Friday, December 26, 2008

The Year in Review

I confess, I haven't been a fan of 2008. It's been a year of tremendous stress, of illness and of loss, and I won't be sad to see the end of it. But now is not a time to dwell on the negative, so instead I'd like to take a moment to recognize some of the wonderful things that 2008 brought with it for many of my friends, both from the writing world and beyond. Of course, I've no doubt there's something I'll forget, and to whoever might feel they should've made the list, I sincerely apologize. But with that caveat in mind, here goes.

Congratulations to Stuart, for his tremendous success with The Ghosts of Belfast (or, for those of you in the UK, The Twelve.) Likewise, congrats go out to Sophie, whose Banished and A Bad Day For Sorry are both on their way to publication. All are eagerly awaited in the _holm household.

Mad props go out to Sandra, whose novels What Burns Within and The Frailty of Flesh both came out this year (and garnered the kind of praise most writers would eagerly saw off a limb for.) Also much love for The Bag Man, who found some kick-ass representation for his novel and also got himself into a fancy-pants anthology. I've no doubt Bitter Water Blues is gonna light the crime world on fire (and likely cackle with glee while doing it).

Jennifer, in a time of flagging book sales, managed both to keep on finding good homes for her clients' books and garner some serious accolades while doing it. Writers need people like her now more than ever, and this particular writer doesn't plan to let that go unnoticed.

On the non-writing side of things, congrats to Sarah and Owyn for the very adorable Gibson. Ditto Jason and Jolene for Lucy May, and Susan and Scott for Keiralyn. Seriously, what year wouldn't benefit for a little more adorable?

Getting hitched this year were Mimi and Jason (what a blast we had!), Jackie and Servio, Tom and Jenny, and Sara and Carlton. Best wishes to you all.

And last but not least, the election. Yeah, I know a sizable portion of the country was leaning the other way, but taking politics out of the equation, what happened on election day was nothing short of extraordinary. Putting politics back in, there are a lot of us who, for the first time in years, now have occasion to hope.

So there you have it. The year in good. May 2009 be even fuller, and may it leave the bad behind. To all who are reading this (and heck, everyone who isn't), I wish you a very heartfelt happy New Year!

MUCH BELATED UPDATE: I said I'd forget somebody, and I'll be damned if I didn't! Mad belated props to Jack Getze for releasing Big Money, the followup to his hilarious Big Numbers. If you're reading this, you'd do well to pick up a copy or twelve. Count this writer a fan.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Friday, November 28, 2008

Post Turkey Day Post

Okay, I've managed to shake my turkey coma long enough to post a brief update. (Yes, brief. I guess my Blogtacular Retrospective will have to wait for post 103 at least.) Take cover, y'all, 'cause here come the bullets:
  • Firstly, a Dead Harvest update. A little while back, the lovely and talented Jennifer Jackson, agent extraordinaire, got back to me with some minor editorial suggestions that I've spent the last couple weeks working on. As of last Sunday, the book is once more finished, and I think it's stronger for the tinkering. Anyways, one more read this weekend, and it's out the door. Fingers crossed it finds a good home.
  • Secondly, a little writerly indulgence. Patrick Shawn Bagley (also lovely, if you swing that way, and talented) has posted an essay on his blog about the writing and submission of my short story "The World Behind". I originally wrote the piece for a class Patrick teaches, so it might be a little process-y for any non-writer-types out there, but if you're curious, go on and take a gander. Oh, and read the rest of his blog while you're over there. The Bag Man* is one badass mofo of a writer, and you'd do well to start kissing up to him now before his newly finished debut novel explodes and he no longer socializes with the hoi polloi like you and I.
  • Thirdly, books. See, my birthday was last weekend, and although the celebratory awesomeness of delicious cheese-ends and barbecue and sushi and wine and a dedicated pumpkin pie are too far afield from the whole writing thing to mention (except I just did, didn't I?), I also got a pile of books, which are totally fair game. So what'd I get? A bunch of Charlie Huston, courtesy of a certain Joshua Polak who may or may not appear in the followup to DH for his thoughtfulness (though I should warn him most of my cameos meet untimely ends). A beautiful leather bound copy of The Divine Comedy, as well as the new Neil Gaiman, both from Katrina, whom common sense dictates I will never knock off in a book. Some Chandler and Hammett from the in-laws. And I also got a whole pile of CDs and DVDs to boot. Oh, and actual boots (sort of). Thanks go to Mom, Anna, and Katrina again on those.
Hmm, did I say brief? Yeah, never really been my strong suit. Anyways, that's the haps. Now where did I put those leftovers?

*Okay, do I really know Patrick well enough to make him up a nickname? Probably not. But come on, who wouldn't take "Bag Man"?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I never was good at math...

Damn. I had a vague notion that my 100th blog post was coming up, and I thought it'd be a good chance to do a whole big retrospective sort of deal, with links to some of my favorite posts, commentary about where I've been in the past two years as well as where I'm going, and some shout-outs to the friends I've made along the way. As it turns out, though, I already hit 100 with my last post.

Oh, and what kind of lame-ass 100th post is "Yay, words!" anyway? I mean seriously -- it sounds like something out of Up With People. (That's right, Mom and Dad, I said it. Don't think I don't know about your sordid singing, dancing past.)

Eh -- there's always 200. Or maybe I'll do a 102nd Post Spectacular, I don't know. One thing's for sure, though: whatever I do, it ain't gonna have the word "yay" in the title. I still have a little dignity.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Yay, words!

Now that the election is over, I'm delighted to find things have gotten quiet enough for me to once more hear the voices in my head. (What's that, Voice? "Kill them all"? Or was that "Kilts for Fall"? No matter.) For weeks, I've been treading water on the new WIP (yes, it has a title, and no, I'm not going to tell you what it is), but finally, the story is talking to me again, and things are moving forward. Incidentally, do you have any idea how hard it is to find a decent map of Bogota?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Sunday, November 02, 2008

That's why they call 'em secret ballots...

