Boy, Interrupted

I set ambitious writing goals for this year.

Goal 1: Finish the first draft of BENEATH A SUNDERED SKY (150,000 words)

Goal 2: Finish the first draft of WHAT'S BEHIND THE CROOKED DOOR? (15,000 words)

Goal 3: Finish the third (first final) draft of PRINCE OF CATS (50,000 words)

Goal 4: Rewrite BLACK MAGIC AND BARBECUE SAUCE (150,000 words)

All in all, I set goals to deal with the largest word count I've ever attempted in a single year. (Granted, some of it had been touched before so maybe that should have a .75 modifier to the word count in terms of difficulty. I can't say for sure.) I didn't set these goals with a "let's see how much of this I can do" mindset. I set goals I expect to achieve. Thus I expected to achieve all four goals.

So why am I obviously leading up to the fact that I'm not going to achieve all four goals? Because it's March and I'm already sick FOR THE THIRD TIME THIS YEAR! I'm not one of those people that get sick every decade. I have a crappy immune system. January and I are not friends. I get sick in January almost every year. Then again at the end of autumn or around there when the weather is turning and my allergies are kicking my ass and everyone has forgotten how to cover their mouths for some reason.

The fact that I've already been sick three times this year is not a good sign. It certainly hasn't made writing easier. It took a bit to get back up to speed after the first time I got sick. Then, after the second time I got sick, I realized everything I had written between those illnesses was absolute shit and needed to be deleted. I not only wasted a month of writing time, I wasted the paltry 20,000 words I wrote in that month (which is half of what I usually write in a month, in case you're wondering).

Beginning the year with SUNDERED SKY and seeing how easily the setting fell onto the page, I didn't think it unrealistic at all to finish it in three months. Add a couple weeks to switch gears and finish CROOKED DOOR and I had thought to have points one and two scratched off by April. I thought maybe to add goals 1.1 and 2.1, revising a second draft over the summer for each of those stories.

It's March 8th and I'm at 50,000 words of goal one. At this pace, I'll finish the book by September! Horror! What a wasted year that would be. I don't expect that to be the issue, obviously. Once I'm well, the word count pace will increase, but damn it's hard to feel that way when I'm on illness number three and I can only manage enough mental capacity to realize I'm sucking it hard this year.

How's your progress coming? Hopefully better than mine.

That question is for everyone, but especially Nate. Everyone stare at Nate and remind him he should not be reading this journal entry. He should be writing his novel. Now. Go. Shoo. Be creative.

Escaping the List

I love fantasy but there are fantasy characters that make me put a book down as soon as I see they're involved.


Wait, what? Dragons? How could dragons be on the list? It's the most iconic monster in all of fantasy. Smog, anyone?

And that's the thing. The dragon is the most overdone creature in the genre. No one does anything interesting with them. No one twists them in new ways. It's the same hard-scaled, fire breathing, treasure hoarding, lanced knight riding on its back because this super powerful creature is somehow still beholden to humans, monster in every book.

There are some books I'm missing out on. I've been told by numerous trustworthy sources that I'm missing some worthwhile novels because of this policy (TWELVE, THE GREYFRIAR, etc.) and it got me to thinking. Maybe I'm missing something worth reading. Now I could read either of the above because vampires are so high up on the list, it'll take more than some really good recommendations for me to pull them off. Sparkle or no sparkle, no vampires nada.

In 1999, I gave up watching TV. It seemed like nothing good was on TV and the commercials were atrocious! I didn't give the tube a try again for five years when I found out I missed both Firefly and The West Wing. I missed other good shows like Buffy and Angel, but Firefly and The West Wing rate in my top five best television shows ever. EVER. And I missed them.

So what books am I missing?

So I looked around and saw something that piqued my interest, a little ditty edited by Anne Sowards, who I've gotten to know on Twitter and she's pretty cool. SONG OF THE BEAST by Carol Berg.

