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Review of Stephen King's The Colorado Kid

Posted by Oliver on March 13, 2015 at 12:05 PM Comments comments (0)

The Colorado Kid succeeds at something I’m always trying to do. Now I know why people get annoyed with me when I’m trying to be “clever.”


Stephen King wrote this book allegedly because he was a fan of indie publisher, Hard Case Crime. They were about to go under, apparently, and he offered to write them up a book so they could say that they published a big author and use that to market their brand. It seemed to work for them.


My dad says this thing about George Lucas sometimes: Lucas could totally release a tape of his home movies and call it “Star Wars,” and he’d make hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office, his fan base is that established. It’s a good point, and King has a similar kind of clout. He could have cobbled together a meaningless mash of cock-up and given it to Hard Case Crime and it would have attracted significant readership. When I was told the impetus behind The Colorado Kid, I figured that’s what I’d see: some pointless mush that King threw together over a weekend. I’m pleased to have misjudged King’s integrity.


The Colorado Kid isn’t a creeping, eerie masterpiece of hard boiled crime. King will not be the next Dashiell Hammett, and we won’t be speaking his name on lists of crime fiction writers with P.D. James. We cannot go that far. For The Colorado Kid, the distance we can go is to say it’s an engaging read and–given a certain kind of taste–as satisfying a novella as you might spend a few hours ruminating on.


King designs a king of “pick your own ending” mystery scenario without seeming to do it in a stereotypical fashion or even necessarily inviting that type of reading. The Colorado Kid also serves, rather unexpectedly, as a vessel for the opportunity to examine the form and function of story structure and what people seem to mean when they say “good” or “satisfying.” In my opinion, this is a really good example of “writer’s fiction.” There’s a phrase in rock and roll history: musician’s musician. Obscure artists who earn the moniker “musician’s musician” earn it by making things easier to appreciate by people in their field than by the general public–people say of them that “hardly anyone bought their album–but I guarantee that everyone who did went off and started a band.”


The Colorado Kid isn’t so abstractly authorish to earn the credential of being something only writers will really get, but it is definitely going on my list of books I’ll suggest to people who are studying character and plot.


Side note, this is what King did in this book that I’m always trying to do: King wrote a “story” that deserves quotation marks around it without veering into realms of surrealism and obscurity.


I think I respect King more than I used to respect him. I didn’t used to respect him very much.

Originallity: If Possible, Should You Even Care?

Posted by Oliver on January 27, 2015 at 2:55 PM Comments comments (1)

A friend of mine reads avidly; good on to her. She reads only nonfiction; in itself, that isn’t bad. She explains why she only reads nonfiction with this question: aren’t you afraid that what you write will end up looking like what you read? She explains that reading all nonfiction avoids this difficulty.


I see her point. If I read too much of one author or too much in one style I notice myself making choices veering in favor of the intellectual drag caused by such things. I go ellipsis crazy if I read too much Harry Potter…. If I read too many comic books, I get glib, impractical, and overdramatic! When I read Cormac McCarthy I killed everyone—just for the violence (I’m not sure I understood what McCarthy was going for). It’s a legitimate thought, in a way. I haven’t yet solidified what I’d call my “voice” in writing, but I’m getting there, and I would hate to see the confounding of the limited progress I’ve made by the invasion of other whisperings.


My friend, though, didn’t mean by her comment only that she worried about copying styles. She worried about advertently or inadvertently copying story structures and plots and premises. I mean, yeah, I can see the problem with that. You don’t want to spend all your time reading Jane Austen then set out to write a gritty crime noir novel only to realize that quirky young do not make for very good hard-boiled private investigators, and that you should have been writing about murders instead of ladies falling in and out of love with stoical rich gentleman. It is a reasonable point.