Okay, here's the deal. Here at _holm, I try to make a point of not explicitly talking politics, because this is a blog about writing, and for me at least, the two rarely intersect. But lately, I've had a serious case of election-brain, and it's been messing with my writing output something fierce, so I figure that makes it fair game.

So anyways, here's my pitch. This Tuesday, I urge all of you (Democrats, Republicans, and everyone in between) to vote for Barack Obama for President. Now, I know all of you have heard that a thousand times over from folks smarter or prettier or famouser than I, and you're probably wondering why in the hell you should listen to me. The fact is, you shouldn't. But you should listen to what your gut is telling you, and I think if you strip away the labels, the hype, and the attempts of the pundits to drive wedge after wedge between us, the choice is clear.

Our nation stands on the edge of a precipice. That's not a partisan opinion, it's simply a fact. Our economy is in shambles. Our military is overextended. People are afraid: afraid for their safety, afraid for their jobs, afraid for the future of their children. And make no mistake, that fear has been sewn by the party in office, not because Republicans are evil, but because fear has proven a powerful motivator, and the folks in office were canny enough -- not to mention immoral enough -- to exploit it. I have to admit, it was a pretty smart play; after all, their policies have all been abject failures, and their fringe ideology has dragged the Republican party so far afield from the core beliefs of Federalism and personal responsibility that it would be unrecognizable to the historical paragons they pay lip-service to in their speeches.

John McCain has, to my great surprise, proven willing -- eager, even -- to exploit that fear himself. You can hear it in his incendiary rhetoric, and in the rhetoric of his running-mate. They attack. They smear. They sew division wherever they can, without a care as to the damage they are doing. I think it's time to say "Enough."

So on Tuesday, when you go into the voting booth, stop and think about the kind of world you want to live in. Stop and think about how these last eight years have gone. I know there are some who say Obama is untested, that he's nothing more than a bunch of flowery words, and although I disagree, I understand where they're coming from. The thing is, the other side has been tested, and by any metric, they have failed. Obama could truly do no worse. And here's the thing: what if this guy is for real? What if he does possess the intellect, the steel, the integrity that Powell and Buckley and a whole host of others not ideologically aligned with him have recognized and responded to? What if he really has what it takes to unite this great nation, and you pull the lever for the other guy out of some misplaced sense of party loyalty, or even worse, out of fear?

I think that our choices this election are clearer than they've ever been. The decision we're faced with transcends party values. It's about the kind of nation we want to be. One that faces the future with confidence and resolve, or one that clings to the past out of fear. Whatever your political leanings, I urge you to consider that before you click the button, pull the lever, or check the box. And remember, once you leave the booth behind, no one ever has to know.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

At risk of sounding misanthropic...

...I've noticed I'm never surlier than when the din of the real world makes it hard to hear the stories in my head.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Patience

Okay, I know it's been a while since I posted, but there hasn't been much to report of late from the Land of Me. Work on the new book has been halting, but that's to be expected; it always takes me a while to get into the rhythm of a new piece, long or short, and to be honest, real life's been getting in the way a little more than I'd like. I've been meaning to post about the perils and pitfalls of incorporating backstory into the second in a series (an issue that's new to me), but that's a topic for another time. See, today, I'd rather talk about patience.

I confess, these past couple years of writing and submitting have made me something of an acceptance junkie. Whether shorts, or queries, or whatever, there's something addictive about the charge you get when somebody likes what you've written. Hell, just having stuff out on submission is exciting, because you never know when you're gonna get that letter, that e-mail, that call. But as I addressed in the last post, I've not written any shorts of late, which means acceptance-wise, things are kinda quiet 'round here.

There's oodles of writing advice floating around on this-here series of tubes, some good and some bad, but the one thing I've found most useful of late is courtesy of Joe Konrath. Now, I don't agree with all of Joe's advice, but one of his common refrains has been resonating with me of late: namely, that you should only set goals that are actually within your control. A finished first draft is an attainable goal, as is a final draft that you're proud of. Whether it's a runaway bestseller is out of your hands. Of course, thinking that way takes a bit of rewiring, but I'm working on it. (Thinking that way, not rewiring my brain.) (Crap, the parentheticals are back!) And my feeling is, if you kick ass at everything that's within your control, everything else will sort itself out.

So yeah. I love short stories -- and have every intention of continuing to write them -- but for me, books are where it's at. I think The Angels' Share is a damn good book. I think Dead Harvest is even better. I'm doing my level best to make the next one better than that. As for all the rest, I turn to the inspirational words of Mr. Axl Rose: "All we need is just a little patience."

Of course, this from the guy who's taken fifteen years to put a freakin' album together, but I digress...

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Short Supply

...as in, news around here has been in of late. (Wow, marvel for a moment at the linguistic barrel-roll that was that sentence fragment. Eh, blame it on this vicious, fiction-hating summer cold; thanks a bunch hacking, sneezing co-worker who refused to be sent home. ) (Also, feel free to blame my sudden penchant for lengthy parenthetical digressions on the same.) Anyways, no news means not much to blog about, which explains how I just went damn near a month without a post.

So why no news? Easy. Dead Harvest (and now its sequel) has consumed so much head-space of late, I've had little time to think about short fiction. No thinking means no writing, and without a steady supply of short stories (see how I went and brought that around?), there's not much to report by way of acceptances. (Man, I really have to can it with all these parentheses. Also, that title callback was both lame and obvious. Way to go, sick-me.) Which is no big, really, because that means that when I do have news, it'll be of the book variety. And believe me, when that happens, I'll be happy-dancing like some funny-hatted delegate with a front-row seat at Invesco Field. (On the serious, did you see that speech?)

Anyways, that being said, I started work on a new short today. Fuzzy-headed as I am, it didn't seem wise to tinker with the new novel, and I've been toying for a while with an idea for a sort of stream-of-consciousness horror story anyway, so I figured, why not put my newfound loopiness to good use? (No, the story doesn't contain any parentheticals.) (Yet.) Will anything come of it? No idea. If this cold of mine clears up, it's right back to the novel. If not, I'll keep working on the short. Even then, though, who knows? Looking back on the rest of this post, it might be best if this one never sees the light of day.

