Wednesday, June 18, 2014

From One World To Another

After being deeply engrossed in your art for even one day, and having to interact in a social capacity the next, do you ever feel as though your only options are to be either a fun drunk or a sober train wreck? Do you think this post is intended to offer secret Option C? Lol.

If you discovered that a fountain from another dimension lay buried ten yards beneath you, and every shovel scoop brought you a potent taste of its brimming waters that promised a greater reward the deeper you delved, could you go out and be even halfheartedly invested in anything else? Could you report to work and show sincere care for your accumulating duties? Could you perform them effectively without succumbing to a debilitating pull towards what you really ought to be doing?

And, after you unearthed this divine vessel, finding it contained the truest parts of yourself, what if those with whom you tried to share it saw only the dirt and grime in which you bathed to find it? What if you offered it like a cup from which to drink, and instead they asked you to spare a buck twenty-five for the vending machine?

I could never write my book on Sunday and go to work on Monday. The more energy I funneled into the world I created, giving flesh and form to characters whom I had to be in order to write, there was nothing but a shadow left of the guy who clocks in at 6:00 AM and does what he's told.

Like in some Star Trek episode (which undoubtedly exists) I found myself eviscerated on a molecular level if I tried to extend one foot into my creative realm and the other somewhere else. Each phase required a transitional period of isolation and even detox before I could make that full leap, occupying them separately for months at a time.

For instance: one of your central characters has finally reached his climactic breakthrough that you lovingly envisioned for years, only, every day you thought about it there were still hundreds of stair steps of character and plot development ahead, until now. Now, you've reached the summit of that climb with him, and it's even more breathtaking than you could have imagined, because in this moment you're more a witness than an orchestrator.

How do you take that to a cocktail party? How do you chime in about the state of the economy while still buzzing with that wild electricity? How do you not cringe like someone's serving stuffed roadkill when asked how come you haven't devoted yourself to a permanent day job?

What about all you creative types out there? Do you struggle with having to constantly negotiate this kind of rift? Are we just junkies with better teeth and a tad more self control, waiting for that high in the real world that parallels what we induce on our own?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Moving

I dropped out of college at 21, packed my car with every belonging I could use and hit the road for Phoenix, AZ, realizing I wasn't leaving San Diego behind, but rather the role I had been expected to play there.

Stopping over at a Circle K across from a Kohl's that ostensibly forms the nucleus of Yuma, I stepped out of the driver's seat, set the lukewarm ziplock holding my mom's crisp tuna melt sandwiches on my car's roof and chowed down. And in that moment, seeing the locals pump their gas, watching others come out through the ringing doors with snacks and DVDs of 90's B movies, I felt this exhilarating rush at knowing that I could be anyone to these people.

No one within a two-hundred mile radius could label me as part of any particular workforce, or think me odd for acting outside the routines and social conventions I'd maintained over the preceding years. Every construct I'd occupied was now bloated to bursting from the dust of my wheels, and only reinvention lay on the horizon.

Driving has always been a relaxing pastime of mine, and there were certainly many nights when I was nineteen or twenty in which I hit 100 miles easily, with stereo blaring and no destination. It's no surprise, then, that my book depicts characters who ride eagles over vast stretches of terrain at will, and a protagonist who keeps moving, away from the shackles of his past, away from every home that sooner or later caves in, towards that far-off place where all is undiscovered. This scene aptly represents that roving spirit:

Morlen took great strength in Roftome’s pride, sitting well at ease even while they tumbled and swayed in a surveying pass over the beckoning snowy heights where thousands more flocked. There were no rulers here, nor subjugated masses. There were only those made kings by their own reckoning, sharing countless snow-capped thrones with one another, and none would be led who did not wish to follow.

He envisioned this place serving well as one of many homes he made for himself in later days, none of which would keep him settled too long, since he would not be confined to one edge of the world.

“Let us make a pact,” Morlen said with renewed enthusiasm. “To leave no cloud untouched, and no mountain un-treaded, when less-troubled times call to us.”

