The Week in Words (August 21)

At the Editor’s Desk

This week was so busy it ran into next week! Sorry for the late newsletter, but it’s been delayed by some truly exciting projects, so I’m sure you’ll forgive me.

Master of Professional Writing

This week I attended the orientation for new graduate students in the Master of Professional Writing program at the University of Oklahoma. It’s a two-year graduate degree that focuses on writing novels, non-fiction books, and screenplays. You know I’m already focusing pretty heavily on the first two of those, and I’ve got secret dreams of seeing Gods Tomorrow as a screenplay within my lifetime, so there’s incredible potential here.

I said a little bit more about orientation (and my expectations for the coming semester) over at the Consortium blog, in case you’d like to know more.

Gods Tomorrow

I’ve also spent most of the month really wrapped up in last-minute improvements to a two-year-old manuscript. That’s because I’m planning to self-publish Gods Tomorrow in early September.

It’s a huge undertaking, but I’ve been making rumblings here lately against the publishing establishment, and I’ve been linking you to article by J. A. Konrath who makes screeds against the establishment, so I’m doing my due diligence. I’m going to publish my best, most polished, most promising manuscript as a total gamble, and let you know what I learn.

Of course, I’m doing everything I can to bias the results, so I’ve been pretty busy planning a coverart photoshoot with the amazing Julie V. Photography (not to mention contacting Julie Roads for some help with the back cover copy).

On Unstressed Syllables

This week we covered two major topics: after exhorting you to accept your expertise as a writer (I called it “writing in the deep end”), I went on to demand that you obey some writing rules again.

Sunday I introduced the Technical Writing series on expertise with a story about throwing my daughter in the deep end of the pool, and watching her struggle back to the top. Ugh! Just typing that makes my stomach tie up in knots, but it turned out to be a good thing.

Then on Monday I talked about pretending to be an expert writer. I’ve spent most of the last year practicing what I preach, as far as that goes, and it’s definitely turned out to be a good thing.

Then Tuesday I tried to tell you how to overcommit yourself as successfully as I have done. It’s all about stretching your competence, and I’m pretty confident that’s the only way anyone has ever earned the rightful title of “expert.”

On Wensdy (as we sometimes say it in these parts), Courtney told us what she learned about writing this week when she returned to her writing Bible, a memoir/textbook written by Stephen King; in essence, she told us — as he told us before — to use the words we know and stay away from the big and fancy words, no matter how tempting they might be. I think it’s good advice. How about you?

Thursday I introduced the Creative Writing series on writing rules with a story about a high school math teacher who let me sweat it out, before doing me a tremendous favor. Who would have thought math could be so suspenseful?

On Friday I talked about suspense, and the challenging balance of surprising your readers without keeping them in the dark. One of those things is a requirement of good writing, and the other one is absolutely against the rules. Fun.

Saturday’s article cleared things up a little bit, though, because real suspense isn’t built out of ignorance. The best way to write suspense is by creating real concern for fictional characters. Once that’s in place, you can do more to worry your readers by revealing what’s in store than by hiding the things they need to know. It’s liberating…and incredibly powerful.

National Novel Writing Month 2009 Post Mortem

I can’t believe it’s over.

I did finish NaNoWriMo. I’m a winner. I could post a JPEG proving it, but it doesn’t really, so I won’t.

I took a strange path to 50,000 words this year, cobbling together scenes from three different novels in two genres, an open-ended collaborative writing project, and a short story. In the past, I’ve done 50,000 consecutive words (or many, many more), and I’ve done them in a novel that I wrote start-to-finish during the month of November. Obviously that’s more impressive, but with everything else I had going on, I’m glad to have produced anything at all this year.

Anything at all. Hah! I wrote the end of two different novels, one of them a long-languishing partial that needed closure. I’ve still got a lot of rewriting work to do, but I now have the foundation on which to do it.