Now if you'll excuse me, I think it's time to find me some cold medicine...

Monday, August 04, 2008

Okay, back to work.

This weekend, I began work on a new novel, and thank God (or, perhaps, the Muses). One week off was one week too long; I was getting pretty cranky.

So yeah. Five pages down. Three-hundred-odd pages to go. In the words of the late, great Mark Sandman, "I'm exactly where I want to be right now."

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Turns out, I'm not so good at sleeping in.

So last Sunday, I put the finishing touches on Dead Harvest, and got it out the door. Since then, I'd spent the entire week daydreaming about staying in bed this weekend for as long as I damn well pleased; after all, it wasn't like I had any pressing reason to drag my ass out of bed and plant it in front of the computer, what with the book finished.

Yeah, the best laid plans...

Long story short, my official website (not to be confused with the literally zeroes of unauthorized fansites out there) has received a much-needed overhaul. It's a little prettier, a little classier, and it's been updated to reflect the completion of the new book. So if you aren't busy (and since you're reading this, it's a safe bet you aren't), go give it a gander. If anything ain't spelled right, let me know. Ditto broken links or lousy formatting.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to come up with something to work on next weekend.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Now what?

I'm not one to go trolling for comments by posting open-ended questions on my blog, but what the hell am I supposed to do with myself now that my book is out the door? I mean, obviously I've got a couple shorts kicking around in my head, and some thoughts on two potential Next Books, but for the moment, I'm still too close to Dead Harvest, too invested in it, to give anything else the attention it deserves.

Last time, the answer to this question was a whole lot easier: get querying. Say what you will about the soul-crushing crap-fest that is finding an agent, it does provide no shortage of busywork. Now, though, who knows? Maybe I'll overhaul my website. Or post here on a slightly-more-regular basis. Or maybe I'll just watch Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog a couple dozen more times. That's productive, right?

Incidentally, as I read back the first sentence of this post, it strikes me that people only ever tell you what kind of person they're not when they intend to immediately undercut that assessment. I mean, nobody ever says, "Now I ain't racist," without following it up with something that makes you think they should get their asses out of the gene pool...

Friday, July 11, 2008

"The Big Score" Now Available!

The new issue of The Back Alley, featuring the likes of Patti Abbott, Jack Bludis, Tony Black, Greg Lee, and yours truly, is now live. Editor Richard Helms has put together one hell of an issue, and I'm psyched to be a part of it. It's online, and it's free, so what are you waiting for? Go check it out.

Oh, and while you're at it, why don't you check out what Bagley and company have got cooking over at The Lineup? You ask me, those guys are doing God's work, taking poetry back from the beret set. Their first issue is action-packed with some of crime-fiction's heaviest hitters, so go and get yourself a copy like now.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Dead Harvest Update

Twenty-odd pages of B-story this weekend, and I'm delighted to say the second draft is done. At 86,000 words, it's quite a bit longer than the previous draft. Having cut nearly 30,000 words during the editing of The Angels' Share, I find the fact that this one got longer pretty damn disconcerting.

Now, a quick read-through to make sure all the stuff I inserted formatted correctly, and then it's Katrina's turn. That's maybe the scariest part of the process, inviting somebody else inside your head to take a look around, but it's also the most exciting. Not much left to do now but cross my fingers and hope she likes it.

And by "cross my fingers", I of course mean drink.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

For anybody keeping score...

This week, I received word from Richard Helms, editor of The Back Alley webzine, that my story The Big Score will be appearing in their July issue. The Big Score was originally written for an anthology of Maine crime fiction that sadly never came to pass, and I'm delighted that it's found a good home. It's without a doubt the most classically pulpy of all my shorts, complete with McGuffins, double-crosses, triple-crosses, guns, drugs, and, um, herring. It is gratifying, then, that it would wind up being published by an editor with a deep appreciation for all things noir and hard-boiled. In fact, each issue of The Back Alley features a classic noir story from the public domain, a very cool idea if you ask me.

So yeah. When my story goes up, I'll be sure to let you know. In the meantime, go check out their current issue. And if that's not enough to tide you over, some dude named Bagley has a killer story in the summer issue of Spinetingler. What's that? You want more? Fine. Go check out Lyman's post on mental health awareness for writers. Seriously, it's interesting stuff, and you'll be glad you did.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Book: THE ELEMENTALS

When the lovely and talented Patti Abbott asked me to contribute a book to her Friday's Forgotten Books series, there was no way I was gonna say no. For one, I think the series is a phenomenal idea. For two, I've read Patti's stuff, so I know that beneath her pleasant exterior lies the heart and mind of a hardened criminal, and crossing her didn't strike me as a good idea. But finally, and most importantly, I couldn't say no because I had in mind the perfect book, particularly for Friday the 13th: Michael McDowell's The Elementals.

Stephen King once called Michael McDowell "the finest writer of paperback originals in America today." Though his is not a household name, many are familiar with McDowell's work in movies, as he penned both Beetle Juice and The Nightmare Before Christmas. McDowell's work spans a multitude of genres, but it's in the Southern Gothic tradition that he really shines.

At its root, The Elementals is a simple tale. Two families, linked by marriage, spend a summer vacationing on an isolated jetty on the coast of Alabama known as Beldame. Beldame is really nothing more than three old Victorian homes on a strip of sand that, at high tide, is cut off entirely from the mainland. The McCrays occupy one house, and the Savages another. The third house, long vacant, is overrun by sand dunes, and it soon becomes clear that sand is not all that waits inside.

Like I said, the story is simple enough. But what makes The Elementals more than the sum of its parts is its pace, its tone, its vibe. Simply put, The Elementals is one of the most terrifying books I've ever read. McDowell ratchets up the fear by increments, using the oppressive Southern heat and the families' isolation from the outside world to his best advantage and never giving the reader a chance to breathe. In this era of wiz-bang thrillers, it's wild to experience a story that takes its time, and is no less riveting because of it.

