell, this blog is about driving sales, and I don’t even have anything yet to sell you (Steam Works, this summer, Hydra Publications).  Especially since the event was a book tour event and not a convention event, it wasn’t really about connecting with authors and instilling inspiration.  But it was.

See, here’s the thing.  That gushing fanboy above?  That’s me.  That’s the me that has loved every exposure I’ve had to the talents of Neil Gaiman.  That’s the me that is jealous that he can move so effortlessly from novels to short stories to comics to teleplays to music production to children’s books.  Hell, he even mentioned he’s working on a musical.  A musical!  Have I ever told you about the musical I want to write?  Now’s not the time, remind me later.  In the end, I think Gaiman is who a lot of writers want to be like, that potentially unobtainable level of cross-media production and mastery.  So something about just being there and being reminded that he’s a real person, yeah, it’s a geeky fanboy thing of me to say, but it does inspire me to push on with my writing.

And especially?  Getting back to my novels.

I’ve moved towards short stories lately, which I think has really helped me grow as a writer.  But it was at the cost of walking away from one of my favorite novels that I’ve started, Capsule.  It’s really time to walk back again.  And to even start looking beyond that.  I know where the next few scenes of Capsule go, trust me, I’ve actually been thinking about it, even if I haven’t been talking about it.  And I’ve been thinking about how to write a story around two characters my wife and I created, setting them in a steampunk world for a novel I’m currently calling Nickajack in my head (though there’s totally a book by that name, I know).

So.  Yeah, there it is.  What’s the lesson from last night?  I’m not going to be Neil Gaiman.

Unless I work a hell of a lot harder.

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Rowling Owns Her Digital Rights

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen me say that several times today.  In large part that’s because I’m trying to wrap my mind around the concept.  This all wraps around the launch of the Pottermore site which will, for the first time, make the Harry Potter books available for electronic readers.  I’ll admit, I’ve not done all the research on just what the formats will be, what the process is, what readers will be able to read them, because my mind keeps coming back to one thing:

Rowling owns her digital rights.

Look, you will never hear me say a bad word about Rowling.  In fact, I envy her success.  And I envy it more right now.  For those who aren’t quite getting this gist of this: since the advent of digital readers, digital rights have started showing up as one of the rights publishers are looking to buy from authors for their stories.  It’s the right to distribute the book through Kindle, through iBooks, through ePub files, any and all of that.  Through either some shrewd negotiation by Rowling and her agency, or though some short sightedness by her publishers, Rowling retained the digital rights, and has refused to exercise them.  Even though these rights would potentially earn her up to £100m ($160m) by some estimates.  But that would be selling them to a publisher who would then pay her a royalty on sales.

Instead, witness Pottermore.  Witness an author leveraging one of the most popular series of all times and handling the direct distribution of the digital copies.  And then witness as she brings in the lion share of the money because she’s not going through a publisher.  And for all of that, all I can do is applaud and grow that much more desperately jealous.

Well played, JK.  Well played.

Update: Discussing this on Twitter I saw an analogy to Lucas keeping merchandise rights, which in retrospect is one of the single worst business decisions ever made by a studio, simply because merchandise wasn’t a thing until Lucas made it a thing.  There’s probably something similar going on here.  Digital rights weren’t really a thing when Rowling got her first contract, and any attempts to renegotiate to include digital rights included her agent smartly saying “well, I’m sure some other publisher would be happy to make the obscene gobs of money that Potter is bringing in,” and it died then and there.  Also means that, much like it’s nearly impossible to keep merchandise rights, publishers will make sure to work as hard as they can not to make this mistake again.

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Write, Don’t Edit

WYSIWYG text editors are possibly one of the finest innovations that has hit the world of writing.  Look, I never had to generate a manuscript on a typewriter, I don’t know what it was like, but the ability to go in and shift a sentence around, insert a paragraph, change a character’s name, all without having to completely retype a manuscript?  Brilliant.  Can’t imagine living without it.  The ability to edit is always right there at your fingers.

The problem?  The ability to edit is always right there at your fingers.

There are two directions I could take this.  I could look at the need to push forward, or I could look at the need to edit more deliberately at times.  This is the former.  The latter is on Unleaded.

For me, editing has always been a siren song.  Back in college whenever I was working on a piece of long fiction, I’d start by editing what was already there, and then adding on new material at the end.  The problem with this?  Well, there’s a joke I love.  Guy gets a job painting the stripes down the middle of highways, because that’s the kind of job people get in jokes.  So he goes out the first day and he paints five miles of stripes.  His boss is thrilled, that’s more than anyone has painted in a day before.  Next day?  He just paints two miles.  Well fine, perhaps he exhausted himself over performing the day before, and that’s still well above the average for two days.  Third day?  Not even a quarter of a mile.  Boss calls him into the office, asks what’s wrong, why is his production slipping off so much.

“Well,” he says, “I kept getting farther from the bucket.”