That said, I’ve never experienced that it was much of a danger. I said above that I very nearly have an idea about my “voice.” I developed it by self-examination, study, and by mimicry. I always get this story wrong, so I won’t tell it, but look up the method Benjamin Franklin used to teach himself to write. He did it by copying other essays, and he copied a lot of essays. If you read his stuff—and I have—then you discover that he’s a damn good writer, and he’s extremely unique. He sounds like himself and not like anyone else. Sure, he didn’t write fiction. It ought to be very close to the same kind of discipline. If what we’re examining here is the idea that reading things like what you write might have the issue of overwhelming your way of writing, then Benjamin Franklin’s a great example. I intentionally muck about with the writing styles of authors I like. I’ll copy things they say word for word, because some things they say strike me so deeply that I want to understand what happened. It’s an incredible learning tool to get into the head of people who know better how to do what you’re doing than you do. You figure stuff out.


As far as structure goes, I don’t see that it’s possible to avoid accidentally copying the types of stories that other people tell. I study story structure a lot. I have been for most of my life. After my study, I get closer and closer to realizing that…well, formula is good. There are two kinds of “stories” people tell. The first kind is the kind that does, in fact, fit somewhat neatly into one of those basic categories we sometimes hear about—i.e. man vs. man, man vs. society, man vs. self, etc.. The second kind is the kind that doesn’t fit into any of those categories. The second kind is what we call experimental fiction. Maybe someone will discover a new plot type. (Man vs. computer? No, that’s man vs. nature if you think about it. Man vs. progress? That’s man vs. society. Man vs. psychotic alternate self? Maybe—maybe—a mix between man vs. self and man vs. man.) Usually what happens with the second type is that it veers into obtuse blah and either people don’t like it very much, or people don’t remember it very well. No, see, “cliché” structure is inevitable. It is not, however, in any way bad. We don’t read stories because of their original structure. We read them because of their original perspective. I mean to say, it could be argued that Dr. Doolittle and Jurassic Park are the same story—man vs. nature—but we remember them totally differently. It’s not inevitable to have an original perspective, but most people do.


Plus, like, back when I was doing a lot of baking, I’d copy the voice of cookbooks. So, yeah, like you run the risk of copying any voice and structure you read, fiction or no.


Last point: It’s infinitely educational to have an idea what’s out there in the genre you’re writing. If you haven’t got an idea about that, you run an equal risk of inadvertently copying someone else. I often experience an excellent idea then watch someone else make a movie about it.


I don’t feel like it’s a good idea to tell people write and wrong things to read. I am curious, though, if I’m unique in my interest to copy other writers in order to learn. How ‘bout it, then?

Watching what someone else did with your baby

Posted by John Ridge on January 18, 2013 at 10:30 AM Comments comments (2)

Within the last six months or so, I've been able to add "Playwright" to my repertoire. Two different production companies have graciously allowed me to provide short scripts for plays they would put on the boards. The first was a repurposing of a short story I wrote a few years ago about a beverage product that purportedly bestowed spiritual enlightenment. The second I had to write in nine hours using four prompts as inspiration, which resulted in a story about love and the lengths people go to keep it, told with government agents and a werewolf. I didn't direct nor act in either of the productions, and generally had a hands-off involvement once the scripts were handed to their respective directors.


Writers sometimes discuss and noodle around with the idea of having their book made into a movie. They talk about which actor should be cast in which role and which known director would have the best visual style for it. It's a fun thing to do, and it re-energizes the momentum needed to complete a work.


I suspect some elements of the fantasy remain once the reality manifests. Of the five characters I've created between the two plays, I had seen four of the five actors perform in other roles. Some had taken similar roles before, some had not. Thankfully, no one was miscast, and in some cases, the actor I had in mind was the actor cast in the role. Everyone reached and exceeded my expectations for their performances. To say the least, watching them speak my sentences was a surreal experience.


There's an age old sentiment in writing theory that more or less states, "If it's not on the page, it doesn't exist." I first became aware of this while taking Journalism in high school, and I am still learning the depths to which it applies. When it comes to non-fiction writing, it's critical that you include all pertinent pieces of information regarding the subject, or you risk misinforming your reader. Simple enough.


