Writing Music – Dad

One of the biggest hurdles I have to face when writing at home is that I live in a teeny, tiny apartment.  In other words, the TV is about five feet away from me when I’m trying to be productive.  What I used to do is put on some idiotic TV show, just so that there’s some sound other than traffic and neighbors, but it always ended up distracting me.

Today, I wanted to get into some editing and decided that I really needed music instead of some dumb show.  I managed to figure out how to stream music through my ill-used game system without straining myself too much (as a technophobe, that’s saying something).

Then I reached the next big decision.  What to play?

This is a tougher question than one might assume.  I’m a very picky music listener.  I used to play in bands during High School and College, there’s not a lot I can stand and it was important that I find something conducive to writing.  I couldn’t just put on anything, if the vocals were too loud, or the beat too techno, or a million other variations it wouldn’t work.  I’ve tried writing to music before, but often found it as bad as TV.

So, what to play?

And here’s where we start down the rabbit hole that inspired this post.

My Dad is an amazing guy, talented in a million different areas.  But, when I was growing up, his taste in music used to drive me INSANE.  He used to buy the soundtracks to big budget movies and play them all the time.  And I mean the original soundtracks, not just a bunch of bands thrown together.  John Williams, Danny Elfman, etc.  Last of the Mohicans, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, there’s dozens I know by heart.

At fourteen I’d be sitting at the dinner table, mentally stewing because “Why are we listening to this when I’ve got a perfectly good Nine Inch Nails album in my room?”

Among the many talents of my dad are he’s exceptional with photoshop, digital animation, video and photography, and graphic design.  He spent so many hours in his office perfecting his work and it shows.  Calling him a talented hobbyist would be a dramatic understatement.

All while listening to movie soundtracks and similar music.

As I perused my options today one stood out: movie soundtracks.

That’s perfect, right?  The music varies, there’s a bit of every mood, there often aren’t big vocals or distracting flurries.  It’s meant to be subtle but evoke emotion.

And it works perfectly for me.  Now, when I’m writing I know what to pull up.

I had to laugh at myself a bit as the opening strains of Jurassic Park came through the speakers today.  How many times had I complained about my Dad’s music choices and now they’re my go-to?

It’s also nice that every once and a while a familiar tune plays and I get a little smile thinking of him.

NaNo!

I haven’t been writing here too much this month because I’ve been trying to finish up a novel I’ve been working on before November… then this week I had a really fun idea for a short story, so now I’m trying to wrap up two projects in the next five days.

I’m not really complaining, I’d rather have too many things going on than too few, but it does add a little stress to the week.

All that said, I’ve got my idea and a very basic outline for my NaNoWriMo story!

back_draft_9s

McGhoulie’s:

On all Hallow’s eve, when a young thief breaks into an old costume shop he gets the shock of a lifetime.  Not only is the place open it’s occupied by the strangest creatures he’s ever seen.  Monsters of all shapes and sizes wander the aisles, shopping, gossiping, picking their noses.  Blue vested employees work the counters and cash registers.

And none of them are happy to have been discovered.

Given the option of putting on a blue vest or becoming a late night snack, which would you choose?

I think it’ll be fun and just like the last few NaNo’s I’ll be posting it to Wattpad as it’s written.  You can follow along here:  https://www.wattpad.com/user/jmpayer1

And to everyone else participating, Happy NaNo!

A Sense of Childish Wonder

Some of my all time favorite books are the ones I read in late Elementary and Middle School.  There was this sense of genuine ridiculousness and wild imagination that was so natural at the time.

A book about a kid with a magical cupboard that brings his figurines to life?  Or the castle in the attic?  What about the kids who realize their teacher is an alien?  Or the one where the back of the wardrobe is a doorway into another world?  Or the horror stories where a kid gets turned into a bee and has to figure out how to get back?  Calvin and Hobbes?

Fantastic!