Dragons are still the big scaled things that breathe fire, but the premise as to why the are beholden to humans, the origin stories of how dragons affected the world, and their need for the main character. It's a great idea. It's a genius idea! I'm still coming to terms with the ending, but I wouldn't hesitate recommending this book. If you're looking for some good fantasy, give it a try. I'm so glad I picked it up.

Customized Google

Once upon a time in the early days of the intertubes, like last year, you and I could Google the same phrase and get the same results. As we continue down the path of Minority Report where every advertisement ever is customized for our interests and needs of that moment, Google is not so simple a tool as it once was. You see, based on your history and your interests and various brainwaves in specific key areas of your brain, Google can predict what sites would be of most interest to you based on your search parameters.

Humor aside, Google the company has modified its search algorithm so that Google the search engine takes into account various information it has collected about you and customizes your search results to best provide you the results that you would most likely want based on your search parameters and personal tastes.

I don't mind this so much. I mean, yes, it's one more layer away from our privacy onions, but it's not any more intrusive than Facebook and doesn't require me to go into my privacy settings to uncheck boxes that clearly cross a line every four months.

Where this really takes away the fun for me is looking at my analytics here on the website/blog. One of the fields you review is search terms that people used to arrive at your site.

  1. what is being factual?
  2. "moss troll problem"1
  3. henchman street history, boston, ma
  4. hobo writing2
  5. jennifer hillier creep3
  7. josephlselby.com4
  8. sarah megibow rejection partial

I was particularly interested in where I showed up in the Sarah Megibow rejection list (her name is Sara Megibow by the way, without the H). Searching through the first ten pages, I could not find a result that came to my website. Really, if something isn't in the first ten pages, it's not worth finding. SO, this leads us to one of two possible conclusions:

Option 1) My search is customized differently than that person. I'll never know just where I appeared in their search results.

Option 2) That person looked farther than ten pages, in which case, dude, you need to chill. Yeah, Sara rejects partials, including mine and if you went past ten pages, obviously yours as well. Be happy she requested a partial. Plenty of people got passed. Look at the silver lining. And unless you pull out the dick response, she'll be more than receptive to your next query. (She was challening me to submit my next manuscript the NEXT DAY after she passed on my partial. And I picked up that throne gauntlet with alacrity. If this is a duel, it's one I'm going to win. But I'm going to do it with class and manners. So don't be a dick, crazy person.)

Option 35) Someone was trying to find my blog post the other day and thought it would be faster to look over pages of Google search results than scroll down the front page of my website. Because, you know, sure, whatever. I got nothin'.

1 When you put quotes around a search phrase, you are telling your search engine that you want an exact match. Don't look for individual words Moss, troll, and problem. No, that person has a moss troll problem specifically and needed to come here to try and figure out what to do. This is weird because I don't believe I've ever discussed moss trolls before nor do I know how to deal with them (giant slugs would be my first suggestion, though). Still, thanks for stopping by. I hope you enjoyed your time here.

2 YES! Someone is searching for hobo writing! I have officially coined a phrase! (Pauses to make sure it wasn't me. ... no, no it wasn't.) WOO HOO! I hope to go hobo writing again soon.

3 Muah ha ha ha ha, someone Googling Jennifer Hilier's new book came here instead. See that, kiddies? You don't need to write a book, you just need to filch other people's fame. Awesome. I'm winning!

4 Wait... You Googled to figure out how to come to Isn't that like asking what the number is for 9-1-1?

5 I know I said there were only two options, but that one is technically an option too. An incredibly lazy, more work than just coming here, round about way to remember a post I just published last week.

NPH Poll

Despite all the snow, I have been wicked busy at work. I have a number of half-finished posts, none of which I am in the mood to finish now. Instead...A POLL!

Okay, not with the regular poll widget because it messes with my site design. Really, I should have said...A QUESTION! Or...A PROMPT!


Dr. Horrible - "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog"

Steve the Monkey - "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs"

NPH - "Harold Kumar Go to White Castle"

Barney - "How I Met Your Mother"

Doogie Howser - "Doogie Howser, M.D."


