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My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

E-reader or Tablet? 6 Considerations (Claire Youmans)

1.  Start with an app.  I have the Kindle app on my phone, my iPad and Big Mamma Mac. iBooks comes installed on Apple devices.  I also have the Kobo and Nook apps, and Acrobat Reader, but generally use none of them.  I just don’t like reading on reflective computer screens.  These apps are generally free.  Get them all.  Pick up a couple of those free books and start reading.  That's the best way to find out which one works best for you.  Books you pay for are usually made available for EVERY platform, including .pdf.   B & N, Kobo, Apple Store, Amazon — no worries.  Smart publishers make their books accessible to readers.    
 
2.  What's the battery life?  Dedicated e-readers use a lot less juice than a tablet.  An iPad won't last over a 24 hour travel day unless you can charge it somewhere.  Staying hooked to the internet uses more power than being in “airplane mode.”  A backlit screen uses more juice than one that isn't (you can turn that feature off) but a backlit screen is incredibly useful for traveling, camping or reading in bed.
 
3.  Tablet or e-reader?  I prefer reading on a dedicated e-reader because I like the non-reflective screen.  Other people don't notice a difference between the e-reader and an app.  You'll have to try it and see.  When something strikes me that I want to look up, I grab my iPad, as my (couple of years old) Kindle doesn’t have a great browser.  However, my daughter's Kindle Fire keeps the Kindle screen pretty well, and has enough internet capability to handle everything she needs from a tablet as well as a reader.  Going with a tablet gives a child immediate access to immense quantities of information.  "Look it up" takes on a whole new meaning.  You'll be surprised at what they find, and how much fun they have doing it.  Check the capabilities of each device.  Most e-readers now have some kind of browser, though they may not be up to streaming movies or watching TV.  

4.  Personally, I would not buy a “kids’ version” of a tablet.  If they can figure it out, let them have at it.  You want them to learn, right?  I might possibly use some parental controls, but I doubt it.  My parents didn’t believe in censorship, and I enjoyed many happy hours searching their basement stacks when I was a kid.  If it was too old for me, it bored me, and that’s been borne out by my experience with other kids.  I don't censor either.  I turned out pretty well.  I would buy durable.  You want them to use these devices!
 
5.  What format does your local library support?  It probably does them all, but check.  This is your portal for free access to the world, so use it. 
 
6.  Think hard about durability.  I can’t say this often enough.  I have broken an iPad, I am ashamed to say.  I haven't broken a Kindle yet, and I am rough on them.  Ask around.  You want a device that shrugs off popsicle drips and living in a backpack that gets dumped in a snow bank.
 
 
Clearly, I am a Kindle devotee, since I started with Kindle when they first came out in pre-tablet days.  I also love my Apple products, though Windows and Android aren’t really all that different in use.  I don’t know what you have or what you like.  Look at everything.  Talk to everybody you know.  Try things out.  Then make the selection that will work best for you.
 
The bonus is that starting a child on either an e-reader or full-blown tablet gives that child access to the world.  That child will, without even trying, learn how to “look things up.”  That child will, without even trying, become a life-long learner, a self-educating adult.  What greater gift could you give your child?
 
The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy and The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy Book Two, Chasing Dreams are both available on line at Amazon in both hard and Kindle format, and available at Smashwords in ALL e-formats.  They’ll be available at all retail outlets very soon.  Five-star reviews are already coming in!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Best World Building (Last Call)

This is a screencap, not the poll itself.
The actual poll is down and to the left.
What is the best fiction world building?

Less than three days remain in our Best World Building Poll, and it's still anyone's game--especially for second place onward. So rock the vote that rocks the vote.

Middle Earth is only ahead by nine votes, and I've seen leads like that disappear in minutes before. However, our polls for "Blogust" are going to have to go up immediately come August, so the results of this poll will be up on Saturday.

So take a moment to scroll down to the long black poll on the lower left and give the world of your choice some love.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Nut Shot (Social Justice Metaphors)

Dear fellow cis dudes: 

You know how we spend a lot of time saying that women just can't comprehend how bad a really solid nut shot feels.

Duces (cis dudes) talk about how the pain is just blinding, and incapacitating (it makes you throw up and sweat uncontrollably, and probably is completely incapacitating)  and no one seems to get it until they've gone through it.

Of course other cis dudes get it. They nod and say "GOD YES!!" and there's this whole brotherhood of "You GET it!" that surrounds the nut shot.

If women try to say that something else hurts a lot (from childbirth to menstrual cramps) dudes jump in and say, "Yeah, but you barely have to TOUCH our junk for it to hurt." If they liken it to nailing a funny bone we say "No it's so much worse."

We don't even let them compare it to stepping on a Lego.

We basically inform them they can't really wrap their heads around quite how painful a full force nut shot is UNTIL/UNLESS THEY EXPERIENCE IT.

Try to remember that the next time you're dictating to a woman that street harassment is no big deal....or that sexism in the workplace shouldn't bother them that much....or that the double standard of society about her clothes isn't that big a deal......or........

Or....

Or....

Monday, July 27, 2015

Small Schedule Change, Big Big Deal (Mailbox)

Why is a small schedule impact such a big deal to a writer?  

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. And of course you can ask me why I'm such a slacker.]  

M asks: 

Glad you're done with your summer school thing, but I'm confused why it was such a thing. How does a three-day-a-week gig throw such a wrench into the system. Understand I'm asking this not to challenge you, but rather because I've noticed this shit too. I'm doing pretty good about daily writing, someone asks me if I can take on a very small freelance commission for no more than a couple of hours a day, and my writing falls to pieces. Why is it that we add these LITTLE things to our lives[,] like a few days a week and a few hours a day, and suddenly our writing collapses? Shouldn't we still have lots of time left over?


My reply: 

Because there's a meltdown in the sky, M, and writers are living on the edge. (What? That song is 22 years old? Hey....I promised you pop culture references. I didn't say from when. Now sit back down, you whippersnappers! If you're going to be on my lawn, you never EVER say "that joke is older than me.")

I can't generalize all writers, everywhere, for all time, but I can tell you a few things that tend to be true about basically all the writers I've ever met and most of the ones I've read about. We walk an edge. We push our lives into this state of extremely delicate balance. And even though we talk about it like it makes us a special kind of awesome, it's not really always a good thing.

Now, I'm not talking about writers who don't really write. They have about as much time as average folk and can waste it or pick up new commitments accordingly. Some people are very busy, and some waste a lot of time. I'm talking about the writers who write every day (including a lot of household names) whether that daily writing is a stolen half hour with a pencil and a legal pad or a ten hour session that ends with a deep vein thrombosis throwing off a clot into your heart.  (Sorry. I watch a lot of House M.D. reruns when I'm cleaning).  Most of us are pressed right up against our limits, like a woman in a shower scene on Cinemax after dark, so that we can squeeze as much writing in as possible.

Whether you are someone who fills your life with obligations–a nine to five job, family, friends, hobbies–or whether you are a misanthrope working just enough to pay the bills you have to pay, you are probably writing juuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuust about as much as you can handle. Could be two hours. Could be ten. But the chances are your life is a balancing act. You are spinning as many plates and doing it as efficiently as possible in order to get back to your writing as much as you can.