That’s what’s so wonderful about those early stories, that anything, anything was possible.  The more ridiculous the better.  Some were truly ridiculous but at the same time they were so genuine.  They were somehow real and yet unpredictable.  There were no rules except to inspire wonder.

When I decided to start writing stories I knew at least some of them would be for my daughter and I really wanted to emulate the feelings that I got from books at her age.  However, I also wanted to bring some of that into the other stories I was doing too, which isn’t easy.

It’s more difficult with adults because stories need to have enough grounding, adults have a lot more established beliefs and opinions.  There can be an element of wonder, of the unexpected, but too much and they don’t like it.  We know what we like and we tend to pick out books that fit within comfortable niche.  They don’t have to follow all the stereotypes but neither can they stray too far.

Family and friends that I’ve shown my work to, people that know me, have been very pleased and accepting but I have to say that I get some strange looks from everyone else when I describe my stories.  Sometimes, I’m not sure how to describe them or even what genre they are.

Geeks, Greens and Guns… A normally stoic enforcer for the mob in Las Vegas gets sucked into a light hearted UFO story outside Area 51.  It’s kind of funny, nobody dies and there’s a happy ended.  I suppose it counts as Sci-Fi?

The Apocalypse Gazette: After an epic apocalypse a guy is all alone in his small town, goes crazy with nerves and loneliness, and decides to write a newspaper documenting it all.  I did a whole post before about how I’m not sure what genre this story should be.  It’s funny, it’s light hearted, it’s weird and it’s got a talking cat.  Apocalyptic humor?

Still Life, with Zombie:  I can’t remember if I’ve written about this one here, it’s a story about a retired doctor living in a remote area and the zombie apocalypse.  It’s dark humor, a little scary, but has what I consider the most heart warming ending of all my stories.  It needs a lot of work, I’ve been editing it for a while, but where does it fit in with readers?  It’s nowhere near the usual zombie story, very little action.  Horror, I suppose?  But that doesn’t really seem to fit.

front draft 2

I’ve written some stories for my kid that she’s really enjoyed and I’ve written some others that are more “normal”, but that ones that really stick with me are the weird ones.  While I might struggle with them, or even what to call them, I’m imminently pleased with how they’ve been turning out.  They represent some of that childish wonder but in unexpected places.  They’re fun to write and they’re the kinds of stories that I want to read, they don’t fit into neat categories.  They open the doors to all the impossible possibilities.

The Cost of Writing a Book

Like many writers, I spend a lot of time in coffee shops though maybe not for the atmosphere.  I’ve been a member of a couple writing groups for the last year or so, they help keep things interesting, and, of course, they meet at coffee shops.

Whenever I go to these groups I buy something.  It doesn’t seem right to sit down, use their WiFi for a couple hours and not spend some money.  Usually it’s just two or three bucks for an iced tea but once a week or so I’ll add a sandwich or snack.  Plus a tip, of course.

Today, after paying for my iced tea and a veggie wrap, as I tried to find an unoccupied table to write at, I wondered how much money I’ve spent at these various shops.

This turned out to be a far scarier topic than I thought it would.  I did the math.

It takes me about two months to finish a very rough first draft, with two group meetings a week.

Two hours of writing costs me about $5 on average.  In two months I’ll have visited 8 times, spending a minimum of $40 just to get through a first draft.

That adds up fast, $240 a year for writing in coffee shops.  Now, it’s not just writing, there’s networking and commiserating with other writers, but still.  As Indies we’re always hearing about the costs for good covers, editing, marketing, etc.  But how many people talk about the cost of coffee (or iced tea)?  Maybe that should get figured into more Indie budgets.  I mean, $240 could pay for a lot of marketing.

But then, of course, if I didn’t spend so much time at coffee shops I would never get anything written.  I guess it just comes with the territory, the cost of writing a book.  😉

First person, present tense

Today I spent a couple hours going through pages on Ellen Brock’s blog, Workshop pages.  Writers each submitted a piece for critiques, separated by genre.  Originally, I planned on just peeking at one or two but quickly got sucked into the whole thing.  I ended up reading all of them and commenting on most with (hopefully) helpful feedback.

