Absent-Minded Ramblings

And Now I Do a Little Dance

Huzzah!!!

I have finished the first draft of Book 3! Which, if you’re keeping score at home, is actually Book 4 since my debut novel Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom–you’ve all pre-ordered it, right– was actually the second book I wrote. The third book I wrote, which is officially Book 2 (name to be revealed shortly) is the second book in the 2-book deal, so this one, Official Book 3 is as yet unsold. As is Official Book Zero.

If you think it’s confusing now, wait til I start writing sequels. All four books are stand-alone novels. Yet two of them (Books 3 and Zero) are written specifically to be series and the other two could easily have sequels if there is a need. Then I’ll have Book 2 of Book 3 Series and Book 4 of Book Zero series and the second Book 2 and…

…and then my head falls off.

But today I am rejoicing finishing a book! It is such a great feeling to get to the end. As always, the closer I got to the end, the more I wanted to ignore everybody and everything and lock myself away to write. Family? Food? Going to the bathroom? Bah! Don’t bother me, I’m ALMOST DONE!

When all was said and done, I sat back and smiled. And grinned. And giggled. There’s a little euphoria that settles in when I finish, suddenly everything is alright in the world. The birds sing sweetly. Flowers bloom. People smile. Life is good.

Then came time to edit and life is bad again.

Confession time–I actually finished the rough draft last week. I then spent the week reading through it and editing it. Cutting wherever I could. Cringing when I found typos. Reintroducing myself to the first few chapters (“Whoops! That character only has one eye. I’ll have to either give him his second eye here or go in and fix it everywhere else.”) is always fun. You can rediscover characters you’d forgotten about! Props! Entire themes!

“Oh, yeah! This is all an allegory depicting the evils of global climate change. I totally forgot about that!”

So I edited. I cut. I added. I cut some more. I altered. I argued with myself. I lost the argument and cut some more. And now I have a first draft! A little bundle of Middle Grade, horror/comedy joy ready to be loosed upon the world, or at least on an Army of Early Readers.

Letting go will be hard, and my Army of Early Readers will undoubtedly be cruel, if for no other reason than they can. But let go I must. I need other eyes to view the work before I send it to Awesome Agent.

So I send. And I wait. And I wait. And I constantly bother my Army of Early Readers .

“Have you read it yet?”

“No.”

“How about now?”

“No.”

“Now?”

“Give me a break! You sent it to me twenty minutes ago!”

“And you haven’t read it yet?”

“No!!”

“OK, OK. No need to shout.”

[two minutes later]

“Have you read it yet?”

It’s a wonder I have any friends left at all.

**

HEY KIDS (and adults)!

Wanna join my Army of Early Readers? You can! Just send me an email and once I’ve checked your references against my database of Truly Despicable People, I can send you a pdf and you’re on your way! All I ask is that a) you read the book and b) you write me and tell me what you thought. What you liked. Didn’t like. Hated. Loved. Didn’t understand. That sort of thing.

Join the Army! Be cool!

Talking Heads Do Not a Climax Make

My kids came home and found me playing with my Star Wars figures.

I told them I was working. I’m not sure they bought it.

But it’s the truth! See, I’m writing the final act of Book 3. It’s complicated, with a ton of different characters showing up. I was worried I’d lose track of one or two (something I’ve done before) so I assigned a different Star Wars figure for each character and acted out the entire scene. The Bib Fortuna character enters, and Chewie engages him. Boba Fett drops in it takes Han and Leia together to keep him away from BB-8, who is trying to help Lando reach the Hoth Rebel Gunner Outpost Playset. Meanwhile, Luke and C-3PO are tangling with Jabba the Hutt (I needed something to designate a very large character).

See? Complicated.

But using the figures made me realize that I didn’t give Generic X-Wing Pilot anything to do. Without them, I probably would have totally ignored that character and left him out of the rest of the book. Which would be awkward. So I made sure he helped Han and Leia. Presto! He’s involved.

I tried explaining this to my kids, but their eyes glazed over. Then my daughter made me switch out Slave Leia for Endor Leia. You know, to preserve her dignity.

So with the climax all mapped out, I put my figures away (with only a slight sigh of regret) and got down to the business of writing it all out. Things started smoothly. The bit where Boba Fett drops in is funny, and I was able to give Generic X-Wing Pilot some love when that section began. Then Jabba the Hutt entered and this is exciting because it’s a big reveal and characters are thrown for a loop and so forth. Also, I love writing for my Jabba the Hutt character because I love his voice. So Jabba taunted. Luke rebutted. Lando and BB-8 argued (BB-8 is standing in for an actual person. I’m just using the BB-8 figure because I really like BB-8). Chewie and Bib Fortuna had to get involved. More from Jabba. More from Lando.