You know what happens when you tell someone spinning as many plates as possible to stick one more stick with a spinning plate on it....in their mouth? So sometimes it's better to put down one plate to pick up the other. Since most of us probably aren't spinning a lot of non-urgent plates, the only thing we have to sacrifice is our writing. We might be able to keep a little something going on, but our major efforts are likely stymied. (I wrote every day during the last six weeks, but some days it was little more than my private morning journaling.) I just couldn't keep that plate spinning and trying likely would have been the hull breach that led to total structure integrity failure and caused a warp core breach in my will to live.

Look at this another way. Let's say my life is pretty busy (and most people's are). Let's say I work about forty hours a week, have five or ten hours a week of things I can't get out of, and write about thirty hours a week. That means my typical week is thirty hours more than many other people's lives. Eighty hours a week is also a LOT. I'm roughly as busy as someone with two full time jobs. Almost half of that might be a labor of love, but you can't just keep piling things on forever. (Insert a reDONKulous amount of research here about the point at which human beings actually lose productivity and efficiency.) So if you add a 20 hour gig on top of your regular work and your writing, you probably have to give something up. Most of us can't just do 100 hours a week.

First of all, most writers (at least those who love it enough to write every day) have pared down our lives to just about the point where there isn't a lot of unimportant stuff. It's either vital stuff we can't possibly bare to get rid of (work, family, very important relationships), or it's writing. Only one of those things isn't going to explode, implode, fire you, or leave all your shit in the front yard if you start ignoring it.

Secondly, the way overdoing it works isn't like paper math. Creatives generally have to be even more careful about overdoing it than other people. It's not just an equation that you can keep adding to as long as you haven't reached 168 hours a week. There are intangibles in play. The first thing that exhaustion effects is our self-motivation. And also pretty high up on that list is creativity. (Sound like things artists might need?) There's this whole survival mode vs. creative mode dynamic that all people have (and no, Minecraft didn't make this up but it's really cool that an open ended creative game is exploring that dynamic through metaphor), and when we are burning non-creative engines on overload, there's usually a lot of impact to our interest and ability to create. Things like a good night's sleep, imaginative play, and of course reading turn out to be just as vital as the writing time itself.

So be careful M. Protecting your writing time doesn't always mean JUST the time you are physically doing the act of writing.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sunday Shorts Returning

Thank you everyone for being patient with me while I took Sundays off during my stint with maddening summer school.

We will return to our daily schedule tomorrow, starting with a short Mailbox and ramping up into the full fury of "Blogust" over the next week. Next Sunday we will restart our "Sunday Shorts" mailbox.

You've all been wonderfully patient.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Your Daily Dose of Awwwww

As you may or may not know, here at Writing About Writing, 10% of every penny we make goes straight into children's literacy charities. While I would love to do some major national charity and give them thousands, I'm a small time artist, I am mostly donating to local charities.

Well, the 2014 donation was to a specific class. An actual SPECIFIC class--Ms. Costell's to be exact. We donated through Oakland Reads, and actually picked one group of underprivileged students who were looking to get some quality readers.

And they wrote us back!! (Which really means they wrote YOU back.) At least a few of them did.



Yes, the kids got the name of the blog wrong, but who cares. If this doesn't melt the icy recesses of your cold hearts, your misanthropy knows bounds untouchable by cuteness.

ON THAT NOTE:

Prepare yourselves for a HUGE fund raiser in the month of August. Cedric (our cephalopod office admin) is currently tasked with picking another such class of underprivileged young literacista to help. To celebrate "Blogust," Writing About Writing will be upping its usual 10% donation to 50%. That's right....HALF of everything you donate from Aug 1st to Aug 31st will go to a classroom project here in Oakland just like the one above. (Deets TBA, but if you want to donate early, just write "Blogust" in the notes section on the Paypal amounts.)

But wait....there's more.

We have a mysterious benefactor who has agreed to match what EVER Writing About Writing makes (up to $1000). That means that for thirty-one days, any donation you make to W.A.W. will basically be a donation of the same amount to our charity as well as a donation of half the amount to the blog.

I'll keep you posted (sometimes one mysterious benefactor begets others), and have an actual name of the actual charity we'll be helping by August.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Big News

We have big news!
I often ask people to turn off their adblockers just for this site, and if you ever did, you probably noticed right away that something is a little different in the layout of the site.

If not I'll just tell you:

Writing About Writing is going ad free.

I've sort of been hoping to be able to do this for a while, but I couldn't afford to get rid of any income stream, no matter how small or annoying. However, these last few months (and really the last year or so) have shown me that donations are worth much much more than the trickle of ad revenue. I might be missing out on a couple hundred a year, and if something goes viral, I'm sure I'll second guess whether this was my wisest move ever, but it's better this way.

I can get away with a tiny bit more if I'm not running a commercial site, but mostly the reason is I don't like the adsense/Blogger model. I'd rather make a little less getting donations from those of you who really like W.A.W. than to try to beg you periodically to turn your adblock off and be exposed to the pinnacle of a lot of shit I really hate. (Mass consumerism, rampant commercialism, lifestyle obsession.) Besides, you guys are now coming in at the rough average of 20 TIMES more in awesome and generous donations than I was making off of ads. So even though I'm not making enough to really write off any revenue stream, that one is worth the loss.

There may come a day when an advertiser approaches me. I know popular blogs often hook up directly with products, but if that happens it will be a product I really believe in, and I'll be able to make sure the ad itself isn't skeevy.

In case it isn't clear, let me say it again: it was you all and your donations that made this possible. When I started, ads were my ONLY source of revenue. I made about $100 dollars in the first nine months. Now ads are a minor income stream and I can follow my convictions and get rid of them.

That's because of all of you.

You take my breath away, and I will keep writing the best I've got in me to justify your support.

(I'll have to adjust things like my guest blogger payment policy and the "Ways to support us" question in the FAQ, but other than a cleaner layout, less bile in the back of your throat, and the occasional rogue, unbidden, and unconscious thought that how are you ever going to get published without a correspondence course MFA and copy editing by Grammarly, this shouldn't affect readers too much.)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

7 Reasons to Love E-readers for Kids!

It's no secret that I am in love with my Kindles. It's also no secret that I am totally pro e-readers for kids, no matter what the form or format. Whether it's an app on a tablet or a dedicated e-reader, I think they're great for children, and here's why.

1.  One device holds an entire library! I have something like 673 books available to me any time I have an internet connection to search my archives. It's a virtual bookcase! I have free classics from The Gutenberg Project and elsewhere. I also have so many books in the device itself I can be happily reading for several weeks even if I don't have the internet. Never a problem finding something to spark interest. Never a problem finding a place to stow it.

2.  Children are intuitively computer literate, as far as I can tell. When I got my first iPad, a young friend, then 5, wanted to play with it. I'd had it about a week. In fifteen minutes, she had it doing things I didn't even know it could. My grandchildren were using full-blown computers when they were younger still. It is amazing to see a little kid make a computer sing. Show them how it turns on and how to log in, and they'll be off and running. (Give them their own log-ons. You  never know.) Using an e-reader or e-reader app enhances their enjoyment of tech and helps make them fantastically computer literate, which will benefit them their entire lives in ways we can't begin to imagine today.

3.  Words, glorious words. When I touch a word on my Kindle Paperwhite, the definition pops up. I've been reading Frazer's The Golden Bough and he uses some words I didn't know. Hovering is so much easier than getting up to consult a dictionary, on-line or otherwise. It's a great vocabulary-building learning tool.