And there was the problem.  I was leaving my bucket at the beginning of the story every time, and going back before I ever went forward.  So the part I was editing got longer and longer, and the amount of energy I had left when I got to the end was less and less.  This killed many an early novel attempt of mine.

What got me out of this funk?  Nanowrimo.  It’s a large part of why I recommend people try the one month novel challenge, because it forces you to move ever forward, not stop and doubt yourself, and certainly not give into the temptation of going back to make just one change.  Now, I’m not going to say this is the best and healthiest way to write any novel.  There’s always going to be some editing that happens as you go, but the trick is to get out of the mindset that everything preceding has to be perfect before forging ahead.  In the days of typewriters, the only direction available was forward.  Stick in the next sheet of paper, write the next scene, because editing wasn’t a simple process of find-and-replace, or highlight-and-delete, it was a more literal process of rewriting.

And this is where my mantra of Writers Write perhaps comes out the strongest.  You’re writing a story, you’re not fiddling with it, pursuing it, editing it, nitpicking it, wandering around it, or any other verb, you are writing it.  So get to it and actually write it.  Then, when you’re done?  That’s the time to go back and really start the editing.

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The Barrel of a Shogun

For those of you who don’t know the story, “barrel of a shogun” was perhaps my single most infamous typos.  In part because it was so persistent.  It survived not just edits of the story that spawned it, but even the transition from a short story to a short teleplay.  The word was meant to be shotgun, but because I am my own worst editor, and Word never thought to mark it with one of the red squiggly lines I overuse as a crutch, it just kept thriving.

I tell that story not to provide a cautionary tale about editing, or warning about reliance on spell checkers that can’t necessarily understand context, but more as a distraction to myself as I realize what phase my writing career is about to enter.  It did so gradually, without me being aware of it, which is probably how it’s supposed to happen.  I realized this weekend that I already have two stories out for consideration, two in progress that will go out between now and July 15, and another story that just got rejected and will likely head back out again soon.

Depending on response times for the three stories for anthologies with June 30th deadlines, I may soon have five stories simultaneously out for consideration.  And all in the month when my first short story publication is supposed to drop.

Madness.  Absolute madness.  And yet, it’s a point where I needed to get to, that point where I get over the jitters of submitting and have a solid stable of stories ready to venture forth into the world.  Most of them even have secondary or tertiary destinations if they miss their primary targets.  But I will say with confidence: one of the five will hit.  I’ve been told for years that as an author one shouldn’t set goals that are outside of one’s influence.  Which is to say never set “publication” as a goal.  But I’m feeling just that good about where I am now that I see limbs and I want to walk out on them.  So that’s my limb.  One story.  20% success rate.  If it was a major league hitter he’d be sent down to the minors, but for a starting out writer it’s probably hoping for far too much.

But if it weren’t for optimism, I wouldn’t be sending out stories at all.

So out on the branch I go.  Just watch out for me, cause if I miss and go zero for five, this branch is just high enough for a noose.

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Beer of the Living Dead

First batch of beer I did fermented like crazy.  That’s what happens when you take all the sugar already in a beer kit and add in six pounds of strawberries for flavor: yeast go insane.  The end result was a blowout, which means the fermentation was going on so hot and heavy that yeast backed up into the airlock.  Some serious crazy fermentation, but made for a nice drinkable beer with a strawberry aftertaste that’s only getting better with age.

The new batch?  No so much.  I was concerned about the yeast before I started.  The cold pack meant to keep it at refrigerator temperatures had melted by the time the kit was delivered, and the whole box sat on my porch on a 90 degree day for several hours waiting for me to get home from work.  But I followed the directions, put the yeast in, and hoped for the best.  That was Saturday.  Sunday?  Nothing.  Monday?  Still nothing.  Tuesday?  Still nothing.  Now I’d read online that fermentation can take several days to start, and may not show up in the airlock at first, but lacking a hydrometer, the airlock is the only proof of fermentation I have available to me.

So I started to worry.  It’s an easy solution, non-fermenting beer, just add in another dose of yeast.  But there are some things that could kill any yeast added, and I was worried I’d killed my beer.  On Wednesday, however, the beer finally came to life and the airlock is now happily bubbling away, letting out all the yeast farts so that my wort can become beer.  It’s back from the dead, and as such, I think needs a new name.  Originally it was going to be called Space Ale, but now it needs some acknowledgement of the fact that it went down that path, saw the light at the end of the tunnel, and at the last moment came back.  So, a poll:

Happy drinking!

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Fortnightcap: …And Taxes

…And Taxes

A Fortnightcap by DL Thurston

Creative Commons License

The cameras were on her again.

The cameras were almost always on her anymore, and she still wasn’t sure how she felt about it.  It was patronizing to be sure, but there was a certain honor in it as well.  She’d become, at least she supposed, a bit of an international celebrity in the last few days.  It wasn’t the way she ever wanted to be famous, but just one moment in the sun couldn’t be too bad.

