Star Lines
Saturday, November 02, 2002
  Workable Clay:  I had an epiphany today while I was making another lopsided water jug in my friend's garage: turning pots on a wheel (AKA throwing pots) is like writing a novel -- just faster and harder on the hands and fingernails.  Some people would argue that the two skills are worlds apart and writing novels is much more difficult, but these are also the poor slobs who can't get over the who versus whom rule in grammar and think having a bunch of letters after your name makes you a smart person.

My friend has been making pots for twenty years, and I will vouch that she works just as hard as I do.  Sometimes harder.  She looks at a lump of clay the same way I look at a blank page -- she doesn't see the void, she sees the possibilities and the materials (and the room) to make them happen.

Here's what I came up with while making my Leaning Tower of Pisa water jug today: you start out with whatever you have -- an idea, a concept, a scene, or (like me) a couple of words or images -- and you'll imagine it finished first.  Can't be avoided, you see the final product in your head and it's solid, beautiful, and that's what you're going to make.  But when you start to write, all you really have to work with are your hands, your brain, a couple of crude tools and that ugly-looking pile of clay you plopped in the center of the wheel.  This is the part that defeats most writers before they ever get out of the starting gate -- staring at the mound of clay and realizing Whoa, I've got to make something out of this gunk?  It is as far from that graceful, colorful museum-quality vase they imagined as a hot dog is from chateau briand.

More than half of the people who try to write novels will at this moment get up and walk away.  Too hard, can't do it, no thank you.

You guys who stick around, you know what comes next.  You grab your pile of story clay, and you work it.  You pound out all the air pockets of unnecessary elements.  You decide your theme, center it on the wheel, flip the foot switch, and start shaping it.  First, the rough draft -- like molding the pot's basic shape -- and you may have to add more clay, or take away some.  You may stop, take a hard look at it, make a sound of disgust and start over again.  There will be distractions, and you might not have enough leisure time to spend at the wheel, which is another headache.

Some other writers never get past this point, and become stuck at the wheel, alternately forming and smashing down the same, vague story shape, never progressing, never reaching the finish line.  That's got to be like living in writer hell.

The hardcore storytellers want a complete novel, just the way the dedicated potters want a finished pot, every time they sit down at the wheel.  I'm one of them.  In the back of our minds we know it's going to be a little lopsided and not museum quality and certain people will laugh their asses off, looking at it.  We know it's going to be hard work and we're going to get our hands dirty and probably cry all over the wheel a few times while we shape it.  It never resembles what we imagined when we're done.  And -- in the case of a series writer like me -- there's the irresistable temptation to make another pot like it, only with different details and maybe some improvement on the design.  But we work it, turn it, shape it, and we don't stop until we're done, and it's done.

And the more you do it, the better you get.  Pots or novels, doesn't matter.  Just grab your clay of choice, sit down at the wheel, and get started. 
Friday, November 01, 2002
  Retrofit Book:  Rarely does an author have something like a pseudonym change happen in mid-production, so I thought I'd post the before and after cover for The Deepest Edge:

Gena Hale becomes Jessica Hall

Aside from the obvious name change, the production team was nice enough to darken up the title lettering from orangey to blood-red, and give the sort-of-60's looking heroine silhouette some hair versus the silly hat.  The glass shards on the real covers are embossed and really look like glass, and my pseudonym is now foiled with gold.  
  Free Books:  More wanton self-promotion ahead -- want something to read but short on funds?  My e-book short story collection "Sink or Swim" will be available for download free of charge for the entire month of November over at my author website.  Not enough?  No problem, I've also got a contest running to give away 5 sets of all five StarDoc novels in print, too.  I really need the closet space, so check it out before November 30th -- and feel free to spread the word.

I like giving away books.  Yes, I know, that violates the whole "money-flows-to-the-author" credo and I should be shot at dawn sans the last cigarette etc. etc.  Like I ever do anything the way the herd does.  It's simply a nice way to pay back the readers and spread a little goodwill.  Notice how understocked we are on goodwill these days?

It's also excellent free publicity.  If more authors could find it in their microscopic hearts to stick a crowbar in their gratis copy stashes and pry out a few giveaways, they'd probably generate better sales numbers.  Readers like getting something for free, and if they like the free book, chances are they will buy your next one.  And they'll tell their friends about the free book, and they might buy the next one, and tell their friends, and so on and so on. 
Thursday, October 31, 2002
  Scary, Isn't it?  I found this link via Doc Searls's site and came up with this for my name.  That last bit is flattering but somewhat erroneous -- I'm not a dirty blonde. :) 
  HoHoHo:  Finished writing the stage play for the school Christmas program.  It's an hour long, the cast is about 100 kids from ages 2 to 14, and most get at least one line.  Various grades sing one of ten different songs.  I've already gotten bribe offers from the older boys who do not want to be angels.  If I collected Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh cards, I'd be rolling in it.  I refused the bribes but wrote in a couple of burly shepherds and the three Kings of testosterone.  It's now a very manly Christmas play when we get to the fourth and fifth graders' parts.

