Secret Passages

There are few things I like better in adventure storytelling than secret passages. In fact, the two middle grade novels I have in mind (one written, one started a few times but never finished) both are heavily reliant on secret passages. I think that's a dream of a lot of kids, to live in a house that has secret passages.

Did you ever see the movie Candlestick with Jodie Foster when she was a spunky kid? I can't tell you how many times I watched that movie as a kid. I want to watch it now and see if it holds up the test of time.

Walking around Old Sturbridge Village with my wife, she saw a hill in a field, most likely just piled dirt that eventually had grass grow over it. She sees it and says, "That needs a hobbit hole." Well, on one side of it is a dead and dry tree stump. And I say that there is a hobbit hole. It's beneath the tree stump and the whole thing opens up.

This causes the magnesium flash in my brain where ideas start flying up like fireworks. I LOVE secret passages. What if hobbits lived in a less friendly place than the shire? If they had hidden the doors to their hobbit holes, would Saruman been able to scour the shire as he did? They could have hidden and who would have worked the fields for him?

So this is what I want. I want underground houses like hobbit holes, but I want natural landmarks like tree stumps that no one would think twice of when they saw them, but open up to reveal the actual entrance to their home. When they're closed, it just looks like hills.

I need to figure out how to make this happen.

Visual Aid

Yesterday's comments inspired a visual aid that I think best communicates one's goal of publishing and the routes available to you via traditional publishers and self-publishing.

Traditional Publishing


A Tree is Just a Tree

Way back when, I meant to pursue a career in the United States military. At first I thought the navy and then found my place with the army. I was in an ROTC program, but because I had not started from the beginning, I was required to go to Camp Challenge (or basic camp). It's like boot camp but shorter and not as unpleasant depending your drill sergeants (my DIs did not hold to that latter fact and gave it to us as much as they could--still easier than trainees, but we lost a few people to medical because of hernias and the like).

Anyway, when I came home, I was unnerved by the changes. I loved nature. I loved going out to parks and climbing a tree and just basking in its wonder. But when I came home, trees and roads and become lines of fire and ambush zones and it all proved very difficult to unhook from.

I'm reminded of this because I've been pursuing publication for two years now (my first query was sent September 2009). And I draw closer to my goal, it's been harder to disassociate from that slog and I am competitive and like to win. No one likes to have the race end right before they get to the finish line. But that has required an emotional tax that is sometimes hard to pay. I am a writer is always followed by "Have you written anything I've heard of" and "Wow you must be rich" neither of which I can affirm.

Sometimes I feel that disconnection where I'm walking through the forest but the trees aren't trees and the roads aren't roads. Twitter isn't twitter and word counts aren't word counts. They're objectives and goals and requirements and all part of this grand social puppet show I've thrown myself into.

Today I'm feeling particularly zen. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it was the delicious chicken chili I just had. Either way, today I see the trees for trees. I enjoy writing. I enjoy what I write. And while yes I do want an agent and to be professionally published, it's enough that I enjoy what I do.

Strangely, all the self-doubt and worry about not being good enough lessens when you're not so concerned with being published. If you're not obsessing about whether they love you, it's much easier to love yourself.

At the End of All Things

More and more often, one of the arguments against ebooks I'm hearing is: When society collapses and there is no more power to charge the ebook or run the servers or what have you, I'll be happy with my paper books.

It's a hyperbolic example, but not for the reasons I think they're intending. I think they're going with the "if the world ended" as an extreme example, but I think the extremity is to believe you'd have time for leisure writing once a power grid collapsed.

Without electricity, your entire day just got dedicated to survival. You'll need to learn how to make candles or lantern oil. You'll need to learn how to farm. You'll need to learn how to stockpile necessities for the winter.

When you have a finite number of candles and your daylight is spent staying alive, when exactly does all this reading happen?

(This all assumes you survived the initial riots that decimate the population and you don't use book pages for kindling on your first sub-freezing night.)

(A little binger to brighten your day. ;)

Look at the Tree

I am 5' 7". I have been told since I stopped growing1 that I am short.

I am not short.

The tallest person in my family after me is 5' 1". I am six inches taller than anyone else in my family.

I am tall.

When someone tells me I am short, (s)he is not looking at the tree with the proper perspective.

1: Stopped growing up. I'm still growing out.

Finding New Meaning in Old Emotions

A scenario. Your character has:

Given up professional and post-graduate dreams to aid a friend
Moved to a new city to aid said friend
Then been let down by said friend
Which resulted in the loss of your character's entire circle of friends, who had really been said friend's friends
Only speaks to his ex-fiancee every few weeks, which only reminds him of what he lost
Earns less 1/3 less than the national poverty average

It is:

Your character's birthday
Your character is at dinner alone
No one has called to wish him a happy birthday

Your character's mood is _________

The quick and easy answer is depressed or sad or any other negative emotion. Emotions are tricky things because it's easy to use them like Venn diagrams. A person is ________ (happy!) or __________ (sad :() and regardless of where they fall in that little circle of a diagram, they are that emotion. People don't usually work that way. You can be sad at success and happy when you've failed. We're a mercurial people and our ability to want more and to attempt more and to achieve more is pretty astounding. So when you're putting your character through a dramatic ringer, slow down and ask yourself if maybe there's another reaction to be had. Maybe the opposite of your first reaction is both plausible and a fresh take on an established subject.