Etching an elegant path flanked on many sides by foreign realms and alien skies, Roftome raised his sturdy head in acceptance. “No mountain un-treaded,” he repeated boldly, with chest puffed. “And no cloud untouched.”

I've been moving around my whole life, between two homes from age six to eighteen, along avenues demanding commitments that push my passion and talent to the fringe, and the only stability I've ever found satisfying is in the constant unpredictability that creation affords. From when I was a kid, up to now, I fantasized about people and places that couldn't exist in the confines I knew, and through becoming them, I could go anywhere, always thriving on that novelty and hoping it never expired.

I suppose what I and my characters want is a life in which settling is not for a lack of energy or prospects, but in the discovery of something so thrilling that every moment brings a thousand opportunities, so that to leave would only turn us back towards paths we walked before.

Cue the Aerosmith soundtrack video for "Armageddon."

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Looking For Beta Readers!

It's been fun tinkering around the ever-busy blogosphere, building some great contacts while making my work and style more visible, and what I need most right now are beta readers to help me prepare my epic fantasy novel, A Facet For The Gem, for the public eye.

I "finished" it over a year ago, a year I spent editing, polishing, and re-polishing it into the ballpark of 127,000 words (if the length is daunting, I'd be happy with giving you just the first half and seeing if I've still got your interest afterwards).

I'm confident spelling, grammar, and syntax are sound, and most interested in feedback along the lines of:

Are plot flow and the writing itself smooth, gripping and coherent?

Are the characters well-built, and is their development convincing/compelling?

Are the different settings well-constructed, or lacking something?

Anything that feels out of place, or tedious.

And especially anything you think might improve a particular scene, dialogue, description, whatever input you want to give.

Of course I'm willing to reciprocate, too, if you've got something you want to throw my way. My earlier posts should give you an idea of the experience I've had writing over the years, and if you're wondering whether our work could be a good match, I also showcase some choice excerpts and illustrations in the four page tabs above, intended to give a taste of my novel's core substance.

Thanks a lot to any takers. Basically, I want people to tell me if I write good, if my book is inter-resting, and to give me sujestions on how I mite make it more better.

And if you're reading this now with a smile instead of slapping your forehead, there's a good chance you get me on a number of levels, and might really enjoy reading more.

...just let me reiterate in a friendly postscript in case that went over anyone's head--those spelling/grammar errors were a joke.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Friends Become Enemies; Enemies Become Friends

A scene where two bitter enemies go head-to-head can bring a hair-raising adrenaline rush, no question. You've followed one or the other, or both, listened to their traded barbs, weighed their merits and likely chosen a side. Now it's time for each to dig his heels in and draw as you feel your pulse rise, hoping only one leaves blood on the ground.

But... what about bitter enemies who used to be dear friends? Friends whose days of glory together you happily watched unfold, thinking them inseparable? Now it's not so easy to root for any particular side, and the fight becomes exponentially more riveting. Two hateful rivals with no amicable history make the stakes quite simple, leaving you little reason to wonder what might be going through their heads. But two who only one book or movie before would've died to save one-another, now at each other's throats, have undoubtedly got you leaving one monster Venn diagram of a sweat mark in your seat.

Which of them strikes first? And is it a halfhearted strike, meant to show the other a flame of hope that their fractured bond might be renewed? Or do they hold nothing back, swinging hard for the fleshiest, veiniest areas, each blow casting every echo of laughter and loyalty further from memory?

If only one winner emerges here, it still may feel as though everyone lost. If neither wins, well either you've got yourself a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions or a stalemate from which both go their separate ways, building tension that could escalate to an even more climactic confrontation later on. But, if both could somehow win... that scenario seems rife with complex, sidewinding possibilities, serving up a potent, well-blended cocktail of unpredictable action and inner turmoil that I for one would like to taste.

