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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, October 10, 2019

Fuck This. See You Next Week.

Folks, I tried.

In regards to my last post, I tried to slip out and find a place with power and keep going. The show must go on and shit, right?

Places are closed. Traffic is ridiculous because public transit is fucked up. People are acting like The Purge is going to start here when the sun goes down. (Hopefully it's at least the more recent ones.) And of course losing power for a few hours is inconvenient. Losing it for several days is life-disrupting.

And I live along a corridor where I could drive ten minutes in either direction and get power. I'm honestly worried about folks who are stuck and way out on their own.

Everything is taking so much longer. It's not just about power (although it is about spending an hour trying to figure out where you're going to go once they shut it off). It's about spending forty-five minutes out of a regular day making arrangements with friends in Oakland to not to lose everything in the freezer. It's about having a shower routine that takes twice as long because you're working out of your travel bag. It's about being nickeled and dimed until you sit down to write and realize you have only one and a half hours until you have to tag in at job two.

Perhaps I could have weathered this if power loss were the only thing happening. It's not. I've been building towards a table flip for a while. This week has been filled with extra nanny hours and I've been working more like 70-75 hours instead of 60 and six days a week for months. The table flip may even go back to the vacation that wasn't particularly relaxing, or perhaps even further to a strange grief-stricken few days and a loss of sleep so acute that I'm STILL working on it.

The online landscape I usually inhabit seems particularly fraught too. Is it just me or are people being a little extra mean lately? I mean of course there's the news. There's ALWAYS the news these days. But there's also friends responding to this whole days-without-power fiasco by charging in on their worried, frustrated, and upset friends to defend the poor maligned multi-billion dollar corporation with what sure looks a lot like shiny PR-firm-generated talking points. Nationally we now have an executive branch that has decided the separation of powers (upon which the framework of our government is built) is for chumps. We appear to be at one of those moments where little Chrises in history class say, "But Mister Ballard, why would they throw away democracy? It just doesn't make SENSE."

I shouldn't say that everything has gone wrong because then my computer will burst into flames and I will collapse in agony as another kidney stone rips its way out of me. But that's it. I'm done. Life can have this round.

I'm out for the weekend and I'll keep the memes coming on the Facebook page, but I renounce the end of this week. I forsake it! I excommunicate today and tomorrow from my blogging life.

Hopefully by Tuesday (Monday is a holiday and I will be on a long drive home anyway) I will have had a good night's sleep, my freezer will work, and I will be able to put in a day of writing without first spending an hour figuring out when and where I might be able to do so.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Poll: Best Horror (Time to Vote!)

What is the very best horror written by Stephen King genre book (or series)?  

Our latest poll is live!  Come vote!

Our poll was pulled from your nominations, and that means I just have to shut up and love it that one author is thrice represented while some other giants (even classics like Dracula) didn't even get a nod. Currently I'm running away from PG&E blackouts, and trying to write six days worth of work in three days so I can go to Disneyland this weekend and not be racked with guilt on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.

Let me just make ONE caveat. This poll is about BOOKS. It's about writing. If you thought the new It movie was a masterpiece of CGI and suspense but found the book to be endless in its rambling tangents, then please do not vote for the book.

The actual poll is on the left hand side at the bottom, beneath the "About The Author" section. Mobile viewers will have to go aaaaaaall to the very bottom of their page and switch to "Webview" in order to access the poll.

Everyone will get three (3) votes.

There is no way to rank votes, so please consider that every vote beyond the first "dilutes" the power of your initial vote and use as few as you can stand to use.

This poll will be up until October 31st. On Halloween, we tally the results.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Emergency Post

I pretty much live in the dead center of this blob shape.
Hi everyone,

I'm writing tonight to let you all know that our update schedule might get a little borked over the next couple of days, but I will do my best. Where I live in California is right in the middle of one of the areas that PG&E has said they will be turning off power to starting....well in about two and a half hours.

There's a whole story to this that would make for a great chapter in the So What's So Bad About Capitalism Anyway book, but I'll spare you. The end result is that I may be without power for FIVE DAYS.  (And while I wasn't likely to be around this weekend anyway, that's going to mess up EVERYTHING between now and Friday.) The local stores are out of everything and people are already acting like it's Lord of the Fucking Flies up in here.

My clients live in a place that should have power, and are pretty cool about my being there in a pinch, even if I'm not watching the kids, so I will probably have SOME options for WiFi and charging my computer. I've got everything plugged in that can be, including mobile batteries. (Honestly, it looks like the worst part logistically is likely to be the freezer food. Of course there's no ice for fifty miles.)

So blog posts might be at weird times or go up this weekend or next week or who even knows. It's all going to depend on things that are out of my control. But I'll do my best.

Which reminds me (since you're all here anyway).....
I'm giving you one extra day to fill out the nominations on the horror poll.

Currently these are the only titles that have enough "seconds" (two or more) to go on to the poll.

The Shining
Pet Semetery 
Heart Shaped Box Joe Hill
House of Leaves Mark Z. Danielewski
The Haunting of Hill House S. Jackson

I'm NOT going to run a poll with four measly titles. (And EVERYTHING that got a second would make for too many choices.) I need at least two, but preferably four more titles to get another second. And if they don't, I'll play kingmaker with a few of my personal favorites.

I'd rather YOU all did it.

Monday, October 7, 2019

July, August, September 2019's Best

It seems the last time I posted the three best posts of the month was June, so I'm a little behind. (It suits me fine to have some admin to do this today because I'm suddenly playing "catch up" and "get ahead" simultaneously as I realized with a that's-not-a-moon horror that a trip with my nanny clients and the kids to Disneyland that was "sometime in October" was this weekend. I swear my mental calendar still thinks it's late September.

In any case, these are the titles that will be going on to fame and glory in the Greatest Hits Menu.

July

The Buy-Me-Lunch Answer About My Sexuality
Based on an earlier post about my gender, this one was wildly popular.

Types of Editing (Basics)
There's more than one type of editing, and a lot more than just proofreading.

Farewell to a Friend, New Schedules, And Random Assorted Things (Personal Update)
A very sweet girl left us in July.

August

Sapiosexual
There's a history to this word, but not everyone knows it.

Proposal vs. Proposition
They're similar words but there IS a difference.

The Lesser Writer (Mailbox)
"In the hands of a lesser writer...." Wait what if I'M that lesser writer?

Honorable Mention (Missed 3rd place by four pageviews)

The Elders Did It (I Am the Night) 

There are some characters that are always going to be better at some things. So how does a writer incorporate that into storytelling?

September 

Writing Query Letters (The Very Basics)
How does one write a query letter?

Writing in Grief
Why September got a little weird (and honestly I'm still catching up)

Small Press or Agents First
Should I be sending my stuff to agents or small presses first?

Friday, October 4, 2019

Dialogue (Mailbox.....sorta)

How do I write dialogue?  

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer one or two of them every week or so. 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 don't be afraid to prompt me to get off my ass and do some REAL work with the answer (they can't all be questions about threesomes).]

Steph asks:   

Hi!

I was hoping you could help. How do I write strong, realistic dialogue?

Thanks!

My reply:

It's been a long week and I'm still catching up from being on vacation, so I certainly hope that our question for this week is a softball right over the plate....

*opens mail*

*sighs*

*looks at current list of craft articles*

*looks at calendar...particularly the year*

*sighs again*

*presses a button on the desk*

"Cedrick, hold my calls."

"You don't get any calls."

"Well don't.....well....then just watch the door."

"You mean the dor?"

"How can you tell over voice???"

"I just can."

"Just see that I'm not disturbed."

"From my vantage you are one of the most disturbed––"

"I NEED TO DO SOME ACTUAL WORK!"

"Why didn't you just say so? I have eight arms here. I can hold down the fort and still do my nails. I'll hold your calls."

*lets go of the button, shaking head*

*turns back to post*

Steph.

Steph steph steph.....

I mean it's not like I was in danger of having a week that was too easy or anything, Steph. But okay.