When it comes to writing a work of fiction, things can get a little wonky. The words you don't use are nearly as important as the words you do use. What you're saying isn't as important as how you say it. Your goal is not just the transfer of information, but the evocation of emotional responses. So when you're writing the words you want people to say, you have to be very specific with the words you don't say.


People who have acted and directed for a while are well versed in the art of digging into words, looking for the unsaid information. Once they find the unsaid words, they are better able to say the words they are supposed to say. Where the playwright can get into trouble is when the words the actors are supposed to say don't lead them to the words they're not supposed to say. When that happens, they are left to their own inferential and intuitive powers. Sometimes it works out just fine, but there's a precarious potential for disaster.


I have seen roles performed by different actors, with different takes on the same characters. Identical words, different interpretations. I'm sure entire bottles of wine and cases of beer were consumed while discussing which actor has the most correct performance. Ultimately, if the playwright is dead, it becomes an academic matter over which interpretation most closely approximates the intention behind the words. More succinctly, we'll never really know the truth, so enjoy your drink.


While I'm still alive, I have currently have the luxury of seeing what happens, and I can make adjustments as I see fit. Watching the performances, I made notes in my head over which words on the page were missing, and which words not on the page were missing. Every time something went in an unexpected direction, I had to ask myself, "Hey, was that what you were thinking when you put that on the page? If not, what did you do to make them think this was a correct choice?" Don't get me wrong, some choices were better than what I had in mind, and I wish I knew what made them arrive at that conclusion.


When writing your book, your short story, your play, your poem, don't just think about your end consumer being a reader. Take a moment to consider whether you've provided enough material for the end consumer to be an audience member. Granted, not all written works are destined for such treatment as some things are most effective in written format. But, not everyone understands this, and some people go ahead with it anyway. It's their fault if their interpretation is misunderstood, but only if everyone else understands your original unsaid words.


Now, quit reading this and go write something.

The Master Calendar

Posted by Jenny Maloney on January 7, 2013 at 8:50 AM Comments comments (1)

'Tis that time of year again: the beginning of the year. The slate is clean, waiting to be filled. As January 1st rolled around, I pretty much knew what I wanted to do this year: write two full rough drafts of new novels, revise the novel I just finished, and at least start a third book. As I was pondering how I would do this, I came across this little tidbit from Putting Your Passion Into Print by Arielle Ecksut and David Henry Sterry:

"Buy or make yourself a big one-year calendar. You will need to be able to change and modify it. A lot. A big white erasable board and colored erasable markers could be just the ticket. Or maybe a big blackboard with many hues of chalk...Mark your start date and your deadline. Then determine your various interim deadlines...Lay it all out for yourself very clearly. In number of words. In number of pages." ~Putting Your Passion Into Print

This calendar thing - which so obvious, right? - was a brilliant idea. I highly, highly recommend it. 

Three things about the Master Calendar in general, and then I'll tell you about what I did with it.

First, if you're already a published author with deadlines screaming over your head and you've got conferences to go to and marketing things to plan (I have to build a whole website?!!!!) Be sure to put that stuff in first. If you're a working person with a career sure to mark your work days and times. Give real life the priority, so you can make a more realistic timeframe for your work.  

Second, plan your calendar as if you were planning for someone else. This is very important. If you're anything like me or any of the other hundred writers I know, your writer-eyes are bigger than your writing-stomach. I have a nasty habit of overestimating my abilities and then, later, I wonder why the hell I'm so tired and still short of my goal. Burning yourself out is not a good thing. Don't do it.

But, whenever I hear another writer saying "I'll be able to finish X in such-a-such time" I always think to myself - "Oh yeah, bub? Double that time frame and I'll buy into it." Generally I'm right about the other writer's timeline but woefully, woefully, Oh! Full of Woe-ly wrong about my own timeline. With my Master Calendar, I decided to pretend I was an advisor to another writer. 