Sadly, The Elementals is long out-of-print, but believe me when I tell you, this is one worth hunting for. Although if I were you, I'd read it with all the lights on, and for God's sake, don't bring it to the beach.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Trust

This past weekend, I read Dead Harvest through for the first time, marking it up as I went in anticipation of the first serious polish. Since I'll be adding a B-story as I go, I expect it'll go through another polish once that draft is done, and then I'll pass it on to Katrina, my final arbiter as to whether or not it's any damn good. (As I've said before, she's pretty darn incapable of lying, so the fact that she's married to me aside, her read-through is a useful litmus test.)

Now, The Angels' Share went through several drafts before I was willing to show it to anyone (seven or eight, I think), and the editing process took damn near a year. This time, I'm shooting for a month or two, tops, and I think it's pretty doable. Why? Because when I wrote The Angels' Share, I really had no idea where a given scene should begin or end, and it took a lot of experimentation to really get it right. But even more importantly, during those early drafts, I had no faith in my own voice - I'd change words, phrases, even whole scenes in one draft, only to waffle and change them back in the next. This time around, I'm trying to trust in the fact that the me who wrote the scene had some idea what he was doing, and the me who's doing the editing is really no more qualified to make judgment calls with regard to usage or rhythm than he was. Simply put, structural stuff, typos, and continuity problems get changed. Matters of taste, not so much. Why? I guess because I think this story has some life to it, some spark. What I want to do is fan the flames, not blow it out.

Now, that's not to say The Angels' Share doesn't have spark, or that it would have been better off with less editing (it does, and it wouldn't have been, believe me). It's just that I learned a lot writing the last book, and I'd be a fool not to put that knowledge to good use.

Besides, if it sucks, one look at Kat's face should be enough to let me know...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Done

After a good sixteen pages of writing this weekend, I'm delighted to say the first draft of Dead Harvest is complete. I'm pretty sure it's the best thing that I've ever written, and I've been revising as I go, so I hope the process of polishing it up won't take too long. At 75,000 words, it's a little slight, but there's a B-story to be added that should put me over the top, so I'm not too worried.

So yeah. Two books down. Only thirty or forty more to go...

Friday, May 23, 2008

Last, but not least...

Okay, I have a confession to make: I'm not really one for memes. Sure, I've done a couple, and they've been fun enough, but they can kind of be a time-suck. So I think I'm gonna take a break from memes for a while... right after this.

See, Stuart had himself an idea. He created a meme in which writers post photos of their workplaces, and say a few words about them. I happen to think that's a pretty good idea, so I decided I'd join him in this-here reindeer game of his. Besides, folks can't seem to get enough of trilogies these days, so this, my third meme, seems an appropriate swan song. Here's the rules:

1) You must take a photo of your workspace and post it to your blog.
2) You must provide a few words about it.
3) You must NOT tidy, clean or otherwise stage the workspace - it must be EXACTLY as it usually is (you can see that I followed this rule religiously).
4) (Optional) You can nominate as many or as few others as you wish.

So here goes. My workspace. A far cry from the dark corner of our basement apartment, which is where I wrote the first book, this one is airy and full of light; I wonder if it'll show up in my writing? Somehow, I don't think so...
There it is, in all its glory. You'll notice it's tucked into a nook, facing away from any windows. Believe me, not an accident. Oh, and unlike Stuart's, there's nary a guitar to be found. I keep my distractions far, far away, so as to force me to actually, you know, write every once and a while. And since the picture resists embiggening, I'll point out a few details: first, the pile of Post-its in the middle of the desk, which if arranged end-to-end would pretty much be my WIP. Second, the movie posters above the desk are Psycho (mine), and The Shock by Shock Confessions of a Sorority Girl (Katrina's, and no, she never was). Oh, and since I'm all kinds of psyched about our new digs, here's the other half of the room:
Yeah, I know, it's that most collegiate of chairs, the papasan. Gimme a break - it's an office. Besides, look at all the pretty books! So there you have it. As for tagging? Not gonna. But this is kind of a cool idea, so c'mon, writer-types, pony up! And if you do, drop a comment to let me know...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

I must be the slowest kid on the playground...

...'cause I've been tagged again, this time by the lovely Ms. Ruttan. The rules are as follows:

1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.
2. Each player answers the questions about themselves.
3. At the end of the post, the player then tags 5-6 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read the player’s blog.
4. Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve posted your answer.

Okay, on to the questions:

What were you doing ten years ago?

Bonfires and jug wine. Calculus and chemistry. Dancing. Ferrying people to and fro for money. Coffee. Cigarettes. Making friends. Losing friends. Falling completely and utterly in love. Did I mention I was in college?

What are five things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular order)?

Writing. Brunch. Cleaning. Hockey (damn Penguins.) Making dinner.

What are some snacks you enjoy?

Beef jerky. Cheese. Toast (wildly underrated, in my opinion.) Cheese. Baba ghanoush. Cheese. Cereal, but never for breakfast. Oh, and cheese.

What would you do if you were a billionaire?

Besides controlling my evil army of solid gold robots from the safety of my moon base? Hmmm...

Travel. Eat. Drink. Write. Pretty much everything I do right now, only more of it, and maybe in a bigger house. Oh, and I'd donate like mad to help them hippie pinko lefties take over the country and enact their secret plan to make all the neocons gay-marry a Prius.

What are five places where you have lived?

Central Square, New York (don't worry; nobody else has heard of it either). Charlottesville, Virgina. The lower village in Kennebunk. A basement apartment in Portland (that's Portland, Maine, the first, best Portland in all the land). And my shiny new house, a world and a few blocks away from said basement apartment.

What are five jobs you have had?

Burger flipper. Dishwasher. Shuttle van driver. Drill-press operator in a forklift factory. Infectious disease research specialist (tell folks that one at parties and watch them slowly back away!)

What were the last five books you read?