It would seem that it's about that time. Actually, it seems like it's way past that time. It's certainly been long enough since the last time. I try to make it that time every couple of months or so, but such times are so labor-intensive, that it never works out that way. Who knew watching a baby and a five-year-old might occasionally involve some extra work that cuts into the ol' writing schedule? WHO COULD HAVE PREDICTED THAT?

It's time to get a new craft essay up.

This one.....about dialogue. That ever elusive, oft underlooked, massively important part of almost all fiction. This is one of those illusions that we writers have to learn how to create: how to make dialogue on the page (that is like NO conversation two people in the world have ever had) feel "real." Make it good, and scenes just flow like water. Make it stilted, and it tears your reader right out of anything you spent building up to that point.

And I can't just say "Double dip that shit" and then drop the microphone and call it a week.

So.....Steph. You're not going to get your answer today. These craft essays are HARD. They take me a long time. I lock myself down and do about five hours of research (not because I don't know my shit on the fly, but I treat this as srs bzns. I like to get my pull quotes lined up, and make sure my t's are crossed and my i's dotted. You're basically getting my college essay-writing A game.

I'm going to put myself on lockdown and start working on this. My experience is that these type of posts take me around 10-15 hours total. So if I'm superfly, it'll be done before the weekend is over.

HERE'S WHERE IT GETS TRICKY!

  1. I am rarely, if ever, truly superfly.
  2. A post like this is definitely going to be a Friday post. (So the earliest you'll see it is a week from today.)
  3. My early access patrons have been MORE than patient with me through September and they need an early access post. If all goes well and I'm wrapping this up on Sunday, I'll put it up for them Monday and make it live on Friday. However, if it looks (even remotely) like I'm not going to be able to finish this by Sunday night, I'm going to set it aside and write something else for next Friday's (11th) post that I can give them first crack at. 
  4. If #3 happens, this Dialogue article will get bumped to the NEXT Friday. October 18th.
  5. I'm not even going to apophasistically mention how many weeks back that is going to bump the article I was writing for the Friday before I left to Yosemite. Nope. Not doing it.
  6. Ten hours may not seem like much but even five a day is pretty robust for me on the weekends. I don't really sit around playing World of Warcraft on my days "off." This weekend I have a sixth-day nanny shift, and I was hoping to finish the gun article, make some headway on my compilation e-book, take a hike at some point, CLEAN MY FUCKING POST-APOCALYPTIC DISASTER MOVIE SET OF A ROOM, and probably force myself to get out of the house to catch a movie so that I don't use "I have to catch up from my vacation" as an excuse to overdo it. (Yes, I'm one of those people who sometimes have to schedule a nap to make sure I'm being kind to myself.)
  7. Which is all by way of saying that you are a top priority but life has a way of rapid-fire shooting multiple Krull Glaives all up in the grill of my best laid plans.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Hi Everyone!

Well, this is a little awkward, so I'll get straight to the point: I know you haven't seen me at my best this last month, and I hate making appeals in the middle of a slump, but I hope that you can glance through the archive and see that over time, I serve up some pretty good writing about writing. Today is the first of two times a month (once a month directly to social media and once a month here on the blog) that I humbly ask you to help me keep the rent paid and the health insurance premiumed. Right now I can't quite make all the ends meet with just writing alone (I won't die, but things like insurance, my cell phone, and brand name peanut butter take a little extra), and I have to work as a nanny to make ends meet.

Many of my nanny hours will be going away in just a few months. That will be a mixed blessing. More time to write, but I will have to dip a little into savings each month to get by. That means I'll probably take any passing freelance job or side gig that comes along. And THAT takes me away from writing––at least the writing that you folks can see and appreciate.

Remember, you don't just get Writing About Writing. There are some personal and political thoughts along with media reviews over at NOT Writing About Writing, and I often use my personal Facebook page for bite-sized thoughts and proto-versions of things I'm thinking about. And there's "the show" on the Writing About Writing Facebook Page––where I share memes, humor, articles about everything writing, and puns all day. And anything else I write for other venues will end up here as well. Always free as well as (I hope) ad free but it takes 20+ hours a week to keep it all going and is a full time job if I really want to do it right.

At this time, I depend completely on donations and patrons for my writing income. As with most donation-based media, the tiniest handful of folks (less than .1%) are creating the experience the other 99.9% get to enjoy. I know it's a tough time right now. We're heading into a recession and everywhere you look someone's trying to crowdfund some unexpected expense. However, if even 1% of everyone who stopped by gave a dollar, I would be able to write full time without a side gig for years to come. If a couple dozen people pledged at the $3 level, I'd be heading into 2020 to give writing an even more robust full-time schedule without needing to worry about recessions, cut nanny hours, or dipping into my savings. I know that most people will ignore these appeals. But if you like my work and want it to keep seeing it (and more OF it), please take a moment and see if you can't spare a couple of dollars.

There are two ways to help.

I prefer if you become a Patron through Patreon. Even a small donation goes a long way, and with Patreon, I can budget and plan for the future. Plus, it doesn't take much to get in on some of the most active and robust reward tiers.

Or if an ongoing donation is not in your cards, of course you can always make the one-time kind through Paypal. Or Venmo (at chris.brecheen@gmail.com)

Lastly, these posts will never do particularly well organically, and it is the nature of social media that I cannot reach everyone who wants to see my content. If you don't have the financial means to support us financially, but still want to help (or would like to help doubly), please engage with this post. (Shares and GIF comments are particularly good for the algorithm.)

Thank you all so much,

Chris

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

October's SPOOPY Poll (Spoopy Nominations Needed but Especially Spoopy Seconds...and Thirds...and Fourths...)


What is the best book in the horror genre? 

Contemporary? Classic? Scariest? Best written? This poll needs your nominations, but it especially needs your seconds (and thirds and fourths...) Listen up! Because last month's lack of semifinals means that the rules have changed a little.

You can pop back here for the original rules (that's where you need to put your nominations, seconds, and "seconds" anyway, but let me tell you what has changed.

So we didn't get QUITE enough nominations to run an elimination round of semifinals.

But I'm also NOT going to run this poll past Halloween. That's the day I post the SPOOOPY results. Which means we now do not have TIME for a pair of semifinal rounds. We are stuck doing ONE poll. And that poll is going up in ONE week. Whether we have seven nominations or seventy.

However, that poll will only be going up with a maximum of ten choices.

And here is where the rules change is important.

How I will decide WHICH ten titles go onto the poll will be by how many "seconds" a title gets. I know that means they are technically "thirds" "fourths" whatever, but that will be the determining factor. If there are twenty titles with only one "second" and seven titles with TWO "seconds," I'll be making our poll out of those seven titles.

So you have ONE more week to nominate a new title (and drum it up some support) if you don't see your beloved favorite horror genre book already in the running. But most of all we need you to GO TO THE ORIGINAL POST and second everything you would like to see make it onto our poll.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Behind the Scenes (And Small Personal Update)

For those not following the play-by-play action over on my Facebook page, I went on a vacation last week to Yosemite. We stayed in one of those little places outside the park (and much cheaper) that claimed it had WiFi. I sort of imagined a day of hikes and glorious vistas and that I would come home and get a bit of writing done, maybe post something mostly jazz hands, and kind of put the blog on "low impact" but not have to take a break.

It didn't really work out that way.

While they did “technically" have WiFi, I now know why it was so outrageously frustrating. They didn't have any commercial routers. They were just using regular residential ones. Which was fine in the morning when everyone was trying to get going to the park and I was checking Facebook, but did nothing for me in the evening when everyone came flooding back. (Imagine having 20-30 people on your home WiFi––all refreshing obsessively because everything seems to be AAAAAALLLMOST working.)

Anyway, I didn't––I COULDN'T––get much work done.

And while this is the most posty "not post" I've put up in a while, I need to take an admin day to get a backlog of Behind The Scenes things done for my patrons. (You could always be a patron too! I'm trying to keep the lights on and the rent paid like everyone else. Get some photos I take...or just a monthly newsletter as my small way of saying thanks.) There is a photo dump of pictures for the Selfie tier and the September newsletter for the Newsletter tier. Plus I want to get Friday's post finished and give the Early Access tier the first crack at that.