Echoes of Halloween

This is our first year in our new townhouse and as such, we did not know how many kids would stop by (10-12 was the final count). We WAY overbought on candy. Suggestions of taking the left overs into work have been shot down by the missus. The plan is to keep the bag until we have guests over in January. Now, the only question that remains is whether the bag will actually last until January (peanut M&Ms are no more, as of last night).

This inspired me to make a LIST! (Because it's what I do. I hope none of the candies will be offended by said list.) What are your favorite candies?

1. Twix (after refrigeration, this achieves candy bar nirvana) AND Reese's Pieces (not at the same time, but they're both wicked awesome)

2. Watchamacallit (some people still haven't heard about this one. How is that possible?)

3. Peanut M&Ms1 (I eat all the red ones first)

4. Mars (briefly renamed Snickers with Almond, the Mars bar has recently made a comeback)

5. Krackle (akin to Nestle Crunch which is also awesome, there's something about the Krackle's chocolate that tastes better than Nestle's offering)

Runners Up: White chocolate kit-kat (holy hell, the amount of saturated fat will kill you!)

Thousand Grand (not even sure why, I think I liked the struggle I had as a kid to actually bite off a piece of this bar, so filled with caramel that I felt like an alligator)

1 I got in trouble a lot in 8th grade. Me and detention became good friends (sometimes even when we shouldn't have). In an effort to get me to behave, my Spanish teacher bet me and my best friend, Jeremy, 1 pound of peanut M&Ms each that we couldn't behave for two months.

Two months and one day later, we both sat in detention eating our peanut M&Ms.

The Rules (and their Subclauses)

1. One work in progress (WIP) at a time
    a. A work may be suspended to revise a draft of a previously completed manuscript or edit galleys of a manuscript being published

    b. A work may be abandoned if it is not salvageable and a new WIP begun

      i. If an abandoned WIP is resumed, this original work must be stripped for usable content and the manuscript begun anew

2. No revision until the first draft is complete
    a. Revision is permitted to re-establish rhythm if a WIP was suspended to revise the draft of another manuscript

3. Do not write a work that does not have a title
    a. This title can be changed at any time but may not be eliminated outright

4. Write a minimum of 10,000 words on those weeks that are designated "writing weeks."
    a. A non-writing week is a "reading week" wherein a book/books will be read to recharge creative batteries.

5. No more than two consecutive weeks may be designated as a non-writing week, barring extenuating circumstances (e.g. professional obligations, wife in the hospital, etc.)

6. Write chronologically
    a. If inspired, write only until this inspiration is spent and place this at the bottom of the WIP until the story reaches the point at which this inspiration can be assimilated
      i. If inspiration for a non-WIP work occurs, write a blog post tagged "ideas" to satisfy such inspiration then return to the WIP

7. Do not create a project folder for the WIP until the first draft is complete (this is bad luck).
    a. A project folder can be created to store supplementary files (scraps, maps, etc) but the manuscript file must remain in the general "novels" folder of your computer.

8. Copy the manuscript file to a flash drive and secondary storage device every two weeks (or more frequently) to prevent catastrophic data loss in the event of Eee PC theft or destruction

9. Do not show the manuscript to anyone else until it has been revised to second-draft status
    a. A second draft constitutes a minimum of one (but may include more) pass that reviews and revises every chapter of the manuscript

10. Do not query agents until the manuscript is revised to third-draft status
    a. A third draft constitutes the dissemination to qualified third-party reviewers and the application of their feedback to every chapter of the manuscript

Hobo Writing

So I live in New Hampshire (Nashua). I work in Massachusetts (Boston). While this may seem extreme to drive from one state to another for someone living in the middle of a huge state (read any state not in New England, Delaware, Maryland, or Hawaii), it's not that far. I drive 20-30 minutes to the train station, take an hour long train ride, then a twenty minute subway ride and I'm just down the street from where I work. Sure, this is longer than any commute I've ever had in my life, but I love the company I work for, and it beats being unemployed.