Right now, I'm reading Brighton Rock, by Graham Greene, but I guess that's not the question. Last five? Hit List, by Lawrence Block. The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman. Farewell, My Lovely, by Raymond Chandler. The Dain Curse, by Dashiell Hammett (which I put down and never got back to, for reasons which now escape me. Oh, well, perhaps I'll read it next.) And either Who is Conrad Hirst?, by Kevin Wignall, The Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammett, or Time to Murder and Create, by Lawrence Block (I can't remember what I read when.)

What are five web sites you visit daily (in no particular order)?

This blog (I know, it makes me sound like a narcissistic dork, but it's the quickest way to all my friends' sites.) Crimespot. Arcaedia. Ain't It Cool. The A.V. Club.

Tag 5 People

Okay, normally I'm of the position that the meme stops here, and this time's no exception. However, if Lyman, Sophie, Christa, Brenda, and David feel like playing along, well good on them...

POSTSCRIPT: Yeah, I know, I broke the rules. I e-mailed my taggees to notify them, rather than commenting on their blogs. I'm a loner, Dottie, a rebel.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Why should a novelist work on selling shorts?

This is why.

Congrats, Stuart. If the book's half as good as the story of its path toward publication, I'd say you've got no worries.

(Oh, and because I've been ignoring the blogging of late while I concentrate on finishing DH, a long-overdue congrats to Sophie on securing an agent as well. And to Sandra, whose novel What Burns Within is currently snazzing up bookstores the world over. And to Lyman as well, who, with a little rest and relaxation, may just manage to avoid himself a painful, painful surgery. The question, Lyman, is does a baby weigh more or less than a gallon of milk?)

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Goin' dark...

Just a quick note to say I'm going computer-silent till sometime Sunday. If you need to get in touch with me before then, well, good luck.

Mary Smedes, we're on our way...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Baby, all my facts are random.

Crap. Tagged. Thanks a bunch, Lyman. I guess this is what you get when you out someone for eating babies.

Okay, first things first, the rules:

1. Link to the baby-eatin' mofo who tagged you. See above.

2. Post these rules on your blog. Curse afore-mentioned baby eater for stealing Fight Club joke. Done and done.

3. Come up with six random facts about yourself. (Now's the part where I lament the fact that my bio in the sidebar is comprised entirely of random facts, all of which now seem totally off the table.)

All right. Six random facts. Here goes:

I was vegetarian for several years, despite the fact that I think bacon should be a food group.

I have never played a game of Monopoly in my life. There's a certain Sarah who'd dispute that fact, but she'd be wrong.

I got my ears first pierced when I was sixteen. My mom had to sign for me. Sadly, it was at Claire's. (No, I didn't hug the fucking teddy bear. And yes, I said "first pierced"; there were three more piercings to follow.)

My freshman year in college, I was banned from the grounds of my old high school for my part in a propaganda campaign aimed at ousting a couple of seriously crappy school-board members who were trying to gut the school's programs in order to lower taxes. Most of the folks who bought our shirts and stuff were teachers. I think the principal bought one after he'd escorted us from the grounds.

When I was a kid, I had no idea why the hell people said, "Not if I see you first!" in reply to "See you later!" I couldn't for the life of me understand how them seeing me precluded me seeing them, which leads me inexorably to the question, "Are you stupid if you don't get a joke that is, itself, stupid?" Sadly, the answer may be yes.

And finally, the entity known to the world as Chris F. Holm is, in reality, an intergalactic vessel made entirely out of awesome, and piloted by a tiny alien homunculus.

Okay, on to rule 4: the tagging. The thing is, pretty much everybody I know has completed this meme at one time or another, making me the chump at the bottom of the Amway pyramid who doesn't make any damn money. I guess I'm saying I got nothing. But if any of you folks wanna step up to the plate, go right ahead. Just be sure to give me credit, so I don't get struck by lightning or anything, okay?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

See? Sometimes, you just gotta talk it out.

A funny thing happened on the way to finishing the scene I mentioned in my previous post. I'd mentioned I was having a tough time with it, because although it was filled with actiony goodness, the next scene is sort of the emotional core of the book, and that was what I wanted to be writing. As you can see in the comments section, some writerly folks chimed in, and in the process of talking through my issues writing the scene, I guess I got my head on straight (thanks, guys!), diving back into it with zeal this morning.

So what's the punchline? Well, once my focus shifted from the scene I wanted to write to the scene I was actually writing, one of my characters did something unexpected. Something game-changing. Something that just fucking resonates emotionally, and casts that character (as well as the central struggle of the protagonist) in a whole new light. (That, by the way, is what Stuart was talking about, and why I hate to skip around. Stephen and Sophie, that's not a diss; sometimes you've got to remind yourself why your process is your process, and examining what doesn't work for you is imperative in discovering what does.)

You know, I'd like to think I've learned a thing or two in the time I've spent writing - about mechanics, about craft, about myself - but it seems there's one lesson I'm doomed to learn over and over, only to forget it again. That lesson is this: the key, for me, to writing is being present in the moment, being invested fully in every scene. When external strife, or writing-as-business stuff, or just plain impatience gets in the way of that, the writing suffers, and the only cure is to find that focus again.

So, yeah. Thanks to those who helped me get my mojo back. DH is a better book for it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

And... action?

I've gotta tell ya, I've had a hell of a time of late coming up with anything to say around here. My brain's so preoccupied with finishing the first draft of DH that I'm lucky I'm not walking into walls and coasting through red lights. I've been bumping around with my head in the clouds for weeks - or, more accurately, in my own private land of make-believe. (Hey, who says you've gotta grow up sometime? Lame-ass grown-ups, that's who.) It's funny; I want desperately to get this story told, but there's also this hesitation, this reluctance to let it go. Which leads me to my topic of the day.

DH, as I may have mentioned a time or twelve, is a pretty actiony book. But the last thing I want is a book that's nothing but action; action, on its own, isn't conflict, and 300-odd pages of things going boom could wind up being pretty damn monotonous. No, what I want is a story with brains, with heart (and not just splattered across the pavement. Because, you know, yick.) I want to create characters you root for, characters you identify with. I want a book you don't forget the second you put it down, and action alone just ain't gonna accomplish that.