My book's second half centers on the friendship of two characters: Morlen, my protagonist, and the eagle, Roftome, who is highly disdainful of all men after watching them venture into the mountains to seat themselves onto the backs of his kind. But, after Roftome is badly wounded in battle, his perspective changes when he finds himself hoisted from blood-stained snow on the shoulders of a man, Morlen, the first to treat any of his kind in such a way. From here their relationship grows, with trust and dedication uniting them through many adventures against an array of harsh challenges, and the strength they draw from one another enables them to face down overwhelming danger and certain doom.

Book Two, which I've been conceptualizing for years but only started writing, opens with these two companions in better form than ever, solidifying their joint reputation as a force to be reckoned with from land to land. But, there are others lurking in the shadows that harbor far more dire purposes for eagles than mere riding, and when Roftome is captured, Morlen embarks on a quest deep into their desolate, mountainous domain to get him back. In this corrosive atmosphere, teeming with ghoulish creatures that once called bright clouds their home, Morlen's only fuel is the hope of regaining the one taken from him, and his worst fear that when they finally meet again, neither will be able to recognize the friend that was lost.

I've always planned this as a series of four books, hinging upon these two characters' triumphs and conflicts. With the transformation of their bond, I mean to illustrate that, after one looks long enough, hard enough to recover a missing piece, nothing fits as it once did.

But, in time, even the most jagged fractures may one day become aligned.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Burying Gold In Thin Air

SPOILER ALERT

This post gives away major "big reveals" for the popular works it references, but most of them have been around for so long that, if you haven't heard of them yet, you were probably never going to. So really I'm doing you a favor. You're welcome.

Scabbers the rat (yes I'm a grown man referencing Harry Potter) is just a tertiary comic relief that squeaks, nips fingers and knocks things off shelves whenever J.K. Rowling sees fit to deviate from more compelling action, and you quickly forget about whatever minor appearance he makes after reading on for five pages. He's been a treasured pet in Ron Weasley's family for twelve years, because they're poor. It's cute, we get it. Moving on... but wait, as it turns out in Book 3, the real traitor who sold out Harry's parents to their deaths got away with it by going into hiding for twelve years in the form of a tiny, furry, what! Are you shi**in me!?

Kyle Reese travels back in time to save Sarah Connor from the Terminator because she's supposed to live on, find a nice man, and give birth to mankind's savior before a nuclear holocaust leaves the earth fodder for menacing machines. Soon, their riveting high-speed escape from the shotgun-toting, motorcycle-straddling Schwarzenegger fades behind their mutual vulnerability, and a passionate love story takes center stage in a way so authentic that it lacks the contrived feel of throwing you a pen to connect the dots. And when you finally see a pregnant Sarah driving off into the unknown before the credits roll, you know Reese got the job done in every sense.

When Hannibal Lecter cunningly bludgeons and slices his way through his cage and its two inept guards, still in a building crawling with cops, you know there's no way he's getting any farther. The boys in blue charge into his quarters with guns drawn, finding one of their own hanging disemboweled on display and the other sprawled on the ground, face shredded, barely breathing. The camera stays on him as he's whisked away, convulsing on a stretcher and crammed into an ambulance that hauls past every road block and security checkpoint, until, after the cops find a corpse in Lecter's clothes, missing its face, the hospital-bound guard sits up in perfect health, removes his mask of loose bloody flesh to reveal himself as none other than...? You mean... he was right under everyone's nose the whole time, wearing a dead guy's face? That's so Lecter.

Kevin Spacey's portrayal of Verbal Kint, the meek, ineffectual "gimp" member of The Usual Suspects serves to describe to the cops, and to us, the ever-present, ever-threatening devil in the shadows Keyser Soze who purportedly slaughtered everyone who ever wronged him or interfered with his business. His story is so convincing that they release him, and, well, by the trend of this post I'm sure you get the common thread I'm highlighting, but this shocking revelation was so well-done that subsequent stories (like Fight Club) whose final twists hinge upon characters being someone else entirely, were noted as pulling "the Keyser Soze move."

Darth Vader... enough said.