And now I’m bored.

I scrolled back up the screen and saw that I’d just written a page and a half where everyone stood there chatting. Oh sure, it was witty, plot-moving chatter. But this is the climax. And they’re all just standing there. Lame.

As a writer of anything other than text books, I have a duty to my audience not to bore them to tears right at the part where they ought to be on the edge of their seat, ignoring their over-extended bladder, hanging on every word. Reveals are nice and all, but I need to incorporate action into the reveal. Well not exactly action, since my book is a Middle Grade supernatural horror/comedy book not an action book, but I definitely owe readers some Middle Grade supernatural horror/comedy.

I have that problem with a lot of books I read, to be honest. Everything is zooming along and suddenly the action stops so the author can spit out everything he or she needs to spit out. Tie up all the loose ends. Explain what the heck they were thinking. The trick is to find the balance. I like to think of old Errol Flynn movies. Not because I’ve ever seen any–I haven’t–but I have a basic idea that they include a lot of theatrical fencing while the bad guy and Errol trade frightfully witty barbs and reveal the plot. It’s a formula:

***

“I will not let you harm the Princess!”

Errol slices at Bad Guy, who parries.

“You fool! The Princess has been working for me the whole time!”

Bad Guy slices at Errol, who ducks. Bad Guy’s sword cuts up some flowers that are in a sconce on the wall.

“What? That’s impossible! We are in love!”

Errol thrusts sword at Bad Guy, who parries it away.

“She doesn’t love you! She loves me!”

Bad Guy clonks Errol on the head with the pommel of his sword. Errol staggers back down a step (because they’ve been fighting on a stone staircase the entire time).

“No! It cannot be! She said she loved me!”

Errol clutches his hand to his chest in emotional agony.

“She lied to you! Also, she’s you mother!”

Bad Guy stabs Errol in the heart. Errol falls off the staircase to his death.

***

Or something like that. The point is, it’s exciting and informative at the same time. There are no talking heads. Talking heads are boring. Boring is lame. Case closed.

So even though I’m only at the beginning of the climax, I need to go back and start over. The last thing I want to write is My Dinner With Andre. That just not very kid-friendly.

 

Hunting for the Perfect Title

I’ve written before about titles. They are, like, way important. More important than I would have thought.

It makes sense, though. Whenever I rattle around a bookstore and browse, I’m not pulling each and every book off the shelf to read the back and see if it sounds interesting. I’m running my finger along the spine quickly dismissing titles that don’t sound interesting. If my finger reaches “Pretty Pansy and Her Pouty Puppies” then it’s going to slide on by. That title does not interest me. I don’t care of the series is highly acclaimed, everyone loves it, or anything else. Pretty Pansy is not my thing.

On the other hand, if I see “Descent into the Tomb of Ancient Evil” I’m probably going to pause and at least slide it out to look at the cover. Because I’m a big fan of tombs of ancient evil.

My debut novel, coming out this August (can you tell I’m a bit excited?) is, of course Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom. That is an awesome title. You read that title and you have a very good idea of what the book is about, the tone of the book, what ages it was written for, and that my favorite color is green. Confession time: it wasn’t my original title. The entire time I was writing the book, the entire time I was polishing the book, and the entire time Awesome Agent was selling the book it was known as, simple, “Dr. Fell.”

Excellent Editor decided that wasn’t enough and slapped “…and the Playground of Doom” to the end of the title. And even though I originally hated the addition, I now thank the Heavens for the change. Because nobody knows who Dr. Fell is. Nobody can get any idea of what the book is about from the title. Fingers would have slid by the spine of my book, blissfully ignorant of how totally awesome it is. Now many of those fingers will stop, pull out my book, and–God willing–purchase a copy.

Book 2 (due out August, 2017! Remind yourself now to pre-order it next year!) has long needed a title. I didn’t have one while writing it. I didn’t have one while polishing it. I didn’t have one last month when I was dealing with all 95 of Excellent Editor’s notes. We had always been referring to it by a single word, which for the purposes of this post I shall pretend was Avocados. I have always known that Avocados is too vague a title, and that it needs more. When I submitted Avocados to Excellent Editor, I assumed Excellent Editor would come up with a much better title. After all, Excellent Editor came up with Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom! Of course Excellent Editor will have a title!