So here's the problem. I'm smack in the middle of a huge action scene, and the writing's kind of dragging. (I mean to say the actual writing of it is taking a while, not that the writing itself is bad.) It's kind of frustrating, because I've got a killer set-piece, some decent tension, and the stakes are certainly high enough. The thing is, it's not the scene I want to be writing. The one I'm fantasizing about, the one that keeps me up at night, is the next scene. If the scene I'm writing is the big action climax of the book, the next one is the emotional climax. Sure, it's full of the talky-talk, but I'll be damned if it's not a thousand times more interesting to me than the explosiony goodness I'm writing now.

So who knows - maybe I am growing up a bit. I mean, in the great debate of Talking versus Explosions, Explosions wins hands-down, right? Only here I am, writing explosions and thinking about dialogue. Or maybe I'm just fooling myself, and this slow-down is just my own subconscious way of delaying the inevitable - that moment when you've got to leave the high of creation behind, and turn your attention to the task of revision (which, for the record, is where the story goes from a neat idea to actually readable). Somehow, though, I think it's the former.

Still, my obsession with the talky bits aside, I suspect I'll never turn my back on the action entirely. After all, it is my own private land of make-believe, and that means if I say so, there's room enough for both.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

In which the writer is an idiot...

This morning, while I was writing, one of my cats tipped over a glass of water onto my notes and keyboard both. While I sat there, yelling like an idiot, Katrina grabbed a bunch of paper towels and got to drying everything out - pausing only long enough to ensure I'd saved my progress before she swabbed the sodden keys.

That's just one of several thousand reasons I'm glad that I'm not doing this alone.

So, fellow writers, if you don't have yourself a Katrina, I suggest you go and get one. Stay away from mine, though - the last thing I need is for her to realize just how damn out of my league she is. And let's face it, my keyboard probably wouldn't last the week.

Monday, March 24, 2008

All About Meme

The lovely and talented Christa Miller, whose idea of mommy-lit involves post-apocalyptic wastelands chock-a-block with the cannibal undead, has tagged me with a meme in which I'm supposed to list my favorite blog posts relating to family, friends, and whatnot. The problem is, I'm wildly narcissistic (or, if you're feeling charitable, that this blog centers around my writing life, so posts about other stuff are kinda hard to come by), so finding meme-appropriate content proved a touch tricky. With that in mind, I present to you Chris' Favorite Posts About Chris, Who is Awesome, and Also Occasionally Involving Other Crap like Friends and Family and Whatnot, Even Though Chris is Pretty Sure People Would Rather Read About Him, Since From Where He's Sitting, He's Pretty Much the Star of the Show:

1. Chris' Favorite Post About Chris (Family Edition): Holiday Loot

2. Chris' Favorite Post About Chris (Friends Edition): Looks Like the Sap is Running Early This Year

3. Chris' Favorite Post About Chris (Extra-Special Chris Edition): On Writing (and little green men)

4. Chris' Favorite Post About Chris (Something You Love Besides Yourself Edition): Books I Never Seem to Shut Up About

5. Chris' Favorite Post About Chris (Zombie Edition): And now for something completely different.

So there you have it. My five favorite posts about me and stuff. Kind of like getting smacked in the face with a pipe made of awesome, isn't it?

Now, the tagging. Thing is, most of my friends live in my head, and the rest of them all seem to be taking a break from blogging, on account of they'd like to all finish the books they're working on. So, Dear Reader, I leave it to you: your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to compile your five favorite blog posts about me. Or, failing that, about family, friends, yourself, something you love, and zombies. Pirates will also be accepted in a pinch.

POSTSCRIPT:
If I can be serious for just a moment (and there's considerable evidence to the contrary), I tend not to wax all sappy here, since it doesn't make for the funnest-ever reading, but the success I've had thus far would not be possible without the support and encouragement of friends and family. At the top of the list is my best friend and first line of defense against looking like an idiot - my lovely wife Katrina. Props as well to Anna, and Mom, and a whole host of lovely people whose links can be found on the sidebar. But most of all, I'd like to thank me. You know, for all the awesome. (See, I knew I couldn't keep the serious going. Eh, it was worth a shot.)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Who you callin' princess?

I've posted a time or two these past weeks of my progress on DH, which to my mind is coming along quite nicely, though never as quickly as I'd like. The thing is, we writers often measure progress in pages (210, thanks for asking) or words (60,000, give or take), but there's an inherent problem with that. See, this week, I wrote a good seven or eight pages - the problem is, I cut three old ones, and spent a good amount of time massaging out the wrinkles that left in the ten or so that followed them. That leaves me with only four, maybe five new pages, but an immeasurably stronger book.

The other day on Criminal Brief, Stephen Steinbock elucidated a set of ten rules put forth in 1929 by Ronald A. Knox. Now, I don't put much truck in hard and fast rules with regard to plot or structure (and in fact have broken the living crap out of a couple of his), but there was one rule Knox put forth that resonated with me. No, not the one about the Chinaman (it was 1929, I know, but seriously, who says that?) No, the one I liked was this:

No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.

Should be obvious, right? I mean, we writers of thrillers and whatnot tend to beat the living hell out of our characters, throwing up obstacle after obstacle between them and their goals. But here's the thing: last weekend, I totally broke that. After two hundred pages of bad luck, my protagonist caught one hell of a lucky break. Truth is, it's been driving me nuts all week (like the princess and the pea, only, you know, manlier.) It just smacked of lazy writing. Problem was, it also set up the climax nicely. But after some lame attempts at self-justification, I decided to go back and fix it, and damn I'm glad I did.