And to quote The Lonely Island, "When Bruce Willis was dead, at the end of 'Sixth Sense'..."

I've always considered it the mark of a master to dangle something so powerful and essential to a story right before the audience's eyes, keeping them on the hook with enough bait but never letting them piece together the secret being exposed inches in front of them until finally, at just the right moment you hit them with it so seamlessly it's like your hand was never even there, and they reel back amazed that they didn't catch it sooner.

If executed properly, it can unify what seem like arbitrarily scattered fragments into a bright mosaic that slaps the confounded viewer with a gratifying kiss not soon to be topped.

It's a jarring impact that will make them share your work with their friends just to re-live the wide-eyed, sweaty "No way!" that it brings.

So, is this a technique I've woven throughout my own book, learning from the best to conceal a world-shattering secret in plain sight of both my protagonist and audience until the most climactic delivery its buildup could support?

God damn, what a let down this whole post would be otherwise, like "Contact" where you're following along with Jodie Foster the whole time just to see the aliens, and it turns out to be her father's ghost or something... I didn't actually see it.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Splitting ONE In two

One year ago I called my fantasy epic "finished" at 128,850 words after ten years of development, and launched a spirited campaign pitching it to literary agents. One year ago I was certain that in one year, I'd be well on my way to getting published. Ain't that a B?

Finally finding an agent kind enough to give me advice after she initially rejected me, I learned that traditional publishers are more than likely to shun any work over 100K words from a new author. Still clinging to the notion that those publishers were my only route to a broad readership, I knew I couldn't cut 30K words (about 90 pages) from my novel, so I decided, maybe it could work as two?

Yeah, maybe it could. That approach worked out all right for the "Kill Bill" movies, originally intended as one film, then separated into two volumes due to length. Each functions compellingly as a self-contained story, together feeding a larger narrative. A sizable portion of moviegoers would have probably passed on a film in excess of four hours, no matter the reputation of its creator and key players, so this seemed like a prudent move to get as many consumers on board as possible.

Applying this same principle to my book, I've found that aside from my grandmother, who read the whole bastard in all its glory in about three hours after a copy arrived on her doorstep, much of the rest of my family seem daunted by the size. Either that or they think it blows and want to shelter my feelings, but I doubt it. So, I thought, maybe the only way a bunch of total strangers will give it a shot is if it's broken down into a couple more compact reads.

It's already divided into four main parts with a natural halfway point, which comes at my protagonist's tumultuous departure from his father, leaving off on a cliffhanger brought on by a major decision that sets his trajectory for the latter half. With two very distinct progressions of his growth on either side of this break, each with its own beginning, middle and end around full-fledged relationships, trials and tribulations, they could both be self-sufficient.

But, thinking back to when I was writing it, I realized, never once for even a split second did I think this was two books. It was always one, from the moment its microscopic beginnings hit me at thirteen to when I typed THE END at twenty-four. All kinds of subtle details woven throughout the first half work to enhance the significance of the second, creating an intricate tapestry that, if torn, would leave loose, tattered threads dangling aimlessly towards each other across a wide disconnect.

Sure, if the first volume did well enough, there would be that loyal handful closely re-reading every word the day before the second came out, having it all fresh in their minds, but still, maybe some of the magic in reading it the first time might be lost, and maybe a great many others will only rely on their memory of reading it a year before.

While just beginning to learn about the prolific opportunities offered by e-publishing, as well as the successes of many independent authors of books much larger than mine, who refused to mutilate or mold their work to fit a business model proven to sell, I'm encouraged that any well-written, memorably marketed book will gain momentum with an audience it deserves.

Thinking about seeing my book published as "A Facet For The Gem: Vol. 1," and, "A Facet For The Gem: Vol. 2," I hoped that, if both were successful, they could eventually be re-released as one, like I originally intended. Instead, I think I'll be true my creation from the get-go. And if I've done my job right, when people read A Facet For The Gem from start to finish, they'll take to heart one of its most central messages, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.