The third thing to keep in mind with the Master Calendar, is to be sure that you have the whole year in front of you and make sure the marks are eraseable. This is so that, should you miss a writing day, because you're sick, or you have to work the day-job unexpectedly, or a book signing took too long because the crowds were lining up outside the door and you had to stay out all night long signing your way into a handcramp, you can adjust your word count and goal on the back end. You can also see how one day - or a week - will affect your overall goals. 

Now, here's how I determined what I'd do for 2013: 

My Goal #1: Finish rough draft of one novel. After NaNoWriMo, and the subsequently exhausting first three weeks of December - where I was writing an average of 2000 words a day instead of the 1667 per day - I decided I needed to keep the pace more comfortable. 1000 words on the days when the kiddos are in school seems quite doable. 

From that determination, I decided I wanted the novel to be around 100K. A decent size adult book. With that in mind, I blocked out the days that I would write and how many words I would hit. 

Surprise, surprise. It was going to take longer than my original thinking indicated. (Mid-Febraury, right? Yeah. Not so much.) But taking a litte longer to finish is not a bad thing, I've come to realize. These things take as long as they take. When they say "slow and steady" wins the race...they're right.

My Goal #2: Revise the middle-grade novel I just finished last month.  According to my handy-dandy calendar - and factoring in various UGWP schedules - I determined it will take about 8 months for the group to read and mark up the book. That means (since I submitted it starting last month) I will have a fully marked manuscript around late summerish 2013. 

One of my own failings is that I never leave myself enough time to do a good revision. I read somewhere that it's a good idea to match revision time to first-draft time. Meaning, if it took three months to write the first draft, it should take you at least three months to do a good revision. (Sorry, does take longer to write a 200,000 word novel. If it takes a year to write, it'll probably take a year to revise.) 

With both of these figures in mind, I plotted out on my Master Calendary about how long it would take to do a good revision and I gave myself a word count pace (which is trickier with revision because some sections will need two or three days worth of work, another section might only need five minutes). Total: 3 months. 

My Goal #3: Write a rough draft of another new novel. Following my Master Calendar so far, Goals #1 and #2 will be accomplished. But #3 and #4 are kinda hosed. I won't have time (realistically) to finish a second whole novel. If I follow my own advice, I will only be halfway through another 100K novel by December 2013. Which means I won't have time to start a third book.

You might think I'd be bummed about having to throw out two goals - but you'd be incorrect. I now have three very solid goals that I feel more confident about completing: A full rough draft, a full revision, and 50K words into a new project. That's a pretty good project load for one year. And I feel confident about being able to hit those goals, which is much better than feeling overwhelmed before I even put finger-to-keyboard.

Plus, there's always 2014.

How do you guys figure out your projects? Do you just start and see how long it takes you? Do you set goals for yourself? Why or why not? 

Getting Tangled

Posted by Ali on December 12, 2012 at 8:30 AM Comments comments (1)

So, I've been working on this zombie story. I was looking at my little stack of pages, feeling pleased with myself, until I realized I had done it wrong. See, the story was supposed to go like this: Guy survives zombie apocalypse, guy meets gal, and then... things get weird.



I had a clear vision, I sat down, I started writing, and little by little, I got tangled. The bottom line is that the main idea of the story happens after the two characters meet and I was taking too many pages to get there. World building is a good thing, but I spent too much time on the stuff that wasn't important. In order to write everything out in a way that made the weird part balanced with the beginning, I'd have to write a much longer story than I needed. Otherwise, the end would feel lopsided.



Believe it or not, I (voted most likely to write too spare) had overwritten! Wait, unless... I hadn't. I started out with my vision, but sometimes, what you start out wanting to write and what you end up wanting to write are two different things. Also,by veering from my main plan, I wound up thinking about a third angle for the story. I'm not sure if it's where I want to go, but it's worth pondering.