The play itself was great fun to write.  The plot: A brother and sister are too excited to go to sleep on Christmas Eve, and while they're trying to figure out what the perfect Christmas would be, the toys in their room come to life. The toys know what the perfect present is, and drop little hints.  It's a little like a Christmas version of "Clue" without Colonel Mustard actually murdering anyone in the Green Room.  When the kids finally figure it it's Jesus (the big twist!), the creche in their room comes to life and the Holy Family do a mini-reenactment of the Nativity.  The production ends with entire cast singing "Silent Night" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."

If you ever get a chance to work on something like this, do it.  It doesn't have to be a religious play, lots of public schools do other types of productions and always need volunteers.  It's hard work but it's the best kind, too -- anything for kids always is.  Next week, costume sewing and stage rehearsal.

Wednesday, October 30, 2002
  Halloween:  Kathy has decided on Tinkerbell, and Mike is going to be a pirate (and requested a hook.)  Is there a unique psychology to that, or what?  I've been asked to (cough) dress up for the Harvest party at church tomorrow.  I think I'll steal my daughter's line and accidentally forget....  
  And at 1:18am precisely:  I gave up on the King book.  Got about two-thirds of the way through, then he bounced me out for what I decided was the final time.  I think I'm too cold-blooded in my approach to the craft to appreciate his artistic angle or whatever.  Gave it more time and effort than I would have for anyone else, out of respect for the author, so that should count for something.  Good luck with retirement number two, Mr. King.  
  Mom's Revenge:  Jaquandor, don't read this one, not immediately before, during, or after breakfast, anyway.  My daughter -- and I will quote here -- "accidentally forgot" to tell me she left a plastic bag under the seat in my truck.  Not a problem, thought her mother.  Only there was a banana in the bag, and she stuck it under the seat three weeks ago.  You can guess the rest: the decomposing banana lay there, completely unnoticed by yours truly, and slow ate through the bag.  I believe it broke through at about 2:45pm this afternoon, because when I opened the truck door at 2:46pm, the stench was . . . well, just imagine that part.

Simple Green has a nice biodegradable, non-toxic cleaner that I use because it is even better than vinegar for deodorizing and doesn't poison the pets or the kids (it smells exactly like licorice, so if you don't like the candy smell, don't buy it.)  I had to use it full-strength to get rid of the dead banana stink (works great on baby spit-up too, for you guys that don't want your Beemers rendolent of curdled milk.)

I have no idea if Katherine did it on purpose or not.  She's a sweet kid, and I love her to death, but she gets these ideas.  And she always gives me the big blue eyes, the sweet smile, and the "I accidentally forgot" story.  Really I didn't mind the mess, or cleaning it up, but the smell . . .I have a thing about rotting food smells.  If you ever want to drive me out of my mind, pile spoiled food around me, that'll do it.

Anyway, I might be able to get even with the kid. Seeing how the military is working to develop lunches like these and all.  Maybe I'll get a couple of cases through my Army buddies, let her try to grow mold on one of those babies.  
Tuesday, October 29, 2002
  The Unkindest Rip:  As I sat at church this morning adding up our contribution toward the school Christmas fund-raiser (my kids sold $410+ of cards, gift wrap and candles in one week, way to go Kath & Mike), I hit a button wrong on the calculator and created a tear in my left ring fingernail.  It was one of those jagged side cracks that catch on everything, so with my usual disregard for fashion I ripped it the rest of the way off.

And shrieked bloody blue murder.  Kath had painted my nails last weekend, and with all the camoflauge I didn't realize the tear was beneath the quick.  Imagine the author hopping around, holding her hand and howling, blood dripping all over the sales sheets, etc.  I hate when I mess up my hands or my fingers, but I can't stand tearing nails under the bleed line, they hurt for days and make me type with white lips and muttered curses.  I'm now staring at my abused digit (wrapped up in a Spongebob Band-Aid, note to self, buy some grown-up bandages this week) and talking to you on the headset, courtesy of my voice recognition software.  I love this program; whoever came up with it must have known a klutz like me.

I've tried to be fashionable, but it never works.  One year for my birthday, my best friend took me to her manicurist to have me fitted with those plastic fake nails.  They came out beautiful, but I could do nothing with my hands for an entire week after that.  I couldn't type, I couldn't write, I couldn't even scratch myself without courting sutures.  Why do women love these things?  They render you completely useless.  Happily I broke off seven of them, then pried off the last three.  P.S. do you know how gross it looks after you remove fake nails?  The ghoul cast from Night of the Living Dead had nicer-looking fingers.