The best part is the hour-long train ride. When people see me cranking 2000-4000 words five days a week every week, they say, "Wow you write so fast!" I don't think so. I just write two hours a day every day and that's what comes of it. (I also write on weekends, but usually only accomplish 1000 words a day or so.)

I always joke that if I am successful enough that I can write full-time, I would have to continue buying my rail pass and ride the trains all day while I write. Well, I have vacation all this week, and I decided to ride the rails like a hobo--a well dressed, showered, shaved, and equipped hobo.

So here's how it works. Take the train down to North Station, skip down to South Station, and the grab whatever train leaves next. Get off at the last destination my card gets me (not the destination station, which has an impact I discuss later), eat lunch, get back on the train, go back to South Station, and repeat until I get a full day's worth of work. Hobo Writing!

Now, I had another epiphany over the weekend so I have officially stopped work on JEHOVAH'S HITLIST and begun revising THE TRIAD SOCIETY. I forgot how flipping large the first two chapters are. I'll have to go over those again before I send them out and make sure I'm not world building too much too early. (And where the hell did all this passive voice come from?)

Here is what I learned:

  • When going off on adventure, be sure to fully charge your smart phone so you can take advantage of the miracle of modern technology, like GPs mapping and the Googles. Mistake #1
  • When I have consecutive days off, I always stay up late. I feel like I'm not maximizing my vacation time if I'm not staying up late. Don't ask me why this is, but this prevents me from getting an early and effective start. Mistake #2
  • Non-destination locations are commuter waypoints. They are oases of parking lots an factory buildings with little by way of food or even neighborhoods I feel comfortable walking around without a loaded pistol...okay, not even then.
  • Destination locations are much the same unless they are an Amtrak stop or a state capital (...which are Amtrak stops). I should have waited 15 more minutes and gone down to Providence. Mistake #3
  • Much like flying, riding a train all day is dehydrating. I don't know why, exactly, but it is. Certainly walking around Bridgewater State College (which is one big ass building and nothing by way of food) and then sitting for thirty minutes in the humidity didn't help. Mistake #4
  • When trekking to an unknown subway stop--say Kendall Square--three hours after lunch time, be sure to look in both directions before wandering off in search for food. There may have been a bar and grill right to your left. Mistake #5
  • When beholding manna from heaven that is food trucks, do not break down crying when you find the only ones still selling offer only soy burgers and fellafel.
  • Do not presume to understand Boston regardless of the years you've worked there or the frequency in which you've gotten lost in Southie. You have not seen Boston in its entirety until you've been to MIT (yes, pedagogues, it's not technically Boston. All of Eastern Massachusetts is Boston, so stuff it! :p).
  • Do not ask the woman carrying the bucket of ice-like substance and baster whether she's a good scientist or an evil scientist. You may not like her answer.
  • Watch all available seasons of Eureka before going to MIT. It will help prepare you.
  • The crazy lady having a meltdown on the platform to the Red Line should be sad, but given she's standing outside Mass General, it's okay to laugh. Medical treatment is within her grasp...and they can hear her, so they're probably already on the way.
  • When you finally get food and your hands are shaking because you're so hungry, do not gorge yourself on onion rings. The increased fat in your bloodstream will make you lethargic and your writing productivity will plummet. Mistake #6
  • Treat your return train ride home during rush hour like any other rush hour train. Get there in a reasonable amount of time else you won't get to write at all. Mistake #7
  • When driving home in the rain, do not leave adequate stopping distance between you and the car in front of you. That kind of thing is to assholes what shit is to flies.

Total revision work for today was 10,000 words. Not bad, but I think I could have done better if I had left during my normal time of 7am rather than 9. And if I had gone to Providence rather than Bridgewater. If I try again tomorrow, we'll see how far I get.