To recap, right now, I'm trying to work out a knot. My options:

1. Scrap a lot of what's on the page and revise/continue writing to fit my original idea.

2. Keep writing along the path I'm currently wandering.

3. Revise/write to reflect another idea that's not quite 1 or 2, but something a bit different.



Ultimately, I have to answer some questions about what kind of emotional payoff I'm going for. If I go one way, it's a squirmy feeling. If I go another, it's still squirmy, but a little bittersweet (I hope). I know I want it to get uncomfortable, but what flavor of uncomfortable?



What's the last thing you wrote that went in an unexpected direction?

The Whole Shebang

Posted by Ali on October 26, 2012 at 2:15 AM Comments comments (1)

This Sunday is going to be a very interesting day. Back in August, I gave the group copies of a full novel draft and Sunday is the day they're going to critique it.


So, how do you do a full novel critique with a group of about a dozen critiquers? The answer: you chunk it. The plan is that each person has organized their feedback into a few key overall categories, like plot and characters. That way, hopefully, it'll be easier to spot the trends in feedback, i.e. character X is unlikeable and needs to be tweaked.


It also lets me as the writer get specific feedback. With this draft, one of the things I want to make sure works is the world building, so that's one of the areas I asked everyone to focus on.


On Sunday, we're going to do a round-robin and everyone is going to give me their key comments, one at a time. Then, we'll follow that with a more informal session where it'll be more conversational. I'll have a chance to ask everyone questions and they'll be able to talk back and forth with me and each other.


Oh yeah, and there will be a bathroom break somewhere in there. Also, I'm bringing cookies to bribe everyone into saying only nice things. Or, I mean, to show my appreciation for all of the time everyone has put into doing the critique.


Part of me is a bit nervous about Sunday, but more of me is excited. With a group this size, and such a diverse group, to boot, I know I'm going to get a lot of helpful feedback. It's also always interesting to see how, in such a diverse groups, consensus arises. It's always cool to me to see so many people pick out the same thing(s) that are or aren't working. It's like crowd-sourcing and it always churns up good stuff.


Going into this critique, there are a couple of things I anticipate coming up in the feedback. Some bits need help and I wasn't able to figure them out on my own. The part I can't anticipate is what will come up that I didn't expect. Sometimes, those are the must fun comments to get. As the writer, you're too close sometimes to see the things that are glaringly obvious to a reader. Then, as soon as a critiquer points it out, you want to do a forehead smack and say, "Duh!" Those moments are the moments where you're incredibly glad you have a critique group.


Well, I'd better get to work on more cookies tonight. They're not going to bake themselves.

Thanks, But This Isn't For Us

Posted by Ali on September 19, 2012 at 8:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Jessica Page Morrell's book, Thanks, But This Isn't For Us: A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing Is Rejected, had me interested as soon as I saw the title.  Tough love writing advice?  Sign me up.

The overall tone is part compassionate, bigger part rant.  Morell is primarily an editor by trade and I can envision her sitting at her computer, typing emphatically and with a frown, occassionally pausing to mutter, "Ugh, I hate it when they do that."

Scattered throughout are comments you just know come from repeated experience dealing with other people's egos, like, "You need to see yoursef as a skilled laborer, not an artiste who awakes each morning wondering how best to flirt with your muse.  This means you write with a fully loaded toolbox of craft and habits and understanding" (34-35).

And, in keeping with the tough tone, it seems that toolbox should include a pair of pliers:  "Thus your first job as a fiction writer is to imagine yourself as a sadist, a torturer par excellence who dreams up ways to taunt, torment, test, and ruin your protagonist" (63). Here she's talking about writers who are reluctant to make their character face hardship and why that's bad.  Hello!  Conflict drives stories!

I found myself nodding in a number of places.  I also found myself skimming a few, too.  There are definitely good bits in the book, like the sections titled "Deal Breakers" where she makes it clear that if an editor sees this in your submission, it's highly likely to get tossed.  Do not pass GO, do not collect $200.