4.  There's a full-service English-language bookstore everywhere! It's horrible to be stuck in a country where they don't speak any language you do often enough to have a bookstore! I can jump into a bookstore anywhere I can get the internet and buy new books, if I am seriously desperate or there's something I just have to read right now.

5.  Libraries are great. I love my local library. My library is my portal through which I can get all kinds of information from around the world, including books, as well as borrow any paper book it only stocks in that format. However, no library can possibly be as comprehensive as the internet, not even the great print libraries of the world. But if you're going about it electronically, you can visit those, too, courtesy of your local library. Without going out in the rain.

6.  Books are expensive! The greatest thing about the library is that it's a free community service. Free books are fabulous. Readers can get plenty of books, both classics and new releases, free for their devices on-line, too. Paper books are really expensive!  E-books from "major houses" have recently gone way up in price, but they're still less than half the price of a hard-backed paper book. Use your library and use other internet resources, and you get a lot more bang for your buck, book-wise.

7.  Yes, the illustrations, maps and diagrams come through. At least on my devices and apps.


Obviously, I am an Apple Fan-girrl and a Kindle devotee. I haven't tried other devices, and they may be just as great or even better. You won't know until you look.

The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy and The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy Book Two, Chasing Dreams are both available on line at Amazon in both hard and Kindle format, and available at Smashwords in ALL e-formats.  They’ll be available at all retail outlets very soon!




[If you would like to be a regular blogger or a not-so-regular guest blogger here at Writing About Writing, check out our guidelines and then drop me a line at chris.brecheen@gmail.com.]

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Almost Free!!!


Two more days. Six more hours. Four more class sessions.

Four more class sessions teaching middle schoolers who would rather be getting root canals a few precious study skills that may or may not help them come their fall school year.

Technically it's six hours and thirty minutes with two classes of one hour each, but who's counting.

Technically, it's not even two more days. Because it's today in a couple of hours, that means that it's only about twenty-seven more hours. If you think about it, that's not much more than one day, really.

And then....Summer school will be OVER.

So if you hear a distant, and somehow equal parts anguished and relieved cry coming from the SF/Bay Area, it's because this will be me in a mere 27 hours:


Next year, I know better than to let people convince me that I will have no shortage of housecleaning and kid wrangling help and that I won't be simply adding a couple dozen hours a week to an already impacted schedule. It was a lovely sentiment by people I know meant it at the time, but somewhere between expectation and execution, we all wandered off the path, and if anything I ended up a little more busy than even last year at this time.

Next year, I'll make the call of whether to teach or not based only on how life is going, and not the some promise of toddler tag ins and housework help. It's a lot of money, but your generous donations have ensured that I don't NEED it, and I'd rather bring you a quality schedule for those six weeks.

If I seem like I'm being seduced by the promise that I will be able to teach and write, flood my inbox with reminders of this very entry and don't let me fall prey again. Fool me three times...or something.

I know what happened last year, but this year we will ABSOLUTELY makes sure that you have enough time to write.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

No More DOTs!

I wasn't planning on doing a social justice metaphor today, but I happened along one that seems to have instantly caused several people an epiphany, including the friend I first used it on.

Often when explaining linguistic harm to people we have to resort to metaphors. Many people who can only be insulted or offended, but cannot really be harmed by words (cis het white guys in particular). They don't understand the difference between offense and harm. A dead baby joke might be offensive, and I would leave if they were told around me, but no one thinks they would be okay to tell at the wake of a baby who died from S.I.D.S. They would drag the parents through the experience again and cause people actual mental and emotional harm.

Words don't have to rip your flesh from your bone like you're an X-man villain to do "real" damage. That is a sophist and immature outlook that everyone should get over when they retire the "Sticks and stones" poem for the realization that the N-word is not just your run of the mill taboo curse word.

The way slurs or insults cause splash damage (like "bitch" or "gay") go beyond just the people they intend to insult and cause more than just "offense." They remind people of the less-than-fully-human status they hold in our society because their very identity is associated with "bad things." Further they reinforce the negative stereotypes that serve to other and dehumanize. Some people endure this constantly.  Which does measurable harm by statistical bellwethers in everything from blood pressure to heart disease to average salary.

Usually the metaphor that is used is the "death by a thousand cuts" metaphor. That is, no one slur or insult is the coup de grace. Men (for example) can be insulted by being called names, but they get over it pretty quickly, and no insult a man can hear really serves to remind them of the way they are treated as second class citizens. Women on the other hand are the subject of a VAST array of insults that tie negative characteristics towards feminine traits (bitch, cunt, pussy, ...like a girl) and serve as a reminder that they are never going to be seen as fully human by society at large. No single insult is fatal, but a thousand cuts all cause bleeding.

Today I found quite a bit of traction with the idea of damage over time spells, which may work if whoever you're talking to is into video games or roleplaying games. One damage over time spell...no biggie. You get immolate, corruption, curse of agony, serpent sting, and vampiric touch....you're in trouble.

Here's what I said: "It's like a D.O.T. It might not do that much right when it first lands, but it keeps working. It keeps reminding you of your status. And it keeps tying your identity to something people think is A Bad Thing™ If you have 50k HP, you don't think much about a dot that does 3 damage per tick (that's not even enough to cancel out your healing), but you might not be so blasé if the duration was an entire week....and you get ten or fifteen of these DOTs slapped on you every day....sometimes just for walking down the street....and that's ten or fifteen per marginalized identity, so a queer woman of color would deal with racism DOTs, sexism DOTs, and Heteronormative DOTs.

And then you come along and tell them not to be so angry that you just used yet another area-effect DOT "as a joke," or used a word that means THEM to insult to another person, or dropped a slur and informed them that you don't see what the big deal is."

I can't speak for everyone, but this particular gaming nerd insta-GROKed the concept.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Vera Transfer

Old Vera on the right is telling new Vera not to get distracted by Facebook.
Vera spent the day transferring her consciousness into her new body. I traded in the Air for a Pro.

This might seem trivial but it involves a platform levers and a lightning storm. Then there were complex data transfers that totally didn't involve just accessing my iCloud from the other computer.

It was harrowing. I'm glad I survived.

This will be my last week of teaching summer school–which also means my last week of outrRAGEously fluffy posts and next level jazz hands. If I can make it to Thursday, we're off to the races.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Dreams of a Blog (2015)

"Your three o'clock is here," Cedric said over the intercom. "Also, the staff are complaining that you paid them in pizza coupons last month, so could you at least mix it up this month. I'm thinking of giving them the Crazy Chicken coupon that is for four family members for the price of three, and the free coffee with a purchase of a breakfast sandwich and hashbrowns from McDowels."

I pressed the reply button: "Yes on The Crazy Chicken, no on the free coffee--we need something to pay them next month--and send in my three o'clock."

Blog walked in.

"Oh," I said. "Blog. I um....I didn't expect to see you for.....well for a while."

"I still have dreams, Chris," Blog said.

"I know you do, and it's been a little weird these last months. We lost Stumbleupon, and I still don't even actually know why. Numbers have been down and-"

"I know all this, Chris. It's been sad. But we've crawled back up. You didn't expect me to roll over and die because of a failure did you."

"No," I said. "I just figured, the setback being what it was....."