Ah.  A moment in the sun.  That would be nice.  Perhaps she would ask for that this afternoon.  It was supposed to be nice out.  Then again, it was always nice out now that weather was scheduled rather than forecast.  And that was the part of it that made her uneasy, the part of it that made her wonder if she wasn’t getting out at just the right time.  Technology had made so many of the inconveniences of life so much less inconvenient.  Raw materials were now available at the flip of a switch.  Weather could be controlled so that nice picturesque snowfalls happened only with two weeks advance notice.  People didn’t have to work anymore to get the things they wanted, now they could devote more time to leisure.

Then they had gone after the certainties of life.  Taxes were abolished two decades earlier when everything became essentially free.  Was it any wonder they went after death next.

The nanobots were little miracle workers.  That’s what she’d been told.  By doctors, by the media, by her kids, by anyone who came in contact with them and suddenly lost any sign of cancer, of aging, of heart disease.  Hell, the damn little things even kept everyone’s muscles toned according to user defined settings, allowing everyone to be as fit as they wanted with no work.

But they couldn’t fix everything.  One by one they attempted to cure the other diseases, and they managed to cut many of them off at the path.  But some people were just too far gone for the cures, for the nanobots.  And in the end, a decision was made that they couldn’t save everyone.

She was cold.  She was always cold anymore.

She’d heard she was the last one left.  The last of the Uncurables.  There’d been two, a lady named Margaret down in Texas had been holding on for awhile.  It was a sort of rivalry, at least that’s the way they played it on the news.  Sick bastards, treating her death like it was some sort of sport.  Some sort of game.  She knew there’d be celebrations when she went, and that’s the part she hated.  That’s the part that kept her going, if just to spite them.  Want to be excited that death was conquered?  Well just pardon me while I keep going on living.

It would certainly be nice to go outside this afternoon.  She’d have to remember to ask her orderly when he came around again.

And so, the last of the mortals settled in for her mid morning nap, satisfied that the party would be held off at least one more day.

Fortnightcaps are biweekly experimentation into short form fiction. All Fortnightcaps are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. So if you like the story, please feel free to link people back here. And if you didn’t, maybe the one in two weeks will be better.

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A Writer Reviews: Super 8

Let’s start by saying I liked Super 8.  It’s fantastic to see a movie come out that’s a purely original story, not an adaptation, not a sequel, but something new and different.  It’s also why I really loved Source Code.  It’s why I was disappointed that Darren Aronofsky was briefly tied to the next Wolverine movie.  And it’s why those three filmmakers, Aronosky, Duncan Jones, and JJ Abrams, are easily my three favorites right now.  Alright, yes, Abrams does the occasional adaptation like Star Trek, or adaptation-and-sequel like Mission: Impossible, but he also comes up with fantastic new ideas and is able to get them very successfully onto film.

Alright, this is turning into way too much of a love letter to Abrams.  That’s not what this is about.  This is about looking at Super 8 and seeing what lessons can be taken from it and applied to all types of writing.  And there are really two.

Lesson one: Horror is never enough.

Borders Books became infamous among my writing group when the decision was made to scrap the horror section and divide the books between fiction (if written by Stephen King) and science fiction (if written by anyone else).  The thing is, there’s a very small part of that decision that I can understand.  Horror should never be just horror.  Horror is a theme or a mood that should be applied to other genres of stories.  When Blake Snyder wrote Save the Cat, he looked to define genres that movies fall into, but he didn’t pick the standards like comedy, horror, or science fiction.  Instead, the genres that he went for were story arcs.  There’s Buddy Love, Golden Fleece, Dude with a Problem, Monster in the House.

And so we’ve got Super 8, which is a Coming of Age story.  It just so happens to be a coming of age story with a giant monster from outer space rampaging through the middle of it.  And that’s where the power of the story is.  Even while the main characters are trying to survive as the town around them is being destroyed by both the monster and the military trying to capture it, the elements of the story are ultimately about a boy trying to come to grips with being himself, falling in love, bonding with his father, and discovering the voice to stand up for himself.  All while trying to avoid getting stabbed in the chest by a rogue bit of lens flair.

So much lens flair.

Anyway, that’s not the point.  The point is that while this gets classified largely as horror (though I could make an entire other post, and may later today in Unleaded, about whether monster stories should all be horror), that’s not all the movie is.  Perhaps there was a day back with Godzilla was first destroying Tokyo where that was enough for the movie, but it’s not anymore.  The audience typically wants more.  They want the story of the people.  That’s why Cloverfield was so popular, and it explains the popularity of Super 8.

Lesson two: Ending everything.

I’m going to talk about the ending.  So you know what, I’m going to put a handy little break right after this paragraph.  Don’t keep reading after the break if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want spoilers.  If you linked directly in, or are reading on RSS, stop now.  Come back after you’ve seen it.  It’s not my fault if you get spoiled.  Though if you are about to leave and haven’t seen the movie yet, let me just say: hang out for the credits.

Read the rest of this entry »

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