In the case of the scenario above, that was my life in 2001 and 2002. My birthday was my favorite time of the year. Not because it was my special "me" day. My mom hadn't made my birthday special since I was 8 or so. No, it was special because I made $7000/year in 2001 and it was the one day out of the year I splurged on a steak. I walked down the street to a place called Scooters. I ordered a steak (medium well), steak fries, and a two-fingered scotch neat. My birthday was steak day, and for those couple hours sitting in that restaurant, the hardships of the world stopped at the door. In what was one of the most difficult times of my life, that one day was the happiest day of the year.

(Of course, it doesn't hold a candle to any of the 365 days I live now, but I got my shit together. Now I have steak whenever I want.)

My people, they have but one bunghole

Extra extra extra tired today. Thus I talk to anyone and everyone to keep myself awake. This does not lead to quality work, but does lead to some fun creativity. Follow this thought process:

I'm talking to my friend Michelle. She says she needs to go eat lunch before she passes out. I keep talking because if I don't I'LL pass out. Eventually I hit a lull and tell her to go eat a burrito


Burrito makes me think of burro.


Burro is a fun word. It makes me think of a really long trilled R. Burrrrrrrrro


Trilled Rs make me think of Roberto. Flicking that R right at the beginning.


Roberto morphs into Boberto


I am changing the name of the main character in WHAT'S BEHIND THE CROOKED DOOR? from Brian to Rob just so I can have a character call him Boberto.

This name is awesome. Envy Boberto. He gets all the chicks.

I'll Make a Bajillion Dollars!

So, as we all know, the reason there is still resistance to the ebook is because some people worry about losing their pretension. How can one prove that one is better than those around one if they cannot see that the book one is reading is clearly far beyond the reading level of everyone else gathered.

There had been a quickly-abandoned proposal of creating ereaders with screens on both sides, one for reading and one for showing the cover. Given that nearly all ereaders are immediately put into a protective cover, this proved a waste of time and monies.

But there must be a way we can welcome the coming epocalypse while maintaining our pretentious superiority! Well, there is, with the Selbomatic eBook Attenuated Label (SEAL-the bad ass of ebook covers).

Take the standard design for an ebook cover. Thick, padded sides with straps to hold in your ereader. Cut a rectangle into the top cover and shave off a few millimeters so there is a book-like divot in the cover. Slice an opening in the side. Print out a color image of the cover of the most pretentious book you want people to think you’re reading (and if you’re really concerned about looking superior, I suggest you actually read the book too lest someone else ask questions you cannot answer). Put the paper image between two thin pieces of plastic, then slide them into the opening until the image is situated in the divot. This divot being in truth a window to your intellectual superiority.

Ideally, you could manufacture this entire thing, but if your intellect can’t wait to be on display, you can accomplish it with a razor blade and a file. I am now accepting start-up capital.

A Matter of Perspective

My wife and I were passing through Greeley Park a number of years back during a summer art fair. Painters, photographers, and home jewelers displayed their wares. This was back at a time when my then-employer continued to promise me an office. When I passed a small photograph that I absolutely loved and it was only $20, I decided to pick it up. It would be fantastic to put on my desk!

I set it on top of my desk at home with a few posters of New Hampshire (like the flume) where it sat for the next three years. It sat there when I got laid off. It sat there when I took a demotion to work for another company. It sat there when I moved laterally to secure a full time position that would in no way warrant me having an office.

We bought a townhouse and were setting up our home office much like we had before. But this time, a lot of the things we had put on top of the desk were being placed elsewhere. (We gave away a lot of stuff and had some extra space on bookshelves, etc.) Where oh where would I put this picture I love so much? My wife says, why don't we hang it?

*blink. blink.*

The photo is of a dead tree sticking out of the Nashua River. It looks black and white, but it's just a gray day without any color on the trees in the background. It's dark and misty. The water is this opaque force that came up around this tree on all sides and it was trapped there, helpless. (The picture is not online and I can't find the photographer's website because of a Brit with the same name sucking up the SEO [search engine optimization--a term you need to know as an aspiring author]). You've probably seen a tree like this before though, yeah? One that's growing in the middle of the river, and you can't figure out how it got there because it would have had to grow up out of the water and that only works for Aphrodite.)

I ask my wife if she's certain. She tells me yes, she likes that picture too. Really, says I? I would have thought it too dark for your tastes. Dark? says she. I find it to be a very hopeful photo.

*blink. blink.*

How is that hopeful? says I. It's a dead tree!

No, it's a tree that may bloom again. It stands for the hope of rebirth and what may come in the future.

No, it's a tree that had its time and is dead. It stands for the absolute inevitability of the future. We all die eventually.

So the picture hangs on the wall in my home office, meaning two entirely different things to two different people. That's pretty cool.