Oh, well.  Once more I must sacrifice beauty for comfort.  Or get Kath to use transparent nail polish next time. 
Monday, October 28, 2002
  On On Writing:  Survived PT, not so sure about this book, though.  Okay, couple of things, right off the top of my head: 1) Writing more than one foreword is silly, contrived, and pompous as all hell.  Even when you become a ga-zillionaire, resist this urge at all costs.  2) If you're going to write an autobiography, don't dance around and pretend you're writing something else; call it an autobiography and be done with it.  If your last advance check had six zeros or more, people will buy it.  3) Everyone has good reason to complain about life -- life sucks -- but whining (admittedly, extremely well-written whining) for 94 pages straight tends to give certain readers (me) acid indigestion and a huge throbbing headache.

(Checking last page number) God, I've got over two hundred pages to go yet.  Maybe he'll start actually talking about writing in the next part instead of himself and his sucky life before the millions started rolling in.

Now I should say some good things about this book, to balance out the above.  Some of the anecdotes were funny.  He realizes his wife and kids deserve several medals, which is nice, considering what he put them through.  Anyone who sees that alcoholic writers are simply drunks with an interesting job gets my seal of approval.  The man has had a tough life, and I like seeing people who grow up poor become mega wealthy.  And I'd be an idiot if I didn't acknowledge that King is a magnificent writer, always has been, and always will be.

But this . . . this book is self-indulgent to the extreme, and I expected better from someone who will probably be remembered as one of the greatest writers of this century.  Maybe that's my problem -- I always expect more from these icons of the literary world, and they always leave me clutching the aspirin bottle.  
  On King:  I got a copy of Stephen King's book "On Writing" to read during my PT sessions, which is all Rob's fault, of course.  Rob got my curiosity going when we were discussing plotting a while back, and I'm curious to see what Mr. King has to say about the craft.

The more I read how-to-write books, the less I like them.  I barely got through the last one without significant brain damage, and there's usually an underlying note of smugness or desperation in each one that disturbs me.  I also don't think anyone ever becomes an expert at the craft, no matter how financially successful they are.  Techniques to compose things like story structure, plot logic, and realistic characterization may seem like they should be generic to all writers -- and maybe the ones who are taught by others pick up their habits -- but I think it's better to evolve and establish your own methods.

I'm not knocking how-to books, they can be useful.  If for nothing else than to make a mental list of things I will never do.  If you like what you read in these things, by all means, take what works for you and use it.  Just don't let some other writer's rules kill your creativity and productivity. 
  Mama Mia:  After remaining dormant for ten years, Sicily's Mt. Etna erupted on Sunday, causing earthquakes and destroying some ski lifts with a river of lava.  Officials have evacuated the region and vulcanologists are heading in to study Etna, which is Europe's most active volcano. 
Sunday, October 27, 2002
  Web Site Updating:  Shameless self promotion follows, so if you're against weblogs being used for personal profit, close your eyes.

After neglecting it all year, I've finally updated the content of most of the pages on my author website and chained poor Willa to her computer retrofitting the lot.  I'm saving the quilt page to do tomorrow; I have a massive amount of projects that I've done over the last couple of years and have to pick through all the photos and decide what to post.  I counted, and I've made or restored 73 quilts in the last three and a half years.  See what chronic insomnia and giving up TV can do for a quilter's personal productivity?

I do have an announcement for those who might be expecting a new story on the web site in November -- don't.  I need to work on finishing Illumination, so Willa will be posting the .pdf and html versions of "Sink or Swim," the free e-book I gave away last December.  I know, I'm sorry; I just ran out of month.  To make up for it, I'm having the SD books giveaway -- enter your name during the month of November (details will be posted on the website on Nov 1st) and you could get five free StarDoc books, signed by yours truly.

I'm frustrated, because I want to do more with the website.  I just can't squeeze it into the schedule.  As it stands now, I'm always a day or two late getting the update and new story to Willa, which I really hate because Mom brainwashed me about punctuality being next to godliness and all.  You pro-cloning people, if you come up with a Miracle Gro version of the procedure, come talk to me. 
  Time Changes:  It's that time of year again, when Daylight Savings time ends, so if your wall clock doesn't match your computer, go make the necessary adjustments now.  Rats, this means I have to change the clock in the truck again.  One of these days I'm going to push the wrong combination of buttons and end up realigning the Hubble to take pictures of Castro in a speedo.  Would destroy the lens, but think of what the trash mags would pay . . .  
  Car Shopping:  I need another vehicle -- the kids are outgrowing my baby truck -- so I'm thinking about leasing a Grand Prix.  Or maybe a Taurus.  My friends think I should get one of these but I haven't got the heart to tell them I can't see out the back window and I'd much rather buy one of these.