Excellent Editor did not have a title.

And so I did rewrites on what we were still temporarily calling Avocados.

Time pressed on, Excellent Editor warned that we needed a title soon because they are already discussing cover art (for a book coming out in 18 months). I held a brainstorming session with my daughter, who has read Avocados. I wrote them all down and sent them on. The list contained elements like:

  • The Avocados of Doom
  • The Tastiest Avocados
  • When Avocados Attack
  • To Be an Avocado or Not To Be an Avocado
  • The Killer Avocados From Atlantis

You get the idea.

I didn’t love any of them, but hoped one of them would spark a flame of title genius from Excellent Editor.

No such luck.

I did some more thinking. Went for a run. Had some ideas. Sent another list.

  • The Avocados That Ate Manhattan
  • Death, Taxes, and Avocados
  • The People Who Eat Avocados
  • The Pits (get it? avocados have pits)
  • The One Strange Girl Who Didn’t Like Avocados

Didn’t really like any of them either. Then I got an inspiration. Maybe we’re spending too much time focusing on avocados. Maybe the title should reference something else. New list.

  • The Winged Lemur
  • Lemurs of Doom
  • The Winged
  • The Lemurs of Philadelphia
  • Bedtime For Lemurs

While none of them jumped out at me, I liked the concept of untying the title from avocados. Finally, I thought, we were on the right path.

Then I get an email from Excellent Editor.

“David. Got your new list of title suggestions. Also got your new new list of title suggestions. I’ve shared everything with everybody, and it looks like we’re going to go with Avocados. With a fun subtitle, like ‘Eat them!’ or ‘Great for Guacamole!’ More to come.”

So Avocados it (probably) is. Though not Avocados, because that’s a fake name I made up for this blog post. But it is the one-word title we’ve been using all along as a temporary title. I actually think it’s a good title, and I’m very relieved that the ‘finding a title’ task is complete.

As soon as I get the official word that the title is locked, I’ll share. Heck, I might share all of the suggestions, as well. So you can see the entire process play out on screen.

Won’t that be fun?

 

They Loved It! I Got 95 Notes!

After much pacing around in circles and chewing my fingernails, last week I received word from Excellent Editor regarding Book 2 (still working on a title). The pacing and chewing is because I am incredibly impatient and had been hoping to hear from Excellent Editor since the day after I turned in the first draft. Because I am her only client and she would of course drop everything to read my book, right? Right?

What do you mean, no?

Anyway. The email was full of conditional praise. The book was a hit! The characters were good–except for where they need to be worked on. The plot was fun and smooth–except for a couple areas that were a bit confusing. The silliness was at just the right level–except for some places where it didn’t seem to fit and others where it didn’t really work. And so on, and so on.

So I quickly downloaded the attached draft with Excellent Editor’s notes and edits and comments. Then I went through the entire book simply “accepting” any typo correction or grammar fix or capitalization change. I mean she’s an Excellent Editor, so if she says I spelled the word wrong or put a comma in the wrong place, who am I to argue?

That left me with the comments. Places in the body of the text where she’d made a note such as “this isn’t working” or “I don’t understand how this could happen” or “I don’t think the character would really say this” or “this is too wordy for middle grade” or just “dear God this is awful!” You know, places where I’d have to actually think and work.

Before starting off on draft 2, I went and counted up the comments. You’ll never guess how many there were (unless you looked at the title of this post).

95.

95 things for me to fix on a document that–according to Mircosoft Word–is 210 pages. That’s, like, almost one every other page. As I scrolled through the document counting the notes, and my count rose higher and higher, my ego deflated more and more. She hated it. She hated everything about it. Every single thing. Well OK, not every single thing. But 95 of them.

I went and sulked, spent time with the cats so I’d feel loved, told myself I was still a good writer, told myself to shut up because no I wasn’t, and scolded myself for being such a goober. I had to look at the bigger picture, and the bigger picture is, she likes Book 2 enough to care. Enough to pay attention to detail and nit pick every little flaw.

So I took a deep breath and dove in, starting with Note #1. I need to see the forest for the trees. If I worry about all the comments one at a time instead of all 95 at once, it makes it more manageable while also stretching out the agony.

A Win-Win!

This is a Bad Title

Titles are hard.