Have Fun Storming the Castle

Current, non-syndicated television runs in 30 or 60 minute time slots. Of those slots, the actual program will run 20-22 minutes or 42-44 minutes respectively. Its this constraint that allows a writer--if he or she so wishes to apply herself--to know the plot, the outcome, and the bad guy (if you're watching one of the myriad procedural dramas currently on television) long before the show reaches the reveal. Often, you can know all of it within the first few minutes.

Why does the timing make a difference? Because of the other rules. You cannot have a reveal with something that hasn't already been introduced in the episode. The doorman can't have killed the young starlet if he hasn't already had some speaking lines. The audience is given the chance to figure it out. And since we write for a living, that means we balance all the other demands of story in our heads, pacing, motivation, the twist, etc.

One would think that being able to figure out a television show so early in the program would defeat the fun. And if a show is done poorly, it absolutely does. But, I am not a book snob. I like television and movies and theatre. I like visual storytelling as much as (more than?) written storytelling. I don't just have a creative writing degree. I have a playwriting degree as well.

The reason this comes to mind at the moment is because I just finished watching the season 3 opener for "Castle." Like so many of its audience, I came to the show for Nathan Fillion being nothing short of a "Firefly" fanatic. The chemistry between all the leads is what brings me back, the witty yet warm voice the show has crafted for itself. The first fifteen seconds of the season opener made me shout GOO! when it cut to black. Of course, I already knew the twist and knowing the twist made me know the whodunnit when introduced. But who cares? When a show can make you shout GOO! it's worth watching, even if you already know what's going to happen.

I keep a list of recommendations on my website that includes TV shows I watch (or did watch when they were on, *sniff* I miss you Firefly *sniff*...okay, I didn't see that until it was on DVD, which is good because I got to watch it in order). I've been debating updating that list to make it more current.

Last season's offering of NCIS was dismal, the worst of the series run, and I don't know if I can bring myself to go back. I'll give it a shot with the season opener, but I'm not holding my breath (forgive me, Gibbs).

Chuck is luring me back with season 4 even though I skipped season 3.

With Numb3rs gone (it never recovered from constantly losing the female lead other than Navi Rawat [helllooooo nurse!]) and most of the other network fare looking lame or contrived (despite the various geek-themed shows which I suspect will come off condescending, though I admit to not having watched any of them).

I have increased my cable viewing now that they're streaming or releasing on DVD. Stargate: Universe has hooked me hard where I was never interested in the previous two series.

Psych continues to please, though I wonder if it peaked in season 3.

Eureka is a pleasant new discovery, but I've burned through the first three seasons and now have to wait. *pout*

I had been watching Leverage, but they used the "jealous triangle" early in season 3 and I hate that plot line.

So, this is a healthy list, more TV than I've watched since I first returned to the small screen (I had given it up for four years but the ad for Numb3rs and the discovery of NCIS season 2 pulled me back in). My wife and I usually watch an episode to destress at the end of the day. Neither of us want television to consume our evenings from activities we find more rewarding.

But for all that, and for knowing the stories usually as soon as they start, these shows have established a voice or present their characters in such a way that I want to keep coming back regardless.

How about you? When you're not reading or writing, what kind of stories do you fill your time with?

(Anyone that mentions reality TV gets slapped. We're talking storycraft here, people!)

(As a note, I've decided to separate reality TV like any show with the name Jersey in it from the post-modern gameshow. I really enjoy the skill that goes into competitions like "So You Think You Can Dance." If the hosts and the judges weren't so obnoxious, I might watch.)

Per Your Request...A LIST!

The ladies over at Coffey. Tea. And Literary have started a meme. I have 25 minutes to kill at work, and thus will fill that time with this meme rather than being productive.

1. If you could have a superpower, what would you have? Why?
I would be a cypher. I would speak every language ever created. I would be able to speak to everyone everywhere, read ancient texts, hack computers, solve every math equation ever, and break every code created. I may not be all flashy like Wolverine with metal bones, but I'd kick so much more ass.