"You might not see me for a few more months?" Blog finished. "Maybe a year?"

I nodded. "Something like that. Yeah."

"Wouldn't it be lovely if the laurels just let you rest on them."

I swallowed. This wasn't going to go well for me.

Blog's lip curled into a predatory grin. "Play time's over Chris. You've jazz handed your way across half a year. Let's talk about Blogust."

"Oh come on," I said. "That was silly last year when it was less unrealistic than it would be today.. There's no way I'm going to be able to get 50,000 page views in a month right, especially if I'm not even writing for the last few days because of Burning Man. Playtime being over is great, but I can't make people look at the blog."

"A goal without deadline is just a daydream," Blog said.

"Fine. Next year. We probably will have recovered from the social media hit we took, and I'll have a little more time--"

"No."

"What do you mean, no? We can't hit fifty thousand, Blog. I'm sorry. There's no way."

"I don't want to hit fifty thousand," Blog said.

I rolled my eyes. "Look, I'm not going to do that trope where I'm relieved and then you hit me with an even bigger number, so you might as well just say it."

"Sixty thousand."

"No."

"Sixty. Thousand."

"No way."

"Sixty thousand, baby."

"There's no way, Blog. There's just no way. That's over twice what we're making now. That's two thousand page views a day. It can't be done."

"Chris, Chris, Chris, Chris....when will you learn, that you only say it can't be done because it never has."

"There's a difference between a realistic goal and a pipe dream."

"Of course there is. I didn't say you needed to make six hundred thousand page views. Share your best reruns. Make sure you're doing two posts a day on social media. Write articles you know people engage with. Really do some good writing. You can get that kind of traffic. And if you can't, you needed something to motivate you. But you can."

"You're not going to leave until I agree to this are you."

"We know each other so well, don't we?"


Friday, July 17, 2015

The Punctum (Cat Stephen's Father to Son)

Punctum, plural puncta, adjective punctate, is an anatomical term that refers to a sharp point or tip.  

There's a series I've been thinking of for a while that I'm going to start working on today. Once I have a few entries for it, I'll start a new sub menu to be tucked away inside my Elements of Craft section (which needs more attention than my cat since the baby came along).

Punctum would be considered an element of craft, but not one a lot of writers are familiar with because it's borrowed from other arts, and even there can be obscure because it's borrowed as a metaphor from other disciplines. Mostly they know setting and dialogue and irony and such, but you don't hear a lot of talk about punctum. It's sort of a hipster element of craft. You've probably never heard of it before, and I'll talk a lot about it until it goes mainstream, and then complain that I liked it before it was cool.

It's also titanium balls hard to explain. It's easier to show–hence the reason it would be a series instead of just one article.

Unless you're dealing with a writer like Shakespeare or Toni Morrison, you probably don't get just a nonstop stream of brilliance. You get a generally passable narrative with these punctuation moments of brilliance. One line here or one perfectly chosen word there that just causes the whole thing to pop. It is a word similar to it's metaphorical source in that it is a sharp point within the writing. (The real pisser is that writers like Shakespeare and Morrison can give us nonstop brilliance and STILL hit those punctum moments. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to weep openly into my raisin bran.)

While I wouldn't say Salinger suffers from "passible narrative," I would offer up a line as an example of punctum.

“She wasn’t doing a thing that I could see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together.”
—J. D. Salinger, “A Girl I Knew”
Here's another example. This picture as rubble would be like any other. If there were dirty, even bloodied, kids in torn clothes it would seem tragic, but probably wouldn't evoke biting emotions because there are so many pictures just like it. Even the strangely intact jacuzzi would seem like a curiosity. But the punctum here is the kids taking a bath amidst in the rubble. It just brings the whole reality of this situation (Gaza for the curious) to an incredible point. The contrast. The relief. It creates this unbearable tension that lens flares what would be one more picture of destruction across our vision.

Photo: Eman Mohammed
The last one I want to leave you with is one of my favorite songs. And one of the only singers my baritone self can really rock when I'm doing karaoke. It's called "Father and Son" and it's by Yusuf Islam (who's went by Cat Stevens back when Tea for the Tillerman was released).

It's an interesting song, but there's nothing remarkable about the chord progression or Steven's late 60s/early 70s acoustic guitar stylings. There is an interesting choice he made to separate the parts by an octave to emphasize the father part and the son part. It gives the piece the feel of a kind of dialogue. However.....one choice made this whole song pop.

(I recommend listening to the song a couple of times if you aren't already familiar with it.)

Here is the punctum: at 1:56 he starts the note of the last line of the "son" part with the word "go."  He very consciously and conspicuously holds out the son's note into the bridge and then does a descending scale that ends on what will be the exact note that the father part will start out on after the bridge. The implication here is that this song, rather than being one father and son doing a back and forth about a common theme, that the son in the first half HAS BECOME the father in the second half, and that it is his son singing to him in the second half.

And that brings the entire song to a whole new level of its own generational themes.

And that is the power of the punctum.


More on the punctum.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Be The Audience (Claire Youmans)

Chris’s series on it being OK not to write led me to wonder if many people who say they want to be writers, those who can never find the time to think up anything but excuses, who agonize over not putting fingers to keyboard, or mouth to mike, or pen to paper, actually want to be writers at all. The literary world has room for many kinds of people. Writers are not the only ones. Maybe there’s another place in the literary world that would bring these people joy and fulfillment, a place that accords with their real talents. Editors, copy-editors, agents, publicity folk, reviewers, bookstore owners, librarians, book bloggers — these are all extremely important roles in the literary world. But they aren’t the most important roles. Neither, in truth, is writing itself.

As a seriously working writer, I can tell you my life is pretty ordinary. Here it is, late Saturday morning. My houseguests have left, and I have plenty of housework to do. Yet, here I am, writing, because I love what I do. I could tell myself that I’ll write later, when the cleaning’s done, when I’ve reorganized my art supplies, when I’ve brought in firewood, when I’ve baked those granola bars, taken out my kayak and walked the dog again, but I’m not doing that, because I did a lot of PR outreach this morning, playing catch-up, and now I am writing! I’ll do that other stuff later.

I get up in the morning, fairly early, and do all the usual morning stuff everyone does. Then I nosedive into my computers, my galleys, my own blog and my publicity stuff, usually around nine. I go to work, just as if I were going to an office in town. In fact, there are writers who do go to rented office spaces, or dedicated rooms over the garage or in the attic, off-limits to all, and do so for a regular period of time each business, or maybe every, day. I do plenty of things that aren’t writing. Nobody goes to the store for me. Nobody cleans my house for me. Nobody tends my garden for me. I stack my own firewood. I watch almost no TV, I rarely go out to eat, I don’t sit in coffee shops, I don’t go to bars or clubs except on very rare occasions. I carve out time for several sports I enjoy. I need to sleep, so I make sure I do. The simple fact is, I work. What you see when you look at me is a middle-aged lady living a quiet life whose work, at which she works a lot, happens to be writing books. That’s why I try to convey here. THIS is the normal life of a working writer.