Sometimes. Sometimes they’re easy. I have written books and short stories based on a title that popped into my head., bringing with it an entire story. Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom (pre-order it on Amazon today!) was easy. Although my original title was simply Dr. Fell. The publisher added ‘and the Playground of Doom’ and I at first hated it but now I love it.

But sometimes they are hard. Book 2 is hard, and it doesn’t have a title yet. This is even though I’ve turned it in to the publisher and just today got their notes and am excited to dive into a second draft–all without a title.

Book 3 is easy. The title came first, and it took me a bit to wrap the story around everything the title promised. And I’ve been streaking through the writing process ever since (I wrote over 33,000 words in January!).

What do you want a title to say? What is its purpose? As a writer who spends a lot of time locked up in his little room with his keyboard, a cat, and some old Star Wars toys, I thought a title should be what the book is about. That’s why my first book was called Dr. Fell. It is about a small town where Dr. Fell arrives and then all Hell breaks loose. My publisher had other ideas. They thought the title should grab the potential book-buyer’s attention. They thought ‘Dr. Fell’ didn’t do that, because nobody knew who he was, so who cares. So they added ‘…and the Playground of Doom’ and presto chango! Now it nabs your attention.

“Ooo! A playground of doom? I must read about that at once!”

It also helps that the Playground of Doom shows up quite early in the book and is a focal point of the story. It works.

I’m currently reading Omega City by Diana Peterfreund. It is good so far. A fun read with fun characters, fun puzzles and conspiracies, and some other fun stuff. I like the book, despite what I’m going to be writing in a moment. I plan in finishing the book, which is a big thing for me.

The problem is, Omega City doesn’t work as a title. At least not for me.

I am currently only 70 pages into the story (the book is 318). The back of the book reads, in part “…Gillian sets off into the ruins of a vast doomsday bunker deep within the Earth.” Later on the back cover it reads “Now Gillian and her friends must race to explore Omega City and find the answers…”

So OK, it looks like much of the story revolves around an adventure inside this totally awesome Omega City.

I’m on page 70 and we’re not there yet. We don’t even know it exists. The characters are finding clues and not sure what’s going on. One of the clues mentions the word ‘Omega’ and they don’t know if that is important. Omega means last, so maybe it refers to the last of something?

No, it refers to the friggin’ lost city. Duh. Get on with it.

See, I read the back of the book. I know they’re going to find Omega City and go adventuring in it. So I’m twiddling my thumbs waiting for them to get there. Why create a puzzle for your audience of the title of the book gives the puzzle away? I hate being smarter than the characters, and right now anyone actually reading the book is automatically smarter than the characters by virtue of knowing the title of the book.

Cheating and skimming ahead, it looks like the characters find Omega City (but don’t yet know that’s what it is called) around page 100. Between now (page 70) and then (page 100) they are following a series of clues, not sure exactly what they’re looking for.

That’s going to be a frustrating 30 pages.

I wonder if the author had this title from the start, or if it was given to her by her editor/publisher? If anyone knows Diana Peterfreund, ask her for me, will you?

Meanwhile, if the back cover copy and title didn’t give it away enough, here’s the cover art.

omegacity

To recap. I’m on page 70 and there is nothing even resembling that image yet. Sure looks exciting. Somebody wake me when they reach the underground bunker.

To Create a World

I am reading the second book in Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Company series, The Whispering Skull. As you may remember from a previous blog post, I enjoyed the first book, The Screaming Staircase, but was incredibly disappointed when I figured out the twist ending 3/5 of the way through the book.

Still, it was a good world and well-written, so I grabbed the next book. I must assume that Mr. Stroud read my blog post, because thus far he has not made the same mistake in Skull that he made in Staircase. (The fact that my post was written a year and a half after Skull was published does not, in any way, diminish the possibility that he read my post. He may very well have read it, then gone back in time and fixed the sequel. These things happen all the time in the literary world.)

I’m very pleased that nothing has happened to make me displeased because I really, really, really like the world he’s created with this series. It is cool. It is slightly silly. It is chilling. It is exciting. It feels realistic. I want more (I’ve already ordered book 3 on Amazon). It got me thinking about the importance of the world we create in our writing. For me, the world of the story has always been the most interesting aspect of a book.

Give me a world fully-thought out and I’m yours. It’s what I try to do in my own writing. In many ways, the very distinct world of Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom (pre-order your copy today!) is what sold it to the publisher in the first place, and I take great pride in that fact. While writing it, I felt the world take shape, becoming a character all its own. I tell anyone who asks that the book really wrote itself. This is true, because I just woke up one day and my laptop was open and words were appearing on the screen while the cats floated upside down above the keyboard vomiting blood.