Friday, September 20, 2019

News and Announcements (Including for Facebook!)

So I didn't do a post (other than this) in Writing About Writing today, even though it's Friday, but if you want to follow the link through I did do some navel gazing in NOT Writing About Writing about trying to date on OKCupid, and how weird some of my high matches can be.

On Sunday night, I'm going to Yosemite for almost a week. I feel kind of bad that I'm going on vacation right after all that personal stuff and it sort of feels like I've only been treading water for some three weeks, but I actually scheduled this trip months ago, and I utterly need it. I really hope it will help.

I will have a laptop with me (not the better one, but it works). I always do a little writing, even on vacation, but things might be sort of low key. To that end, I'm going to try to get what I intend to post written this weekend, so that I can be fully present for Yosemite while I'm there. If all goes well folks on the appropriate patreon tier should be seeing it as early access.

On Thursday there will be no post. I'm going to cannibalize that post to write up the September newsletter for my $3+ patrons. Since there is already no post on Wednesday right now, unless I'm feeling super productive out there, it's going to be light and fluffy on Mon and Tues, off Wed, Thurs, and then the post I write tomorrow will go up on Friday.

FACEBOOK- There are a few places in the valley where I might be able to get signal and post something from my phone, but largely I will only be online at the very beginning and very end of the day. I'll try to schedule things and load you up, but it is likely to be kind of a chill week. Expect me back next weekend to reestablish our usual breakneck pace.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Keep Going or Start Over (Mailbox)


Should I start a work over or keep going if I see a revision that needs to happen?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer one or two of them every week or so. 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. Props (and jumping the question queue) if you can come up with interesting questions about the industry.]

Lola asks:

Again, thanks a lot for your blog, it helps more than you can imagine.  

I've got a question: what to do when you realize that you might have taken your plot the wrong [direction] while you are still writing the first draft? Is it better to keep writing until it's done and to save the big change for the second draft or to start again immediately? 

Like taking the plot of the "wrong" beginning, for example, to start the story in the chronological order, only to realize that it would be much better if some of the earliest stuff were revealed during the story, and that it [the story] should start a lot later. 

I hope what I write is understandable though... Sorry if it isn't. I'm not good at explaining... 

[Note, I did some grammar and syntax touch up on this letter to help its clarity, but tried very hard to keep the original meaning.]

My reply:

You did just fine.

The problem isn't trying to describe this. The problem is that what you're trying to describe is a total mess. We have ALL had this moment. "Oh my god. I have to go back and redo this. If I change this thing, it will be better."

And they might be. Or you might be kidding yourself. Or you might not be trusting the process. Or you might be about to make the best decision for this work that you possibly could. Or there might be rabid lemurs in your pants. But we can probably narrow a few things down.

First of all, do you live in Madagascar and did you put on very loose pants this morning? No. Great, we can mark that one off the list straight away. Let's move on.

In your case, Lola, it sounds like you should keep going, but let's unpack this for the folks at home.

When I was in my writing program, there were process classes and workshop classes, and in most of the workshop classes, at some point, we had to revise something that the group had already read so everyone could see the changes. Generally, there were three types of writers. There were a tiny smattering of writers who did some major changes based on their feedback and their work was SO improved. But then the other two.....  One group made almost no changes. They maybe changed one word or moved a sentence around. They fixed their grammar. Their masterpiece could not be improved. The other group would go completely the other way. Each draft they produced was basically an ENTIRELY NEW STORY. It would have a new plot, maybe a new character. It was almost not recognizable. It wasn't revision that they were doing--it was a new story (or more to the point, a new first draft).

The question you're asking me won't take a lot of space and pixels to answer, but it will NOT be "easy" for you on the other side of the blogosphere. You have to do the hard work of introspection, self-criticism, and evaluation. Because what I'm about to give you, instead of an answer, is sort of a "do-it-yourself kit" to assemble your own answer FOR YOU. It's never always better to start over or always better to plow on.

You have to weigh some pros and cons. But you have to do it with a considerable amount of naked self-honesty because starting over is one of the ways we trick ourselves into not trusting the process. We've all seen the person who is singing something or playing something or reciting something and they make the TINIEST mistake (that maybe you didn't even notice) and have to start over.

You HAVE to trust the writing process, Lola. You have to trust that your draft, when it is done, will be complete crap. That it will need rewrites, revisions, and extensive editing. You have to trust that you will find entire sections that are not working. You have to trust that your second draft may involve removing a character, changing a major theme, completely altering the plot, or something equally dramatic. You have to trust that there will be some real, substantive changes.

And one of the things that starting over can very, VERY easily be, is a fundamental distrust of the process. (Especially if you see a new writer starting over again and again.) They're not trusting that they are going to finish with a shitty first draft. They are starting over again and again to try to get it right in one shot. If your motivation for starting over is because there is a mistake in your first draft....fuggedaboutit. There is ALREADY a mistake in your first draft. There are already fifty mistakes....per page. Get over it! The only way to really deal with them is to get it all out and see what you're dealing with.

There's a reason one of the fundamental pieces of advice you will find (after "read a lot" and "write a lot") that EVERY SINGLE working writer agrees on is some variation of "Finish your shit!" Because we writers come prepackaged with so many excuses and rationalizations and ways to not make it to the finish line with our creative efforts, and starting our first drafts over when we notice a big mistake is one of them.

If you are in considerable doubt, keep moving forward. That would be my only hard, fast, solid advice that isn't on a continuum. If you don't think that starting over would REALLY, TRULY be better for your work, you're better off to keep going. There's really nothing you can't do in revision.

Are the changes mostly cosmetic? If you are mostly changing the order of some scenes, erasing some minor characters, changing a setting or something, you don't need to start over. Just make a note, and catch it in revision. Change the point of view? It might mess you up when you look back to see who said something, but you can probably figure it out*. The more substantive the change is, however, the more it is probably going to fuck you up to alter the work mid-stream. Take out a major character? Okay now there might be parts of your timeline that are messed up, especially if your story is character-driven. Change genre? You may end up with an entirely different set of tropes that don't work and play well together. (Trying to solve a murder in Victorian England is a bit different than in Cyberpunk future.) Alter the plot significantly? You definitely can't just keep cheerfully going like there wasn't just a Dalatronian Death Flu two pages ago!

(*This is why it sounds to like to me you should keep going, Lola. You talked about "plot going in the wrong direction, but then what you described was actually just some timeline restructuring––starting the story a little later and working some of the beginning in a later points. So unless I'm missing something, you can totally just start doing this going forward, make notes into your draft about what what has come before, and Tetris the narrative on revision.)

Are you really sure? And I mean really REALLY sure? One of the risks you're playing with is that you write out the new form of the story and realize you were right the first time. (I mean, it's a low risk from the standpoint that you can just make a save file with the old version, but if you start over, you're making a whole new investment of time and energy. If you're just fiddling with the knobs to see how it feels, you might end up with two first halves of a story, no ending, and be a little dejected. And I'm not saying writers don't often have to throw away work (they do) or start something over (of course!), but we lose so many hours of wordsmithing by fate, it's sometimes worth not trying to do the same thing to ourselves by design. How would it feel instead to finish with whatever changes you are thinking about, and then you have a complete work and two functioning halves, of which you can pick the one you feel is working the best?

I recently restarted a major work in progress. I realized my entire narrative voice was wrong. Now I could have switched straight over and just kept writing, but my OWN thinking in this was that I was going to keep stumbling over that old voice if I didn't expunge it. Narrative voice is one of the most major changes I could make with the exception of a total plot restructuring or removing a main character. And for me, since one of my techniques for getting myself into the headspace for writing is to read my old stuff for a few minutes, I didn't want the "wind drag" of that old voice bringing down the more comedic voice I'm trying to adopt. I also figured that the easier place to establish an entirely new narrative voice would be within the part of the story I had already written, so that I really had a sense of its ebb and flow before I also had to write new content.