In the end, that’s what NaNoWriMo is about — struggling to accomplish more than you should be able to given all the other demands in your life, and getting a rough draft down on paper, so you have something to work with in the rewrites. I did both of those things, and in a big way.

To keep myself honest (and to make things easier), I wrote all those eclectic scenes in a single Google Doc, copying and pasting them out to their appropriate parents periodically. That workspace, though, was a document that ended up with the title Ghost Kings: Sleeping Targets: Golden Restraint Age Shelter (and a short story). Here’s how that came about:

  • I started off early doing my prewriting in October so I could work on a major rewrite of Royal Holiday in November, then scrapped that plan at some late hour.
  • I did another set of prewriting, this time on a major rewrite (and completion) of a Sleeping Kings sort-of-prequel called Golden Age. As part of the prewriting, I wrote a new first chapter (which doesn’t count toward my November word count).
  • I showed up at our kickoff meeting all prepared to finally get Golden Age done, found myself blocked, and instead I wrote the next scene in my newest Ghost Targets novel, Restraint.
  • From there, I just went ahead and finished Restraint (book 3 in that series).
  • Then I started on its sequel, Ghost Targets: Shelter.
  • Then I started a new, and totally unplanned collaborative writing project with Courtney on Google Wave by writing the opening scene of a novel about wizards in Oklahoma City. It starts with a magical battle in a 7-11. Awesome.
  • Then I wrote a totally unplanned short story set in the fantasy universe D– and I had been talking about years ago. It turned out surprisingly good (in my opinion, anyway).
  • Then I found myself totally blocked, unable to proceed past the middle of chapter 1 of Shelter, and instead started work on an unfinished scene in Golden Age.
  • Then I realized I’d written three consecutive chapters of Golden Age, without really realizing it, and I was about 6,000 words from the end of the book.
  • Then I finished the book. And NaNoWriMo. All with about an hour to spare.

I dunno. If you want to call that cheating, you’re welcome to. I could say that I finished National Strange Hash of Various Fictional Prose Writing Month, but I don’t have the time or energy for that sort of acronym. “Nooshvoofpwym,” I would pronounce it. “During nooshvoofpwyn,” I would say, “I wrote 50,000 words in gookstuhgraws (and a short story).”


In December, I’m going to do nothing. Hah! No, not really. In December I’m going to put the finishing touches on my new Tech Writing textbook, I’m going to lay the groundwork to launch a new commercial blog in January, and unless I’m prepared to face some real wrath from some surprisingly real fans, I’m going to do at least a quick touch-up on Restraint and share it out to some trusted reviewers.

I started 2009 with a pretty ambitious plan for my writing, and ended it in an entirely different place, but almost as impressive of one. I didn’t rewrite Royal Holiday and I didn’t start an entirely new sci-fi property premised on what turns out to be a total physical impossibility (in a bad way), but I did become a university professor and write a textbook. That’s pretty cool. I got my old creative writing text dusted off, too, and it’s ready to go.

So that’s my plan for 2010. Not as much ambition for the new, but lots of rewrites. I do want to finish Ghost Targets: Shelter before the end of September, so I can devote October to prewriting and November to Ghost Targets: Faith (my first season finale). Two novels in a year is actually pretty tame for me.

Then I want to get Expectation cleaned up (I never did redo the ending), and I want to get Restraint totally rewritten, and expanded by at least 9,000 words. Same for SK: Golden Age, and once that’s done I’ll need to write a new first chapter for SK: The Wolf, and my first NaNoWriMo project, SK: The Shepherd, still needs its first real rewrite, too.

That’s my order of priority. I’ve got more. King Jason’s War still needs the first section reworked, and a polish everywhere else, and I’ve been talking for years about splitting Taming Fire in two, and it could use some touch-up while I’m at it. More and more I find myself thinking back on The Poet Alexander, too, wondering if there’s some rough gem somewhere in the rambling, inarticulate beast that would be worth paring out. Who knows? I’d have to work miracles to ever get far enough down my list to find out, though.