Not really.

But the strength of the world brought me back to the keyboard. I wanted to exist in the world I’d created. It made coming back to pound out the pages an easy, enjoyable task. The hard part was accepting when I’d finished it. I almost felt like my access to this wonderful world had been cut off, now I could do nothing but wait until the rest of you got to visit.

Or write a sequel. Which I’m itching to do. I’ve got the plot, the characters, the story all set up. Even written a few initial chapters. I just need the book to do well so the publisher wants a second. So it’s up to you. Buy it. Buy many copies of it. My fate rests in your hands. No pressure.

What are the elements of a good world? Well, I think it involves integration, for one thing. When I create a random character, I try to place them in the context of the main characters. When can I bring these random folk back onto the page? I want the reader to say:

“Hey! There’s Gilly Burbage again! She was on the playground talking about really liking fish, and now they see her at the fish restaurant! I know her! That’s so cool!”

Every character needs to come alive. Every character needs to exist on their own, as opposed to just “Here’s a guy they meet on the street who tells them their boots are cursed. He’s served his purpose, we’ll never see him again.”

I take great pride in my secondary characters and locations, making sure each one has a personality and point of view. Often times they are as interesting as my main characters (I was going to say they are sometimes more interesting than my main characters, but I don’t think that’s a good thing for me to say).

But a world is more than the characters within it. It is also the set-up. In Stroud’s Lockwood & Company series, the set-up is that 50 years ago ghosts started coming up and bothering people. To combat this, child agents (children are the only ones who can sense the ghosts before it is too late) combat these ‘Visitors’ whenever they appear. It’s cool. Fun. Also relatively simple, which is a good thing. Stroud gives himself a narrow window through which to craft his world, and he takes advantage of the focus. Every minute detail has been thought out. Nothing is by chance. The man did his homework.

I am writing Book 3 with this in mind. It is a distinctive world, and I need to make sure every detail is important. That nothing is left to chance. I try to keep the geography of the book in mind as well. If I do my job well (fingers crossed), then the result should be a world readers will want to revisit again and again.

Becuase I’m pretty sure authors get more money for sequels. 🙂

So I Just Got Scammed

Some days I can be a trusting idiot. Today was one of those days.

I was busy scooping the kitty-litter when the phone rang (Honestly, I was in the bathroom scooping my cats’ poop when the phone rang, I’m not making that up). Now I generally don’t bother to answer the home phone because most people use my cell number, so I let it go to voice mail. Also, as I said, I was busy scooping kitty poop.

Once the nastiness of the litter was dealt with, I listened to the message on the machine. A VERY, VERY thick Indian accent said they were from the IRS and asked me to call a phone number. The message said other things, but the accent made it impossible to understand what they were saying apart from the phone number.

Curious (and incredibly foolish), I called the number. I got another man who I will henceforth call Scum-Sucking Scammer Guy, with another thick Indian accent, saying I’d reached the IRS. I told Scum-Sucking Scammer Guy that I’d just gotten a call but didn’t know what it was about. Scum-Sucking Scammer Guy took my name (thankfully the only information I ever gave these, and they already had it per the initial message) and ‘pulled up’ my file.

He said they had evidence that I had defrauded the government on my taxes between the years 2006-2012. They he said they’d tried to reach me for the past two months, and since I hadn’t responded the matter had moved up the chain to the Investigations Department. A lawsuit was going to be taken out against me. I explained this is the first I’d heard of the matter, but Scum-Sucking Scammer Guy said they had evidence that they’d left a note on our door and they’d sent mail to us asking me to deal with the matter.

So at this point, most people should realize that this is a scam. Actually, most people probably don’t bother calling the number back in the first place. But I am a trusting soul. Also, whether they knew it or not, their range of years fit perfectly into my life. In 2006 we moved from one coast to the other. Yet we continued to use our accountant on the other side of the country. He was a good tax accountant and very legit, but I will admit I have entertained worries from time to time that he was too good. Anyway, we eventually switched to an accountant here on this coast (in the same city, even!). I think that was maybe 2013 or so, but it could have been 2012 and I just forgot.

So the thought that my too-good-to-be-true accountant 3,000 miles away between 2006 and 2012 had stepped over a line or two had, in my paranoid mind, enough plausibility about it that it added legitimacy to the scam.