At the end of the cliché, remember that you are the only one you have make happy right now. The first draft is for you. I can warn you of the pitfalls that so many writers have fallen into before you on the quest to get their work DONE––or more accurately: rationalized SWAN DIVING into––but I can't tell you what will bring you artistic catharsis. If having that old problem back in the first half is going to mess with your calm and cause a "buzzing sound" in the ear of your motivation going forward, don't worry so much about what this article thinks. Go ahead and rewrite it.

Bard knows you were going to have to anyway.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Narrative 4 "If We Outlaw Guns, Only Outlaws Will Have Guns."/"Criminals Don't Obey Laws."


Listen, this is fucking rich coming predominantly from the same group of folks that have twisted themselves into pretzels to criminalize sex work, abortion, drugs that are as mild as alcohol, and even First Amendment civil protest.

But it is also a deep post hoc fallacy. "He did it, therefore no law could have prevented it." A clever chiasmus wording does not a sound argument make.

This narrative demonstrates a breathtaking lack of awareness of how basic, fundamental laws work. When we make something contraband, we know it's still going to be out there...just not as much. We don't just pass a law making things illegal but still keep the fucking things available at every local Walmart...except now it's illegal; we also pass other laws around the whole market to create "chokepoints" that cut down on the means and opportunity of someone being able to get their hands on it if motive outweighs illegality as a deterrent.

Technically nothing is stopping me from running through a Starbucks with a war rhinoceros either, but as I begin to contemplate the logistics of such a plan (availability of rhinos, availability of rhino armor, likelihood of making it to Starbucks before being apprehended), I realize it would probably be really hard to pull off and I'd rather play Shadows of Mordor.  If I could pick up what I needed on my way home from work tomorrow, I might be more inclined to ideate this plan.

I know I could get a lawn dart if I wanted to. YOU know I could get a lawn dart. Hell, I could probably design a lawn dart if I cared enough. (I don't actually want a lawn dart, but they're out there, even though they're illegal.) But we don't just throw up our hands and say "Oh well. It's still possible to get lawn darts. Guess all laws are useless. Might as well stock them at the local CVS." I know I might get arrested for trying and the price will be really high and I can't just go to the lawn dart store that orders them from the lawn dart factory and that is the same thing that happens when laws make anything contraband.

Lastly, it's an absurd, ridiculous, ludicrous claim. It's like standing in front of one's neighborhood composed of nothing but blue houses and saying that painting houses blue simply won't work. There are several other countries that stopped this bullshit in its tracks or at least cut it down by passing laws. These laws absolutely DO work and saying they don't is being deliberately obtuse.

All these "can't put the toothpaste back in the tube" arguments try to envision a world where the only legal change is that a switch is just flipped in some room from "legal" to "illegal," and suddenly there is a flooded black market and tons of hidden weapons. And yeah...you know what? Some of that's going to happen. But acting like buyback programs and outlawing parts and ammo and seizing weapons that are found in the course of other searches or whatever won't have an impact in five to ten years is absolutely the pinnacle of tactical mendacity. It's not like "The Black Market™" has an outlet store in the strip mall on Fifth St.

Bullshit rating: Big Steaming Pile

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Narrative 3- "No Law Could Have Prevented a Determined Actor."


This is logically meaningless. It's claiming to be omniscient about causality. Bad argument, good chap. (Sips brandy.)

It would just as logical to say: "He did it, but ANY law could have prevented it." Maybe if there had been an extra stop light on the way there, he would have had that much longer to think about it and changed his mind or gotten thirsty, gone to the Subway first and met up with someone he fancied in fourth grade. The point is we don't KNOW and using that umbra of ignorance to presume that nothing could have made any difference is at least shitty critical thinking.

But perhaps more to the point is its implication. According to this logic, we should have no laws. Ever. For any reason. Because they won't stop 100% of bad things from happening and won't prevent a determined actor from doing whatever it is any way.

This is not how society societies. Hell, it's not even how humans human. From the first time Ug said to Oog, "You no eat best part of elk if no kill, or you not come next hunt," humans have understood the concept of a deterrent.

We don't throw up our hands and say "what could possibly have changed this" when children are dead. Even if it's an earthquake or tsunami or something, we STILL come up with better building codes and better preparedness.

We banned lawn darts after one kid died.

Tide pods are now in lock-up in the grocery store and have disclaimers and a bitter tasting coating after a few people went to the hospital.

I have to take my shoes off every time I fly because of that one guy with the shoe bomb twenty fucking years ago.

We didn't throw up our hands and say "What possibly could have prevented this? Certainly no law. Guess I better tweet something poignant."

We only do that with one thing: guns.

Bullshit Rating: Mammothian pile growing mushrooms out of it.

Narrative 2- "Don't Politicize It./It's too soon."

Actually...it's too late.

We should have been talking about it yesterday.

Did you know I drafted a little over half of this article in the days right after Parkland, came back after Santa Fe, started retooling it after Gilroy determined to set aside time for it after Santa Fe and Dayton. (Although Odessa had happened before I managed to start.) I did not write this in the last few days. Life kind of turned up to eleven and it's a HUGE article, so it went on the back burner. And to my horror, and this country's shame, I knew that we would be here again in time, and this article would be topical.

...again.

This is where we are as a society right now. In the umbra of absolute certitude that this is going to keep happening. Literally locked in a cycle where I can be talking about the MOST RECENT school shooting and not even miss a beat.

"Don't politicize this" after an unforeseen tragedy, by someone who shoehorns it into an agenda that is only tangentially related, is a reasonable reaction to some partisan spin and politicians with particularly cavalier moxie. Things like the PATRIOT Act with its surveillance and torture exceptions being whipped up before the country could think straight after 9/11 is politicizing a tragedy.

In August of 2002, George Bush Jr. stood in the aftermath of a wildfire while the ground was still hot from embers and announced that he was going to allow more logging so that forests would be "thinned" and nothing like this would ever happen again.

That is politicizing a tragedy.

If this were a Bascule bridge that failed every few days and sent people to their deaths, the engineer would not be politicizing it to say "NOW will you listen to me?" after each fresh death toll.

Standing in the carnage of yet another school shooting and saying "We have to stop this" is not politicizing it. And only the people callow and superficial enough to consider the slightest gun regulations a partisan issue would claim so.

Even if this weren't rich, first-rate hypocrisy from many of the same folks who cheered and "heart" reacted when their leader tweeted a snide remark about a gunner at a baseball game being a Bernie supporter on the same day that it happened, who decried the Las Vegas shooter (inaccurately as it turned out) for liking Rachel Maddow, who posted pictures of Cruz in antifa attire (also inaccurate and fake) within hours, and who (and we can't underscore this enough) fucking always always ALWAYS bring up the shooter’s political agenda immediately if they aren’t white (remember the Pulse shooting?)

Even despite all that hypocrisy, "Don't politicize this" is just a way to silence people–to guilt them into not talking about the safety of their own loved ones and how we might change a situation in which this is anything but unforeseen or unpredictable.

When else are we supposed to talk about it? A day later? Two? After the funerals? You know the cycle is getting so tight, we don't really have that much time until the next one. Can we all just pretend we're talking about the one-before-the-most-recent-one? And even though Tomi Lahren's bullshit guilt trip might get some traction because she invokes the ol' "The bodies aren't even cold" line (a frequent enough staple at Fox news to make me suspicious that someone has done some market research), it is designed only to silence anyone who isn't ardently pro gun.

Here's the problem with that: When the bodies do get cold, the NRA and its ardent supporters hope people will have have forgotten. Not forgotten forgotten of course, just political-will forgotten. Just calmed down a little–enough that they'll go back to their other priorities, and get mad about Russian interference, the latest tweet storm, and the West Bank and forget about all this unseemly business come donation and voting time. They hope most folks will be inured and numb and won't donate to Moms Demand Action or The Brady Campaign (or whatever).

Because what these gun advocates want more than anything else is for everyone to just fucking drop it. So they can go back to their #1 narrative of silence. They want their guns and they want them without regulation, debate, compromise, oversight, or anyone even fucking saying boo to them about it when someone shoots a bunch of children. And when folks are not angry anymore, they're less likely to take political action. This is how they continue to wait us out, and nothing changes.