Why? Well, first off, the lazy writing just plain irked me. But more importantly, I think there's an interesting parallel between what reads well on the page and what works well in real life. See, we like conflict on the page because it's interesting - that's why we eschew stories of happy people doing happy things in favor of the afore mentioned obstacles. But it's not the obstacles that are interesting - it's the characters' reactions to those obstacles that make the story worth reading. Likewise, my lame-ass boring lucky break wasn't interesting to write, which meant it wouldn't be any fun to read. See? Obstacle. But it got my brain turning all week, and I think I figured a hell of a way to make my protagonist really earn it - one that I suspect is way better than anything I could've come up with had I not first made a horrendous misstep.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Offui?

Last week sucked. I mean, not in any major kind of way, but in that petty, niggling, soul-crushing way that just makes you want to stay in bed and pull the covers up over your head. Mostly, it was bullshit work stuff (sometimes, the Gods of Science just plain frown upon you, no matter how hard you try to appease them), and usually, when it's work that's got me down, I try to throw myself into my writing, figuring it'll be just the boon I need to drag me back to Happy-Land.

The problem is, it never works.

See, I think one of the tricks to writing well (for me, at least) is to separate the desire to write from the desire to have written. Fame, financial stability, critical acclaim, the respect of your peers - all those goals are well and good, but they're all about having written. You focus on those when you sit down at the keyboard, and what you get is crap. To get anything worthwhile on the page, you've got to be invested in the story, the characters, the moment - that's where writing comes from. The problem is, when you're counting on writing to solve your problems or improve your mood (you meaning me, of course; why do I keep writing it that way?), you're sort of shifting the focus to all that having written stuff. At least, that's how it was for me, this weekend: a whole lot of staring at a blank page, and a whole lot of crappy sentences, agonized over, only to be quickly deleted.

Lucky for me, the tide eventually turned, and my ennui lifted. I went from no new pages to seven new pages in a few hours flat. The trick? I gave up. I figured it just wasn't gonna happen this weekend, so I shut down the computer, and that was that. Except, of course, it wasn't. It's like I gave my mind permission to wander, and really, that's all I ever needed.

So yeah. DH is up over 200, which means life is good - that other crap be damned.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

So it's official...

... the New Book has a higher body count than anything else I've ever written. In fact, I think it has a higher body count than everything else I've ever written. Not sure what that says about me, exactly. Eh. Writing's cheaper than a shrink, at least.

In other news, I'm far too lazy to keep calling it the New Book. From now on, it shall heretofore be known by its initials: DH. Let the speculation begin (by which, I of course, mean my mom's speculation, since the rest of you aren't likely to give a damn. Still, any wildly inappropriate and/or random guesses are of course welcome...)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"What's in a Name?" Redux

I really should have known better.

See, when I was a kid, there was little I dreaded more than my teacher taking attendance. Whether it was the first attendance of the year, or a substitute killing time, the conversation was always the same.

"Haynes, Brian?"

"Here."

"Hinman, Maureen?"

"Here."

"Holmes, Christopher?"

"Um, I'm here, but that's not my name."

The teacher, invariably, would scowl at his or her sheet a moment, perplexed. "But that's what it says here."

"I'm pretty sure it doesn't."

An eyeroll, an exasperated sigh. "All right, then, what does it say?"

"Holm, Chris."

"Ah," the teacher would declare, "it's Holm, not Holmes. I'll make a note. Christopher Holm."

"Actually, my name's not Christopher."

"Oh. Christian, then?"

"No, just Chris."

This is where things got dicey. "Really." Notice it wasn't a question.

"Yes, really."

"Your name is just Chris."

"Yes."

"Are you sure?"

Now, I know I was probably all of four or five the first time this happened, but when exactly did you all learn your names? Let's leave aside the fact that my sister called me Fish for a couple of years, there, and assume I was, in fact, relatively sure my name was Chris, only Chris, and nothing but the Chris. You think the conversation ended there? Nope. It never did. They always took it one step further (and God knows why I didn't just let them call me Christopher Holmes, but every time, I swear I took the bait):

"Is that what it says on your birth certificate?"

The problem there is, no matter what you say, there is no earthly way you can convince the teacher in question that you are, in fact, telling the truth without producing the document in question, and I didn't exactly make a practice of carrying it, since my Empire Strikes Back lunchbox was chock-full of juiceboxes and sandwiches and whatnot, and it just wouldn't fit in my Kangaroos, no matter how small I folded it up. So instead I'd get an eyeroll, and the teacher would make a smug and thoroughly unconvincing show of humoring me, like I'd just tried to buy booze with a license reading 'Jerbingle Terwilliger, DOB 2/30/1908,' but she was gonna let it slide. And I gotta tell you, back then, there wasn't much that bugged me more.

That's all fine and good, but what the hell's it got to do with writing? Well, I'll tell you. Between the query process, and correspondence with friends and family and whatnot, I've come across the following:

The Angle Share
The Angel's Share
The Angels Share
The Ankles Bare
The English Hare

Okay, so I might have made up a couple there, but I doubtless left a few off of the list, as well. The problem is, none of those are my book. My book is called The Angels' Share, as in 'the share that belongs to the angels'. Only here's the thing: I kind of can't blame anybody for screwing it up. That there apostrophe is a bit of a pain in the ass. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've typed it wrong a time or two myself. And man, I should have known better.

The problem is, I really dig the name. It gets right at the central conceit of the book, and it's an evocative phrase to boot. I suppose I could have gone the way of DuPont, naming teflon and lycra in such a fashion that they could not be mispronounced (if anybody out there is as big a dork as I am, they're dying to point out that even DuPont screwed that plan up with dacron, which is supposed to be pronounced 'day-cron' but never is). Instead, I just resigned myself to the troublesome apostrophe, and we'll see how far it takes me. After all, they can't all be The Satan Strain, you know?

I leave you with a quote from Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney (italics mine):

Corin left a message for me one day saying that we would call ourselves "Sleater-Kinney". Up until that moment it had only been a road in a neighboring town. Now it was us. If band names were like baby names, we had picked a Gilbert or Sinclair or Beatrice. When we said, "We've picked out a name", we always got a "Hmm", or a head scratch, or a comment as soon as we left the room, like "that poor kid will be teased endlessly". Never listen to other people's advice about your band name. Otherwise, you will end up with an Ashley, or a Madison.