Anyway, I continued to argue that this was the first I’d heard of the matter. I said I was happy to meet with them and work it out. Scum-Sucking Scammer Guy–doing his best impersonation of the creepy German dude in Raiders of the Lost Ark who gets the carvings of the headpiece burned onto his hand in Marion’s bar–said “That time is past.” I then said I hadn’t even seen any evidence that I owed the IRS anything. He said I’d missed my chance to see any documentation, and that I’d now see it when it was presented in court to be used against me.

Yeah, I know. Looking back, the scam-ish nature of the whole thing is pretty obvious.

SCUM-SUCKING SCAMMER GUY: “We’re arresting you without giving you a chance to know what you’ve done wrong.”

ME: “Oh no! You’re the IRS! You can do that!”

At this point I begged to talk to a supervisor. I was transferred to another person with yet another thick, thick Indian accent. I will call him Other Scum-Sucking Scammer Guy. At this point, a part of me wondered if the entire IRS was populated by former Bombay call center employees. Other Scum-Sucking Scammer Guy toed the party line. I was bad. I owed money. I was going to be taken to court.

UNLESS-

If I paid the back taxes within the next one or two hours, then I could avoid court.

How convenient.

And yet I STILL didn’t realize it was a scam. Luckily, I didn’t give them any information or money or anything. Other Scum-Sucking Scammer Guy asked if I could come up with the money within two hours. I half-laughed/half-screamed back that it was impossible. Other Scum-Sucking Scammer Guy said that it would be Court for me. He advised me to call my lawyer.

I went back to the basic truth with Other Scum-Sucking Scammer Guy: this is the first I’ve heard of this, I’ll happily work with the IRS on this, please be reasonable. He held firm. I again asked to see the evidence that I’d committed fraud. He again said no way.

Then I went ahead and said that I had no way of even knowing that this wasn’t a scam. That sent him off, and he said I’d just committed a Federal offense by calling him a liar or some such. Looking back, it seems pretty silly, but in the heat of the moment, I was in full “Oh My God I’m Going to Jail!” mode. He eventually said the call was over, I was going to jail, and I should wait for an officer to come to my house to arrest me within the next hour.

I FREAKED out and did what any self-respecting, level-headed man should do under the circumstances. I called my wife. She told me to call the police. Said it sounded like a scam. After a serious, body-shaking, headache-blaring, vocal chords-straining scream of pure Freakingoutism, I called the police. He said it was a scam. Then my wife sent me links that said it was a scam. Including this one:

https://www.irs.gov/uac/Newsroom/IRS-Warns-of-Pervasive-Telephone-Scam

Which is exactly what happened to me.

It was a scam. I wasn’t going to jail. I didn’t owe back taxes. My too-good-to-be-true accountant from years before was simply good. Not too good.

What have I learned from all this? Well first off, ignore voice messages that come when I’m scooping the litter box. Second, the IRS does not call you and tell you to pay fines then and there over the phone. Third, I can be ridiculously gullible. But then, I already knew that last one.

The page on IRS.gov says that in rare cases, the scammers will actually send out someone to the house after the call pretending to be law enforcement, along with someone pretending to be an agent. These two will claim that you are going to jail unless you can pay the fine right there on your doorstep.

Boy do I hope they come…

Off Topic: The Baseball Hall of Fame

Although I generally use this blog to discuss writing and performing and other elements of my most amazing and astounding career, from time to time other elements of life interrupt. Today is one of those days.

I’m a big baseball fan. Although it may give you a hint as to the direction of the remainder of this blog, I grew up and have always been a massive fan of the San Francisco Giants. Growing up in Santa Cruz, California, the Giants were my home team. I went to my first baseball game at Candlestick Park in 1980 and saw WIllie McCovey hit a pinch-hit sacrifice fly in what would be his final season. I was at the famous 1982 end-of-year Joe Morgan Home Run game. I survived the mid-1980s when the Giants were absolutely horrible. I went to the Dave Dravecky comeback-from-cancer game. I had playoff tickets in 1987.

I was also a fan during the Barry Bonds era. As a Giants fan, it was always fun to know how much everybody hated Barry. We didn’t care. He was our Barry. He rocked. We cheered him no matter how surly he was.

This year marks Barry’s fourth year on the Hall of Fame ballot. Once again, he was not elected, but got enough votes to remain eligible next year. Specifically, he received 44.3% of the vote (a player need 75% to get elected). There is one and only one reason Barry Bonds is not in the Hall of Fame. Steroids. There is ample evidence that he used them. Even most Giants’ fans will admit that. Some Hall of Fame voters cannot get past that.