Plus, not to put too fine a point on it, but they are going to be politicizing out of one side of their mouths as they try to shame people for doing so out of the other. It's not like they waste any time jumping in front of a camera and saying that what we need are more guns or armed teachers or whatever the fuck. It's not like they waste any time sending out the cry: "After this last shooting, your freedoms are under assault again. Please donate now so we can defend your civil rights!" NRA funding goes UP after every shooting. They're actually MAKING money off of this shit.


Politicization galore.

Bullshit rating: Absolute raging bullshit.

Narrative 1- Silence

The narrative we most often hear. Crickets.

I have to take a moment to hand it to the lawmakers who have plowed forth with the idea of arming teachers and started test balloons and feasibility studies.

Oh don't get me wrong, that's the worst fucking idea since Australia imported toads to deal with their beetles, but in some way at least it is stepping out of the usual narrative, which is silence. That’s what we hear most—the sound of silence. The sound of politicians doing nothing.

Literally nothing.

Take a couple of weeks. Pretend to care. Tweet "Thoughts and prayers." Let the opponents tire themselves out by telling them you agree something has to be done. Let it all die down. And actually do nothing.

Few things prove the in-the-bones feeling that an oft-repeated atrocity probably isn't caused by the sham explanations someone offers up repeatedly than does doing nothing over and over again. If they thought it was violent television, they would be falling over themselves to enact strong FCC regulations. If they thought it was mental health, they would be scrambling to find the budget for better mental health care. When children are dead (and really dying in real time), we usually go fucking off the rails trying to find and stop the cause. If people really thought it was prayer in school that could have saved children's lives, they would be crawling over themselves to make it compulsory. We'd see fifteen super-PAC's overnight and a right-wing coalition of senators and congresspeople engaged in a national campaign. There would be laws in half the states tomorrow.

They know full well that's not what it is. That's why the minute it's out of their mouth, they go back to doing literally nothing.

Everyone knows all that shit has nothing to do with these shootings.

They just want to throw detractors off the scent––they want it to be ANYTHING but under-regulated firearms and a wink/nod culture of toxic masculinity. If it sounds like it might be a half-way plausible explanation about WHY CHILDREN ARE DEAD, then they go with it. But when they offer up that crap, but don't turn around and try to do something about it, it kind of exposes the deep-down truth not being talked about at dinner parties: that no amount of bodies could possibly make any damn difference if the price is going to be the slightest regulation of their guns.

Bullshit Rating: Complete bullshit.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Writing in Grief (Personal/Meta)

Accountability (take two)

Raw unfettered shit- 3,500


Slightly polished turd- 0

Superpolishedfragileshitstick- 0

Note for the uninitiated: this is the (restarting) of an accountability blurb for how my novel is going. There's not much now because I completely restarted it with an entirely different narrative voice. So watch this space on Mondays to see how I progress (and sometimes don't).


That should be a bigger number than it is, and now that I can, I'm going to tell you why it isn't and why I'm having more trouble these past couple of weeks bringing funny to the page. Why I've phoned in a couple of posts and why I'm probably not done.

In addition to all the things Writing About Writing does, it is a real time exploration into how messy it is to try to be a writer. You get to see me hit the highs, the lows, and the everydays in between. The conventional wisdom that writers go out and live lives of glamour and ease until they are hit by a lightning bolt of inspiration, whereupon they sit down for perhaps a month or six weeks and slam out a novel that they then pop off to an agent with no further thought other than to nip down to the mail to collect royalty checks is surprisingly pernicious. But similarly (though with less intensity) I also want to combat the equally ridiculous idea that we writers are wordsmithing machines, paragons of discipline, have ice in our veins, and never have a bad day or just can't deal with life.

Some of you have been with me for almost eight years. Through a loved one's lymphoma. Through a terrible break up. Through substantively losing a child for whom I wanted to be a coparent. Through a dear pet's death. Through the loss of friends. Through major health problems that required life alterations. Through it all, I've tried to not just tell you but SHOW you that writers write. Lord knows I've missed a post from time to time, and I'm all kinds of behind on every "behind the scenes" project I ever undertook. (My friends know they can annoy me by asking how my Skyrim article is going.) But this blog is a monument to the plodding, dogged effort that turns a session each day into a career.

But writers also fall on their faces. I have written a quick note to the patrons and blown off a day (or even two) here and there. I have dragged my ass to the computer at the end of my day and done some desperately uninspired fluff post. I have spent entire weeks barely dealing with the blog. And while I often do some of my own writing on such days (maybe noodle fiction casually or post something on my personal FB wall), it's more of a glutsplat of wordfeels than the crafted effort that makes for decent writing.

Grief can inform creativity, intensify it, bring it into focus. But in those first, intense moments of acute grief, writing anything of substance is almost impossible.

I can talk about what happened now. I couldn't for a few weeks because what happened was national news and reporters were trolling social media to try to mine information. The family didn't want that.

As you know, I quit pet sitting. I have a steady side gig in child care that covers the bills writing doesn't, and I have been trying to take it easier for health reasons. Well, I have about four clients I told that I would still be happy to watch their pets because it was always a pleasure (they always tip quite well or the job is super easy). A set of my clients (a couple in Berkeley) contacted me about watching their kitties over the Labor Day weekend. Happy to get a few extra dollars for some very low-key supervision, I took the job.

These clients were going to Santa Cruz to scuba dive, and the boat they were on had a horrible fire. Thirty-four people in the sleeping quarters below deck were killed, including my clients. Only four crew members who were above deck survived.

They were friends too, though I wish I'd known them better. Like many of my clients, they started as friends of friends, and I got to know them mostly through pet sitting, jokes over emails, or meeting a couple times. We talked often and in an act of generosity I have since come to learn was perfectly in keeping with his character, Dan took a couple of hours out of his schedule to help me change out my laptop's battery so I would save hundreds of dollars. And I guess I thought my getting to know them would just be something that happened organically...in its own time.

That alone was a terrible moment. However, as the family from disparate parts of the country coordinated to get to Berkeley and coordinated with me about a couple of things (because I was in the house), I told them that if it helped them, even a little, I would stay as long as they needed and keep taking care of the cats.

I don’t regret that offer, even a little (truly— it was nice to be in a position to be able to help) but it became more surreal than I could have anticipated. When people die that I'm not super close to, it's very sad, and I feel it deeply, but I can also kind of set the thoughts aside for a while to function. I have a cry and I'm okay for a while. And I know the thoughts will come back around but I can kind of push them down until I'm in a good place to have feels. But with this situation, I was in their house, and they were never coming home. I was looking at their couch and they were never coming home. I was petting their cats and they were never coming home. In one second nothing changed but everything was totally different. Every bag of snack food, every undone load of laundry, every casually strewn bit of personal effects, a hairbrush, a shampoo bottle the LED displays....is a landmine of implication.

It was so hard being THERE. I couldn't get away from it. I slept about 6 hours total in the three nights I stayed there after hearing the news. I couldn't stop my brain from rolling it over and over and over. I couldn't pause the playback loop. Not long enough to write. Not long enough to think. I managed to cook a meal kit on the last day I was there that was supposed to take 30 minutes of prep. It took me over two hours.

The house had ghosts in it. (Not the real kind, of course, but the metaphors that are just as unsettling.)

While I was there, I couldn't even sit down long enough to write. I couldn't structure and order the pattern of my thoughts. I wrote a few things for Facebook, but they took ten times longer than it should have to clean up my meandering thoughts. Things got better when I got out of the house, but I think I expected everything would go back to normal and it didn't. I was an emotional wreck from the time I spent in the house. Minds, like bodies, can be devastated and need recovery time. I managed to remind people to vote on a poll and later posted the results. That was about all I had in me other than Facebook posts and rambling.

My natural state is Being too Hard on Myself™, and I expected to walk out the door and be okay. Not that I didn't feel anything, but I thought I'd be able to hit the pause button to work. But grief is not a predictable creature, and I had lost about 20 hours of sleep (which if you've been with me a while, you'll recall is something I really, really have to be careful about).