A few working writers seem to spend a lot of time drinking, drugging, clubbing and having affairs, but if you read their biographies or get to know them, you’ll see they do that during “off” times, not when they’re seriously writing. A bout of addiction and rehab, or a really nasty break-up or divorce, can wreck not just months but years. Those missing years aren't productive, fun or lucrative, either. Writing takes concentration, thought and effort. It requires you to be physically and mentally at the top of your game. It doesn’t happen when you have a hangover or were out until the clubs swept you out with the trash. Nothing wrong with those things; if you’re a serious working writer, you just build holidays and days off into your schedule. You don’t make a lifestyle of them.

What I think is there are many people who are attracted to the “time off” parts of being a writer. They enjoy talking about writing, just like writers. They enjoy reading, especially reading about writing, just like writers. They also enjoy sitting in coffee shops or bars with their compatriots griping about how hard writing is and how they have no time. They often love clubbing and partying and going to events. But actual writing? The follow-up parts to that actual writing, like PR, appearances, outreach? Nope. Not happening. Here at last is my serious question: why should it?

Look, I love music. I have music on all the time. I even know a bit about it. Sometimes I actually sing, though my voice is very rusty. But in music, my real role is to be the audience.

I’m going a little further than Chris. It’s not only OK not to write, it is also more than OK to be a reader and a fan. Readers are the most important people in the literary world. Fans are fantastic! We write for you! We need you! Writing is communication between the writer and the reader.  Readers are vital to this process.  Why not be the audience?

Also check out her blog and FB page and available books here:
http://claireyoumansauthor.blogspot.com

www.tokigirlandsparrowboy.com


Facebook:  The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy

Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Toki-Girl-Sparrow-Boy-Claire-Youmans/dp/0990323404/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top?ie=UTF8


[If you would like to do a regular or not-so-regular guest blog here at Writing About Writing, check out our guidelines and then drop me a line at chris.brecheen@gmail.com.]

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

What About Harper Lee's New Book (Mailbox)

What do you think of Go Set a Watchman?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday. I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. Usually I answer most questions (worth answering) in roughly the order I receive them, but auspicious timing for a book release may mean someone jumps the queue.]    

Danielle asks:

What do you think about Harper Lee's new book and what they're doing to Atticus Finch? Will you read it?  

My reply:

In a twist that will shock only people who have never really read much of my writing and/or never seen an M. Night Shyamalan movie, I have a pretty complicated and nuanced answer to this, so I'll start with some of the Things That Must Never Be Forgotten™ and then talk about why I'm probably not as horrified by the prospect of a sequel as some people seem to be.

First let me get the clumsily inserted exposition out of the way. If you've been living in a cave or have no friends on social media who love books, you may not have heard that Harper Lee is releasing a book that is a sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird called Go Set a Watchman. While we've been hearing that this book exists for nearly a year, as the details come to life, they get more and more quirky. Atticus Finch in this book apparently becomes a segregationist, and seems to stand for some level racism that he never did before (more on that in a bit). It takes a lot to upset readers even more than when they realize that not all the Starks will be getting to see how the Song of Ice and fire ends.

But first we must keep a few things in mind...

Things That Must Never Be Forgotten™

There are a couple of Siberian-Winter-cold facts that need to be dropped to contextualize this book, and they must inform everything that comes after. While we don't absolutely know what has happened in the assisted living home where Harper Lee now resides, and whether there were hazy meetings amidst cigar smoke (punctuated by Machiavellian laughs) or not, these are the facts we do know, and they do not paint a gracious picture:
  • Go Set a Watchman is based on an earlier draft of To Kill a Mockingbird. In typical style for a literary book, it changed substantially between its first and final drafts. Characters were altered. Settings were changed. Themes were teased out that hadn't been consciously in the mind of the author until they read their own work. This happens all the time–especially in books we consider to be "literary" or "classics."
  • We know that this early draft was coherent enough to actually be published, and that Lee was very worried people might do so. It is a contiguous story with a beginning a middle and an end. It might not need more than a polish to be a perfectly passable book.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird is BIG, BIG, BIG business. To this day, it pulls in over three million dollars PER YEAR. Imagine how many people in the publishing industry would want to get a "lost" Harry Potter novel published if they knew one existed, even if Rowling said it wasn't for the public or forbade its publication. Watchman is now the MOST preordered book in Harper/Collins history.
  • Harper Lee was explicitly clear that she never wanted GSAW published. In fact, the last time anyone really saw her, she was very clear....crystal clear....water-in-Hawaiian-vacation-commercials clear.....that she would never publish again.
  • In 2007 Harper Lee suffered a stroke that impaired her mental functions. She charged her sister Alice and her lawyer with making sure that GSAW was never turned into a book.
  • Her sister died not too long ago, and within months there was an announcement that a new Harper Lee novel had been found. 
  • The book could not be published right away. It needed some polish. (Almost like...maybe it was a draft.)
  • No one really knows what Harper Lee wants in all this. She lives in an assisted living home and has a list of only six visitors who can see her. All are involved in publishing GSAW. Her lawyer speaks for her in all matters.
  • Harper Lee's lawyer has written an op-ed in which there is absolutely no mention of Harper Lee's wishes, her thoughts on the new book, or her thoughts about how Atticus is being portrayed. None.
Those are the facts. It's not too hard to see why even a modicum of skepticism can conjure an image of a stroke-addled Lee being manipulated by a group of profiteering caregivers so that they can all secure VERY cushy retirements. Maybe they want a payday and made a pact. Maybe they honestly think the book isn't too bad and want to see it in the world. And then again, maybe Lee is a completely lucid misanthrope and is tired of a nuanced character being seen through a two dimensional lens. (Oh yes. I said it.) Whatever is going on, though, they sure haven't done anything--like a press release by Lee, or allowing a reporter to do a short interview--that might assuage so much as the slightest concern that this isn't a horrible case of elder financial abuse. Even so, the official term for situations in which manipulation seems so likely is, "sketchy as fuck."

But let's move on from the scandal part. The book is published and copies are on the shelves and Atticus fans are causing a sudden resurgence in the number of fainting couches in the world. That bell isn't going to be unrung in ever.

Just ignore it.

First of all, I've never understood why people become pedants about canon. Like I've seen fights almost come to blows over the fact that a book in the Star Wars extended universe once established a power of Boba Fett's. This always perplexes me. Once a book is in the world, do with it what you want. You don't like that one, pretend it didn't happen. My mind is full of series that ended when they should have and never went on too long because the author wanted a gravy train. It's filled with books that never had a forgettable sequel. I know those things exist in the same way I know there was a season five of Babylon 5....or a Spiderman 3....or an X-man 3....or midichlorians....or Jar Jar Binks....or....well you get the idea. I write it out of my head canon and I go on with my life. IT'S ALL FICTION–NONE OF IT IS ACTUALLY REAL! So being disappointed that an author did something you didn't want them to do with a fictional character has always just seemed strange to me. Just....pretend they didn't. The author created a world in your imagination. Simply alter it.  They are just borrowing real estate in YOUR brain, and it's not like knowing all these things is ever going to let you sweep a category column on Jeopardy or anything. Is it that hard to comfortably accept a world where Harry ends up with Hermione just because your day-to-day brain knows there exists a version where they didn't?

Maybe that's because I've got a better-than-average imagination. Maybe it's because I'm good at compartmentalizing. Maybe it's because I've had a lot of practice trying to accept paradox. Whatever the reason, reading a book that sullies a character isn't like reading an account that would sully a real person. In Sci-fi parlance, it will create a parallel time line where I am aware of two Atticus Finches. One from TKAM and one from GSAW.