If you have some time I would highly encourage you to go check out the submissions.  It’s always fun to see what other people are doing and getting feedback is one of the most important steps for writers.  There’s some good stuff over there.

A couple of the pieces got me thinking about a subject that’s been rolling around in my head for a while.  Recently, I’ve seen a lot of writing done in the first person POV using present tense.

Here’s some examples for those that aren’t familiar with the terms:

First person, present tense: I walk into the bar and look around.

First person, past tense: I walked into the bar and looked around.

Third person, past tense: He walked into the bar and looked around.

There are plenty of other options but those three are the most common I see so I’m going to stick with those for this post.

Each option has it’s pros and cons.  I’ve seen it argued that first person, present tense (FPPT for simplicity) is more immediate and gripping than the others.  And in some cases it probably is.  The Hunger Games is a good example, I really enjoyed those books.

However, in my opinion, FPPT seems to have more risk than other variations.  It’s easy to use it poorly, if that makes sense.  And when it isn’t done really well it can be choppy and awkward, like a character narrating their own life.  Who does that?

‘I walk into a bar and look around.  I don’t see anyone I recognize.  There’s a faint smell of stale beer and urine.  I find a seat at the counter and motion to the bar tender.’

It’s almost robotic at times.

I mean, it’s okay, but does it work as well as other options?  Most recent FPPT stories I’ve read might have been better as third person, past tense.  Being inside a character’s head can give you a really in depth perspective but it can also be really limiting.  To describe people, scenes, and details well enough to move the story, and keeping that authentic voice, is not as easy as it seems.  Whereas, taking a step back, third person, past tense gives the writer more wiggle room, with the con of being further removed from the specific character.

‘Eric walked into the bar and looked around.  The big red-head didn’t see anyone he recognized.  There was a faint smell of stale beer and urine.  He found a seat at the counter and motioned to the bar tender.’

Again, this is all personal opinion, but I’m a big fan of third person, past tense.  To me, it’s more ‘invisible’ to the reader and flows better.  I’m sure other people think the opposite, otherwise I wouldn’t be seeing it so often.  And maybe for some projects one makes more sense than the other, but either way it’s something that should be a conscious decision by the writer on a piece to piece basis.

What’s in a genre?

I’ve been doing a lot of rewrites and adding sections to The Apocalypse Gazette.  While it was first started as kind of a silly, fluff story it’s quickly become one of my favorites.  It’s still silly but it’s also got a fun voice and personality.

However, there are a couple problems that have been bugging me about what to do with it.  I mean, it would be a really fun project to self publish, and that’s the goal, but there are some… logistical issues that are tripping me up the more I think about it.

First, there isn’t really a plot.  It’s basically a story about a guy all by himself in a town after the apocalypse going crazy.  He has a few minor problems that he has to figure out, the biggest being boredom, but there’s no bad guys, there’s no epic adventure.  I mean, it’s all playing off the fact that he’s losing it, a lot of the things that happen aren’t easily distinguishable between reality and his fantasies.  Personally, I’m fine with all that because it’s still a really fun story, I don’t feel like anything is missing, but how does one sell a story about a guy slowly going crazy and everything getting weirder and weirder?

Second, and this is arguably the bigger issue, what genre does The Apocalypse Gazette fall into?  Ok, fiction, obviously, but beyond that I’m not too sure.  Humor is probably the closest fit but at the same time that’s a broad category.  It’s not romance, fantasy, mystery, horror, science fiction, inspirational, or thriller.  It’s… dystopian… apocalyptic… humor?

Well, I suppose if Dystopian-Apocalyptic-Humor is a category on any of the main sites at least my story wouldn’t have much competition.

And, at least I have some time before I have to sort all that out, there’s still plenty of work to be done before I get to publishing.

If any of you have suggestions I would really like to hear them.