Oooh, and look at this baby. All right, I'll stop with the truck porn... 
Adventures at the KeyBoard

10/28/2001 - 11/04/2001 / 11/04/2001 - 11/11/2001 / 11/11/2001 - 11/18/2001 / 11/18/2001 - 11/25/2001 / 11/25/2001 - 12/02/2001 / 12/02/2001 - 12/09/2001 / 12/09/2001 - 12/16/2001 / 12/16/2001 - 12/23/2001 / 12/23/2001 - 12/30/2001 / 12/30/2001 - 01/06/2002 / 01/06/2002 - 01/13/2002 / 01/13/2002 - 01/20/2002 / 01/20/2002 - 01/27/2002 / 01/27/2002 - 02/03/2002 / 02/03/2002 - 02/10/2002 / 02/10/2002 - 02/17/2002 / 02/17/2002 - 02/24/2002 / 02/24/2002 - 03/03/2002 / 03/03/2002 - 03/10/2002 / 03/10/2002 - 03/17/2002 / 03/17/2002 - 03/24/2002 / 03/24/2002 - 03/31/2002 / 03/31/2002 - 04/07/2002 / 04/07/2002 - 04/14/2002 / 04/14/2002 - 04/21/2002 / 04/21/2002 - 04/28/2002 / 04/28/2002 - 05/05/2002 / 05/05/2002 - 05/12/2002 / 05/12/2002 - 05/19/2002 / 05/19/2002 - 05/26/2002 / 05/26/2002 - 06/02/2002 / 06/02/2002 - 06/09/2002 / 06/09/2002 - 06/16/2002 / 06/16/2002 - 06/23/2002 / 06/23/2002 - 06/30/2002 / 06/30/2002 - 07/07/2002 / 07/07/2002 - 07/14/2002 / 07/14/2002 - 07/21/2002 / 07/21/2002 - 07/28/2002 / 07/28/2002 - 08/04/2002 / 08/04/2002 - 08/11/2002 / 08/11/2002 - 08/18/2002 / 08/18/2002 - 08/25/2002 / 08/25/2002 - 09/01/2002 / 09/01/2002 - 09/08/2002 / 09/08/2002 - 09/15/2002 / 09/15/2002 - 09/22/2002 / 09/22/2002 - 09/29/2002 / 09/29/2002 - 10/06/2002 / 10/06/2002 - 10/13/2002 / 10/13/2002 - 10/20/2002 / 10/20/2002 - 10/27/2002 / 10/27/2002 - 11/03/2002 / 11/03/2002 - 11/10/2002 / 11/10/2002 - 11/17/2002 / 11/17/2002 - 11/24/2002 / 11/24/2002 - 12/01/2002 / 12/01/2002 - 12/08/2002 / 12/08/2002 - 12/15/2002 / 12/15/2002 - 12/22/2002 / 12/22/2002 - 12/29/2002 / 12/29/2002 - 01/05/2003 / 01/05/2003 - 01/12/2003 / 01/12/2003 - 01/19/2003 / 01/19/2003 - 01/26/2003 / 01/26/2003 - 02/02/2003 / 02/02/2003 - 02/09/2003 / 02/09/2003 - 02/16/2003 / 02/16/2003 - 02/23/2003 / 02/23/2003 - 03/02/2003 / 03/02/2003 - 03/09/2003 / 03/09/2003 - 03/16/2003 / 03/16/2003 - 03/23/2003 / 03/23/2003 - 03/30/2003 / 03/30/2003 - 04/06/2003 / 04/06/2003 - 04/13/2003 / 04/13/2003 - 04/20/2003 / 04/20/2003 - 04/27/2003 / 04/27/2003 - 05/04/2003 / 05/04/2003 - 05/11/2003 / 05/11/2003 - 05/18/2003 / 05/18/2003 - 05/25/2003 / 05/25/2003 - 06/01/2003 / 06/01/2003 - 06/08/2003 / 06/08/2003 - 06/15/2003 / 06/15/2003 - 06/22/2003 / 06/22/2003 - 06/29/2003 / 06/29/2003 - 07/06/2003 / 07/06/2003 - 07/13/2003 / 07/13/2003 - 07/20/2003 / 07/20/2003 - 07/27/2003 / 07/27/2003 - 08/03/2003 / 08/03/2003 - 08/10/2003 / 08/10/2003 - 08/17/2003 / 08/17/2003 - 08/24/2003 / 08/24/2003 - 08/31/2003 / 08/31/2003 - 09/07/2003 / 09/07/2003 - 09/14/2003 / 09/14/2003 - 09/21/2003 / 09/21/2003 - 09/28/2003 / 09/28/2003 - 10/05/2003 / 10/05/2003 - 10/12/2003 / 10/12/2003 - 10/19/2003 / 10/19/2003 - 10/26/2003 / 10/26/2003 - 11/02/2003 / 11/02/2003 - 11/09/2003 / 11/09/2003 - 11/16/2003 /

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