Stay tuned. Maybe I actually will. I’ve spent three years now consistently accomplishing more than I ever thought I possibly could. And, in the end, that’s what NaNoWriMo is all about.

Ghost Targets as Formula Fiction

I’ve had several conversations with people about my Ghost Targets series, and along the way I’ve surprised a couple of them by talking about the structure of these novels. Because it’s consistent — it’s a known value. I aim for a 60,000 word novel, which is relatively light reading. I try to do fifteen 4,000-word chapters, divided evenly into three “acts”: the setup or “teaser,” the confrontation, and then the resolution. They’re built on the “cop drama” framework, which is pretty much the same as the generic Mystery formula, but without some of the stylistic flourishes you’d expect in a whodunnit.

When I start talking like that — when I say, “I’ve got a story idea” and then I immediately know what parts of the plot will fall on which page numbers — a lot of people get this look of disappointment in their eyes, like somehow I’m playing Mad Gab now instead of actually writing new stories. But, y’know, I’ve thought about it a lot, and here’s my answer to that thinking:

It all depends on what you mean when you say “formula.” There’s nothing wrong with form, like with the pre-set shape of a haiku, or how Shakespeare’s sonnets always conform to one framework (with three quatrains and then a rhyme). The books in Katie’s story are the same. The quality is only in the content, not how fresh the font or far between the chapter breaks.

But yes, she lives and solves the crime, and often talks with Door who cannot tell her where he is, but gives the key detail. And…leaves you wanting more.

The coolness lies in character and plot. Forget the frame — ask is it good, or not?

Journal Entry: August 13, 2009

I’ve had a Draft email with no recipient sitting in my GMail inbox for a week now. It goes as follows:

Well, to be fair, I did solve all crime, most hunger, energy dependence on fossil fuels, voter apathy, predatory lending, and unemployment BEFORE I started working on skanky sluts.

That was never actually meant to be an email. It was a reply I had ready for a conversation thread I started on Facebook when I posted the status update “Aaron Pogue is considering the real-world consequences of on-demand real-time modeling of the statistical distribution of sexually adventuresome barflies across a city’s club district. Y’know, for my books.”

It only occurred to me after I’d posted that that I have a bunch of church friends and dear old grannies who follow me on Facebook. So I did what I could to explain what I was getting at, and came up with a clever defense in case somebody challenged me for thinking about such things at all. But nobody did. So I’m manufacturing a setting in which I can share it with you guys.

Anyway, I had a ridiculously and unpleasantly busy day at work yesterday, and so I owe two days worth of diary. Tuesday night D– came over to hang out, and T– picked up McDonalds for us for dinner. Then we left AB playing under D–‘s watchful eye while T– and I went out to the garage to start prepping for the garage sale. We boxed up some stuff, moved some stuff around, and then I brought three old, haphazard socket sets into the living room and spent an hour sorting them out so we can sell down to just one.

After that I gave up on being useful for the night and went to the office to play Fallout until my bedtime. Then I loaded up a new Magic: The Gathering game I’d gotten through XBox Live Arcade, just to play for a couple minutes, and ended up playing that until midnight. Ugh.

Then I had to go to work yesterday, and it was awful.

Afterward, D– rode with us to dinner at Moe’s where we met K– and N–. It was a little chaotic with all of us squeezing around a booth meant for four, but fun! And of course the food was delicious. Then afterward K– and N– headed home and we went to grab snow cones before heading to Office Depot, then Hobby Lobby, then a different Office Depot in search of supplies for a project T– is working on. I spent most of that time trying out a Civilization game on D–‘s iPhone, so I had a good time. AB was pretty sick of her car seat by the time we got back to the house, though.

Then we watched some Conan and a little Psych before I headed back to the office to play some more Fallout while T– did some work on her laptop.

Oh, and then just before I woke up this morning I had an exceedingly odd dream which could best be titled “Drunk-driving Miss Daisy.”

Other than that, it’s just things and stuff.