However, there are times where she doesn't fully explain her thoughts, expecting that the reader will intuit what she means.  If you're a practiced writer (and reader of rough drafts), you'll get it.  If you're not, you may be left scratching your head.

On the whole, it's an alright book.  I found myself making notes as I went, jotting things I should tighten/tweak in my novel draft.  It didn't change my life, but I'm finding it a useful tool and it appeals to my snarky side.

Have any of you read a writing book lately?  How'd that go?  Do any of you refer to writing books as a revision tool?

Why Writing It Wrong Can Be Right

Posted by Ali on August 29, 2012 at 11:10 AM Comments comments (1)

   In the process of revising the novel, I rearranged a scene. I moved it and changed it up a bit and was happy that I'd made it work. Later on, I hit a scene where the emotions didn't jibe with what was going on in the rearranged scene. As I was about to go to sleep that night, I realized I'd fixed the first scene wrong.


In the morning, I re-fixed. Later, I hit on a cool article from Psychology Today that's all about figuring out the right thing to do by exploring the wrong thing. The article focuses on dealing with challenges in real life, but who cares about that? I'm talking writing here.


Have you ever written a scene or a chapter and really poured your heart into it? Then, you got a little farther along, following that path where it naturally led, and suddenly realized you were going in the wrong direction? Congratulations, you're doing it RIGHT! You're just exploring an exercise in innovative thinking.


The article points out, "For example, you could explore a possible resolution to your challenge that you already know is definitely wrong, and yet explore that path in great detail." So, go ahead and write that plot dead end. It's cool, because, "Now you could isolate each mistaken feature of that erroneous ‘solution’ and carefully examine exactly why it is wrong. If you were as specific as possible in where the defects lie, you would force yourself to be clearer and more insightful about the situation at hand."

By writing it wrong, you're figuring out how to write it right. You're experiencing the lesson of, "Oops, that doesn't work. Why not?" So, soldier on. The more bombed scenes you write, the better you'll be at figuring out what really needed to be there. The key is to be thoughtful about what's not working.


Embrace your writing goofs. They're your best teachers!


I leave you with a related Terry Pratchett quote, "Wisdom comes from experience. Experience is often a result of lack of wisdom."

Things I'm Doing While I Should Be Revising

Posted by Ali on August 22, 2012 at 11:00 AM Comments comments (3)

Revision is important stuff, people.  It's especially important when you've committed to submitting a full novel to your writers group on August 26th, which is only a few days away, and you haven't finished revising the novel and you're changing lots of stuff.  For instance, the first 50 pages are almost completely brand new.

But, revision is also hard work, and it's hard to focus so much for so long, and I'm only human...  So, sometimes, when I'm supposed to be revising, I'm doing other things instead.  Like...

Doing dishes.  This week, I've been all over it and cleaning that stuff up almost as soon as I get it dirty.  Hey, at least I'm being productive.

Laundry.  The only reason I have any dirty clothes right now is because you can't wear clothes and wash them at the same time.  Clean laundry = also productive. 

Eating chocolates.  I mean, chocolate is obviously more fun than revision.


 Taking my dog for walks.  She's got a new back pack.  I had to try it out.


Taking artistic black and white photos of my dog.  She's not a very cooperative model, which makes it an extra procrastinatey tactic.

Amidst all of this procrastinating, I've also been tearing through a lot of pages.  Now I'm past the part where I'm redoing things from scratch and into the part where I'm keeping, but polishing, a lot of material.  It certainly makes the process faster.

Still, there's a long way to go.  Hmm... I think it's time to go grocery shopping.

Bit of Trivia:  The novel I'm revising began when I was writing my thesis.  I was at the point where I was sick to death of writing/revising thesis stories and wanted to write something, anything else.  So, I started a novel.  Maybe now that I'm procrastinating the novel, I should start writing another thesis?

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