Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Lost Highway

I spy...time travel.
Seriously, check out my trailer for The Lost Highway and let me know what you think:

Price Check on Mammoth Chunks

Recently, a new "Time Travel Mart" opened at 1714 Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles, offering everything an alternate-dimension shopper could want. Products range from Anti-Robot fluid to Whale Oil for Lamps to Romanticism 1818 wine. Here are some of the best products for the most discerning time-traveling consumer:

You can check out the rest of the time travel products here. Rhea Pearlman, Natalie Portman and Ted Danson have already been spotted browsing the shelves since the store's opening on January 15th.

Barbarian repellent, anyone?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Isolation and Power Bars

The Lost Highway, a short story coming out in the March release, Love, Texas Style, was my first solo trek. Short as it was, it was exhilarating. Like a secret kept for three weeks no one knew about.

I've always surrounded myself with critique partners, which in the early stages, was invaluable. We learned together, commiserated about horrific contest scores, signed up for college writing courses and offered up everything we had as a sacrifice for the benefit of the whole.

But the time comes when the writers of a particular group become over-saturated in each other's words and find it difficult to be objective. This happened a year or so ago. Our meetings shifted from devouring each other's pages, pen in hand, to discussing plot possibilities and market potential. We still commiserate over setbacks, but we've entered a more complex part of ourselves as writers. Where the drive to impress the outer world doesn't come close to the drive to impress oneself.

Stephen King advises writers to resist the urge to show the story to anyone until it's finished, and only then, an "ideal reader". Even a well-intentioned remark can alter the course of an entire story.

This time, not letting anyone in feels like a solitary pilgrimage without the necessities. Sure, I have a map, but what if I interpret it wrong? My only compass is internal, unreliable and skewed by shady things like bias and opinion. If I end up at a different destination than I would have with those tools, am I in the wrong place or on the journey I was meant to follow? And, I liken feedback to a power bar. Writers are like junkies looking for the fix of their next review, always wondering how our words land on another's ear. Without this nourishment, the end seems to outdistance me.

As strong as I've been writing The Night Caller, I couldn't resist the urge to send out the first ten pages to a few contests. Enticing as it is to land on an editor's desk as a finalist, this time I wanted a handful of Beta readers. People who didn't love my work just because they loved my potential or what I'd done in the past. Sentinels at the first step to ensure I headed in the right cardinal direction. I can take it from there, can't I? Maybe it was a mistake, going against the advice of Sir Stephen, but I told myself I wouldn't actually read the feedback until I'd arrived at the end of the journey.

And when I make it to Timbuktu, I'll have a power bar waiting for me.

At what point do you open your work up to someone else's interpretation?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Mastering Subtlety

If there is a writing crime of which I'm guilty, it is overwriting. Although I've come to realize it's the mark of an amateur, polishing and adorning prose until it's the equivalent of an over-sized tiara, it doesn't happen for me in the same way. What naturally spills out onto the page is some sub-par, Faulkner-esque, never-ending train of words, the structure as complex as the words are bloated with imagery and detail.

Jessica Page Morrell devotes an entire chapter of her amazing book, Between the Lines, to subtlety in fiction. Gospel to my muse's ears, often tuned into three symphonies at once. Morell breaks the chapter into subtlety techniques in character description, setting and the land-mine of conveying emotions. The recognizable differences between good drama and melodrama, a dangerous territory for anyone who attempts to write about something as complex and intense as love, is worth the price of the book alone.

In addition to other aspects of subtlety--the proper placing and use of subtexts and how simplifying modifiers, qualifiers and intensifiers can make a stronger impact--the most important point Morrell makes is that of trusting your reader. A hundred years ago, readers craved languid, thorough prose, as the stories lived entirely in the place of imagination. Today's reader, living in a media-saturated climate doesn't need the author to take them by the hand and act as a tour guide. Chances are they've seen it on streaming web video or one of three hundred high definition channels in their living room. For authors, it becomes a tightrope. How much is too much?

I rank Between the Lines as one of the best writing books I've read in years. Morrell peels back the important layers found in so many craft books to the lesser-known techniques that bring storytelling to the next level.

What is your greatest writing crime?

Friday, January 18, 2008

One Year and Seven Random Facts

Despite January marking the one year anniversary of this blog (Wow, that's a lot of philosophical bs), this is an inaugural MEME, tagged officially by Marilyn, unofficially by Maureen:

The rules of this MEME:
Link to the person who tagged you.

Leave a comment on their blog, so their readers can visit you.

Post the rules on your blog.

Share 7 random and/or weird facts about yourself on your blog.

Tag 7 random people at the end of your blog.

Include links to their blogs and let each of them know they've been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Here goes:

1. The only celebrity I've been close enough to smell was Ted Nugent. I know, right? Oh, and I got a hug from Scott Thompson Baker. If you weren't a GH fan around 1988, this will mean nada. While googling for a picture of him as Colton Shore, I ran across this beaut of him as Kudak'Etan in a Star Trek DSN episode. Do you recognize him now? I assure you, my encounter was infinately more satisfying with him than with the Motor City Madman.

2. I once roamed the dark streets of Munich, lost and alone for four hours when I was 18.

3. I prefer beer to any other form of alcohol. My favorite? Warm German beer mixed with lemonade.

4. I've seen a ghost.

5. A T.V. addiction I'll rarely admit to: Little House on the Prairie

6. I once wrote to Paramount Pictures under the pretense of an article about positive media influences on teenagers to satisfy my Richard Dean Anderson infatuation. They sent me a press kit so complete, the only things missing were duct tape and the chewing gum he used to make a bomb in season one. Can anyone say "shrine"?