I understand this line of reasoning. I do not agree with it, but I understand it.

There’s another player in his fourth year of eligibility who did not get in this year. Roger Clemens. He received 45.2% of the vote. He suffers from the same demon which torments Bonds. Steroids.

Here’s the thing. Barry Bonds was the greatest hitter of his generation. Roger Clemens was the greatest pitcher of his generation.

Case closed.

So if you are not voting for them, then you are not voting for them because of steroids. Again, I get it. Again, I disagree.

So how does Clemens gets 45.2% and Barry only 44.3%? It’s not a big difference, probably fewer than 10 votes, but that’s 10 people who chose to vote for Clemens and not Bonds. And there is no world or reality where that is defensible. If you vote for Clemens, then you are saying his PED issues are not a problem. If that’s true, then you have to vote for Bonds, too. It’s really very simple.

PED use is Bad = keep Clemens and Bonds out of the Hall. PED use is forgivable = vote for the GREATEST HITTER AND PITCHER OF THEIR GENERATION, HANDS DOWN.

Barry Bonds’ at bats were Events no matter where the Giants played. Home or away, the lines for beer and hotdogs dwindled when Bonds came to the plate. Managers changed the way they managed the game because of him. One guy actually Intentionally walked Boinds with the bases loaded. That means he purposefully gave the Giants a run because he was afraid Bonds would do something worse. And you know what? It worked. The next batter (catcher Brent Mayne) lined out to center and the Giants lost 9-8. And that was in 1997, which is two years before Bonds supposedly began using steroids. He was already The Man.

If that’s not a Hall of Famer, I don’t know what is.

The same can be said of Clemens. His starts were simply ridiculous. The things he did with a baseball should be outlawed. Like Bonds, he was a Hall of Famer long before he supposedly began using PED.

The funny thing is, I visited Cooperstown a couple years ago. Binds and Clemens are all over it. The only place they aren’t is in the Hall of Plaques. So voters are right now choosing to keep these guys out of that one room.

But they’re already in the Hall of Fame.

 

When Characters Do Stupid Things

I’m reading Nightmares! by Jason Segel and Kristen Miller. It’s a fun MG romp about the world of nightmares intruding on our world and one 12-year-old boy caught in the middle. Spooky. Funny. Has my sensibilities. Good world building and a lot of fun to read, so I’m going to finish it.

But I have a beef.

In order to keep the plot moving, the main character–otherwise a smart kid–has to be clueless regarding an important element of the story. He must ignore the obvious that is right in front of him. We all know the truth, and the fact that he doesn’t is frustrating. I don’t want to give anything away (in case either one of you two who are bothering to follow my blog want to read it at some point), but it is almost ruining the book for me.

I’ve read many books and seen many movies where this occurs (The Screaming Staircase I just finished does something similar). Character A knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that X. Character A goes through the book being led by his belief. Yet the even-slightly-astute reader can easily see that it is Y. Time and again, we see that if Character A would only open his or her eyes and see Y, the book could end 200 pages early and we could all go home. But Character A has blinders on, so we have adventure and danger and exciting scenes and it all is pretty pointless because when we get to the end and Character A suddenly realizes it has been Y all along we just want to smack her.

Here’s a tip to any writers out there. If you need your otherwise intelligent character to miss something obvious in order to keep the plot moving, stop writing. Take a step back. Find another way to advance the story. The only time that sort of thing can be excused is when the ignorance is itself central to the character.

“John hated all orangutans ever since they killed his mother. He needs someone to climb into the tree and get him a banana. If only he didn’t hate orangutans, he could ask one of the very nice orangutans standing around to go up there and get one for him. Alas.”

That sort of works. We see that John is fatally flawed and we are invested in finding out if he will ever get over his loathing of orangutans in time to get a banana. If you’re writing that story, then you should be OK, although you will need to come up with some good reason why John needs to eat a banana.

Unfortunately, many writers are more prone to crafting something like this:

“Barbie’s house is on fire. She asks Randy, who works at a fire extinguisher store, if he has a spare bucket of water she can use to put out the fire. He says no, and is about to say something else but before he has a chance she rushes out to find somebody who can give her a bucket of water to put out the fire.”