It is sometimes hard for me to tell the difference between "This is why I get paid to be a writer" hard on myself and "Hey, Chris, this is some  dysfunctional shit" hard on myself, and I was doing the latter. I just wasn't going to get back to my feet so quickly.

I'm not going to spin this up with a little bow and deliver a bite-sized lesson on how to be a writer. Just remember that it's okay to breathe. It's okay to cry. It's okay to be a wreck and miss a few days. It's okay to be so shredded to flinders that you can't think, and when you can't thought pattern coherently, it's okay to give that space. Even if your job kind of exists because you're harder  on yourself than the rest of the world, because you put in 60-70 hour weeks, and because you don't give yourself a break when others would, some days it's not only okay to be gentle with yourself, but pretty fucking important. I can't tell you where that balance is. (No I literally can't––I consistently get it wrong.) Just remember that you're in this for the long haul, not for any one specific week. You can be hard on yourself next Monday.

Writing will still be there just where you left it.

Just make sure you come back.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

25 Bad Arguments We Hear After Every Mass Shooting (and why they're bullshit)

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"  

 -Upton Sinclair


So let's start by saying that yes, I am angry.

I am very angry.

Again. Still. I haven't really stopped.

And I'm sure some will use my emotion or my sardonic wit to try to delegitimize the substance of this post. ("I would absolutely have engaged in good faith with an article that was completely emotionless, but CLEARLY he isn't even trying to not be biased because of those jokes...")

Let them.

Let them delegitimize it, scoff, sneer, snort derisively, and claim that it was the tone they didn't like. Whatever. This isn't about them any more. At this point I've given up any hope of convincing people who have decided nothing will ever convince them. I'm done trying. I can work around them.

Like someone who is done fighting, and finally ready to leave a relationship, I am just fucking DONE with the bullshit.

So don't expect this to be "reasoned debate" over brandy with calm and disinterested parties–each using the mere hint of some kind of fallacy to whack-a-mole checkmate the other. ("Oh Chad. Was that slight an ad-hominem. Bad form, good sir. Bad form.") But this isn't about debate. Debate is in the rearview mirror.

Largely though, it wouldn't even matter.

This has become a partisan issue surrounding increasingly intransigent folks who perceive the slightest restriction as a threat to be quashed and who, with each mass shooting, have become even more intractable instead of more willing to consider solutions (outside of turning the whole country into civilian militarized zones). And while there is a moderate group of Republicans who have begun to join the left in begging for sensible gun control laws, they are not able to get past the vocal minority, their party's vice grip, and an NRA lobby.

The latter have relinquished their right to reasoned discourse by refusing to even come to the table. Like much of the party with which they have a symbiosis, they have decided to forgo debate, discussion, incremental change, or compromise in favor of the politics of power. And that party to which they have adhered themselves is increasingly engaged in slick cheats like gerrymandering and voter suppression, grotesque amounts of dark money, and scorched earth politics and will absolutely positively not do anything but crawl over each other to ingratiate themselves to the NRA's ever more intractable position that no limitations of any kind are ever acceptable.

So let me start by divesting you of the notion that I am an enemy of firearms. I have handled guns, fired guns (and done quite well at it), enjoyed desultory good-guy gun fantasies. I've owned guns. (I don't currently.) I have nuanced views on gun control. I'm beginning to think the left really ought to arm itself given the political landscape of our country and which side cops are increasingly on. I know plenty of leftists, trans folk, people of color, and members of other marginalized groups who are just as happy as not that the ability to defend themselves is easily purchased from the corner store without bureaucracy that would undoubtedly target them. I want to come to some kind of reasonable compromise regarding personal protection and hunting, but also make it harder for school children and other bystanders to be murdered en masse. As of this moment, technically, I still don't want to take all the guns away (though I'm in a shrinking majority). I would love a conversation about sensible, reasonable regulations.

I'm not anti-gun. I'm anti-shitty argument.

Because every fucking time the the politicians on the right essentially sidestep any possibility of a discussion of tighter restrictions and more regulations lest they bring down the fierce political retribution arm of the NRA who will silence any conversation in favor of the politics of power. The NRA, far from merely being hostile to anti-gun politicians, will "primary" an incumbent who dares to consider any sort of restrictions or compromise. And perhaps more to the point, every time gun OWNERS allow the NRA and politicians to speak for them on the issue––an NRA who represents gun manufacturers (who want to sell more more more guns), not gun owners––the praxis message that ends up shouted from every rooftop is that there will be no discussion, no debate, no compromise, and no reasonable limits.

Not now. Not ever. Not on their watch.

And by letting these utterly intransigent groups take point in every discussion, any moderate is ensuring that the only solutions are scorched earth solutions.

The NRA began to shift its message and the intensity of it in the 80's and 90's, and hit fever pitch when the sunset clause of the Brady bill took effect. Their modern incarnation with the well established, predictable response to mass shootings is a relatively new development.

We––we who would like some sensible gun laws––are begging, in fact pleading, for a conversation....and the door gets closed in our faces. Every. Single. Time. And most of us (but not all, thanks in part to that absolute inability to compromise) don't actually hate guns. But when we ask for some sensible regulations, the head of the NRA goes on the attack and says such a thing is only ever done by those who "hate freedom".

Here's a quote from Wayne LaPierre, the head of the NRA.

"The elites don't care not one whit (sic) about America's school system and school children. Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms so they can eradicate all individual freedoms."

Okay, forget for a moment that the anti-semitic dog whistles in the larger speech were shockingly overt and reveal a powerful lobby that is essentially advocating for armed white supremacy (*cough*), that's not some rando on 4chan or Reddit or some fringe state senator from Kansas who got quoted as outrage porn to make a Facebook post go viral. That's the head of the NRA (talking mostly about the political mobilization of the survivors of Parkland) saying that anyone who is asking for waiting periods, smaller clips, banning bump stocks, and a tougher road to owning a semi-automatic assault-style weapon "hates individual freedoms" and doesn't really like kids either. Grab your skis folks, the slopes are EXTRA slippery today!

In what world would a political operative even dignify such a bad faith presumption about those who want some sensible gun control. Republicans fell into the mud weeping openly at the word "deplorables" (after a solid decade of hating "PC speech" and telling snowflakes to fuck their feelings, but maybe that's another article), yet suddenly it's no problem if a national player is saying shit like this? And instead of protesting en masse, cancelling memberships, or calling for retractions, or even just turning in on themselves with their "let's hear their side" tut-tutting, far too many gun owners and GOP politicians just nodded along and let the NRA go right on being their national mouthpiece. ("Sure. Fucking Jews hate America and just use seasonal school shootings as a pretense to whip people into a frenzy and gut civil rights because they hate America and it has nothing to do with making kids safer. Sounds perfectly reasonable to me. Hand me that annual dues envelope, would you?")

Instead of communication, pro-gun folks follow the NRA (and those politicians the NRA owns), allow the NRA to speak for them, and parrot the NRA's talking points no matter how ill-supported or morally dubious. They typically wait a few days in which they tell people not to "politicize" the tragedy, and then start lobbing out a couple dozen well-worn, classical, hand-tooled, boilerplate narratives that operate chiefly like a ninja smoke pellet–distracting and confusing while they slip away to wait out the outrage and elect another politician who will tweet "Thoughts and prayers" while not even considering the slightest legislation, and become even more calcified against any regulation.

I don't hate guns. I'm not repulsed by gun culture. I don't call people who like guns "ammosexuals" or claim they all say "Yee haw" when they pull the trigger. I don't snidely claim that these are men's "toys." I know people who use guns responsibly and people who WOULD NOT BE HERE if they hadn't defended themselves with them. And I'm not wholly convinced that the left might not need to learn to use them before our current political landscape has played itself out.

There are plenty of people on the left who aren't against guns. Some are quite in favor of them, to be honest. They're not about to leave all that "distasteful violence" to law enforcement, the military, and US institutions rotten with white supremacy. There are plenty of people who don't want to take guns from folks in the country who are 45 minutes away from their local sheriff. There are plenty of people who don't want to legislate away the possibility that a person from a marginalized group can have personal protection in an age where Nazis are literally marching in the streets.