2. Who is your style icon?
Ummm...JC Penny?

3. What is your favorite quote?
I have two quotes tattooed on my arms ("The righteous must be bold as a lion" and "Drop the truth like a hammer") so you would think it would be one of them. It is not. It is an exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat:

    One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. "Which road do I take? she asked." "Where do you want to go?" was his response. "I don't know," Alice answered. "Then," said the cat, "it doesn't matter."

4. What is the best compliment you've ever received?
Your voice is like liquid sex.

(I may have received others, but come on, how can that one be topped?)

5. What playlist/cd is on your ipod/cd player right now?
My Palm Pre is currently loaded with KoRn, Norah Jones, Metallica, Pomplamoose, Dry Kill Logic, Louis Armstrong, Flight of the Conchords, and The Distillers

6. Are you a night owl or a morning person?
If left to my own devices, I stay up late. Then I accomplish absolutely nothing because I'm exhausted all the time. If I get up at 6 in the morning, I can accomplish anything.

7. Do you prefer dogs or cats?
Cats. Write a story about a dog displaying greater-than-animal intelligence that saves a human, and you know it's fiction because the dog displays greater-than-animal intelligence. Write the same story about a cat an you know it's fiction because the cat saves the human.

I respect that power.

8. What is the meaning behind your blog name?

Well, I'm me. And I write.

I've had two previous blog names ("The Charlie Brown Show" and "Brick City Creations") neither of which were very useful at creating a brand for my writing. So, short and to the point. Bam, here I am and here's what I do.

Another List!

Elizabeth Poole loves Westerns. I love Westerns! TOP FIVE WESTERNS!

1a. "The Outlaw Josey Wales" - Aside from giving me my namesake, this movie has a lot of things going for it. It was the first Western where all the Native Americans were played by Native Americans. They were also portrayed as the threat they were to settlers rather than just people on horses who charge forward and run away. Josey Wales the character is the essence of Clint Eastwood's Western career boiled down to pure awesome. It's long and may drag a little at times, but when you see him glare and then spit, you know it's on!

1b. "Unforgiven" - Much like Rocky/Rocky Balboa, this movie allows Eastwood to add some craft to the whole creation. The case could be made that William Munny is Josey Wales as an older man. There is one scene in particular where Munny talks about how he doesn't know how he kills so well, he's just always been good at it. That's the exact opposite of Josey Wales who can read a gang of four soldiers and know who to kill and in what order. It's more an exploration of how two different men ended up in the same spot. And the end? With Ned? GOO!!!

3. "High Planes Drifter" - WOW! This one is all about atmosphere and hate and revenge and if I ever needed a movie to epitomize the Deadlands role playing game, it's "High Planes Drifter." With such big-name movies like the two above, this one is often left off of the must-see lists of Clint Eastwood movies, but if you haven't seen it, go rent it right now. I can't even tell you without spoiling it and you'll hate me if I do.

4. "The Specialist" - Yes, I said "The Specialist" and not "Rio Bravo" or any of the other myriad John Wayne movies (despite its inclusion of Dean Martin of whom I am a huge fan). John Wayne's characters had a certain style, much like Clint Eastwood's. In "The Specialist," he breaks that style and how! I would never have thought to see John Wayne play that kind of character. I expect Clint Eastwood to play that kind of character, which is probably why I like this one so much. :)

5. "Pale Rider" - Some people claim that the character from this movie and the character from "High Planes Drifter" is the same. I disagree for reasons I can't post because of spoilers. I do think the premise can be similar and that's all right because the premise is so awesome Clint is allowed to tell it twice. Any time you see a story quote Revelation about a man riding a pale horse? Yeah, a poor comparison to this movie. This is where that awesome was born. (It also has the tall guy from Happy Gilmore, and that's always interesting.)

Honorable Mention - Young Guns Emilio Estevez (Estevez), Keifer Southerland, and Lou Diamond Phillips? Nuff said.