But if you need some sort of technical pretense to substitute head-canon for "official" canon, remember this: GSAW may take place twenty years later, but it was written before. However...even so, it is not a pre-sequel. It's an earlier draft. It is an earlier draft that we readers just happen to get access to. That means technically it was replaced by TKAM and the events never happened. Enjoy a glimpse of how dramatically violent the writing process can be to the settings and characters and plots of writers who care enough to keep revising until a work is just perfect.

Or is he?

Now despite all these shady dealings, most people were pretty excited to see a new Harper Lee book hit the stands. It was only when they heard that Atticus Finch might be getting a segregationist makeover that they began to rebel against the idea or declare that they would never read such a book.

Atticus is their hero. A real open minded guy who tells people to walk around in other people's skin (but not in a Hannibal Lecter kind of way). He tells Scout that people are good if you get to know them. He defends a black man when no one else will. He stands against a mob. 

He's a good guy.

Right?

There's a rule in writing literature about depth of characters, and a character who is comically good is just as ludicrous as a character who is mustache-twirlingly evil. Everyone is a mix of virtue and vice, beauty and its opposite. The thing about Atticus Finch is that he is accepted (generally by white readers) to be a paragon of good. The reason people are so upset is that this new book taints that impression of him as a non-racist. Not just as a non-bigot, but even as someone who would passively accept a status quo that benefitted him. 

There are two problems with this. One is that racism isn't always active hatred. Obviously that's one expression of it and a dramatic and powerful one and oft used in literature and film to shortcut the more complex, nuanced, and lengthy portrayals of impact over intention. But racism is also a set of invisible social, cultural, economic, and political forces that create a power imbalance and a system of white supremacy. The struggle of social justice in our generation has been to expose the fact that an individual can contribute to (and benefit from) a racist system without being an overt bigot.

But let's read closer. Did Atticus ever really work to understand Tom Robbinson? Did he "walk around in Tom's skin"? Did he tell the jury (or Scout) about who Tom was as a person? (I assume he had a family and a job.) Did he send Jem to garden at a black person's house? Does Atticus have black friends? Atticus's treatment of Calpernia is often held up as evidence of his non-racism, but is it true acceptance or does Calpernia lead a double life? Does Atticus accept her as she really is or does she have to act the way he approves of to earn that acceptance? Was there ever any indication at all that Atticus wasn't a person comfortable with the social order?

Read closer.

Or did Atticus act a little bit like a white savior? Did the whole black community standing up for him (something that bothered me even as a child) simply for defending a man who clearly wasn't guilty strike a very sour note? Was Atticus simply a decent white person who is a product of his time? Do a few assumptions about the order of thing that peek through? Did he do nothing to challenge the systematic white supremacy, but basically mounted a defense that not only kept that system intact, but depended on it? Did he tell basically the jury that HE (Atticus) was honorable and so why would he defend a guilty man? Is there a reason why whites generally love this story and blacks tend report finding it depressing?

Read closer.

Is there every indication that Atticus is seen through the adoring lens of a young daughter and may be a complex person who makes a Faustian deal with the society in which he lived? 

Read closer. 

Is GSAW really adding a dimension to Atticus at all? Or is it just teasing out something that was always there? Could twenty years of social upheaval find an older man (who may have been the "vanguard of change" twenty years before) hasn't really shifted views? Could a father, a hero of a young girl, be seen to have flaws later in life? Many of the greatest voices we can think of in history were racists of some stripe or another, and even some of the greatest fighters against racist expressions were racists to some degree. Some were unrepentantly so, and some did a lot of good on the issues of their time but went no further. Abolitionists didn't always like black people. People who fought for desegregation turned around and opposed the Fair Housing Act. Abraham Lincoln ended slavery....and also wanted to send the freed slaves back to Africa. Is it really that hard to imagine a generous hearted white man in the nineteen thirties–a progressive of his time–who doesn't want to see a black man lynched for a crime he is not guilty of, but maybe isn't quite as progressive as being ready to accept desegregation?

Read closer.

It's always been there.

A major theme of social progress is often that we are a little embarrassed by the good-hearted assumptions of the generation before us? Perhaps GSAW is really just exploring this dynamic, and Lee reset the piece on revision to an earlier era so that it could more closely reflect the coming of age story that echoed so many of the turbulent themes it explored and to keep a father character from being so ambiguous. 

But "less ambiguous" or not, multi-dimensional characters should not be untouchably good any more than they should be unrepentantly evil. Perhaps we've got it all wrong with Lee and the scandal of her estate's management. Perhaps she is remarkably clear thinking, no longer worries about the backlash from an incensed audience who idolized a character she intended to be more complex, and now she wants to set the record straight. As incredible and inspiring and compassionate and empathetic as Atticus is (and he IS–especially for 1936) it is as ridiculous for people to think Atticus has no faults as it is for Jem and Scout to imagine that Boo Radley has no virtues. 

Or as the oft quoted hero among my friends puts it: It's my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of him was one kind of sumbitch or another.


TL;DR

Am I going to read it? Absolutely. Am I going to read it with skepticism? You bet. Am I going to incorporate it into my broader world of TKAM and Atticus Finch? Just possibly.

But I will also always have Atticus Finch too.


Sources: 

Harper Lee’s Father, Inspiration for Atticus Finch, Changed His Views on Segregation-WSJ

Review: Harper Lee’s ‘Go Set a Watchman’ Gives Atticus Finch a Dark Side- NYT

Racism of Atticus Finch in ‘Go Set a Watchman’ Could Alter Harper Lee’s Legacy- NYT

What Does Harper Lee Want? -Bloomberg

Be Suspicious of the New Harper Lee Novel -Jezebel

What Harper Lee’s attorney doesn’t say in an op-ed is revealing -Washington Post

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Best World Building (Final Round)

What is the best world building in fiction?  

Welcome to the final round

Our poll is ten names. Each of you will be given four votes. Please remember that there is no "ranking" system for votes so each vote you cast beyond the first will "dilute" the power of all the others. You should vote for as few as you can bear to.

This poll will run until July 31st. We have a special poll planned for August.

One reminder that I always need to put on our more popular polls. This poll is about books. It is not about movies. There have been some great movie adaptations of many  of these titles, but stick to voting for the BOOKS. Loving the Harry Potter movies is one thing, but if you thought McCaffery wrote the better world, you should go with PERN.

The poll itself is on the lower left of the side menus–just below the "About the Author."

Since I can't really stop shenanigans, I welcome shenanigans all flavors. The main one is of course that Polldaddy tracks your IP for a week so you could vote from multiple computers or vote again after a week, but people have also enlisted friends, family, and even author forums or Facebook communities to join in the fun. Since our Discworld fanboi is on the prowl, you should enlist help if you have another world in mind.

Best World Building (Semifinal Results Round 2)

And the finalists for our Best World Building Poll ARE.....


As you can see, we had some pretty epic ballot stuffing by our resident Discworld fan (so marshal your forces and call in the cavalry if you don't want the finals to be a blow out). I hear there are whole communities of rabid Tolkien fans....

However, the break between fifth and sixth place is actually pretty wide, so I'm happy to announce that everything from Terre D'Ange up will be going on to our final round.


Monday, July 13, 2015

For those on my feed.

[I posted this on all the social media where I cross post articles. But for those on RSS or various subscriptions.]