That’s lazy. That’s obnoxious. Everyone reading the book is screaming at Barbie. “Randy was going to give you a freakin’ fire extinguisher, you idiot! Gaarrrgg!”

It is a bad sign when the reader knows the answer when the character still needs 50 pages to see what’s in front of his or her face.

As I’m writing Book 3 (and I’m on a sweet tear after plotting it all out on my living room floor), I am well aware of this issue. There are a couple of spots where it would be easy to fall into this trap. I have forced my main character, a girl named Lillian (who is 12 because all MG books star children who are 12), to be smart. This has caused a few inconveniences, because I’ll come up with a cool idea but then think ‘Why wouldn’t she just X and be done with it?’ and go back to the drawing board. There should never be an easy out that is overlooked.

“You mean I could have pulled the drain at the start and then the room wouldn’t have flooded and all the weasels wouldn’t have died? Boy, do I have egg on my face or what?”

I view it as a challenge. Let’s put Lillian in a horrible situation–she’s in a sewer being eaten by a zombie crocodile. OK, now how can she get out of it? She could shoot it with the massive ray gun she had in the last scene. OK, she needs to lose the massive ray gun. Now how could she get out of it? She could light it on fire with one of her flares. OK, we need the flares to get wet in the sewer so they won’t work. Now what can she do?

And so on and so on until Lillian is forced to come up with a clever way to avoid being eaten by the zombie crocodile. Or she doesn’t come up with a way and she gets eaten. It’s up to her.

Ripped Pages Strewn Across My Floor

I’ve been working on Book 3 (which isn’t really the third book of any series, nor is it the third book I will have written, but Book 3 works fine for a title for now) for a little over a month now. Like all projects that hook me, the beginning of the work rushed by and flowed out of my fingers like the creamy center of a Cadbury Egg (they have creamy centers, right? It’s been a while since I had one).

Then, like all projects that hook me, things slowed down. I had a conversation with myself that went something like this.

“Oh, so now that you’ve created a world, you expect to have a fully-conceived story to put in it? Complete with three-dimensional characters, plot twists, some sort of theme, and lots of your usual silliness?”

“Uhm… yes?”

“Right. I’ll get back to you.”

I sat back, looked at my fledgling baby, poked it, prodded it, and came up with a complete story idea. I wrote some notes on a Google Doc and dove back in.

Then I had a cool idea, so I had to go back and add it and that changed some things so I needed to go back again and fix them and then I changed some other things and had to go back to the start to make sure I set them up and then… well then the notes on my Google Doc didn’t make any sense.

I forged ahead, as writers with an inflated sense of ability are wont to do. Things bogged down. Like, trying to walk through a vat of kindergarten paste while wearing Uggs. I went from 1,500 or 2,000 words a day to 300 or 400. The next day I’d go back and rewrite 200 of those 400 and call it a day.

The project stalled.

I cried. I wailed. I berated fate. I watched some TV. And inspiration came to me–though not from watching TV, that was a total waste of time.

I got out on old, blank notebook. A nice one with slightly-thick paper. I opened up to a blank page and wrote the concept for one scene I knew I wanted in the book. Then I ripped the page out of the notebook and placed it on the floor. I wrote another scene concept on another blank page. Ripped it out. Set it down.

Rinse, repeat.

Soon enough, I had about eight pieces of paper on my floor. I arranged them in chronological order. I saw where there were holes and forced myself to write something on a new page, rip it out, and use it to fill the hole. I got interested in the very end of the book, and wrote a number of pages and ripped them all out, placing them in order. Saw another hole, wrote a new page. Got an idea, wrote a new page, set it down to replace an earlier page I’d ripped out. Crumbled up the earlier page–I wouldn’t be using it.

When my family finally came home (what, you think I’d be able to litter the living room floor with scraps of paper if they were around?) they found me sitting criss-cross applesauce on the living room rug surrounded by a large semi-circle of torn pages.

It is a testament to their ability to excuse and overlook (as well as a testament to my habits in general) that they did not strap me into a straight jacket then and there and have me hauled away.

Luckily for me, I had pretty much finished my task. Around me were 26 pages torn from a notebook (remember, a nice one) that told the story of Book 3 from where I was currently stuck all the way to the end. I’d gone and outlined my novel. And I liked it. Some of it made me giggle. Some of those giggles weren’t the deranged giggles of a mad man.

So today I impart upon The Next Bit of the the journey of Book 3, this time armed with 26 ripped pieces of nice-ish paper to guide my way.

And you thought writing was boring.