I just hate the really terrible, terrible arguments and the fallacious narratives we see every. single. time. there's a mass shooting (and particularly a school shooting), and I hate how gun advocates and the NRA use like they are mic drops (instead of widely debunked bullshit), and then go and congratulate themselves for "giving it to some liberal snowflake."

It's time for these folks to stop acting Pikachu-meme surprise that the left and moderates have given up on this as a debate and are just gathering the political will to act without compromise. People who care about these issues are starting work around intractable gun advocates and the NRA, dismissing them, "meanly" characterizing them. They fall down like wounded men's soccer players when their bad faith fallacy-o-thon's that are LITERALLY excusing children's murders are no longer treated with utmost decorum (as if these paint-by-numbers "arguments" were ever offered up in good faith) by a growing group who finds the body count too high a price to pay for gently engaging their smug derailing.

If you're a gun aficionado who is wondering why all your best spaghetti isn't sticking to the wall with liberals, welcome. I can't promise this is going to feel good. But otherwise, this post isn't here to try and be diplomatic. You want room 12A just along the corridor.

This is about exposing those narratives. It's about anyone who is still actually listening. It's about the few who are still willing to have a conversation instead of hiding behind the shitty slogans and flawed reasoning. I don't know what the answers are or exactly what legislation we should be enacting, but I do know what a flawed or fallacious narrative is when I see one.

The 25 Narratives:

1- Silence
2- "Don't Politicize It./It's too soon."
3- "No Law Could Have Prevented a Determined Actor."
4- "If We Outlaw Guns, Only Outlaws Will Have Guns./Criminals Don't Obey Laws."

Meta Update for the Followers

Hi everybody!

I'm not going to post this one on social media. It's JUST for folks who are following this blog in some update or subscription way. Particularly if you get a notification of some kind every time I post.

I'm about to undertake a small project that I've been meaning to do for a while. I wrote a really big, really long article a while back about guns and the bad arguments supporting them. So long, in fact, that it was a little unwieldy. What I've wanted to do for some time was turn each one of the "bullet points" into a link to its own article.

So in the next week (and probably longer since I never finish anything on the timetable that I imagine it will) you might be getting more than a usual amount of notifications. Depending on how fast the edits go, it might be two or three a day. Plus the regular update. While I won't be posting to social media until it's all done, you folks get the notifications for every. single. bullet point.

And I know that might feel a little spammy.

So I wanted to let you know so that you could either take steps to mute me for a few days if you'd like or just prepare yourself that this is going to happen and that there are only 25 such sub-articles.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Writing Query Letters (The Very Basics)

So today's post is a bit of a hybrid between a frequently asked question and something I can link to when I'm talking about query letters (that isn't part of a longer mailbox question). So here are The Very Basics™ on writing a query letter to an agent.

You should query after your fiction is in its final form, and you can query multiple agents simultaneously, but agents have "brands" and "niches" that they work best in, so think of picking out six or eight that you imagine would be a good fit with your writing and your specific piece rather than spamming all of them. (They are likely to find out, and this is considered a bit unprofessional.) You don't want to send your zombie page-turner query to the agent who deals mostly in literary fiction and poetry.

A query letter should be formal, concise, and impeccably professional. It should never be informal or familiar in tone ("Hi there, brah! Lemmie tell you about your next best seller!" ––ROUND FILE!), and it should never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever EVER be more than one page. (Please fucking trust me on this one. I have known agents who go through their stack of query letters and literally throw out everything with a staple. ––ROUND FILE!) Even in today's market when most submissions are electronic and sans staple, a word rolling over onto the second page is all she wrote. (For that agent, anyway.) Agents get dozens, sometimes hundreds of query letters every week. If you can't even follow the most basic directions, they're not going to want a professional relationship with you. Also, don't get cute with the font sizes or the margins. You're dealing with professionals––they can tell.

Before I talk about the query letter, I want to make one thing absolutely crystal clear. Like mountain lake after a spring thaw crystal clear where there are fucking snow-capped mountains in the distance, your face is about to freeze off, and the light sparkling off of everything is a razor blade across your pupil. Do you get how clear I want to be?

DO NOT SEND A QUERY LETTER BEFORE YOUR BOOK IS DONE.

Just don't.

In non-fiction, there is something called a proposal which you can write before you're done if you query with a table of contents and sample chapters, but in fiction, you need to be sitting on a final project––that's "final" as in the most edited, most proofread, most revised project you are capable of creating. Not a few chapters. Not a first draft. Not "still needs some cleaning up." Done. An agent who asks to see more and finds out you're not done will ROUND FILE your query and probably put your name in the "Do Not Reply" section of their rolodex for the future.

The number one mistake in query letters is that the book isn't done. The number two mistake is that the letter is over a page. About 80% of query letters break one or both of these rules. If you follow them, you're already in the top 20th percentile. Rock rock on Cheat Commando.


What do you mean this is from fourteen years ago?
Shut up!

Paragraph one is the hook to your story. Describe your book like you would to someone you met on a subway who was about to get off at the next stop. Or better yet someone who was about to do their first unassisted parachute jump. This isn't the place for plot points beyond the basic description. In storytelling terms, use one clause to describe "the mundane world" and one clause to describe the inciting event. ("Chris couldn't hook up a threesome to save his life until one day he met a pair of gothic lingerie models who loved blogs about writing.") Be careful of making it as formulaic as I have here, but that is the basic idea. This is also the place to mention setting, or any stylistic decisions you've made that you think are very unique. (They won't be–unique that is–which is why I used "very" in front of it, but if you think they are, include that.)

Paragraph two is a brief synopsis. Let me say this again with the proper emphasis. Paragraph two is a MOTHER-FUCKING BRIEF synopsis. Brief. Hear me on this. Brief. If your whole query letter is over a page (which will get it ROUND-FILED) it will probably be because you are trying to introduce too much detail into your synopsis. You don't need to tell the agent the whole story, just get them interested. This may actually be some of the most difficult writing you've ever done, and it matters greatly because this is what the agent is going to focus on. Summarizing is hard. (That's why they still teach it in college English classes.) Don't worry about "spoilers" in this paragraph. Summarize the whole thing (albeit briefly).

Paragraph three is about you as a writer. Degrees you hold. Places you've published. If you don't have a lot of that, increase the length of your synopsis (paragraph two) but don't bullshit your way through this. You're dealing with professional bullshit sniffers who have epic reading skills. Don't even bother. An agent doesn't care about your job (unless you're writing a story about that job). An agent doesn't care about your education (beyond what you got a degree in). If you have a lot of writing accolades, keep it to a few that you're most proud of, and keep it short. Journalism publications, awards or contests you've won, or literary publications.

Lastly, don't forget to thank them for their time and attention and to tell them the full manuscript is available on request. (And make sure that is true.)

It's a LOT of information for a single page, and it will not be easy. Be ready to spend a couple of days on this. It may seem arbitrary and unfair, but it gives the agent a very quick assessment of your story, your writing skill, and your ability to follow directions. Remember that an agent is deciding whether or not to enter into a professional relationship with you where you might need to make revisions on a deadline or approve proofs in a time crunch. If the first thing they see is that you can't (or won't) follow directions, you're off to a poor enough start that they won't proceed.

Oh, and one bit of not-necessarily-vital-but-probably-useful advice: don't query during or right after NaNoWriMo. Basically any time after NaNoWriMo starts until January or February. The market is simply FLOODED with bad queries, early drafts that people think are brilliant, and (though I have mixed feelings about NaNo itself) lots of pretentious writers. NaNo is such a phenomenon that the entire industry reacts for MONTHS by becoming salty and extra cynical, and the last thing you want is to face down a cranky agent who is sick of everyone's shit by 8:07 in the morning. Do yourself a favor and shoot for March at the earliest and October at the latest.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Small Press or Agents First (Mailbox)


Should I send my manuscript to agents or small presses first?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer one question about once a week.  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. Props (and jumping the question queue) if you can come up with interesting questions about the industry.]   