Now, one of these days, I may actually get around to explaining the name of this blog, aka The Story of Why My Wife has it Worse Than Me, Name-wise. And then there's the matter of the next book's title...

Friday, February 22, 2008

Forgive me, Blogger, for I have sinned.

It's been three weeks since my last confession. Eh – they say absence makes the heart grow fonder. If that's true, you folks must freakin' love me.

Truth is, there's been plenty of progress of late, writing-wise, it just doesn't always make for the compellingest blogging. I'm nearing 200 pages on the WIP, and it looks like I've set myself up nicely to careen to a violent, smoking wreck of an ending (um, in a good way) right around the 250 mark. Too short, you say? Normally, I'd agree, but there's a B-story still to be dealt with – five scenes or so to be peppered throughout the book that will tie things together nicely. I've got it all sketched out, but I've yet to write it, because I want to take a pass at reading the A-story first, to make sure I hit every beat just right.

Thus far, writing the new book differs dramatically from my experience in writing The Angels' Share. I think that's partly due to the fact that one was outlined while the other was not, and partly due to the fact that, tonally, they're very different works. If I've done my job right, The Angels' Share is a long, slow sip of Islay malt: explosive up front, but with an underlying complexity that unfolds over time. The WIP, on the other hand, is a shot of cheap bourbon, searing and relentless. With luck, it's a ton of fun as well (I'm shooting for thrill-ride, not bleak-ass noirer-than-thou bum-out).

Despite their differences, though, the writing of The Angels' Share greatly informed the writing of the new book in so many ways, not least of which is the fact that I now have a far greater understanding of what bits to put into a book, and what bits to leave out. As an avid (rabid?) reader for as long as I can remember, you'd think I'd have known this from the get-go, but it's trickier than one might imagine. With The Angels' Share, I ended up trimming somewhere in the ballpark of 30,000 words, and believe me, the book is better for it. With the new book, I think I've avoided some of the meandering I fell victim to last time, and as a result, I suspect I'll have a lot less to cut. I hesitate to say I'm getting the hang of this novel-writing thing, because the Gods of Fiction are fickle, spiteful (wonderful, charming, and did I mention good-looking?) creatures, but I'm psyched to realize how much I've already learned.

In conclusion, Libya is a land of many contrasts. No, wait, that's not it. But to wrap up this rambling post, I guess what I'm left with are two books that on the face of things are very different, but are in fact (for me, at least) flip-sides of the same literary coin. With one finished and the other getting there, I've realized I'm not yet ready to part with either of them so soon. The new WIP was conceived as a series, so no surprise there; what does surprise me is that Alex's story is not yet finished. So can a fledgling writer gain traction for two series at once? Honestly, I have no idea. One thing's for sure, though: I plan to find out. Also, I really have to learn to write faster. After all, I want to see how these stories end...

Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Simple Reminder

Two posts in one day? Madness, I say! But with all the kerfluffle over the announcement of the Spinetingler Awards, I nearly forgot to mention that the Winter 2008 issue of Spinetingler, featuring my short story A Simple Kindness, is now available.

The Winter issue of Spinetingler was guest-edited by Jack Getze, so a shout-out to him for rescuing me from the slush pile. Jack's Big Numbers is as smart and funny a book as you're likely to read, so I suggest you check it out. And as always, props to Spinetingler Uber-Editor, Web-Mistress, and all-around lovely person Sandra Ruttan, without whom the Award-Winning Author could not pompously refer to himself in the third person. (Hmmm, I wonder how long the wife's gonna put up with that before it starts getting old.) Swing over to your nearest on-line bookseller and pre-order a dozen or so of her eagerly anticipated Dorchester debut today. You'll be glad you did.

Seven Kinds of Crazy

The 2007 Spinetingler Awards were just announced, and I'm absolutely stunned to report that Seven Days of Rain seems to have, um, won. Obviously, I couldn't be happier (in fact, I'm chair-dancing as we speak; it's hell on the typing, but great for strengthening one's core), and I'd like to take this opportunity to say the following:

Suck it, Ardai!

Okay, it goes without saying I'm so very fucking kidding. Ardai is a giant; The Leap is a hell of a story, and Songs of Innocence is without a doubt one of the best books of last year. Not to mention, the dude pretty much invented the internet, so given that the voting for the Spinetinglers was web-based, I think we can assume he's a pretty stand-up guy. Which is why he very likely won't squash me like a bug for taunting him. (Not personally, at least. I mean, he probably has people for that sort of thing.)

In all honesty, I didn't think I stood a chance in hell of winning. The field was stacked with quality stories, and I was honored to be included among them. Lest you think I'm just being kind, here they all are:

The Leap by Charles Ardai - Hardluck Stories
Breaking in the New Guy by Stephen Blackmoore - Demolition
Amphetamine Logic by Nathan Cain - Thuglit
The Switch by Lyman Feero -Thuglit
Shared Losses by Gerri Leen - Shred of Evidence
The Living Dead by Amra Pajalic - Spinetingler
Convivum by Kelli Stanley - Hardluck Stories

Go check 'em out. Seriously. Every one of them is fantastic, and besides, it's too late now to change your minds.

Thanks to all who voted for me (and all who voted period). Also, thanks to Bryon for choosing the story (not to mention putting up with all those pesky italics). And a very special thanks to Sandra, whose tireless goodwill is matched only by her prodigious talent. Sandra, you'll always be aces in my book...

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Oh, right.

Apparently, you're supposed to tell people you're going dark before you actually do. My mistake.

Anyways, I'm not dead. Not yet, anyway. The past few weeks have been consumed by moving, and so I've spent the scant writing hours I've had available to me, um, writing. But this post marks the first from the new digs, so barring a horrific flat-pack assembly event rendering me fingerless (blerg), we should be resuming our irregularly scheduled program shortly.

Until then, Lemon out.