Last night I totaled up my hours for last week. I came in at 92 hours if you add in writing (about 70 before that), and no days off. No wonder I'm dropping so many balls when it comes to getting posts up on time and getting "crunchy" articles up at least twice a week.

I really really don't want to put Writing About Writing on a hiatus until summer school is over, but I feel like I'm already at maximum fluff. Here's hoping this week is a little better, and I can get back on track.

I've got a half written Mailbox that was supposed to go up today (all about the sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird and the shift in the character of Atticus).  However, I'm going to need some time to sit down and finish it.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Ode to Writing

Trying to write.  

Trying.

It's been a rough day.

I know writing is the way out. It's ALWAYS the way out. Any mood, no matter how bad, can't withstand the catharsis of writing. Some moods endure through the writing, but they are diminished, and broken into bits more easily digested by processing, exercise, or even the next day's writing. Writing has always been just TOO therapeutic for me. It's just too restorative. Nothing can withstand its power indefinitely. It is my drug. My meditation. My anchor.

My home.

But getting to that point, sitting in front of that keyboard, staring at the blank screen, scowling, feeling worthless as the words don't come.... Deeling the weight of a thousand promised articles that remain unwritten and bouncing around in my skull like a pinball game during multiball.... Nothing coming into my head except ridiculous pinball metaphors.... Wanting to just slink back to bed.

That's the struggle.

One. One word. Just one. Then another. Make a sentence. Then one more. You can do it. Now try three sentences. Might as well finish the paragraph. There you go. Feeling better?

[Whether it's a downside or an upside, my heart is on my sleeve with this blog. And every time I'm having trouble writing, you all will be the first to know. I think it's important that young writers and starting writers see this. It's vital that they know that some days are a terrible struggle with the blank page, that real life gets in the way, that none of us are machines. But also that we don't let shitty days be an excuse to do nothing, that the writer sits down and scribbles something out anyway because that's how to push through. Books don't burst fully formed out of a lightning bolt of inspiration, but neither do they sit and wait only for the good days.]

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Discipline/The Real Deal

What if, in 7th and 8th grade, you, any “you”, studied music — started an instrument, started learning how to read music, started learning music theory. And then you never kept up with formal instruction. Now, some ten or twenty years later, you want to be a musician. Are you surprised that you can’t sit down and even READ a Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto, much less play one? Does writing something as simple as Mozart’s Spinning Song, which he wrote at something like age 5, or figuring out a basic harmony to “Tell Me Why” (the old summer camp standard), seem harder than interstellar flight — without a ship? Of course it does! You lack sufficient knowledge of the craft.

Why do you think, even with a university education, you can simply sit down and write a decent novel, in first draft yet, even in a genre that tells you what your plot is and who your characters more or less are?

We hear so much in writing circles about people who aren’t actually writing, “wanna-be” writers, making up tons of excuses for why they aren’t writing. The usual answer is to have discipline and carve out the time necessary to actually learn the craft. This actually IS the answer. Take some classes to learn about form and structure, join a critique group, follow blogs like this one, get Grammarly’s weekly newsletter, read lots of writing blogs and books. Be ruthless, with yourself and others, about setting aside time, no matter when, no matter how short a time, whether you feel like it or not, to write as close to every single day as you can. Set tasks as simple as writing a haiku a day (first learn what one is and how they are constructed. It’s not just ANY 17 syllables on ANY random topic) and follow through. Practice with words. Play with words. Yes, it DOES take discipline, but it must be done. Because that is how you learn your craft.

People who can’t find the discipline to actually write, I think, are people who know in their hearts they lack sufficient knowledge of craft, and have the underlying conviction that they will never, ever, ever produce writing that is up to their own standards, much less anyone else’s. They give it a shot every once in a while, know things are wrong, but don’t know exactly what things, and are utterly clueless about how to fix them. It’s simply too daunting to learn, so they make believe and make excuses. But it’s when you give up on the wishful thinking and the excuses and actually sit down and start doing it, and learning how to do it better, that miracles happen.

One day, the person who has put in the time and effort to actually learn the craft will come across a piece of writing, her or his OWN writing, and think, “This is good!” Then will come not a sentence, a paragraph, a plot line, but an entire work, and IT IS GOOD. Objectively good. It’s not embarrassing, with problems obvious even to you (but which you can’t fix.)   This person who had the discipline — and humility —  to put in the effort will suddenly realize that she or he is The Real Deal, an actual writer, not a wanna-be, potential, someday, magical, with never a bit of effort but a great many excuses, pseudo-writer.

At this point, “discipline” in terms of sitting down and writing ceases to be an issue. There are always half a dozen projects cooking in your head. There’s always a book in process, and eventually you are, like I am, juggling the book that’s coming out even as I write this (it’s kind of partially out) with the Next Book, which I am researching and plotting. I write my own blog, I guest blog here. I can’t resist writing poetry fairly often. It just leaps into my head and needs to go onto a page. When I FINALLY get my end of the months-long publishing process complete, and am only juggling blogging, reviews, appearances and all that, I will want to jump right into Book Three. For me, now, because I AM The Real Deal, I AM a working writer, MY discipline needs to go another way. I need to stop. I need to take a break. For at least a couple of weeks. I can read the history and folklore books I need for research. I can toy with plots in my head. But I cannot commit pen to paper or fingers to keyboard for a while. Book Three will be better for allowing my brain a chance to work in the background.  

So AM I The Real Deal? Check out my books — hardcopies of Book Two should be available sometime this week at Amazon, and e-formats and hard copies are wending their ways through the distributors to retail outlets — and see for yourselves.




Aren’t they PRETTY?  The bound galleys came yesterday!


[If you would like to do a regular or not-so-regular guest blog here at Writing About Writing, check out our guidelines and then drop me a line at chris.brecheen@gmail.com.]

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

June's Best: 2015

Though June marked the beginning of a tough summer with demanding schedules and even more demanding toddlers, a few articles managed to shine through. They will be added to The Best of W.A.W. and go on to ultimate fame and glory.   




Numbers are still low from the loss of Stumbleupon, but they're crawling back up toward the pre-setback levels. I have a feeling Blog isn't going to let me get away with my continued moping.

The other good news is this: unless you're one of three people I managed to get off my ass and write to, or one of two people who constantly assures me that I don't need to thank them, you may have sent a donation to W.A.W. and heard nothing back from me.

This is entirely because I suck and not due to any error on either your part or Paypal's. I suck. End of story.

I've been watching donations (even the ones big enough that I swore I would write a personal thank you for) pile up for MONTHS and I keep procrastinating and I finally got a donation that has shaken me out of my torpor. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Best World Building (One Week Left!)

Gee. I wonder if someone is stuffing the ballot box again.
What is the best world building in fiction?

Our second round semi-final poll is about half way over. Please vote, vote again, or just come and see who is winning and who needs help if they're going to make our poll.

The second semifinal poll only has a week left before I tally the results and take the top five titles to the final round.

Everyone will get four votes (4). Before you simply vote for your favorite three, consider that, as there is no ranking of those three votes; each vote beyond one dilutes the power of your choices a little more. So if you have a genuine favorite--or pair of favorites--it's better to use as few votes as possible.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Why So Much Fluff?

Why has W.A.W. been been so fluffy lately?  