7. There was a moment--a brief flash of near-death--nine years ago that I don't remember. I believe that instant was filled with nothing less than a guardian angel, and I've often wondered if it was one of those pre-ordained "exit" moments some believe we have in our lifetime.

And, in the interest of not wanting to unleash bad MEME karma, I tag: Sandra, Sherry, Jayliss, Andrea, Delores, Shannon and Melanie.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Read...and Exercise Your Right to Comment

I'm over at my alter-blog today, SparkleThis. Be sure to read the other four installments in the round-robin story, starting with January 6th, before you read my post. And, yes, they will probably kill me for the direction I took the story, 12-gauge piercings and all.

If you're up for reading an awesome sample of women's fiction, head over to Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Competition. Maureen McGowan's The Miseducation of April Hillson is a story that utilizes a non-linear structure and a raw, honest first person narration to bring the reader close to the strong protagonist heroine. Leave a review and you'll be entered to win prize packages from Amazon up to $2,000.

Friday, January 11, 2008

It's All Fun and Games Until Someone Loses A Mullet

This is too good not to post. The original post from Craig's List is gone, but here's a screen capture:

"Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before."

Ladies, here's your chance. Maybe he'd take you back to when his mullet was fashionable.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Dark Frontier

According to researchers at Harvard studying inactive portions of the mind, human beings engage in time travel. More startling than that is the idea that it is the dominant reality in the pie chart of how we spend our waking hours.

As evolved creatures, we not only have a shorter learning curve when acting based on past experiences, but are able to project ourselves into scenarios in future-time to "try on" that reality. What scientists call the "dark frontier" of our minds will take us back in full-sensory mode to the moment we touched a hot stove. Despite the fact that our bodies and minds are moving forward, one second at a time, our minds have the capacity to remember far more than a conditioned Pavlovian response. In much the same way, when we indulge in thoughts of flipping off the boss or slip into imagined scenarios of acceptance speeches for the Pulitzer, we are projecting our every emotion and setting the sensory stage to experience what it has to offer.

And the present time? The active part of our brain is triggered again by immediate sensory input. An alarm ringing. Someone walking up to your desk to ask a question. While most people profess to "live in the moment", it seems it happens far less than even they are aware of. It's not until the past or future thoughts are interrupted that we even aware time travel has taken place.

I suspect writers spend more of their day in alternate time zones than anyone else. Because we travel though life with heightened awareness of details and impressions, ready to access when we sit with pen to paper, it makes us more likely to revisit and study both significant and insignificant moments or project plot lines of our own lives for dramatic effect.

Makes for a great line, doesn't it? The next time someone walks in and catches you at your desk staring off into nothingness, tell them you're a time traveler to the dark frontier. Bet they'll think twice about interrupting again.

More about the Harvard study.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Lights, Camera.....Slideshow?

I've started work on a book trailer for my upcoming short story, The Lost Highway. Not because I'm convinced it's the promotional jackpot some think it is, nor because I believe it comes close to the marketing impact of movie trailers they're trying to emulate, but because my story is part of a whole. An unknown space occupied in an anthology. Twelve stories connected by tiny threads of location and vague notions of theme, but so entirely different from one another a potential reader can't possibly know what to expect.

And, it's something else to whittle away moments when the writing slows to a trickle and the words become viscous. An act taken in the spirit of writing. An attempt to loosen the creativity.

The first thing I wrestled with was exactly how much to tell. A teaser implies vagueness and strong, captivating images that may not necessarily give the audience a formidable picture of the story, but leaves them wanting more, nevertheless. Putting a back cover blurb into the trailer injects more words on the screen with the potential for a more cluttered effect, but gives a more focused impression to help the consumer make a choice. Which is more effective?

I've also wrestled with the slide-show effect versus taking a digital movie camera out onto a desolate highway and creating the trailer I have in my mind. Would it come out something close to a torturous home video, or a stand out in a sea of Powerpoint-like promotion?

A huge part of a trailer's success, for me, is music. Without benefit of a highly-paid deep-toned voice-over, the notes and movements of the song become almost as important as the words. After sampling dozens of royalty-free tracks, some better than others, I landed upon two songs that evoke the emotion I hope to bring out in a viewer. Used in succession, my hope is the first will set the tone for the conflict and the second will speak more about my character.

I've finished most of the trailer, but one graphic eludes me--the perfect glimpse of an image that will hook the viewer and leave him or her wanting to know more. With the almost infinitesimal number of images available on search engines with a few choice keystrokes, it sounds simple. Laser, almost. But finding something known only to the writer's "camera eye" is not only difficult. Finding an image that will do it justice is next to impossible.

Stephen King once wrote about his disappointment at having Jack Nicholson cast as the main character in The Shining. When he wrote the story, he hoped to explore the total plunge into insanity we are all capable of. His protagonist was to be everyman, a glimpse into ourselves as the reader. In this lies the true horror of the story. Jack Nicholson, however, brought to the screen a certain measure of insanity to the character already, thus diminishing the audience's emotional engagement.

How many times have you watched a movie translated from book to screen and been disappointed? Seen a glimpse of the protagonist on a book's cover and realize it's nothing like what we had in mind. Countless. As saturated as popular media is in our culture, it still can't do justice to what our own fantasies can create. Even more so for writers, who've occupied the same mental plane through the entire gestation of the project. Are screenwriters ever truly satisfied?

Who knows if I'll capture that perfect image, or even be satisfied with the final outcome? In the attempt, I will have translated obscurity into something a potential reader can sink into, if only for a moment or two.

What is your opinion of book trailers? What aspects are effective at holding your interest? Which ones are not as effective?