Anonymous asks:  

Thank you so much for your blog and fb site! 

My question is about where to start sending out queries. I plan to pitch it as Historical Women's Fiction, but it would also work as a regional novel, as it has a strong sense of place. Should I query both literary agents and small regional presses (ones I can query directly), or focus on one or the other at first? I've done my homework and have a list for each, just not sure where to begin. I would appreciate any thoughts you have about this aspect of querying.

My reply:

Though I spend most of my time in craft and process questions and less of it over in the "How do I get an agent*," type stuff (even though the composition of the questions I get is generally about the opposite in emphasis), every once in a while there is a really good question that gets at the heart of writing as a business and industry and isn't sort of analogous to a kid on the junior high basketball team or someone who plays a pick up game a couple of times a week at the local park also trying to figure out how to sign with a professional agent.

*Finding an agent is one of those questions that people ask writers a lot but that is a lot easier than one imagines once a writer is at the right part in the process and ready to spend a day doing research. It only seems like an insurmountable hurdle when the book is only on its first draft or hasn't been finished yet.

To really answer this question, I have to unpack one of the false dichotomies of the writing world. The publishing industry tends to break the universe up into "The Big Five" and "small presses." And this is a very useful distinction for a lot of purposes (from the profit motivation to the size of the legal department and definitely the placement of popular fiction). However it does ignore a spectrum of press sizes that exist. Once upon a time, you could not make a print run profitable for fewer than about 7500 units, and so you had a big gap between those little tiny small presses that would do modest runs and sell books (usually soft covers) for a lot more than a regular book to make even the tiniest of profits and the those presses that put out paperbacks and hardcovers.

This split got baked into publishing culture even though it has a lot to do with printing technology that is, for the most part, about as old as me.

These days, though, there is a much wider range of print runs and monetization approaches, even in the traditional publishing world. You can make money on MUCH smaller runs because you don't actually have a printing press anymore. Some of the "small presses" are capable of runs that, while they would be modest by big five standards, are more the purview of a major house. That gap is mostly filled in, and now there is even some dovetail between biggish "small presses" and the smaller projects a big five house will take on.

So the important question to ask is just how niche you think your historical women's fiction/regional novel is. If you think it's super duper niche with niche sauce, then you might, might, MIGHT want to go with the publishers first.

However, in general, when it comes to traditional publishing, I will ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS recommend querying agents. They are worth their weight––perhaps not in gold (because that would be millions), but definitely ruthenium. Even if you think your work is probably going to go to a small press and make no money, they may know things you don't about markets you haven't researched yet, or be able to suggest marketability changes. Or they may know a guy over at Simon and Schuster who heads up the Historical Women's Fiction department and can definitely help you jump the queue. Typically an agent will be able to negotiate you a better deal than you would have gotten without them, EVEN INCLUDING WHAT YOU WILL END UP PAYING THEM. This is true even with a smaller press.

Oh and here's something that may help you feel better about hitting up agents first. You don't have to painstakingly work your way through the agent list, securing a rejection from each before you can move on. I get asked a lot about querying multiple agents simultaneously. This is okay. Generally, it is even encouraged since some agents take months to get back to a prospective client. And while I wouldn't spam out your work to dozens of agents haphazardly (THAT is frowned upon), if you've done your homework (as it sounds like you have, Anon), and have yourself narrowed down to six or eight, you can do them all at once––which sounds more fun than it is.

Basically consider this. If you think your book's publication would be SO niche that it is really more like getting published in a magazine, periodical, or anthology, even though it's a whole book, then maybe, MAYBE consider going straight to the publisher. However, my first and foremost question to you as a fellow writer––seeing you consider that as a first step, rather than a plan B––would be to ask you  what you have to lose? I would wonder if you're hedging your bets on the safe side to avoid rejection. The worst thing that could happen is you work through your agents, get a bunch of nos and THEN go to the publishers. The best thing that could happen might be really, really awesome.

So unless you really really are just absolutely certain that your book is destined only for the TINIEST of presses (the runs of maybe a FEW HUNDRED), you will still want an agent representing your work and arranging for it it the best possible reception.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Best Horror? (Book or Series) Nominations Needed

What is the best horror genre book (or series)? 

We need A LOT more books for our next poll.

Lackluster response to my first shout out means there are still lots of slots open for anyone who wants to nominate the best horror for our poll. So please pop over to the original page (very important), read the rules (including the new rules), and drop a nomination or an undersung hero. 

I'll be putting this poll together next week.

Remember, go to the original page or it won't count. Not a comment here. Not a comment on the Facebook post. Not Tumblr. HERE.

Monday, September 9, 2019

This Blog Needs Your Help

As we head into a recession that even the most optimistic financial news sources are saying is a matter of when rather than if, I feel the first perturbations along my crowdfunded income. People who are starting to look for ways to save a few dollars are reducing their contributions. Which makes the role of $1, $3, and $5 patrons more important than ever.

It's going to be a tough couple of years as a working writer making JUUUUUUUUUUST enough to pay the bills. The Stephen Kings and Jim Butchers of the world might notice a dip in their royalties during a recession, but they probably don't have to think about putting away their pens and going to get a day job until the economy clears up. I on the other hand, am at that point where writing pays just enough bills that I could (very technically) SURVIVE on it. However, if I want a cell phone or car insurance, I have to get a side gig. I've been trying for 18 months to reach a goal of covering increased tax burden and medical costs, but my income keeps going up and down like a cork in water. So what will a recession look like for someone THAT on the edge? Will writing become inexorably more untenable? Will an income based literally on people's generosity blow to flinders?

I'll write my way through it––as I have through other trials and tribulations––and try to share everything I learn with you. Perhaps it won't be as bad as I think. Maybe it will be worse. And maybe it will weirdly follow some bellwether in the economy like consumer confidence or something. Stay tuned!

I am currently in the initial processes of polishing some of my best articles for a compilation ebook that I hope will add a revenue stream, and there may even be some keychains and mugs and stuff before we're all through. I'm still hoping beyond hope not to have to turn ads back on. They would change the kinds of images I would be able to use and cause me to have to go back and edit thousands of old articles. But more than that, they would just be ads. I am unimpressed enough with capitalism that I will sort of consider every other possible option of surviving it before that one. I'll let you know how those go too.

I'm also saving in anticipation. I know that's part of the thing that causes recessions––people who start saving when they see the signs––but I don't care. Right now, I am working a little TOO much, and every week I can sock away money will buy me a MONTH of writing time with my current Patreon levels come 2020.

My side gig isn't going away either. It's just getting a dramatic reduction in hours next year as the little one heads off to preschool. I don't know exactly what my new schedule will be, but it's possible that if I don't lose too much writing income, I will be able to kind of "tread water" until the recession ends.

Fortunately, your current levels of support mean that I'm not here telling you that Writing About Writing may have to go down to one post a week while I get a day job. So if you've always wanted to support what I'm doing here (even just a little), there would never be a better time.

COME BE A PATRON THROUGH PATREON.

I love my big donors, of course, and if you really believe in what I'm doing here and want to sign on at higher amount, that would be awesome, but I can't stress enough that it is a thriving population of $3 and $5 donors that create an ecosystem that lets me budget for the future, weather an ebb and flow of donors, and even survive the occasional loss of one of my big donors. One of the reasons I have a pretty decent reward (my monthly newsletter) for the $3 tier is because they are so important to me. I have SOME idea what to expect from month to month because of the low donor amounts that people are less likely to change if their budget hiccups a little. Even a single dollar gets you in on the patron-only announcements (like what's going on that might affect the blog) and the back channel communications.

Of course if an ongoing donation is not your style, you can always give a one-time donation through Paypal

So if you like the writing I do here, or on my other blog, or on my public Facebook wall, or you even just want to support the kind of content I can go find for Writing About Writing's Facebook page when I'm not working a full time job away from my computer, and if you want to support its continued existence and even see more, we could really use your help. And as always with these kinds of posts, the real trick is being seen by more than a handful of people, so if you're penniless and still want to help (or just want to help twice) please consider contributing your favorite gif to the comment section.