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. It may take me a few weeks before I can get to some of those longer questions.]  

Jon asks:

I've been reading for a while, but you really seem to be piling on the fluff these last few weeks. Is this the shape of things to come or can we expect a return to your usual pace of a couple of hard hitters a week. I don't mean this to be ungrateful or anything. It's more like your blog is the highlight of my day. I'm mostly wondering if everything is okay or if you're working on a big side project or what.

My reply: 

I dumped all my other questions to answer this one since the timing is auspicious.

I'm busted. Caught red handed. I mean, I wasn't really hiding it, but I was sort of hoping that no one would notice.

Some days I forget that I have fans. Not grudge followers or the morbidly curious or friends who deign to see what I'm up to or folks who will throw me a click when my title doesn't look too boring, but actual fans. People who will notice if I start posting a bunch of lightweight articles.

So I'm not sure how far back your perception of my fluffiness goes, but I can tell you that I've been faking it for a while. A WHILEThe Contrarian is getting older. While he has more ability to go a few minutes without direct supervision, he in that stage where he requires more interaction when he's not totally self contained. Turn away for just a few seconds and the 537 small plastic pieces that go in Neoblasters board game will be scattered in a glorious shimmering arc, silhouetted for one tiny eternity against the picture window before the fall into every nook, cranny, crevasse and heating duct across the living room.

He's also started to climb things. He hasn't fallen....yet. So right now it's all reward and no risk as far as he's concerned. He has no fucking clue what's waiting for him when one day he falls off a chair or a table.

So I might be able to get a few minutes while I put on Daniel Tiger or Dinosaur Train to hammer something out, but he's no longer taking 4 hours of naps or staying roughly in the same place you put him for more than five seconds. Who ever invented walking before five...come see me after class.

Then Sonic Gal took on a new patrol. It requires her to be on the streets for a couple of hours longer each day, which means I watch the contrarian that much longer. We took a while to figure out how that was going to affect my writing time. Wrecking Ball doesn't change a lot of diapers, you understand. Nor would we really want a guy with hands bigger than Butterball turkeys to try.

Right before things started to level out with all that, summer hit. I don't know how many teachers you know Jon, but summer isn't this relaxing oasis for most of us. It's when everyone who has patiently waited the whole year crawls over each other to get a piece of us. Suddenly you've answered so many plan RSVPs with "I guess I can do that since it's summer" that you're fucking busier than during the school year. Plus you get moms with guilt trips. ("Son, I want to see you. What else would you be doing that week?" Thanks mom. Very validating. I feel the deep respect for the househusband and the writing jobs.) So basically I've been running from one obligation to another like a chicken with my cliche cut off.

And then there is summer school. Take my busy ass schedule and stack about 20 hours a week on top of it, and you have a pretty good idea what I'm going through right now. I had a similar experience last year and the year before. I'm getting a couple of extra hours each day so I'm not on the verge of the same caliber of meltdown I was those times, but it's still hard to wrestle more than just a few minutes to sit and blog.

Most blogs would just go on hiatus for the six weeks. (Actually MOST blogs would have folded back around last October.) I would rather keep bringing you content even if I'm doing jazz hands a bit. Hopefully, in about three weeks, we will be back up to pre-summer school levels, and in the month after that, I can bring things back to a better pace. In the meantime, if anyone wants to send a professional housecleaner by my place, I can probably pop something thick and juicy out on Friday.

But telling me Writing About Writing is the highlight of your day is probably the one thing that can keep me pushing hard forward, despite how much the rest of my life is mercilessly nut-shotting me me right now.  In case you were wondering.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

A Reminder About The Tone of the Rebels

Remember when we all respectfully told England that we didn't like their taxes and could we please get some representation if it wasn't too much trouble? And we didn't do anything that wasn't taking the high ground or making our points in the most academic and non emotional manner. We never let incendiary rhetoric shut down "real communication." And the Brits listened and never had to tell us that we weren't doing ourselves any favors. They listened because we didn't ever let our more strident members be so militant or affect the discourse with their toxic rage. Our tone was always above reproach and England really respected that moral high ground as we debated it out through proper channels and with excellent diction and grammar. That's why the loyalists and the French stuck with us–because we never alienated our allies by being too angry. We certainly didn't destroy property or disrespect the law, the government, or those agents of England who were just doing their jobs. And in the end, England just LET us be self governing because we peacefully, rationally convinced them of the merits of our argument.

Today we are the United States and we celebrate our independence because we never hurt our own cause by going "too far."

Happy Fourth of July my ever respectably politicked America!!

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Wallflowers Have Ears

Or perhaps more properly titled The Vampiric Wallflowers Have Ears

Last Saturday I went to do my vampire LARP.

Let me be absolutely honest: I did not "stretch" with this character. Max is what I call a "comfortable jacket" character. Like your favorite jacket that you know exactly how it fits and how much warmth you can get from it. I was being a lazy roleplayer when I made it, and I knew it. Sometimes when I create a character, I know they are going to be a role playing challenge or that they will take me far outside my comfort zone. I've hit on everything that moved before or been almost non-verbal and wild eyed, both of which are almost exactly the opposite of me.

Then there was the character with the orgasm gun...

Max, on the other hand, is easy. He's got some tougher aspects to roleplay for me (like psychopathy and thrill seeking) but they aren't always immediately obvious, and it tracks that they will become more apparent as time goes on.  I didn't know a lot of people at this game before I went, and I have to admit being more interested in seeing my friends than in the game itself. It's not that Vampire LARPing doesn't have an appeal I recognize (clearly I'm getting sucked back in, pun fully intended), it's just that before I stopped playing in about 2010, I had been doing vampire for just about twentyish years. Larping for a decade, and the old White Wolf tabletop game before that. So I wrote a character that wasn't going to be a push for me. I had a built in, character reason to be timid (I was not yet acknowledged). My character is a journalist (a writer). He's not gregarious or outgoing. I even have a reason to open up my laptop and do some writing with earbuds screwed into my ears.

And I pull a lot of my "writer tricks" as Max. Especially the eavesdropping one. Honestly, it's a wonder I didn't make a blogger named Chris just to turn the lazy up to eleven.

You should know that I eavesdrop a lot. Not on people I know--that seems rude--but on people I've never met, I'm constantly listening into their conversations and trying to hear their stories. Most people in this world are too self-absorbed or distracted to realize JUST how much you can pick up in a room if you take the time to pay attention. Conversations across the room can be focused on without particular trouble. Interesting conversations can be "filtered out" of background noise. Particularly with a computer in your lap, you just kind of blend in, and with headphones in your ears, people pretty much assume that you can't hear them.

Saturday night I heard a number of conversations that were...interesting. Nothing Earth shattering--no plans for praxis seizure or to murder the seneschal or anything--but interesting nonetheless. Lots of status disputes, at least one elder rivalry that is probably going to end badly regarding the wanton disrespect of one character to a couch prince of a small city. There are status bids and boon worming going on. And perhaps the most interesting conversation I heard was regarding my sire being considered somewhat inappropriate as a harpy because of his lowly Malkavian clan status.

Being performative about my "writerly aspects" is a great way to remember that they're there and suggest that other writers put them in their own tool boxes. Writers spend a lot of time working to make rich and detailed characters, believable dialogue, and plausible escalation of conflict. They could do worse than to spruce up their lives with a little eavesdropping.